Monday, July 21, 2014

My Birth State

Why is Tennessee Known as the Volunteer State?

Due to its natural resources and products it manufactures, the state of Tennessee has had many nicknames, including the "Big Bend State" and "Hog and Hominy State." At one time it was even dubbed "The Mother of Southwestern Statesmen" due to its preponderance of government leaders throughout the years. But the "Volunteer State" is by far the longest-lasting nickname for Tennessee. 

By most accounts, Tennessee first earned its nickname as the volunteer state during the War of 1812 due to the large numbers of Tennesseans who volunteered to serve in battle against Great Britain. Although the men never faced battle, General Andrew Jackson brought the soldiers home at his own expense. Later, Jackson led 2000 Tennessee volunteer soldiers in a successful battle against the British in 1815 at the Battle of New Orleans. Following such success, as many as 30,000 Tennesseans again volunteered in the Mexican War. 

As years passed, Tennessee residents have been called "Big Benders," "Butternuts,"and "Volunteers." The name "Butternuts" referred to the color of the uniforms of Tennessee soldiers during the Civil War. "Big Benders" references the area of the Tennessee River, called the Big Bend River by Native Americans. In reference to the volunteer state, the nickname volunteer is often shortened to "vols."

Davy Crockett is one of one of the most famous volunteers from the volunteer state. Known as the "King of the Wild Frontier," Crockett was a politician and a soldier. He first enlisted as a rifleman in 1813. Later, Crockett entered politics. In the first quarter of the 19th century, he served two terms in the United States House of Representatives. Another famous resident from the volunteer state is Alvin York, who was influential in World War I. York was responsible for capturing and killing many enemy troops.

Tennesseans continued to be avid volunteers in World War II, both at war and on the home front in nearby Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where the Manhattan Project produced the first atomic bomb. One of the earliest known references of the volunteer nickname is by Jacob Hartsell, a captain in the 2nd East Tennessee militia. He wrote a poem, The Brave Volunteer, based on his experience alongside fellow Tennesseans in battle.

In addition to the volunteer state nickname, the athletic teams of The University of Tennessee are also known as the Volunteers. The student yearbook of the university was first named The Volunteer in 1897. The football team was first identified as the Volunteers by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 1902 when referring to a game between the University of Tennessee and Georgia Tech. By 1905, Tennessee announced the Volunteers as its official sports team name. The female sports teams are dubbed the “Lady Volunteers.”

During World War II Tennessee and its citizens contributed generously to the war effort. Many put their lives on the line as soldiers, sailors, and airmen: 315,501 Tennesseans served in the various theaters of the war, and 5,731 lost their lives.

Hundreds of thousands of soldiers from across the nation trained at various Tennessee military camps: Camp Forrest was an induction and infantry training center, Fort Campbell was an armor training facility, and Fort Tyson was a barrage balloon center near Paris, Tennessee. Pilots trained at several small airports throughout the state; important bases for the training of pilots and crews were located in Smyrna and near Dyersburg, and an air ferry command was located in Memphis. The 3800-acre Naval Air Station (NAS) Memphis, located in Millington, was the country's largest inland naval base.

Many Tennessee servicemen were inducted at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, in the early stages of the war. Later in the war, Tennessee servicemen would be inducted at Camp Forrest. Tennessee women joining the WAC (Women's Army Corps) trained at Fort Oglethorpe throughout the war. Other women served in the Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service), the Coast Guard SPARS (a contraction of the Coast Guard motto Semper Paratus), the Women Marines, and the WASPS (Women's Air Force Service Pilots). 

Workers assembling P-38 Lightning fighters
at the Vultee Aircraft Corporation factory,
Nashville, TN, ca. 1941

Library Photograph Collection
Over twenty counties in Middle Tennessee were used for the Tennessee Maneuvers, which were headquartered at Cumberland University in Lebanon (officially referred to as "somewhere in Tennessee?). The central part of the state was selected as the site of these war games not only because of its proximity to railroads and federal highways, but also because of the similarity between its terrain and that of western Europe. Red and Blue "armies" faced each other in complex and realistic training exercises. More than 800,000 men and women participated in the Tennessee Maneuvers, which, though successful in training military personnel, also produced over $4 million in claims by individuals and municipalities for destruction of property by the opposing "armies."

Camps Forrest, Campbell, and Tyson had other uses besides inducting and training soldiers. All three bases additionally served as prisoner-of-war camps for German, Italian, and Austrian POWs through 1946. Prisoners were also held at Tellico Plains, Crossville, Memphis, (My home town - Lawrenceburg), and Nashville. Camp Forrest, which was the headquarters for several permanent and temporary POW camps in five southeastern states, processed approximately 68,000 prisoners.