The following video shows almost the entire event and is approximately one hour in length. It is on Youtube so you can start and stop at your convenience.
Our event was a resounding success!!
On a very hot July afternoon, the members of the Major William A. McTeer Camp No. 39 and Polly Toole Auxiliary No. 17 gathered at Old Gray Cemetery in Knoxville, TN to celebrate the sesquicentennial of the readmission of Tennessee to the Union following the Civil War. Tennessee was the last state to secede and was the first state to be readmitted, on July 24, 1866.
Some 100 guests were in attendance, as were members of Boy Scout Troop 800 of Maryville, who led the Parade of Colors and who also participated in the memorial rededication ceremony, along with re-enactors from the 8th Tennessee Volunteer Infantry Re-enacting Group.
The Old Gray Cemetery was established in 1850 and is the home to many historical grave sites. Luckily for the attendees, the cemetery is home to massive oaks and hackberry trees as well as a wide variety of other trees and vegetation that offered shade and protection from the hot sun. These trees are living witnesses to the history of Knoxville since the mid-19th century when the area was an open pasture.
The celebration was centered at the Memorial to William Gannaway Brownlow, also known as “the fighting parson.” He was a Tennessee senator, governor, and publisher. Born in Virginia, Brownlow joined the Methodist traveling ministry at the age of 21. After ten years of circuit riding, he married and settled in Elizabethton, Tennessee where he started the Elizabethton Whig. In 1849, he moved to Knoxville and began the publication of his Knoxville Whig and Independent Journal. A fearless and vocal Unionist, he was arrested on charges of treason to the Confederacy in 1861 and his paper was suppressed. During the Civil War, he lectured throughout the North, and in 1865 and 1867 he was elected Governor of Tennessee, and in 1869 he was elected to the U.S. Senate. He returned to Knoxville and purchased interest in the Weekly Whig and Chronicle which he pursued with interest until his death two years later in 1877. Without Brownlow’s decisive and almost autocratic actions to provide Civil Rights to all Tennesseans, including the recently freed slaves, and to have the State Legislature pass the 13th and 14th amendments to the Constitution, Tennessee’s relatively quick readmission to the Union would not have been possible.
The Black Oak Brass Quintet of Knoxville opened the program with a musical prelude consisting of “St. Patrick’s Day in the Morning” and “Big Thunder Quickstep.” To the rousing melody of “The Battle Cry of Freedom,” Boy Scout Troop 800 led a Parade of Colors with the 8th Tennessee Volunteer Re-enactors. Commander David McReynolds of the McTeer Camp then led the audience in reciting the “Pledge of Allegiance”, followed by the Black Oak Brass Quintet playing the National Anthem. Camp Chaplain George Lane Offered the opening prayer.
There was some fun in singing the McTeer Camp Song, “We are the Sons,” and in a group sing-a-long of “When Johnny Comes Marching Home.” Also, Junior Member Paddy Fitzsimons offered an old Irish folk song, sung in Irish Gaelic, which might have been sung by the many Irish troops who participated in the Civil War.
The event featured three speeches. First, Department Commander Michael Downs spoke of the sesquicentennial year of the Grand Army of the Republic and the many contributions it made to the politics of the last half of the 19th century and to its efforts to provide pensions and other benefits to the surviving veterans and also to veteran’s widows.
Next, David McReynolds spoke about the meaning of Readmission Day and the contributions that William Brownlow made that allowed Tennessee to be readmitted. After his remarks, he presented two short Brownlow speeches to the audience; the first on his thoughts of the secessionists after his release from prison in 1862 and the second his thoughts about his beloved Union, which he placed far above the sectional disputes that had divided the nation.
Following these speeches, Auxiliary Member Amy Fitzsimons gave a resounding rendition of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” which brought goose bumps to the audience.
The final speech of the afternoon was given by Camp Member Tim Massey who portrayed President Andrew Johnson in full period dress matching the image of Johnson in the event program.
Following Massey’s speech, Boy Scout Troop 800 and the 8th Tennessee Volunteer Infantry Firing Team took their places near and surrounding the Brownlow Memorial while the Black Oak Brass Quintet played “Hail Columbia.” It was at this point that Commander McReynolds asked Senior Vice Commander Max Renfro to lead the rededication ceremony. Member Bob Wallace recited the rededication prayer and Member Joseph McReynolds recited the poem, “Unknown Dead.” The Firing Team fired three volleys and Boys Scout buglers offered Echo Taps in what was a heartfelt service.
Afterwards, Auxiliary Member Amy Fitzsimons sung “Tenting Tonight” as a Benediction in Song and the Black Oak Brass Quintent played a musical postlude of “Maryland, My Maryland” and “Bugle Quickstep.”