2nd North Carolina Mounted Infantry Regiment

Thomas' Legion
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2nd North Carolina Mounted Infantry Regiment, U.S.

A.K.A. Union 2nd North Carolina Mounted Infantry Regiment; 2nd North Carolina (Federal) Mounted Infantry; 2nd North Carolina Mounted, U.S.A.

Introduction

 

The Union 2nd North Carolina Mounted Infantry was known by many names, but as Home Yankees since the regiment often tramped and fought against their home communities that dared take up arms against the Union. To raise a weapon against your brother during the Civil War, well that actually happened if you donned Union blue and served in only one of two mounted infantry regiments from the Tar Heel State that had their ranks filled with men who were descendants of rebel stock, because they had dared raise a hand against King George during the American Revolution. The Federal 2nd North Carolina was formed by loyal Union men from western North Carolina and East Tennessee, while Confederate deserters formed a fraction of the regiment.

Stoneman's Raid Map of Battles in Civil War
Stoneman's Raid Map of Battles in Civil War.jpg
Map of Routes Traveled during Stoneman's Raid

Organization

 

The Union Army recruited two mounted infantry regiments within North Carolina, and both units, the 2nd North Carolina Union Mounted Infantry Regiment and 3rd North Carolina Mounted Infantry, were raised principally from Western North Carolina counties. Although the men who comprised the 2nd North Carolina Union Mounted Infantry were recruited from Western North Carolina and East Tennessee, Confederate deserters also formed a fraction of this unit. Recruitment of these regiments epitomized the Brother's War and the men serving in the two Union mounted regiments were commonly referred to as Home Yankees. Union Major General George Stoneman's command as it concerns Western North Carolina in 1865: Second North Carolina Mounted Infantry Regiment, Lieut. Colonel William C. Bartlett; Third North Carolina Mounted Infantry Regiment, Colonel George W. Kirk; First Brigade, Commanding Colonel Chauncey G. Hawley; Fourth Division, Department of the Cumberland, Brig. General Davis Tillson; District of East Tennessee, Major General George Stoneman. To view entire Union District of East Tennessee, including 1st and 2nd Brigades, and Brig. Gen. Gillem's Cavalry Division, see O.R., 1, 49, pt. II, pp. 538-539*.

 

*Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies; hereinafter cited as O.R.

2nd North Carolina Mounted Infantry Regiment
2nd North Carolina Mounted Infantry Regiment.gif
2nd North Carolina Mounted Infantry Regiment

Final Days

 

In April 1865, according to Official Records 1, 49, pt. II, pp. 407-408General Davis Tillson (Stoneman's Cavalry Raid) ordered Colonels Bartlett (Union 2nd North Carolina Mounted Infantry) and Kirk (Federal 3rd North Carolina) to advance through Western North Carolina and suppress the remaining Confederate forces in the mountains. General Tillson had attended the U.S. Military Academy and because of a severe foot injury his foot was amputated and subsequently he left West Point.

 

Lieutenant Robert T. Conley and Company F of Love's Regiment, Thomas' Confederate Legion would soon engage Colonel Bartlett's 2nd North Carolina Mounted Infantry at Waynesville. And during the night of May 6, 1865, while Bartlett and his men enjoyed the spoils of Waynesville, they would find themselves surrounded by both the Cherokee Battalion and Love's Regiment.

Lieut. Col. Bartlett**, a New Yorker and commanding colonel of the Union's 2nd North Carolina Regiment, was ordered to intercept and destroy Thomas' Legion. Bartlett's forces advanced the French Broad River and almost captured Asheville, but "without the prompt and vigorous steps taken by Colonel G. Westly Clayton" and the 62nd North Carolina Infantry Regiment, Asheville would have been captured. General Martin ordered Lt. Colonel Love and the infantry regiment to hold the Swannanoa Gap against the enemy approaching from Salisbury. In preparation for the Union assault, Love ordered the regiment to cut down trees as a defense, known as an abatis, and it was a good ambush.

 

While Love's Regiment of battle-hardened veterans was entrenched in good ground at Swannanoa Gap, they soon encountered General Gillem's entire, but under-strengthened, division (O.R., 1, 49, pt. II, p. 539). and on April 20, 1865, they struck the division with enfilading fire and forced its retreat to Mill Creek, McDowell County. General Stoneman recorded that Gillem "was opposed at Swannanoa Gap by a considerable force." (General Alvan Gillem's Official Report, O.R., 1, 49, pt. II, p. 446 and O.R., 1, 49, pt. 1, 335; General George H. Thomas's Official Report, O.R., 1, 49, pt. 1, 345.)

 

**Bartlett's highest attained rank was Lieut. Col., however, during informal communication it was common practice to address a Lieut. Col. as Colonel.

 

East of the Mississippi River this event is considered "The Last Shot" of the Civil War

 

On May 4, 1865, General Davis Tillson ordered Lt. Col. William Bartlett and the Union's Second North Carolina Mounted Infantry to Waynesville (O.R., 1, 49, 1, 339).

 

On May 6, 1865, Lieutenant Robert T. Conley's small company from Thomas' Legion smashed into Bartlett's regiment while advancing through the woods in White Sulphur Springs. While Conley was forwarding his men through the woods, it collided with Bartlett's regiment causing both sides to press the initiative. Conley's unit was sharpshooter company that had fought and tramped under Early during the Shenandoah Campaigns of '64. The men had quick, steady hands and were crack shots when they introduced themselves to the Union 2nd North Carolina.

 

The sharpshooters fired a single volley into Bartlett's troops, who had been scattering because the Rebs had formed and raised their firearms quickly. It resulted in the Union regiment retreating, but without one of its soldiers. In the Civil War the last man killed east of the Mississippi River was an unfortunate Union soldier named James Arwood at White Sulphur Springs, North Carolina.

Route of Union General Stoneman's Raid
Stoneman's Raid.jpg
(Stoneman's Raid Map)

After the conflict, Mr. Conley was known by locals as the Confederate who often said that "I still have James Arwood's gun as a relic." The Last Shot should also be defined as the last Union and Confederate forces in combat east of the Mississippi and should not be viewed or confused with the Union Army fighting bushwhackers and outlaws.

 

Colonel Thomas, commanding Thomas' Legion, was of short stature and in his 50s, as a boy adopted by a Cherokee chief, bilingual, a self-taught attorney who had fought and secured the rights of the Cherokee in North Carolina, a former state senator, businessman, and current Chief of the Eastern Cherokee. Thomas, who now donned a hat that was one-half Confederate colonel and the other Cherokee chief, ordered an articulate young man, Private John S. Rice, to exchange his Confederate uniform for civilian clothes, and then told the young Rice to infiltrate Bartlett's camp and to exaggerate and profess that a large Confederate force is located in the "Balsam Mountains to the south, and in the Smoky Mountains to their west, and in the New Found Mountains to the north." Later that night Chief Thomas had the Cherokees build hundreds of small bonfires in the surrounding mountains and then perform their customary dances. The war dance, known as the "te yo hi", was accompanied with their chilling "war whoops" until the morning of May 7th. The activity was created to make an impression that there was a massive Confederate force poised to converge on the much smaller Union force. The intimidating "Cherokee War Whoops and Dances" were common practice in Cherokee War Rituals. The May 6-7 psychological operations were crucial to the following serious of events.

 

On May 7th Colonel Bartlett was convinced that the mountains were filled with a massive Confederate force and a rather unknown quantity of savages desiring scalps, so a flag of truce was exchanged quickly with Thomas. Some reports state that Thomas initially sent the flag, while other reports indicate that Bartlett eagerly forwarded the flag in order to broker an agreement. The outcome however is concrete (see O.R., 1, 49, pt. II, p. 669), and there is evidence that Bartlett believed that he was confronted by superior numbers. According to Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, April 10, 1865, Union Maj. Gen. D. S. Stanley believed and recorded, "Thomas' Legion consisted of 800 infantry, 400 Indians, 1 four-gun battery with 150 men, and about 450 cavalry, and were stationed at Quallatown, North Carolina" (O.R.,1, 49, pt II, p. 309). 

 

Confederate General Martin (O.R., 1, 49, pt 1, p. 1048), Union General Stanley (O.R.,1, 49, pt II, p. 309), and the Thomas Legion's Lt. Col. Stringfield (Histories of the Several Regiments and Battalions from North Carolina in the Great War 1861-1865, Volume 3, page 761) all recorded similar strength for the Legion.

 

Apart attrition from deaths, diseases, wounds, and losses to Union prisons, the prisoners of war, sources show that most of the Thomas Legion deserters had rejoined the legion for the last hurrah. They had previously deserted or returned to Western North Carolina to perform Home Guard duties, meaning to protect their families from bushwhackers and Unionists. They had protected their homes and families during the area's bloody anarchy and had rejoined the legion for the remainder of the conflict. After all, the legion was initially formed with the intent to remain near home and defend East Tennessee and Western North Carolina.

"The Last Shot" of the American Civil War Memorial
Last Civil War Battle.jpg
Last Shot of the Civil War was at present-day Waynesville, North Carolina

On the morning of May 9th the Confederates desired another meeting with Bartlett, who was merely stalling with hopes that the Union 3rd North Carolina would arrive and reinforce his position. General Martin, who resided in Asheville until his death on October 4, 1878, with Colonels Thomas and Love, all met with Bartlett. Thomas also selected twenty to twenty-five of the most intimidating, largest Cherokees to attend. Thomas, who was continually wearing one-half hat colonel and the other Cherokee chief, pushed the meeting toward closure by having his Indian soldiers display their Cherokee customs by "stripping to their waists and then painting and feathering themselves." Stringfield admirably stated that "fortunately for our country, the Cherokee Indians inhabited the wildest section and were loyal to us to the last." Both the tongue-in-cheek and valid comment by Stringfield was according to Union papers that had been printing bizarre reports of savagery and much scalping from the Cherokee Indians, which, although false, did nothing to assist the Indians in obtaining their lands. The media continued to use one broad stroke of the brush to group all Native Americans as uncivilized and incapable of even citizenship until 1924, a right that had been extended to African Americans more than 50 years earlier, but many have heard that the first shall be last.

 

Bartlett, meanwhile, was impressed and intimidated by the Confederate leaders and their Cherokee escort, so he announced his terms stating that the Thomas Legion must relinquish its arms and equipment. Bartlett further added, with a personal promise, that he and his troops would also exodus the area. Thomas knew, however, that Kirk's 3rd North Carolina was in the vicinity and stealing the few horses, cows, and oxen remaining, and that the 3rd had just sacked nearby Franklin and Macon County. (See Stoneman's Cavalry Raid and Kirk's Raiders: Route, Civil War Murders, Depredations, Lawlessness, and Battles.) 

 

Thomas shared more words from his psychological warfare manual by affirming to Bartlett that "if your men don't surrender I will unleash the Indians to scalp your Yankee regiment!" The chief stressed that "the men of his Legion will not surrender their arms nor equipment." But Thomas knew Union reinforcements would shortly arrive and he even received additional information about General Lee's surrender. to Grant. Martin, a faithful North Carolinian indeed, quickly intervened and acknowledged that the parties could come to agreeable terms.

High Resolution Map of North Carolina Battlefields
North Carolina Civil War Battlefield Map.jpg
2nd North Carolina (Union) Mounted Infantry

Bartlett acknowledged that the "terms will be honored," but he did collect some guns and it was obviously a token gesture on behalf of Thomas to appease the Union generals. To state that Thomas was brilliant is correct, because he understood if Bartlett and Kirk did not present some Confederate guns and rifles to their superiors it could promote another Union raid through Western North Carolina soon, so presenting a few guns eventually appeased Union superiors, although they initially wanted more facts about so few guns. Thomas sent word to the Union inquiry and said that the Confederacy did not issue weapons to his men, but what they had was theirs, and they also needed their firearms to hunt and to maintain order in the area. See also O.R., 1, 49, ii, pp. 754-755.

 

Thomas' Legion of Indians and Highlanders is perhaps the only military unit to have captured an enemy occupied city in order to negotiate its own surrender. Where was Lt. Col. Stringfield? On April 25, 1865, Martin had sent written orders to Stringfield and ordered him to advance to Knoxville, with a flag of truce, and present General Stoneman with the “Western District of North Carolina's surrender terms.”

 

Official Order of Surrendering Confederate Forces

 

On May 10, 1865, Union troops capture Confederate President Jefferson Davis near Irwinville, Georgia.

May 12, 1865, was the "The Final Surrender" for Thomas' Legion. The First Battalion's Company E soldiers signed the parole papers beginning on May 12, with the last signature recorded on May 14, 1865 (Thomas had surrendered on May 9, 1865). Captain Stephen Whitaker and Company E, First Battalion of the Legion were stationed at nearby Franklin, North Carolina. Whitaker and his company had recently Skirmished at Hanging Dog, Cherokee County, and were advancing toward White Sulphur Springs to reinforce Thomas when they were intercepted. General Tillson had ordered Colonel Kirk and the Union's 3rd North Carolina to Franklin (O.R., 1, Vol. 49, pt. II, p. 689), and when they approached the battalion Whitaker formed a skirmish line. But he too received word of Thomas and Martin surrendering at Waynesville, and then Whitaker and his company also joined the ranks of the surrendered.

North Carolina Civil War Poster
North Carolina Civil War Poster.gif
North Carolina Civil War History

On May 14, 1865, the Legion's soldiers finished signing the paroles and they viewed Whitaker roll them up, tie them, place them in a Haversack, and give them to Kirk's Courier. "And thus at 10 o'clock in the morning of May 14, 1865, our Civil War Soldier Life ended and our Every Day Working Life began," exclaimed John H. Stewart of the Thomas Legion. The soldiers surrendered to Kirk understanding that additional fighting was futile and senseless, and, finally, the aftermath embraced the region.

The Union forces never subjugated Western North Carolina, and, to this day, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians bestows honor and gratitude to their great white chief.

Recommended Reading: Confederate Military History Of North Carolina: North Carolina In The Civil War, 1861-1865. Description: The author, Prof. D. H. Hill, Jr., was the son of Lieutenant General Daniel Harvey Hill (North Carolina produced only two lieutenant generals and it was the second highest rank in the army) and his mother was the sister to General “Stonewall” Jackson’s wife. In Confederate Military History Of North Carolina, Hill discusses North Carolina’s massive task of preparing and mobilizing for the conflict; the many regiments and battalions recruited from the Old North State; as well as the state's numerous contributions during the war. Continued below...

During Hill's Tar Heel State study, the reader begins with interesting and thought-provoking statistical data regarding the 125,000 "Old North State" soldiers that fought during the course of the war and the 40,000 that perished. Hill advances with the Tar Heels to the first battle at Bethel, through numerous bloody campaigns and battles--including North Carolina’s contributions at the "High Watermark" at Gettysburg--and concludes with Lee's surrender at Appomattox.

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Recommended Reading: War at Every Door: Partisan Politics and Guerrilla Violence in East Tennessee, 1860-1869. Description: One of the most divided regions of the Confederacy, East Tennessee was the site of fierce Unionist resistance to secession, Confederate rule, and the Southern war effort. It was also the scene of unrelenting 'irregular,' or guerrilla, warfare between Union and Confederate supporters, a conflict that permanently altered the region's political, economic, and social landscape. In this study, Noel Fisher examines the military and political struggle for control of East Tennessee from the secession crisis through the early years of Reconstruction, focusing particularly on the military and political significance of the region's irregular activity. Continued below...

Fisher portrays in grim detail the brutality and ruthlessness employed not only by partisan bands but also by Confederate and Union troops under constant threat of guerrilla attack and government officials frustrated by unstinting dissent. He demonstrates that, generally, guerrillas were neither the romantic, daring figures of Civil War legend nor mere thieves and murderers, but rather were ordinary men and women who fought to live under a government of their choice and to drive out those who did not share their views.

 

Recommended Reading: North Carolinians in the Era of the Civil War and Reconstruction. Description: Although North Carolina was a "home front" state rather than a battlefield state for most of the Civil War, it was heavily involved in the Confederate war effort and experienced many conflicts as a result. North Carolinians were divided over the issue of secession, and changes in race and gender relations brought new controversy. Blacks fought for freedom, women sought greater independence, and their aspirations for change stimulated fierce resistance from more privileged groups. Republicans and Democrats fought over power during Reconstruction and for decades thereafter disagreed over the meaning of the war and Reconstruction. Continued below...

With contributions by well-known historians as well as talented younger scholars, this volume offers new insights into all the key issues of the Civil War era that played out in pronounced ways in the Tar Heel State. In nine fascinating essays composed specifically for this volume, contributors address themes such as ambivalent whites, freed blacks, the political establishment, racial hopes and fears, postwar ideology, and North Carolina women. These issues of the Civil War and Reconstruction eras were so powerful that they continue to agitate North Carolinians today.

 

Recommended Reading: East Tennessee and the Civil War (Hardcover) (588 pages). Description: A solid social, political, and military history, this work gives light to the rise of the pro-Union and pro-Confederacy factions. It explores the political developments and recounts in fine detail the military maneuvering and conflicts that occurred. Beginning with a history of the state's first settlers, the author lays a strong foundation for understanding the values and beliefs of East Tennesseans. He examines the rise of abolition and secession, and then advances into the Civil War. Continued below...

 Early in the conflict, Union sympathizers burned a number of railroad bridges, resulting in occupation by Confederate troops and abuses upon the Unionists and their families. The author documents in detail the ‘siege and relief’ of Knoxville. Although authored by a Unionist, the work is objective in nature and fair in its treatment of the South and the Confederate cause, and, complete with a comprehensive index, this work should be in every Civil War library.
 

Recommended Reading: Bushwhackers, The Civil War in North Carolina: The Mountains (338 pages). Description: Trotter's book (which could have been titled "Murder, Mayhem, and Mountain Madness") is an epic backdrop for the most horrific murdering, plundering and pillaging of the mountain communities of western North Carolina during the state’s darkest hour—the American Civil War. Commonly referred to as Southern Appalachia, the North Carolina and East Tennessee mountains witnessed divided loyalties in its bushwhackers and guerrilla units. These so-called “bushwhackers” even used the conflict to settle old feuds and scores, which, in some cases, continued well after the war ended. Continued below...

Some bushwhackers were highly organized ‘fighting guerrilla units’ while others were a motley group of deserters and outliers, and, since most of them were residents of the region, they were familiar with the terrain and made for a “very formidable foe.” In this work, Trotter does a great job on covering the many facets of the bushwhackers, including their: battles, skirmishes, raids, activities, motives, the outcome, and even the aftermath. This book is also a great source for tracing ancestors during the Civil War; a must have for the family researcher of Southern Appalachia.

Sources: Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies; Vernon H. Crow, Storm in the Mountains: Thomas' Confederate Legion of Cherokee Indians and Mountaineers; Vernon H. Crow, The Justness of Our Cause; Walter Clark, Histories of the Several Regiments and Battalions from North Carolina in the Great War 1861-1865; John H. Stewart Papers (Private Collection); National Park Service: Soldiers and Sailors System; Weymouth T. Jordan and Louis H. Manarin, North Carolina Troops, 1861-1865; E. Stanly Godbolt, Jr. and Mattie U. Russell, Confederate Colonel and Cherokee Chief: The Life of William Holland Thomas; The Thomas Legion Papers (thomaslegion.net/papers.html); The Civil War Diary of William W. Stringfield, Johnson City, TN: East Tennessee Historical Society Publications; D. H. Hill, Confederate Military History Of North Carolina: North Carolina In The Civil War, 1861-1865; North Carolina Division of Archives and History; National Archives and Records Administration; Library of Congress; State Library of North Carolina; North Carolina Museum of History; Digital Library of Georgia; Museum of the Cherokee Indian; Official Website of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Nation; Duke University; University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill); University of Tennessee (Knoxville); Tennessee State Library and Archives; Western Carolina University; North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources; John R. Finger, The Eastern Band of Cherokees.

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