William G. Brownlow Affair
The Submission of Union Loyalists

     Secession had not been an easy pill to swallow for all in the Southern States. In the mid fall of 1861 in Carter County, Tennessee many still loyal to the Constitution of the land revolted against those who so willingly ripped Tennessee's star from the American Flag.

     Mr. Madison T. Peoples, a citizen, advised the Secretary of War, Judah P. Benjamin that Martial Law ought to be enforced in every county across East Tennessee. He insisted that these disloyal citizens to the Confederacy were now, simply waiting for an invading federal army. With this probability, every good Southerner will be taken prisoner without it being imposed. With Tennessee being the gateway to the deep south, many spies would be free to roam and hold intercourse with these enemies of the government; martial law would certainly put an end to all of that.

     Colonel S. A. M. Wood announced the arrival of the 7th Alabama Volunteers at Chattanooga, and with that the Tories had quieted down. Not convinced, however, that the revolts were over, the colonel called on the War Department for authorization to execute those found who have broken the law with treasonable acts. The Secretary was not impressed with the lack of protocol coming from 7th Alabama headquarters, and insisted recommendations be submitted through proper channels.

     Brigadier General William H. Carroll had just assumed command in Knoxville by authority of Brigadier General Felix Kirk Zollicoffer. Orders were sent out to the various districts with parties to disperse the gatherings of disaffected citizens and have their leaders arrested.

     By the 26th day of November, the Confederate forces had seventy persons believed to be directly or indirectly involved with the burning of the railroad bridges about Knoxville, Tennessee. Colonel Wood was inclined to hold court martial for those whom guilt seemed quite strong. Four days later the Confederates announced to the War Department that two had been tried for bridge burning, found guilty, and hanged accordingly.

     Mr. William G. Brownlow, one who opposed secession and a zealous advocate of Union until losing out as the minority when the permanent Confederate Constitution was adapted, became a Confederate oddity. At that time, he, with a list of others, voluntarily addressed a communication to Brigadier General Zollicoffer having pledged to use their influence to promote the peace in East Tennessee.

     Convinced by the general of his allegiance to the new Confederacy, Brownlow remained under the protection of his forces. Once the general left for other areas of operation, however, the federal forces under Colonel William B. Wood, unrestrained, began paying daily visits to his house brandishing knives and pointing their muskets at the windows; threatening his life and that of his family. Brownlow decided to leave home for a time to spare his wife and children the terror invoked upon them when news came of the burning of the railroad bridges and he was charged with the complicity of the crime. He, therefore, felt it prudent to hide himself until the chaos was to calm, he explained to the President in Richmond.

     An appeal was made on Mr. Brownlow's behalf before Mr. Davis and Mr. Benjamin, the latter making a written application to Major General George B. Crittenden to permit him to pass beyond the Tennessee lines into Kentucky, having much preferred to see him across the border as an avowed enemy. This the general approved on the 4th of December having scheduled a departure date of December 7th.

     Before this could be accomplished, however, the District Attorney put a warrant out for Brownlow's arrest and taken into the custody the following day. His appeals to General Crittenden thereafter fell upon deaf ears. The state's prisoner was not considered at general headquarters to be there on invitation in such a manner as to claim his protection from investigation by civil authority.

     Mr. Brownlow was arrested for editorials in the newspapers that were considered to be treasonable against the Confederacy; however, he fell into the custody of Colonel Danville Leadbetter, after the district attorney J. C. Ramsay filed for a nolle prosequi plea. The evidence simply was not there.

     On the 18th of December 1861, the Confederate District Attorney received a letter from a citizen, Mr. Jesse G. Wallace, which spoke primarily of the Union loyalists on the first Monday of November suddenly emboldened to stand before the town's people defiant. Mr. Brownlow came in with a Parson Cummings and put up at the Dowell's house having entertained federal officers that day and into the night. The following morning Brownlow left for the mountains. The crowd seemed to understand there was a large federal force not too far distant and coming onto Knoxville.

     The federalist crowd that gathered were made up of men who engaged in a raid on Sevier County immediately following the bridge burnings that Brownlow was now being held accountable for; all of whom were then in town together. Coincidence, however, was something the district attorney could not convict on; even with the knowledge of a white servant girl belonging to a Mr. Sesler, spoke of the bridge burnings before they occurred. It was known that Mr. Brownlow had met with this citizen of Knoxville as well.

     Mr. William G. Brownlow remained in custody of the Confederate forces under Colonel Danville Leadbetter until March 3, 1862, after four months of finding no convicting evidence against him. Given a military escort to Nashville and onto Kentucky, the Confederate government felt safer with him across the borders in neutral territory rather than continually looking over their backs at him. The menace of dealing with disgruntled loyalist citizens was quelled when believed the ring leaders had been successfully banished; and the citizens who had always disagreed with breaking from the country's constitution, viewed the war as one, long, four year rescue operation.

Dan (Aldie) Daniel Moran
© 2005

Editors Note: Mr.Moran is a feature writer on the US-Civilwar.com writers staff. He may be contacted with your questions, ideas and requests at dmoran@us-civilwars.net