Tag Archives: Cumberland Gap

Lincoln, Horace Maynard, and the East Tennessee Unionists

By Natalie Sweet

Horace Maynard. From a photo by Mathew Brady in the National Archives, via Wikimedia Commons.

A little over 30 miles to the south of Lincoln Memorial University is Horace Maynard Middle School in Maynardville, Tennessee. Both the town and school are named after a former educator who was one of the few Southern members of the House of Representatives to remain at his post when war was declared in 1861. A staunch Unionist, Maynard repeatedly wrote to Abraham Lincoln, imploring the president for assistance in East Tennessee:

Westboro: Mass. Oct. 1st. 1862—


Having provided for the freedom of the slaves,can you not, I beg you, in God’s name, do something for the freedom of the white people of East Tennessee? Their tears & blood will be a blot on your Administration that time can never efface, & no proclamations can cover up. Every promise made to them has been broken — not one has been attempted to be kept, even to the ear. Hopes have been excited only to end in disappointment; suffering, long-continued, has been endured, only to be followed by blank despair.

The little force at Cumberland Gap was kept chained in the mountain passes for months, forbidden, though begging, to go forward to the relief of their homes, & now they are recalled from a position where they could, at least, keep hope alive in their tortured hearts. For more than a year have Gov. Johnson& I, with others, implored for aid in their behalf. Day after day have we attended in the purlieus of the White House, the War Department & at Military Head Quarters– We have entreated, we have besought, we have humbled ourselves, submitted to official neglect, not to say rudeness, annoying & mortifying, only to be put off with assurances, that I am now satisfied, & that at the time, we sometimes feared, were never intended to be regarded; accompanied by sneers from your most trusted supporters at “Border State dictation”; conditional loyalty,” with imputations upon our motives, very hard to bear– While our poor people, in whose behalf we labored, have been absolutely abandoned, to use no harsher word.

We are told that the Gap, through which we looked for aid to come, had been blocked up with rocks & made impassable. We begged for bread, you have given us a stone. We begged entreated you to erect our part of the State into a Military District, with a competent commander — you divided us by a line drawn through the middle & assigned one fragment to Fremont, & left the other to Divine Providence.

We asked for a fish, you gave us a serpent. For the moment you satisfied the clamors of a seditious press & the partisans of a seditious leader; but at a terrible cost to us.

For all this, you, you Sir, are directly, individually responsible. There has been no time when an imperative word from you would not have sent the people relief. But you have listened to the counsel of men who never wanted us relieved — who, when you attempted to build a military way for our relief, raised a howl that affrighted you from your purpose. These men do not intend to have us as fellow-citizens again, & they are, & from the beginning have, been counselling to prevent it. Their influence has always been against us; & you have acquiesced.

For a long time, I had strong confidence in you personally, & have  labored hard to inspire it in the country. You can judge how cruelly I have been disappointed, to write as I have done, & how great have been the sufferings of our people.

I am very Respectfully,

Your Obt. Serv’t.

Horace Maynard

(Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois.)

Horace Maynard’s letter was penned a short time after the preliminary announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation.  As others have pointed out, the letter demonstrates Maynard’s own conflict over slavery. It also, however, allows us the opportunity to put the distress Lincoln felt concerning East Tennessee into an interesting light. Horace Maynard “made it personal” with the attack on Lincoln’s leadership, and he was not the only member of his family to write to Lincoln. A little over a month before, Mayndard’s wife Laura wrote,

Buffalo, N. Y. Aug. 29th. 1862—


Pardon me for intruding upon you, when you are already overwhelmed with care & anxiety. But the brave, good men who went out from my home, E. Tenn., & have been struggling to free her from disloyal tyranny, the last twelve months are now in danger of being cut off, at a blow. At Cumberland Gap, just within reach of their homes, shall they now be butchered, or be made the menials of Mr. Jefferson Davis, for the want of more men? Excuse me, Sir, but let me entreat you to send a force into that country, sufficient to save these honest, loyal men, from so horrible a fate, & to deliver E. Tennessee from her present misery.

I have seen many men, now volunteering from Northern N. Y. & Vermont, who would hail with joy, an order to go, at once, to drive the rebels from that long-suffering region. Their sympathies are aroused & they would go with full hearts & strong hands, & they would accomplish that whereunto they were sent.

Pardon my importunity, Sir — perhaps you have a son– I have one in that little army at Cumberland Gap, & many another mother’s son is there– Shall they be saved?

With great respect,

Mrs. Horace Maynard

(Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois.)

Perhaps Lincoln took Horace Maynard’s accusation to heart that he was “directly, individually responsible” for the misery of those in East Tennessee.  Evidence for this comes in a speech General Oliver Otis Howard made in the Cumberland Gap in 1896. The retired commander described how Lincoln presented him with a map of East Tennessee in August, 1863, and proclaimed, “They are loyal, there, General they are loyal!” Howard also alleged that Lincoln spoke of a desire to help the mountain people. Although the only contemporary letter we have of the meeting, written in 1863 to Howard’s wife, simply notes that Lincoln gave Howard the map, there is reason to believe that Lincoln was distressed about the situation in East Tennessee.  Letters such as the Maynards’ served as a testament to the sacrifices made by those caught in the crossfire of the Civil War, and reminded the president that his decisions had important ramifications even in the remote Appalachian Mountains.

As for Howard, his meeting with the executive leader had far reaching effects. In the same breath in which he remembered Lincoln’s exclamation in 1863, he also discussed Cyrus Kehr’s hope of designing an institution of learning to honor Lincoln’s memory. The university that Howard based on his meeting with the 16th president, Lincoln Memorial University, carries on Lincoln’s legacy to this day. How much the founding owes to Horace Maynard’s critique of Lincoln’s leadership in East Tennessee is up for debate.

—Natalie Sweet is a graduate of Lincoln Memorial University who holds an master’s degree in history from the University of Kentucky.  She has created a number of educational programs that have been used in historical museums, and her research on Lincoln and the Civil War era has appeared in The Lincoln Herald.


Filed under Lincoln as Commander-in-Chief, Lincoln as President