Pre-war Middle Tennessee thrived. Residents free and enslaved grew copious amounts of corn, wheat, timber, cattle, and horses, and no area of the South produced more mules and hog. Toads, rails, and telegraph wires webbed across the center of the state, connecting it firmly to an industrializing nation. Nashville hosted five major railroad lines, making it a vital hub in the heart of the United States, and its Cumberland River served as a major artery to all points west.
Some residents here owned another type of wealth. Though most southern white families did not own slaves, the institution seeded deeply in fertile croplands such as these. In Williamson County, 52 percent of the population was enslaved. Yet this area was not eager for secession. In February 1861, a state-wide referendum called for a convention on whether to leave the Union. Middle Tennesseans narrowly voted against the proposal. But with the fall of Fort Sumter in April, the corridor turned heavily toward secession, and Tennessee officially left the Union on June 8, 1861.
The Volunteer State soon became a prime target, as both the Confederacy and the Union saw these rails, roads, foods, people, and horsepower as critical to their success. As 1861 drew to a close, the state had not yet seen direct combat, but that would soon change. By the end of
the war, Tennessee would suffer more military engagements than any other state except Virginia.