First, some background information. In early 1861, Tennessee was split on whether to secede from the Union. East Tennessee voted overwhelmingly to remain with the United States, while Western and Middle Tennessee opted to join with the Confederacy. While these debates were raging, a group of Union leaders called for a convention and urged every county in East Tennessee to appoint delegates to discuss the political future of the state. A first convention was held from 30-31 May in Knoxville, followed by a second convention in Greeneville, Greene County, Tennessee on 17 June 1861.
|Source: McClung Digital Collection, Knox County Library|
The events surrounding the convention are documented in Oliver Perry Temple's 1899 book, East Tennessee and the Civil War (see electronic version on Archive.org) and in the official proceedings available from the Knox County Library. Temple was a key organizer of the convention, as it was planned at his law office in Knoxville. After a statewide referendum for secession passed on 8 June 1861, the Unionists of East Tennessee called for a reconvening of the East Tennessee Convention in Greeneville. 285 delegates attended this convention. Among the delegates was 20 year old John Thornhill.
|Source: McClung Digital Collection, page 15.|
Many of the Convention attendees supported forming a new state of East Tennessee, although this was not part of the declaration from the 4-day meeting. Temple's book describes how many Unionists were in favor of following the path of West Virginia to ask Congress to support a state of East Tennessee. Unfortunately East Tennessee was surrounded by Confederate states, so it was not able to receive quick support from any of the free states of the Union.
It is fascinating to see Thornhill was among the delegates to this convention, just before the outbreak of fighting in Tennessee for the Civil War, and it puts a little different perspective on his later service in the 9th Tennessee Cavalry.