Tennessee Goes With the CSA; Virginia Fires Her First Shots

Tuesday, May 7, 1861

Tennessee’s Governor Isham Harris took his state’s secession a step farther when he informed the legislature that he had entered into a military league with the Confederacy. A week earlier (and six days before the actual secession), Harris sent three commissioners to meet with Confederate representatives in Nashville. There, they agreed to enter into a formal arrangement for mutual defense. The results of the meeting were not made public until after the secession and on this date, they were ratified by the Senate (14 to 6) and by the House (42 to 15).

Not only was Tennessee out of the Union, but just as quickly, it was in the Confederacy.

This pact allowed Tennessee’s military to immediately come under Confederate control, even before the state was officially accepted into the government.1

Though Tennessee was out of the Union, not all of her residents were happy about this. The eastern half of the state was strongly pro-Union. While this ratification was taking place in the capital at Knoxville, a Union man hoisted an American Flag over the city. Other Unionists made speeches denouncing secession. A serious riot then erupted. Fists turned to guns and twenty shots were fired.

A company of Tennessee militia were brought from their camp by Captain Washington Morgan to quell the riots.

A Union man named Douglas, was shot several times by (it was believed) secessionist Captain Morgan. While Douglas did not die, an outsider named Bull (or possibly Ball) was mortally wounded.

The rioting, but not the anger, had died down. Morgan’s men returned to camp and Douglas nursed his wounds.2

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Jackson Studies How to Defend Harpers Ferry

In Harpers Ferry, Virginia Col. Thomas Jackson wrote to General Robert E. Lee of his plans for defending the town. Jackson requested 10,000 men – a staggering number. He also wanted more artillery so he could secure the heights on the Maryland side overlooking the town. Jackson felt that the loss of Harpers Ferry would “result in the loss of the northwestern part of the State.”

Jackson’s situation at the Ferry seemed tenuous. Union troops under General Butler had secured the Relay House on the B&O rail line to Baltimore, so no supplies could be received from the east. At Grafton, on the line to Wheeling and Parkersburg, “the cars have been broken open by the Republicans, upon the suspicion that they contained arms.”

Jackson had heard from a militia company near Clarksburg in Harrison County, western Virginia. They were, for the time being, unarmed, but as soon as he could acquire muskets, said Jackson, “I design aiming it [the regiment] at Grafton.”

With Grafton on his mind, Jackson mentioned Major Boykin who had passed through Harpers Ferry on his way to Grafton to raise troops. Jackson hoped that the Major would soon have troops to command.3

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Alexandria Ordered to be Reoccupied by Rebels

Colonel Algernon S. Taylor, commander of the militia troops in Alexandria, Virginia, had vacated the town without informing his commander General Cocke. Cocke had spent much of the previous day telegraphing Alexandria, only to be told by the operator that nobody in the military remained in the town.

Unable to find Col. Taylor, Gen. Cocke had tracked down Col. George H. Terrett (who also commanded troops in the area) and ordered him to reoccupy the town.4

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Major Anderson Gets a New Title and Job

Robert Anderson, the Major who commanded Fort Sumter until its surrender, was promoted to Colonel and ordered by Abraham Lincoln to raise “regiments of volunteer troops from the State of Kentucky and from the Western part of the State of Virginia” for three-year enlistments.

Kentucky and western Virginia were about as pro-Union as hostile slave states could be. There was indeed some sentiment there, however, and Anderson immediately headed west.5

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Virginia’s First Shots

United States Naval Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge had practically grown up in the water. His father had been a Naval officer during the Mexican War and was serving in the Boston Naval Yard. The younger Selfridge found himself sent on a reconnaissance mission to scout the defenses along the York River in Virginia.

Aboard the USS Yankee, Selfridge left Fortress Monroe, Virginia at 10am. As he approached Gloucester Point, across the river from Yorktown, a shot from a Rebel battery was hurled across his bow. He continued on his course when another shot was fired. It fell short. Selfridge stopped the Yankee and moved two guns to the starboard side of the ship.

He fired six shots at the highest elevation he could, but they all fell short. The Rebels fired twelve shots in all, most of which fell short as well. Knowing he was out-gunned, Selfridge returned to port.

These were Virginia’s first shots of the Civil War.6



  1. Public Acts of the State of Tennessee Passed at the General Assembly, Volume 1 by The State of Tennessee, Griffith, Camp & Co., State Printers, 1861. []
  2. The Richmond Daily Dispatch, May 9, 1861. []
  3. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 2, p814-815. []
  4. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 2, p25. []
  5. Order to Robert Anderson from Abraham Lincoln, May 7, 1861. []
  6. Official Records of the Navy, Series 1, Volume 4, p380. There is some confusion as to when this happened. The Official Navy Records (including Selfridge’s own report) place this on May 7. The Official Army Records also place it on the 7th, though the entry claims it was the 9th. Since then, many authors, due to sloppy fact-checking, have echoed that it occurred on the 9th. However, it’s clear from Selfridge’s report and the reports of the Virginians’ (which will be explained on May 8), that it did in fact happen on the 7th. []
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Tennessee Goes With the CSA; Virginia Fires Her First Shots by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International

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