Tennessee tragically epitomized that axiomatic phrase used to describe America’s terrible 19th Century sectional conflict, “brother against brother.”
In some ways the state’s inhabitants faced a civil war within the Civil War. And the dividing lines between “sides” were nowhere more jagged, confusing and treacherous than in the lands transitioning between Union-sympathizing East Tennessee and the pro-Confederate Middle and West.
In “The Civil War Along Tennessee’s Cumberland Plateau,” Maryville College associate professor Aaron Astor has endeavored to investigate the bitter struggle using “newer conceptual approaches.”
Astor is especially interested in how the region’s topography tended to prescribe partisan alliances, as well as embolden the ruthless practitioners of guerrilla warfare.
During a talk before the Upper Cumberland Civil War Roundtable in Cookeville on March 8, Astor said he chose the portrait for the cover — “The Battle of Lookout Mountain,” by James Walker — because it illustrates the variance and intricacy of the shifting landscapes and affiliations the book examines.
“In some ways, I think that is a nice metaphor for how people experienced the war on the plateau,” he said. “They had to sort of carve their way through where Mother Nature would allow them to go.”
In the book, Astor writes: “The multilayered, interlocking geology of the plateau is more than a metaphor for the Civil War. It is also a very real foundation for human settlement, movement and conflict.”
Astor’s book also charts the wartime activities of combatants like Champ Ferguson, John Hunt Morgan, “Tinker Dave” Beaty, “Fighting Joe” Wheeler and explores the “sociopathic logic” of guerrilla warfare.
The book’s writing style is brisk and readable. Astor hopes it enjoyable and useful not just for Civil War buffs and military historians. “Longtime inhabitants of the plateau, recent arrivals, tourists visiting its many beautiful parks and forests, Tennesseans curious about the Civil War era and general Civil War readers will hopefully find much to interest them in this book,” he said.
Feature image at top of page: Aaron Astor, an associate professor at Maryville College, delivers a lecture before the Upper Cumberland Civil War Roundtable in Cookeville March 8. Astor’s written two books and numerous articles on internecine regional hostilities during the 1860s.