Tennessee History

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3000-900 BCE


Photo courtesy of TN4me.org

T tennessee labelSpecifically in the territory of Tennessee, evidence exists of primitive people dating back to 12,000 to 15,000 years with the retreating glaciers during the Ice Age.  The Paleo-indians were nomadic people that lived in caves and rock shelters, hunting mastodons and caribou.  As the climate temperatures warmed,  vegetation changed which attracted large quantities of moose and deer.

T tennessee labelBetween 3,000 and 900 BC early evidence shows examples of the cultivation of agriculture creating a secure food supply and the groups began combining to form villages.

900-1600 CE

T tennessee labelThe peak of prehistoric cultural development occurred during the Mississippian Culture (900-1600 Current Era).  New strains of corn and beans were cultivated for the increase in the population.  Ceremonial mounds were built.  The sophisticated production of personal items and pottery are indicators of the complex society of the last prehistoric inhabitants of Tennessee.


fernando de soto

Hernando de Soto. Photo Courtesy of Biography.com

Hernando De Soto was born in Spain to a noble but poor family.  From a very young age, he learned the strategies of the explorers of the Caribbean and Central America (plundering and seizure of slaves), and then as a captain under Francisco Pizarro, he engaged in the conquest of Peru.  

De Soto landed at what is known today as Charlotte Harbor, Florida (Gulf Coast), with a military detachment of 640 volunteers, an average age of twenty-four years old, selected to establish a Spanish colony near the Mississippi River.  Along with the men, he brought 200 horses, many dogs, various weaponry and sufficient supplies for the project.  Ideally, the location like Mexico City would provide the opportunity to pillage silver and gold.  Many Europeans had already tried a similar settlement but none on such a large scale and none had succeeded.  


After the spending the winter in northern Florida and with news of gold in the direction of the rising sun, he headed northeast in the Spring of 1540, crossing Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas.  With no success of finding gold, he returned to the west, entering Tennessee,  Georgia and Alabama while trying to return to Mobile Bay to meet his ships.  However, in October of 1540, the chief of the Tuscaloosa tribe ambushed De Soto’s army one hundred miles from the port.  In spite of the leaving victorious, De Soto withdrew to the the north, past the Tennessee River so his men would be isolated and unable to escape to the ships.  http://discoverkingsport.com/h-Cherokee-early.shtml

tennessee (1)

Photo Courtesy of the Heritage Foundation

The first contacts with the Europeans with Native American societies had a devastating effect due to the pillaging and the introduction of diseases to which the indigenous population lacked immunity.  The social order of the native societies suffered an irreversible change.  Those that survived, little by little reorganized into tribes that today we know was Creek, Choctaw, Chicaksaw, Cherokee and Catawba.  

During the 150 years after De Soto, these new tribes moved to distinct regions of Tennessee. The powerful Cherokees settled on the banks of the Hiwassee River and the Little Tennessee River.  The Chickasaw ruled the lands west of the Tennessee River. The Shawnee settled to the south near the Cumberland River.  


Hernando De Soto dies of a fever in Louisiana


The Spanish explorer Captain Juan Pardo was the first to use the word Tennessee during an expedition during the summer of 1567.  



The Europeans resumed exploration of the region.  The English merchants James Needham and Gabriel Arthur from Charles Town, South Carolina, crossed the Appalachian mountains to establish trade with the Cherokee in eastern Tennessee.  The French progressed from the west lead by Father Jacques Marquette and the fur trader Louis Jolet, came down the Mississippi River.  Both constructed strong arguments claiming the right to lands to the west of the Appalachian mountains.  

Photo Courtesy of TN History for Kids


The French General La Salle built Fort Prudhomme (near Memphis), the first structure by a white man in Tennessee.  


M. Charleville, a French trader from New Orleans, established a trading post in gorge called French Lick (today’s Nashville). 


Sir Alexander Cummings, sent by the British Government, negotiated the first treaty between the English and the Cherokee.  A group of seven Cherokee chiefs traveled with him to England to declare loyalty to the king.      

Another explorer, Dr. Thomas Wather, was sent by the Loyal Land Company of Virginia and named the Cumberland Mountains and the Cumberland river in honor of the Duke of Cumberland, then Prime Minister of England.  


History tells us that the first person to use the world Tennessee with the current spelling was the Governor of South Carolina (1750), James Glen.  Also, it is believed that Andrew Jackson was the one who proposed the name Tennessee when it joined the Union. However, public records indicate that Daniel Smith, secretary of the old Southwest Territory, proposed the first draft of the constitution for the formation of the new state, called, “the name of the New State of Tennessee.”   http://www.tngenweb.org/campbell/hist-bogan/tennessee.html 


The Mayor Andrew Lewis built Fort Virginia near Echota, on Cherokee land, 25 miles southwest of Knoxville. Not much time passed before the Native Americans destroyed the fort.

 The English built Fort Loudon (in what now is Vonore, Tennessee), with the intention of keeping the Cherokee loyalty divided.  The plan failed and in 1760, the Cherokee surrounded the fort and finally assassinated most of the captives.  In spite of that English disaster, the French lost the war and all of the their leverage in North America and ceded to the English who claimed the right to all the lands east of the Mississippi River. 


Peace was established between the English and Cherokee.      

The Long Hunters explored eastern Tennessee and the Cumberland Gap, contracted by the Henderson Company of North Carolina.  They are called the Long Hunters because of the long period of time of their hunting expeditions up to two years.   


Proclamation of 1763 forbade all settlement to the west of the Appalachians.        


The first settler in Tennessee. William Bean, supposedly the first permanent settler in Tennessee built a cabin on Boone’s Creek near the Watauga River.


Watauga Association

Photo Courtesey of the North Carolina Office of Archives and History, Raleigh, NC.

The seizure of Native American lands.

Ignoring the British prohibition against settling on Indian lands, back-country Virginians and North Carolinians built four different communities in northeastern Tennessee: on the Watauga River, in North Holston, in Nolichucky and Carter Valley.  The white man’s goal was no longer to have trading privileges but to take possession of land.

These are the beginnings of the race to grab western lands.  One standout is the most ambitious speculators was Richard Henderson of Hillsborough, North Carolina.  He managed to organize a treaty with the Cherokee for the purchase of a vast tract of land (much of Kentucky and Tennessee:  close to 20 million acres), in exchange for six wagons filled with products with a value of 10,000 British pounds.  One Cherokee Chief, Dragging Canoe, opposed the sale of the ancestral lands and established the Chickamauga tribe that harassed the settlements for twenty years. http://sos.tn.gov/sites/default/files/Pgs.%20499-555%20State%20History.pdf 


The Watauga Association. A manifesto of self-government (one of the first constitutions written in North America) for those who had moved to the area outside of the reach of organized government.

The aggressiveness of the settlers in the taking Native American lands created indigenous hostility so that the Native Americans sided with the British in the settlement conflict.


The Transylvania Company, of North Carolina, bought a large tract of land from the Cherokee.  Daniel Boone, who worked for the company, traced a path from Virginia (passing through Cumberland Gap) called “wilderness road” that was transformed into the principal road for the new settlements.


The Beginning of the American Revolution

The Cherokee offensive was well-coordinated against the settlements of eastern Tennessee (the Battle of Island Flats and the attack of Fort Caswell).  John Sevier, famous for his experience against Native Americans, led the Watauga settlers, resisted the attack and with the help of the militia from Virginia and North Carolina, invaded the Cherokee National, burning their villages.

Siding with the British during the American Revolution was disastrous for the Native Americans because it served the Americans as a pretext for reducing the tribe’s military power and encroach further on their land.   In 1777, commissioners of Virginia and North Carolina negotiated the Long Island Treaty with the Cherokee.


First six counties of the territory.

The territory, before becoming a state, fought to have a political voice and suffered without protection afforded by an organized government. The territory was formed by six counties from the west of North Carolina: Washington, Sullivan, and Green and East Tennessee and from the east; Davidson, Sumner and Tennessee in the Middle district.

After the Revolution, North Carolina did not want the expense of maintaining such distant settlements, as they were fighting with hostile tribesmen and needing roads, forts, and open waterways.


Jonesboro was founded, the first town founded in Tennessee.

Coronal Shelby defeated the Chickamaugas near now Chattanooga.

Henderson, after having acquired his vast property, contracted Robertson and others to investigate the possibility of colonizing it.  At the beginning of this year, approximately 300 white pioneers and blacks traveled to the place known as French Lick what today is known as Nashville.  The men were guided by Robertson, while Donelson lead a fleet with women and children down river by the Tennessee y then up river by the Cumberland.

This first group of settlers scattered in the central basin in search of land that could be cultivated.  For fourteen years they resisted violent attacks by the Creek and Chickamauga warriors from the villages on the Tennessee River, but they persevered to become the seeds of future communities.

After the disappearance of the indigenous threat, the explorers, hunters, land speculators and traders arrived, but it was the farmers who would finance the new population.


The counties of Davidson and Greene were established in April 18th, 1783.


The State of Frankland (later called The State of Franklin in honor of Benjamin Franklin) was established.

Photo Courtesy of Tennessee History for Kids

The western settlers were not recognized until this year, frustrated by the insensibility of North Carolina, and so they formed a dissident state, the state of Franklin, in the area of Jonesboro.  John Sevier was named the first governor.  Although being recognized officially, the new state started to function like an independent government.  The restlessness of the Tennesseans to achieve independence did not escape the attention of North Carolina that reaffirmed control of the distant counties to the west.  The State of Franklin failed politically and by internal divisions between Tennesseans from the east and in 1788, ceased to exist. One of the events that precipitated the dissolution of the State of Franklin happened in February of this year.  John Sevier, incredibly infuriated by an order of the North Carolina Courts where some of his slaves were seized, stormed the house of Colonel Tipton (official of North Carolina) with 150 of his supporters, Tipton had given refuge to a group of slaves.  Reinforcements from Sullivan County arrived to resolve the situation, but not before gunfight erupted and left two men dead and others injured. This armed confrontation of Sevier against the authority of North Carolina cost Sevier his reputation.

This story shows how far the leaders of eastern Tennessee settlements were willing to go to achieve independence.  The fame of Sevier, for his great military feats and his courageous attempt to achieve independence, were known abroad.  One of the most interested observers in the State of Franklin was Don Diego de Gardoqui who had come to America in 1785, commissioned by Spain as a diplomat in the United States and with the American Congress.  (Spain then controlled, from Louisiana, the waterways of the Mississippi and the land to the west of the river).  Soon Gardoqui discovered violent resentment from the frontiersmen caused by the a proposition of the American Republic to transfer the rights of the free navigation of the Mississippi for 25 years in exchange for reciprocal advantages abroad offered by Spain.

The traders of Cumberland and across the region were unhappy and worried, they were equally concerned with their dissatisfaction with the central government that allowed absolute control of trade and with the resentment against the Spanish domination.  When Gardoqui found out of the armed uprising of Sevier against North Carolina’s authority, he dispatched an emissary to sound the leading men of the communities of Franklin and Cumberland looking for the possibility of an alliance.  The secret emissary was Dr. James White who had been appointment by the U.S. Government as the Superintendent of Indian Affairs in the south.  White passed information to don Esteban Miro, Governor of Louisiana, that the leaders of “Frankland” and “Cumberland” had accepted enthusiastically the proposals by Gardoqui: pledge loyalty to Spain and renounce loyalty to other sovereignty or power.  Satisfied with the secret communication that was received, Gardoqui informed his government that the settlers, addressed diplomatically, would be part of Spain in the action.

John Sevier

John Sevier

Renewed attacks by the Native Americans in various counties and on the path to Kentucky, gave an opportunity for Sevier to recuperate his lost popularity with a great victory over the Native Americans in his village of Hiwassee. It was a common suspicion that the indigenous violence was incited by the Spanish (One Alexander Mcgillivray, mestizo, that acted as a representative for the Creek Indians put his tribes under the protection of the Spanish in 1784).  In response to letters by Gardoqui requesting the application of pressure to prevent barbaric acts, Sevier and Robertson read between the lines evoked reaffirmations of the secret Spanish proposals.
With new inspiration, Sevier responded to the propositions of Dr. White.
A series of events truly cloak and dagger theater, have concluded when North Carolina relinquishes the southwest territory to the Federal Government, eliminating all possibilities of materializing the intentions of Spanish domination.


The State of Franklin ceases to exist.


North Carolina ratified a new Constitution of the United States.

George Washington was named to political prominence and landowner William Blount as territorial governor.

North Carolina, relinquished the western lands, the future Tennessee, to the federal government.

North Carolina had used these lands to compensate revolutionary soldiers and the in the Acceptance of Cession (1789), it reserved the right to continue transferring land to its’ veterans in the territory of Tennessee. William Blount was name the only governor of the Territory of the United States south of the Ohio River. This territory was divided in three districts:  two for eastern Tennessee and the district around Cumberland.  Each one with its own court, military and administration.

In spite of the prohibition of the federal government to occupy native lands, it produced a rise in land speculation and a race to amass and claim rights to large pieces of land to the west of North Carolina.  The first political leaders of Tennessee-Blount, Sevier, Henderson and Andrew Jackson-were dedicated to land speculation.


The Indian Ravages.

The continued illegal occupation of Native American lands by the settlers resulted in the Indian War of 1792.  Cherokee and Creek warriors launched violent and repeated attacks on the Cumberland villages.

The counties of Jefferson and Knox were established on June 11, 1792.


James Robertson, a leader in the Cumberland military, invaded the land of the Chickamauga (Nickajack expedition), burned the villages and eliminated the threat in this region.  Other tribes ended the attacks based on the warning of the same consequences as the Cherokee and the Creek.

The county of Sevier was established on September 10th, 1794.


Territorial census: Governor Blount organized a constitutional convention in Knoxville.  Delegates from all counties prepared a State Constitution and Declaration of Democratic rights with the intent of proposing the application before the Congress to be admitted to the Union.

In the region of Memphis: During the summer of 1795, the Spanish governor of Louisiana, Manual Gayoso de Lemos, acquired Chickasaw Indian lands.  On Chickasaw hill, to the south of Wolf River, he constructed Fort San Fernando of the Barrancas, giving Spain control of the waterways of the Mississippi river until 1797 when it was abandoned according to the Treaty of Pinckney.  The Spanish dismantled the fort, removing the iron.  The ruins passed unnoticed when the city of Memphis was designed twenty years later.


Tennessee became the 16th State of the Union.  Blount and William Cocke were named senators and Andrew Jackson was named representative.

The metallurgical industry of Tennessee was founded with the Smelting of Cumberland of James Robertson.

The counties of Montgomery and Robertson were established on April 9th, Grainger on April 22nd, Cocke and Union on October 9th.

1798 – 1806

The migration increased from the east with the diminished indigenous dangers.  Treaties with the Cherokee and the Chickasaw opened fertile land for settlers in central Tennessee and the plateau of Cumberland.  Tennessee became a door to the west.

Between 1790 and 1800 the population of Tennessee tripled. In 1800, Tennessee had a population of 105,602.


The counties of Smith, Williamson and Wilson were established on October 26th, 1799.


The county of Clayborne was established on October 29th, Anderson, Jackson and Roane were established on November 6th.


The counties of Dickson, Rutherford  were established on October 25th and Stewart  on November 1st.


The counties of Campbell, Overton and White were established on September 11th.


The county of Maury was established on November 16th, Warren on November 26th, Bledsoe and Rhea on November 30th, Bedford and Franklin  on December 30th.


William Blount was named governor of Tennessee from 1809 to 1815.

The county of Humphreys was established on October 19th, Giles and Lincoln on November 14th.


The population of Tennessee increases (since 1800) by 250% from 85,000 to 250,000.

African-Americans now make up 20% of the general population.


The relationships between the indigenous and the colonials begins to deteriorate (turn sour) due to the continue violation of treaties and the illegal capture of land. The Indigenous Confederation was headed by Tecumseh and his brother the Prophet. The prophecy was that the earth would tremble and announce the coming struggle that was hoped to have ended with the colonization of the whites and seemed to be confirmed when there was an intense earthquake that impacted Tennessee from the west. The violent seismic event reversed the waters of the Mississippi, creating Reelfoot Lake.

The British government encourages and supplies the Indigenous uprising.

In June of this year War is declared against Great Britain.


The attack of the Creek Redsticks at Fort Mims (Alabama), where 240 men, women and children died.

Governor William Blount recruits 2500 volunteers that under the command of Andrew Jackson begin a campaign against the Creek.  In the final battle at Horseshoe Bend Jackson finally defeats the powerful military of the Creek.

Andrew Jackson (now risen to the rank of Major General of the Army of the United States) and his lieutenants William Carrol and Sam Houston gain national prominence.

With the battles of Mobile and Pensacola Jackson succeeds in expelling the British and marches toward New Orleans.

The invention of the cotton gin during this period contributes to the increase of cotton plantations in central Tennessee. With crops that depended on a lot of manual labor, like cotton and tobacco, the demand for slaves increased and by 1830 there were 7 times more slaves west of the Cumberland Plateau than in East Tennessee.


Battle of New Orleans. Jackson definitively defeats General Sir Edward Pakenham  who dies on the battlefield along with hundreds of his troops.


The counties of Morgan (Oct. 15), Lawrence (Oct. 21), Marion (Nov. 20) and Wayne (Nov. 24) are established..


Jackson campaigns in Florida against the Seminoles.

Spain cedes the territory of Florida to the United States.

A treaty with the Chickasaw Indians by Jackson and Issac Shelby of Kentucky extends the demarcation line of Tennessee to the west until the Mississippi river.


The panic of 1819. A violent economic depression ruins the majority of banks and individuals.

Elihu Ambree establishes in Jonesboro the first newspaper in the United States that is dedicated to the liberation of slaves. It is called the Manumission Intelligencer and later the “Emancipator.”

Of the 95 already established counties in Tennessee, 36 are formed between 1796 and 1819. Nashville is already one of the principal cities of the Upper South.

80% of the population of Tennessee works in agriculture.

The county of Hamilton (Oct. 25), Harding and Monroe (Nov. 13) and Shelby (Nov. 24) are established.


The last Native-Americans are pushed into the south east of the state.

The east of Tennessee transforms into the center of abolition.

The first steam ships arrive in Nashville.


Tennessee begins to emerge into the age of the cultural and intellectual frontier. Nashville transforms into a center of education and arts in the south. The publication of music collected in the period permits the conservation of traditional songs of America.


Nashville becomes the state capital. Knoxville was the capital since 1796.

The general assembly that has met in Murfreesboro since 1812 moves definitively to its current seat in Nashville.

Agriculture continues to be in the predominant industry in Tennessee, contributing food down river to the southern states that were concentrating their production on cotton and had to import their food.


Andrew Jackson is elected President of the United States. Jackson brings a fundamental change to the politics of the White House that had previously been dominated by the aristocracy of Virginia and New England. With Jackson the standard passed to the heroes of the common man. No candidate in the future would be able to be elected president without counting on the support of workers and farmers.


The constitution of Tennessee is amended. Freed slaves are not allowed to vote.


Jackson refuses to comply with the decision of the Supreme Court that protects the autonomy of the Cherokee. Georgia continues to allow the evictions and usurpation of their ancestral lands.

A group of Cherokee signs a treaty of extradition, but they oppose giving up their lands. In 1838 the army of the United States is dispatched to evict them. This results in the painful trek—“The Trail of Tears.” A small group of Cherokee refused to obey the forced eradication and escape into the Smoky Mountains. Their descendants still live there.

The trail of tears….


David Crockett dies alongside 103 other men in the battle of the Alamo in Texas.


In this decade, Tennessee becomes the main producer of corn and pigs in the country. The diversification in the agricultural production of Tennessee makes the state the principal provider of foods for the southern states that concentrated their agricultural economy in the production of cotton.


The architect William Strickland of Philadelphia comes to Nashville to design and construct the new state capital.

James K. Polk is elected President of the United States.


Nashville transforms into an important center of education and the arts in the south. Music was already an important field since 1824 that made it possible to converse the traditional songs of America and the University of Nashville is well known as one of the most prestigious colleges of medicine in the country.

Tennessee still doesn’t possess any railway mileage. The commerce of the state was transported principally by boat or land routes.


More than 1,200 miles of rails had been laid, mainly in eastern Tennessee. The mining industry grows in this area thanks to the railroad that connects it to the east coast.

Abraham Lincoln is elected President. His anti-slavery position is seen in Tennessee as potentially disastrous, especially in West Tennessee where the large capitals had invested in the slave industry. The movement towards secession begins.


Beginning of the American Civil War

The American Civil War began on April 12 or 13, 1861, when the Confederates in Charleston, South Carolina, bombed Fort Sumter that was occupied by Union forces commanded by Major Robert Anderson.

When Anderson saw that the Confederates exceeded them in number and arms he opted to surrender the Fort to the demands of the Confederates.

There was no loss of lives in the exchange of fire. But after the battle the general opinion was that of going to war. President Lincoln solicited 75,000 volunteers  to contain the rebellion that caused four other states to unite in the secession from the Confederation. The Civil War had begun.

In the beginning, Tennesseans showed little enthusiasm for separating from the nation with which they had shared sacrifices for so long. In 1860, they had given their support to John Bell, of the Constitutional Union Party, one of the 3 candidates for the Presidency of the United States who were defeated by Abraham Lincoln

Tennessee was divided in 3 zones on the question of the emancipation of slaves: the east of the state with its center in Knoxville  was Unionist and in favor of abolition; the west of Tennessee, with its center in Memphis, was Confederate and defended the right to slavery and the center of the state with its capital of Nashville was equally divided, preferring to find a solution through dialogue.

Isham G. Harris, then Governor(1857-1862) called the Assembly General of Tennessee to an emergency meeting in January of 1861, after the attack by the Union at Fort Sumter, denouncing the Union and President Lincoln for their warlike action. This time, the vote of Central Tennessee favored succession and the state joined with the Confederation.

Of the ten southern secessionist states, Tennessee was the last to withdraw from the Union. 11 States formed the Confederate States of America: South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee and North Carolina.


The Battle of Donelson

The Battle at Fort Donelson, the 11th to 16th of February, 1862, was fought shortly after the capture of Fort Henry on the 6th of February.

Grant, after capturing Fort Henry (on the Tennessee River) marched his troops overland 12 miles to Fort Donelson (on the Cumberland River) and the battle was fought from the 11th to the 16th of February, 1862. This victory opened the Cumberland River as an avenue for the invasion of the south by the Union forces, and also elevated Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant to a position of notoriety with the rank of Major General and earning him the nickname “Unconditional Surrender” (Unconditional Surrender—using his first two initials U.S).

On the morning of the 15th of February, the fort was surrounded by the Unionist forces and Brigadier General John B. Floyd who was in command of the Confederates, launched a surprise attack against Grant’s army searching for an escape route. Despite obtaining a good advantage he ordered his troops to return to the fort.

Early on the 16th, Floyd and his second in command, Brigadier General Gideon J. Pillow, handed over command to Brigadier General Simon Bolivar Buckner who accepted the conditions of “Unconditional Surrender” from General Grant.

The Battle of Shiloh

Also called the Battle of Pittsburg Landing, it was an important battle in the western theater of the Civil War. This battle was fought the 6th and 7th of April, 1862, in the southeast of Tennessee.

An Union army under the command of Major General Ulysses S. Grant infiltrated Tennessee by way of the Tennessee River and camped on Pittsburg Landing on the west bank of the river. The Confederate forces under the command of Generals Albert Sidney Johnston and P.G.T Beauregard had considerable success on the first day but were defeated on the second day of the battle.

The first day the Confederates attacked with the objective of forcing the Union defenses to retreat to the river toward the marshes of Owl Creek, with the objective of defeating Grant’s Tennessee Army before the expected arrival of the Ohio Army of Major General Don Carlos Buell.

In a Confederate confusion during the battle, the Unionists retreated towards the northeast, toward Pittsburg Landing and regrouped in defensive positions under Brigadier Generals Benjamin M. Prentiss and W.H.L. Wallace.

General Johnston died the first day of the battle and Beauregard decided not to continue the offensive that night.

General Buell’s reinforcements and Grant’s army arrived that night and reversed the situation when the commanders of the Union launched a counterattack. The Confederates were forced to retreat from the bloodiest battle in the history of the United States and lost the hope of blocking the Union’s advance toward the north of Mississippi.

First Battle of Murfreesboro

The 10th of June, 1862, Major General Don Carlos Buell, at the head of the Army of Ohio, began a slow advance toward Chattanooga that had been under threat the 7th and 8th of June by the forces of Brigadier General James S. Negley. Responding to the threat, the Confederate government sent General Forrest to Chattanooga to organize a cavalry brigade. Then in the month of July the Confederate Cavalry under the command of Forrest and Colonel John Hunt Morgan made incursions and attacks on Central Tennessee and in Kentucky.

Forrrest departed from Chattanooga the 9th of June with two cavalry regiments and combining with other units on the way, created a force of 1400 men. The principal objective was to attack Murfreesboro, an important railroad resupply center for the Union railroad from Nashville to Chattanooga, at dawn on the 13th of July,

The garrison in Murfreesboro was camped in three locations around the city and included detachments of four units, infantry, cavalry and artillery, under the command of Brigadier General Thomas Turpin Crittenden, who had arrived the 12th of July. Between 4:15 and 4:30 in the morning of the 13th of July, Forrest surprised the Union squads at Woodbury, to the east of Murfreesboro and rapidly invaded a Federal hospital and the camp of a detachment of the 9th Regiment of Pennsylvania Cavalry. Other Confederate troops attacked the other camps of the Union command, the prison and Headquarters. When afternoon arrived all the units had surrendered to Forrest.

The Battle of Stone’s River

(In the South, simply the Battle of Murfreesboro) was fought the 31st of December, 1862, to the 2nd of January, 1863.

Major General William S. Rosencrans, at the head of the Cumberland Army, marched from Nashville to Murfreesboro the 26th of December to confront the Army of Tennessee, led by General Braxton Bragg. Of all the important battles of the Civil War, the one at Murfreesboro resulted in the highest percentage of fatalities on both sides.

Although the result of the battle was inconclusive, the Union Army drove back two Confederate attacks and the subsequent retreat of the Confederates was a very necessary incentive for the moral of the Union after the defeat at the Battle of Fredericksburg (Virginia, 1862) y denied the Confederate aspirations of controlling Central Tennessee.

 The Chattanooga Campaign

The Chattanooga Campaign was a series of maneuvers and battles during October and November of 1863.  After defeating General Rosencrans at the battle of Chickamauga in September, the Confederate Army under the command of General Braxton Bragg besieged the Rosencrans forces by occupying key high terrain around Chattanooga. Major General Ulysses S. Grant had been given the command of the Western Forces and considerable reinforcements arrived with him in Chattanooga from Mississippi and also from the East.

After opening a supply corridor for the troops and animals that had been deprived of supplies, Grant’s army repelled a Confederate counterattack at the Battle of Wauhathcie the 28th and 29th of October, 1863.

The 23rd of November the Army of the Cumberland under the command of Major General George H. Thomas managed to gain the high ground at Orchard Knob while part of the Tennessee Army under the command of Major General William T. Sherman maneuvered to launch a surprise attack on the right flank of Bragg at Missionary Ridge. The 24th of November troops arrived from the east under the command of Major General Joseph Hooker and defeated the Confederates in the battle of Lookout Mountain and began a maneuver toward Bragg’s left flank in Rossville.

The 25th of November Sherman’s attack on Bragg’s right flank made little progress. With the intention of distracting Bragg’s attention, Grant authorized Thomas’ troops to advance the center of the line to the base of Missionary Ridge. A combination of misunderstood orders and the pressure of the tactical situation resulted in Thomas’ troops gaining the top of Missionary Ridge, putting the Tennessee Army in flight and retreat to Dalton, Georgia. There, finally, the Confederates managed to successfully stop the Unionists at the Battle of Ringgold Gap.

Bragg’s defeat eliminated the last Confederate control in Tennessee and opened the doors to invasion of the Deep South and the Atlanta Campaign by General Sherman in 1864.


The Battle of Fort Pillow

Fort Pillow was located 40 miles to the north of Memphis and had been constructed by Brigadier General Gideon Johnson Pillow in 1862. Both sides used it during the war and the Confederates had evacuated it during the fall of New Madrid and Island #10 to the Union who had occupied it since.

The 16th of March, 1864 Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest launched an offensive to the west of Tennessee and Kentucky. The objective was to destroy the Union waterway defenses from Paducah, Kentucky to south of Memphis.

The Battle of Paducah was the 25th of March and causes great losses to the city and to the military supplies of the Union. Then they set off to Fort Pillow in search of the provisions and horses they needed.

Fort Pillow was protected by a troop of 600 men, black and white, many of whom were liberated slaves. The attack by Forrest began at 10 am and was brutal and without cease. Close to 3:30 pm General Forrest ordered  them to surrender but the response was negative and General Forrest ordered the final attack. It was at that moment that what is described as the Massacre of Fort Pillow began, in which soldiers, women and children were indiscriminately killed by bayonet, saber and gun.

From there the War cry “Remember Fort Pillow” was born for black soldiers, unifying them to struggle without cease against death.

The Battle of Nashville

The battle of Nashville was a two-day battle during the Franklin Campaign—Nashville represented the end of a great escalation in the conflict in the Western theater of the American Civil War. It took place in Nashville, Tennessee, the 15th and 16th of December, 1864, between the Confederate Army of Tennessee under Lieutenant General John Bell Hood and the Federal forces under the command of Major General George J. Thomas. In one of the largest victories achieved by the Union Army during the war, Thomas attacked and routed Hood’s army, largely destroying its capacity as a battle force.


The Civil War ends. Former Vice President Andrew Johnson is now President and it falls to him the difficult task of reunifying the North with the South.

The Ku Klux Klan forms in Pulaski with Confederate war veterans. General Nathan Bedford Forrest serves as the Grand Wizards of the vigilante organization that terrorizes the population with their extreme ideology.

Tennessee is the first of the Southern states to be readmitted to the Union on the 24th of July of that year.

Fisk University is founded in Nashville as a college of higher education principally for recently freed slaves


The House of Representative (Congress) votes to denounce Andrew Jackson and challenge him in court. The following year Johnson resigns and retires to his house in Greenville.


The state constitution is amended.


Aerial images of Vanderbilt Campus and Kirkland Hall (Daniel Dubois / Vanderbilt University)

Daniel Dubois / Vanderbilt University

The University of Vanderbilt is founded in Nashville. It was named in honor of Cornelius Vanderbilt, a businessman who donated a million dollars to construct and maintain the institution.

Cornelius Vanderbilt was born in New York in 1794. He made his fortune in transport systems, first creating a service from State Island and later to California and France.  Then he made a change to railroad and at the time of his death had created an important transportation system in America. He was one of the most successful American capitalists of the century. During the Civil War he donated a Vanderbilt steamboat to the government of the United States and then the funds for the foundation of Vanderbilt University.

Andrew Johnson dies of a heart attack, the only ex-presidente to have returned to serve in the US Senate.


Of the 19, 600 residents of Memphis, 5200 of them die in a yellow fever epidemic.


Blount College transforms into the University of Tennessee.

Blount College, the antecedent of the University of Tennessee, was established in Knoxville in 1794, two years before Tennessee became a state. Blount College was located close to what is today the commercial center of Knoxville and was characterized by being non-sectarian, which was a very uncommon for an institution of higher learning during that time. The University has continued to be non-denominational and is known as the being the oldest university to the west of the Appalachians.

From the beginning Blount College was only for men, as were the majority of college during those times. This restriction was eliminated in 1892 when the first women students were admitted. The University has been coeducational since then.


The state of Tennessee celebrated its Centenary (although a year late) with a great exposition in Nashville.

The Centennial Exposition of Tennessee was the last expression of the Golden Age of the High South—a demonstration of industrial technology and papier-mâché versions of the world wonders. The Parthenon of Nashville was constructed of bone, wood and brick. Reconstructed in concrete after 1920, it remains still as an attraction in the city. During the six months that is was in Centennial Park, the Exposition attracted almost two million visitors to the spectacular monuments of the Southern recuperation.

Then Governor Robert Taylor said: “Some of those who saw the ruin of our land 30 years ago will appreciate the fact that we have built miracles.”


Prohibition of alcohol production for one year.


World War I begins.


The Invention of the Tow Truck

The tow truck industry had its beginning in 1916 in the city of Chattanooga, after Ernest Holmes, Sr., native of Chattanooga, helped a friend recover his automobile with three posts, a pulley and a chain hooked to the chassis of a 1913 Cadillac. After patenting his design, Holmes began the manufacture of tow trucks (called wreckers) and accessories for sale to mechanic garages for cars and whoever else had interest in recovering or towing crashed vehicles or with mechanical problems.

His first factory was a little local one on Market Street, a few blocks

With the expansion of the automobile industry Holmes’ business grew and eventually his products gained a world reputation for their quality and capacity. Ernest Holmes, Sr. died in 1943 and his son, Ernest Holmes, Jr. took charge of the company until he retired in 1973. That year the company was sold to the Dover Corporation. And that same year the grandson of the founder, Gerald Holmes, left the company and stated a new one named Century Wreckers. He constructed the factory in neighboring Ooltewah, Tennessee, and quickly it transformed into competition for the original company with its hydraulic system trucks.


The 9th of July, in Nashville, 101 people died and 171 were wounded the worst train accident in the history of the United States.

Corporal Alvin C. York kills more than 20 Germans and forces 132 others to surrender the 8th of October in 1918, close to Chateau Chehery in France. This earns him the Congressional Medal of Honor.


The first radio station in Tennessee, WNAV, begins to transmit from Knoxville.


The radio transmission of the Grand Ole Opry begins in Nashville.

The 10th of June, Tennessee adopts a new book on the study of biology that denies the Theory of Evolution.

Professor John T. Scopes is declared guilty of violating the state law that prohibits the teaching of the Theory of Evolution. The “monkey trial” as it was called, attracts world attention when two celebrities, William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow battled in court. They fined Scopes $100 in the end but the penalty was annulled due to a minor legal error.


President Calvin Coolidge, the 26th of March, signs the legislation that creates the National military park “Fort Donelson National Battlefield” on the site of the first important victory of the Union in the Civil War. (February 1862)


The Federal government establishes the Tennessee Valley Authority to conserve and develop the resources of the Tennessee River Valley.


Elvis Presley is born the 8th of January in Tupelo, Mississippi.


A network transmits for the first time from the “Grand Ole Opry.”


Glenn Miller and his Orchestra record Chattanooga Choo Choo in Hollywood on the 6th of May and it is an immediate and tremendous success.


The federal government begins to construct an atomic energy plant in Oak Ridge. They begin work to build an atom bomb.

Aretha Franklin, Queen of Soul, is born in Memphis.


The 5th of June the Grand Ole Opry moves to the Ryman Auditorium, The “Mother Church” of country music.


The first television station in the state: WMCT-TV in Memphis.

New state elections deny control to the political boss E.H. Crump.


The American Museum of Atomic Energy is inaugurated in Oak Ridge on the 19th of March.


10,500 Tennesseans volunteer to serve in the Korean War.


Sun Studio in Memphis makes its first rock ‘n roll recording.

The state constitution is amended.

Elvis Presley graduates from L.C.Humes high school in Memphis the 14th of June.


The Grand Ole Opry is transmitted on television for the first time.

The 1st of December of this year, Rosa Louise McCauley Parks, refuses to obey the bus driver who orders her to give up her seat to a white passenger. The defiant action of Rosa Parks triggered the bus boycott  in Montgomery and transformed her into an icon of the resistance to racial segregation.


The National Guard is called to control a racial disturbance when 12 African-American children were admitted to schools in Clinton, TN.

Elvis Presley appears for the second time on the Milton Berle show, the Texaco Star Theater, singing Heartbreak Hotel. The critics say that his act appears like an aboriginal dance.


Elvis Presley presents himself for military service. Number US 53310761 is now a soldier in the army and Uncle Same will lose half a million dollars in taxes for each year of Elvis’ military service.

1960 and 1963

The constitution is amended two times.


The law prohibiting the teaching of the theory of evolution is overturned.

The State Community College in Columbia is established.


Having bought a rifle in Birmingham, Alabama, snipe Earl Ray assassinates the civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., on the balcony of a motel in Memphis, the 4th of April, provoking violent protests in many cities.


The census indicates that the population of Tennessee is 3,926,018.

Winfield Dunn is the first republican elected Governor of Tennessee in 50 years.


New amendment to the constitution.


Alex Haley wins the Pulitzer Prize for Literature and international acclaim for his work “Roots,” that has been translated into more than 30 languages. Alex Haley is also the co-author of the “Autobiography of Malcolm X.”


Elvis Presley dies in Memphis.

James Earl Ray, the assassin of Martin Luther King Jr., escapes from the Brushy Mountain State Prison on the 10th of June along with 6 other convicts, but is recaptured on the 13th of June.


The constitution is amended.


Tennessee reaches a population of 4,591,120 million. This is an increase of 17% above the census of 1970.


“Energy makes the world go ‘round” is the theme of the World Fair in Knoxville.


General Motors opens the new automobile plant for the Saturn Corporation in Springfield.


The National Museum of Human Rights in Memphis is inaugurated in the same place as the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King was assassinated, the 4th of April of 1968.


Albert Gore, Jr. is elected Vice-president of the United States.


The population of Tennessee reaches 5,175,240 million; the 17th highest in the United States.


Celebration year of the Bicentennial of Tennessee as a state in the Union since 1796.


The University of Tennessee football team wins the National Championship.


The National Museum of Civil Rights inaugurates its expansion that includes Bessie Brewer’s boarding house in front of the Lorraine Motel, where Earl Ray used a hunting rifle to assassinate Martin Luther King.


Torrential rains on the 1st and 2nd of May cause the worst floods in the history of the state.