Material culture as a primary source for understanding Bedford County, Tennessee in the Civil War era /

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Townes, Amanda
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Middle Tennessee State University
Bedford County, Tennessee, in the middle of the state, has been a center of agricultural production since its establishment in 1807. By 1860, water powered mills producing textiles and milled grain, state-of-the-art turnpikes, and a new railroad had created a thriving industrial and commercial landscape. The combination of available war materiel and transportation routes made the county a target for control by Civil War armies.
Although continuously occupied by armies from early 1862 until the end of the war, there was relatively little destruction in the county. Consequently, a rich and varied material culture survives from the Civil War era as a primary source to interpret the county in the years 1860-1865. A multi-disciplinary approach to a selective study of that material culture developed a methodology that starts with objects and landscapes as established points of information about people, place, and period. From those known points, with documentary records as contributing sources, it was possible to work to supportable conclusions on previously unknown points in a process of information triangulation.
The human-altered landscape, roads, towns, graveyards, buildings, and other objects were the starting points of this study. Triangulating information they provided created an interpretive framework for the county and the period, one that described a county-wide settlement pattern that developed as a number of towns connected to each other. From consistency in types of gravemarkers and buildings, and from ubiquitous Greek Revival architecture, material culture described Bedford County in the Civil War era as a cultural entity.
This study of Bedford County was a test case that demonstrated the usefulness of material culture as a primary source. By beginning with a different lens on the Civil War era, it was possible to expand the historical narrative and provide a setting for wartime activity, develop new insights into a key area of the Upland South, and raise new questions for inquiry, particularly about the possibilities of female wage workers in 1860 Shelbyville, and the possibility of a connection between the architecture of a local church and the state capital.
Adviser: Mary S. Hoffschwelle.