Thomas’s Legion Sees Action at Deep Creek

Legion Reunion

A reunion of Cherokee veterans of the Civil War in 1900. Image from the State Archives

On February 2, 1864, Union Maj. Francis M. Davidson and the 14th Illinois Cavalry engaged in a skirmish with Thomas’s Legion, led by Col. William Holland Thomas, on Deep Creek near Quallatown in Haywood County. Accounts differ as to what occurred that morning, but Union forces apparently surprised the Confederates and overran them. On the Union side, two men were killed and another six were wounded, while Thomas most likely lost ten killed and thirty-two captured. Eighteen of the men taken prisoner were Cherokees. The captives were imprisoned in Knoxville, where all of the Cherokees took the oath of allegiance in early March. The event was a turning point in Cherokee allegiance to the Confederacy.

An image of William Holland Thomas from the N.C. Museum of History

An image of William Holland Thomas from the N.C. Museum of History

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

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