The bad news reached Nashville on a Sunday morning, so scary and unexpected that church pews emptied in a flash. The Confederacy’s Fort Donelson, thought invincible days before, had fallen to Union soldiers some 80 miles down the Cumberland River.
The Fall of Nashville.
Image from the Tennessee State Library and Archives
“Church services were abandoned — people just ran out,” said Walter Durham, Tennessee state historian. “And the Lord was left behind.”
So began The Great Panic, an unprecedented scramble in an unfortified city of 30,000 people, a bustling river port geographically poised to grow as a rail hub. Fearing a vicious Yankee attack, families fled, officials cowered and mobs rioted for nine days. And then, 150 years ago today, a beleaguered mayor surrendered the South’s first capital city without a fight.
The episode ranks among the most revealing in Tennessee’s deep Civil War history. Through diaries that document those days, historians glimpse the South’s improvised fighting in the early going, the spread of rumors and the uncertainty about whether those who led the state to secession would be tried for treason.
An important point of emphasis, for me at least, is that images and diaries from the Tennessee State Library and Archives help to tell this important story. Click here to read the entire article, published in The Tennessean.