W. H. Thomas’s “Legion of Indians and Mountaineers”

W.H. ThomasOn April 9, 1862, William Holland Thomas joined the Confederate army and brought his Cherokee recruits with him. Thomas’s Legion, as Thomas and his men came to be known, was a Civil War unit unlike any other. Made up of both whites and Cherokees, the Legion fought in western North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.

A native of Waynesville, Thomas became close to the Cherokees at an early age and was adopted into their tribe. He studied law and successfully represented the tribe against the federal government during Andrew Jackson’s Indian removal efforts.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Thomas recruited soldiers from the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee to serve in the Confederate army. His Legion was made up of several infantry and artillery units, including an Indian Battalion. After fighting throughout the region, Thomas’s Legion was given the task of protecting the local people in the North Carolina mountains, a task made especially difficult by the high concentrations of active Union sympathizers in the area.

Members of Thomas’s Legion. Image from the State Archives.

Toward the end of the war, Thomas negotiated the surrender of his troops in Waynesville. When his men returned home, the region was still a no-man’s-land with pro-Union and pro-Confederate factions skirmishing throughout the area.

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