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Reenactment of a battle from the Civil War.

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

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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!


  • Avatar for Gary Mustain
    Gary Mustain

    What about the Battle of Fair Garden? Not in Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge but definitely in the Smoky Mountains.

    May 17, 2017 at 2:26 pm
    • Avatar for Fling Poo On You
      Fling Poo On You

      That wound up turning into a community dance, cake walk and turkey shoot.

      May 26, 2017 at 1:29 pm
      • Avatar for Gary Mustain
        Gary Mustain

        I am not sure 265 casualties would be considered a “Cake Walk”. idiot.

        May 29, 2017 at 8:40 am
        • Avatar for Fling Poo On You
          Fling Poo On You

          Fine. But to just dismiss the dance and turkey shoot is just wrong. Fool.

          July 17, 2017 at 10:17 pm
          • Avatar for Gary Mustain
            Gary Mustain

            Wow, you really are a special kind of stupid.

            July 18, 2017 at 7:19 am
          • Avatar for Fling Poo On You
            Fling Poo On You

            Considering the source, I’m okay with what you say. I joke around- you respond with insults. Now run along and kiss mommy with your mouth.

            July 20, 2017 at 2:56 pm
          • Avatar for Gary Mustain
            Gary Mustain

            Stating a fact is not responding with an insult and my mother has been dead for 8 years. But thanks for once again proving my point.

            July 20, 2017 at 3:08 pm
          • Avatar for Fling Poo On You
            Fling Poo On You

            Such an angry boy..

            July 27, 2017 at 1:28 pm
          • Avatar for Gary Mustain
            Gary Mustain

            And where exactly, on my part, is any angry presented? Only thing on display in this exchange is your astounding stupidity and immaturity. But what else would you expect from someone using the Moniker “Fling Poo On You”? Just go away troll.

            July 27, 2017 at 2:56 pm
          • Avatar for Fling Poo On You
            Fling Poo On You

            You’re angry. Try meds or a good puppet show.

            August 12, 2017 at 5:32 pm

Comments are closed.