Town development in nineteenth-century
Tennessee occurred in two distinct phases. The first
centered around road and river transportation, and
securing a position as a county seat. The second
focused on the railroad. Shelbyville was part of the
first phase. Sited in 1810 as the seat of Bedford
County, which had been created in 1807, Shelbyville
quickly became a town of the first rank. The county
developed into the most populous in the state in 1830,
and was still the ninth richest (in terms of dollar
value of farms) in 1860. As the county seat,
Shelbyville was the center of this local prosperity,
and, as well, a vital link in the turnpike network
emanating from Nashville (the
Shelbyville-Murfreesboro-Nashville Pike completed in
1832) designed to make the Cumberland River city the
center of commerce in middle Tennessee and the
mid-South. Yet, the town found itself threatened in the
early 1850s because the railroad moving south from
Nashville bypassed it. In response, Shelbyville offered
to subscribe to stock in the road, if a branch would be
built from the mainline over to it—which was done, from
During the war, perhaps no town
symbolized the internal divisions within the South more
than Shelbyville. On the one hand, it was the lynchpin
in Bragg’s defensive network below the Highland Rim.
Leonidas Polk’s whole corps manned the entrenchments
above the town as the Confederate commander sought to
protect the main road net south of his army. Yet, the
community itself was fervently unionist and donned the
moniker “Little Boston.” Emblematic of this situation,
the actress Pauline Cushman was recruited to act as a
Union spy, gained copies of the layout of the
Confederate works around the town, but was caught and
sentenced to hang. Only Rosecrans’ invasion saved her.
of Shelbyville by a Union soldier in 1863
Historic and Historical Civil War Resources:
Church of the Redeemer
– Now an Episcopal Church, this building is believed to
be the oldest in town. It served as a Methodist Church
prior to and during the war.
Touted as one of the finest Greek Revival
churches in Tennessee, the structure was built in 1852
and is located on the edge of the East Shelbyville
Bedford County Courthouse
– located in the center of the town square, the
courthouse anchors the Historic District. The original
structure was built in 1812. Confederate soldiers were
believed to have accidentally burned the structure down in
1863 while occupying the town. The building that
stands today was built in 1934 after a fire destroyed
the 1875 courthouse. None of the business district
structures are Civil War period.
Skull Camp Bridge
Crossing – At the site where the bridge crosses
the Duck River, cavalry commander Joe Wheeler was
believed to have jumped in to save himself from capture
by the Union Army as he protected the Confederate rear
during their retreat on June 28th.
Old Bedford County Jail
– just off the square, the limestone jail is believed to
be an antebellum structure, though some documents date
the building to 1867. As local tradition has it, the
jail housed Union spy Pauline Cushman after her
– Located just east of town toward Wartrace, Horse
Mountain was used as a Confederate signal station. The
mountain was the far right end of the Confederate
entrenchments defending Shelbyville.
Willow Mount Cemetery
– A Confederate Monument stands over the graves of
almost 600 soldiers who died in the vicinity between
October 1862 and July 1863. S. A. Cunningham, founder
of the Confederate Veteran magazine in 1893 and a
Confederate veteran, is also buried at Willow Mount.
Downtown River Walk
– A new greenway, the River Walk follows along the banks
of the Duck River and will be used to interpret
Shelbyville’s historic past.
Shelbyville Railroad Station
– This late 19th century depot has been
restored and is on the National Register. It stands on
the original depot site that was burned in May of 1864
by Confederate bushwackers.
East Shelbyville Historic District
– The District contains numerous homes built between
1833 and 1859.
– located on the outskirts of town protecting the
northern flank, a series of these entrenchments remain,
running from Horse Mountain on the east, to the Duck
River to the southwest. All are on private property.