When we talk about the Civil War 155 years after it ended, it still evokes a myriad of opinions and emotions, and everyone has a story to share.

More books have been printed on the subject than anything else, and I have several hundred of them myself. More magazines have been sold about the Civil War than any other topic.

Why so much interest in the Civil War?

The trauma that swept the nation 1861-1865 and throughout the period of reconstruction was equal to a devastating hurricane today, a hurricane that would take nearly a million lives and consume a million and a half horses, magnified by 10. Total devastation — that was what it was in the South — with almost no family, North or South, not being affected by the loss of property or a loved one.

Armies from both sides took whatever they needed or wanted with little or no regard for the destitute family they left behind. Starvation swept the land as people had no means to obtain or grow food. It would be almost a generation before normalcy began to return in the devastated Southern states. Here in East Tennessee, a true civil war raged inside the larger war. One could be killed for their opinion, or lack of one, and it was perfectly legal. It was war.

The next generation heard all the stories and many still felt the sting. They in turn passed the stories on to their own children keeping the memories, trauma and fear alive in another generation. The third and fourth generation spawned re-enactors that lived, or attempted to live, the war at weekend events. Civil War re-enactments are still a big draw, but those of us involved have noticed that the next younger generation is almost non-existent. They are there, just not in the numbers of 40 years ago. Many of the younger generation who want to re-enact are turning to World War I, World War II or even Vietnam, since these are the wars in which their grandfathers and great-grandfathers participated.

I became interested in the “Silver War” at age 5 when my sister made a notebook for her history class about the war. My uncle had given her a minié ball that he had found in his tobacco patch, which fascinated my young mind. My mother would tell me stories about her grandmother hiding sugar in the trundle bed and hams up the chimney to keep marauding soldiers from taking them. She told about soldiers pouring molasses on her grandmothers’ floor and furniture because she wouldn’t tell them where she had hid sugar, flour or meat.

Mom told a story about her grandfather fighting at Chickamauga and crossing a creek during the fighting. When he crossed back through the creek, he was so thirsty he used his hands to part the blood floating on the water, so he could put his face in to drink. There were dead men and dead horses in the creek, yet he drank. We do not know such thirst today. It was several years after hearing the story that I visited the creek where the 12th Tennessee Cavalry crossed and re-crossed that September day in 1863.

Civil War tourism is still a big draw, with everyone growing up hearing the stories, reading about the war, and seeing it in theaters and on TV. Today, many of us still want to see where it happened. Not everyone wants to walk the ground, but standing on a spot overlooking the ground is exciting.

I read an article a few years back reporting that Civil War tourists travel farther, stay longer and spend more money than any other tourist group. The American Battlefield Trust (formerly Civil War Trust) has saved over 50,000 acres of battlefields because people who travel and enjoy the study of the Civil War also give big bucks to see it preserved.

A group out of Williamsburg, Virginia — Civil War Trails Inc., founded in 1994 — started marking Civil War sites with signs giving details of what happened in that location. While standing at the sign one can read the narrative of the action, view maps and photos of those involved. It is a lot like having a tour book and not having to flip pages.

Many times, I have veered off the main road and followed the road markers to a Civil War Trails marker. Civil War trails are extremely popular, with free maps at tourist information outlets across the state. Here in Greeneville, the Greene County Partnership has them available. They also have a separate Greene County Civil War Trail brochure. Civil War Trails is considered the world’s largest open-air outdoor museum, covering over 200,000 square miles!

Here in Greene County we are fortunate to have eight Civil War Trails signs with more coming. I was visiting with Tennessee State Historian Dr. Carrol Van West recently, and he mentioned that we could easily have over 40 here in Greene County. I agree, but the signs are not cheap. Hopefully we can keep adding new ones as tourism continues to grow.

Civil War Trails has marked over 1,550 sites in Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and more recently Pennsylvania. The Greene county signs include:

  • Battle of Blue Springs, in Mosheim
  • Death of General John Hunt Morgan, and Dickson-Williams Mansion, at the Dickson-Williams Mansion
  • Hangings at the Depot, near the train depot on Depot Street
  • Pottertown Bridge Burners, in Bridge Burners Park, Mosheim
  • Tusculum College — President Andrew Johnson Museum & Library, at Tusculum University
  • Unionist Stronghold, at David Crockett State Park
  • and the newest Winter Headquarters, at the Greeneville Town Hall.

In Greene County we fail to promote Andrew Johnson to the most traveled group. Unfortunately, Johnson doesn’t enjoy the popularity that he should. In Johnson City he is a road, and in Knoxville he is an old hotel. The rest of the state confuses him with Andrew Jackson.

Still, it is amazing that over 50,000 people visit the Andrew Johnson National Historic site each year. Unfortunately, there is not a Civil War Trails marker for Johnson in Greeneville, but the National Historic site is identified on their map.

Civil War Trails Director Drew Gruber, along with Chris Brown and Jason Shaffer, were in the area this week adding a new sign detailing Gen. James Longstreet’s time in Greeneville. Other signs in the area are in the process of being updated and refurbished.

Tennessee has 350 signs, and 20 are within an hour’s drive of Greeneville. According to Civil War Trails, Civil War travelers spend two to five days, spending $250-$750, with 20 percent of those travelers spending over $1,000. And 75 percent of those following Civil War Trails visit other sites in the area. Civil War Trails has now started to place Revolutionary War, and War of 1812 signs. This is an exciting addition, and much needed, especially in the Southeast.

When Civil War enthusiasts come to Greeneville to see the sites and follow the trail, they may spend a night or a weekend. At the least they will likely purchase a meal and fill up with gas. Hopefully, they will go home and tell friends just how exciting Greeneville and Greene County is, and that we take our history seriously.

Have you thought about taking a family afternoon drive following the Civil War Trails in Greene County? Not only will you get a bit of history, but it’s educational, fun and allows a chance to witness the beauty of the area as you drive along. You will be surprised at just what you will find along the trail!

Tim Massey serves as Greene County Historian. He is an award-winning writer for Civil War News with more than 40 photos featured on various magazine covers. He also has served on various boards and held positions in several historic organizations locally, statewide and nationwide.