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Sesquicentennial of Burnside's Arrival

In this sesquicentennial season, I'd meant to offer some commemoration of one of the most dramatic events of Knoxville's Civil War, the surprisingly peaceful arrival, 150 years ago this week, of the U.S. Army, Ambrose Burnside, Orlando Poe, and Co., props. But couldn't do better than this blog from yesterday's NY Times. I'm grateful to reader Ed White for alerting us to it:

 
SEPTEMBER 4, 2013, 10:07 AM

On Sept. 1, 1863, an engineer for the Union Army named Orlando Poe arrived in Knoxville, Tenn., alongside thousands of soldiers under the command of Gen. Ambrose Burnside. The town was until recently a rebel stronghold, the last in northeastern Tennessee. Yet in a letter home to his wife he remarked: "I wish you could see the delight of the people -- such loyalty to the Union I have never seen in my life before. We don't know at the North what loyalty means." Indeed, their long march over the Cumberland Mountains culminated in scenes of wild celebration as citizens of all ages greeted the liberating Federal army. A lithograph in Harper's Magazine portrayed General Burnside riding among the crowd, elevated like a savior. Long a symbol of defiant Southern Unionism, the city of Knoxville, Tenn., was, at last, liberated from Confederate control.
 
Not everybody in East Tennessee's metropolis shared in the joyous revelry. Ellen Renshaw House, a teenage diarist and self-described "Very Violent Rebel," wrote: "I think it is outrageous. The Yankees are here. Just think, here -- here in Knoxville ... I never never could have believed it ... How I hate them." House chafed under the dramatic turn of events, especially the Confederate general Simon Bolivar Buckner's decision to strategically withdraw from the area by the end of August.
 
The change of fortune befalling the city of Knoxville fulfilled one of the deepest ambitions of President Lincoln from the earliest days of the war. Knoxville and East Tennessee had long symbolized for Northerners the "true patriotic spirit" among the ordinary population of the South. A notion reinforced by the homegrown senator Andrew Johnson, who refused to yield his seat upon Tennessee's secession, East Tennessee's defiant Unionism encouraged political leaders like Lincoln to believe that a quick war would topple the Confederate "coup" launched by slaveholding aristocrats.

Read the rest of Astor's essay here.
 
Aaron Astor is an associate professor of history at Maryville College in Maryville, Tenn. He is the author of "Rebels on the Border: Civil War, Emancipation and the Reconstruction of Kentucky and Missouri."
 
 

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