War Within the War

Col. William H. Thomas
Col. William H. Thomas
Secession and war divided western North Carolinians, and neighbors and families quickly came to blows as angry words gave way to fists and guns. Confederate conscription acts fostered resistance, the mountains sheltered deserters from both sides, and armed bands brutally settled scores. Western North Carolina and East Tennessee also produced two notable leaders, one Confederate and one Unionist.

Confederate Col. William H. Thomas of North Carolina, the only white man to serve as a Cherokee chief, had helped establish the Qualla Boundary (Eastern Band of Cherokee reservation) north of Franklin. He organized Thomas’s Legion of Cherokee Indians and Mountaineers in Knoxville, Tennessee, in 1862, with 400 Cherokee in two of his companies. It fought in Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia and largely prevented the Federal occupation of western North Carolina.

In 1864, Col. George W. Kirk, a Unionist native of Greeneville in East Tennessee, organized the 3rd North Carolina Mounted Infantry (U.S.). He recruited men and boys from western North Carolina, especially in nearby Madison County, as well as in East Tennessee. Kirk and his men became famous, or infamous, for their raids on Confederate sympathizers and training camps in western North Carolina.

Commissary Train in the Mountains
Commissary Train in the Mountains — Harper's Weekly

Guerrillas Hunting Unionists with Blood Hounds — Harper's Weekly

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