VIEW FROM THE NORTH
Beyond All Price contains a scene in which Nellie Chase is taken on a tour of Occupied Nashville. She had just arrived to assume her nursing duties in April, 1863. It goes something like this:
"This capital city of a Confederate state has become a Union stronghold, and the citizens of Nashville are not allowed to forget it.”
“What was Nashville like before the war? How did this all happen?” Nellie asked.
“When Nashville became the permanent capital of Tennessee, it developed into a cultural, educational and medical center. At the start of the war, the population was around thirty thousand, with maybe twenty percent of that number slaves and free blacks. The city had theaters, a fresh water system, and gaslights. The University of Nashville had the finest medical college south of Philadelphia, and the city’s female academies drew students from all over the South. People called Nashville ‘The Athens of the South’.”
“It sounds lovely.”
“Yes, but unfortunately for Tennessee, its capital had little in the way of defenses. There are two navigable rivers that run through the state. One is the Cumberland, which you see in front of you; the other is the Tennessee, seventy-five miles west of here. Both of them flow north into the Ohio River. At the northern border, Fort Henry guarded the Tennessee River, and Fort Donelson, a few miles further east, protected the Cumberland. In February 1862, Grant led attack against those two forts, and they fell within a day or two of the attack. With both rivers open to Union boats, the citizens of Nashville evacuated the city in panic, and Confederate troops only hesitated long enough to burn a few facilities and a bridge before they, too, fled ahead of the arrival of the Federal armies.”
“So our armies simply marched in?”
“Some did. Others came across the Cumberland by boat. But by the time they arrived, most of the citizens of Nashville were gone. Not much glory in walking into a deserted city, I’m afraid.”
“Still, I can see that occupying the capital city of a Confederate state was a major coup.”
VIEW FROM THE SOUTH
Last week marked the 150th anniversary of that fall of Nashville, and I found a small commemoration of the event from the Confederate point of view. The Memphis Daily Appeal printed this message from the editor on February 28th, 1862:
"I am just from the vicinity of the surrendered Capital of the State . . . I saw many of the old citizens fleeing from their homes at Nashville, their hearts wrung by grief and bitterness at the tame surrender of the place and their lips loaded with execrations at the abandonment of the seat of government of Tennessee."
On the next day, the paper continued:
"The city was almost as quiet as Sunday yesterday; numbers were making heir way to the churches, and the lamp post and street corner committees were discussing groundless rumors. The stores and offices were all closed, by order of President Davis, who proclaimed yesterday a day of prayer, and local items were as scarce as hen's teeth."
How differently we see events depending on the angle of our view. Those who lost their capital city felt ignominious defeat. Fear, anger, and shame dominated their thoughts as they looked back over their shoulders. But those who took over the capital felt only embarrassment. Any pleasure they took from their victory was tempered by the realization that there had been no opposition.
In this season of political rancor, it might be good for both sides to take a look at the issues that divide us from a different point of view.