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INSIDE MTSU: Alumnus pens book on hidden Civil War history

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MURFREESBORO, Tenn. -- The closest thing to a sure bet in Rutherford County is that you don’t have to go far to find a Civil War history buff.

With the Stones River National Battlefield in the county seat of Murfreesboro and the Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area program housed at MTSU, it stands to reason that interest in the War Between the States remains high 150 years after its conclusion.

Carroll Van West, director of the university-run Center for Historic Preservation, has overseen Tennessee’s observance of the war’s sesquicentennial in his capacity as state historian.

Now available to fill in the nooks and crannies of Civil War history just in time for holiday gift-giving is “Hidden History of Civil War Tennessee” by James B. Jones Jr., an MTSU alumnus and member of the Tennessee Historical Commission.

One of the chapters in Jones’ book explains how certain Confederates made sure their fellow citizens remained true blue to the boys in grey.

Members of “committees of safety and vigilance,” a fancy name for bands of outlaws, would keep their ears open for any talk that might smack of Yankee ties.

People suspected of being Northern sympathizers or abolitionists were beaten and killed routinely based on little more than rumor and speculation.

“Anyone who offered a word of discontent about the southern Confederacy must be an abolitionist,” Jones said. “It’s just that simple.”

Jones said these committees operated in all the largest Tennessee cities, most fervently in Nashville and Memphis.

Another kind of terror ravaged the South during the Civil War in the forms of various illnesses, especially sexually transmitted diseases.

“They thought that … any disease was the result of … vapors that would rise from the earth,” Jones said. The prevalence of venereal diseases in Nashville and Memphis was so high that military officials rounded up as many prostitutes as they could and shipped them to Louisville, Ky.

Louisville promptly sent the hookers back to Tennessee.

“So, they established a licensed system of prostitution where the prostitutes were inspected by the medical corps and given a license to practice the profession,” Jones said. “They would have to go in for medical checkups every week.”

Jones said he has been researching the Civil War for about 20 years, but most of his discoveries of “hidden” history have been “serendipitous.”

In other words, he had the good fortune to stumble upon them while conducting other Civil War research.

“What counts is a narrative,” Jones said. “So, I thought maybe I could make a contribution to the sesquicentennial by writing something … of a different color.

“Hidden History of Civil War Tennessee” is published by the University of Tennessee Press.

To hear a recorded interview with Jones from “MTSU On the Record,” visit www.mtsunews.com.

Tagged under  Civil War, Education, History, Inside MTSU, James Jones, Literature, MTSU

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