by D. Lanier Shook April 7, 2018
In light of recent controversies about Confederate statues it may — or may not — surprise some of you that most of my grandparents really didn’t talk much about the American Civil War. Although I have roots both in the North and the South I also have family who were in the middle of the two. The mountains along the Mason-Dixon line were home to families with both Confederate and Unionist sympathies and that’s where some of my people come from.
NOTE: I realize many of my audience are probably proud descendants of Confederates and I don’t want to diminish the legacy of their ancestors. I believe The American Civil War continues to fascinate us because of many aspects of the conflict that have to be reconciled. This article represents one facet of that, one chunk of a much larger historic picture.
When I took Appalachian Culture we watched (most) of Cold Mountain, the film adaptation of Charles Frazier’s novel (you can order on Amazon by clicking here). There were things about the novel I didn’t like but one thing I appreciated was the tension in the mountain areas of the borderlands. For the people here the Civil War was not that unlike the wars in the Balkans. Family turned against family and events like the Shelton Laurel Massacre which gave Madison County the nickname “Bloody Madison.” (For more about those events click here to read Max Hunt’s great article ‘Blood in the Valley: The Shelton Laurel Massacre’s Haunting Legacy‘ published two years ago in the Mountain Express.)
This is a very long introduction but it sets up this Roadtrip since it takes you to the heart of Unionist country in East Tennessee. When Abraham Lincoln ran for a second term he chose Andrew Johnson as his vice-president — a senator from Tennessee,a member of the Confederate States of America. But East Tennessee was — and still is — a very Republican area. (Click here to read about our Road Trip to Greeneville, Tennessee, Johnson’s hometown.) Today’s roadtrip takes us back to East Tennessee to the home of another Union hero from a Confederate state.
Admiral David Glasgow Farragut was born and raised in East Tennessee, but would go on to capture New Orleans for the Union Navy. This victory would open the Mississippi River to Yankee naval squadrons allowing the extent of naval support essential for the later victories of General Grant along the Mississippi. Farragut was born near Knoxville and the town of Farragut is home to a Museum and Park that are worth a visit if you’re in the area.
The Admiral Farragut Memorial Plaza is not only a must-visit for Civil War history buffs — I’m sorry ‘enthusiast’ — but it is must-visit for naval history buffs — I’m sorry I meant to say enthusiast. David Farragut was actually the first person in American history to hold the rank of Rear Admiral, Vice Admiral, or Admiral. (He held all three.) The Plaza contains a bronze statue of him and two cannon — a 32 pounder gun and a nine inch Dahlgren gun. Artillery and naval enthusiast will recognize these represent an important evolution in naval artillery.
You also need to click here to visit the website for the Farragut Museum, housed in the Town Hall next to the Memorial Plaza. The Museum is also a must-visit for naval enthusiasts because of the detailed displays about mid-nineteenth century naval life and technology. The exhibits include:
- A recreation of Admiral Farragut’s cabin on the USS Hartford.
- A display about Admial Farragut’s family and his career.
- A incredible model of the USS Hartford and the actual ship’s whistle from the Hartford.
- A very impressive display of scrimshaw.
The museum is also a must-visit for Civil War enthusiasts because of the impressive exhibit about the Civil War in East Tennessee. Here you can find:
- Many paintings and illustrations including an large and impressive painting of the Battle of Strawberry Plains by Major Alexander Dumas, a World War II veteran who teaches art locally.
- An impressive collection of mid-nineteenth century firearms and edged weapons.
- The recreation of a Civil War encampment.
Don’t forget to visit the gift shop where you can find books, prints, and miniatures to remember your visit by. The selection of books not only about the Civil War but also about East Tennessee is alone worth the visit. Visitors young and old will enjoy the miniature vehicles, plus other items like the blue and grey kepis you can buy.
In conclusion, the Memorial Plaza and Farragut Museum are a must visit if you are in the Knoxville area. Not only will you learn about one aspect of perhaps the most pivotal conflict in American History but it is FREE!!! (Donations are gladly accepted, so please consider chipping in to support the Museum.) Also the quality of the collection alone makes this a must see. Its very convenient both to Knoxville and I-40. Finally I have to say that Farragut’s shopping district offers the largest variety of shopping and entertainment pretty much anywhere. This town is a must visit and I will be doing a Roadtrip article about that very soon.