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TSLA Opens New Exhibit on TN’s Role in Civil War in 1864

Press release from the Tennessee Secretary of State; September 22, 2014:

1864 would prove to be the decisive year of the Civil War. Despite Union victories at Gettysburg, Vicksburg, and Chattanooga the previous year, northern citizens were growing war-weary. The mounting lists of dead and wounded made many wonder if the South should finally be allowed its independence.

Geographically situated between the midwestern states and the deep South, Tennessee was to be the major battleground in the western theater. The Mississippi, Tennessee, and Cumberland Rivers, combined with numerous rail lines which crossed the state, made Nashville, Memphis, Chattanooga, and Knoxville of strategic importance to both Union and Confederate forces.

A new exhibit, with 16 panels full of images and information on this fascinating period in our history, recently opened at the Tennessee State Library and Archives. It explores the role Tennessee played as a transportation and supply hub, the experiences and contributions of African-Americans, and key battles at Johnsonville, Memphis, Fort Pillow, Spring Hill, Columbia, Franklin and Nashville.

The exhibit also highlights historical records that are valuable genealogy resources such as army muster rolls, Civil War service records, the Southern Claims Commission records, colored pension applications, the Union provost marshal records, cemetery records and TSLA’s manuscript collections.

Visitors to the Tennessee State Library and Archives are invited to come explore the role Tennessee played in the Civil War in 1864. The exhibit will remain open until mid-December.

The State Library and Archives is located at 403 Seventh Avenue North, just west of the State Capitol building in downtown Nashville. The exhibit, free and open to all visitors, is located in the building’s lobby directly behind the main entrance.

The Tennessee State Library and Archives is open Tuesdays through Saturdays, from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m., with the exception of state holidays. Parking is available in front, behind and beside the building.

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Long-lost McGavock Civil War Diary Returned to Tennessee

Press release from the Tennessee Secretary of State; August 19, 2014:

The long-lost diary of a prominent Nashvillian has been returned to Tennessee by a California woman. Andrea Shearn, a retired science teacher, found the diary while helping her parents move into an assisted living facility.

Shearn found the diary in a wooden box on a closet shelf in Cincinnati, where her grandmother had evidently put it in 1963. Neither Shearn nor her parents realized it was there.

Examining the diary, Shearn learned that it had belonged to R.W. McGavock, a Confederate officer with beautiful handwriting. Under McGavock’s name was written: “Captured at Ft. Henry Stewart Co. Middle Tennessee Feb 6th 1862 by Capt. M Wemple Co H 4th Ill Vol Cav Presented to Ms. Lue Wemple.”

Delving into her own genealogy, Shearn discovered that Capt. Myndert Wemple of Illinois was her ancestor. He evidently found the diary after McGavock and his troops evacuated Fort Henry in a battle that was a disaster for the Confederates. Wemple’s descendants preserved the diary and handed it down through the family for the next 100 years, until it disappeared into that closet in Cincinnati.

Shearn transcribed the diary, becoming ever more interested in the writer and his experiences. She was surprised to learn that Randal McGavock was a Harvard-educated lawyer who was elected mayor of Nashville at the age of 32. He was a lieutenant colonel of the 10th Tennessee Regiment of the Confederate Army.

Shearn got in touch with State Librarian and Archivist Chuck Sherrill.

“This nice lady from California called and said, ‘I wonder if anyone in Tennessee would be interested in this diary,’” Sherrill recalls. “When she told me it was Randal McGavock’s diary, my first thought was to fly to California and get it before it disappeared again.”

Sherrill and others at the State Library and Archives had long been aware of Randal McGavock and his diaries, as eight volumes of his diary have been housed at there since 1960.

“We had this great set of diaries, but the volume from the beginning of the Civil War was missing,” he said.

Shearn eventually flew to Nashville to visit Two Rivers Mansion, Carnton and other sites associated with Randal McGavock and his family. She and her husband brought the diary with them and generously donated it to the archives.

Secretary of State Tre Hargett said: “We are extremely grateful to Andrea Shearn for returning this diary to Tennessee. I know that scholars and McGavock descendants will enjoy the opportunity to read it and fill in the blanks in this soldier’s history.”

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Trace Adkins: The Last Shot’s Not Been Fired in States’ Rights Fight

Country music superstar Trace Adkins stopped by the formal commencement of Tennessee’s sesquicentennial commemoration of the Civil War Friday where he did a little dreaming out loud of a day when the U.S. federal government shows more respect for state sovereignty.

Adkins, whose great-great-grandfather fought in the war, said he believes the period of remembrance underway to honor the 150-year anniversary of America’s bloodiest conflict is a unique opportunity to reconnect people to their heritage and teach children about history and the sacrifices their ancestors made for their most cherished beliefs.

“Over the generations it has seemed to me that Southern children, because of that terrible slavery issue, have been made to feel apologetic — if not guilty or ashamed — of their heritage,” Adkins told an audience gathered for the Sesquicentennial Signature Event at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center in Nashville (pdf). “And I for one hope my children don’t feel that way, because everybody knows or should know that the majority of soldiers that fought for the Confederacy did not own slaves. I know that my grandfather didn’t, and had no aspirations of owning slaves. It wasn’t part of his makeup.”

“The main issue” that motivated the South to resist the North, said Adkins, “was states’ rights.”

“That’s what my grandfather told me — that that’s the reason why his grandfather went to war in the first place,” said Adkins.

Furthermore, he added, while the issues of slavery and secession from the Union may have been “settled” by the war, fundamental questions about what role the states have in plotting their own political destinies were not resolved. Had they been, “we wouldn’t still be arguing about it today,” said Adkins.

Adkins also revealed — for the first time in public, he said — that as a statement of allegiance to states’ rights and tribute to the men of the Confederacy who fought to defend the concept, he refuses to cut his hair.

“I’ve had a lot of people over the years ask me, ‘Why’s your hair so long?,’” said Adkins. “The answer to that question is, towards the end of the war when the outcome was obvious to everybody, there were a group of incredibly dedicated Confederate soldiers who said, ‘For me this issue is not settled, and until the issue is settled, I’m not going to cut my hair.’ Neither will I.”

Adkins has in the past written about his understanding of and support for states’ rights. In his 2007 memoir, “A Personal Stand: Observations and Opinions from a Freethinking Roughneck,” he asserted that the Civil War “was essentially fought over states’ rights, a concept that gets glossed over as if ‘states’ rights’ was a slogan that somebody pulled out of thin air and didn’t have any real meaning”:

But it did have some meaning. It still has meaning. States are still saying to the federal government, ‘You are not going to dictate to us how we may conduct our lives in our own state.’

“Today, instead of the blue and the gray, we now have blue states and red states. As we the people of the United States of America become more fragmented and less united, I believe we’ll see more and more states going their own way, passing their own laws, to the point where people will have to choose which state to live in based on which key laws each state passes in its own legislature. It’s not just a conservative or liberal matter, it’s more of a lifestyle choice. For instance, if you believe in abortion rights, you need to live in New York. If you oppose abortion, live in Alabama or South Dakota. If you believe in gay marriage, you might want to move to Massachusetts. If you’re against motorcycle helmet laws, then you can reside in Arizona. Strict or less strict gun laws. Medical marijuana. These are but a few state issues that now dictate where people can ideologically choose to live in the United States. And maybe that’s not such a bad thing, as long as Americans are free to travel and live in whatever state best fits their lifestyle and beliefs. That’s what states’ rights means to me today.