Monday, December 15, 2014

The Battle of Nashville: 150 Years Ago Today

Beginning on this day 150 years ago, the Confederate army launched a desperate assault on federal forces in Nashville as part of Confederate General John Bell Hood's attempt to threaten Union-held territory and lure General William T. Sherman away from Georgia. Despite the Confederate bloodletting at Franklin on November 30 of that year, the Confederates pursued their federal counterparts toward Nashville. Arriving on the south side of Nashville around December 2, 1864, the Confederates entrenched in an unlikely effort to besiege the strongly-fortified city. The thin Confederate lines stretched from the Cumberland River on the west to another bend of the river on the east. With perhaps 20,000 effective troops, the Confederates lacked sufficient manpower to complete the encirclement.

Major General George H. Thomas commanded Union forces during the Battle of Nashville.
Tennessee Historical Society Picture Collection

Inside the city, Major General George H. Thomas enjoyed the advantage of strong fortifications and earthworks which had been built in anticipation of a potential Confederate attack. With concentrations of African American refugees in the city available for military labor, and as many as 18,000 civilians employed by the army, Nashville was one of the strongest fortified cities on the continent. Thomas’s army, with a three-to-one advantage in numbers over Hood’s army, was primed for a major victory.

View of south Nashville from the campus of the University of Nashville. Fort Negley can be seen in the distance. Nashville had been occupied by the Union since 1862.
TSLA Photograph Collection

President Lincoln and General Grant pushed the cautious Thomas to destroy Hood’s army as quickly as possible. Thomas, however, refused to move until everything was in order and delayed further when a major ice storm hit the area on December 12. While the Confederates sat in frozen trenches with little or no food, few overcoats, and suffering low morale after the fiasco at Franklin, Thomas’s men prepared for the attack.

Written “in the field near Nashville” December 5, 1864, this receipt of medicines and hospital stores was issued to Senior Surgeon Robert W. Mitchell, Vaughan’s Brigade, CSA, 10 days before the Battle of Nashville. It includes alcohol, morphine, surgeon’s needles and silk, opium, and a large amount of whiskey.
Looking Back: The Civil War in Tennessee

Finally on December 15, the weather broke and the federal advance began. Thomas sent his cavalry out Charlotte Pike in an effort to envelop the Confederate left flank. On the Confederate right, federal infantry, including a brigade of United States Colored Troops seeing combat for the first time, advanced to hold the Confederates in place. By the evening of the 15th, the Confederates had been forced to give up their positions and had fallen back to a shorter defensive line from Peach Orchard Hill on the far right, to Shy’s Hill on the left. There they sat, awaiting the next day’s attack.

This two sided hand-drawn map of Nashville, probably drawn for Army of Tennessee commanders by a Confederate spy, includes many features of wartime Nashville. Signed by “J.C.,” it shows “64-pounder” gun emplacements on the Cumberland River, the Brennan Foundry, and the stockade and fortifications around the State Capitol. The reverse side shows sentry houses and firfle pits on St. Cloud, Cathy’s, and Overton’s Hills, and military “graveyards” to the east.
Looking Back: The Civil War in Tennessee

The federal plan of attack for December 16 was much the same as the day before—hold the Confederate right in place with a diversionary attack while also pressuring the center and flanking on the left, using cavalry. Confederates entrenched on Peach Orchard Hill inflicted heavy losses on the advancing United States Colored Troops, but the Confederates atop Shy’s Hill crumbled under the weight of attacks from three sides. The collapse of the Confederate left flank put the rest of Hood’s army in flight. It was only the brave rearguard actions by some Confederate units that prevented the complete destruction of the Army of Tennessee.

Pre-Civil War cased tintype of Col. William Shy, 20th Tennessee Infantry, CSA. Shy was killed at the Battle of Nashville on December 16, 1864, defending a hilltop position that now bears his name.
Looking Back: The Civil War in Tennessee

The Battle of Nashville was the most complete federal victory of the Civil War and ended any Confederate threat to the state. Amazingly, those Confederate soldiers who remained with the defeated Army of Tennessee would fight again before the war finally ended in May 1865.

Dr. William H. Givens, an assistant surgeon attached to the 1st Division, detached from the 14th Army Corps, USA, wrote this letter to his wife on December 18, 1864 from the Rains House in Nashville. “We have suffered severely in the loss of men, but have gained one of the greatest victories of the war. We have captured large quantities of guns, small arms ammunition and prisoners . . . The fighting was quite severe all around here, and just in sight of here dozens of dead men have lain in the rain . . . nearly every one had been stripped of some article of clothing, all of them of their boots and shoes, most of them pants and many of coats, hats and all.”
Looking Back: The Civil War in Tennessee

TSLA’s current exhibit “1864: War Rages in Tennessee” features the Battle of Nashville and will be up in our Memorial Hall through the end of the year.

Many of the images come from Looking Back: The Civil War in Tennessee:

The Tennessee Virtual Archive (TeVA) has several other Civil War collections:

Other Civil War Resources at TSLA:

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Tennessee's starring role in Elia Kazan's "Wild River"

In Tennessee today, it is not unusual to see film crews around the state, whether filming a TV show like ABC’s “Nashville” or making movies like “The Green Mile,” “The Firm,” or “Walk the Line.” In 1959, however, the filming of an entire major Hollywood movie in Tennessee was a momentous occasion, especially in a small town. That year, director Elia Kazan and actors Montgomery Clift and Lee Remick were among the stars that descended on Bradley County to make “Wild River.” Most of the filming took place in the Tennessee towns of Charleston and Cleveland and on Coon Denton Island in the Hiwassee River. More than 40 local residents had speaking parts, and dozens more served as extras.

In a scene from "Wild River," Miss Ella (Jo Van Fleet) attempts to illustrate her determination to keep her land by pretending to force field hand Sam Johnson (Robert Earl Jones) to sell his beloved hunting dog "Old Blue." Sam offered to give her the dog, if she was going to stay on the island.
Department of Conservation Photograph Collection
Image online:

The film dramatized the plight of rural landowners who lost their homes and farms when the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) built dams that flooded their land. Assistant State Archivist Dr. Wayne Moore notes, "In one of the largest uses of eminent domain power in American history, tens of thousands of Southerners had their property taken from them by the Federal government in order to build these dams and create the lakes.”

The Garth Island field hands leave the farm as the lake begins to rise.
Department of Conservation Photograph Collection
Image online:

If you are interested in learning more about the people who lost their lands to the lakes created by TVA dams, TSLA has many resources to explore. Borden Deal's novel Dunbar's Cove (1957) was one of two novels on which the "Wild River" screenplay was based. Two academic studies of the subject are TVA Population Removal : Attitudes and Expectations of the Dispossessed at the Norris and Cherokee Dam Sites (1995) by Michael Rogers, and TVA and the Dispossessed : the Resettlement of Population in the Norris Dam Area (1982) by Michael J. McDonald.

TVA's trouble shooter, Chuck Glover (Montgomery Clift), and eminently worth-the-trouble Carol Garth Baldwin (Lee Remick) find romance amidst the drama in "Wild River." In the end, they have to join hands with the law.
Department of Conservation Photograph Collection
Image online:

To see more images from the Department of Conservation Photographs Collection related to the movie, search "Wild River" in the TSLA Photograph Database:

The movie set used as the "Garth family homestead," in the motion picture "Wild River," 1959.
Department of Conservation Photograph Collection
Image online:

More about “Wild River”

The Library of Congress selected "Wild River" for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry in 2002.

Allison Inman directed a documentary, “Mud on the Stars: Stories from Elia Kazan’s Wild River“ (2011) about how the making of “Wild River” affected people in Bradley County. View a trailer for the documentary here:

These notes from the Turner Classic Movie website are informative:

At right, "Garth Island," reached by a current-pushed ferry. This location, at Coon Denton Island, a few miles up the Hiwassee River from Calhoun and Charleston, Tennessee, was chosen as typical of bottomland before the TVA dam was closed.
Department of Conservation Photograph Collection
Image online:

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The “First” Thanksgiving

Most Americans think about Pilgrims and Indians gathering around the table when the first Thanksgiving comes to mind. However, in 1863, while the nation was in the midst of a civil war, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation designating that the last Thursday in November be observed as a day of Thanksgiving by all Americans at home or abroad...

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), circa 1860s,
Carte de visite Collection
By the President of the United States of America: A Proclamation. The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added which are of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful Providence of Almighty God, in the midst of a civil war of unequal magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to unite and provoke the aggressions of foreign States.

Peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere, except in the theatre of military conflict. While that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union, the needful diversions of wealth and strength from the field of peaceful industry to the national defense have not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Populations has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege, and the battle-field; and the country rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect a continuance of years with large increase of Freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor mortal man worked out these great things; they are the gracious gifts of the most high God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered us in mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged with one heart and voice by the whole American people.

I do therefore invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea, and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of Thanksgiving and Prayer to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens, and I recommend to them, that, while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all who have become widows, orphans, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the divine purpose, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.

In testimony whereof I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed. Done at the City of Washington, this, the 3d day of October, A. D., 1863, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty-eighth. By the President: A. Lincoln., Wm. H. Seward, Secretary of State. -- Nashville Daily Union, October 8, 1863

Here in Tennessee, citizens and government officials alike took Lincoln's words to heart. The mayor of Nashville requested that all houses of business be closed in observance of the holiday. On November 26, 1863, Mayor Smith declared, "This day having been designated by the President of the United States as one of thanksgiving and prayer, it is therefore requested and ordered by the Mayor of the city, that all business houses be closed, to enable persons who desire to participate in the ceremonies of the occasion. – John Hu. Smith, Mayor of Nashville.” -- Nashville Daily Union, November 26, 1863

In that same edition of the Nashville Daily Union, we learn that the sick and wounded soldiers were well taken care of and had wonderful Thanksgiving dinners, thanks to the State Sanitary Commission at Indianapolis, Indiana. What did the soldiers have for dinner? They ate turkey, of course! In its account, the Nashville Daily Union recorded, “Good Things for the Soldiers in the Hospitals – We are gratified to learn from Mr. Ed Shaw, of the Indiana State Agency in this city, that two car loads of turkies, &c., were received yesterday, from Indiana, for distribution amongst the government hospitals at this post, for Thanksgiving Dinners for the sick and wounded soldiers. They were forwarded by Wm. Hannaman, Esq., President of the State Sanitary Commission at Indianapolis, and were brought free of charge by the Adams Express Company. Indiana is a glorious State – her people are determined to be ahead in every good work.” -- Nashville Daily Union, November 26, 1863

Program for the 2nd Balloon Company's 1931 Thanksgiving Dinner. Program includes a menu and lists the entire company roster, Fort Bragg (N.C.), November 26, 1931, Puryear Family Photograph Albums, ca. 1890-1945

Thanksgiving has been celebrated annually in America since that “first” Thanksgiving in 1863.

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Make a “County Connection” the Saturday after Thanksgiving on “Family History Day”

The Thanksgiving weekend is a time when many of us spend time reconnecting with family members and sharing family stories. At the Tennessee State Library and Archives (TSLA), families can also explore stories of their relatives who lived many years ago.

Redding Bonner family gathers around a table full of food, circa 1890.
Looking Back at Tennessee. Tennessee State Library and Archives

For the fourth consecutive year, the staff at TSLA is encouraging Tennesseans to visit the library and celebrate 'Family History Day' by learning more about genealogical research.

Gordon Belt, TSLA’s Director of Public Services, will host a beginning genealogy workshop providing an overview of resources available at the library and how to navigate through various databases. The workshop is entitled, “County Connections” and will focus on locating and using TSLA’s many county records. Afterwards, staff will be on hand to help visitors with their research.

The workshop will be held from 9:30 a.m. until 11:00 a.m. Saturday at the TSLA auditorium, which is located at 403 Seventh Avenue North, directly west of the State Capitol building in downtown Nashville.

While the workshop is free, reservations are required due to limited seating. To make a reservation, call (615) 741-2764 or e-mail Please note that TSLA will be closed on Thursday and Friday for the Thanksgiving holiday, so it's important to make reservations before then.

Although parking in front of TSLA's building is limited, there is plenty of additional parking behind the building.

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Remembering “The Forgotten War” on Veterans Day

On Veterans Day, the Tennessee State Library and Archives (TSLA) honors all who have served -- and continue to serve -- our country in the armed forces. TSLA has many resources about veterans and the wars in which they served. Today, we highlight some of our materials on the Korean War. Sandwiched between World War II and the Vietnam War, the Korean War (1950-1953) is often called the “Forgotten War.”

TSLA has dozens of books and federal government documents about Korea and the Korean War. These include books like the unique Pictorial Korea: 1951-1952, published by the International Publicity League of Korea in 1953, and the more recent Understanding the Korean War: the Participants, Tactics and the Course of Conflict (2013), by Arthur Mitchell. Among government documents, we have a variety of selections, including the Pocket Guide to Korea, published by the Department of Defense's Office of Information for the Armed Forces, as a guidebook for U.S. soldiers.

TSLA is actively seeking more information about the experience of Tennesseans in the Korean War. Tennessee Remembers: Korean Veterans is a project designed to help veterans of the Korean War preserve their history by collecting original documents, stories, and memorabilia related to their in-country experiences during the war. We invite you to share your experience:

For a more comprehensive account of our holdings, including related manuscript collections, please see this online guide, Korean War Resources at TSLA: We also invite you to visit the Korean War page of our online exhibit, The Volunteer State Goes to War: A Salute to Tennessee Veterans: and hope you will explore the entire exhibit.

Additional resources about and for veterans

Military Records at TSLA

TSLA Resource Guides

Other Projects

If you have questions about our government document holdings, please visit or For more information about any of these resources, please contact our reference staff at

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Wills Research Fellow Melissa Gismondi reflects upon "Rachel Jackson and American Femininity"

Melissa Gismondi is a Ph.D. candidate in history at the University of Virginia, specializing in colonial and early North American social and cultural history. Her dissertation, "The Character of a Wife: Gender, Power, and Prestige in Rachel Jackson’s Early America, 1760s-1820s" uses the life and constructed image of Andrew Jackson's wife, Rachel, to analyze gender and class formation on the frontier in the early republican and Jacksonian eras.

Gismondi recently visited the Tennessee State Library and Archives (TSLA), and spoke with us in August about her research. She conducted research of our collections through the Wills Research Fellowship awarded on an annual basis by the Tennessee Historical Society. The purpose of the fellowship is to promote the interpretation of Tennessee history and the scholarly use of the Society's collections. The fellowship is provided through the Society's Jesse E. Wills Memorial Fund. The collections of the Society are especially strong in the frontier, Jacksonian, antebellum, and Civil War eras.

Q: Describe your research project for us.

MG: My project uses the life and experiences of Rachel Jackson and her extended kin in the Donelson and Jackson families to consider how gender shaped elite and class formation on the southeastern frontier (modern-day Tennessee and Kentucky) during the early republican period of the 1760s-1820s. Because of the very large shadow that the Civil War casts over American history, I think we often envision early America as divided into northern and southern districts. But my project reveals a deep division in the early republican-era between the regions east and west of the Appalachians. My project shows how ideas about gender—or social and cultural ideas on how men and women ought to behave—determined class formation among Tennessee families like the Jacksons, who occupied considerable influence in the early republican period. Through their wealth, and attempts to refashion themselves as social elites, I show how Rachel and her extended family achieved political and cultural influence in the early republican period, despite the fact that eastern elites harbored prejudice against westerners as morally incapable to lead the new nation.

Q: What initially interested you in this topic?

MG: The southeastern frontier always fascinated me because the two phenomenon that I think defined early America—the extension of African slavery and relations with Native Americans—converged in this region. As an undergraduate, I learned more about early Tennessee and knew I wanted to explore the period in greater depth. I became interested in Rachel Jackson because I always felt that historians seemed to treat her as an aside to Jackson. While my project explores Jackson in considerable depth, I do so because I think that the best way to look at gender includes considering masculinity and femininity together, since early Americans often defined one against the other. I hope that my project will flesh Rachel out as a real historical character and actor. But I also hope that by focusing on her life and experiences I can shed light on broader issues prevalent during the period, which touched the lives of many early Americans including slaveholding, kinship with Native Americans, marriage and divorce, evangelicalism, and the Jacksonian period’s rigid gender ideals.

Q: What collections have you examined at the Tennessee State Library and Archives?

MG: My current research for my project is very much rooted in traditional social history methods, so I spent a long time going through Davidson County wills and county court records from the earliest period of settlement through the 1820s. With these, I tallied the division of property based on gender. I conducted a similar survey on an earlier visit that traced patterns in early Tennessee divorces. This research reflects my larger goal: putting Rachel’s life in a broader context to consider how her life reflected or diverged from other Tennesseans. Every time I visit the TSLA, I also spend a lot of time going through Tennessee’s earliest newspapers to capture cultural attitudes towards whatever topic I’m working at that moment. For this, the TSLA’s newspaper database for Nashville newspapers after 1815 is always tremendously useful.

Portrait of Rachel Jackson (1767-1828) reading "Mrs. Rachel Jackson, late Consort to Andrew Jackson, President of the U. States."
Library Collection. Tennessee State Library and Archives.

Q: Have you found any surprises during your research here?

MG: I learned that much to my surprise—and other historians who I subsequently spoke with—Rachel’s oldest brother, Alexander, who never married or had children, sternly ordered that all his slaves—expect for one—be freed upon his death. He even provided instructions in his will for their transportation out of the state to be freed in another state if Tennessee outlawed manumission. I have no idea why he refused to free one slave but found his entire will fascinating and evidence there emerged radically different ideas about slavery within the Donelson family. I also uncovered very interesting research about public representations of Rachel following her death.

Q: What conclusions have you drawn from your research?

MG: So far I have been surprised to learn that early Tennessee families—such as the Donelsons and Jacksons—often adopted flexible attitudes to gender roles to attain or maintain elite status. While cultural expectations undoubtedly influenced how men and women should behave, I find that the frontier produced conditions which made the perpetuation of eastern-rooted gender ideals almost impossible. Often, non-white actors, especially the neighboring Creek and Cherokee, influenced these conditions and restricted the options available to Tennesseans who wanted to portray themselves as elite men or women, rather than frontier folk.

Q: Where else are you conducting dissertation research?

MG: Currently, I’m researching locally in Virginia, where Rachel’s family originated from. In the past, I have done research as a fellow at the Kentucky Historical Society, and I will also research this year as a fellow at the Filson Historical Society. I will undoubtedly return to Nashville many times to research at the Metro Archives and TSLA again. I will also research at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. and the American Antiquarian Society (for the later portions of my project which consider the 1820s), as well as at the North Carolina State Archives and the Southern Historical Collections at UNC Chapel Hill, since Tennessee was under North Carolinian jurisdiction until it became a federal territory in 1790.

Q: What first sparked your interest in early American cultural history?

MG: I grew up in Canada, so my exposure to American cultural history was somewhat limited until I went to college. In my first year as an undergraduate, we read about the role of the frontier in defining ideas about America and American identity. From there, I became fascinated by how early Americans perceived themselves in relation to other groups: for instance, how women defined themselves in relation to men, how the Puritans defined themselves in relation to the Wampanoag and other Native American tribes that they interacted with in the seventeenth-century, or how early nineteenth-century Tennesseans saw themselves in relation to their slaves. People manifest ideas about themselves through their culture and popular culture remains, I think, one of the best ways to understand a particular time period.

Q: How has your research at TSLA influenced your scholarship?

MG: Since my project is so rooted in Tennessee and Nashville history, the TSLA and its collections are an invaluable component to my project. But the collections are only one part of the TSLA and every time I return to the TSLA, I’m always so grateful for the conversations I have with the staff and other researchers. In this way, the TSLA and THS feels like a very supportive community of scholars, archivists and librarians who make my project and research infinitely better.

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Tennessee State Library and Archives Releases a New Digital Collection Showcasing Tennessee Folklife

What do roley hole marbles, white oak baskets, shape-note singing, and banjoes have in common? All are examples of Tennessee folk culture or "folkways" available online in the Tennessee State Library and Archives’ newest digital collection: "Tennessee State Parks Folklife Project Collection, 1979-1984." The collection documents folk culture unique to Tennessee and highlights Tennessee's significant contributions to national studies of folklife.

Joseph Ernest Dyer, Henderson County resident and fiddle maker, is pictured with a fiddle he made as he discusses the techniques used in fiddle making and woodcraft. Dyer provides guitar performances of old time, blues, country, and religious music.
The Tennessee State Parks Folklife Project. Tennessee Virtual Archive (TeVA). Tennessee State Library and Archives.

In the late 1970s, Bobby Fulcher of the Tennessee Division of Parks and Recreation began a concerted effort to document and preserve Tennessee's diverse folk culture. The Tennessee State Parks Folklife Project was designed to contact and record interviews with local musicians, craftsmen, and storytellers in communities around six state parks; present programs in the parks using those local people; document on film and audio tape the folk art and folklore of the area; and organize and present annual community folk arts festivals within state parks. Folklorists Jay Orr, Elaine Lawless, and Raymond Allen all made significant contributions to the project.

This project produced more than 500 hours of audio tape, 9600 slides, and 2,200 black and white negatives, including duplicates of scores of historic photographs which had been cached for years by their owners. The recordings, held originally on reel-to-reel and cassettes and the accompanying photographs include material on traditional quilting, burial customs, storytelling, blacksmithing, herbal medicine, fishing, logging, farming techniques, and music. Nationally recognized ballad singers Dee and Delta Hicks and Joe, Ethel, and Creed Birchfield (founding members of the Roan Mountain Hilltoppers) are just a few of the musical artists featured in the collection.

Several years ago, the Tennessee State Library and Archives initiated a project to digitize selections of the audio recordings and photographs from the collection in order to improve public access. The recordings and images found in this collection represent just a sample of the rich material yet to be discovered. The digitization project is ongoing, and TSLA will add items as they become available. The collection may be found at

TSLA Conservator Carol Roberts will give a presentation on the collection in the TSLA auditorium, located at 403 7th Avenue North in downtown Nashville, from noon to 1 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 12. The program is free and open to the public.

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.