Historic Markers Across Tennessee

Knoxville: A Divided City

Marker ID:  
Location: 300 Main Street, Knoxville, TN
County: Knox
Coordinates: N 35° 57.683    W 083° 55.017
  35.96138333    -83.91695
Waymark: None


Knoxville: A Divided City
Simultaneous Union and Confederate Rallies

In April 1861, before Tennessee seceded, Knoxville was deeply divided. Excited residents gathered in the streets and held rallies to sway public opinion. These divisions were never more visible then than during simultaneous Union and Confederate rallies on Gay Street (one-half block straight ahead) on April 27, 1861. Knoxville artist and keen observer Samuel Bell Palmer captured the spirit of the time in a sketch made from memory while he was a prisoner of war in Illinois.

A U.S. flag near main Street, flying above the "Liberty Pole", was a gathering place for Unionists. On the corner of Church and Clinch streets, a Confederate flag marked a secessionist rendezvous point. At the corner of Gay and Main streets, then-Tennessee Senator Andrew Johnson delivered a pro-Union, anti-secession speech to supporters gathered around him, while a Confederate regiment and band marched down Gay Street. Nearby, at the Lamar House, Confederate gentlemen entertained ladies with music. Perceiving the musical disturbances as deliberate, some Unionist reacted angrily, but cooler heads on both sides intervened to calm then.

Six weeks later, Tennessee joined the Confederacy. Much of East Tennessee, however, remained loyal to the Union. Tensions exploded, further dividing neighbors and families. While the national war raged, East Tennesseans also fought each other. Violence continued even after the war's end. The divisions persisted for decades, some for a lifetime.

Knoxvillians Samuel Bell Palmer (left) and brother John enlisted in Capt. William D. Kain's Co., Tennessee Light Artillery, in March 1862. Captured at Knoxville in September 1863, they were imprisoned at Camp Douglas, Illinois, for the remainder of the war. While in prison, Samuel Palmer drew sketches, including the Knoxville rallies, and later sent them to Maj. Samuel K. Williams, Jr., a guard who had befriended him.

Tennessee Civil War Trails.