By Jessica Mozo
Nearly 150 years have passed since the Civil War ravaged towns and fields across America. But Southern pride still runs deep in the souls of Tennesseans, and Americans continue to be captivated by a brawl that happened many generations ago.
“We are fascinated by the idea of family members fighting on different sides and by the fact that Americans took up arms against themselves,” says Carroll Van West, director of the Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area in Murfreesboro and co-chair of the Tennessee Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission. “The war touched every county in Tennessee, either directly through the battles or through the families involved.
The impact of occupation affected families not just in towns, but also on farms across the state. So many people have old family stories about the war that get passed on from generation to generation.”
Tennessee’s role in the Civil War was monumental, and dozens of the state’s battlefields and war-related sites have become parks and museums in the years since. The Tennessee Department of Tourist Development printed the first statewide Civil War self-guided tour maps in January 2009, sending Civil War tourists into the beautiful Tennessee countryside.
“With the approach of the Civil War Sesquicentennial – the 150th anniversary of the war – we expect the Civil War trails to be a huge draw for communities across the state,” says Noell Rembert, Tennessee Civil War heritage coordinator.
Rembert oversees the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development’s Civil War Trails program, which was established with the help of a federal grant in 2006. The program is responsible for placing historical markers around the state, highlighting Civil War events that took place in certain areas.
“New sites are continually being added,” Rembert says. “We have 141 historical markers in the ground with more applications being submitted.”
The Civil War Trails program provides structure for tourists traveling to the state’s war-related destinations. Another benefit of the program is more tourists – and more tourism dollars – flowing into Tennessee communities large and small.
“By following the trails, visitors are likely to spend more time and money in a community than if they simply passed through. We look to the rule of twos: A visitor could spend two minutes at a historical marker, two hours in a town, two days in a region or two weeks traveling the state viewing the sites,” Rembert says. “It’s also a great way for communities to learn more about their local history and for visitors to learn about this turning point in our country’s history and how Tennessee played a major part.”
A major part, indeed. Tennessee claims the second-largest number of battles after Virginia, including some of the bloodiest skirmishes at battlefields such as Shiloh and Stones River.
“The Shiloh conflict in April 1862 is considered the battle that told all Americans that this war would be long, bloody and costly,” Van West says. “It was also a pivotal battle for control of West Tennessee and northern Mississippi. The battle further enhanced the reputation of General Ulysses S. Grant as a major Union leader.”
The Battle of Stones River at Murfreesboro was the deadliest of all battles in Tennessee with the highest percentage of casualties on both sides.
“At Stones River, the Confederate army under General Braxton Bragg missed an opportunity to level a decisive blow,” Van West says. “Stones River left the Union army intact and able to plan a series of summer maneuvers that would help it gain control of Middle Tennessee.”
Other milestone battles happened at Chattanooga, Franklin and Nashville. “The Union victory at Chattanooga in late 1863 opened the door for the March to Atlanta. Again, General Grant emerged as the hero and moved on to command in Virginia, where he defeated Robert E. Lee,” Van West explains. “The Franklin and Nashville battles, roughly two weeks apart in late 1864, crushed the Confederate army of Tennessee and left the Union in control of the entire state.”
The vast number of sites to see in Tennessee can be overwhelming even to the most well-read Civil War buff. Two great places to start are the Tennessee State Museum in Nashville and the Museum of East Tennessee History in Knoxville, which both feature outstanding exhibits about Tennessee’s involvement in the Civil War.
“Next, visit at least four of the state’s Civil War national parks – Fort Donelson, Shiloh, Stones River and Chickamauga-Chattanooga,” Van West suggests.
Still yearning for more? Tennessee Civil War Trails map-guides are available at all 14 Tennessee Welcome Centers and at each of the Civil War Trails communities. Visitors can request the map-guides, which were updated in January 2011, via civilwartraveler.com, tncivilwar150.com or by calling (615) 532-7520.
“It’s been great learning about the history of Tennessee during a time I knew little about,” Rembert says. “I had ancestors who fought at Shiloh, which I only recently discovered. I’ve enjoyed visiting towns and counties across the state to attend trail marker unveilings and dedications. There’s so much beauty in Tennessee, and it’s wonderful to witness it firsthand.”