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Rural Isolated and Independent

Next we will look at the views held by some of the more isolated residents of the Appalachian region.  Though mountain people were isolated, they were not completely cut-off from the outside world.  Many goods flowed out of the region as a result of the ever-growing economy.  Yet they were definitely more isolated than many other Americans at the time.  As described earlier, slaves did not even make up ten percent of the population of most counties in the mountain region.  Slaveholding was usually not a part of mountain life.  Gordon B. McKinney claims,

“The national political campaign of 1860 and its aftermath indicated that Appalachia was in some important ways different from the remainder of the South.  During the 1860 presidential election, many voters in the region supported the Constitutional Union party in a vain effort to stave off regional conflict…Many Appalachian people recognized the potential for disaster before the conflict even began.( McKinney 46-48)[6] 

In Victims, this regional conflict is highlighted.  Victims, shows that many of the issues facing residents of Appalachia were class related rather than race related.  Outside of those living in towns, it seems as though support was strongly in favor of Union.  So the main divisions between residents of Western North Carolina were between the small towns that dotted the region and the rural population.  The towns representing a wealthier population while the rural residents represented a poorer population. (Victims 1-130, Paludan)[7]  This continues to prove that socioeconomic status continued to influence one’s beliefs more so than region.  This illuminates the reasons why lumping a region together does not accurately or truthfully portray the sentiments of people within that region.  Socioeconomic levels more completely encompass beliefs.   

The January 26th 1861 edition of The Whig, a newspaper based in Knoxville, shows the sentiments of many of the less wealthy mountain people.  It claims that the actions of South Carolina attacking Fort Sumter were, “hasty and inconsiderate,” and that the border states can “Never live in peace,” due to radicals acting on impulse.  The article was written after some state had seceded but before the secession of other states.  The article also claims that the radical states wished to make all positions of government and profit as well as voting, rights of the slaveholders only. (Southern Confederacy 1861)[8]  The article though written by a Tennessean, represents the feelings held by many in the western part of North Carolina who felt that the Eastern portion of the state held a grip on political control due to their slaveholding aristocratic power.  This newspaper article, and others like it, appealed to the lower classes in the region with no ties to slavery.  Further strengthening the claim that class rather than region, effect ones ideology.       

This adamant opposition to the Confederacy, though present leading up to the war, does not become entirely obvious until after about a year of warfare.  Then one can truly witness the tensions within the mountain region that pitted class vs. class.  On the eve of war it seems as though many western North Carolinians had either come to accept the inevitable if they were of the poorer class, or either felt as if they were economically tied to the rest of the South as the upper class did. (Inscoe 106-108)[9]  Though there were slight connections between classes within the region that is where the real division lay.  Much of the average person’s feelings depended upon how they saw themselves. (Inscoe 119)[10]  In ways people of the mountain region were in fact very similar to the rest of the South and owed much of their well-being to economic connections it shared with other Southern areas.  At the same time, the more rural mountaineer who lived off the land and provided only for themselves undoubtedly felt disconnected from any type of government whether it be Union or Confederate.  Perhaps they just sided with the ones who left them alone.  These people all had very similar class statuses, perhaps that is why the political beliefs of many in the poorer class were the same.  Once again ones level of wealth and social rank appears to play a vital role in forming the thoughts and opinions of these people.  They are not all alike just because of geographic proximity.  


[6] Gordon B. McKinney, “The Civil War and Reconstruction,” High Mountains Rising: Appalachia in Time and Place (2004): 46-48.

[7] Philip S. Paludan, Victims: A True Story of the Civil War, (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2004) 1-130.

[8] “A Southern Confederacy,” Knoxville Whig, 26 January1861, Front Page.

[9] John Inscoe, Race, War, and Remembrance in the Appalachian South, (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2008), 106-108.

[10] Ibid., 119.