Daily Archives: 29 November 2012

150 years ago: Making West Tennessee safe for Union men

Far from the front lines, the Civil War was still very active in northwestern Tennessee 150 years ago:

UNION CITY, November 28, 1862.
 Brigadier-General SULLIVAN:

I have reliable information that three of the most prominent Union citizens of this county were last night captured at or near Troy, in this county, a town noted for the treason of its inhabitants. They were captured by guerrillas, who infest the Obion Bottom, near that town, and are daily carrying off Union citizens and robbing them of their property, especially their horses.

Troy is a hot-bed of traitors; not a Union man living in the town. The 3 men captured have been our main stand-by for five months past, one of whom is Colonel Bradford. I propose, if it meets with your approval, to give the authorities of the town notice that if the 3 men captured are not returned in five days that I will burn up the town. General, as unwell as I am, if you will give me the command at Trenton, which is a central point, I will have this country from the Memphis and Ohio Railroad to the Hatchie cleared of the last guerrilla in it before the return of my papers, as I know every district of the country. This will be a pleasure to me, as I have done so once before.

 THOS. W. HARRIS,
 Colonel Fifty-fourth Illinois.

Unionism was strong across Tennessee, not just in the eastern Appalachia.  While perhaps not as well-known, and perhaps motivated by different social and political concerns, the unionists in the west part of the state indeed made their presence felt.  Testament to this are the “duplicate” regimental numbers among those units recruited for the Federal army from the state.

Colonel Harris’ report serves as a reminder that destruction of private property was not just some despised action taken by the dreaded “Yankee devils”.  The southern citizenry had to fear equally of both sides.  Hard war or not.

The other part of Harris’ response I find interesting is how it resonates within the modern context of counter-insurgency operations.  I’ve seen dispatches from Iraq and Afghanistan which carry similar warnings and recommended solutions.