THOMAS L. CLINGMAN
United States Senator, Confederate General, born at Huntsville, 9 mi. east, 1812. Clingman's Dome, 160 miles west, is named for him.
Thomas Lanier Clingman, United States Senator and Confederate General, was born at Huntsville, in present-day Yadkin County, in 1812. In addition to his political and military work, Clingman boosted the development of western North Carolina. The highest peak in the Great Smoky Mountain range and the third highest in the Appalachians was named Clingman’s Dome in his honor.
US 601 at SR 1001 (Courtney-Huntsville Road) south of Yadkinville
Original Date Cast:
© 2009 North Carolina Office of Archives & History — Department of Cultural Resources
In 1829, Clingman entered the University of North Carolina as a sophomore and graduated with honors in 1832. He read law with William Alexander Graham in Hillsborough and entered politics in 1835 as a representative from Surry County in the lower house of the legislature. Clingman aligned himself with the Whig minority and was not reelected in 1836.
Clingman moved to Buncombe County soon after his bid for reelection failed, and in 1840 was elected to the state senate, serving a single term before leaving office to serve as in the United States House. Clingman served in Congress until 1858, excluding 1845 and 1847. He was an avid Whig politician until 1847, when he began to drift from the Whigs because of disagreements over slavery. By 1854 he had split from the Whigs and joined the Democratic Party, supporting the Kansas-Nebraska Act.
In 1858 Clingman was appointed by the legislature to fill the U. S. Senate term of Asa Biggs. Although he was a supporter of the states rights to slavery, he was the last Southerner to leave the Senate in 1861. With the secession of North Carolina, Clingman served briefly as a commissioner to the provisional Confederate government in Montgomery. He soon was made a colonel in the North Carolina militia, despite his limited military experience, and was promoted to brigadier general by August 1862. Despite his unremarkable military career, he was prevented from returning to political office due to the provisions of his amnesty.
Following the war, Clingman worked to promote the popularity of the region, publicizing it through writing and lectures. For more than ten years, Clingman engaged in a fierce debate with Elisha Mitchell about which peak was the tallest in North Carolina. In 1858 geographer Arnold Guyot, having determined that what became Mount Mitchell was 39 feet taller, named Clingman’s Dome in Clingman’s honor. Clingman died in 1897 and is buried in Riverside Cemetery in Asheville.
Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, ed., Dictionary of American Biography (1946)
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, I, 387-388—sketch by H. Thomas Kearney
Bill Sharpe, A New Geography of North Carolina (1965)