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Why is Tennessee Known As the Volunteer State?

Tennessee earned the "Volunteer State" moniker from its spirited citizens' pivotal role in the War of 1812, showcasing their unwavering readiness to serve. This legacy of bravery and patriotism continues to define Tennessee's identity. How does this spirit manifest in the state's culture today? Join us as we explore the enduring impact of Tennessee's volunteer heritage.
Cathy Rogers
Cathy Rogers

Due to its natural resources and products it manufactures, the state of Tennessee has had many nicknames, including the "Big Bend State" and "Hog and Hominy State." At one time it was even dubbed "The Mother of Southwestern Statesmen" due to its preponderance of government leaders throughout the years. But the "Volunteer State" is by far the longest-lasting nickname for Tennessee.

By most accounts, Tennessee first earned its nickname as the volunteer state during the War of 1812 due to the large numbers of Tennesseans who volunteered to serve in battle against Great Britain. Although the men never faced battle, General Andrew Jackson brought the soldiers home at his own expense. Later, Jackson led 2000 Tennessee volunteer soldiers in a successful battle against the British in 1815 at the Battle of New Orleans. Following such success, as many as 30,000 Tennesseans again volunteered in the Mexican War.

Before becoming president, Gen. Andrew Jackson led a group of volunteers from Tennessee against the British in the Battle of New Orleans in 1815.
Before becoming president, Gen. Andrew Jackson led a group of volunteers from Tennessee against the British in the Battle of New Orleans in 1815.

As years passed, Tennessee residents have been called "Big Benders," "Butternuts,"and "Volunteers." The name "Butternuts" referred to the color of the uniforms of Tennessee soldiers during the Civil War. "Big Benders" references the area of the Tennessee River, called the Big Bend River by Native Americans. In reference to the volunteer state, the nickname volunteer is often shortened to “vols.”

Davy Crockett is one of one of the most famous volunteers from the volunteer state. Known as the “King of the Wild Frontier,” Crockett was a politician and a soldier. He first enlisted as a rifleman in 1813. Later, Crockett entered politics. In the first quarter of the 19th century, he served two terms in the United States House of Representatives. Another famous resident from the volunteer state is Alvin York, who was influential in World War I. York was responsible for capturing and killing many enemy troops.

Tennesseans continued to be avid volunteers in World War II, both at war and on the home front in nearby Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where the Manhattan Project produced the first atomic bomb. One of the earliest known references of the volunteer nickname is by Jacob Hartsell, a captain in the 2nd East Tennessee militia. He wrote a poem, The Brave Volunteer, based on his experience alongside fellow Tennesseans in battle.

In addition to the volunteer state nickname, the athletic teams of The University of Tennessee are also known as the Volunteers. The student yearbook of the university was first named The Volunteer in 1897. The football team was first identified as the Volunteers by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 1902 when referring to a game between the University of Tennessee and Georgia Tech. By 1905, Tennessee announced the Volunteers as its official sports team name. The female sports teams are dubbed the “Lady Volunteers.”

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is Tennessee called the Volunteer State?

Tennessee earned the nickname "The Volunteer State" during the War of 1812 due to its soldiers' prominent role and willingness to participate in the Battle of New Orleans. This reputation was further solidified during the Mexican-American War when the state exceeded its quota of volunteers, showcasing the citizens' spirit of volunteerism and patriotism.

What historical event solidified Tennessee's reputation as the Volunteer State?

The Mexican-American War in 1846-1848 solidified Tennessee's reputation as the Volunteer State. When the federal government requested 2,800 volunteers from Tennessee, the state responded with a staggering 30,000 men, greatly exceeding the call and demonstrating the Tennesseans' readiness to serve.

How did Tennessee's role in the War of 1812 contribute to its nickname?

During the War of 1812, particularly at the Battle of New Orleans, Tennessee's volunteer soldiers, led by General Andrew Jackson, played a crucial role in securing victory. Their bravery and commitment to service contributed significantly to the state's emerging identity as the Volunteer State.

Are there any other significant conflicts that reinforced Tennessee's nickname?

Yes, besides the War of 1812 and the Mexican-American War, Tennessee's volunteer spirit was also evident during the Civil War. Although the state was divided, Tennesseans on both sides of the conflict volunteered in large numbers, with an estimated 187,000 Tennesseans serving in Confederate units and 31,000 in Union forces, according to the Tennessee Encyclopedia.

Does Tennessee's nickname have relevance in modern times?

Yes, Tennessee's nickname continues to hold relevance today, reflecting not only a historical legacy but also the ongoing community spirit and volunteerism present in the state. Modern initiatives and organizations within Tennessee often embody this spirit by actively engaging in community service and disaster relief efforts, further perpetuating the state's well-deserved moniker.

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Discussion Comments


What was the nickname of the University of Tennessee's football team prior to 1905? The blanks?

Seriously, though, the willingness of Tennessee residents to take up arms is impressive. "Volunteer State" fits that bunch quite well.

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    • Before becoming president, Gen. Andrew Jackson led a group of volunteers from Tennessee against the British in the Battle of New Orleans in 1815.
      By: David Gilder
      Before becoming president, Gen. Andrew Jackson led a group of volunteers from Tennessee against the British in the Battle of New Orleans in 1815.