The Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area (TCWNHA) tells the story of America’s Greatest Challenge, 1860-1875, through Civil War and Reconstruction sites and resources across the state. The only national heritage area to encompass an entire state, the TCWNHA is administered by the Center for Historic Preservation at Middle Tennessee State University and represents a partnership-based effort to preserve, enhance, interpret, and promote the legacy of the Civil War and its aftermath in Tennessee.
National heritage areas are defined by the National Park Service as “places designated by the United States Congress where natural, cultural, historic, and recreational resources combine to form a cohesive, nationally distinctive landscape, which tell nationally important stories and represent the national experience through both physical features and the traditions that have evolved within them.” In 1995, Congress invited proposals from across the United States for the still relatively new National Heritage Areas program. Of the forty-one proposals submitted from across the country, the Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area was one of eight that was ultimately selected.
In 1996, U.S. Representative Bart Gordon successfully introduced legislation to create the Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area, which was designated by Congress in November of that same year. In 1998, the Center for Historic Preservation was charged with creating a Compact and Master Plan to develop, implement, and manage the area. Over the next two years, the center partnered with the Tennessee Historical Commission/Wars Commission, the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development, the Tennessee General Assembly, the Tennessee Civil War Preservation Association, Tennessee State University’s African American History Conference, and other stakeholders to develop a preliminary planning document, conduct statewide public forums, and gain input and support for the final Master Plan. In 2001, Governor Don Sundquist approved the area’s Compact and Master Plan, which outlined major interpretive themes, management structure, planning, and funding guidelines. The final Master Plan and Environmental Assessment was submitted to the National Park Service and the secretary of the interior in 2004.
The area’s projects and services emphasize five primary interpretive themes: War Clouds on the Horizon, 1850-1861; Battles and Leaders, 1861-1865; Occupation and the Home Front, 1861-1865; Reconstruction, 1865-1875; and Legacies, 1870-1930. The area leverages federal, state, local, and private funding to build new educational, tourism, and recreational opportunities for Tennessee residents and visitors. Its Professional Services and Outreach program provides staff and assistance at no cost to property owners and organizations developing heritage programs and projects. Through the Collaborative Partnership program, the area also provides opportunities for organizations, local governments, and non-profit groups to apply for matching funds for projects and programs, including interpretive brochures, driving tours, exhibits, research, and preservation planning.
Several of the area’s early signature projects remain in use and serve as the foundation for current initiatives. In 2002, the area partnered with Stones River National Battlefield to present the Legacy of Stones River Symposium, which featured prominent historian David Blight. The event’s success spurred three subsequent symposiums, along with plans to continue the symposium every eighteen months, and created a model for the area and other organizations to conduct similar events. Another early project, “In the Shadow of the Pinnacle: Actions at the Cumberland Gap,” serves as the first exhibit that visitors encounter upon entering the Abraham Lincoln Museum at Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate. In 2005, the Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area hosted the Alliance of National Heritage Areas’ International Heritage Development Conference, an interactive forum on best practices, public-private partnerships, and new heritage tools, which drew national and international heritage development professionals and leaders to the state.
More recent statewide initiatives include heritage tourism projects, feasibility studies, museum exhibits, educational materials, and the development of a Downtown Heritage Center in Rutherford County. Since its inception, the Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area has partnered and continues to partner with communities and organizations across the state to tell the powerful stories of the home front, the demands of fighting and occupation, the freedom of Emancipation, and the enduring legacies of Reconstruction.