Civil War and Reconstruction
1860 – 1862
Joseph Ridley Presidency
Rev. Joseph Ridley, a North Carolinian who was educated at the University of North Carolina, held pastorships in several Tennessee towns before becoming East Tennessee University president (UT’s ninth president) in 1860. He began his presidency buoyed by an increase in the student body to 110 (73 of whom were in the preparatory department), the largest enrollment in the previous 12 years. The increase permitted the trustees to enlarge the faculty and hire a janitor. According to that year’s catalog, Ridley would govern students “by the law of kindness and affection.” Students were also required to attend chapel each morning and evening and Sunday services at local churches “chosen at the pleasure of the parents.” Ridley described the university as “wholly unsectarian,” with Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and Methodists represented on the faculty. One of Ridley’s first acts as president had been to ask the board of trustees to allow ministerial students of any denomination to receive free instruction. Ridley’s optimism was dashed by the firing on Fort Sumter in April 1861 which began the Civil War. Nevertheless, East Tennessee University opened in the fall of 1861, although with a much-reduced student body and the same faculty, except for a pro-Union professor who had returned to Ohio after receiving threats on his life. The term lasted only one-fifth its normal time, however, and in January 1862, East Tennessee University buildings were taken over by the Confederates as a military hospital. Shortly afterward, Ridley, a pro-Confederate, resigned to return to North Carolina. He subsequently took up a pastorship in Milledgeville, Georgia.
1862 – 1865
East Tennessee University during the Civil War
The start of the Civil War in 1861 followed by Tennessee’s secession from the Union and the lodging of wounded Confederate soldiers on campus did not close East Tennessee University. By spring 1862 when the trustees finally suspended operations, the majority of students had joined the military, President Joseph Ridley had resigned, and two professors had left the university. Wounded Confederate soldiers were lodged at university buildings after the January 1862 Battle of Mill Springs in Kentucky, known as the Battle of Fishing Creek to the Confederacy. In the fall of 1863, Union troops forced the Confederates out of Knoxville. On the Hill, the Union Army enclosed the three university buildings with an earthen fortification they named Fort Byington in honor of an officer from Michigan who was killed in the defense of Knoxville. They used the buildings for their headquarters, barracks, and a hospital for Black troops. Despite a Confederate attempt to retake the city by siege—climaxed by a bloody, abortive attack on Fort Sanders on November 29, 1863—the Union held and occupied Knoxville for the rest of the war. During the battle, the Hill was hit with artillery fire from Confederate guns located in a trench at the site of UT’s present-day Sorority Village. Campus also sustained a great deal of damage caused by the Union Army. Troops denuded the grounds of trees, ruined the steward’s house, and destroyed the gymnasium with misdirected cannon fire aimed at Confederate troops across the river. After the Civil War ended in 1865 and the Union Army left campus, Thomas Humes was elected university president. The university reopened in 1866 and operated for six months downtown in the Deaf and Dumb Asylum while repairs began at the damaged campus. A petition to the federal war department for monetary compensation for campus damage done by the Union Army undoubtedly received more favorable consideration because of Humes’s known Union loyalty throughout the war. A Senate committee which considered the bill for damages also noted that East Tennessee University was “particularly deserving of the favorable consideration of Congress” because it was “the only educational institution of known loyalty…in any of the seceding states.” However in 1873, President Ulysses S. Grant vetoed the bill that would have provided $18,500 to the university because he felt it would set a bad precedent. The bill was redrafted specifying that the payment was compensation for aid East Tennessee University gave to the Union during the war. On June 22, 1874, President Grant signed the new bill and the trustees accepted the funds the same day with an agreement to release the government from all claims. (More than a century and a half later, a buried Union trench was located in 2019 on the north side of the present-day McClung Museum with the use of ground-penetrating radar.)
1865 – 1883
Thomas Humes Presidency
Although East Tennessee University trustees named Episcopal rector Rev. Thomas W. Humes president (UT’s 10th president) in 1865, the effects of the Civil War delayed the university’s opening for a year. Even then, campus was in such disrepair that classes for the 20 students were held downtown for six months in the Knoxville Deaf and Dumb Asylum. Humes was a Knoxville native and an 1830 graduate at age 15 from East Tennessee College. He had studied for the ministry at Princeton Theological Seminary but had been unwilling to subscribe to the Presbyterian Westminster Confession of Faith and was not ordained. He had been the much-respected rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Knoxville for 17 years when asked to be university president, and he continued additionally in this capacity for another four years. The major task facing Humes was the rebuilding of the university. During the Reconstruction era following the war, this task was made easier by the fact that Humes had been a staunch Union supporter. Although it took nine years, the school was able eventually to collect $18,500 from the federal government as compensation for the damages incurred while occupied by Union troops. Also, in 1869, East Tennessee University was designated the recipient of the federal land-grant funds provided by the Morrill Act of 1862. During Humes’s administration, great strides were taken to reorganize and rehabilitate the once war-torn campus, including the erection of several new buildings, the addition of new faculty, increased enrollments reaching a high of 315 in 1874, the addition of medical and dental departments in Nashville, the establishment of an agricultural experiment station, and the redesignation of the institution by the legislature in 1879 as the University of Tennessee. But much of the Humes’s period was taken up by bitter contention between those who wanted to shift the university’s curricular emphasis from the classics to the agricultural and mechanical arts and those who wanted to retain the traditional academic framework. Humes stood with the traditionalists, and this led to his downfall. The trustees asked for his resignation, and on August 24, 1883, Humes complied.
Land-Grant University Designation, College of Agriculture Founded
In 1869, the Tennessee Legislature designated East Tennessee University as the recipient of federal land-grant funds provided by the Morrill Act of 1862. After the Civil War, the legislation was extended to former Confederate states including Tennessee. The Morrill Act helped meet the demands of our industrializing nation by establishing land-grant institutions that provided instruction in agriculture, mechanical arts, and military tactics along with classical curriculums. The Herbert College of Agriculture was also founded in 1869. UT is one of two land-grant institutions in Tennessee. The other is Tennessee State University in Nashville, designated with 18 other historically Black colleges under the Morrill Act of 1890.
East Tennessee University’s band began in 1869 as a corps of cadets. The members primarily played cornets and were often headed by a cadet leader. By 1899, the University of Tennessee band had 16 members who practiced daily and performed in a weekly dress parade at Wait Field, UT’s first on-campus football field. In the 1930s, the 85-member band sometimes performed halftime shows at football games, and after 1940 membership increased to nearly 100. The band became known as the Pride of the Southland Band in 1949, supposedly at a suggestion from Knoxville Journal columnist Ed Harris. Band director W J Julian, hired in 1961, made the Pride of the Southland Band nationally recognized for the circle drill and the formation for the football team to run through the T. Julian also introduced the first performance of “Rocky Top” during halftime of the Tennessee vs. Alabama football game in 1972.
1870 – 1890
The designation as Tennessee’s land-grant institution in 1869 required the university to offer courses in military science. In 1870, the university instituted compulsory military training for all students. A military commandant, assigned by the US Army, and his staff had full control of student conduct. Students were required to wear uniforms beginning in 1873, and two years later UT adopted a code of military regulations similar to those in use at West Point. After Charles Dabney became president of UT, he proposed that the military system of government and instruction apply only to freshmen and sophomores. Following trustee approval the new system of student government began in 1890, and the dean of the university took charge of student discipline.
South College Built
South College, the oldest building on campus, was built in 1872 as a dormitory and campus armory for what was then East Tennessee University. It housed 96 students in 24 rooms, with four to a room. In 1875, gaslights replaced the fireplaces and oil lamps. Telephones were installed in 1883. South College was converted from a dormitory into classrooms and meeting halls in 1890. The building got electricity and steam heating in 1908. South College was spared at least three times following demolition proposals. Although little remains of the original interior, the facade was restored in 1989 to resemble the Grecian style designed by architect A.C. Bruce. Over the course of its existence, South College has been home to the president’s office, the Summer School of the South, the Law Department, the German Department, the Public Relations Department, the Psychology Department, the University Extension, the UT bookstore, the post office, the first campus radio station, the Science Alliance, and research space for graduate students.
School of Mechanic Arts, Mining, and Engineering Founded - Later Became College of Engineering
The School of Mechanic Arts, Mining, and Engineering was first organized at East Tennessee University in 1877, offering courses in mechanical and mining engineering. Courses in surveying had begun in 1838 and civil engineering was first offered in 1840. The school was re-named the College of Engineering in 1905, and Charles Ferris became the first dean in 1907. The college was renamed the Tickle College of Engineering in 2016 to honor alumnus John D. Tickle.
Renamed University of Tennessee