Most Tennessee historians now agree that the nickname “Volunteer State” is derived from the War of 1812, although the phrase was never actually used during that conflict. Tennesseans exhibited a strong voluntary spirit during the War of 1812, incorporating the word “volunteer” into many of their military unit designations (“Tennessee Volunteers” or “Mounted Volunteers,” for example).
|"The Battle of New Orleans," ca. 1861|
Tennessee Historical Society Picture Collection
This reputation for volunteering was strengthened during the Mexican War of 1846-1848 and it had been generally thought by some that the expression “Volunteer State” originated at that time. But, in fact, Tennessee had been referred to as the “Volunteer State” at least a decade before the Mexican-American conflict.
|1st Tennessee Infantry, USV|
The Presidio, San Francisco, CA, 1898
Library Photograph Collection
You can learn more about the beginning of this tradition of service at our newest online exhibit, “Answering the Call: Tennesseans in the War of 1812.” An acknowledgement of Tennessee’s wartime contributions is also chronicled in another online exhibit entitled, “The Volunteer State Goes to War: A Salute to Tennessee Veterans.”
Visit both exhibits at the following links on our website:
The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.