Tennessee became known as the “Volunteer State” during the War of 1812 due to the key role played by volunteers from the Tennessee militia.
In September 1813 Tennessee Governor Willie Blount issued a call for 3,500 volunteers. Tennesseans’ enthusiastic response initiated a tradition that gave the state its nickname of the “Volunteer State.” By the end of the war in early 1815, some historians estimate that almost 28,000 Tennesseans served. Newspapers of the day touted the military spirit of the men of Tennessee, with numerous references to “the Tennessee Volunteers” and “the volunteers from Tennessee.”
The “Volunteer” reputation was solidified in the Mexican American War of 1846-1848, when President James K. Polk of Tennessee issued a call for 2,800 volunteers and 30,000 Tennesseans answered. As the Nashville Daily Union declared under the headline “The Volunteer State” on May 17, 1847:
“The proud name which Tennessee earned in the last war is being gloriously sustained in this…. A fine body of volunteers from the mountain district, on their way to Mexico, paraded our streets on Saturday…. the VOLUNTEER STATE again shows herself ready to vindicate the country’s rights.”
Well into the 21st century, Tennessee continues to uphold the tradition of the Volunteer State.
Robert H. White, “The Volunteer State,” Tennessee Historical Quarterly (pgs 53-56)