United States Civil War sketches made by Knoxville-native Samuel Bell Palmer (1843-1872) are now available for viewing on the Calvin M. McClung Digital Collection.
Samuel Bell Palmer's father, William, an immigrant from Ireland, started life in Knoxville as a tailor and ended as a merchant. Samuel was named for his uncle, Samuel Bell, a noted silversmith who twice served as mayor of Knoxville. During the U. S. Civil War, Samuel and his brother John enlisted in the Confederate forces, becoming part of Captain W. C. Kain’s (also sometimes called Mabry’s) Light Artillery in Knoxville on May 4, 1862. Samuel kept small journals throughout his military service and drew small pencil sketches of scenes that he witnessed. When the Union Army occupied Knoxville in September 1863, the Palmer brothers were captured and sent to Camp Douglas in Chicago, Illinois. During his confinement, Samuel continued to draw sketches from memory of scenes that he had witnessed, as well as of prison camp life. The most dramatic of his drawings records the divided loyalties of his hometown. It shows a day when large crowds gathered to observe the simultaneous recruitment of Union and Confederate troops on Knoxville’s Gay Street in 1861.
The Palmer brothers were released on March 13, 1865, and soon were able to rejoin their family members who had “refugeed” to Columbus, Georgia, to avoid taking the Oath of Allegiance. Samuel and his family remained in Columbus, where he married Fannie M. Webster on April 13, 1868. Samuel died on February 11, 1872, before reaching the age of 30, and is buried in Linwood Cemetery in Columbus. Various family members preserved his letters and journals, which constitute a valuable and very personal view of the Civil War in East Tennessee.
The Calvin M. McClung Historical Collection appreciates the generosity of both Scott and Michael Van Ness and Mary Palmer Phillips, who donated the Samuel Bell Palmer materials to the East Tennessee History Center, where they will be preserved and made available for not only Palmer descendants but all those who are interested in Knoxville's past. The Samuel Bell Palmer materials are available for viewing on the Calvin M. McClung Digital Collection.
Steve Cotham, Knox County historian and manager emeritus, Calvin M. McClung Historical Collection, Knox County Public Library
The Calvin M. McClung Digital Collection is an online archive of images from the Calvin M. McClung Historical Collection. Research, view, and find compelling digital images and artifacts from our rich East Tennessee history. Check back often; images are constantly being added.