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Of Sword and Pen: Pivotal Moments in Civil War East Tennessee

civil war exhibitKNOXVILLE - A new exhibition, “Of Pen and Sword,” at the Museum of East Tennessee History through October 13, 2013, recounts pivotal moments in the region's Civil War history through a series of rare and important artifacts and documents, many on public display for the first time. Key events emphasized include the reaction of East Tennesseans to Lincoln's call for troops after the Fort Sumter attack, the divisions that developed as the region's citizens chose sides, the reaction of Unionists to living in a Confederate state, the occupation of the region first by Confederates and then by Union forces, the military experience and emancipation of blacks, Andrew Johnson as military governor, and the rise of East Tennesseans to political power after the war.

The exhibition is a collaborative partnership with several museums across the region, state agencies, and individuals, including the Tennessee State Library and Archives, Tennessee State Museum, Abraham Lincoln Museum and Library, Andrew Johnson National Historical Site, Calvin M. McClung Historical Collection, and the Nathanael Greene Museum, as well as the collections of the Museum of East Tennessee History.

Among the most significant items are:
• Original letter from Tennessee Governor Isham Harris to the United States Secretary of War refusing Lincoln's call for Tennessee troops.
• The original county-by-county tallies of the votes from Tennessee's June 8, 1861, secession referendum. Visitors can see four of the original reports (Scott, Sevier, Sullivan, and Knox counties) and can view copies of the originals for their counties.
• Original sketch of simultaneous Union and Confederate rallies on Gay Street in downtown Knoxville, April 27, 1861, drawn from memory by Knoxvillian Samuel Bell Palmer, a Confederate, while an inmate in a Union prison camp. The drawing is an iconic image of the region’s divided loyalties.
• Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson campaign banner, 1864.
• Painting of Samuel P. Carter of Elizabethton, who masterminded the bridge burning plot that resulted in the hanging of five Greene countians and resulted in the arrest of many more and a Confederate crackdown on the Unionist citizens. Carter was the only man who saw service as both an admiral in the navy and a general in the army.
• Walking cane carved from a limb of a tree from which one of the Greene County bridge burners was hanged.
• A book autographed by famous Confederate spy Belle Boyd while living in Knoxville with relatives for a period during the war.
• Ellen Renshaw House diaries, a self-described "very violent Rebel," who has become known for her accounts of everyday life, military actions, and the hatreds and violence resulting from a divided population.

A number of programs are planned in conjunction with the exhibit. The programs are free and open to the public and will take place at the East Tennessee History Center.

July 24, 2013, Noon. Brown Bag Lecture, “That Vile Serpent, Brownlow! That Vain Historian, Ramsey!” a dramatic reading by David Madden, author of novel, Sharpshooter.

August 7, 2013, Brown Bag Lecture, Noon. “Old Tennessee Is as Good a Country as We Want: Black Southerners in the Union Army, 1863-1806”

Sunday, August 11, 2013 at 2:00 p.m. Film and Discussion. “Steven Spielberg, Historian? Emancipating Lincoln,” a screening of Lincoln (2012) with discussions and comments led by William E. Hardy, Ph.D., adjunct professor, Lincoln Memorial University.

The Museum of East Tennessee History is operated by the East Tennessee Historical Society and is open 9:00 am to 4:00 pm, Monday through Friday; 10:00 am to 4:00 pm, Saturday; and 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm, Sunday. The East Tennessee History Center is located at 601 South Gay Street, Knoxville, TN 37901, across from the Tennessee Theatre. For more information call (865) 215-8830, email, or visit

Published July 12, 2013

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