General Longstreet Museum in Russellville, TN
Photo Credit: General Longstreet Museum in Russellville, TN

Bring the Past to Life

General Longstreet Museum explores East Tennessee’s Civil War history

As the last state to leave the Union and the first to rejoin, Tennessee has a complex Civil War history. While Middle and West Tennessee were largely pro-secession, East Tennessee was home to much more nuanced views of the war. 

The General Longstreet Museum in Russellville, just minutes from downtown Morristown, shines a light on daily life during the Civil War and the decisions that led brother to fight brother. It also tells the fascinating story of Confederate General James Longstreet, who fought for Robert E. Lee and was one of Ulysses S. Grant’s closest friends.

Open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, April through November, you can plan a visit or learn more about special art showings, Civil War reenactments and interactive events, at the museum’s Facebook page at or online at

The Civil War in East Tennessee
A West Point graduate, General Longstreet had grown frustrated with several of the Confederacy’s strategic decisions by the summer of 1863. 

“Longstreet, for some time, had been pushing for him or his entire command to be moved to the Western Theater,” explains Kelly Ford, director of the General Longstreet Museum. “Gettysburg was kind of the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

Ford continues, “In the fall of 1863, after Chickamauga, Longstreet and his men were ordered to East Tennessee, there was a string of fights up towards Knoxville that ended up pretty terribly for the Confederates.” 

Retreating, Longstreet received word that the federal army was positioned about 60 miles from Knoxville. He led a successful surprise attack at Bean Station and looked to establish a winter headquarters in the area. 

Longstreet approached the prominent Nenney family of Russellville, who were sympathetic to the Confederate cause, and asked to rent their property. Setting up a command station on the home’s first floor, Longstreet oversaw several skirmishes in the region from December 1863 through the end of February 1864.

Preserved History in Morristown
More than 140 years later, the Nenney home was set to be sold and demolished to make way for a commercial venture. That’s when local resident and historical reenactor Mike Beck joined forces with three others to create the Lakeway Civil War Preservation Association. 

Convincing the property’s owner to sell to the new nonprofit instead of a retail giant, the group launched grassroots efforts to raise restoration funds. Working with Tennessee historian Carroll Van West, PhD, the group began developing exhibits and educational materials from their extensive personal collections and acquired pieces. 

“You’re going to see original Civil War items, along with some reproductions of items that are really expensive or rare,” says Ford, who holds a degree in history and is an expert tailor, in addition to serving as museum director. He adds the reproductions are meticulously made, often after he has created patterns from original pieces. 

“We can be more interactive with the reproductions. We’re very hands-on. Visitors can hold a hat. They can feel the weight of a cartridge box or pick up an antique weapon,” Ford says of bringing history to life.

Beck adds displays also include items depicting everyday living while surrounded by war. “The home front means a lot,” says Beck. “It is often the women that save history. Look at all the things wives and daughters have saved to perpetuate and educate about our heritage.”

To that end, one room is set up as a bedroom with the rest of the home outfitted as museum space, including an outstanding reference library. “I always say we’re not a house museum, we’re a museum in a house,” laughs Ford.

“I think people need to know about history and preserve history,” Beck states of their educational mission.

“Our previous generations gave us the baton to tell their story and interpret it in a meaningful and honorable way. We don’t take sides,” he continues, adding East Tennessee was more divided than most people realize. “War is brutal, and we need to tell future generations.”

Time sets all things right, error lives but a day, truth is eternal.” – General James Longstreet

A Day in Morristown, TN
While you are in the area, be sure to take advantage of all Morristown has to offer, from outdoor fun and family-friendly events to arts, history, shopping and dining in and around the historic downtown district. Go to to plan your trip.