Thomas's Legion historical marker

Thomas's Legion (Q-56)

William H. Thomas led Confederate "Legion of Indians & Mountaineers." Cherokee companies raised nearby in 1862.

Location: US 441 at US 19 in Cherokee
County: Swain
Original Date Cast: 2004

Raised for the Confederacy by William Holland Thomas, Thomas’s Legion was a Civil War unit unlike any other. Comprising both whites and Cherokees, the Legion fought in western sections of North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. Thomas at an early age became close to the Cherokees, learning their language, becoming an advocate for their rights, and indeed was so close that he was adopted into the tribe. He studied law and became an attorney, successfully representing the tribe against the federal government during the Removal. As a result, he was named Chief of the North Carolina tribe in 1839.

Thomas joined the Confederate army in 1862 and brought his Cherokee recruits with him, mustering in the company at Quallatown on April 9, 1862. The first unit became the basis from which Thomas built his Legion and was comprised almost completely of Cherokees. Thomas continued to recruit soldiers from the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee and developed the Legion into units of infantry and artillery. The infantry regiment was comprised of ten companies. What became known as Love’s Regiment in time boasted just over 1,000 troops. A second element of Thomas’s Legion was Walker’s Battalion, mustered into service in Cherokee County by William Stringfield. The artillery section of Thomas’s Legion was added in April 1863 and was known as Levi’s Battery. The final component of the Legion was the Indian Battalion.

Thomas and his contingent of Cherokees and mountaineers, collectively known as Thomas’s Legion, took part in fighting at Cedar Creek, Winchester, Staunton, and in efforts to control pro-Union guerilla warfare. The last responsibility, of protecting citizens in a region ripped apart by violent guerilla troops, was especially difficult. This facet of the Civil War was highly controversial, and the role of Thomas’s Legion was tenuous given the complications inherent for Confederate forces operating in areas of high concentrations of active Union sympathizers. At the end of the war, about a month after Lee’s surrender to Grant, Thomas helped to negotiate the surrender of his men in Waynesville. Thomas’s contribution to negotiation of the surrender included an organized show of force, by painted Cherokee warriors, to the outnumbered Union troops. As a part of the terms of surrender, Thomas’s men were able to keep their weapons as they returned home since the region was still highly unsettled with pro-Union and pro-Confederate extra-military factions skirmishing throughout the area.

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’ Confederate Legion of Cherokee Indians and Mountaineers (1982)
Walter Clark, ed., Histories of the Several Regiments and Battalions from North Carolina, III (1901)
E. Stanly Godbold Jr. and Mattie U. Russell, Confederate Colonel and Cherokee Chief: The Life of William Holland Thomas (1990)
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, VI, 25—sketch by Gordon B. McKinney

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