Deep Creek historical marker

Deep Creek (Q-8)

Site of Union attack on Thomas’s Legion, Feb. 2, 1864. Reduced Cherokee support for Confederacy. One mile northeast.

Location: US 19 (Main Street) at Everett Street in Bryson City
County: Swain
Original Date Cast: 2009

In January 1864, Brig. Gen. Robert Vance, leading the 14th Battalion North Carolina Cavalry and a small artillery section, led a raid on Union-held Gatlinburg, Tennessee. While marching into the Volunteer State, Vance’s expedition was joined by 100 members, Cherokees and whites, of Thomas’s Legion, led by Col. William Holland Thomas. Having briefly disrupted Union supply lines, Vance’s force retired back toward North Carolina.

On January 14, a Union cavalry force caught up with Vance at Schultz’s Mill and scattered the Confederates. Thomas’s detachment was not present. Thomas retreated with his small detachment into North Carolina and camped near Quallatown. Union forces quickly realized that they had missed them, and therefore had not eliminated the Confederate threat in the area. Brig. Gen. Samuel D. Sturgis dispatched Maj. Francis M. Davidson and the 14th IL Cavalry to intercept and destroy Thomas’s force.

On February 2, Davidson’s men caught up with Thomas’s on Deep Creek. Accounts differ as to what occurred that morning, but Union forces apparently surprised the Confederates and overran them. Federal forces lost two killed and six wounded, while Thomas most likely lost ten killed and thirty-two captured. Eighteen taken prisoners were Cherokees. The captives were imprisoned in Knoxville, where all of the Cherokees took the oath of allegiance in early March.

The event proved to be a turning point in Cherokee allegiance to Thomas and the Confederacy. At least one, and perhaps two, of the Cherokees captured at Deep Creek joined the Union army and served in Company D, 3rd NC Mounted Infantry (Union). Two weeks after the encounter at Deep Creek, a federal raid captured 33 of Thomas’s Cherokees. The men were sent to Knoxville where, according to the Asheville News, they were “flattered and feasted,” and “promised their liberty and five thousand dollars in gold if they would bring in the scalp of their chief, Col. William H. Thomas.” All the prisoners took the oath, and several enlisted in the 3rd NC Mounted Infantry (Union).

The affair at Deep Creek undermined Thomas’s recruiting efforts amongst the Cherokees. The event coincided with internal conflicts, skyrocketing food prices due to inflation, a harsh winter, and increase in starvation among Indian families. Although Thomas attempted to assuage the food shortages by purchasing grain from South Carolina, it was his inability to stop Union raids into western North Carolina such as that at Deep Creek that led to the continual desertion of the Eastern Band from the Confederate cause.

Walter Clark, ed., Histories of the Several Regiments and Battalions from North Carolina, III (1901)
Matthew W. Brown and Michael W. Coffey, eds., North Carolina Troops, 1861-1865: A Roster, XVI (2008)
Vernon H. Crow, Storm in the Mountains: Thomas’s Confederate Legion of Cherokee Indians and Mountaineers (1982)
E. Stanly Godbold Jr. and Mattie U. Russell, Confederate Colonel and Cherokee Chief: The Life of William Holland Thomas (1990)
War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records (1889)

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