3rd North Carolina Mounted Infantry Regiment

Thomas' Legion
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3rd North Carolina Mounted Infantry Regiment, U.S.
A.K.A. Union 3rd North Carolina Mounted Infantry Regiment; 3rd North Carolina (Federal) Mounted Infantry Regiment; 3rd North Carolina Mounted Infantry Regiment, U.S.A.; 3rd North Carolina Mounted, United States; and Kirk's Raiders. Union Cavalry North Carolina History

13 June 1864 . . . . . .Raid on Camp Vance (Morganton, N.C.)
Sept 1864 . . . . . . . .Bull's Gap
29 Dec 1864 . . . . . . Skirmish at Red Banks of Chucky
Feb-Mar 1865 . . .. . .Raid on Waynesville, N.C.
24 Mar 1865 . . . . . . Stoneman's Raid through the Carolinas North Carolina

On February 13, 1864, Maj. Gen. Schofield authorized Major George W. Kirk, Second North Carolina Mounted Infantry, to raise a regiment of troops in eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina, to be known as the Third North Carolina Mounted Infantry Regiment. Although the regiment was organized as infantry, Maj. Kirk was authorized to mount the regiment upon private or captured horses. The first company was actually organized on June 11, 1864.

By April of 1864, Kirk, now colonel of the Third, was operating in the Shelton Laurel area of Madison County, N.C. On June 13, 1864, began the Third's best known exploit, the raid on Morganton.

Kirk's Raiders
Kirk's Raiders Civil War.jpg
(Click to Enlarge)

On June 13, 1864, Col. Kirk with about 130 men left Morristown, TN., for a raid on Camp Vance, near Morganton, N.C. The soldiers traveled on foot through Bull's Gap, Greeneville, and Crab Orchard, TN. They crossed into North Carolina and forded the Toe River about six miles south of the Cranberry Iron Works. The crossed the Linville River on the afternoon of June 26 and crossed Upper Creek at nightfall on June 27. They marched all night and reached Camp Vance at reveille on June 28. Camp Vance was a training camp for conscripts; the reluctant soldiers had not yet been issued rifles. The camp surrendered, and 40 of the conscripts promptly enlisted under Col. Kirk. All except the sick and the medical officers were carried off to Tennessee. The medical officers were paroled, but the sick (approximately 70 men) were set free because the Federal soldiers had no time to parole them. One Confederate report implies that the "sick" weren't really ill, but were put on the sick list and admitted into the hospital in a successful effort by the medical officers to prevent their capture. According to one of the Confederate medical officers, "Col. Kirk claimed to be a regular U.S. Officer, carried a U.S. Flag, and his men were all in Federal uniforms." Another Confederate report of this incident says that most of Kirk's men were armed with Spencer repeating rifles. Despite several small skirmishes on the way, Kirk and his men and prisoners returned safely to Tennessee. Continued below...

High Resolution Map of NC Civil War Battles
High Resolution Map of NC Civil War Battles.jpg
3rd North Carolina Mounted Infantry Regiment

Recommended Reading: A History of the North Carolina Third Mounted Infantry Volunteers: March 1864 to August 1865. Description: A History of the North Carolina Third Mounted Infantry Volunteers: March 1864 to August 1865 - Ron V. Killian. For years preceding the Civil War, the mountain people of western North Carolina lived under very different social and economic conditions than their plantation farming counterparts in other parts of the state. The mountain people did not generally own slaves, making them reluctant to contribute soldiers when North Carolina seceded from the Union. Many of these pro-Union Carolinians took up arms as Federal troops and engaged in guerrilla raids to disrupt Confederate operations within their home state. Continued below…

The Third Mounted Infantry was one such unit, organized under Col. George Washington Kirk in February 1864. Ron V. Killian's history discusses the brief but sensational career of the Third Mounted Infantry from its inception up to the occupation of Asheville, NC in 1865. Until now, little material has been published on the role of the Third Mounted Infantry in the pacification of the Tennessee/North Carolina mountain region. Often erroneously referred to as "bushwhackers" or "Tories," the patriotic fathers, sons and brothers that composed this regiment rendered commendable service in the Camp Vance Raid, Stoneman's Raid against Confederate positions in both Tennessee and North Carolina, and various skirmishes at Morristown, Russellville, Waynesville and Asheville. Detailed accounts of engagements involving the regiment are supplemented by extensive rosters noting full name, month, year, and place of enlistment, and age at time of enlistment for officers, staff, private soldiers and musicians. A biographical sketch of Col. Kirk is also included.

In late September of 1864, Col. Kirk and his command were left at Bull's Gap to hold that position while the rest of Gen. Gillem's force drove Confederate forces from Rheatown, Greeneville, and Carter's Station across the Watauga River. By late October, 1864, Confederate scouts were reporting that Kirk and his men had returned to Knoxville.

On December 9, 1864, the Third left Knoxville on a scout into upper East Tennessee. On December 29th, they engaged a body of about 400 Confederate infantry and cavalry under the command of Col. James Keith at Red Banks of Chucky near the North Carolina line. (With Keith in command, no doubt a portion of this body was the 64th North Carolina.) Col. Kirk reported 73 Rebels killed and 32 captured, with his own casualties limited to three wounded. They returned to Knoxville on January 14, 1865.

Kirk's Union Mounted Infantry Engage Thomas' Confederate North Carolina Legion

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

Stoneman's Cavalry Raid and Kirk's Raiders: Civil War Murders, Depredations, Lawlessness, and Battles

On March 24, 1865, Maj. Gen. George H. Stoneman, initiating Stoneman's Raid, left Morristown, TN., for a raid through southwest Virginia and western North Carolina. The primary purpose of this operation was to disrupt the railroads in Virginia and North Carolina and to obstruct Lee's expected retreat from Virginia. As part of this operation, the 2nd and 3rd North Carolina Mounted Infantry under Col. Kirk were sent to Boone, N.C., to hold Deep and Watauga Gaps, thus keeping open the roads over the mountains to Tennessee to permit the return of Stoneman's force when its mission was completed.

General George Stoneman
General George Stoneman.jpg
(August 22, 1822 - September 5, 1894)

By 1865 the Confederacy had failed, and Colonel Kirk and the Union's 3rd North Carolina 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 (Thomas' Legion was North Carolina's only Civil War legion, it mustered over 2,500 soldiers, and consisted of Highlanders and Cherokee Indians). In late February and early March of 1865, Kirk continued his raids into North Carolina's most western counties. The Union's 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 grandfather, 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 (Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series I, Volume 32, Part II, p. 553; hereinafter cited as O.R.). Lt. Col. Stringfield, of the Thomas Legion, 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, Thomas' Legion, fought Kirk's Raiders in Haywood County, and Lieutenant Conley's Sharpshooters (Thomas' Legion) 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."

Kirk's Raiders repulsed by Conley's Sharpshooters
Kirk's Raider North Carolina.jpg
Kirk's Raiders

Col. George Kirk and Captain Whitaker
North Carolina Civil War.jpg
Final Surrender Memorial: Franklin N.C.

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

Lieutenant Robert T. Conley and Company F, Love's Regiment, Thomas' Legion would soon engage Union Colonel 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. On May 12, 1865, Col. Kirk would accept the surrender of Walker's Battalion, Thomas' Legion of Cherokee Indians and Highlanders under the command of Captain Stephen Whitaker at the Macon County Court House in Franklin, N.C. This was the last formal surrender of Confederate forces east of the Mississippi River, and is commemorated by a mural in the courthouse at Franklin.

Parole Signatures of Company E, Walker's Battalion
Civil War Parole Signatures.jpg
East of the Mississippi, Final Confederate Surrender Memorial: Franklin, N.C.

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 (Cherokee Chief Thomas, also the commanding colonel of Thomas' Legion, had surrendered on May 9, 1865). Captain Whitaker and Company E, First Battalion of Thomas' 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. Consequently, he received word of Thomas and Martin surrendering 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," 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 bestows honor and gratitude to their great white chief.

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 also 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.

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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.


Recommended Reading: The Civil War in North Carolina. Description: Numerous battles and skirmishes were fought in North Carolina during the Civil War, and the campaigns and battles themselves were crucial in the grand strategy of the conflict and involved some of the most famous generals of the war. Continued below...

John Barrett presents the complete story of military engagements and battles across the state, including the classical pitched battle of Bentonville--involving Generals Joe Johnston and William Sherman--the siege of Fort Fisher, the amphibious campaigns on the coast, and cavalry sweeps such as General George Stoneman's Raid. "Includes cavalry battles, Union Navy operations, Confederate Navy expeditions, Naval bombardments, the land battles... [A]n indispensable edition." Also available in hardcover: The Civil War in North Carolina.

 

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 also 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, complete with a comprehensive index, this work should be in every Civil War library.

 

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:  Bluecoats and Tar Heels: Soldiers and Civilians in Reconstruction North Carolina (New Directions in Southern History) (Hardcover). Description: In Bluecoats and Tar Heels: Soldiers and Civilians in Reconstruction North Carolina, Mark L. Bradley examines the complex relationship between U.S. Army soldiers and North Carolina civilians after the Civil War. Continued below...

Postwar violence and political instability led the federal government to deploy elements of the U.S. Army in the Tar Heel State, but their twelve-year occupation was marked by uneven success: it proved more adept at conciliating white ex-Confederates than at protecting the civil and political rights of black Carolinians. Bluecoats and Tar Heels is the first book to focus on the army’s role as post-bellum conciliator, providing readers the opportunity to discover a rich but neglected chapter in Reconstruction history.

Sources: Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies; nctroops.com, Vernon H. Crow, Storm in the Mountains: Thomas' Confederate Legion of Cherokee Indians and Mountaineers; John H. Stewart Papers (Private Collection); John G. Barrett, The Civil War in North Carolina; 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; 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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