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Southern Cultures 7.4 (2001) 107-110

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Book Review

The Heart of Confederate Appalachia
Western North Carolina in the Civil War

Mountain Rebels
East Tennessee Confederates and the Civil War, 1860-1870

The Heart of Confederate Appalachia: Western North Carolina in the Civil War. By John C. Inscoe and Gordon B. McKinney. University of North Carolina Press, 2000. 480 pp. Cloth $39.95

Mountain Rebels: East Tennessee Confederates. and the Civil War, 1860-1870. By W. Todd Groce. University of Tennessee Press, 1999. 240 pp. Paper $16.00

Many believe that the Appalachian mountain people were non-slaveholding family farmers who remained loyal to the Union even while surrounded by the Confederacy and its great iniquity. Look at how West Virginia came into being. Remember that east Tennessee was so Unionist that it supplied Lincoln with Andrew Johnson, his reelection running mate. From facts such as these, the myth has grown of a solidly Unionist east Tennessee and even the same in western North Carolina, north Georgia, and other parts of Appalachia.

The myth gained momentum by what Appalachian educator John C. Campbell called "speakers who have sought to raise money in the North for mountain work," who described "how the Highland South was thrust like a northern wedge [End Page 107] into the heart of the Confederacy; how Highland recruits in the Federal Army exceeded the number of those from many a northern state." But to Campbell, who knew mountain people well, "the Highlander is a southerner not only in geographic situation, but largely in sentiment as well."

Now two well-written and complementary books tell, among much else, how southern southern Appalachia was. W. Todd Groce's Mountain Rebels is a fascinating and overdue look at east Tennessee Confederates; John C. Inscoe and Gordon B. McKinney's The Heart of Confederate Appalachia is a definitive history of western North Carolina in the Civil War.

Far from being a Unionist stronghold, western North Carolina was in fact "The Heart of Confederate Appalachia." Early in the birth pangs of the Confederacy, Asheville was even touted as the ideal capital for the new southern nation, central and almost equidistant from six of the rebel state capitals. The city later became a resort for fashionable rebels and boasted one of the few arms factories in the South.

East Tennessee was a sure enough Unionist patch, but there was also a strong secessionist movement, a local Confederate administration, and a fair number of highly committed rebels, including General John Vaughn of Sweetwater. Vaughn's devotion to the South was of such depth that he was among the diehard bodyguards accompanying Jefferson Davis when he was apprehended in Georgia. Groce's stated mission is to give some attention to these east Tennessee Confederates, to figure out who they were and in what other ways they differed from their neighbors. To create this picture, he assembles the statistical minutiae of economic transactions, voting patterns, slave ownership, farm productivity, and service in the Confederate army. That its well-built statistical framework is prominent is perhaps an aftertaste of the work's origin as a dissertation, but Groce is also a good storyteller, awake to the drama.

The railroad was a factor that changed the patterns of life in antebellum east Tennessee. Farming had been mountain-style: corn-based, small tracts, some of which produced a surplus of hogs to drive to market. By 1857 rails connected east Tennessee with both Virginia and Georgia, creating a continuous route from New York to Atlanta. This location on the main through route opened many possibilities. Wheat became a new boom crop, its production rising 384 percent between 1850 and 1860. The trade spawned entrepreneurial middlemen and tied the small-town merchants along the railroad to the planter South and its politics.

Compared to his Unionist neighbors, the mountain Confederate in east Tennessee was younger, more middle-class, a town-dweller more likely to be a merchant or lawyer than a farmer. We think of...


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