Common People in Uncommon Times

The Civil War Experience in Tennessee

November 12, 2012 to January 13, 2013
Rogers-Claussen Feature Gallery

Common People in Uncommon Times: The Civil War Experience in Tennessee, the official traveling exhibit of the Tennessee Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission, focuses on how the American Civil War impacted the lives of Tennesseans through personal stories of some of the participants. Their tales represent a diverse array of personalities — Confederate soldiers, Union sympathizers, African-Americans, gallant women — whose sagas illustrate a land divided.

“Tennessee, being geographically centered between the North and the Deep South, was destined to be the focal point of the Civil War,” explains Myers Brown, the exhibition’s curator and the Tennessee State Museum’s curator of extension services. “The state became a major battlefield, supply center, transportation hub, and invasion route for both Union and Confederate armies. The war disrupted and impacted the people of Tennessee in ways that are almost unimaginable.”

Almost 187,000 Tennesseans served in the Confederate armed forces, while more than 50,000 served in the Union army, including some 20,000 African-Americans. Confederate Tennesseans fought in every major battle east of the Mississippi River, from Gettysburg to New Orleans, forming the backbone of the largest army in the western theater, the Army of Tennessee. Whether Union or Confederate, the soldiers’ stories are individual and varied, including boys from the mountains and aristocrats from the Delta.

The Tennessee home front, especially the rural areas, suffered immensely during the war. Crops and farms were destroyed and livestock confiscated. Towns and cities faced the uneasy and unfamiliar aspect of occupation by Union or Confederate armies. The exhibition explores the home front through the stories of people like John Fielder, a store keeper in Henderson County; Kate Carney, a defiant secessionist in Murfreesboro; and Christopher Alexander Haun, a noted potter from Greene County.

Photographs and archival materials highlight several different African-Americans and their experience both on the home front and the battle front. Profiled individuals include Allen James Walker, who escaped slavery and joined the 7th U.S. Heavy Artillery; Samuel Lowry, a free black who returned to Nashville to serve as a chaplain; and Laura Ann Cansler, who worked to educate former slaves in Knoxville.

The exhibit  also presents Tennessee’s unique story among former Confederate states during Reconstruction and illuminates the Volunteer State’s significant role in the manner in which the Civil War was remembered by post-war generations.

This pictorial narrative of personal struggle and endurance during the Civil War is presented on 10 graphic panels taken from the Tennessee State Museum’s collection of photographs and artifacts from the era, as well as from other collections across the state.