State archivists came to the area last week looking for Civil War stories. At the end of their two-day visit in Johnson City and Jonesborough, they didn’t leave disappointed.
“We were overwhelmed with the response. We had a lot of people that came out,” archivist Jami Awalt said.
The visit was part of a massive preservation project launched by the Tennessee State Library and Archives called “Looking Back: The Civil War in Tennessee.”
The project is aimed to provide a more complete picture of Tennessee’s involvement in the “War Between the States” by giving Tennesseans the opportunity to have their Civil War manuscripts, artifacts and photographs added to a digital exhibit commemorating the war’s 150th anniversary.
During the visit, archivists saw a number of items come through the door, including tintypes, photographs, letters and a uniform.
Awalt said one man brought in a shaving kit that his family had said belonged to Confederate Gen. John Hunt Morgan, who is best known for leading Morgan’s Raid in which he led Confederate cavalry from Tennessee into the northern territories.
The shaving kit was taken from Morgan after he was assassinated in Greeneville, according to the family legend.
Another notable item came in the form of a letter that was addressed to a soldier’s family in the region. The letter was written while the soldier was away in Vicksburg, Miss.
“The gentleman who brought it in was a veteran himself of World War II and Korea, so I think having that shared history of knowing what it’s like to be a soldier away from home writing to your family was pretty special to read, regardless of the war or however long ago it was,” Awalt said.
Kingsport resident Quenton Tubb brought in what he thought was a Civil War-era horse bridle he had acquired several years ago.
“It’s supposed to be Civil War. They couldn’t tell me for sure, but it’s in amazing condition if it is that old,” he said.
One of the more astounding things archivists saw during their two-day visit was the realization that a number of people in the area have ties to the Civil War that only go back about one generation.
“Interestingly, on this trip, we’ve had three people who are fairly immediate descendants of Civil War veterans. Their grandfathers were veterans, so the veteran had children very late in life ... so you’re one generation removed, which is pretty interesting,” Awalt said.
Tubb was one of those descendants, as his great-grandfather, John Van Hooser, fought in the 16th Tennessee Volunteer Infantry Regiment.
Aside from bringing the bridle, Tubb’s connection to the Civil War through his great-grandfather was another impetus for his participation with the project.
“If we use this information for the right reasons, I really think it’s good for history. I think we should emphasize its destruction and all of the things that went on because of misguided feelings on both sides,” he said.
With 150 years’ difference since the war came to an end, finding descendants who are still alive with those kind of stories is a rarity archivists don’t see very often.
But Awalt said every item and person they come across are special, given the personal attachment most people have to them.
“The weapons that we see, the photographs that we see, the letters that we read, while there are some similarities and themes, of course, that are shared, it’s the individual experience that is wonderful,” she said.
In return for their time, participants in the project will receive free copies of the digital images created by TSLA staff.
Archivists will be back in East Tennessee in June when they visit Grainger and Union counties.
For more information on the project, visit www.tn.gov/tsla/cwtn or call 615-253-3470.