Tim Hyder, director of programs for the Tennessee Wars Commission, toured Lakeway Area Civil War sites in a fact-finding mission designed to familiarize himself with the region and explore ways his office could work with local preservationists to improve and protect the historic sites.
Hyder, guided by Mike Beck of the Lakeway Area Civil War Preservation Association, toured the sites of the battles of Bean Station and Bulls Gap, Bethesda Cemetery and the General Longstreet Museum in Russellville.
Hyder said the trip will help him get a better idea of preservation and interpretation opportunities for the site.
“Because I work out of Nashville, I don’t get a chance to get back home to East Tennessee very often,” he said. “It’s kind of helpful for me to see what we’re looking at rather than reading dusty reports.”
In the past, the Wars Commission office has been a key supporter of the development of the Longstreet Museum.
“We’re just following up on that partnership and friendship for future development,” Beck said.
Hyder, who works under the Tennessee Historical Commission, is tasked with preserving and protecting sites of conflict within Tennessee. These sites encompasses battles from the French and Indian War, the American Revolution, The Mexican-American War, the War of 1812 up to the Civil War through reconstruction.
“It’s a lot of land acquisition and preservation but it’s also interpretation and publicizing Tennessee’s military and civilian heritage during times of conflict,” he said.
Hyder was given the full tour at the Longstreet Museum, located in the formery Nenney home in Russellville.
Confederate Gen. James Longstreet used the house as his headquarters in the winter of 1863, following his defeat in Knxoville. Pursued by federal forces on his attempt to reach Virginia, Longstreet turned and met them at Bean Station, winning a victory.
With severe weather and record low temperatures, Longstreet ordered his men to camp for the winter in Russellville and set his headquarters up in the Nenney House, which has now been renovated into a museum.
During that winter, Longstreet’s men fought the battles of Mossy Creek, Dandridge and Fair Garden.
Hyder, who met with Bean Station mayor Terry Wolfe during his trip, said the Bean Station battle site offers a unique opportunity in preservation – in part because a portion of it is under water.
When the Tennessee Valley Authority created Cherokee Lake in the 1930s, the water rose over part of the battlefield but left an island site, essentially protected by a giant moat.
“It’s incredibly unique for all of its history,” Hyder said. “It’s one of East Tennessee’s larger battles that was not sieges, and subsequently it’s one of the few major battles in Tennessee that’s currently under a lake which makes it a challenge for preservation. But lucky for us because of the design of gun placements and fortifications, when TVA flooded Bean Station, we kind of got a perfect preservation opportunity because it blocked access to some of the early military fortifications. It’s definitely something I’ve never seen before.”
Beck said the long term plan is to partner with regional communities with historic sites, like Bean Station, to aid in preservation, offer improved interpretation to protect the site and help develop more regional tourism.