The Tennessee State Library and Archives (TSLA) has a treasure trove of materials, thousands related to the American Civil War. One of their gems are the diaries belonging to Jesse Cox (1793-1879). Cox was born in Sullivan County, TN, which is in the far north-eastern part of the state. Cox fought in the War of 1812. He would later move to Williamson County and was a Franklin resident in his later years.
Cox was a sorta firebrand itinerant Baptist minister. His dairy reveals he traveled all through Williamson County in the 1860s thus giving us an interesting barometer of the Williamson County civilian sentiment toward secession. He frequently mentions visiting a church to preach only to learn the congregation was split on secession vs Union (Cox was a secessionist), and as a result Cox says that he will not return to that church to preach. His January 21st 1861 entry says one church he visited had a “large portion here still content for the Union.”
On March 16th, 1862, after Union troops captured and began occupying Nashville, Cox says, “So strange the ways of Providence, that Tennessee composes both armies, and also of ____ for two brothers are generals, one North, and the other South.”
This is the first of many more posts of excerpts from Cox’s diary.
Entry February 9th, 1861
“I walked one mile an voted against the state voting a convention to secede from the Union.”
Here’s the background to understanding Cox’s vote notated in his Feb 9th 1861 diary entry.
Governor Isham Harris proposed holding a State Convention to decide on the issue of Tennessee seceding from the Union. Several legislators opposed the Convention, notably, William H. Wisener. On February 9th, 1861, residents of Tennessee were to vote on whether or not to send delegates to a State Convention. This is the vote Cox is referring to above. The General Assembly convened by Governor Isham Harris did not believe it had the authority to call a State Convention without a vote of the people. Fifty-four percent (54%) of the state’s voters voted against sending delegates to a secession convention. Cox was one of those. Had a State Convention been held it would have been heavily pro-Union at the time.
The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture explains it like this:
In 1861 Governor Harris summoned the legislature into a special session to consider secession. To obtain a better view of the voters’ sentiments, the legislature called for a February referendum to decide whether a secession convention should be held. At this point the secession fever that had gripped the Deep South remained much more muted in Tennessee and the other border states. By a vote of 69,000 to 58,000, a majority of Tennesseans rejected the call for a secession convention, with West Tennessee supporting the convention, East Tennessee rejecting it overwhelmingly, and Middle Tennessee almost equally divided. Secessionists continued to agitate, and Franklin Countians even threatened to secede from the state and join Alabama.
- TSLA, Jesse Cox Diary, 1834-1865 (II-H-4, Box 1)
- Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture: “Civil War”. Accessed online, April 23, 2010.