William Holland Thomas Papers

Thomas' Legion
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Hundreds of original letters and diary entries

[additional papers at bottom of this page]

William Holland Thomas to his wife, January 1, 1861 -

North Carolina cannot remain much longer stationary; she must write her destiny either under the flag of Mr. Lincoln and aid to coerce the south or unite with the south to resist and defend their rights.

John C. Inscoe, The Heart of Confederate Appalachia, 46-7.



Thomas Clingman to William H. Thomas, January 9, 1861

The obvious policy and purpose of the Black Republicans is to keep the South unprepared and divided until they can get into power, and then their intention is unmistakable — to use all the power of the government to compel the South to submit to their domination, to the extent even of abolishing slavery, should civil war afford them a tolerable pretext. If, however, North Carolina, Virginia and the border States will act at once, they may, by Preserving a united South, avert the evils of civil war. 

John C. Inscoe, Mountain Masters, Slavery and the Sectional, 225.



William H. Thomas to his wife, June 17, 1861

The mountains of Western North Carolina would be the center of the Confederacy, we shall then have one of the most prosperous countries in the world.  It will become connected with every part of the South by railroad.  It will then become the center of manufacturing for the Southern market.  The place where the southern people will spend their money, educate their children and very probably make laws for the nation. 

John C. Inscoe, Mountain Masters, Slavery and the Sectional, 228.




                                                              Strawberry Plains, November 8, 1862.


DEAR SIR: Summer is gone; fall has come. During the latter we came near losing East Tennessee. At present we have to look out for the future.I beg leave to submit a plan for the defenses of East Tennessee, which has been submitted to Gen. Jones and others, and received their approval.1st. Let a depot be established at the west and of the bridge at Strawberry Plains.2d. Let the road be completed from that point into the road leading to Blain's Cross-Roads.3d. This would complete the opening of the wagon communication between the East Tennessee and Virginia Railroad and Kentucky. To secure this communication to be kept open, I would respectfully recommend the establishment of a line of posts, from 15 to 20 miles apart, on the plan adopted on the road leading from the Mississippi Valley to California. The wagons, by stopping at a post each night, could be protected, which would secure us permanently.To complete this communication with Kentucky, a guard of Indians or other soldiers would be necessary to pass from post to post, and an old-fashioned block-house should be built at such post to protect our troops against sudden emergencies.The present prices of salt produce the necessity of putting in operation the Goose Creek salt-works, where coal is in convenient distance to the salt works, and carting a few hundred yards completes the connection between the salt-works and fuel. But there is another advantage to be anticipated. It will secure the control of the article of salt in the hands of Government agents. That is worth more than 5,000 troops. Besides, it will secure a communication with Southern Kentucky to be kept open, which will facilitate trade in beef, bacon, &c., of much advantage to us. We need their breadstuffs, bacon, beef, &c.

Yours, truly,

                                                                                   WM. H. THOMAS,

Colonel, Commanding Legion of Indians and Highlanders.

Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Ser. I, Vol. 20, pt. II, p. 395.



[Colonel William H. Thomas to North Carolina Governor Zebulon Baird Vance] 


Nov. 22 1862


In the progress of the war men and circumstances change. At the commencement you were in the military and I was in Civil positions. Now my position is what your position was then. I find myself at the head of a Regment or Legion of Indians and mountaineers, entrusted with duties in East Tennessee and Kentucky. And as your duties relate principally to the defence of North Carolina permit me to submit for your consideration a few facts believed to be connected with the public services and the defense of the State.

1st Would it not be advisable to make an arrangement to have able bodied negro men belonging to the counties in reach of the enemy employed by the State and transferred from their present positions to work on the extension of the Railroad?

They could, I presume, be employed for the cost on ensurance and food and raiment. By this two objects would be gained. 1st every negro would be saving of $1000, to the owner. 2d Every able bodied negro kept out of the hands of the enemy would lessen the number of troops we have to raise in defence, equal to a saving of at least $1000 per year. Thus if North Carolina employed ten thousand negroes on the road where a small force could keep them in subjection, $10,000,000 would be saved to the owners, and 10,000 men more would defend our cause.

One consideration now animates us all. What will ensure success not what would be most agreeable to us. The Legislature appropriated two millions of dollars to defend Eastern North Carolina and the Western frontiers? Both are now in danger. The western Counties are in danger of being over run by deserters and renegades who by the hundred are taking shelter in the smoky mountains. The men between 35 and 40 west of the Blue Ridge should be furnished with arms and ammunition, and required to aid in guarding their homes. And the Confederate should be required to place Military compys at every trap in the Smoky mountains from Ashe to Cherokee. As long as we can hold the Country encircled by the Blue Ridge and Cumberland mountains and their outside slopes we have the heart of the south, which commands the surrounding Plains. The loss of this country larger than England or France is the loss of the Confederacy and we sink under a despotism.              

                                                                                             W. H. Thomas

Colonel William H. Thomas to North Carolina Governor Zebulon Baird Vance, Raleigh, Wake County. Source: Governor Vance Papers, North Carolina Division of Archives and History.



              Nov 14, 1863

Col. William C. Walker

Dear Sir

      I received your note per J S Berry.  I enclose herewith a copy of Brig. Genl Vance’s letter, from which you will perceive that it was contemplated that you should for the present remain in Cherokee, collect in your troops and report to me and I to Genl Vance. Looking however to a forward movement and a reunion of the Legion, about ten days ago the portion of it under Lt Col Jas R. Love was at Greenville and as the enemy has but little or no force at strawberry Plains, it is quite probable that our troops will be there in a few days. If in your opinion any of the troops under your immediate command now in cherokee [are] necessary for the restoration of law and order and the defence of the good citizens, retain them and use them for what purposes. But the Indian company, I and Smith and Mattey will come on with out delay to Rocky Point. I expect to be there myself in a few days. I presume from what J S Berry tells me that you are not able for active service. The home guards of cherokee co…thrown in with your troops will for the time be subject to your order. As you have sent on a few of the troops, they can fall in with the Indian company in Chero or Rocky Point. I have no doubt but that a passage will be open to their companies in a few days. And it is quite probable that the militia will be able to maintain order in cherokee as soon as our army gets full. Send of a portion of your men who are no longer needed in Cherokee county. You and they can come on and join the remainder of the troops with me at Rocky Point of some other place. Brig Genl [Robert] Vance will move down French Broad an he recently made a move down that river and brought out a quantity of hogs etc.

                                                                                                Your obt servt

                                                                                                Wm H Thomas

                                                                                                Col T L.

Colonel Thomas to Colonel William C. Walker, Source: Stephen Whitaker Papers (39), Private Manuscripts Collection, North Carolina Division of Archives and History.

Quallatown, N.C., February 28, 1864.


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.

[Editor's Comments: Colonel Thomas 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. Will Thomas 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 the requests of Col. Thomas, thus postponing the Indians’ starvation.]

Your obedient servant,

WM. H. Thomas

Colonel Thomas’ Legion Indians and Highlanders

O.R., 53, 313-314

[added: paid by R.J. [illegible]]
Stekoa Nov [November] 20, 1865
Dr Jno [John] Mingus
If you have assafeotida [asafetida] I want you to send me an ounce by the first opportunity. Also procure me at least two gallons purified whiskey and [unclear: inform] me, The small pox is coming so close [illegible] that it becomes necessary to use assafeotida [asafetida] and whiskey as a preventative,
[Signed] Wm H [William Holland] Thomas
Source: Museum of the Cherokee Indian

Below is from the Knoxville (Tennessee) Register:


February 21, 1863 - Thomas' Legion


The Indian Legion.--Major Thomas, commanding the Legion of Cherokee

Indians, who have rendered much service to the Confederate cause in East

Tennessee, was in our city yesterday. The Major is now with his aboriginal

allies in the mountains on the border between this State and North Carolina,

where he is in reality conciliating the tories. Let us mention a fact or two

communicated to us by Major Thomas, to the credit of these dusky warriors.

They excel any troops in either the Northern or Southern armies for

subordination--an Indian always executes an order with religious fidelity.

They scrupulously respect private property--there are no reports of

depredations where they are encamped. They are the best scouts in the world,

and hence the good that they have accomplished among the mountain tories

and bush-whackers. A notice that Maj. Thomas' Indians are in a section of

country brings in the dodgers at once, for they know that hiding out will not

avail against the Cherokees. By their aid the Major has enlisted without

bloodshed, a great many men in his corps of sappers and miners, who have

thus been converted from mischievous tories and bush-whackers into useful

employees of the Confederate Government. The Major, if the war lasts, will yet

be of infinite service to the Government.--Knoxville Register, [February] 21st.

Lt. Colonel William C. Walker had prior service in the 29th North Carolina Infantry Regiment. While at home in January 1864, he was awakened and murdered by outlaws. Walker's Battalion was unofficially called the 80th and also never received official recognition above battalion status. It is the writer's view that many believed the battalion qualified with regimental strength and therefore called it a "regiment." Perhaps Walker's Battalion should have been officially recognized as Walker's Regiment and designated the 80th North Carolina Infantry Regiment.
In 1861 a typical regiment mustered approximately 1,100 soldiers. In late 1863 and by early 1864, due to combat fatalities (killed-in-action), diseases, desertions, wounds, missing-in-action, enlistment expiration, and soldiers captured by the enemy, many regiments were reduced by as much as 70%.

In late 1864, Walker's Battalion met or qualified by reason of its numerical strength.

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.

William Holland Thomas Papers:

Highly Recommended Reading: Storm in the Mountains: Thomas' Confederate Legion of Cherokee Indians and Mountaineers (Thomas' Legion: The Sixty-ninth North Carolina Regiment). 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, a Confederate colonel and Cherokee chief, William Holland Thomas. Continued...

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.

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