June 18, 2021

Lecturer discusses Knoxville legal system during Civil War

McClung Museum staff member Joan Markel discussed the legal system in Knoxville during the Civil War.

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On Sunday, Feb. 21, the McClung Museum hosted the second installment of this year’s Civil War lecture series.

February’s lecture, delivered by museum staff member Joan Markel, was titled, “Civilians Caught in War: The Legal System.” The talk revolved around the era’s politicians, lawyers and judges and their attempts to maintain control during the war years.

Markel began by informing the 70 audience members that she had finished creating her presentation only minutes before it was scheduled to begin, saying that she was finding it difficult to make generalizations about the subject matter.

“I have found that Knoxville’s Civil War history is so impactful because of the people who lived here and the amount of information that’s been left over in individuals’ stories,” Markel said. “I’m looking at the topic from the standpoints of individuals who were trying to hold this system together.”

Markel introduced the audience to the long-dead people she spends her time studying, most of whom were lawmakers or law enforcers. She talked about the major players of Knoxville’s 1860s political scene, noting their careers, political affiliations and their relationships to one another.

The political climate of the time was largely characterized by disputes over whether the state should secede or remain in the union. Tennessee eventually became an official confederate state, but Markel said the eastern part of the state was predominantly unionist.

This difference of beliefs and many other complex issues, Markel said, created a tough atmosphere for the lawmakers, many of whom fled Knoxville and never returned.

“How do you deal when the system breaks down?” she asked. “Difficult times call for difficult choices.”

Markel also called on the audience to remember, “Hindsight is not really 20/20. We reinterpret the past through the filter of our present day perceptions and values.”

The next installment in the series will be held on March 20 at 2 p.m. in McClung Museum Auditorium. It will focus on merchants, manufacturers and money in the Civil War era.

Featured image by Ryan McGill

Edited by Courtney Anderson

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