William Holland Thomas' Legion (1864-1865)

Thomas' Legion
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In 1864, Governor Zebulon Vance wrote that "the condition of Western North Carolina is deplorable." He was referring to the bushwhackers and outlaws, and because there was no food many were starving. While at his home in Cherokee County during sick leave on January 3, 1864, Lt. Col. William C. Walker was awakened and murdered by outlaws. The cold-blooded murder of the unit's battalion commander was just one example of Western North Carolina's anarchy during the Civil War. (Unharmed, Mrs. Walker died on November 4, 1898.) Walker's murder also altered Col. Thomas' view of the war and underscored his initial position and pleas to protect North Carolina's western counties. Thomas retained the Cherokee Life Guard, in part, because of Walker's death. During the winter of 1863-64, Thomas and the Cherokee Battalion operated against raiders and bushwhackers in the North Carolina mountains, while the legion fought bushwhackers in East TN. (O.R., Series 1,  Volume 32, part II, p 611.) See also conditions in Western North Carolina: O.R., IV, pt. 2, pp. 732-734, O.R., 1, 53, pp. 324-336O.R., 1, 32, pt. II, pp. 610-611, and Shelton Laurel Massacre.

Cherokees Skirmish Union Cavalry at Deep Creek N.C. - February 2, 1864

In early February 1864, Union Brig. Gen. Samuel D. Sturgis, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy in 1846 and a veteran of the battles of Antietam and Fredericksburg, ordered Major Francis M. Davidson and 600 of the 14th Illinois Cavalry (with three pieces of artillery) to pursue and destroy Thomas' Legion. Chief Thomas and three companies (Cherokee companies with some whites) of the legion had returned to Cherokee County for Home Guard and recruitment duties. The 600 advancing horsemen totally surprised Thomas and his men. Ten miles west of Quallatown, at Deep Creek (Bryson City area), the Indians swiftly formed a skirmish line and for one hour held-at-bay the advancing Union cavalry. Once the soldiers exhausted their ammunition, they retreated into the "rugged mountainous country," and, in one report, Thomas reported their losses as 2 Indians killed and 18 prisoners. (Thomas would later report that 5 Indians had died.) He added, the Yankees suffered the loss of 1 captain, 1 lieutenant, 6 killed, several wounded, and 1 captured. On the other hand, Davidson exclaimed to Sturgis that the "nest of Indians may be considered as entirely destroyed, nearly 200 of them having been killed." He also reported that the Confederates suffered several wounded, and that they captured 54 Rebels. The Union report, to have finally wiped out the Cherokees, is at best an exaggeration. And did Davidson really capture 54 Rebels? While the claim was never sustained by Thomas or by any Confederate report, there was no additional Union record or report to corroborate Davidson's outlandish numbers. Since the Union officer overstated the Cherokee fatalities in the exact report, it is fair to say that Davidson also embellished the total number of men captured. Although Col. Thomas mourned the death of his men, he found humor in the Union boasters. And how do we reconcile the disparities between Thomas' two after battle statements? His casualty reports were about three weeks apart, and during these weeks, 3 wounded Indians had died. (Union Report, O.R., 32, I, pp. 137-138; Thomas' Report, O.R., 1, 53, p. 314; and Col. Palmer's Report, O.R., 1, 32, pt. II, p. 749).
 
On Feb. 22, 1864, Maj. (later Lt. Col.) James A. McKamy wrote to Samuel Cooper (A&IGO). He stated that on Feb. 14, 1864, Capt. Garner N. Loudermilk of Company H, Walker's Battalion deserted to the Federals, and McKamy further stated that on Feb. 14, 1864, Loudermilk also signed the United States' Oath of Allegiance. In the same correspondence, McKamy stated that Captain William B. Nelson of Company B, Walker's Battalion deserted and refused to return to the command. These men were the highest ranking officers to desert from Thomas' Legion.

Map of North Carolina Civil War Battles
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Map of Principal North Carolina Battlefields in the Civil War

Quallatown, N.C., February 28, 1864.
TO THE GOVERNOR AND COUNCIL OF SOUTH CAROLINA:
    SIRS: At the commencement of the present war I urged the Carolinians to make preparations for defending the passes in the Smoky Mountain for their common protection, and to aid as far as I could in keeping back the Northern vandals, by the express permission of President Davis, I raised a Legion of Indians and Highlanders. Last fall when East Tennessee was unfortunately surrendered to the enemy, I, with the Indians, was ordered to fall back on the Smoky Mountains to check the progress of the enemy.
[In the same letter, Thomas also emphasized that the Indians were starving and he further pleaded with South Carolina’s officials to immediately send the Cherokees provisions of corn, flour, rice, beans, grain, and cotton for clothes. He further offered to pay for these provisions at his own expense. Should food fail to arrive the Indians will certainly die and Thomas’ Legion will lack sufficient force to protect South Carolina’s northwestern region. Hence, the Legion will retreat across the “Blue Ridge Line” and Lincoln will have access to subjugate South Carolina. Subsequently, the South Carolinians met his requests, thus postponing the Indians’ starvation.]
Your obedient servant,
WM. H. Thomas
Colonel Thomas’ Legion Indians and Highlanders

  Battle of Carter's Depot Tennessee - April 25, 1864
 
The Cherokee Battalion was with Thomas, while the infantry regiment and Walker's battalion were currently assigned to Jackson's Brigade (O.R., 1, 32, pt. III, p. 802), and located in East Tennessee.
Abstract from return of the District of Western North Carolina, Col. John B. Palmer, C. S. Army, commanding, for the month of April, 1864; headquarters Asheville, N.C. 

[Included in the command] 

Mouth of Tuckaseegee, Col. William H. Thomas, commanding Thomas’ Legion*

Present for duty: 7 officers, 196 men; Aggregate present, 206; Aggregate present and absent 283.

*[O.R. offers a footnote] The larger portion of Thomas’ Legion is in Brigadier-General Jackson’s Brigade in East Tennessee. The three companies reported here are composed of Indians principally (O.R., 1, Volume 32, pt. III, p. 865).

On April 1, 1864, Gen. Longstreet's army returned to Richmond, while several of Maj. Gen. Burnside's regiments marched toward Carter's Depot, TN. On April 26, William Stringfield recorded in his diary: "Carter's Depot, Tenn—Yesterday & today are noted ones for this place & people. The Yankees came & attacked us 700 strong [The legion's surgeon, John Lawing, recorded enemy strength at 2000] yesterday morning about 11 am—The 3rd Indiana & 9th Michigan Cavalry [and 2 pieces of artillery]. This first demonstration was at Deavault’s Ford below this—the river being too deep to ford—they returned to this point & “pitched in” to us. They were han[d]somely repulsed at all points. I ran some narrow risks—but a Kind Providence shielded me through all, our loss 5 captured—11 Killed. Theirs 3 captured 3 killed & 17 wounded. One report[ed] their loss at 19 Killed and 27 wounded besides several drowned at the ford [Ninth Michigan fatalities included one major and one lieutenant]. Ed Gammond’s Co is said to have acted gallantly. Our men all did their duty well. The fight lasted till dark last Evening & from day light till 9 am to day, after which the Enemy retired towards Jonesboro [The enemy had charged Thomas' Legion and hand-to-hand combat ensued, with the Yankees ultimately being forced to retreat]. I was ordered by Gen Jackson to follow them a few miles which I did to Johnson’s Depot & learned that they had finally left. So much for standing [and defending] ones ground & fighting when the occasion presents like this. Levi’s Battery & the 44th Tenn Volunteers reinforced us this evening. So let the Yankees come." In the Western Democrat, Charlotte, North Carolina, dated May 10, 1864, Surgeon John Lawing said that "Thomas' Legion met them heroically and repulsed them in a crippled condition."

Headquarters Armies Confederate States
May 2, 1864.
Respectfully returned to honorable Secretary of War. There is great difficulty in sparing any regular force from our main points of operation. Several hundred men, now in the Department of East Tennessee, belonging to what is known as Thomas' Legion, and now called a brigade, under Brigadier-General Jackson, might well be spared and sent to the colonel [Thomas] in Western North Carolina. From the condition of the command, as reported by a recent inspecting officer, General Jackson should be relieved from it and sent to some point where he can be in contact with good and disciplined officers and troops. The reserves both in North and South Carolina should be urged to completion and be used to meet these raids. By a recent heavy movement of cavalry in General Polk's command to General Johnston's left flank I hope the latter may be able to extend his right and thus afford more protection. That portion of Brig. Gen. John H. Morgan's former command which has not yet joined him might in this way be moved in his direction and be near its ultimate destination. A common commander to all that line would tend to give it strength, and our cavalry in East Tennessee should be pushed forward to the enemy's outposts as near to Knoxville as possible. By this the main road to North Carolina will be covered and the enemy's rear threatened. To make the latter the suggestion more operative I recommend the promotion of Brig. Gen. William E. Jones as major-general, and his assignment to the Department of Tennessee, both Buckner and B. R. Johnson having been removed. (See also Col. Black's report in O.R., Series 1, Volume 53, page 333.)
Braxton Bragg, General.

Map of Virginia Civil War Battles of 1864
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1864 Virginia Civil War Map

"The weather was very cold and we were thinly clad in the clothes we had worn all summer. We had no underwear or socks and our shoes were badly worn." Private John H. Stewart, Infantry Regiment, Thomas' Legion, while campaigning in the Shenandoah Valley.

On May 5, 1864, the War Department issued Special Order 105 (O.R., 36, II, pp. 958-959 and O.R., Series 1, Vol. 39, pt. II, p. 579) ordering Thomas' Legion to Western North Carolina; this action was in response to the deplorable acts of the bushwhackers and outlaws. It was also designed to defend the region against a Union attack. However, Federal movements in the Shenandoah Valley postponed the order. Subsequently, Thomas' Legion would return to Western North Carolina with Special Order 267 (O.R., 1, 43, pt. II, p. 919). During the 1864 Valley Campaign, General Early's Army of the Valley absorbed the majority of the Department of East Tennessee and Western District of North Carolina. By transferring the bulk of both commands into the Valley (O.R., IV, III, 520), it allowed bushwhackers to plunder, at will, East Tennessee and Western North Carolina. One incident, the Shelton Laurel Massacre, epitomized the region's lawlessness and anarchy.

Saltworks Campaign - Virginia

Thomas' Legion departed Tennessee (O.R., 1, 39, pt. II, p. 582) and on May 9 arrived in Saltville, Virginia, to defend the Saltworks. (O.R., 39, II, 576.) The legion remained in the Saltville area until June 1, 1864, and remained in a defensive position, and, although it didn't engage the enemy, the unit suffered losses. On May 23, while in Saltville, Fifer Charles Burris of the regiment's Company E died of disease. Burris enlisted in May 1861, or three years earlier, and "Miss Bell Pierce, a niece of Major General Stuart, sent a wreath of flowers to be placed upon Charles Burris's coffin." Meanwhile, the Union army conducted numerous incursions with the objective to destroy the Virginia Saltworks: Battle of Cloyd's Mountain, May 9, 1864; Battle of Cove Mountain, May 10, 1864; First Battle of Saltville, October 2, 1864; Battle of Marion, December 17-18, 1864; and the final destruction of the Saltworks during the Second Battle of Saltville, December 20-21, 1864.

 
On June 5, 1864, Maj. Gen. David Hunter crushed the smaller Confederate army at Piedmont, killing the Confederate commander, Brig. Gen. "Grumble'' Jones, and capturing nearly 1,000 prisoners. Piedmont was an unmitigated disaster for Confederates in the Valley. Confederate Generals Imboden, Vaughn, and Jones left a gap greater than a 1/4 mile wide in their center. Intentional or not, it was their undoing. This breach caused Thomas' Legion to receive the Union’s massive frontal assault while leaving Imboden and Vaughn's brigades as bewildered spectators. During the fight, while the Virginians broke in confusion and retreated rapidly through the ranks of the Thomas Legion, the fighting Highlanders offered stiff resistance before withdrawing before the advancing Union army. Love ordered Stringfield to “Rally as many troops as you can and drive off the enemy!” Brig. Gen. John Imboden wrote in his diary, “I asked Stringfield, will your men fight again?” Stringfield replied, “We will fight like hell if you give us the chance!” While Stringfield and about 80 Tennesseans rushed to the fence and hastily pulled down the rails for cover, 2,200 cavalry of Maj. Gen. Julius Stahel’s First New York Cavalry Division advanced swiftly upon the Rebel position. (O.R., 1, 37, pt. I, p. 77.) While the men of the legion fired several volleys, a supporting artillery battery, with great affect, began pounding the approaching horsemen. The cavalry pulled back, regrouped, and once more pressed into shrapnel and small arms of the Thomas Legion. Stahel, who had served in the Austrian army before emigrating to the U.S. in 1859, was wounded during this engagement and therefore awarded the Medal of Honor in 1893. (O.R., 1, 37, pt. 1, pp. 613-614). During the fight, Commanding General Jones shouted to Love's fighting infantry, "Brave Carolinians I will bring you help!" He soon returned with the Thirty-sixth and Sixtieth Virginia Regiments—but it was too late. While riding his steed and rallying the Highlanders and Virginians, Jones was killed instantly when a bullet struck his head. (O.R., 1, 37, pt. 1, p. 606, O.R., 37, I, pp. 94-95 and O.R., 37, I, pp. 150-151). Among the legion's killed were Captain Julius M. Welch, Company E; Lieutenant James Conley, Company F; Lieutenant Adam Peck, Company D; and Sergeant Welch, Company F.
 
The battlefield was littered with countless dead horses and men. “I was surrounded by two cavalrymen and with sabers drawn the Federals yelled, surrender, you damn rebel! I answered them with pistol shots and struck the second one with my sword! He fell to the ground and then he surrendered,” recalled Stringfield. Our "loss in prisoners was great because of the loss of our leaders and guides who knew the country and our men were picked up by the enemy's cavalry. Finally, Brigadier-General J. C. Vaughn, of the Tennessee troops, succeeded in taking our men off of the field with little confusion and no loss of guns or wagons. This halted their pursuit. Our forces slowly and sullenly retreated towards Staunton."
 
Stringfield would later refer to this fight as the Battle of New Hope, a location 1 mile from the heaviest fighting at Piedmont, because New Hope was where the other Confederate flank extended. It is also an example of why some battles have different names. Stringfield, however, was quite accurate in his diary entry on June 5, 1864: "Battle of New Hope. Gen W. E. Jones commanded our army & placed us before the Enemy who attacked us vigorously at 9am. We repulsed every assault gloriously till 3 P.M. when our right wing held by the 60th Va Regt. gave way & threw the line into confusion—giving the field to the Enemy. My men did well. Our loss will reach 100 Killed—250 wounded & 955 prisoners. [The] Enemy’s loss [was] very great in Killed & wounded. We lost no wagons or artillery. [The] Loss in my Regt.—15 Killed, 24 wounded & 21 missing." His revised report in 1901 for Clark's Regiments stated the "loss of the Sixty-ninth was 20 killed, 30 wounded, and 21 missing, and the loss of a small battery of four guns."

 
On the afternoon of June 17, Hunter's army reached the outskirts of Lynchburg, even as Lt. Gen. Early's vanguard began to arrive by rail from Charlottesville. After a brief, but fierce engagement, Maj. Gen. Hunter retreated into West Virginia. Early pursued for two days, returned to the Valley, and then advanced his troops north to the Potomac River. Stringfield stated that they "fell back to Rockfish Gap, awaiting  another battle with the enemy; but the enemy preferred burning houses and desolating the country, which they did at Staunton, Lexington, and Lynchburg." Then, Lt. Gen. Breckinridge resumed command of the Confederates and they advanced through Rockfish River, Amherst Court House and to Lynchburg. At Lynchburg, the legion took position in breastworks, was reinforced by Early, and then the Confederates took the offensive. Stringfield stated that they rapidly followed "Hunter, who being greatly pressed and, as he [Hunter] says, out of ammunition, dodged off into and went down the Kanawha Valley, leaving our forces in the undisputed possession of the Shenandoah Valley."

Richmond, Virginia, Civil War Map
Richmond, Virginia, Civil War Map.jpg
Map of Greater Richmond, Virginia, Civil War Battles

Map of Virginia Civil War Battlefields
Map of Virginia Civil War Battlefields.jpg
Map of Major Civil War Battles in Virginia in 1864

Attached to Smith's Brigade, Breckinridge's Division, the Thomas Legion passed through Staunton, New Market, Harrisonburg, Strasburg, and Winchester. Stringfield exclaimed that, while, "Here we met an ovation indeed. The entire populace crowded the streets and nearly wild with joy; mothers, wives and sisters embraced sons, husbands and brothers." And, "On to Washington was the army's cry!" The legion dined at Martinsburg on July 4; crossed the Potomac and camped on the ole Antietam battlefield on July 5; arrived on the outskirts of Harper's Ferry on July 6-7; passed Middletown on July 8; and to Frederick City on July 9. On July 9, Lt. Gen. Early defeated a hastily organized Union force under Maj. Gen. Lew Wallace at the Monocacy River (Wallace was author of the 1880 epic classic Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ). Wallace retreated toward Baltimore, leaving "open the road to Washington." Although the Thomas Legion was listed in the Monocacy Order of Battle. it was held in reserve and didn't engage in this fight. After Monacacy, Early continued toward Washington.

 

On the afternoon of July 11, Early's command, numbering no more than 12,000 infantry, demonstrated before Washington's fortifications, which were weakly manned by garrison troops, and demanded its surrender. Although Early captured the defenses outer lines, veteran reinforcements (VI and XIX Corps), diverted from Grant's army to meet the threat on the capital, began arriving at mid- day, and by July 12, fully manned the Washington entrenchments. After a brief demonstration at Fort Stevens, Early called off an attack on the capital. The Confederate army withdrew that night, recrossed the Potomac River at White's Ford and entered the Valley by Snickers Gap. Maj. Gen. Horatio Wright, commanding the pursuing Union army, attempted to engage Early. "We burned the palatial mansion of Postmaster-General Blair, in retaliation for the burning, by Hunter, of Governor Letcher's residence at Lexington, Va., one month before," Stringfield recalled. Many in Early's army were "anxious to enter Washington, but feared for its citizens because so much misery had been brought on the South by the vile mis-creants of Washington." “We didn’t take Washington,” Early told his staff officers, “but we scared Abe Lincoln like Hell!”

Battle of Cool Spring Virginia - July 17-18, 1864

When Lt. Gen. Jubal Early aborted the campaign to sack Washington, Union cavalry approached the rear of the Confederate army. "Old Jube" ordered sharpshooters from Thomas' Legion to engage the cavalry. Lt. Robert T. Conley and twenty-five marksmen from Company F of Love's Regiment were instrumental in forcing the enemy across the river. Union Col. Thoburn, 1st West Virginia, had thought  that they were unobserved by the Confederates, until a "sharp musketry fire from the opposite bank was opened upon the head of the column as it approached the river." (O.R., Vol. 37, pt. 1, pp. 290-292). The Battle of Cool Spring was also known as Snicker's Ferry, Snicker's Gap, Island Ford, & Parkers Ford. Lt. Conley and Thomas' Legion were complimented for their "coolness and bravery in the fight," stated Brig. Gen. Gabriel C. Wharton to James R. Love, December 8, 1864. Meanwhile, Maj. Gen. Ramseur, who at 25 was the youngest Confederate general, engaged the Union army at Rutherford's Farm.

 
Under a directive to prevent Union reinforcements from reaching Grant, Early was quick to take advantage of Wright's departure. He attacked and routed Crook's command at Second Kernstown on July 24, and pressed the retreating Union forces closely. When Crook retreated toward Harpers Ferry, Early sent his cavalry to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, to exact tribute or burn the city. The citizens refused to comply, and McCausland's cavalry burned the center of the town in retaliation for Hunter's excesses in the Valley. Love's Regiment was attached to Brig. Gen. Wharton's division when it attacked the Union right flank. Stringfield said, we were "advancing upon the enemy–touching elbows with the "Old Stonewall Brigade" on our left–and when known to our men, a shout rent the air. The fruit of this victory was the capturing of 1,200 to 1,500 prisoners, and several stands of arms, wagons, cannon, etc. Generals Breckinridge, Wharton and Col. Tom Smith, our Corps, division and brigade leaders; and Colonel Love, Major McKamy, and all company officers and men, did well and were conspicuous for gallantry." (Clark, Histories of the Several Regiments and Battalions From North Carolina in the Great War 1861-65, Vol. III, p. 751.)

Early's cavalry assisted in the Battle of Folck's Mill (Cumberland) Maryland on August 1 and at the Battle of Moorefield (Oldfields) West Virginia on August 7. Stringfield reported that the enemy's "cavalry was daring, but their infantry were not of much force, made up of city scum and foreign mercenaries." On August 18 the Confederates gave the enemy battle at Kernstown and forced their retreat to two miles north of Winchester; the Thomas Legion's "regiment led in this assault upon and capture of the fort, northwest of the town." Lt. Gen. John C. Breckinridge was corps commander; he wore a linen duster and, while on foot, led the charge which continued till after dark. In this charge a cannon ball passed under Stringfield, "tearing a great hole in the ground." The Thomas Legion captured thirty Dutch or Hessian pickets and then halted on the north side of the fort. Subsequently, the Thomas Legion adjusted their line and reformed to a half mile of Breckinridge's Corp. While the Thomas Legion infantry's sharpshooters skirmished with the enemy near historic Charles Town at the Battle of Summit Point, West Virginia on August 21, Generals Early and Anderson launched a converging attack against Sheridan. As Early struck the main body of Union infantry at Cameron's Depot, Anderson moved north from Berryville against Sheridan's cavalry at Summit Point. Results of the fighting were inconclusive, but Sheridan continued to withdraw. The next day, Early advanced boldly on Charles Town, panicking a portion of the retreating Union army but, by late afternoon, Sheridan had retreated into formidable entrenchments at Halltown, south of Harpers Ferry, where he was beyond attack. On August 25, two divisions of Sheridan's cavalry intercepted Early's advance, but the Confederate infantry forced them back to the Potomac River in a series of actions along Kearneysville- Shepherdstown Road. Early's intentions were revealed, however, and on August 26, Sheridan's infantry attacked and overran a portion of the Confederate entrenchments at Halltown, forcing Anderson and Kershaw to withdraw to Stephen-son's Depot. Early abandoned his raid and returned south, establishing a defensive line on the west bank of Opequon Creek from Bunker Hill to Stephenson's Depot. On August 28 the legion engaged Sheridan's cavalry and also lost 25 men to an ambush. Early, "expecting only a small skirmish, was leisurely riding along with his staff." The legion's sharpshooters, being severely pressed, were reinforced by the entire Fifty-first Virginia Regiment, which was brigaded with the legion. Generals Breckinridge and Wharton, corps and division commanders, respectively, were with their staff, "when suddenly a battery of several guns was unmasked close upon them. Several men and horses were killed and wounded in the rapid flight down the half mile lane." Breckinridge, mounted on a splendid Kentucky thoroughbred, never lost his bearing. He said to Stringfield, "Major, look out for yourself and tell General Wharton to bring up his division and post it behind that hill, pointing to a gently rolling hill in the front, and hurl those fellows back over there, pointing to a brigade of Sheridan's cavalry led by Custer." Stringfield continued, "Neck and neck advanced Custer's cavalry through the fields north, and only a few hundred yards off." Colonels Smith, Love and others, however, were on the alert and at the proper moment rose to their feet and delivered a "well directed and destructive fire and sent them whirling back through the field, leaving numbers of horses and men behind them." On August 29, Union cavalry forded the Opequon at Smithfield Crossing (Middleway) but were swiftly driven back across the creek and beyond the hamlet by Confederate infantry. Union infantry of the VI Corps then advanced and regained the line of the Opequon.

Thomas' Legion
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The Thomas Legion Display at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian

 
 

On September 2-3, Averell's cavalry division rode south from Martinsburg and struck the Confederate left flank at Bunker Hill, defeating the Confederate cavalry but being driven back by infantry. Meanwhile, Sheridan concentrated his infantry near Berryville. On the afternoon of September 3, Anderson's command encountered and attacked elements of Crook's corps (Army of West Virginia) at Berryville but was repulsed. On September 3rd Stringfield stated that "Sheridan's cavalry ran over ours on the pike in the forenoon, but they were soon hurled back." Early brought his entire army, including Thomas' Legion, up to Berryville on the 4th, but found Sheridan's position at Berryville too strongly entrenched to attack. Early again withdrew to the Opequon line. On September 5, the Confederates fell back to Bunker Hill, the enemy following rather closely, but the  "gallant Rodes whirled upon and scattered them." Private E. C. Conner, of Company F, Swain County, "a bright and brave lad of 17 years" was killed, and, carried back a half mile and buried in an open grave, all within a half an hour and during the retreat.

 
Opequon or Third Winchester was the largest and most desperately contested battle of the Civil War in the Shenandoah Valley, resulting in more than 8,000 casualties. Because of its size, intensity, and result, many historians consider this the most important conflict of the Shenandoah Valley. Sheridan defeated the Confederate army again three days later at Fisher's Hill (September 22), forcing it to retreat up the Valley to near Waynesboro. Lt. Gen. Jubal Early suffered about 23 percent casualties. Casualties for the larger Union army under Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan exceeded 5,000, nearly 20 percent. The Union XIX Corps sustained 40 percent casualties (2,074 men) and lost every regimental commander during its assaults on the Middle Field and Second Woods. The Middle Field ranks with some of the most sanguinary fields of the Civil War, witnessing more than 3,000 casualties. Union Generals Russell was killed, McIntosh, Upton, and Chapman wounded. Confederate Generals Rodes and Goodwin were killed, Fitzhugh Lee, Terry, Johnson, and Wharton wounded. 
 
On September 19, one-third of Early's army was detached and had joined Lee's Army, and Vaughn's Tennessee Cavalry had left. Sheridan advanced rapidly and attacked all along the line from Berryville to Winchester. At Opequon, with heavy fire, the legion assisted in repelling every assault and even forced  the enemy across the river but, because of the superior numbers, was forced to retreat to the hills around Winchester. In the afternoon, on the left wing, the Sixty-ninth had been holding a large force in check, while most of the division had been sent to repel the final assault upon the center. Stringfield wrote that we "were again assaulted in great force and finally surrounded by Custer's and Averill's Cavalry, and driven back losing, however, no wagons and only two cannon." He next said that "Our men fought like heroes, deploying and fighting as in squad drill and holding the enemy in check till Early could bring back his infantry line; but for this dare-devil spirit shown by our men, and their utter refusal to surrender, great damage would have resulted." The Confederates made a hasty retreat up the Valley for two days, followed by the enemy who took most of its wagons. "They attempted to run over us again on the 21st and 22nd but, with the loss of only our sick and wounded, we beat them back," recalled Stringfield.
 
In a brigade numbering only a few hundred, the legion was in a position on the extreme left where it had to repel an assault of several thousand cavalry. It suffered many casualties, 75 killed, wounded or captured. Lt. Col. McKamy and Captains Singleton and Young were captured. Lieutenants Welch (Company F), Jones (Company D), and George (Company K) were all killed. The Sixty-ninth suffered, perhaps, one of the highest losses. During the battle there was also inclement weather and "the brigade didn't have tents, and many officers and enlisted men became sick." They were compelled to often camp upon the battle ground of the previous days, and where corpses of horses and men were often exposed and unburied, making horrid the atmosphere and water. On October 15, 1864, Love said "we have 600 wounded at Winchester, the enemy has 6,000. Our army fell back to near Staunton and, after resting there for several days, again turned down the Valley. At this time Maj. Stringfield was ordered to Western North Carolina." At best, Love's account of 600 Confederate wounded is referring to its Division (not its Corps), and 6000 Federal casualties is considered a preliminary report. The estimated casualties for Third Winchester are generally reported as 8,630 total (US 5,020; CS 3,610). Stringfield had been ordered to the mountains to command the legion's elements in Western North Carolina and East Tennessee.

Governor Zebulon Vance to David L. Swain, September 22, 1864

I have never before been so gloomy about the condition of affairs. Early’s defeat in the Valley I regard as the Turning point of the campaign & confidentially, I fear seals the fate of Richmond though not immediately. It will require our utmost exertions to retain our footing in Va. until 1865 comes in. McLellan's [presidential election] defeat is placed among the facts & abolitionism is rampant for four years more. The army in Georgia is getting demoralized. John C. Inscoe, The Heart of Confederate Appalachia, 232.

 
We must fight this fight out--there must be no turning back now--too much precious blood has been shed. Major General Stephen Dodson Ramseur to his wife, September 17, 1864
 
Maj. Gen. Stephen Dodson Ramseur was killed on October 20, 1864, at the Battle of Cedar Creek. Ramseur was the youngest Confederate general, a native North Carolinian, and the "General Stephen Dodson Ramseur Monument" is located on the Cedar Creek Battlefield near Middletown, VA.
 
The Battle of Cedar Creek dealt the crushing blow to the Confederacy in the Shenandoah Valley and, with William T. Sherman's successes in the Atlanta Campaign, spurred the reelection of President Abraham Lincoln. Excluding several companies that didn't participate in the Valley Campaigns, because they were in Western North Carolina and East Tennessee, the Sixty-ninth, now reduced to only 150 men, participated in all the movements of Early's army, including Cedar Creek. The Thomas Legion, supporting Early's left wing–confronting the Unions right wing–was ordered to "carry the enemy's works." The unit was initially unsuccessful and had "left a number of men, killed and wounded, between the lines." Soon, however, the attack was renewed. The flank movement was a success. "Our troops bearing down upon the enemy like a western tornado carried everything before them," recalled Stringfield. This was "followed up for several miles down the valley towards Middleton in the early forenoon," thus gaining one of the most conclusive victories. The Thomas Legion assisted in the capture of "sixteen or eighteen hundred prisoners, five or six hundred wagons, and thirty-six cannon, with lots of small arms and supplies," noted Stringfield. "All together we only had ten or twelve thousand men, the enemy had thirty thousand." His troop strength estimates were nearly accurate. The Confederate army fielded five infantry divisions (Gordon, Wharton, Ramseur, Pegram, Kershaw) and two cavalry divisions, numbering about 15,265 soldiers. The Union army had a two-to-one advantage with its three infantry corps (Wright, Emory, Crook) and two cavalry divisions (Merritt and Custer) for a total of 31,944.
 
Meanwhile, Captain Matthew H. Love commanded several companies of Thomas' Legion (which didn't participate in Early's Valley Campaigns) during the skirmish with the Federals at Russellville, Tennessee. Brig. Gen. Martin, however, refused to allow the Indians to leave North Carolina and participate in this scrap. (O.R., 1,  39, pt. III, p. 834.) Union Brig. Gen. Alvan C. Gillem (a Tennessean and West Point graduate) launched a thunderous frontal attack against Brig. Gen. Vaughn’s Confederates. “General Vaughn’s retreating cavalry swept by my men in the wildest disorder. My men were hastily thrown across the road and an ineffectual attempt was made to stop the fleeing cavalry and induce them to form a line,” stated Confederate Col. Palmer. While the Federals advanced, the Thomas Legion rushed forward in a brave attempt to check them, and Captain Jeter’s Artillery Battery hurled direct and devastating fire into the Union columns and forced their retreat. The Asheville News on November 3, 1864, stated that "the Legion’s cool and well directed fire checked the enemy’s advance.”

Map of North Carolina Civil War Battles in 1865
Map of North Carolina Civil War Battles.jpg
Sherman and Stoneman smash through North Carolina in 1865

Return to North Carolina: "Earned and Granted"

"Many of them [Thomas' Legion] joined with the promise that they were not to be taken out of the State except in the North Carolina mountain of defense." Captain Robert A. Akin, Company H, Walker's Battalion, Thomas' Legion

On November 9, 1864, Thomas' Legion of Cherokee Indians and Highlanders was finally granted its priceless orders (O.R., 1, 43, pt. II, p. 919) to return, guard, and defend their beloved Western North Carolina. The Valley Campaign was extremely costly for Thomas' Legion. Those bloody five months in 1864 caused 80% attrition in their ranks. The unit had entered the Valley with over 700 effectives and returned to the Tar Heel State with about 100. They had died for their beliefs and rights. The combat fatalities, diseases, wounds, prisoners of war, grueling marches, poorly armed, no pay or shoes, harsh winters, heat stroke receptive summers, and very little food and water were a definite reflection of the war's arduous toll in the legion. And to imagine each of the five human-senses taxed beyond the worst imaginable nightmare would only begin to allow one to identify and depict the soldier's life. Although the Cherokees didn't participate in Early's Valley Campaigns, they were devastated by mumps and measles, and after the war smallpox killed more than one hundred.  Wharton', in his farewell to Thomas' Legion, said: "The patience and cheerful endurance of the toilsome march, brief rests and hard fighting which you and your gallant band ever exhibited has won my hearty commendation and leaves each of your patriotic command a record bright and unsullied."
 
In December 1864 the traditional Christmas joy was overshadowed by the tearful reunion with the elements of the Thomas Legion. These respected Highlanders had fought in numerous battles and in various campaigns, and, now, as a greatly reduced fighting force they were a band-of-brothers with unbreakable Esprit de Corps. Providence soon whispered that this wasn't the respite they often dreamed about. Private William Cathey, Company A, Love's Regiment, Thomas' Legion states on December 1, 1864, that they "recently caught 17 Yankees and 1 deserter and sent them to Asheville."
 
Skirmishes of Soco Gap and Soco Creek North Carolina - March 6, 1865

Throughout 1864, skirmishing continued in East Tennessee, and Confederate troops continued to guard the mountain passes against incursions into Western North Carolina. Then, during the winter of 1864-65, Union scouting parties began to make hit-and-run raids across the mountains. President Jefferson Davis was also concerned about the Union army's mountain raids and he wrote an official letter of confidence in Thomas' Legion on Jan. 4, 1865. But by 1865 the Confederacy had failed, and Col. George W. Kirk with the Union 3rd North Carolina Mounted Infantry believed it would encounter minimal opposition and resistance as they continued sacking Western North Carolina communities. Although the Confederacy was doomed, the Thomas Legion's highest calling was protecting North Carolina's mountain citizens.

In late February and early March of 1865, Federal Col. George Kirk continued his raids into North Carolina's most western counties. The Union 3rd North Carolina was commonly referred to as Kirk's Raiders, because they often pillaged and plundered the region. On February 4th, Kirk and a small army of 400 cavalry and 200 infantry left Newport, Tenn., and crossed into Haywood County, North Carolina, via the old Cataloochee Turnpike on a raid that reached Waynesville, the county seat. Kirk's Raiders, armed with Spencer repeating rifles, entered Waynesville and pillaged stores, stole numerous horses, killed about 20 men, and burned several houses, including Lt. Col. James R. Love's house (also the former residence of James Love's ancestor, the Revolutionary War hero Robert Love). Next, they attacked the Waynesville jail, freed the prisoners, and then burned the jail. Slow and impeded communication, the vastness of Western North Carolina, and few Home Guard made it extremely difficult to defend the area (O.R., 1, 32, pt. II, p. 553). Stringfield stated that "it had been reported in Tennessee that Kirk’s troops would be welcomed in North Carolina. They were, but with bloody hands to hospitable graves." Lt. Col. Love's regiment fought Kirk's Raiders in Haywood County, and Lieutenant Conley's Sharpshooters engaged and forced the enemy to retreat across the Balsam Mountains at Soco Gap, which has an elevation of 4345 feet and is located 13 miles northwest of Waynesville, and the Cherokees refer to Soco Gap as Ahalunun'yi or Ambush Place.

On the morning of  March 6th, Lt. Col. Stringfield and a "battalion with many Cherokees from Jackson and [present-day] Swain Counties" engaged the retreating Kirk's Raiders at Soco Creek (the Cherokees call it Sagwa'hi or One Place), thence, forcing them across the Smoky Mountains towards Sevierville, Tenn. The Confederates claimed to have killed a few Federals, wounded several, and captured some horses. Thomas' Legion had Kirk in a "box," but, fortunately for the Federals, each soldier in the legion only had about five bullets. Kirk also hoped to capture Thomas during his many Western North Carolina raids. However, at Soco Gap and Soco Creek the soldier that was almost captured, killed, or even scalped was Kirk. This was Kirk's hardest fighting in Western North Carolina and sent a resounding message that Thomas' Legion was still a "force of reckoning."

Greeneville, April 10, 1865—1 p.m.

Brigadier-General Whipple,

Chief of Staff:

The following information has just been sent to me by Major Steele, my aide-de-camp, who accompanied Colonel Kirby:

Prisoners and deserters from the rebel army reported to me while at Warm Springs [presently Hot Springs, Madison County], N.C., that George Stoneman passed through Walkersborough…They also report Colonel Thomas’ Legion, consisting of 800 infantry, 400 Indians, 1 four-gun battery with 150 men, and about 450 cavalry stationed at Quallatown, N.C., preparing for a raid on the Knoxville and Chattanooga Railroad, at Loudon or Charleston.

D. S. Stanley

[Union] Major-General

O.R. 1, 49, pt. II, p. 309

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

On March 10, 1865, Brig. Gen. James Green Martin (O.R., 1, 49, pt. 1, p. 1048) reported similar strength for the Thomas Legion. In Clark's, Histories of the Several Regiments and Battalions from North Carolina in the Great War 1861-1865, Volume III, p. 759, Lt. Col. Stringfield recorded that the "fragments of the Sixty-second, Sixty-fourth and Sixty-ninth North Carolina reported 488." Stringfield failed to mention that in the exact report Martin recorded the Thomas Legion's strength at 1055. In Martin's report the 69th North Carolina Regiment is referring to Henry's Cavalry. Although Stanley believed Thomas' Legion was preparing for a raid into East Tennessee, Col. Thomas had no intention on destroying railroads or pursuing the enemy. His entire command was finally united, in a defensive position, and prepared for guerrilla warfare. Stringfield's account for Clark's Regiments, 35 years after the war, is misleading because in his writings he never interchanges the Sixty-ninth Regiment with the Thomas Legion. In other words, his precedent reflects that the Sixty-ninth Regiment and Thomas' Legion is one and the same unit but, as stated, they are different units. His failure to include the Thomas Legion in Martin's report further promotes the impression that the unit's companies, which didn't participate in the Valley Campaigns, never rejoined the legion. In addition, it promotes the impression that the deserters and absentees never returned to the unit, when in fact many had rejoined.

Lt. Col. Bartlett, a New Yorker and commanding colonel of the Union 2nd North Carolina Infantry, was ordered to intercept and destroy Thomas' Legion. Whereas the Federal command advanced the French Broad River, it was repulsed at Asheville. "Without the prompt and vigorous steps taken by Colonel G. Westly Clayton" and the 62nd North Carolina Infantry, Asheville would have been captured. Brig. Gen. Martin ordered Lt. Col. Love and the infantry regiment to hold the Swannanoa Gap against the enemy approaching from Salisbury. In preparation for the Union assault, Love instructed the regiment to make an abatis, or to cut down trees as a defense. While Love's Regiment of battle-hardened veterans was entrenched in good ground at Swannanoa Gap, they soon encountered Brig. Gen. Gillem's entire, but under-strengthened, division. ( O.R., 1, 49, pt. II, p. 539). On April 20, 1865, which was nearly two weeks after Lee surrendered to Grant, the Confederate infantry struck the division with enfilading fire, thus forcing its retreat to Mill Creek in McDowell County. Maj. Gen. George Stoneman recorded that Gillem "was opposed at Swannanoa Gap by a considerable force." (Gillem's Official Report: O.R., 1, 49, pt. II, p. 446 and O.R., 1, 49, pt. 1, 335; Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas' Official Report: O.R., 1, 49, pt. 1, 345.)

The Final Days: United We Stand

"Thomas' Legion captures Union occupied city and then surrenders"

 
East of the Mississippi River, "The Last Shot" of the American Civil War transpired in White Sulphur Springs (present-day Waynesville), North Carolina, while "The Final Formal Surrender" of Confederate forces occurred at Franklin, North Carolina. Both historical events are referenced to Thomas' Legion. The legion's historical final moment occurred on May 9, 1865, one month after  General Robert E. Lee's surrender, and three weeks after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. Furthermore, in May 1865, many Confederate soldiers doubted the War’s end.
As Maj. Gen. George Stoneman's* army advanced westward across North Carolina, news of his great plundering of numerous North Carolina counties spread rapidly through Western North Carolina (General George Stoneman graduated West Point in 1846 and was a veteran of the Mexican War). These warnings allowed Colonel Thomas’ Legion ample opportunity to respond. Brig. Gen. James Martin was unlawfully apprehended at Asheville; however, he was soon released since he previously agreed to a truce with Stoneman. Subsequently, "Old One Wing" Martin joined the forces of  Thomas' Legion.

*The Union Army recruited two mounted infantry regiments within North Carolina, and both units were raised principally from Western North Carolina counties: 2nd North Carolina Mounted Infantry and 3rd North Carolina Mounted. Recruitment of these regiments epitomized the "Brothers' War" and the men serving in the two Union regiments were commonly referred to as Home Yankees. Union Maj. Gen. George Stoneman's command as it concerns Western North Carolina in 1865: Second North Carolina Mounted Infantry Regiment, Lt. Col. 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. Gen. 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.)

According to O.R., 1, 49, pt. II, pp. 407-408, Brig. Gen. Davis Tillson (Stoneman's Cavalry Raid) ordered Colonels Bartlett (Union 2nd North Carolina) and Kirk (Union 3rd N.C.) to advance through Western North Carolina and suppress the remaining Confederate forces in the mountains. Tillson had attended the U.S. Military Academy and because of a severe foot injury his foot was amputated and he left West Point. Lt. Robert T. Conley and Company F of Love's Regiment would soon engage Bartlett's 2nd North Carolina 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. In Lt. Col. Walter Clark's: Histories of the Several Regiments and Battalions from North Carolina in the Great War 1861-65, Volume 3, p. 761, Stringfield stated that Thomas' Legion presently numbered "750 soldiers, including 200 Cherokees, and was ready for battle." These numbers are underscored by Brig. Gen. Martin's report in the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. On March 10, 1865, Martin reported: "Effective Total Present for Duty in Thomas' Legion at 943 and Aggregate Present and Absent at 1473." This included Love's Regiment, McKamy's Battalion*, Indian Battalion, and Barr's Battery (O.R., 1, 49, pt. 1, p. 1048). Colonel Thomas now had a united command
.
*Lt. Col. McKamy commanded the battalion after the death of Lt. Col. Walker. However, when McKamy was captured at 3rd Winchester, Lt James A. Robinson assumed command of the battalion. Robinson commanded the battalion for the remainder of the Shenandoah Valley Campaign (September 19, 1864—until its return to North Carolina with Special Order 267). Then, Lt. Col. Stringfield commanded the Battalion, with Capt. Whitaker commanding it at the end of the war.

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

Civil War Memorial in North Carolina.jpg

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

On May 6, 1865, Lieutenant Robert T. Conley and a small company from Thomas' Legion clashed with Bartlett's regiment in White Sulphur Springs. While Conley was passing through the woods, he was unaware of Bartlett's presence and literally stumbled into his regiment. Conley rapidly formed a skirmish line and commenced firing causing the Yankees to run in confusion. Consequently, the Union regiment retreated, but without one of its soldiers. In the Civil War the last man killed east of the Mississippi River was Union soldier James Arwood at White Sulphur Springs, North Carolina. After the Civil War, Mr. Conley often stated, "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 United States Army fighting bushwhackers and outlaws. Thomas also ordered Private John S. Rice to exchange his Confederate uniform for civilian clothes. He then instructed Private 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 instructed the Cherokees to build hundreds of small bonfires in the surrounding mountains. After they built the fires, the Cherokees began their ancient dances (a war dance known as the "te yo hi") and displayed their chilling "war whoops" until the morning of May 7th. This activity created the impression that there was a massive Confederate force poised to converge on the Union troops. The intimidating "Cherokee War Whoops and Dances" were common practice in Cherokee War Rituals. (The May 6-7 activities are currently known as Psychological Operations or PSYOPS.)

On May 7th, Bartlett believed that he was outnumbered and surrounded by a massive Confederate force and a flag-of-truce was soon exchanged with Thomas, but reports do not agree as to who initiated the truce. The outcome however was the same. ( See O.R., 1, 49, pt. II, p. 669). But the usually boisterous Bartlett was on his heals during the only occasion when he was confronted with men, and not decrepit ole seniors and widows. The writer believes that Bartlett initiated the truce, because after this encounter he was quick to send word to Kirk that he best refrain and control his men, or the Thomas Legion would do it for him.
 
According to Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, April 10, 1865, 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.) Brig. Gen. Martin (O.R., 1, 49, pt 1, p. 1048) and Stringfield (Histories of the Several Regiments and Battalions from North Carolina in the Great War 1861-1865, Volume 3, p, 761) recorded similar strength for the Thomas Legion. Apart attrition from deaths, diseases, wounds, and imprisonment (prisoners of war) sources show that most of the unit's deserters had returned to the command. Many of these absentees had returned to Western North Carolina to perform "Home Guard" duties or to be with their families during the area's anarchy. After all, the unit was initially formed with the intent to defend East Tennessee and Western North Carolina.

On the morning of May 9th the Confederates desired another meeting with Bartlett. Martin (after the war he resided in Asheville, N.C., until his death on October 4, 1878) and Thomas and Love, all met with Bartlett. Thomas also selected twenty to twenty-five of the largest Cherokees to attend. Chief Thomas and his Indian soldiers displayed 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." Bartlett obviously did not know what to expect as he viewed the Confederate leaders and their Cherokee escort, but the Union officer announced his terms stating that the Thomas Legion must relinquish its arms and equipment. Bartlett further added, with a promise, that he and his troops would also exodus the area. Thomas knew, however, that both Bartlett and Kirk's 3rd North Carolina were murdering folks and stealing every remaining horse, cow, and ox in the county, and that hey had even sacked nearby Franklin and Macon County (see Stoneman's Cavalry Raid and Kirk's Raiders).
 
Thomas, infuriated, invokes what is referred to as psychological warfare by loudly directing words at Bartlett. The chief said to the intruding Yankee to control his men or that he would unleash the Indians and scalp the entire regiment. Thomas also stated that his men owned the weapons and equipment in their possession and because it was not property of the Confederacy, they would not surrender it. During the fiery exchange, Martin took the opportunity to assure Bartlett that if he and his command exit the region, his men would pose no threat and they too would return to their homes. Martin and Thomas knew that Lee had surrendered to Grant and that it was just a matter of time before Union reinforcements arrived with an appetite of unleashing more hell on the area.
 
Bartlett would agree to the terms, but he did collect some guns and it just may have been a token gesture on behalf of Thomas to appease the Union generals. Thomas was brilliant, he knew that if Bartlett and Kirk did not present some Confederate guns and equipment to their superiors, it could promote a dreaded Union raid on a people who had already suffered so much. But it may have been Bartlett himself who gave a simple quantity of guns that he had captured from another unit. By presenting a few guns, nevertheless, it appears his plan was successful since no follow-up invasion transpired. See 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. But during the closing scene, where was Lt. Col. Stringfield? On April 25, 1865, a few weeks after Lee had surrendered to Grant, Brig. Gen. Martin had sent written orders to Stringfield sending him to Knoxville, with a flag-of-truce, to present Maj. Gen. George Stoneman with the “Western District of North Carolina's surrender terms.”

North Carolina in the Civil War
Brig. Gen. James Green Martin.jpg
Brig. Gen. James Green Martin

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

May 12, 1865, was the "The Final Surrender" for the Thomas Legion. The First Battalion's Company E soldiers signed their parole papers beginning on May 12, with the last signature recorded on May 14, 1865 (Thomas had surrendered on May 9). Captain Stephen Whitaker and Company E of the legion were stationed at nearby Franklin, North Carolina. Whitaker and the small contingent had recently Skirmished at Hanging Dog, Cherokee County, and were advancing toward White Sulphur Springs to reinforce Thomas when they were intercepted. Davis Tillson had ordered George Kirk and the Union 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. Consequently, he received word of Thomas and Martin capitulating at Waynesville, and then Whitaker and his company also surrendered. 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 Col. 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," stated 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.

 
"The men of the old Legion are not ashamed of their Confederate record and there is no bitterness to our late foe." Lt. Col. William Stringfield on May 10, 1901
 
Notes
 
A skirmish is considered a brisk or minor encounter between small bodies of troops, especially advanced or outlying detachments of opposing armies. Example: There were several skirmishes prior to the Battle of Gettysburg. A battle or engagement is a prolonged and general conflict pursued to a definite decision between large, organized armed forces. Example: Battle of Gettysburg. An action can be a battle or a skirmish. Example: There were several actions during the Gettysburg Campaign. The term military campaign applies to large scale, long duration, significant military strategy plan incorporating a series of inter-related military operations or battles forming a distinct part of a larger conflict often called a war.

...continue to Thomas' Legion (Formation)
...continue to 1861-1863 (Skirmishes and Battles)
 
Recommended Reading: Storm in the Mountains: Thomas' Confederate Legion of Cherokee Indians and Mountaineers (Thomas' Legion: The Sixty-ninth North Carolina Regiment). Description: Vernon H. Crow, Storm in the Mountains, dedicated an unprecedented 10 years of his life to this first yet detailed history of the Thomas Legion. But it must be said that this priceless addition has placed into our hands the rich story of an otherwise forgotten era of the Eastern Cherokee Indians and the mountain men of both East Tennessee and western North Carolina who would fill the ranks of the Thomas Legion during the four year Civil War. Crow sought out every available primary and secondary source by traveling to several states and visiting from ancestors of the Thomas Legion to special collections, libraries, universities, museums, including the Museum of the Cherokee, to various state archives and a host of other locales for any material on the unit in order to preserve and present the most accurate and thorough record of the legion. Crow, during his exhaustive fact-finding, was granted access to rare manuscripts, special collections, privately held diaries, and never before seen nor published photos and facts of this only legion from North Carolina. Crow remains absent from the text as he gives a readable account of each unit within the legion's organization, and he includes a full-length roster detailing each of the men who served in its ranks, including dates of service to some interesting lesser known facts.

Storm in the Mountains, Thomas' Confederate Legion of Cherokee Indians and Mountaineers is presented in a readable manner that is attractive to any student and reader of American history, Civil War, North Carolina studies, Cherokee Indians, ideologies and sectionalism, and I would be remiss without including the lay and professional genealogist since the work contains facts from ancestors, including grandchildren, some of which Crow spent days and overnights with, that further complement the legion's roster with the many names, dates, commendations, transfers, battle reports, with those wounded, captured, and killed, to lesser yet interesting facts for some of the men. Crow was motivated with the desire to preserve history that had long since been overlooked and forgotten and by each passing decade it only sank deeper into the annals of obscurity. Crow had spent and dedicated a 10 year span of his life to full-time research of the Thomas Legion, and this fine work discusses much more than the unit's formation, its Cherokee Indians, fighting history, and staff member narratives, including the legion's commander, Cherokee chief and Confederate colonel, William Holland Thomas. Numerous maps and photos also allow the reader to better understand and relate to the subjects. Storm in the Mountains, Thomas' Confederate Legion of Cherokee Indians and Mountaineers is highly commended, absolutely recommended, and to think that over the span of a decade Crow, for us, would meticulously research the unit and present the most factual and precise story of the men, the soldiers who formed, served, and died in the famed Thomas Legion.

 
Recommended Reading: North Carolina Troops, 1861-1865: A Roster (Volume XVI: Thomas's Legion) (Hardcover, 537 pages), North Carolina Office of Archives and History (June 26, 2008). Description: The volume begins with an authoritative 246-page history of Thomas's Legion. The history, including Civil War battles and campaigns, is followed by a complete roster and service records of the field officers, staff, and troops that served in the legion. A thorough index completes the volume. Continued.

Volume XVI of North Carolina Troops: A Roster contains the history and roster of the most unusual North Carolina Confederate Civil War unit, significant because of the large number of Cherokee Indians who served in its ranks. Thomas's Legion was the creation of William Holland Thomas, an influential businessman, state legislator, and Cherokee chief. He initially raised a small battalion of Cherokees in April 1862, and gradually expanded his command with companies of white soldiers raised in western North Carolina, eastern Tennessee, and Virginia. By the end of 1862, Thomas's Legion comprised an infantry regiment and a battalion of infantry and cavalry. An artillery battery was added in April 1863. Furthermore, in General Early's Army of the Valley, the Thomas Legion was well-known for its fighting prowess. It is also known for its pivotal role in the last Civil War battle east of the Mississippi River. The Thomas Legion mustered more than 2,500 soldiers and it closely resembled a brigade. With troop roster, muster records, and Compiled Military Service Records (CMSR) this volume is also a must have for anyone interested in genealogy and researching Civil War ancestors. Simply stated, it is an outstanding source for genealogists.

Bibliography:
 
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; 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 Civil War Diary of William W. Stringfield, Johnson City, TN: East Tennessee Historical Society Publications; John H. Stewart Papers (Private Collection); The Thomas Legion Papers (thomaslegion.net/papers.html); D. H. Hill, Confederate Military History Of North Carolina: North Carolina In The Civil War, 1861-1865; Charles H. Kirk, History of the Fifteenth Pennsylvania Volunteer Cavalry (Philadelphia: Privately printed, 1906); Moore's Roster; Frederick H. Dyer, A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion; Diary of Edward O. Guerrant, October 10, 1863; 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 (cherokee-nc.com); 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; Paul A. Thomsen, Rebel Chief: The Motley Life of Colonel William Holland Thomas C.S.A.; Christopher M. Watford, The Civil War in North Carolina: Soldiers' and Civilians' Letters and Diaries, 1861-1865, Volume 2: The Mountains; John C. Inscoe and Gordon B. McKinney, The Heart of Confederate Appalachia: Western North Carolina in the Civil War; National Park Service, The American Civil War; National Park Service: Soldiers and Sailors System; The Papers of Jefferson Davis, Rice University; Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Ohio State University; Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Cornell  University; John C. Inscoe, Mountain Masters: Slavery and the Sectional Crisis in Western North Carolina; William R. Trotter, Bushwhackers: The Civil War in North Carolina, The Mountains; Appalachian Summit; Sean Michael O'Brien, Mountain Partisans: Guerrilla Warfare in the Southern Appalachians, 1861-1865; Noel C. Fisher, War at Every Door: Partisan Politics and Guerrilla Violence in East Tennessee, 1860-1869; Tennessee Civil War Sourcebook; The Sylva Herald; Smoky Mountain News; Jackson County Genealogy Society; Cashiers Historical Society;  Macon County Historical Society & Museum; American Neurological Association; National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke; Victoria Casey McDonald, A Pictorial History: The African-Americans of Jackson County; General Assembly of North Carolina, Session 2005; archives.gov; whitehouse.gov; senate.gov; bioguide.congress.gov.

 

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