"North Carolina's sole American Civil War legion"
Thomas’ Legion encompasses an entire
command of infantry, cavalry, and artillery, and it is unofficially known as Love's Regiment and the Sixty-ninth North Carolina Infantry Regiment (not found or recorded
on any official document).
Unlike a regiment with approximately 1100 soldiers, the legion was
a much larger and more comprehensive fighting force and resembled a brigade. On February 20, 1863, while at Strawberry Plains, Thomas' Legion recorded
"2556 Aggregate Present and Absent." (Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series 1,
Vol. 23, part II, p. 644). The unit's two thousand five hundred officers and men (included 400 Cherokees: Cherokee Battalion) were distributed
in infantry, cavalry, and artillery. The artillery battery,
John T. Levi's Light Artillery Battery (aka Louisiana Tigers), formerly served in the Virginia State Line Artillery and was added to the command on April
As an independent command, it initially reported directly to Brigadier
General Henry Heth, however, this changed throughout the course of the war. (O.R., 1, Vol. 16, pt. II, p. 985, O.R., 1, Vol. 20, pt. II, p. 466, O.R., 1, Vol. 20, pt. II, p. 412, and O.R., 1, Vol. 20, pt. II, p. 415).
the course of the conflict, the Thomas Legion served with the following corps, division, and brigade generals:
General Robert Ransom: Graduated the United States Military Academy (West Point) in 1850.
General Gabriel Colvin Wharton: Virginia Military Institute graduate-class of 1847.
General Alfred Eugene Jackson: Unlike "Stonewall" Jackson, Alfred Jackson was nicknamed "Old Mudwall" Jackson. Prior to the war he was a farmer.
On November 23, 1864, "Mudwall" was relieved of his command and served as a staff officer. Furthermore, he had Colonel
Will Thomas arrested and sought to court-martial him.
General Edmund Kirby
Smith: Commander of the Department of East Tennessee and Western North Carolina. He graduated West
Point in 1845 and was strongly opposed to allowing Thomas' Legion the ability to operate as an independent command.
General Simon Buckner: Graduated West Point 1844, Mexican War veteran, resigned commission in 1855, businessman, and commander of Kentucky State
Guard. Post-war: Governor of Kentucky, Vice-Presidential nominee in 1896.
General James Green Martin: Native North Carolinian, graduated West Point in 1840, and Mexican-American War veteran. He was nicknamed "Old One Wing", because he lost his arm in the Mexican-American
War. At the Battle of Churubusco in Mexico, his right arm was shattered by grapeshot and had to be amputated.
General John Crawford Vaughn: Native Tennessean and
Mexican-American War veteran.
General John Porter McCown: Graduated the United States
Military Academy in 1840.
General Daniel Smith Donelson: Native Tennessean,
graduated West Point in 1825, and died of natural causes in April 1863. See: O.R., I, 23, II, 621, O.R., I, 23, II, 787, and O.R., I, 23, II, 644.
General John Stuart Williams "Cerro
Gordo": Lawyer, Mexican-American War, and politician. He received his nickname as a "hero" during the
Mexican-American Battle of Cerro Gordo.
General Jubal Anderson Early: Graduated West Point in 1837 and was a veteran of the Mexican-American War. He was
affectionately nicknamed "Old Jube."
General Henry Heth: Graduated West Point in 1847. His division made first contact at Gettysburg. As an independent command, Thomas' Legion initially reported directly to General
General Robert E. Rodes: VMI graduate-class of 1848. He was killed on September 19, 1864, in the Battle of Opequon.
General John C. Breckinridge: He was the fourteenth Vice President of the United States
and a veteran of the Mexican-American War. In early 1865 General Breckinridge was appointed as Secretary of War in the Cabinet
of the Confederate States of America. He held this post until the end of the war. John Breckinridge was also the cousin to
Mary Todd Lincoln, the wife of President Lincoln.
General William E. "Grumble" Jones: West Point-class of 1848, and classmate of the eminent Union General John Buford. General Jones
was killed on 5 June 1864, during the Battle of Piedmont.
General James Longstreet: West Point-class of 1842.
As a major he fought in the Mexican-American War. General Robert E. Lee referred to Longstreet as his "Old War Horse."
General Braxton Bragg: Native North Carolinian. Graduated West Point 1837, fought in the Seminole War, and Mexican War. He is considered by many the most controversial
Confederate general. He instructed Colonel Thomas to raise two additional Cherokee companies in November of 1863. This allowed
a total of 4 Cherokee companies and they became known as the Cherokee Battalion (O.R., 1, 49, pt. 2, p. 754).
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!
69th North Carolina Regiment was initially named the "Highland Rangers" and 1st Regiment, Thomas’ Legion. There are
75 references to "Thomas' Legion" in the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. The Thomas Legion’s components
operated under various official and even unofficial designations. With these various designations came numerous responsibilities.
is a list of the many official and unofficial designations: Highland Rangers, Provost Guards, Provisional Force, Partisan
Rangers, Home Guards, Love’s Regiment, 69th North Carolina Infantry Regiment, 69th North Carolina Regiment, McKamy's Battalion, Thomas' Legion Volunteers, 1st Battalion-Thomas' Legion, Walker's Battalion (80th
Battalion), Walker's Regiment, Thomas’ Regiment-North Carolina, Thomas’ Regiment-North Carolina Volunteers, and
1st Regiment-Thomas’ Legion.
Cherokees also operated under various unofficial designations: Junaluska Zouaves, Cherokee Battalion (O.R., 1, 49, pt. 2, p. 754), and Cherokee Companies. The sappers were also referred to as the “Pioneer
Companies.” There was also John T. Levi's Light Artillery Battery, and later it was named Barr's Light
Artillery Battery. Colonel Will Thomas even recruited 20 Cherokee Bodyguard, aka Life Guard.
The constant shifting of the unit's
components makes a complete count very difficult. Although Companies A and L of the 16th North Carolina Infantry
Regiment transferred into Thomas’ Legion, some of the legion’s companies were transferred to the 39th
North Carolina Infantry Regiment and to various Tennessee Cavalry Regiments. Later, many companies were transferred back to
the Thomas Legion. One count has Thomas’ Legion at 2,800, however, it is doubtful that on any occasion the legion mustered
more than "2,556."
During the last months of
the Civil War, Confederate General Martin (O.R., 1, 49, pt. 1, p. 1048), Union General Stanley (O.R.,1, 49,
pt. II, p. 309), and Lt. Col. Stringfield (Histories of the Several Regiments and
Battalions from North Carolina in the Great War 1861-1865, Volume 3, p. 761) recorded almost the exact strength
for the Thomas Legion. Apart attrition from
deaths, diseases, wounds, and imprisonment (prisoners of
war) sources reflect that most of the Thomas Legion deserters had rejoined the legion. Although desertion wasn't
a major problem in the legion, the deserters had returned to Western North Carolina to perform "Home Guard"
duties. They had protected their homes and families during the area's anarchy and, subsequently, had rejoined
the legion for the remainder of the war. After all, the legion was initially formed with the promise to defend East Tennessee
and the Southern Appalachian Mountains. (See Thomas's Civil War Strategy.)
Although initially an independent
command, throughout the war the Thomas Legion--with its various unofficial designations and components--found itself serving
or reporting to numerous generals in numerous armies, departments, and commands, and it was the primary contributing role
for the unit's desertions. The men were, after all, initially promised to be only assigned in western North Carolina and East Tennessee.
Also, the sappers enlisted as masons, engineers, carpenters, black smiths, gun smiths, etc. When General Alfred Eugene Jackson, aka "Old Mudwall," demanded
that the sappers (Pioneer Company) take up arms, it promoted desertion.
James W. Terrell wrote to Governor Zebulon Vance
and stated that the desertions were the direct result of General A. E. Jackson’s complete disregard and disrespect for
the Thomas Legion's soldiers. February 22, 1864, North Carolina Division of
Archives and History.
NEW! 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: 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...
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
Recommended Viewing: The Civil War - A Film by Ken Burns. Review: The
Civil War - A Film by Ken Burns is the most successful public-television miniseries in American history. The 11-hour Civil War didn't just captivate a nation,
reteaching to us our history in narrative terms; it actually also invented a new film language taken from its creator. When
people describe documentaries using the "Ken Burns approach," its style is understood: voice-over narrators reading letters
and documents dramatically and stating the writer's name at their conclusion, fresh live footage of places juxtaposed with
still images (photographs, paintings, maps, prints), anecdotal interviews, and romantic musical scores taken from the era
he depicts. Continued below...
The Civil War uses all of these devices to evoke atmosphere and resurrect an event that many knew
only from stale history books. While Burns is a historian, a researcher, and a documentarian, he's above all a gifted storyteller,
and it's his narrative powers that give this chronicle its beauty, overwhelming emotion, and devastating horror. Using the
words of old letters, eloquently read by a variety of celebrities, the stories of historians like Shelby Foote and rare, stained
photos, Burns allows us not only to relearn and finally understand our history, but also to feel and experience it. "Hailed
as a film masterpiece and landmark in historical storytelling." "[S]hould be a requirement for every
Life of Johnny Reb: The Common Soldier of the Confederacy (444 pages) (Louisiana State University Press)
(Updated edition: November 2007) Description: The Life of Johnny Reb does not merely describe the battles and skirmishes fought by
the Confederate foot soldier. Rather, it provides an intimate history of a soldier's daily life--the songs he sang, the foods
he ate, the hopes and fears he experienced, the reasons he fought. Wiley examined countless letters, diaries, newspaper accounts,
and official records to construct this frequently poignant, sometimes humorous account of the life of Johnny Reb. In a new
foreword for this updated edition, Civil War expert James I. Robertson, Jr., explores the exemplary career of Bell Irvin Wiley,
who championed the common folk, whom he saw as ensnared in the great conflict of the 1860s. Continued below...
About Johnny Reb:
"A Civil War
classic."--Florida Historical Quarterly
deserves to be on the shelf of every Civil War modeler and enthusiast."--Model Retailer
painted with skill a picture of the life of the Confederate private. . . . It is a picture that is not only by far the most
complete we have ever had but perhaps the best of its kind we ever shall have."--Saturday Review of Literature
Recommended Reading: The
History Buff's Guide to the Civil War (400 pages). Description:
Exploring the Civil War can be fascinating, but with so many battles, leaders, issues, and more than 50,000 books on these
subjects, the task can also be overwhelming. Was Gettysburg the most important battle? Were Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson
Davis so different from each other? How accurate is re-enacting? Who were the worst commanding generals? Thomas R. Flagel
uses annotated lists organized under more than thirty headings to see through the powder smoke and straighten Sherman’s
neckties, ranking and clarifying the best, the worst, the largest, and the most lethal aspects of the conflict. Continued
Major sections are fashioned around the following topics:
• Antebellum: Investigates the critical years before the war, in particular
the growing crises, extremists, and slavery.
• Politics: Contrasts the respective presidents and constitutions
of the Union and Confederacy, the most prominent politicians, and the most volatile issues of the times.
• Military Life: Offers insights into the world of the common soldiers,
how they fought, what they ate, how they were organized, what they saw, how they lived, and how they died.
• The Home Front: Looks at the fastest growing field in Civil War
research, including immigration, societal changes, hardships and shortages, dissent, and violence far from the firing lines.
• In Retrospect: Ranks the heroes and heroines, greatest victories
and failures, firsts and worsts.
• Pursuing the War: Summarizes Civil War study today, including films,
battlefield sites, books, genealogy, re-enactments, restoration, preservation, and other ventures.
From the antebellum years to Appomattox and beyond, The History Buff’s
Guide to the Civil War is a quick and compelling guide to one of the most complex and critical eras in American history.
Sources: Vernon H. Crow, Storm in the Mountains: Thomas' Confederate Legion
of Cherokee Indians and Mountaineers;; 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 Archives and Records Administration;
North Carolina Office of Archives and History; National Park Service: American Civil War; National Park Service: Soldiers
and Sailors System; State Library of North Carolina; Moore's
Roster; 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; Christopher M. Watford, The Civil War in North
Carolina: Soldiers' and Civilians' Letters and Diaries, 1861-1865. Volume 2: The Mountains; Library of Congress; North Carolina Museum of History; William F. Fox, Regimental Losses in the American
Civil War; archives.gov; whitehouse.gov; bioguide.congress.gov; senate.gov.