History of the Civil War in Gatlinburg TN and Pigeon Forge TN

Reenactment of a battle from the Civil War.
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This spring marks the 152nd anniversary of the end of the American Civil War. Although no major battles occurred in Tennessee’s Smoky Mountains, the war had a profound effect on the residents of Sevier County. Visit My Smokies did a little research to bring you this brief history of the Civil War in Gatlinburg TN and Pigeon Forge TN.

A Pro-Union Region in a Confederate State

With war on the horizon in 1860, the Smoky Mountain area found itself at odds with much of the South. Historical records show that fewer than 20% of voters in Sevier County supported secession from the United States.

The pro-Union sentiment in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge can be attributed to a number of factors. While slavery was commonplace in wealthy areas of the antebellum South, the majority of Smoky Mountain residents did not own slaves. Additionally, many folks in the Smokies were suspicious of the powerful Southern elites who were leading the push for secession. If a conflict were to break out, East Tennesseans feared that it would be a “rich man’s war but a poor man’s fight”. Finally, some people in the Smoky Mountains simply wanted to be left alone.

Despite these concerns, Tennessee became the 11th and final state to secede from the United States and join the Confederacy on June 8, 1861.A historic mill along the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail in Gatlinburg.

Radford Gatlin is Chased Out of Town

Before the Civil War began, tensions between Union and Confederate sympathizers ran high in the Smokies. Even Radford Gatlin, the man for whom Gatlinburg is named, couldn’t stay out of trouble.

When Radford Gatlin moved to town in 1854, the area was known as White Oak Flats. However, the town was renamed “Gatlinburg” when Gatlin established a post office in his general store a few years later.

(See Also: How Did Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and Sevierville Get Their Names?)

Although he had the most famous name in the Smokies, Radford Gatlin was constantly feuding with his neighbors. When Gatlin started to express pro-Confederate sentiments, the town officially turned against him. In 1859, a group of Unionists gave Gatlin a beating before forcing him out of Sevier County.

Confederate Occupation of Gatlinburg

As a pro-Union town in a Confederate state, Gatlinburg tried to remain neutral during the Civil War. However, the Smokies soon attracted the attention of the Confederate Army because they were home to a precious natural resource: saltpeter. This coveted mineral was used to produce gunpowder and was found in abundance in Alum Cave.

To capture the Smoky Mountain saltpeter for the Confederacy, a regiment led by Colonel William Thomas marched from North Carolina to Gatlinburg. Known as Thomas’s Legion, this fighting force consisted of both white soldiers and Cherokee troops. The Confederate forces occupied Gatlinburg, set up a fort on Burg Hill, and began mining saltpeter from Alum Cave.

A cannon firing during a reenactment of a Civil War battle.Battle of Burg Hill

The Confederate occupation of Gatlinburg ended in December of 1863 when two Union forces marched into town to drive out Thomas’s Legion. The surprise attack on Burg Hill lasted about an hour before Colonel Thomas and his men fled back across the mountains to North Carolina. No one was killed during the battle, but a few men were wounded.

The Battle of Burg Hill was the most significant fighting to happen during the Civil War in Gatlinburg TN. The Confederate Army did not try to recapture Gatlinburg, although the town was the target of scattered raids until the end of the war.

The Old Mill During the Civil War

One of the Smoky Mountains’ most iconic landmarks was an asset to Union forces in East Tennessee during the Civil War. The Old Mill in Pigeon Forge was owned by John Sevier Trotter, a local businessman and ardent supporter of the Union. To help the war effort, Trotter had looms installed in the mill to make uniforms for Union volunteers. The third floor of the mill was also used as a makeshift hospital for wounded soldiers.

Black and white photo of The Old Mill in Pigeon Forge TN.More Smoky Mountain History

We hope you enjoyed learning about the Civil War in Gatlinburg TN and Pigeon Forge TN. If you’re looking for more Smoky Mountain history, check out our blog about how eight counties in East Tennessee almost became America’s 14th state!

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