Fort Anderson, Rocky Top, Tennessee
Fort Anderson, Rocky Top, Tennessee | Photo Credit: Fort Wiki - John Stanton

Very few people have heard the story of the Coal Creek War that once took place in the mountains of Tennessee. In the early 1890s, miners against the outsourcing of leased convict labor sprung over 2,500 men into battle. The result was the Tennessee Militia constructing a fort to defend the convicts. Over the course of a few years, the war led to the end of convict leasing and brought national attention to the issue. Today, Fort Anderson is preserved as a historic site in memory of those who fought.

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Just a few years following the conclusion of the Civil War, the Knoxville Iron and Coal Company began mining coal in Coal Creek, Tennessee (now known as Rocky Top). The miners were primarily of Welsh descent and worked hard in the dangerous conditions to earn a wage to provide for their families.

While on strike for better pay and working conditions, the miners at Coal Creek were replaced with leased convict labor from the state of Tennessee in 1877. The convict labor proved to be much less expensive to the company and they did not have to worry about strikes. In anger, the previous miners were frustrated that they were being replaced and their wages could not compete. Nevertheless, the miners continued operation alongside the convicts as there were not many other jobs in the area at that time.

Over the years between 1877 and 1892, small outbursts of violence occurred in the mine and around Coal Creek against the convicts. Finally, the violence took a turn after angry miners rounded up the convicts and their guards and forced them on a train to Knoxville. The miners also sent a telegram to Tennessee Governor John Buchanan to notify him that further leased convicts would not be tolerated in the mines.

Gov. Buchanan did not take the miners stand against the convict leasing program lightly. In response, he promised to restore order to Coal Creek by sending 84 men of the Tennessee Militia to found a fort and end the turmoil. The men were led by Colonel Kellar T. Anderson, whom the fort was named after.

Fort Anderson was established by the militiamen who eagerly cut down trees to use as a lookout over the small community of Coal Creek. However, by cutting down the trees, it made the militia an easy target for the miners who were camped out on the surrounding mountains. Immediately after realizing their weakness, the militia commanded the convicts to construct breastworks around the fort area.

Fort Anderson from Coal Creek, Insert Photo of Colonel Anderson
Fort Anderson from Coal Creek, Insert Photo of Colonel Anderson | Photo Credit: Public Domain – Harper’s Weekly August 27, 1892

Throughtout the summer of 1892, the war raged on. It is estimated that about 2,500 miners from around the Coal Creek area, other parts of Tennessee and even into Kentucky participated in the war. Nearby mines were soon involved in the uprising as similar labor issues were ongoing.

During the Coal Creek War, the news of the conflict has spread throughout the United States drawing attention to major newspapers such as the New York Times and the Washington Post. On one fateful day, a war correspondent was visiting Fort Anderson and insisted on getting a photo of a militiaman standing with a convict who had been helping build the breastworks around the fort. While posing for the photo, the militiaman’s rifle accidently went off, shooting and killing the convict. After this tragedy, it was determined no more photos of the war would be taken.

The militamen continued to try to protect the convicts from the miner uprisings. After Col. Anderson was captured and held hostage by the miners, Governor Buchanan sent General Samuel T. Carnes and over 580 officers and men to put a final end to the war.

Fort Anderson was not only strategic for being on top of a mountain overlooking Coal Creek, it also had weapons including cannons and Gatling guns. During one part of the war, Fort Anderson fired a cannon down into Coal Creek. Fortunately it did not cause major damage as it hit a muddy area, but proved to the miners that the town could be decimated quickly by cannon fire.

As the war neared an end, 27 miners were killed and over 500 captured. As the fighting ended, Fort Anderson was abandoned in 1893.

At the conclusion of the Coal Creek War, newly elected Tennessee Governor Peter Turney stood by his promise to build the nearby Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary. This removed the need to lease convicts for labor and ultimately allowing the coal miners to have their jobs back. The miners saw this as a win to the war. Tennessee was one of the first Southern states to end convict leasing, with remaining contracts ending in 1896.

Years after the tragic events in the Coal Creek War, there were two mining disasters that brought attention to the extremely dangerous conditions of the mines. One event was at Fraterville in 1902 and another was at Cross Mountain in 1911. The result of these two disasters led to approximately 300 miners being killed, many of whom were veterans of the Coal Creek War.

The site of Fort Anderson has been preserved as a landmark to those who fought in the Coal Creek War. Today, visitors can see the site where such a violet uprising took place and the Fort that was built to end the war once and for all.

Fort Anderson, Rocky Top, Tennessee
Fort Anderson, Rocky Top, Tennessee | Photo Credit: Fort Wiki – John Stanton

Plan Your Visit

Fort Anderson is located at 327 Vowell Mountain Ln, Rocky Top, TN 37769.

The site is free to visit and there is a gravel parking lot to access the site. Visitors can view some historic plaques and see the remaining breastworks and cannons amongst the wooded area.

If you enjoyed reading this post or have visited Fort Anderson before, leave a comment below or share this post on your favorite social media!

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Ashley Gary
Greetings, fellow adventurers! I'm Ashley, and I'm delighted to share my journeys and knowledge with you. As a passionate travel writer and devoted adventurer, I'm constantly fueled by the excitement of discovering new destinations and uncharted territories. With a heart full of curiosity and a suitcase packed with dreams, I've wandered through bustling marketplaces, hiked mist-covered mountains, and wandered down cobblestone streets in search of stories waiting to be told. Through my travel chronicles, I hope to not only transport you to the farthest corners of the globe but also inspire you to embrace the thrill of stepping into the unknown. Adventure awaits, and I can't wait to share it with you to help you find your adventure!


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