McClung Museum curator discusses Civil War history

McClung Museum curator Joan Markel discusses white male landowners, African Americans and women during the Civil War in her lecture featured in the Civil War lecture series.

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Knoxville had little fire in the Civil War fight until people were forced to choose a side, according to Joan Markel, UT McClung Museum’s curator of Civil War history. For the first half of the war, the city of Knoxville sided with the Confederacy until Union troops moved in and its alliance reverted back to the North.

“It wasn’t our fight, but it became our fight,” Markel said.

Markel addressed approximately 80 guests at the afternoon lecture on Sunday, Jan. 24. The lecture was a part of the McClung Museum’s 6th annual Civil War Lecture series titled “An All-American City Endures: Knoxvillians at War 1860-1865.”

Since 1995, Markel has been compiling a database from census data, deeds, taxes, birth records, death records and historical letters from the Civil War. Markel has also been working alongside the East Tennessee Civil War Alliance and University of Tennessee Honors Students to transcribe regimental records.

The fact-filled lecture provided a substantial overview of the data Markel used to uncover 300 accounts of Knoxville residents who participated in Civil War activities.

Because there are more complete, historical records, the lecture focused on white male land owners. However, there were special cases where Markel managed to uncover accounts of both African Americans and women.

One of the only accounts Markel had of an African American woman was that of Knoxville’s first African American school teacher Laura Ann Scott Cansler. Records of “She-Rebels,” or staunch southern women who taunted Union soldiers, were also identified.

Markel believes that it is important for students to know about Civil War history.

“I think that human nature is such that democracies have to be about compromise and when you reach a point when you aren’t willing to talk to the other side, serious things can happen,” Markel said.

Markel hopes that the Civil War Alliance and UT’s Honors Students will help garner more insight into local Civil War figures.

The next lecture in the Civil War series, Politicians and Lawmakers: Attempting to Maintain Control, will be on Sunday, Feb. 21 at 2 p.m. in the McClung Museum auditorium.

Featured image by Thomas Delgado

Edited by Hannah Hunnicutt and Jessica Carr