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Greeneville, Tennessee:  Home of Andrew Johnson and Davy Crockett 

(Reprint from News: July 14, 2001)

July 10, 2001

 

 

Above:  My great-great-grandfather, Sergeant Ransom Myers, a one-armed courier with the 10th Michigan Cavalry.

 

The main reason I was visiting northeastern Tennessee was to retrace the steps of my great-great-grandfather, Ransom Myers.   If you've been following my website, you may remember that Ransom fought with the Union Army in Corinth, Mississippi early in the war (see News: June 30, 2001).  After Corinth, he was shot in the arm in Kentucky, his arm was amputated, and he returned to Michigan, where he could've sat out the rest of the war.  Ransom felt so strongly about the Union cause, however, that he re-enlisted.  Of course, it's pretty hard to carry a rifle with one arm, so Ransom joined the 10th Michigan Cavalry as a mounted, one-armed courier.

 

A couple of years ago, I discovered a website devoted to Michigan Civil War history and learned that during the last two years of the war, Ransom's unit fought in northeastern Tennessee.  Thanks to the website, I learned exactly where Ransom saw action during the war, including places with strange names that I'd never heard of, like Strawberry Plains, Rheaville, and Chucky Bend.  It was fun to drive through northeastern Tennessee and visit these areas, as I envisioned the one-armed Ransom dashing across the rolling hills on horseback while carrying messages from one unit to another.

 

Ransom's unit, the 10th Michigan Cavalry, is probably most famous for capturing the Confederate cavalry general, John Hunt Morgan, who led several raids throughout the Ohio River valley during the Civil War.  Unionists called Morgan "notorious" while Southerners referred to him as a "hero."  Anyway, towards the end of the war, the 10th Michigan and a few other units had chased Morgan all over and finally cornered him in the town of Greeneville, Tennessee, where, during the ensuing battle, Morgan was killed.  Therefore, in following Ransom's footsteps, I decided that I too had to visit Greeneville.

 

As I learned from a billboard as I was heading into town, Greeneville was also the home of America's 17th President, Andrew Johnson, and I stopped at the National Park historic site here that commemorated his life.  The site is pretty small by National Park standards, less than a city block, but it's interesting, nonetheless, and includes Johnson's house, which is filled with interesting displays and paintings. 

 

 

Above:  Greeneville's Andrew Johnson, President of the U.S. from 1865 to 1869.

 

Being the only visitor there, I talked to the cute-'n-perky young woman ranger at the front desk for quite a while and she told me a lot about Johnson's life.  The only thing that most people (including myself, before I visited Greeneville) know about Andrew Johnson is that he was the only president other than Bill Clinton to be impeached.  Few people remember why Johnson was impeached, but most Americans probably think that he must have done something bad or wrong, and therefore probably wasn't a very good president.

 

As I discovered, though, from the cute-'n-perky ranger, Johnson was very intelligent and honest, and stood strongly for his beliefs in the Constitution.  Johnson was an articulate self-made man who started as a tailor here in Greeneville and worked his way up to the U.S. Senate where, after the outbreak of the Civil War, he became the only southern Senator not to resign from U.S. Congress. 

 

Because of that, and because Lincoln wanted to help heal the wounds with the Southern states after the war, Lincoln picked Johnson in 1864 to be his running mate.  Of course, Lincoln was assassinated the next year, just a few days after the conclusion of the war, and Johnson was thrust unexpectedly into the Presidency. 

 

As President, and as a Southerner, Andrew Johnson didn't believe that the South should be harshly punished after the Civil War.  This irritated many of his Northern colleagues who wanted to impose severe restrictions and penalties on the southern states, and this dissension ultimately led to Johnson's impeachment by the Congress.  By a single vote, however, Johnson retained the Presidency.  After he finished his single term as President, Johnson moved back to Greeneville in 1869 where he lived until his death, six years later.

 

    

Above left:  Greeneville, Tennessee is a pleasant town with beautiful architecture, about an hour northeast of Knoxville.  This town was named for Nathaniel Greene, a general during the Revolutionary War and supposedly another one of my ancestors, even though Greene never actually visited Greeneville.  You can see Greene's house in Connecticut in News: July 20, 2001

Above right:  Ransom's unit captured the Confederate Cavalry General, John Hunt Morgan in this Greeneville house in 1864

 

       

Above left:  Here's John Hendricks, the curator of the Greeneville Museum, next to a photo of General John Hunt Morgan.  John gave me a great 30-minute tour of his museum.

Above center:  President Andrew Johnson's home at the National Park site in Greeneville.

Above right:  Well, at least they're honest.

 

       

Above left:  Jonesboro is a another beautiful town in northeastern Tennessee.  Ransom Myers also fought here, as well.

Above center:  Jonesboro is the oldest city in Tennessee, dating back to the 1700s.  It has a lot of interesting old buildings. 

Above right:  A Jonesboro advertisement in the pre-billboard era.

 

       

Above left:  Walt Disney lied:  Davy Crockett (1786-1836) wasn't born "on a mountaintop in Tennessee."  Actually, he was born here on the banks of the Nolichucky River.  This is a replica of his cabin, at Davy Crockett Birthplace State Park, near Greeneville.

Above center:  The Davy Crockett memorial.

Above right:  I always get Davy Crockett mixed up with Daniel Boone.  Crockett was the one who died at the Alamo while wearing a coonskin cap.  His motto was, "Be sure you're right, then go ahead" -- good words to live by and one of my favorite sayings.

 

Here's Fess Parker and Buddy Ebsen singing The Ballad of Davy Crockett, from the 1960s TV show.  Good thing they stuck to acting.  I'm still looking for the better-known version, sung by Bill Hayes in 1955.

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