Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | March 28, 2015

On Appalachia, the Civil War, and States That Might Have Been

Last month I finished James McPherson’s Embattled Rebel: Jefferson Davis as Commander in Chief, about which more in a later post. Today, I just wanted to highlight one passage that struck me (p. 172):

Following the defeat at Gettysburg and the loss of Vicksburg, morale plunged and cries for peace arose in parts of the Confederacy, especially North Carolina. The western part of that state, like East Tennessee and the portion of Virginia that became West Virginia, had contained many Unionists in 1861. And the rest of North Carolina perhaps included more reluctant rebels than any other Confederate state.

We shouldn’t read too much into this (in the same paragraph, McPherson notes that the governor of North Carolina, Zebulon Vance, was “a loyal Confederate,” and Vance did win reelection in 1864), but this portion of the book triggered a line of thought. We know that the western counties of Virginia voted to secede from Virginia after Virginia voted to secede from the Union, and those western counties went on to become the state of West Virginia, which endures to the present day. Along similar lines, I have heard and read that East Tennessee almost seceded from Tennessee.

It seems to me that the Feds missed an opportunity here to redraw some state lines. (OK, the Feds missed a lot of opportunities in the closing phases of the Civil War, and in Reconstruction, and following Reconstruction… but I’m focusing here on one particular missed opportunity.) We could have combined East Tennessee and western North Carolina into a new state — sort of a super-amped revival of the State of Franklin, say. Or call it the State of Appalachia. I’m envisioning a state that encompasses, basically, everything east of the Cumberland Plateau and west of, perhaps, Charlotte — which would encompass the metropolitan areas of Chattanooga, Knoxville, and Asheville, along with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a Cherokee reservation, and some other stuff.

My thoughts wandered along these lines in part because, in multiple ways, East Tennessee has much more in common with western North Carolina than with West Tennessee. In my experience, at least, Knoxville has always seemed closer, culturally, to Asheville than to Memphis. For its part, Memphis probably has more affinity with Jackson, MS, or maybe even with Baton Rouge, than with Knoxville or Chattanooga. YMMV.

(Nashville is its own little anomaly. The last time I was in Nashville, I saw a White Castle. I wasn’t even sure I was still in the South.)


  1. It does seem to me that there’s a White Castle/Krystal line, which might be profitably compared to the sweet-tea line (north of which, restaurants do not routinely offer sugar-sweetened tea). I might bestir myself to google up maps. Or not.

  2. Ah, here we go. Yes, Nashville is an anomaly.

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