Tullahoma is a city in Coffee and Franklin counties in the south-central part of the U.S. state of Tennessee. The population was 18,579 at the 2010 census. In 2012 the population went up to 18,739. It is the principal city of the Tullahoma micropolitan area, which consists of Coffee, Franklin, and Moore counties and is the largest micropolitan area in Tennessee.
Tullahoma was founded in 1852 as a work camp along the new Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad. Its name is derived from the Choctaw language, and means "red rock." An alternative explanation (see Sam Davis Elliott's Soldier of Tennessee and sources cited therein) of the name is that Peter Decherd, who donated the land for the railroad right-of-way (and was therefore given the right to name two stations along the line), named one station Decherd, and the other Tulkahoma (later corrupted to Tullahoma). Tulkahoma was the name of Decherd's favorite horse, which was itself named for an Indian chief his grandfather had captured. Tullahoma shared its name with Tullahoma, Mississippi which was later changed to Grenada, MS. Grenada, MS was also founded as a railroad town.
Prior to Tullahoma or the railroad, the area was settled by farmers. These farmers came mostly from Virginia and North Carolina. Early settlers were Moore, Deckerd, Anderson, Ragon, Montgomery, Ferrell, Stephenson, and Gunn. A spring known to the first settlers as Bottle Spring, and later as John Gunn's Spring is today Big Springs. This spring provided water for the steam locomotives[Historical & Biographical Sketches of Coffee County, TN].
In April 1861, Company B, 1st Regiment of Tennessee Volunteers formed Peter Turney's division in Tullahoma. The division joined Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. The division fought in the battles of Bull Run, Fredricksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Petersburg, and surrendered to U.S. Grant at Appomattox. The town became highly significant during the Civil War, and served as the headquarters for the Confederate Army of Tennessee in 1863. The campaign of that year, which ultimately delivered control of Middle Tennessee to the Union and led to the eventual capture of Chattanooga, is known as the Tullahoma Campaign.
Tullahoma was then still little more than a rough outpost, with no paved streets. 1863 was a wet year, and the place became known to the bedraggled troops of both sides as a place of endless mud. One witty officer on Confederate General William Hardee's staff is said to have written his own account of the origin of the name: "It is from two Greek words - 'Tulla' meaning mud, and 'Homa,' meaning more mud." The selection and use of Tullahoma as a headquarters by Confederate General Braxton Bragg has since been much criticized by military historians. Although the location was strategic with regard to the road and rail network, it had no strong natural defenses and little was done to fortify it during Bragg's occupation. Eventually the town was evacuated without a battle.
After the war, Tullahoma recovered slowly, but began to prosper from its vital railroad link. During this period, Tullahoma became renowned for its educational facilities, a rarity in the area at the time. At the turn of the 20th century, Tullahoma became a popular health destination, with many spas across town. Manufacturing grew up in the area, notably of shoes, clothing, and sporting goods. In 1924, the General Shoe Corporation was established there, which would eventually grow into Genesco Inc., a diversified apparel firm which is Tennessee's oldest listed firm on the New York Stock Exchange. From the early 1900s thru today, a variety of sports products have been manufactured in Tullahoma. Such products are baseballs, bats, and golf clubs by Campbell Mfg, Wilsons, Worth Sports, and Rawlings. In 1939, U.S. Route 41A was built through town, giving Tullahoma access to Nashville and Chattanooga.
In the early to mid-20th century, the area benefited from considerable federal investment and development, from the Tennessee Valley Authority to the establishment of Camp Forrest, an infantry training center and later POW camp, and Arnold Engineering Development Center (AEDC), where the Air Force and NASA did early wind tunnel testing. Later the state located two significant institutions of higher learning there, Motlow State Community College, and the University of Tennessee Space Institute.
Today manufacturing is a smaller part of the Tullahoma economy, but the town's growth has been steady, although slow, based on a mixture of education, services, tourism, and retail. The presence of AEDC and the Space Institute, combined with a convenient proximity to the aerospace center of Huntsville, Alabama, has bred a small but thriving aeronautical industry as well.
Tullahoma celebrated its 150th (sesquicentennial) anniversary on October 4, 2002.