East Tennessee had long been fertile ground for anti-slavery sentiment, with a sizable majority there favoring emancipation (voluntary manumission of slaves by their owners) rather than the more radical abolition of slavery by force of law. However, the region did have a sizable and very influential minority favoring the latter.
On 30 May 1861, twenty-nine counties from East Tennessee (all thirty minus Rhea) plus the Middle Tennessee county of Macon began to hold a convention in Knoxville to discuss counter-measures. Its second and final day featured then Senator and later President Andrew Johnson, with delegates agreeing to meet again.
Tennessee held its referendum on 8 June 1861, with voters reversing themselves to give Gov. Harris and his fellow secessionists a very clear majority. Six counties in East Tennessee (Sullivan, Monroe, Polk, Meigs, Rhea, and Sequatchie) voted in favor. Hamilton County and the county seat of Harrison voted against it, while the small town of Chattanooga, a major railroad center and burgeoning manufacturing municipality, voted affirmative. Franklin County’s appeal to be allowed to secede became a moot point.
The would-be state of Westsylvania, minus the portion in southwest Pennsylvania, finally became a reality when the State of West Virginia voted to secede from the Commonwealth of Virginia of the C.S.A and join the Union on 17 June 1861.
The East Tennessee Convention reconvened on 17 June 1861 at Greeneville, former capital of the 18th century secessionist (from North Carolina) Republic of Franklin. Senator Johnson did not attend due to very credible threats to his life. Instead, the most radical and vociferous delegate at the meeting was Hamilton County’s own William Clift, who proposed the counties in East Tennessee unilaterally secede from the State of Tennessee, form their own state government, and fight the Confederacy.
In the end, the delegates of the East Tennessee Convention voted to separate from Tennessee only with the agreement of the state government and sent the request to Nashville on 20 June 1861. Their request was summarily rebuffed on 29 June.
On 4 July 1861, delegates from the North Alabama counties of Winston, Marion, Franklin, Lawrence, Morgan, Blount, Marshall, Walker, and Fayette met at Looney’s Tavern in Winston County to draw up condemnation of Alabama’s secession from the Union. At the end of this meeting, the delegates from Winston County, who were the heart of the effort, declared the Free State of Winston, independent of Alabama but neutral in the military conflict between the Union and the Confederacy.
Tennessee’s Gov. Harris ordered Brig. Gen. Felix Zollicoffer and his men into East Tennessee to suppress the growing resistance in the region to Tennessee’s secession from the Union on 26 July 1861. His mission was to prevent East Tennessee from seceding from the state.
By then the Provisional Army of Tennessee (which, interestingly, included at least two all Afro-American regiments organized in Memphis) had merged into the Confederate Army (minus the two Afro-American regiments, which were refused). In addition to his field command, Brig. Gen. Zollicoffer was appointed the first commanding officer of the geographical command in East Tennessee.
Meanwhile, William Clift had returned to Hamilton County and as commanding officer of the county’s militia mustered the 7th Tennessee Militia into service at a camp on his large farm in Sale Creek. After nearly three months which involved drilling and training but little else, Col. Clift signed a truce with Col. George Gillespie of the 43rd Tennessee Volunteer Infantry in the Confederate Army on 19 September 1861 at Smith’s Crossroads (now Dayton), Tennessee.
This Crossroads Treaty was basically a pact of non-aggression between two men who knew each other and travelled in the same social circles. Col. Clift owned one of the largest farms in the north of the county while Col. Gillespie owned a large plantation south of the Tennessee River west of Chattanooga Creek. Gillespie’s brother James was a lieutenant in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers who owned a large farm east of South Chickamauga Creek near Chickamauga Station but few slaves. Clift’s son Moses was a major in Forrest’s Cavalry Corps who arrested his own father carrying dispatches between the Army of the Cumberland in Chattanooga and the Army of the Ohio in Knoxville in late 1863.
On 31 October 1861, a rump legislature (one without a quorum) of the State of Missouri called by the deposed Gov. Jackson passed articles of secession from the Union.
The first action of the war which affected the Chattanooga region occurred on 8 November 1861 when two railroad bridges across the South Chickamauga Creek were burned by Unionist sympathizers.
In late October, Senator Johnson had begged President Lincoln for Union troops to protect the loyal citizens of East Tennessee. Unionists in East Tennessee directed by William Carter of Knoxville were going to destroy nine major railroad bridges in East Tennessee to ease an invasion by troops in the Department of the Cumberland under the command of Brig. Gen. William T. Sherman. Alfred Cate of Bradley County was in charge of the attacks on the bridges over the South Chickamauga and the Hiwassee River.
Unfortunately for the Unionists, Brig. Gen. Sherman got cold feet and called it off 7 November, in spite of his subordinate Brig. Gen. George Thomas throwing a fit demanding the army not renege on its commitment. The bridges assigned to Cate were the only ones destroyed, the other parties being deterred by heavy guard.
The destroyed bridges were soon rebuilt. Brig. Gen. Zollicoffer, commander of the District of East Tennessee, put the region under martial law to counter the threat of saboteurs and to try the bridge-burners by court martial. Five of those involved were hung, around 150 imprisoned in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Those who escaped retribution, including Carter and Cate, fled to Union lines in Kentucky and joined the U.S. Army.
Another local consequence was the disbandment of Col. Clift’s 7th Tennessee Militia on 16 November 1861 in the face of the 6th Alabama Volunteer Infantry, which had been called to end their threat one way or another. Most of those mustered out went to Kentucky to enlist in the Union Army but Clift and others decided to stay behind in the mountains as bushwackers.
Shortly after the bridge-burnings, Sherman had a nervous breakdown which caused him to be removed from command.
On 20 November 1861, a shadow government in the Commonwealth of Kentucky (styling itself the “Convention of the People of Kentucky”) voted to secede from the Union.
On 8 April 1862, President of the Confederate States Jefferson Davis declared East Tennessee enemy territory and put the region under martial law.
In late 1861, the court of Scott County in East Tennessee on the border with the Commonwealth of Kentucky voted to secede from the state as the Free and Independent State of Scott.
By May 1862, Col. Clift had come down from the mountains and begun reorganizing his militia as the 7th Tennessee Volunteer Infantry, U.S.A. in Scott, Morgan, and Anderson Counties. The regiment was broken up in early 1863 and Clift was assigned to the staff of Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside of the Army of the Ohio. As mentioned above, he was later arrested by his own son, Maj. Moses Clift of Forrest’s Cavalry Corps during the Siege of Chattanooga.
The Free State of Jones, formerly Jones County, seceded from the State of Mississippi in February 1864 after the Battle of Meridian (14-20 February), at least according to Maj. Gen. Sherman, who now commanded the Army of the Tennessee.
The secessionist town of Chattanooga became the headquarters for the Department of the Cumberland in September 1863 and remained so until August 1866. Not long after the war ended, the town’s business leaders placed an advertisement in the Chattanooga News asking for carpet-baggers to come join the community. The industrialists who made up much of the staff of the Dept. of the Cumberland’s Quartermaster Corps went on to transform Chattanooga into the “Dynamo of Dixie”.
The State of Tennessee was readmitted to the Union on 24 July 1866.
The Free State of Dade officially reentered the State of Georgia and the Union on 4 July 1945.
The Free and Independent State of Scott officially reentered the State of Tennessee in 1986.