Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Looking Back: Stories from the Civil War in Tennessee

As communities throughout the state of Tennessee commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War (2011-2015), the Tennessee State Library and Archives is sending teams of archivists and conservators to these communities across all 95 of Tennessee's counties in search of Civil War artifacts and memorabilia.

The goal of this program, "Looking Back: The Civil War in Tennessee," is to digitally document the history of Civil War related material held in private hands, and to provide guidance on proper conservation and preservation practices, so that those items will survive the ravages of time.

To date, hundreds of items such as letters, photographs, diaries, weapons, military passes and discharges, hand-drawn maps and sketches, uniforms, and other Civil War related material have been scanned, photographed, and digitally preserved for future reference and scholarship. More significantly, the stories that each item tells us bring to life the hardships and challenges of warfare, and bring families closer to a loved one who fought in the Civil War.

During a recent "Looking Back" event in Dandridge, Tennessee, archivists from TSLA interviewed three gentlemen, each with an interesting item and a fascinating story to tell...

From left to right: Robert Jarnagin, Jimmy O'Quinn, and Ernest Hedges proudly display their Civil War artifacts during a recent "Looking Back" event in Dandridge, Tennessee.

Robert Jarnagin came to us with a quite rare item -- a Confederate wooden canteen. Inscribed with the name of "A. M. Jarnigan Co. G. 43rd TN" this company with men from Mossy Creek in Jefferson County, Tennessee, and members of this unit fought at Bull's Gap and Morristown. The canteen has metal bands and a wooden stopper and spout. It's truly remarkable that this canteen has survived the test of time, but Mr. Jarnagin's family has treasured this artifact for generations, and we're grateful to him for sharing it with us in Dandridge, Tennessee.

Ernest Hedges beams with pride as he displays his Contract .58 caliber musket. Mr. Hedges relates this story of how he came into possession of this historic artifact:

"When I was 17 I was delivering groceries to one of my neighbors. We were living in Suitland, Maryland at the time. He was in his garage when I approached him with his groceries. He told me that he would have to go into his house to get his money for the groceries. While he was in the house I looked up into the rafters of his garage and saw this musket. When he returned I asked him if the musket was his and he said, 'yes.' I asked him if he would be willing to sell it and he said he would. I pulled out my wallet and all I had was $1.50 and he said he would let me have the musket for that amount. It is not really a collectors piece since his sons had cut off the stock and lost the ramrod. They had used the musket for hunting."

This contract musket was likely manufactured by Parkers' Snow & Company of Connecticut, and was likely manufactured sometime between 1863 and 1864 for use in the Civil War.

Jimmy O'Quinn brought in his .44 caliber Remington model 1858 pistol. The pistol has an inspector's cartouche, meaning that it was government-owned and used during the Civil War. While the Union Army preferred the Colt 1860 Army firearm, a fire at the Colt factory in 1864 led to an increase in the manufacture and use of the Remington revolver among Union soldiers. Large numbers of the Remington revolver like the one seen here were ordered by the U.S. government as a substitute for the Army Colt. It was a revolver known for its durability and ability to be quickly reloaded by switching to another pre-loaded cylinder. This model not only saw use during the Civil War, it was also used in the American West, and around the world.

In the state of Tennessee, reminders of the Civil War can be found throughout the landscape, and Civil War artifacts can be found in attics, closets, and display cases, passed on through many generations of Tennessee families. As Tennessee commemorates the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War, we encourage you to consider bringing your Civil War heirloom to a "Looking Back" event near you. The next event is in Chattanooga during Tennessee's Civil War Signature Event there on Oct. 9-12. TSLA will be on site for the first two days of the Signature Event on Oct. 9-10. Persons interested in attending a scheduled event are encouraged to contact project staff by phone at (615) 741-1883 or email

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