- Formal secession from the United States— Union with the Confederate States -- preparation for war -- organization of troops— General Polk in command -- occupation of Columbus -- battle of Belmont.
In June, 1796, the Congress of the United States passed an act, approved by President George Washington, providing that, ‘The State of Tennessee is hereby declared to be one of the sixteen United States of America.’ The framers of the constitution under which admission to the Federal Union was secured, were such men as Andrew Jackson, James Robertson, William Blount, Archibald Roane, John Tipton and their associate delegates, men who were conspicuous for their love of liberty and who had attested their devotion to it at King Mountain. John Sevier, one of the heroes of that famous battle, was the first governor of the new State. Under the political leadership of these men and their successors, the love of religious and political freedom, and patriotic devotion to the State and to the Federal Union, characterized the people of Tennessee, without regard to party alliance. This devotion found practical illustration in the war of 1812, in the Indian wars, and in the war with Mexico. The people of Tennessee were descended from North Carolina and Virginia families, many of their own descendants had become citizens of Arkansas, Mississippi and Texas, and their kith and kin were in large numbers in all the States of the Union. Their love for the fatherland, for their own children and kindred, grew apace, and in time this became their paramount faith. But aggression followed aggression upon  their rights of property; agitation growing in volume and respectability brought a sense of insecurity to all, until devotion to the Union of the States was weakened, and a determination was made to share the fortunes of the States of the South. In January, 1861, Gov. Isham G. Harris by proclamation convened the legislature of Tennessee in extraordinary session to consider the condition of the country, and especially to determine whether a constitutional convention should be called. The State of South Carolina had already seceded from the Federal Union, and other States were about to consummate that act. After a month of debate and discussion the question was submitted to a vote of the people of the State, and the proposition was voted down by a large majority. The people of Tennessee wished to avoid a war between the States and were anxious for a settlement of the questions of difference. Their old love for the Union of the States animated them, and they believed that the conservative sentiment of all the States could devise an adjustment that would prevent a resort to arms. They opposed a convention because of the belief that it meant secession, and that, in their judgment, must only follow after the failure of all plans of settlement. Before adjournment the legislature elected twelve commissioners, eminent and influential citizens of the State, to attend a peace conference called to assemble at the city of Washington. This conference was intended to represent all the States, and it was hoped that war could be averted, and that through the agency of the peace congress a settlement of all perplexing questions could be made. The conference met, ex-President John Tyler presided over its deliberations; many wise and patriotic gentlemen from all of the walks of life were present as delegates from the several States; but no acceptable settlement could be derived, and the action of the conference was without result.  The general assembly, while considering every suggestion that would avoid the withdrawal of any of the States from the Federal Union, was not forgetful of the rights of Tennessee, or of its duty to the other States of the South. Before adjournment it adopted with substantial unanimity a resolution pledging cooperation with the States of the South in case the Federal government should resort to force. This declaration represented the dominant sentiment of the people of Tennessee, and was responsive to the message of the governor, in which he declared that ‘whatever line of policy may be adopted by the people of Tennessee with regard to the present Federal relations of the State, I am sure that the swords of her brave and gallant sons will never be drawn for the purpose of coercing, subjugating, or holding as a conquered province any one of her sister States whose people may declare their independence of the Federal government.’ In less than two months thereafter, the proclamation of Abraham Lincoln calling for 75,000 troops was issued; the people of Tennessee accepted it as a declaration of war, and with decency and dignity began preparation to meet it. On the 25th of April, 1861, the governor again convened the general assembly in extraordinary session for the purpose, as stated in his message, of taking ‘such action as will most likely contribute to the defense of our rights, the preservation of our liberties, the sovereignty of the State, and the safety of our people.’ He informed the legislature that President Lincoln had called upon the State of Tennessee to furnish 2,000 troops to aid in ‘suppressing the rebellion,’ and that he had declined to honor the call. On the 1st of May, 186, the general assembly provided for the appointment of commissioners ‘to enter into a military league with the authorities of the Confederate States, and with the authorities of the other slave-holding States as may wish to enter into it, having in view the  protection and defense of the entire South against the war that is now being carried on against it.’ On the 7th of the same month, Henry W. Hilliard, commissioner for the Confederate States, and Gustavus A. Henry, A. O. Totten and Washington Barrow, commissioners on the part of Tennessee, entered into a ‘temporary convention agreement and military league’ for the purpose of protecting the interests and safety of the contracting parties. On the same day the general assembly ratified and confirmed this agreement, and pledged ‘the faith and honor of the State of Tennessee’ to its observance. On the 6th of May, 1861, the legislature submitted an ordinance to the people of the State which embraced the question of ‘separation’ from the Federal government, and of union with the Confederate States, to be voted upon on the 8th day of June following. On the 24th of the same month the governor issued his proclamation declaring that ‘it appears from the official returns that the people of the State of Tennessee have, in their sovereign capacity, by an overwhelming majority, cast their votes for separation, dissolving all political connection with the United States, and adopted the provisional government of the Confederate States of America.’ The political union thus established was followed by the election of delegates to the Provisional Congress, and in a few months by the adoption of the permanent government and constitution, the election of Jefferson Davis as President by the people, and the election of senators and representatives to the Congress of the Confederate States. The legislature provided for the organization of an army of 50,000 men, appropriated $5,000,000 toward its equipment, and provided for a complete general staff to be appointed by the governor, and for the pay of officers and men. Authority was also given for the appointment of a military and financial board. On the 9th of May, 1861, the governor appointed, by and with the advice  and consent of the general assembly, to be majorgenerals, Gideon J. Pillow and Samuel R. Anderson; brigadier-generals, Felix K. Zollicoffer, B. F. Cheatham, Robert C. Foster 3rd, John L. T. Sneed and William R. Caswell; adjutant-general, Daniel S. Donelson; inspector-general, William H. Carroll; surgeon-general, B. W. Avent; chief of artillery, John P. McCown; assistant adjutant-generals, W. C. Whitthorn, James D. Porter, Hiram S. Bradford and D. M. Key, with assistants for all departments; and on the 28th of June following he appointed Bushrod R. Johnson, colonel and chief of engineers, and made Moses H. Wright captain and chief of ordnance. For military and financial board, Neill S. Brown, James E. Bailey and William G. Harding were selected. V. K. Stevenson was made colonel and chief quartermaster, with a full complement of assistants. Maj. George W. Cunningham was placed in charge of the depot at Nashville for the accumulation of supplies, and there, and subsequently at Atlanta, Ga., he exhibited extraordinary skill and energy in the discharge of his duty. The military and financial board rendered great assistance to the chiefs of the several departments of the army. The services of the members of the board were recognized as of the first importance; their functions ceased with the transfer of the troops to the Confederate States. John Heriges, keeper of public arms, reported in January, 1861, that the State arsenal contained 8,761 muskets and rifles, 350 carbines, 4 pieces of artillery, and a small lot of pistols and sabers, with 1,815 muskets and rifles, 228 pistols and 220 sabers in the hands of volunteer companies. Of the muskets in the arsenal, 280 were percussion, the balance were flint-lock, and over 4,300 of them were badly damaged; the carbines were flint-lock and unserviceable, and two of the four pieces of artillery were in the same condition. The governor reported in his message, dated April 2, 1861, that since the date of  the report of the keeper of public arms, he had ‘ordered and received at the arsenal 1,400 rifle muskets.’ This constituted the armament of the State of Tennessee. The chief of ordnance, Capt. M. H. Wright, thoroughly educated to the duties of his place, soon organized a force for the repair of arms, the manufacture and preparation of ammunition and the equipments of the soldiers, and for the conversion of the flint-lock muskets to percussion; and aided by patriotic citizens like Samuel D. Morgan, established a plant for the manufacture of percussion caps. Thus he was able to supply the troops of Tennessee as they took the field. Shipments of caps were made to the authorities at Richmond, who used them very largely at the first battle of Manassas. About 3,000 pounds of powder were being manufactured daily. Foundries for the manufacture of field guns were constructed at Nashville and Memphis, and by November, guns of good pattern were turned out at both points at the rate of six a week. Capt. W. R. Hunt, of the ordnance department, was the efficient head at Memphis. Nashville soon became a great depot of supplies for the Confederate States. The manufacture of powder was stimulated, fixed ammunition was made in large quantities, large supplies of leather and material for clothing and blankets were gathered in, and factories for the manufacture of shoes and hats on a large scale were established. Great stores of bacon and flour and everything required by an army were provided. From these stores supplies were sent to Virginia and all points in the Southwest, and Nashville attained a degree of importance it never before enjoyed and perhaps will not soon again enjoy. Major-General Pillow established his headquarters at Memphis and very soon organized the Provisional Army of Tennessee. Before the close of the month of May, twenty-one regiments of infantry were armed and equipped and in the field, and ten artillery companies and  one regiment of cavalry were organized and mustered into the service of the State, besides three regiments of infantry then in Virginia already mustered into the service of the Confederate States. More than double that number of troops had tendered their services to the State, as the governor stated in his message of June 18th, ‘without even a call being made;’ but their services were declined until the necessities of the State required a larger force and until arms could be provided. Before the close of the year 1861, the official records of the office of the Secretary of State show, seventy-one regiments of infantry and twenty-two batteries of artillery were mustered into the service of the State, and twenty-one regiments of cavalry, nine battalions, and enough independent companies and partisan rangers to have constituted eight full regiments were organized. In the summer of 1861 all the troops were transferred to the service of the Confederate States, and the following-named general officers of Tennessee were commissioned brigadier-generals by President Davis: Gideon J. Pillow, Samuel R. Anderson, Felix K. Zollicoffer and B. F. Cheatham. These were soon followed by the appointment of John P. McCown, Bushrod R. Johnson, Alexander P. Stewart and William H. Carroll to the same rank. On the 13th of January, 1861, Gen. Leonidas Polk, recently commissioned major-general in the Confederate States army, established his headquarters at Memphis as commander of Department No. 1. On the 31st of July the Army of Tennessee was transferred to the Confederate States. General Polk's first campaign was organized for the relief of the State of Missouri. General Pillow, who was ordered to the command of the expedition, embracing 6,000 troops of all arms, took possession of New Madrid on the 28th of July with the advance of his forces, and was joined in a few days by Gen. Frank Cheatham, who  marched through the country from Union City, Tenn., with a brigade of about 3,000 infantry, composed of the Fifth Tennessee, Col. William H. Stephens; the Ninth Tennessee, Col. H. L. Douglass; Blythe's Mississippi regiment, Col. A. K. Blythe; Miller's Mississippi battalion of cavalry, Lieut.-Col. J. H. Miller, and Capt. Melancthon Smith's Mississippi battery of six field pieces. By the 21st of August General Pillow's command had increased to 10,000 men of all arms, 2,000 of whom were Missourians, the balance Tennesseeans, with the exceptions named. The movement contemplated the occupation of Ironton and St. Louis, but was largely dependent upon the cooperation of Brigadier-General Hardee, then stationed at Greenville, Mo., near the border of Arkansas, with a command of about 5,000 Arkansas troops. This command was so deficient in arms, clothing and transportation that a forward movement was impossible. General Hardee therefore retired to Pitman's Ferry, on the Arkansas river, and the campaign for the redemption of Missouri was abandoned. On the 3d of September the troops were transferred to Hickman and Columbus, Ky., the occupation of which points brought forth a vigorous protest from Governor Harris, of Tennessee, who had undertaken to have observed the legislative neutrality of the State of Kentucky. President Davis was solicitous on this point. He, too, wished to observe ‘Kentucky neutrality,’ but in a dispatch to General Polk, dated the 4th of September, after the occupation of Columbus, he said, ‘The necessity justifies the action.’ Reinforcements were sent to General Polk, mainly from Tennessee; strong lines of earthworks were provided, siege guns of the largest caliber were placed in a fort commanding the river front, and very soon Columbus became strongly fortified. At this time Brig.-Gen. U. S. Grant, U. S. V., commanded the district of Cairo, Ill., with Brig.-Gen. C. F. Smith in charge of the troops stationed at Paducah, Ky.  General Polk had under his command, in November, twenty-one regiments of infantry, eight field batteries, one battery of siege guns, two battalions, and six unattached companies of cavalry, all divided into three divisions, commanded, respectively, by General Pillow, General Cheatham and Col. John S. Bowen. The latter was at Camp Beauregard, fifteen miles distant. The Thirteenth Arkansas, Col. J. C. Tappan, Beltzhoover's Louisiana battery of six guns, and two troops of cavalry belonging to the Mississippi battalion commanded by Col. J. H. Miller, were stationed at Belmont, Mo., on the Mississippi river, opposite Columbus. On the morning of the 7th of November, 1861, General Grant, with two brigades of infantry, consisting of five regiments and two troops of cavalry, in all 3,114 men, under cover of two gunboats, debarked from transports on the Missouri shore, above Belmont, at a point just out of range of Polk's batteries, and moved in line of battle In the direction of the camp of Colonel Tappan. General Polk, advised of the landing of the forces under Grant, ordered Brigadier-General Pillow to cross the river with the Twelfth Tennessee, Col. R. M. Russell; the Thirteenth Tennessee, Col. John V. Wright; the Twenty-first Tennessee, Col. Ed. Pickett, Jr., and the Twenty-second Tennessee, Col. T. J. Freeman. Very soon the Second Tennessee, Col. J. Knox Walker, and the Fifteenth Tennessee, Lieut.-Col. R. C. Tyler commanding, joined General Pillow, and with Tappan's regiment and Beltzhoover's battery, and the two companies of cavalry commanded by Capt. A. J. Bowles and Lieut. L. Jones, made General Pillow's strength slightly in excess of the Federal troops. Making his dispositions to receive Grant's attack, skirmishers were hotly engaged immediately afterward and were soon forced back on the main line. General Grant's first battle was on; it was fierce and well fought, and according to General Pillow's official report, continued for four hours. In General Grant's  order of the following day, thanking his troops for their good conduct at Belmont, he stated that it had been his fortune to be present in all the battles fought in Mexico by Generals Scott and Taylor, save Buena Vista, and he never saw one more hotly contested. The Federal line slowly but steadily advanced until the Confederate forces were driven to the river bank; Beltzhoover's battery was captured and the guns turned upon the Confederate transports; Tappan's camp was captured and his tents and stores destroyed. Of this movement General Pillow, in his report of the battle, states: ‘When the enemy's lines reached the bank of the river he was met by the fire of Smith's battery, of Cheatham's division, from the opposite side of the river, which, being well directed, together with the heavy guns from the works above Columbus, made him recoil from the point.’ The siege guns were directed by Maj. A. P. Stewart. Just as the Federal forces began to retire, the Eleventh Louisiana regiment, Col. S. F. Marks, of McCown's division, reported to General Pillow and was ordered to move up the river, ‘and by a flank movement take the enemy in the rear.’ Marks moved to a point ‘where the fire of the enemy seemed to be the hottest,’ and in conjunction with Colonel Russell, of the Twelfth Tennessee, inflicted very serious punishment upon the enemy. His own regiment sustained a loss of 54 killed and wounded. At the same hour, General Cheatham, who had been sent across the river, a part of his command to follow, reformed the Second Tennessee, Colonel Walker; the Thirteenth Tennessee, Lieutenant-Colonel Vaughn commanding, Colonel Wright having been disabled in the previous engagement; the Thirteenth Arkansas, Colonel Tappan, and a detachment of the Twenty-second Tennessee under Maj. F. M. Stewart; and with this command fell upon the rear of Grant's troops, routed them, recaptured two pieces of artillery, took 40 prisoners, and killed and disabled a considerable number, with  trifling loss to his command. Now, also, Col. Preston Smith, commanding the First brigade of Cheatham's division, composed of the One Hundred and Fifty-fourth senior regiment of Tennessee, Lieut.-Col. M. J. Wright, and Blythe's Mississippi regiment, arrived on the field and joined in the pursuit of the enemy, now disorganized and in flight. It was a race with this command and the troops of Grant for the transports. Smith succeeded only in reaching musket range of the retreating enemy, and opening fire punished him severely, capturing a dozen prisoners. His own command sustained a loss of 1 killed and 12 wounded from the fire of the Federal gunboats. General Grant reported his entire loss at 85 killed, 301 wounded and 99 missing. General Polk reported his loss at 105 killed, 419 wounded, 107 missing. Brig.-Gen. C. F. Smith, under Grant's order, made a demonstration in force in the direction of Columbus in aid of his own attack. This menace was successful in inducing the belief on the part of General Polk that Columbus was to be attacked from the land front, and to this misapprehension General Grant owes his escape from Belmont. On the 6th of December following, the Congress of the Confederate States adopted resolutions of thanks to Generals Polk, Pillow and Cheatham, and the officers and men of their commands, ‘for the glorious victory achieved at Belmont, . . . whereby the reduction of Columbus was prevented, and the contemplated descent of the enemy down the Mississippi river effectually stayed.’ The gallant gentlemen who bore the burden of that battle have never claimed that this was a fitting commendation. General Polk, in his official report, makes honorable mention of Generals Pillow and McCown; Col. John V. Wright, Thirteenth Tennessee; Maj. A. P. Stewart, afterward distinguished as commander of a brigade, division and army corps; Capt. M. Smith and the officers of his staff; and referring to another famous Tennesseean, said,  ‘I am indebted also to General Cheatham who, at a later hour, by his promptitude and gallantry, rallied the broken fragments of our column and directed them with such resistless energy against the enemy's flank.’