The forgotten Union state in the Confederate south


With the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War this week—and the premiere of a new Lincoln movie The Conspirator, it makes sense to revisit one of the important untold stories of the war between the states—namely that many southerners did not want to secede from the Union. Slavery benefited wealthy plantation owners, not the poor dirt farmers of the Appalachians. Many of these hill people resented being dragged into what they considered "a rich man’s war." This sentiment led to a movement to create a pro-Union (or at least neutral) state in the south, named Nickajack. It's it's discussed in my book Lost States.  Read on for more about the lost state of Nickajack.


The epicenter of this anti-secession sentiment was Winston County, Alabama. On July 4th, 1861, 2,500 people gathered there to declare their neutrality. The “Free State of Winston” was born.
Winston soon became a haven for anti-war types—sort of a Berkeley for the Civil War era.
Of course, the Confederates weren’t too happy about this, and regularly staged raids into Winston County to gather up unwilling conscripts. Winston’s draft-dodgers didn’t flee to the North, they just hid—and Winston County had lots of valleys and hollows to hide in. Some men got caught and ended up fighting for the Confederacy; others joined the Union Army; and some just kept hiding. For all we know, they may still be squirreling themselves away in the backwoods of Winston County. Winston wasn’t alone. People of the surrounding counties had much the same sentiment. And all of eastern Tennessee voted against secession—as did the people of northwest Georgia.

A plan was formulated to connect these disaffected southerners and create a neutral state—called Nickajack. No official map of Nickajack was ever made... my map is an approximation. For more, get Lost States.

12 comments:

  1. this is really interesting stuff! Would the current city of birmingham have been included in nickajack? Thanks for the info!

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    1. Looks too far north for it to include Birmingham.. but Huntsville definetly. Wonder if that is how Nickajack Bay got its name... (TennRiver)

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  2. I live in the Birmingham area. And you can tell that it seems to follow almost exactly along the northwest border of Jefferson County, which includes Birmingham. Thus, since this supposed Nickajack, according to this rendering, has its border along Jefferson County's border, then the new state would not include Birmingham.

    While Birmingham residents were not rich farm owners with lots of slaves, the new city's importance to the Civil War because of the minerals for iron was very valuable to the Confederacy.

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    1. There was no Birmingham then. The city wasn't founded until 1871. There was a place near where I grew up we called "the cannonball factory" because they made iron there, but it was very small.

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  3. What is odd about Winston county? It is almost, if not, exclusively white. Now days it is very pro confederate in nature. Most of North Alabama was traditionally all white. Cullman County was developed from Blount. The German settlers came in later and were all white. Not having dealt with slavery, they had no preconceptions of life in Alabama. Unfortunately for their ancestors today's attitudes are completely reversed.

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    1. Education, or the lack thereof, probably has a large influence in the renewed interest in pro-confederate sympathies.

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    2. Are you saying that people that live in AL are uneducated? All those I know that live in the Huntsville/Madison/Decatur area are college educated, and their children all go to school and will continue on to college at the appropriate time. Those that I know in Birmingham, Jacksonville and other areas are also educated, having graduated from HS, and either college, Nursing school or some technical school when they served in the military....

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    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  4. I had a gggrandfather who fought for the 41st infantry of AL on confederate side and a gggrandfather in 6 th TN cavalry ( known as Hurst's Wurst) who fought for the Union side. I have a,ways wondered why a man, who lived most of his life in Henry co, TN would go , with his two brothers, and join to fight with the Union and not confederacy?

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  5. Good to know, grew up in MSS but never knew this. One flaw in this article. While there were a lot of people in the South that id not want to succeed, it had to do with not wanting war and the disruption of commerce. No one went to war to persevere slavery nor did the South secede to preserve slavery. South could remained i the union where slavery was still legal. Never been a war fought over philosophy and never will be...all about economics and the power to control wealth.

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    1. Slavery IS economics! Of course the Civil War was fought over slavery! I'd locate the NE border of Nickajack somewhere over WNC.

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    2. Somebody needs to read the Cornerstone Speech

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