Military Service in the Cove


by Ben vega

Military service is an integral part of Cades Cove and has a long and rich vein in the cove’s history. The accompanying images depict the headstones of Cove residents/descendants who fought for the United States ranging from the Revolution all the way to World War II after the cove had already been incorporated into the Great Smokey Mountains national park. From its founding settlers to those decedents who served even after the cove succumbed to eminent domain, military service is engrained in the DNA of the Cove’s history and its people. Ronald Eller (2004) states in High Mountains Rising: Appalachia in Time and Place that “Appalachian people had always been quick to serve their country during war, and enlistment rates in the region were among the highest in the nation” (197). This trend is no different for the people of Cades Cove. The Cove’s founding settler, John Oliver, served in the East Tennessee Militia under Captain Adam Winsell and Colonel Ewen Allison during the war of 1812. Similarly, William Tipton of the prominent Tipton family served in the Revolution at the young age of fifteen (Straw & Blethen, High Mountains Rising 2004, 2, 3). However, the war that likely had the greatest effect on the cove was the Civil War. Despite the political trends of the vast majority of the South, Appalachia generally experienced opposing sentiments as much of the region consisted of Union sympathizers. At the start of the war, many of the Cove’s male youth left to join the war effort, most to the Union army but some to the Confederacy, generally falling along lines of family ties and allegiances (Dunn 1988, 129). According to John Oliver’s record, at least twenty-one Cove residents joined service with the Union and another twelve joined the Confederate forces. However, given the guerilla nature of the Civil War in Appalachia, service was not limited to enlisting in an organized army. Dunn (1988) notes this in that “The majority of cove men… were unable to join Union forces and either hid out in the mountains or joined together in small bands to fight the Rebels” (129). As a result of the Unionist sentiments in the cove, even when not formally enlisted or commissioned, Cades Cove residents fought for their ideals, and more significantly their survival, against the Confederates and those bands of sympathizing raiders.

             This trend of service continued into the twentieth century when “America’s entry into World War I transformed most of the cove’s progressive idealism into ardent patriotism” (Dunn 1988, 232). This “moral unanimity” and patriotism coaxed many cove men to join the military and go forth as perfect reflections of Wilsonian idealism (Dunn 1988, 232). This wave of nationalism had profound effects on the mood of the cove and shifted their sentiments from their historical survivalism and communitarianism to that of a national identity. Dunn (1988) encapsulates this in that “Cades Cove had become a national community, vitally concerned with America’s national and international problems. For once, Americanism was far more important than any state or regional identity” (232). The headstones/graves pictured above memorialize this long history of service. Even though the families in the cove were made to vacate their homes and land by 1936, three of the four graves pictured are of cove descendants who served in World War II. This epitomizes the long-standing cove tradition of military service and denotes the strong family ties that, time and time again, catalyze the cove’s military heritage.