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.

2 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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  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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