Listen to the voices of 150 years ago during the War Between the States when the monumental battles of Shiloh, Gettysburg, Chickamauga and countless other fields of honor are the most remembered. Not to be forgotten are the thousands of smaller engagements and skirmishes which were fought with valor and equal tragedy.
Travel a few miles into East Tennessee, cross the fields and streams where the men of the North and the South gave their lives and here you will find the historic little town of Blountville.
East Tennessee was of strategic importance during the Civil War primarily because the East Tennessee & Virginia Railroad ran through upper East Tennessee directly southwest to Knoxville and South to Chattanooga. Early in the war, both sides recognized the importance of the railroad line for both supplies and communications. Throughout the next four years, small battles took place in order to gain possession of this railroad with its Holston River Bridge in nearby Zollicoffer, which is today known as Bluff City.
A second factor which provoked Union animosity was the holding of seized property rights of Union sympathizers held by Matthew Haynes of Blountville whose brother was the eloquent Landon C. Haynes, Speaker of the Confederate Senate. A third target for Union guns was the tannery on the banks of Muddy Creek on the west side of Blountville. This tannery furnished the saddles for Mosby’s raiders, a Confederate Brigade of cavalrymen who looted Union sympathizers in Northeast Tennessee.
Thus, three major factors made Blountville a Union prize to be destroyed. On 22 September 1863, the war with all its horror came to Blountville. Federal forces advanced from Knoxville and arrived on the outskirts of Blountville. Union forces quickly occupied the heights overlooking the west side of town; this chosen site was the cemetery – the “City of the Dead”. Union cannons were aligned on the gravesites of the locals and their slaves alike. Reacting to the threats, Southern forces formed artillery on a knoll near the present-day Blountville Middle School; another line was established by Rebel forces on a nearby hillside in front of the Masonic Hall, now the site of the maintenance building for the Sullivan County School System. The battle of artillery and cavalry began in earnest at lunchtime Union guns offered the initial volley with the Court House as the first target. In only a few minutes, the Court House was burning. Though casualties were light for both armies, the town was devastated, with countless homes and businesses burned to the ground by fires started by the explosions of Federal guns. For four hours, the battle raged when Union forces dislodged the Confederates who began a withdrawal to present-day Bluff City. The Confederates’ withdrawal was a pre-planned surprise counter-attack, with fresh Confederate troops awaiting the pursuing Federals. The plan was not destined for success when Union forces discovered the Confederate plot and refused battle; the men in blue retreated to Blountville. All of the Federal forces returned toward Knoxville within two days. That fateful little day left a burning town – a burned jail, a gutted Court House, businesses and homes destroyed – Only a few historic structures and homes remained.
Left behind were the dead and wounded from both sides as well as a town destroyed. Here on this ground, as well as in Gettysburg, men fought and paid the ultimate sacrifice. Eventually, both armies would withdraw from the immediate area, but Blountville, like much of the South, was left smoldering, and its citizens weeping; thus, this once peaceful village would never be the same.
Battle of Blountville Reenactment:
Old Hawley Farm: 1173 Hawley Road, Blountville, TN 37617
The Department of East Tennessee Reenacting will present the 2017 Battle of Blountville Reenactment. The event is co-sponsored by the Sullivan County Department of Archives and Tourism and the Battle of Blountville Civil War Military Park.
For additional information about the 2017 Reenactment, please contact one of the following representatives from the Department of East Tennessee Reenacting: Phillip Bishop, (423) 782-9668; Tim Williams, (423) 276-9294; or Richie Ireson (423) 292-3451.