Wednesday, July 9, 2014

State Library & Archives Puts Family Bible Records Online...

Visitors to the website of the Tennessee State Library and Archives (TSLA) can now access family Bible records previously available only to on-site patrons. A new database on the TSLA website allows researchers to browse these records in their entirety, and a search function will ultimately include all of the thousands of names written in these unique documents.

In recognition of this special occasion and as a homage to past and present, we wanted to recreate the scene as former State Librarian and Archivist Mrs. John Trotwood Moore viewed our collection of Family Bibles back in 1941. Many of the Bibles seen here are in foreign languages, including Spanish, Swedish, Polish, Danish, Hungarian, German, Dutch, Irish, French, Hebrew, Cherokee, and Old English, ranging in date of publication from 1538 to 1863.

In our recreation of this scene, current State Librarian and Archivist, Chuck Sherrill, poses for this picture with the same Family Bibles displayed by Mrs. John Trotwood Moore years earlier in a photographic tribute to the collection.

Read more about our new Family Bible Records website on our press release at, and to see if TSLA holds a Bible record for your family, please visit the project online at

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

TSLA celebrates our independence...

Independence Day offers us an opportunity to celebrate our nation's freedoms and recognize the important historical events that have shaped our nation since its founding.

On this Independence Day, we offer a photographic look back at previous events and Independence Day celebrations that took place on the 4th of July, with a special emphasis on images held in the collections of the Tennessee State Library and Archives. Enjoy!

Defend Your Country
Words by John W. Bratton, music by Leo Edwards, copyright 1940
Rose Music Collection, TSLA

This patriotic song, published in the interest of national defense, was inspired by the famous United States Army poster, “Defend Your Country,” painted by Major Tom B. Woodburn, USA, noted artist, who collaborated on the song with the composers.
This image from the U.S. Army Signal Corps is entitled with the caption, "Soldiers of the Three hundred and twenty-fifth Infantry, Eighty-second Division, presenting arms while the band plays the Star-Spangled Banner. July 4 celebration."

The fall of Vicksburg marked a crucial turning point in the American Civil War, as Confederate General John C. Pemberton's surrender to Ulysses S. Grant on July 4, 1863, opened up the Mississippi River again for the Union. As a result of the surrender on this date, Vicksburg did not celebrate the 4th of July for 81 years.

The Tennessee State Library and Archives has a wealth of material related to this battle digitized in our Looking Back at the Civil War in Tennessee Collection, including this wonderful tintype of the Ammons Brothers, Benjamin and Raiford, who served in Company L, 1st Tenn., CSA, until the unit's surrender at Vicksburg.

Jefferson City, Tennessee. Hattie Massengill and Mattie Vesser pose for pictures in crepe paper dress for a Fourth of July celebration in Jefferson City, Tennessee in 1904. They won a prize for their costumes.
Looking Back at Tennessee Collection, Tennessee State Library and Archives.

This street scene Lenoir City, Tennessee shows a childrens' Fourth of July parade in 1924. They are in costume and are carrying signs. One says "Patriotic through all the year" and the others name the months.
Looking Back at Tennessee Collection, Tennessee State Library and Archives.

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.

Friday, June 27, 2014

On this day in history: The Battle of Kennesaw Mountain

On this day in history, June 27, 1864, Union Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman launched an attack against the Confederate Army of Tennessee under the command of Gen. Joseph E. Johnston in the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain. In this blog post, Myers Brown of the Tennessee State Library and Archives explores the history of the battle, and shares images from TSLA's rich collections featured on the Tennessee Virtual Archive (TeVA). Look for even more images from our collection on TSLA's Facebook page.

By the spring of 1864, the Civil War was in its fourth summer. Both the North and the South had grown war weary, yet both knew that the fate of their respective causes would be determined by the campaigns for Atlanta and Richmond, the two primary manufacturing and transportation centers remaining in the Confederacy. Three Union armies under the command of General William Tecumseh Sherman moved out of Chattanooga toward Atlanta in early May 1864. Two Confederate armies, the Army of Mississippi and the larger Army of Tennessee, both under the command of General Joseph E. Johnston, stood between Sherman and Atlanta.

Benjamin Franklin Cheatham map of northern Georgia, Approximately 1861-1865. Benjamin Franklin Cheatham was a Brigadier-General in the Confederate Army (1861) and Major-General of the Confederate Army (1862). In 1864, he was appointed to command a corps when Hood undertook his Tennessee Campaign.
TeVA Collection, Tennessee State Library and Archives.

The previous blood lettings of 1862 and 1863 impacted the men in the ranks and their commanders. Both Sherman and Johnston hoped to avoid direct assaults. Sherman, outnumbering the Confederates by nearly 30,000 men, constantly engaged Johnston’s line while sending additional troops to turn the Confederate flanks. While heavy fighting occurred at Rocky Face Ridge, Resaca, New Hope Church, Pickett’s Mill and Dallas, Sherman’s troops had nonetheless maneuvered the Confederates out of every defensive line and were over halfway to Atlanta by the last week of June.

Just north of Marietta, the Confederates entrenched on a ridge line anchored by Kennesaw Mountain, known as the “Gibraltar of Georgia.” These mountains and hills offered the Confederates their best defensive position of the campaign and were an imposing obstacle for Sherman’s armies. The divisions of General Benjamin Franklin Cheatham and General Patrick Cleburne held the center of the Confederate line.

Carte-de-visite of Confederate Major General Benjamin F. Cheatham. The image appears to be one of several taken in Nashville by Carl C. Giers.
TeVA Collection, Tennessee State Library and Archives.

In an almost inexplicable decision, Sherman abandoned his tactics of maneuver and flank and instead decided to launch a frontal assault on the heavily-entrenched Confederate center. The focus of the Union assault would be part of the Confederate line atop a steep hillside. This part of the line would soon be labeled “The Dead Angle.” Positioned in the apex of the angle was the consolidated 1st/27th Tennessee Infantry Regiment of Maney’s Tennessee Brigade. The remainder of the brigade, as well as the rest of Cheatham’s Tennessee Division, held the area around the angle. Immediately to the right of Cheatham’s division was the brigade of Lucius Polk of Cleburne’s Division. Polk’s Brigade also consisted primarily of Tennessee regiments. The fate of the Confederate defenses would rest squarely on the men of Tennessee.

June 27, 1864 dawned sunny and hot. The Tennesseans sweltered in the heat of the trenches as Union artillery pounded their position in preparation for an infantry assault. After enduring the bombardment in their entrenched but exposed position, the Tennesseans saw the Union infantry emerge from a tree line in the hollow below.

Tintype of Pvt. Robert A. Cheatham who served in Co. C, 1st Tenn. (Feilds') Inf. Regt., CSA, during the Civil War.
TeVA Collection, Tennessee State Library and Archives.

Three Union brigades, supported in part by two other divisions, attacked the “The Dead Angle.” As the men from Illinois, Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana advanced, Maney’s and Vaughan’s Tennesseans fired frantically to repulse the Union onslaught. At times the fighting was hand to hand as each side tried desperately to break the other. The Union soldiers who survived the horrendous gunfire found themselves pinned down just below the crest of the hill. After only about 30 minutes of hard fighting, the Union troops suffered over 1,800 casualties. Trapped, the Union troops dug in beneath the crest of the hill. To advance was certain death and to fall back brought a similar fate.

The Confederate line, however, remained firmly in the hands of the exhausted, weary, and bloodied Tennesseans of Cheatham’s command. Sam Watkins of Company H, 1st Tennessee Infantry Regiment wrote, “I am satisfied that on this memorable day, every man of our regiment killed from one score to four score, yea, five score men… All that was necessary was to load and shoot. In fact, I will ever think that the reason they did not capture our works was the impossibility of their living men passing over the bodies of their dead…I learned afterwards from the burying squad that in some places they were piled up like cord wood, twelve deep.”

In the heat of the battle, small brush fires erupted which burned the bodies of the wounded and the dead. The stench combined with the screams of the wounded was horrific. Both sides eventually agreed to a truce. During the truce, details removed the dead and wounded and extinguished the brush fires between the lines. With the lull in the fighting, General Cheatham sat himself atop the Confederate works. The Nashville native and Mexican War veteran carried a reputation as a hard drinker and an even harder fighter. His reputation was well known even among the Union troops and during the truce several asked for his autograph. After the war, he served as post master of Nashville and became a celebrity spokesperson for Lem Motlow’s Tennessee Whiskey.

Small, leather-bound volume with handwritten will and codicils of Philip Van Horn Weems of Bon Aqua, Tenn. Weems recounts having been wounded at Missionary Ridge and has been mortally wounded on July 22, 1864, outside of Atlanta. He asks in writing that his family disinter his body and re-bury him in the family cemetery (which they did). He conveys as well "three of my likeliest negroes, except Angeline, Alfred, and Horace, whom I desire to be freed." Weems died 2 days after writing this.
TeVA Collection, Tennessee State Library and Archives.

For the next six days, the sporadic firing between the two lines continued in the heat of the Georgia summer as the stench of the dead added to the hellish scenes surrounding the “Dead Angle.” Finally on July 2, 1864, Joe Johnston ordered a withdrawal from the line. By that date, Sherman had returned to his flanking maneuvers and once again Joe Johnston’s Confederates fell back closer to Atlanta.

Despite the fact that the Confederates eventually withdrew, Cheatham’s Tennesseans had held the center of the Kennesaw Line and had repulsed the best efforts of the Union army to take the position. The men of both sides would remember the horrors of the “Dead Angle” for the rest of their lives. To this day the hill is known as Cheatham’s Hill out of respect to those Tennessee soldiers who held that small piece of bitterly contested Georgia countryside 150 years ago.

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.

Monday, June 23, 2014

New TSLA Exhibit presents "Emancipation and Reconstruction: Challenges and Achievements of the 19th Century African American Legislators"

In November 1872, Tennessee voters elected their first African-American representative to the General Assembly. In all, 14 African Americans, most of them former slaves, were elected to the General Assembly between 1872 and 1896. These African-American legislators represent a significant part of Tennessee state history. They laid the groundwork for the later achievements of the Civil Rights Movement and the legacy of their tireless struggle for equality lives on today.

A new exhibit, with 16 panels full of images and information on this fascinating period in our history, opened last Thursday at the Tennessee State Library and Archives. The exhibit will continue through the month of August. The public is invited to explore the achievements of these 14 men, their legislative service, and the times in which they lived.

"Officers and Members of the Lower House of the Forty-Second General Assembly of Tennessee, 1881." TSLA Library Photograph Collection.

“Chaotic” scarcely describes conditions in the South during the period known as Reconstruction - the painful era during which the federal government attempted to reorganize and reform the South after the Civil War.

With emancipation came the hope of new opportunities for African Americans: the chance to get an education, the prospect of owning land, the right to vote, and even the opportunity to hold public office. However, with this hope came many challenges as blacks and whites struggled to find their place in this changing new world.

Three important amendments affecting African Americans were made to the U. S. Constitution during Reconstruction. The 13th Amendment (1865) abolished slavery. The 14th Amendment (1868) conferred citizenship and equal protection to the former slaves. The 15th Amendment (1870) was the most controversial because it gave all men, regardless of race, the right to vote (women were still excluded from voting). Since Tennessee had already extended the right to vote to African-American men, it rejected the 15th Amendment.

After some determined arm twisting by Tennessee’s Reconstruction governor William G. Brownlow, the General Assembly ratified the 14th Amendment in 1866 and endorsed statewide suffrage for African Americans a year later. In doing so, Brownlow also secured the African-American vote in his 1867 bid for reelection, and many African-American voters remained loyal to the Republicans for decades.

"The First Vote," Harper's Weekly, November 16, 1867. TSLA Archives Manuscript Collection, Oversize.

The State Library and Archives is located at 403 Seventh Avenue North, just west of the State Capitol building in downtown Nashville. The exhibit, free and open to all visitors, is located in the building's lobby directly behind the main entrance.

The Tennessee State Library and Archives is open Tuesdays through Saturdays, from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m., with the exception of state holidays. Parking is available in front, behind and beside the building.

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Tennessee’s Founding and Landmark Documents website offers a glimpse into our state's past...

As Tennessee's "Statehood Day" approaches, the occasion reminds us of the importance of Tennessee's founding documents. From the Royal Proclamation of 1763 to the earliest purchase of land from Native Americans to the first constitutions of the State of Tennessee, the Tennessee’s Founding and Landmark Documents digital collection contains various fascinating pieces that are among the most important records from the state’s past.

Significant milestones in the formation and early history of the state are presented here for the first time in digital form taken directly from the originals, with full transcription and accompanying historical text. Each of the founding documents has been transcribed and the text can be viewed side by side to the images under the “View Image and Text” button. These facsimile manuscripts add an important new visual dimension to understanding these founding documents.

Tennessee's Founding and Landmark Documents website, featuring a facsimile letter to Governor John Sevier from U.S. Senators William Blount and William Cocke giving the status of Tennessee's admission as a state.

This collection includes proclamations, letters, journals, and land deeds. The earliest piece in this collection, the Royal Proclamation of 1763 issued by King George III, details the manners in which the North American interior colonies should be governed, concerning interactions with the Native Americans and rewards for faithful service during the French and Indian War. The 1775 Watauga Purchase recounts the changing ownership of land around the Holston and Watauga Rivers; the 1796 letter from Representatives William Blount and William Cocke to Governor John Sevier details Tennessee’s passage to statehood.

Digitizing these materials was imperative to preservation efforts at the Tennessee State Library and Archives. Because of the fragility and significance of these documents, they are handled very rarely and not often available for viewing. Making them available online allows for increased access by all.

Journal documenting the 1779-1780 river voyage of Col. John Donelson and others. Although historians dispute the journal's age and authorship, it has long been of interest to those who study Tennessee history. It is a firsthand account of the Donelson party's river journey to found the first permanent settlement to the west of the Appalachians.

Transcribing documents is a very time consuming and laborious process, but it is very useful in quickly learning topics within a manuscript and allows the user to search the manuscript, something you can’t do with handwritten materials on their own. Transcriptions make manuscript study possible for many scholars unable to gain access to the worn and collapsing original manuscripts, as is the case with Tennessee’s founding documents. While the transcriptions to these items are available online, the high quality facsimile images of the manuscripts still manage to capture old pencil marks, stains, watermarks, and a number of important details critical to textual scholarship. Because of the clarity of the images and the ability to enlarge any section the reader desires, the transcriptions and images also make any difficult handwriting easier to read for students and users unaccustomed to reading eighteenth and nineteenth-century script.

These landmark documents are available for everyone to search, study, and download. There is even a convenient PDF packet that allows you to download and print the entire document.

In the future, this website will offer additional installments of Tennessee’s recorded heritage from the 1830s to the Civil War and beyond.

To find out more, browse through Tennessee’s Founding and Landmark Documents and immerse yourself in the captivating world of Tennessee State History.

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A Retrospective on ‘The Nashville Retrospect’

Newspapers are sometimes called the first drafts of history. And for the last five years, Allen Forkum has been trying to make sure Nashvillians don’t forget what those first drafts looked like.

Forkum is the editor and publisher of The Nashville Retrospect, a monthly publication that reprints historic articles from Middle Tennessee newspapers, some of which date back 200 years or more. The Nashville Retrospect also features essays by local historians and remembrances from longtime residents.

On June 21, Forkum will tell the story of his newspaper during a free workshop at the Tennessee State Library and Archives (TSLA). The workshop will be held from 9:30 a.m. until 11 a.m. that day in TSLA’s auditorium. TSLA’s building is located at 403 Seventh Avenue North, just west of the State Capitol building in downtown Nashville.

Forkum, who grew up in Mt. Juliet, has been in the publishing business since 1988. He became interested in local history while doing research on his 100-year-old house in the Belmont area. He launched The Nashville Retrospect in 2009. Much of his personal research is conducted at TSLA.

Although the workshop is free and open to the public, reservations are required due to limited seating. People can register for the workshop by telephone at (615) 741-2764 or by e-mail at

Parking is available in front, beside and behind the TSLA building.

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Honoring our military on Memorial Day

Monday is Memorial Day, so in recognition of the men and women who serve and have served in the United States armed forces, we offer this pictorial tribute from the collections of the Tennessee State Library and Archives featured in our online exhibit, "The Volunteer State Goes to War: A Salute to Tennessee Veterans."

194th Military Police Security Platoon on Vung Chua Mountain poses before patrol. Qui Nhơn, Vietnam, 1969-1970. This photo is one of many featured in the Christoper D. Ammons Papers. Ammons' photographs show details of the daily life of soldiers in Vietnam.

Christoper D. Ammons Papers. Tennessee State Library and Archives.

Hardy A. Mitchener, Jr., of Nashville, left for Europe to serve his country during World War II on April 3, 1944. He was a navigator on board a B-17G nicknamed Li'l Ginny when Mitchener and his crew mates were shot down by enemy fighters on May 30, 1944 during a mission to bomb a German aircraft plant in Oschersleben. The Jenny Lee pictured here is a different B-17 from the one they were flying when shot down. One of Mitchener's crew mates died in the crash. The rest were captured and imprisoned. They were later rescued and returned home from the war. While Mitchener avoided physical injury during the war, he died a few short years later in 1957 from cancer. He was only 38 years old.

Hardy A. Mitchener, Jr. Collection. Tennessee State Library and Archives.

The cessation of hostilities on the Western Front during World War I took effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month — 11:00 a.m., November 11, 1918. This photograph of Brigadier General Edward L. King and his officers was taken in France just after the Armistice went into effect on November 11, 1918. Among those pictured is Colonel Luke Lea, 114th Field Artillery. For his role in the war, Lea was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal. Lea was also one of the founders of the American Legion in 1919, the founder of the Nashville Tennessean as its first editor and publisher, and was a prominent and powerful politician in the state of Tennessee, having served in the United States Senate from 1911 to 1917.

Luke Lea Papers, Tennessee State Library and Archives.

Tennessee may have been the most divided state in the Civil War, for its different regions and competing ideologies battled over whether to join other Southern states in seceding or to remain in the Union. From 1861 to 1865 the state was ravaged by the war as Confederate and Union forces fought over 3,200 battles and skirmishes here. In the years that followed this bloody conflict, veterans groups from both North and South sought unity through reunions which took place throughout the nation. In this photograph Civil War veterans gather in front of the Hermitage Hotel in Nashville for a reunion on July 23, 1925.

John P. Hickman Civil War Collection. Tennessee State Library and Archives.

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.