- To the Battles of Franklin and Nashville and Beyond: Stabilization and Reconstruction in Tennessee and Kentucky 1864–1866
“I think the time not far distant when our grand army will march in solid phalanx through all the rebellious states and replant the stars and stripes over every capital from when[ce] [it] has been torn by traitor hands,” Union soldier B. F. Welker wrote to his sister shortly after the Battle of Fort Donelson in February 1862 (3). The Union forces’ capture of Fort Donelson, along with the Confederate defeat at nearby Fort Henry a few weeks earlier, led Welker and other Americans to believe that the war in Tennessee and Kentucky had reached its conclusion. But, as Benjamin Franklin Cooling [End Page 102] demonstrates, nothing could have been further from the truth. According to Cooling, the Battles of Fort Henry and Fort Donelson signaled the beginning of a “hybrid” or “compound war” in which “catastrophic terrorism and disruptive lawlessness mix[ed] with traditional combat and irregular operations to form a new kind of violence” in the two states (xiii). Such violence ultimately hampered federal and state officials’ ability to pacify the region and begin the process of wartime reconciliation.
Despite Union victories at Forts Henry and Donelson and later at Nashville and Franklin, Confederate cavalry raids prevented military and civil governments from protecting loyal citizens and restoring order in the upper heartland. These raids, especially those led by Nathan Bedford Forest in western Tennessee and John Hunt Morgan in eastern Kentucky, raised the morale of rebel sympathizers and encouraged guerrilla warfare. Union officials remained powerless to stop these raids or quell the lawlessness that they perpetuated. Without the protection of the federal government, loyalists sometimes fled behind Union lines, while others opted to use violence to protect their families. By 1864, chaos continued to plague the region. “Here then lay the upper South in the throes of the fourth year of war, the setting for backyard feuds legitimized by that war, a playground for mobile raiders also living off the land and populated by innocent (or not) civilian victims,” Cooling writes. “Lurking in the shadows were the deserters and criminal flotsam of no particular address, loyalty, or sense of mercy or honor” (208).
Federal and state officials’ attempts to suppress disloyalty and combat guerrilla forces further weakened the Union war effort and the restoration of civil governance in Tennessee and Kentucky. In 1864, for instance, Union general Stephen Burbridge’s suspension of habeas corpus and crackdown on Confederate sympathizers in the Bluegrass State ultimately escalated the potential for violence and heightened loyal Kentuckians’ opposition to military rule. To make matters worse, emancipation and the recruitment of black troops alienated other Unionists throughout the state. Similar policies and issues in Tennessee prevented military and civil governments from consolidating control over the state. In the end, wartime grievances and divisions continued in the upper heartland following Confederate defeat in April 1864, ensuring that the process of Reconstruction would be difficult and bloody.
Unlike most recent Civil War scholarship, Cooling’s book focuses on the role that the Western Theater played in shaping Confederate and Union policy, demonstrating the strategic and political significance that Tennessee and Kentucky held for both sides well after the Battles of Fort Henry and [End Page 103] Fort Donelson in February 1862. Perhaps more importantly, Cooling sheds light on the origins of racial violence and white resistance to the federal government during Reconstruction. Students of the Civil War should read this lucid and well-researched book.