Teaching through our historic sites

William H. Thomas

Thomas' Legion of Indians and Highlanders (69th NC Regiment)

Thomas' Legion is commonly referred to, but was never officially designated, as the 69th Regiment, North Carolina Troops. The unit was organized on September 27, 1862 in Knoxville, Tennessee by Cherokee chief William Holland Thomas. The unit was primarily composed of mountain men and approximately 400 Cherokees from Haywood, Jackson, and Cherokee counties in North Carolina, with a small number of men recruited in east Tennessee.

Totaling over 1,100 men, Thomas' Legion was an independent group that was loosely under the command of Confederate general Henry Heth. The men were armed mainly with older, .69 caliber, smoothbore muskets and fought a primarily defensive guerrilla style of warfare. They defended important passes in the Smoky Mountains, railroads, and Confederate supply depots, as well as provided security from Unionist partisans to mountain residents. In the summer of 1864, they joined Gen. Jubal Early's command during his Shenandoah Valley Campaign.

Thomas' Legion laid claim to the last shot fired in the Civil War east of the Mississippi River. Elements of the Legion skirmished with Union forces near present-day Waynesville, North Carolina on May 6, 1865. The Legion also claims the last formal surrender of Confederate troops in the war. The last remaining company of the Legion, led by Capt. Stephen Whitaker, surrendered to Union colonel George W. Kirk in Franklin County, North Carolina on May 12, 1865.

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