August 26, 2013

Former professor talks about misconceptions about the South

By Christopher Smith
christophersmith@daltoncitizen.com

— When people think about the American Civil War they’re likely to think in terms of North vs. South.

And they’re wrong to do so, Larry Cooper, a retired associate professor of education from Dalton State College, says.

The war, Cooper said, was more complicated than that.

Cooper, who has released a book titled “Lincoln’s Land” about his genealogy and the Civil War’s impact on eastern Tennessee, spoke at a Dalton State Lunch & Learn program last week.

“I wrote this book for two reasons,” Cooper said. “To correct a misconception that all people from the South were Confederate. I’m a Southerner, but my family heritage is not Confederate.”

In fact, most of the people in east Tennessee near the Smoky Mountains were Unionists, Cooper said, and strongly opposed slavery and the actions of the rest of the state.

In west Tennessee, 11 out of 15 counties supported the proposition of slavery in 1861. In the middle of the state, 20 of the 33 counties supported it as well. But in the area of interest for Cooper, the border region of Tennessee and Kentucky, 27 out of 29 counties opposed slavery and secession from the United States.

“My ancestors just farmed and traded for the rest,” Cooper said of his family who lived in that area during the Civil War. “They were a very self-sufficient, patriotic people.”

People who didn’t own that many slaves, if any, Cooper said.

One such ancestor named Alexander Heatherly actually raised a private army, which he took to join the Unionists in Virginia in 1861.

“It’s really an interesting part of history that is not really talked about sometimes,” Cooper said of Southerners who joined the Unionists and — contrarily — Northerners who fought for the Confederacy.

“Many people in the Union owned slaves,” Cooper said, contending that slavery was the central issue of the War Between the States.

Cooper said he was very interested in exploring his heritage, but not until later in life.

“I think it was so painful, the memories were still there for folks,” he said about the lack of people talking about the war as he was growing up. “They really wanted to forget about it.”

But remembering is important, Cooper said. He encourages others to dig into their past.

His book, which details the life of Heatherly, is available through Amazon Kindle at amazon.com/Lincolns-Land-ebook/dp/B009CA96DQ.