Civil War on Campus

This Ken Smith painting depicts a Civil War battle that took place Nov. 28, 1863, on the site of the new Sorority Village at UT Knoxville. A reproduction of the painting, At First Light, is displayed at McClung Museum on campus. Smith (Knoxville ’76) is an assistant professor of graphic design at Radford University.

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The Hill in Knoxville was quite a different place 150 years ago — not just because it was an earlier day and time but also because the Hill was a war zone.

Tennessee was a Confederate state, and early in the Civil War, Confederate troops occupied the University of Tennessee (then East Tennessee University). Later the campus, then home to only a few structures, was used as a hospital. Classes were cancelled in 1862, and the Union army pushed the Confederates south and occupied the Hill in late 1863.

The Union used the college buildings primarily as a hospital, and the Hill was spared major action during the nearby battle of Fort Sanders. Nevertheless, when the war ended, the campus was a shambles. One building was totally demolished, others sustained severe damage, and college equipment was destroyed. Fences and trees had been burned, and breastworks pocked the grounds.

Not until nine years after the war ended did the federal government compensate the university for damages in the amount of $18,500. The university reopened in 1866 in a downtown building. Classes resumed on the Hill later that year.