A museum showcasing Civil War Gen. James Longstreet, who spent much of his post-war days in Gainesville, is set to open today in the East Tennessee community of Russellville.
Susan Whitaker, Tennessee Department of Tourist Development commissioner, is one of the featured speakers in a grand opening ceremony for the General Longstreet Headquarters Museum and Interpretative Center.
The museum occupies a restored two-story, white clapboard farmhouse that dates to 1820-1830. Longstreet, commander in the Knoxville Campaign, used the home as his headquarters in the winter of 1863-1864.
Today's event marks the fulfillment of the longtime dream of Lakeway Civil War Preservation Association, which organized in February 2006 to save the historic house and otherwise preserve Civil War heritage in the area.
The group's work began after "a developer went to the (Hamblen County) planning commission and asked to rezone the property, tear down the structure and build a small retail store," said Lakeway's vice president, Reece Sexton.
Three businesspeople got together, discussed the issue and "we were able to get a loan and buy it," said Sexton, editor and publisher of the Civil War Courier in nearby Morristown.
"We will have lots of local stuff on display, military as well as civilian," he said.
Longstreet commanded the Army of Tennessee after the Southern defeat at the Battle of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania. He led troops in battles at Chattanooga and Knoxville, as well as Chickamauga at the Georgia-Tennessee line.
He was on his way to Virginia, but 35 miles outside of Knoxville, he turned around and fought the Union army in the Battle at Bean Station in December 1863.
Longstreet "drove the Union army back toward Knoxville, but the weather turned so severe he couldn't move his cannons, wagons and (so forth)," Sexton said. "So he went into winter camp in Russellville."
Russellville, which is about four miles east of Morristown, "is just a wide place in the road today, but it was a prosperous community during the war," Sexton said.
The Nenney family, who were farmers and owned local businesses, let Longstreet use their home.
Longstreet was attracted to the home because it was a couple of blocks from the railroad station. He ran telegraph wire from the station to his house, allowing him to keep in contact with Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
"We are developing one of the rooms into a communications room as Gen. Longstreet would have had it," Sexton said.
As for Longstreet's stay in Russellville, "the Union army continually harassed him," he added. "He would go 15-20 miles to farms along the river to harvest corn still in the fields, and the Union Army would invariably attack."
After the war, Longstreet eventually settled in Gainesville, where he owned and operated the Piedmont Hotel.
The remnants of that Maple Street structure now serve as a museum and offices for the Longstreet Society, a group dedicated to preserving the life and legacy of Longstreet, Lee's second in command during the war.
The general kept busy in Gainesville, accepting federal appointments, including postmaster.
Also, to the chagrin of many Southerners, Longstreet joined the Republican Party and advocated civil rights, including the right for blacks to vote.
He died on Jan. 2, 1904, at his daughter's Gainesville home and is buried in Alta Vista Cemetery.
Longstreet's former Tennessee headquarters continued to thrive, with the last Nenney family member living in the home about 10 years ago, Sexton said.
The house was in decent shape when the Lakeway group took over the home. Structurally sound, it needed some new paint and a new roof, Sexton said.
Today's event also will feature remarks by Carroll Van West, director of the Middle Tennessee State University's Center for Historic Preservation.
Civil War re-enactors — including men dressed as Longstreet, Lee and Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson — also will attend. They will fire a 21-gun musket salute and the Longstreet re-enactor will fire a cannon.
Richard Pilcher, president of the Longstreet Society, said he doesn't plan to be there, but his group received an invitation and has "put that out in every way we communicate with our members."
Those considering a visit to the museum should take note: "We will establish hours permanently and post them after the grand opening," Sexton said. "We are still in the process of assigning tour guides."