Tennessee earned its nickname, “Volunteer State,” in part because the state is a great place to volunteer. You may remember this name when you are a child or grew up watching athletic events, but did you know that the state has more to offer than just country music and smoky mountains?
Tennesseans stepped forward to serve in times of war
World War II marked a watershed period for the United States and Tennessee. During the war, America emerged as a world superpower and Tennessee’s industrial base, Oak Ridge, played a major role in the creation of the atomic age. Oak Ridge produced the vital components of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Thousands of Tennesseans served in the armed forces or worked in war industries.
The war was the first major conflict in Tennessee’s history, and Tennesseans stepped forward to serve their nation. Over 300,000 Tennesseans enlisted and served. Of those, 5,731 lost their lives in battle. Among them was General Frank Maxwell Andrews, who replaced Dwight D. Eisenhower as commander of the United States’ European Theater of Operations. Andrews was the highest-ranking Ally killed during the war. Also, General Clifton B. Cates and Henrietta Hickman Morgan, who served in the Navy and Marines, participated in the war.
Another example is Troy McGill, a Tennessean who received the Medal of Honor. He was fighting in the Los Negros Islands off the coast of Papa New Guinea in March 1944. He was part of a group of eight men in a ridge defense. When the Japanese attacked, six of the men were killed. Despite the losses, McGill stayed in the battle and ordered the final man to retreat. The rest of his men, along with McGill, held out until ammunition ran out. At the same time, they waited for the enemy to attack.
In addition to wartime veterans, many civilians were also employed during the war. The war effort resulted in the establishment of twenty-nine new industries in the state. One of the largest of these industries was Rohm and Haas, which produced Plexiglas for airplanes. The war effort also brought increased employment opportunities for women. In the period between 1940 and 1950, women held nearly two million jobs in Tennessee’s manufacturing industry.
The war effort changed the economy and the way Tennesseans lived. During the conflict, large armies burned a vast area of farmland. The state was divided, with many Eastern counties harboring pro-Union sentiment. The last state to secede from the Union was Tennessee, and this move was in response to President Lincoln’s April 15 Proclamation, which called on state militias to suppress the rebellion. The state sent a large number of troops to the Confederacy, but it also sent the largest number of soldiers to the Union Army.
The deep divide between races still exists today in Tennessee, and it affects politics today. The Republican Party, which once championed slavery and segregation, has become the dominant political party. As a result, white supremacy and segregation have long been a major issue in politics today.
Tennesseans voted against secession conventions
While the nation was divided over secession, most Tennesseans had little appetite for the idea. The state’s electorate supported moderate John Bell for president, who wanted to keep the country together. As a result, fifty-four percent of Tennesseans voted against sending delegates to a secession convention. In response to these results, President Abraham Lincoln called in 75,000 troops to force the secession states back into line.
A Confederate soldier’s family would have to pay for sending them beyond the borders of the Confederate States if they refused to go back to their homes. If they didn’t want to return, they’d have to send their wives and children to Kentucky.
In the meantime, President Buchanan convenes a cabinet meeting to discuss the issue of secession. His advisors are divided over whether or not to call a convention of the states. Attorney General Jeremiah Sullivan Black and Secretary of State Lewis Cass are opposed to secession and want to protect the Union at all costs. Postmaster General Joseph Holt is also against secession. Meanwhile, Secretary of Treasury Howell Cobb is in favor of it.
As the war continued, tensions continued to rise. In 1864, William T. Sherman’s army had captured Atlanta, but John Bell Hood was in command of the Army of Tennessee. He had hoped to force the Union out of Georgia. The plan had little chance of success, but Hood was desperate for glory. Nonetheless, he decided to cross into Tennessee. The Army of Tennessee was encamped near Murfreesboro. A week later, the Union army repelled the Confederate army from their territory. The Confederate troops were pushed back by Union troops and defensive positions.