General Alfred Eugene Jackson and Nemesis Colonel William Holland Thomas

Thomas' Legion
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Brigadier General Alfred Jackson v. Colonel William Thomas

Colonel William Holland Thomas
Cherokee Chief William Holland Thomas.jpg
Cherokee Chief and Col. William Holland Thomas

General Alfred E. Jackson
Brig. Gen. Alfred E. Jackson.jpg
Brig. Gen. Alfred E. Jackson

Introduction
 
During the Civil War (1861-1865), whereas William Thomas would be subjected to three court-martials, Alfred Jackson would be deemed unfit for command.
 

President Davis insisted that Thomas' court-martials were "disingenuous and destructive to the Confederate cause." Related to Thomas by marriage, Davis would not hesitate to countermand each punitive measure leveled at Thomas, who served in dual capacity as Cherokee chief and Confederate colonel during the conflict. Jackson meanwhile would be known throughout the Confederacy as "Old Mudwall," a disparaging nom de guerre assigned by the very men he commanded. Both mountain men were in their mid-50s and neither had served in the military when they answered the call of the newly formed Confederate States. Financially successful, the self-made men, and former slaveholders, were citizens of two homogenous mountain regions known as East Tennessee and Western North Carolina. Reminiscent of sibling rivalry, these two alpha males would become embroiled in a command dispute that would eventually demand intervention from Richmond, the Rebel capitol that housed none other than Davis, the Confederate President. As the winds of war gradually ceased, both, now physically and emotionally infirmed and financially in ruins, sought to recover their fortunes during their twilight years. William Holland Thomas, aged 88, would pass away on May 10, 1893, the exact date that his cousin Davis was captured while fleeing the Lost Cause in 1865, and the date that "Stonewall" Jackson was accidently shot and mortally wounded by his own troops in 1863 while at Chancellorsville. Alfred Eugene Jackson would live to be the eldest citizen of his community when, on October 30, 1889, he died at age 82. With merely an introduction, the sobering facts show that these two Southerners had much more in common than not. 

Brig. Gen. Alfred Jackson's Brigade.jpg
Jackson and Thomas

Alpha Males
 
Two fifty-something alpha males and just one opening for Confederate commander was the setting that Colonel William H. Thomas and Brig. Gen. Alfred E. Jackson would contest during the American Civil War, but since neither man would acquiesce, the fallout would demand a response from Richmond. Prior to the war, Tennessean Alfred Jackson was a slaveholder, prosperous farmer, and rising transportation tycoon but he had never even donned the military uniform. North Carolinian William Thomas was a boy when he was adopted by the prominent Cherokee Chief Yonaguska, who would later appoint Thomas, now a self-taught lawyer and Indian Agent to Washington, as successor Chief of the Eastern Band. His mother would become widow just months prior to the birth of William, and although she was related to President Zachary Taylor, her son Little Will, as he was known by the Cherokee, would be raised in obscurity. By the 1840s, however, Thomas rose to prominence while serving as both state senator and Chief of the Oconaluftee, but he too had never served in the military when he volunteered his services by submitting plans to raise an army that would only be used to defend the Tar Heel State against any armed incursion by Federal forces. 
 
Command and Control

 

Although Thomas' uncompromising Civil War strategy would be the basis for his many court-martials, the colonel enjoyed a unique status with President Jefferson Davis, because through his Strother lineage he was cousin to Sarah Knox Taylor, the daughter of President Zachary Taylor, and she was married Davis until her untimely death caused by malaria.

 

In the summer of 1863, while assigned to Jackson's brigade, Thomas was arrested and awaiting court-martial. Whereas Thomas' Legion had been reorganized into Jackson's Brigade, the command generally consisted of Thomas' Legion only. (O.R., Series 1, Volume 29, pt. II, p. 812, O.R., 31, 1, p. 454, and O.R., Series 1, Vol. 33, p. 1137). Was it a legion but brigade in name only, as some of the legion would argue. Why was the legion taken from Thomas and then veiled as a brigade under Jackson. This confusing command structure was highly contested, so Jackson had Thomas arrested in June of 1863 and charged with "disobedience of orders." Thomas was sent to Knoxville to await trial, but Union General Burnside's East Tennessee invasion intervened thus postponing the trial.

 

Inept decisions by headquarters with the problematic command structure would chip away at the unit's morale and even lead to desertion, and while Richmond vacillated on taking any action on the subject, its generals would have the audacity to complain about the appearance and thinning ranks of this so-called brigade, but meanwhile, the soldiers of the legion were vacating their muster station in East Tennessee and returning to North Carolina where they would serve and defend the home front. By the summer of 1864, orders were at last issued for the infantry regiment, of the Thomas' Legion, moving it into the action of the Shenandoah Valley before reassigning it to Thomas, who would remain in North Carolina with his Cherokee Battalion. 

Jackson and Thomas
Jackson and Thomas.jpg
Some Cherokee Indians who served under both Jackson and Thomas

Jackson's Brigade.jpg
Brig. Gen. Alfred Jackson's Brigade

Continuing Conflict
 
Prior to the Civil War, Thomas and the prominent Vance family of North Carolina were often on opposing sides of legislation, and while they espoused dissimilar views on subjects ranging from the ad valorem tax to senate railroad bills, the conflicting political positions would merely carry over and become more intense during the stresses of war.

 

Another court-martial for Thomas was to occur on February 23, 1864, because of the capture of Brig. Gen. Robert B. Vance, brother to Governor Zebulon Vance. Leaving Colonel Thomas at Gatlinburg, Tennessee, Gen. Vance had proceeded to Sevierville and was captured because he failed to post pickets and not as a result of Thomas disobeying orders. Although Vance would remain in a Federal prison until the war ended, he would later concede that his capture was a misunderstanding of orders.
 
Concerning the capture of Brig. Gen. Vance, Colonel John B. Palmer stated that Lt. Col. James L. Henry, and not Thomas, should be court-martialed. (O.R., Ser. 1, Vol. 32, pt. 1, p. 76). Confederate Secretary of War James Seddon believed that Vance was partially responsible for his own capture, and President Davis, receiving updates on the subject, wrote that "no action is practicable which seems proper." (O.R., 32, 1, p. 77). On behalf of Thomas, Davis intervened and having the charges dismissed, there would be no trial.
 
Official records and reports also show that Thomas was not responsible for the capture of Robert Vance, but the governor insisted otherwise, stating that there was culpability while referencing Thomas, and he was determined to use his brother's capture as an opportunity to punish his nemesis. Zeb Vance would serve as North Carolina's Governor for much of the war (1862-1865 and 1876-1878) and later in the U.S. Senate (1879-1894), making him one of the most prominent political figures in the history of the Old North State.
 
On May 11, 1864, Thomas was charged with receiving and adding to his unit some deserters from the 65th North Carolina between September 1863 and April 1864, but on this occasion, General Jackson was relieved of his command for health reasons and reassigned to the Army of Tennessee, and Thomas appeared to have avoided another court-martial. In October 1864, the trial resumed and Thomas was indeed found guilty of all charges. This court-martial had combined a prior court-martial with four additional charges, but the colonel responded the way he had to previous charges when he appealed to Davis, who merely reversed the charges.
 
"Old Mudwall" Jackson would be assigned to staff duty on November 23, 1864, and serve the remainder of the war without a command. But the Thomas Legion saw its infantry regiment detached and assigned to Jubal Early's Army of the Valley during the summer of 1864, where it fought many battles with large Union armies, before it was ordered back to North Carolina and reassigned to Thomas who had been commanding the Cherokee Battalion and involved in few pitched battles but many skirmishes with guerrillas and bushwhackers.

East Tennessee Railroads during the Civil War
East Tennessee Railroads during the Civil War.jpg
Jackson's Brigade was tasked with defending the sole railroad in East Tennessee

 
(About) In East Tennessee there was a single railroad that meant the difference in transporting men and equipment between the theaters of the war -- and it had to be defending at all hazards. Involved in transportation and understanding the importance of logistics, Brig. Gen. Alfred Jackson, with scare resources, gave great efforts in defense of the region's railroads. In the theater of the brigadier's operations there was a good deal of detachment work in which there was plenty of marching and fighting, but very little chance for renown, because the great battles of the war so obscured the small affairs that in many parts of the country they were never even heard of.
 
Brigade or Legion
 
There are just a few documents showing "Thomas’ regiment, North Carolina" or "Thomas’ regiment, North Carolina Volunteers," and though Jackson's Brigade is discussed below as it appeared on one occasion, April 20, 1864, notice at the bottom of the page that the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies adds a footnote and records that the units forming Brig. Gen. Jackson's command were "otherwise known as the Thomas (North Carolina) Legion."
 
While Levi’s (Virginia) artillery battery is mentioned it was, however, also part of the Thomas legion, and on this occasion Burroughs’ and McClung’s Tennessee batteries were temporarily assigned to the organization, but Jackson's Brigade was generally composed only of elements of the Thomas Legion.
 
The Official Records answer the age old question whether the command was a brigade or a legion. The stated footnote does indicated that it was indeed a legion, but made to appear as a brigade. The units that formed Jackson's Brigade were "otherwise known as the Thomas (North Carolina) Legion." Lt. Col. William W. Stringfield, Thomas' Legion, said that “it appears that Jackson broke up the Legion in order to make it a brigade and call it his Brigade.” 
 
When viewing the components of the brigade, it included all the components of Thomas' Legion, and only Thomas' Legion, but Jackson couldn't use the word legion when referring to any portion of the command, because then the brigade itself would no longer exist. (See also Thomas' Regiment in O.R., Series 1, Volume 33, p. 1137.) The following has been transcribed from Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series 1, Vol. 32, Part III, 802, with original text, spelling, and footnotes.

Official Records
Jackson's Brigade.jpg
Jackson's Brigade and Thomas' Legion

Organization of Buckner’s Division, Brig. Gen. Bushrod R. Johnson, C. S. Army, commanding, April 20, 1864.•
Jackson’s Brigade.
Brig. Gen. Alfred E. Jackson.
Thomas’ regiment,++ Lieut. Col. James R. Love.
Walker’s battalion,++ Lieut. Col. James A. Mckamy.
Levi’s (Virginia) battery.
Burroughs’ (Tennessee) battery.
McClung’s (Tennessee) battery.

Johnson’s Brigade.
Col. John S. Fulton.
17th Tennessee, Col. R. H. Keeble.
23rd Tennessee, Col. R. H. Keeble.
25th Tennessee, Lieut. Col. John L. McEwen, jr.
44th Tennessee, Lieut. Col. John L. McEwen, jr.
63d Tennessee, Col. Abraham Folkerson.
Detachments, + Capt. Nathan Dodd.

Gracie’s Brigade
Brig. Gen. Archibald Gracie, Jr.
41st Alabama, Col. Martin L. Stansel.
43rd Alabama, Lieut. Col. John J. Jolly.
59th Alabama, Col. Bolling Hall, jr.
60th Alabama, Maj. Hatch Cook.
23rd Alabama, Battalion Sharpshooters, Maj. Nicholas Stallworth.

++ Otherwise known as the Thomas (North Carolina) Legion
+ From the Sixteenth Georgia Battalion and the Third, Thirty-first, Forty-third, Sixtieth, Sixty-first, and Sixty-second Tennessee Regiments.
• As shown by inspection reports of Lieu. Col. Archer Anderson, assistant adjutant-general. Jackson’s brigade at Carter’s Depot, the others near Zollicoffer.

Thomas Legion
Cherokee.jpg
Cherokee Representation at 1903 Confederate Reunion in New Orleans

(Additional sources and related reading below.)

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: 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, spent 10 years conducting extensive Thomas Legion's research. Crow was granted access to rare manuscripts, special collections, and privately held diaries which add great depth to this rarely discussed Civil War legion. He explores and discusses the unit's formation, fighting history, and life of the legion's commander--Cherokee chief and Confederate colonel--William Holland Thomas. Continued below...

Numerous maps and photographs allow the reader to better understand and relate to the subjects discussed. It also contains rosters which is an added bonus for researchers and genealogists. Crow, furthermore, left no stone unturned while examining the many facets of the Thomas Legion and his research is conveyed on a level that scores with Civil War students and scholars alike.

 

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 below...

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.

 

Recommended Reading: Generals in Gray Lives of the Confederate Commanders. Description: When Generals in Gray was published in 1959, scholars and critics immediately hailed it as one of the few indispensable books on the American Civil War. Historian Stanley Horn, for example, wrote, "It is difficult for a reviewer to restrain his enthusiasm in recommending a monumental book of this high quality and value." Here at last is the paperback edition of Ezra J. Warner’s magnum opus with its concise, detailed biographical sketches and—in an amazing feat of research—photographs of all 425 Confederate generals. Continued below...

The only exhaustive guide to the South’s command, Generals in Gray belongs on the shelf of anyone interested in the Civil War. RATED 5 STARS!
 

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. "[T]he historical events that transpired in the region are brought to life in this study."

Sources: Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies; Walter Clark, Histories of the Several Regiments and Battalions from North Carolina in the Great War 1861-1865; National Park Service: American Civil War; National Park Service: Soldiers and Sailors System; Weymouth T. Jordan and Louis H. Manarin, North Carolina Troops, 1861-1865; D. H. Hill, Confederate Military History Of North Carolina: North Carolina In The Civil War, 1861-1865; Vernon H. Crow, Storm in the Mountains: Thomas' Confederate Legion of Cherokee Indians and Mountaineers; Vernon H. Crow, The Justness of Our Cause; 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; and John R. Finger, The Eastern Band of Cherokees.

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