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William Holland Thomas, 1805-1893


William Holland Thomas, 1805-1893


William Holland Thomas was the Confederate colonel of the infamous Thomas' Legion, a command of Cherokee Indians and mountain men.


Paul Feaster


William Holland Thomas was a white southerner who was born in the northwest region of North Carolina. Though Thomas had some relation to the former president Zachery Taylor, he had relatively modest beginnings. Thomas was raised by his widowed mother and the local Cherokee tribes in the mountains of North Carolina. Utilizing his ties to the local tribes, minor relations to men in political office, and the education he received from his mother, Thomas rose to prominence through business, entrepreneurship, and politics. During his rise, Thomas became chief of a small tribe of Indians (the first and only white man to do so), expanded his business across state lines, and became a senator.

As a senator for North Carolina, Thomas openly criticized President Abraham Lincoln and promoted the interests of the slave state, though he himself had relatively little investment in slavery. Thomas’ reason for supporting secession from the United States was based on his hopes to turn the north-most States of the South into a new center for tourism and new businesses.

Upon the start of the Civil War, Thomas appealed to Confederate President Jefferson Davis for permission to recruit a command of Cherokee Indians for the Confederate army. With the permission of Davis and the Confederate Congress, Thomas recruited a Confederate force of Cherokee and mountain men to defend the Cumberland Gap from northern advances. Thomas’ Legion became infamous for their ability to evade hostile forces and for scalping enemy soldiers.


Information on the life of William H Thomas came mainly from these sources.

Godbold, Stanly, and Mattie Russell. Confederate Colonel and Cherokee Chief. Knoxville, Tenessee: The University of Tennessee, 1990.

Thomsen, Paul. Rebel Chief . New York City, NY: Tom Doherty Associates, 2004.


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Paul Feaster , William Holland Thomas, 1805-1893, Civil War Era NC, accessed April 15, 2024,