Book Review: Lincolnites and Rebels: A Divided Town in the American Civil War

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by Robert Tracy

New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. . 306. Illus, append, notes, biblio., index. $35.00. . ISBN:0195182944

 
Lincolnites and Rebels is a valuable contribution to Civil War literature. McKenzie's complicated task was to demonstrate how Knoxville, Tennessee experienced the Civil War and how it changed as a result.
 
Knoxville is generally believed to have been the most important Southern Unionist center.  However, the first thing McKenzie does is to dispel that notion to some degree.  He details the demographics showing that the town was diverse, economically and ethnically, and its leading citizens were largely slave holders.  Once the war came, however, its loyalties were split 50/50, although the surrounding rural areas were Unionist.
 
McKenzie makes several important points.  Firstly, Knoxville was by no means as pro-Union was thought at the time, a belief largely fomented by William G. 'Parson' Brownlow, the fiery editor of the Knoxville Whig.  In addition, Lincoln 's call for the militia after the firing on Fort Sumter pushed the state and town to the Confederate side, since Secessionists charged that  opposition to secession was support for coercion by the federal government.  Unionism revived somewhat once Confederate troops occupied the town and the draft was imposed, as the thought occurred that citizens had just traded one 'tyranny' for another.  Overall, the ultimate political divide seemed to rest on old party ties, that is, the Unionists were former Whigs, and the Confederates, Democrats.  After the war, the town 'reconciled' through the issue of white supremacy.
 
Among other topics covered are military occupations by both the Confederate and Union armies, General Longstreet's siege of the town that trapped Ambrose Burnside's Ohio forces, the travails of African-American soldiers in the town, and the many people forced to become political refugees.
 
McKenzie makes one error that turns what might have been a great book into just a very good one.  He is just plain wrong when he states that the Lincoln administration never considered the relief of East Tennessee to be a major military priority at the start of the war.  He also somewhat fails in his purpose, since while he demonstrates that the mountain folk were real Unionists, he never investigates them in depth.  What was the point of analyzing Unionism in the city of Knoxville , when the real Unionists resided outside of town' I n short, McKenzie never addresses what should be the most important question, "Why was East Tennessee such a hotbed of Unionism?"
Reviewer: C. Kay Larson   


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