Chronological History of the American Civil War
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1861 - The Civil War Begins
At age eighteen, John Houston Bills (pictured) came to the West Tennessee area in 1818 with Ezekial Polk, the grandfather of James K. Polk, the 11th president of the United States. In 1823, Bills married Prudence Polk McNeal, a cousin of the future president. Bills also began a cotton factoring company with her brother, Ezekiel McNeal, which they called Bills and McNeal, and acquired two plantations, one near Bolivar and the other in Mississippi. John Houston Bills was one of the first commissioners for the new town of Bolivar, Tennessee in the southwestern section of the state in 1824, and with his brother-in-law, became one of the leading industrialists and planters in West Tennessee. He purchased his home, known as "The Pillars", in 1837, from a Philadelphia newspaperman, John Lea, and traveled throughout the eastern United States to furnish it in appropriate style. The mansion is now a historic house museum administered by the local chapter of the Association for the Preservation of Tennessee Antiquities. David Crockett had stayed in the home prior to the Bill's ownership, but Bills himself also entertained several notable Tennesseans and southerners at his home, including Andrew Jackson, James K. Polk, Sam Houston, Leonidas Polk, and Jefferson Davis. After his first wife, Prudence Tate McNeal died in 1841, Bills continued making trips throughout the eastern U.S. and Europe. In 1845, when James K. Polk became president, Bills became his financial advisor. In 1849, Bills married a widow from Virginia, Lucy Anne Duke. Over the years John Houston Bills grew his family and his fortune. He became a well known man in Tennessee politics. January 1861 Talk of war, state's rights, slavery, and now with Abe Lincoln elected as President of the United States, it was just too much for most to bare in the South. His name did not even make it on most ballots in the South. The South felt they had rights and the North did not want to lose their taxes and trade. Jefferson Davis said, "States are sovereign. There was a time when none denied it. I hope the time may come again." The South felt that they had the right to leave the union and voted to do so, state by state. Monday, January 7, 1861: Tennessee's Governor Isham Harris calls the State Legislature into session to adopt a resolution asking Tennesseans to vote for or against a convention to consider the possibility of secession. He recommends the organization of a state militia and the purchase of arms, and states that “the remedy for the present evils exists only in constitutional amendments.” Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas join South Carolina in seceding from the Union. These seven states form a new southern union, setting up a provisional government called the Confederate States of America. Jefferson Davis of Mississippi is elected President of the Confederacy for a six-year term. Wednesday, January 9, 1861 : The vote on a secession convention fails in Tennessee, nearly four-to- one. Saturday, February 9, 1861 : Tennessee's legislation had voted to reject secession and was to stay in the Union. Tennessee's Governor Isham Harris from Memphis, Tennessee was hoping for a different vote on this subject. Friday, April 12, 1861 : News during this time was slow to come to Hardeman County in Tennessee, but the fight for Fort Sumter, South Carolina had begun. Saturday, April 13, 1861 : The battle is over quickly as Fort Sumter surrenders to the Southern forces.
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