Legacies, 1870-1930

The devastation of the Civil War deeply penetrated the consciousness of nineteenth-century Americans, as did the transformation of the United States into a country where all persons were free. The legacies of these powerful experiences have left a strong imprint on Tennessee's landscape.

Even as the war continued, efforts began to commemorate the soldiers who had died on the battlefield in Tennessee. The Hazen Monument, erected by Union soldiers at the site of the Battle of Stones River in Murfreesboro in 1863, remains the oldest intact monument in the nation dedicated to the fallen of the Civil War. Also during the war, newly freed slaves in cities and towns began the public commemoration of emancipation by holding Emancipation Day celebrations in town squares. During the early postwar years, women spearheaded efforts by former Confederate supporters to mark the graves of the Confederate dead.

As time passed, and as the economy improved in the state, commemorative activities became increasingly elaborate and politicized. Tennesseans honored both the Confederate and Union dead through the creation of state and national military parks and the erection of monuments near county courthouses. Residents created new institutions to venerate Tennessee's Civil War heritage, including state and local branches of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, the Grand Army of the Republic, and the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Veterans’ homes and other institutions provided medical care and retirement services for former Union and Confederate soldiers. Educational institutions memorialized the war by changing their names to reflect army leadership.

As the nineteenth century drew to a close, East Tennesseans sought to commemorate their Unionist past. Upon the death of President Ulysses S. Grant in 1885, East Tennessee Wesleyan College, known today as Tennessee Wesleyan College in Athens, changed its name to Grant Memorial University. In 1897, Lincoln Memorial University was founded in Claiborne County by a local minister, his wife, and the former head of the Freedmen’s Bureau. The U.S. government rewarded East Tennessee for its Unionism as late as 1903, with the establishment of the United States Soldiers’ Home (later known as Mountain Home) near Johnson City in Washington County.

The racial divisions that had characterized the Reconstruction period continued into the late nineteenth century, evolving into a rigid system of racial segregation throughout the former Confederacy by early in the twentieth century. In Tennessee and elsewhere, rail and streetcar lines were some of the first places transformed by segregationist laws. Racial violence also became entrenched, as ritualistic lynchings spread fear throughout black communities in Tennessee.

The Civil War and Reconstruction affected every county in Tennessee and the legacies of these events can be traced through the music, art, and stories that remain with Tennesseans today. Museums display artifacts, paintings, and documents from the Civil War and Reconstruction period. Thousands of people from around the country travel to Tennessee to research and study the war, re-enact the battles, visit Civil War-era sites, and pay their respects to those who fought and died here.