Hidden history in East TN
The flags that fly in a grove of trees on Highway 30, just of Interstate 75 in Athens, are rarely even noticed. But when they are, people scratch their heads. These flags are nothing like they have ever seen, and upon closer inspection, graves are discovered beneath the flags, and one in particular stands out. Unknown to many, it is in fact the only grave in McMinn County of a Civil War general.
Born in Warren County, Dec. 19, 1811, James T. Lane was the son of Col. Tidence Lane III and Abigail Hewes (Thomas) Lane, Grandson of Revolutionary Patriot Aqilla Lane and Great-grandson of the pioneer minister Reverend Tidence Lane. As a young man James T. Lane came with his father to McMinn County when land became available through the Hiwassee Purchase.
His father helped to lay out the town of Athens, took an active part in public affairs, and built the first brick merchant mill in the state. As an owner of a large number of slaves, he realized that they were only profitable in cotton-growing states, so in 1827 Col. Lane removed with his family to Brandon, Mississippi.
Lane remained in McMinn County and was married May 17,1837, at Athens, to Quintina Moss, daughter of John Moss, a pioneer merchant of McMinn County who had come from Virginia. Through this marriage Lane became the owner of large tracts of land and several slaves. His farm took in most of the immediate area of the present day I-75 Exit 49 where he raised fine racing thoroughbreds and operated several horse racing tacks in the area. His home stood near the present Waffle House.
Lane served as a state senator, serving in the 33rd and 34th (Confederate) General Assemblies, 1859-63; representing counties of McMinn, Meigs, Monroe, and Polk. At the beginning of 1861, Lane was a member of a group of influential citizens who drafted a resolution that supported remaining with the Union, but after Lincoln’s call for troops against the South, many changed their opinion. Lane was among the state legislators that adopted the ordinance of secession in May 1861, which was approved by referendum in June. His Confederate sympathies brought him into direct conflict with those of the Union persuasion. Lane once brought charges against future Governor and Senator William G. “Parson” Brownlow due to his fiery Unionist activities.
Brownlow lived in Knoxville but often preached at the Methodist Church in Athens and was active in McMinn County. Later in the War, Brownlow would confiscate property belonging to Lane, citing him as a “bitter and notorious Rebel”.
Lane was commissioned a General in the Tennessee Home Guard. His son William joined the Confederate army at the age of 16 and was a member of the Lane Guards, a company of 1st Tennessee Cavalry named in honor of his father and organized by John Gouldy, who drilled and mounted this unit on thoroughbred horses from General Lane’s own farm and who bore their Lane Guards emblem on banners made by local women. William was wounded during the war, and later served as a bodyguard to Jefferson Davis, being present at the end of the war when Davis was captured. After the war, William returned to McMinn County and worked as an attorney.
James T. Lane remained in McMinn County as well, returning to his successful farming and race horse ventures. He died Aug. 30, 1872, and is buried in the Lane family graveyard, three and half miles northwest of Athens at the intersection of Decatur Pike and Whitaker Road across from Shoney’s. This is the grave that brings so many questions, where a marker and flags commemorate his Civil War service.
One is the flag of the Confederacy. The other, a blue flag with a lone white star, often brings questions as to its meaning. It is the “Bonnie Blue”, the unofficial flag of the Confederacy, it having previously been used in Florida and Texas as a symbol of revolt. It is flown here, one of the few places in East Tennessee that it may wave, recalling the life of a Civil War General.
Joe D. Guy is an author, newspaper columnist, and historian residing in McMinn County, TN. He may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or at PO Box 489, Englewood, TN 37329.