Bedford County Courthouse in Shelbyville















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 Wartrace.

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. 


Drawing of Shelbyville by a Union soldier in 1863


Pauline Cushman

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.

Presbyterian Church 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 Historic District.  

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 apprehension.

Horse Mountain – 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.

Entrenchments – 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.

Bell Buckle, Fairfield, Beech Grove, Wartrace, Shelbyville, Tullahoma, Manchester,
Estill Springs/Allisonia, Decherd, Winchester, Cowan, Sewanee