I don’t remember how old I was when I realized Tennessee was a slave state during the Civil War, but I remember being mortified about it. I took some consolation in the fact that Tennessee was the last state to join the Confederacy and the first to leave it after the war. I also felt a little better when I took the mandatory Tennessee History class in 7th grade and they taught us that east Tennessee mostly disagreed with the vote to leave the US. If the state approved history text book was to be believed the entire eastern portion of the state very nearly decided to split from the rest of the state in order to remain part of the good ole USA.
The text book left out one very important thing that I didn’t discover until 25 years after my 7th grade Tennessee History class (also known as ‘last month’). When war broke out in 1861, Tennessee had 84 counties. But a few months later, Tennessee only had 83 counties because Scott County voted to leave Tennessee by a vote of 541 for and 19 against. They struck out on their own and declared themselves ‘the free and independent state of Scott’. Union Colonel William Clift organized the 7th Tennessee Infantry Regiment primarily out of volunteers from Scott County. The 7th Tennessee fought a few skirmishes around Scott County but appears to have disbanded fairly quickly. (The Confederates also had a 7th Tennessee Regiment formed out of western Tennessee.)
If you’re not familiar with Scott County, it’s a rural county in east Tennessee north of Knoxville. Back in 1860 its population was about 3,519 (0.3% of the state population) and it was the 9th smallest of the 85 counties in Tennessee. These days its population is around 20,000 (0.03% of state total) and it’s the 36th smallest county out of 95. Its biggest town is Oneida (founded after Scott left Tennessee) and the most famous person from Scott County is probably Howard Baker, Jr who was a powerful US senator from 1967 to 1985 (in the position later held by Al Gore), White House chief of staff during the Reagan presidency, and US ambassador to China during George W. Bush’s presidency. (Baker, Sr. was a US Representative and unsuccessfully ran as governor of Tennessee.)
For me, by far the most interesting part of this story is the reunion of Scott County and the rest of Tennessee. It seems that the vote to leave Tennessee was not repealed until 1986 so you could consider Scott County to not be part of Tennessee for 125 years. Local residents seem to consider it a sign of the independent nature of people from the area, but since the county paid state taxes and received state revenue it seems more likely that everyone probably just forgot or wanted to let everyone cool down after the war before asking to be readmitted to the state.
I originally discovered this bit of Tennessee history on Wikipedia, and I haven’t found supporting evidence in print, but I managed to find enough online sources that I think it’s a legitimate story. In my abundant free time I’m hoping to look into what life was like in Scott County during war time. Various questionable sources I’ve found online indicate that a lot of Confederate raiders were funneled through the area in an effort to teach the ‘traitors’ of Scott County a lesson.
Update: Check out the follow-up post for the story of angst in Franklin County happening at the same time.