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The State of Nickajack: The secession movement within the Confederacy

Updated: Aug 23, 2020


In the mid-1800s, the US became increasingly divided politically socially and economically into geographic regions, North and South. Slavery proved to be the dividing issue of the time. In the North, people opposed slavery politically because they did not want the south to gain more influence in US politics by seeing more slave states allowed into the union. Slavery remained legal in the US but most northern states outlawed slavery since tey had little economic need. The North relied on manufacturing and small scale farming. However, the South relied on plantation agriculture which used slave labor to increase production and lower costs. Tensions between the North and South were escalated by the introduction of new states into the union. The US zealously expanded as a nation. With the Treaty of Paris in 1783, the Lousiana Purchase in 1803, and the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the Us expanded from its original thirteen colonies all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Under the Missouri Compromise, states in the North would outlaw slavery and states in the South would practice slavery, The south wanted to keep adding slave states to maintain slavery's influence while the North wanted to prevent slavery from spreading to new states. In the 1840s and 1850s, the US became deeply divided by the issue of slavery as southerners staunchly defended slavery, and northerners refused to allow the spread of slavery and some even became abolitionists. In 1861, South Carolina seceded from the Unoyed stated and many southern states followed. The seceding states founded a nation called the Confederate States of America based on the allowance of slavery. The American Civil War began.

The United States vs the Confederate states. The states in dark blue that remained in the US and prohibited states. The states in light blue are states that remained in the US but allowed slavery. The states that left the US and formed the Confederate States

The Nickajack Movement

As mentioned earlier, the southern states seceded from the United States in 1861 over slavery. The southern states wanted to protect slavery at all costs since slavery was vital to plantation agriculture the key to the southern economy. Only a handful of southerners were wealthy enough to take part in plantation agriculture. The vast majority of people southerners were small farmers who struggled to remain out of poverty. Slavery was vital to the southern economy but only a quarter of southerners owned slaves. Southerners were fighting a war so a quarter of the population could hold on to slavery. Many people saw the Civil War as a rich man's war. Most Southerners supported slavery but were very reluctant to fight a war over it. As the Civil War raged on and conditions on the home front worsened, the average man southerner increasingly resented the war. These anti-war feelings culminated in the Nickajack movement. Nickajack was a region of the confederacy comprised of northern Alabama, North Carolina, and Tennesse. This part of the south was one of the poorest regions in the former US and the people in this region were struggling farmers. These people resented fighting in a war for the rich man with nothing in it for them. To add insult to injury, the wealthier elements of southern society did not actually fight in the army and the backbone of the Confederate army came from poorer people such as those who lived in the Nickajack region

The Nickajack region of the American South

The people who lived in Nickajack took action in 1863. The Nickajack movement aimed to secede from the Confederacy and establish a neutral state. The movement was centered around Winston County, Alabama as the people established the Free State of Winston. Similar movements rose in parts of North Carolina and Tennessee. These regions served as hideouts for anti-war southerners and defectors from the Confederate army. Attempts to link these pockets of anti-war and anti-Confederates areas were made but the Nickajack movement never came to fruition. A neutral state never came to be and the people of Nickajack unhappily remained in the Confederacy until the end of the Civil War in 1865. The Nickajack movement remains a little-known fascinating footnote in the American Civil War and American History.

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