Historic Markers Across Tennessee

Bethesda Presbyterian Church - A Church Divided

Marker ID:  
Location: on Bethesda Road, Russellville, TN
County: Hamblen
Coordinates: N 36° 14.824    W 083° 13.661
  36.24706666    -83.22768333
Waymark: None


Bethesda Presbyterian Church, completed 1835, is a powerful reminder of the effect of the Civil War on the Tennessee home front. As the war clouds gathered, conflicting sympathies divided the congregation, and the church closed its doors. After the Battle of Bean's Station on December 14, 1863, Confederate Gen. James Longstreet arrived here with 25,000 ill-clad soldiers who remained until late in February, 1864. Bethesda Church served as a hospital. Soldiers of both armies rest in the cemetery, including 80 unknown dead, most believed to be Confederate soldiers.

In October 1864, Federal troops pursued Confederate forces near here ("Vaughn's Stampede"), and in November Confederates chased Union troops westward toward Knoxville ("Gillem's Stampede"). During one of the engagements, a cannonball struck the eastern wall and caused structural damage. The walls were then reinforced with large iron rods that passed north and south through both entrances. The beautiful interior, with plank high-back pews and an ornate pulpit, was forever stained by the blood of war.

When the war ended and the soldiers came home, many had wounds or bitter feelings. Some church members wanted to forgive and forget but others did not. Irregular services began again. From 1866 to 1871, each side seated itself in the outer pews, leaving the middle pews empty. Finally, one group arose in a body and quietly walked out, never to return, and helped organize First Presbyterian Church of Morristown. The others stayed until 1875, when they moved to the newly built Russellville Presbyterian Church.

Bethesda's closed doors and absent congregation tell the story of a congregation that became a casualty of the Civil War.

Erected 2010 by Tennessee Civil War Trails.