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by Michael Gaddy, ©2015

William Holland Thomas, although a “white man,” served as chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and as a colonel in the Confederate Army

(Jul. 19, 2015) — (Author’s note: I must confess to being perplexed and angry, a condition brought on by trying to understand how doing away with all visible and audible signs of my heritage and culture which represents 7-8 centuries of resistance to tyranny will in any way assuage a culture which mainly consists of hunting animals with sharp sticks, capturing and selling members of their own race into slavery and shooting each other on the streets of the big cities of this country for sport and entertainment. I have come to realize in order to understand this cultural phenomenon truth must by necessity become the first casualty.)

By today’s view of public opinion shared by many of those indoctrinated by a 24 hour news culture, William Thomas, who organized a company of Rebels to serve in the Confederate forces and was promptly elected its captain, would be considered a “racist” for he did march and go into battle with his troops under the Confederate banner. Thomas’s longtime friend, James W. Terrell, would be elected second in command. He too would be a “racist” when one applies the guilt by association rule commonly espoused by almost everyone in this country from Amazon to NASCAR. But, after those two leaders, the “racism” of the remaining men under Thomas’ command becomes murky at best.

Thomas appointed as second lieutenant in his company a man by the name of Peter Graybeard and another by the name of John Astoogatogeh. If we apply the aforementioned guilt-by-association rule in this case, both of these two men of color, and the majority of Thomas’ company, would also become “racists.” For you see, the great majority of soldiers in this unit were Cherokee.

John Astoogatogeh was the grandson of the great Cherokee chief Junaluska and was well respected in the area by whites and Cherokee alike. A devout Christian, Astoogatogeh had been instrumental into getting the New Testament translated into the Cherokee language; uncommon work for your garden variety racist.

As Thomas and his company traveled toward Knoxville, Tennessee to be mustered into Confederate service in April of 1862, they recruited more volunteers into their unit; both white and red at almost every village and town.

Upon their arrival in Knoxville, the unit became one of celebrity status with a large crowd in attendance for their first parade. Afterwards the unit found a hill on which to camp and established what they called Camp Aganstata. It was not uncommon for crowds to gather around the camp to watch the unit drill in what one local newspaper called “the wonder of the city.”

The Knoxville Daily Register on 2 May of 1862 wrote the following reference Thomas’ unit church attendance on 27 April.

…At the appointed time the battalion formed in double file, and marched under an elegant Confederate flag, under command of Major G.W. Morgan. Entering the city at the east end of Main Street… the troops attired in their new dress, continued the march, and entered the Church in an orderly and quiet manner. It was at once seen that public expectation was so high as to have drawn out a larger crowd than the building could accommodate. An offer was made of the First Presbyterian Church, and the meeting was adjourned to that large and commodious building. The pews on the south side of the aisle… were assigned to and at once occupied by the Cherokee braves. The Rev. W.A. Harrison, pastor of the Church, introduced to the audiences ‘our brother Unaguskie, Chaplain of the Cherokee battalion,’ and the services commenced by reading and singing (in the standing posture) a hymn in their own dialect. The types resemble a little the Hebrew, but are read from the left side, as our common language. Prayer followed, the chaplain and his braves all kneeling. Another hymn was sung, and the text announced, as found in Luke, 6 chap.: 43 verse. The sermon was, like the entire service, delivered in the original Cherokee language, but was addressed alike to all his auditors, wherever seated or of whatever complexion… [the services] were probably two hours long, and in every part of them secured the fixed attention of a very large auditory. Every part of the church was filled, and yet not a word was understood by any one…

How did this happen? How did a military unit comprised mostly of “people of color,” marching “under an elegant Confederate flag” attending a religious service held in their own language, receive so much attention, admiration and support from those racist white people in the mountains of Eastern Tennessee?

Hold on, I’m about to get to the really good part!

First of all, it should be noted that while several in Thomas’ Legion in 1862 were armed with what was commonly referred to as “squirrel rifles,” many were armed only with steel-tipped spears and bows and arrows.

In October of 1862, elements of Thomas’ Legion were dispatched to the Cumberland Gap area to thwart advances of Union Cavalry under the command of Union General George Morgan. In one particular area known as “Baptist Gap,” Thomas’ forces were ambushed. The Union skirmishers spotted in one of the lead Confederate forces a soldier with a rather unique head covering. Of course many of the sharpshooters zeroed in on this one individual soldier. In the first volley, the Cherokee’s beloved lieutenant, John Astoogatogeh was killed instantly. At once both companies of Cherokee soldiers charged into the Indiana troops who had set up the ambush before they could reload. It became most disconcerting for these Union troops as war-hoops and yells echoed among the trees and rocks. The Union troops from Indiana were overwhelmed and suffered terrible losses. The Cherokees, as was their fashion, began to scalp their victims—dead and wounded. The survivors who could still run—did so. Their stories upon returning to their camp must have been something. The reputation of Thomas’ Legion was established.

Of course when Thomas himself learned of the scalping he was upset. According to various sources, a letter of apology was sent to the Union forces under a flag of truce. Also brought along was a burlap bag (a toe sack to we Southrons) containing the scalps taken by the Cherokees so they could receive a “Christian burial.”

Thomas’ Legion became known to historians as the 69th North Carolina Regiment; the rare unit at the time that contained forces of Infantry, Artillery and Cavalry. The history of these soldiers who are having their heritage destroyed and demeaned along with others who wore the Gray and marched under “the elegant Confederate flag” can be found in a wonderful book by William R. Trotter titled, Bushwhackers: The Civil War in North Carolina.

Of Scottish and Cherokee heritage, John Ross served as chief of the Cherokee Nation from 1828 to 1866

How many people are aware the “Five Civilized Tribes” joined forces with the Confederacy and fought against what they saw as the Union invader? Perhaps the symbols of all those tribes should be taken down and declared racist! On 28 October of 1861, Cherokee Chief John Ross actually wrote out the reasons the Cherokee chose to support the South against the Union. I include for your edification this excerpt:

“…But, in the Northern States, the Cherokee people saw with alarm a violated constitution, all civil liberty put in peril, and all rules of civilized warfare and the dictates of common humanity and decency unhesitatingly disregarded. In states which still adhered to the Union, a military despotism had displaced the civil power and the laws became silent amid arms. Free speech and almost free thought became a crime. The right of the writ of habeas corpus, guaranteed by the constitution, disappeared at the nod of a Secretary of State or a general of the lowest grade. The mandate of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court was at naught by the military power, and this outrage on common right, approved by a President sworn to support the constitution. War on the largest scale was waged, and the immense bodies of troops called into the field in the absence of any law warranting it under the pretense of suppressing unlawful combination of men.

The humanities of war, which even barbarians respect, were no longer thought worthy to be observed. Foreign mercenaries and the scum of the cities and the inmates of prisons were enlisted and organized into brigades and sent into Southern States to aid in subjugating a people struggling for freedom, to burn, to plunder, and to commit the basest of outrages on the women. 

While the heels of armed tyranny trod upon the necks of Maryland and Missouri, and men of the highest character and position were incarcerated upon suspicion and without process of law, in jails, in forts, and prison ships, and even women were imprisoned by the arbitrary order of a President and Cabinet Ministers; while the press ceased to be free, and the publication of newspapers was suspended and their issues seized and destroyed…”

I, once, many years ago, wrote an article in which I addressed the fact, when blacks were requesting reparations for slavery, the Black race in this country owes reparations to our American Indians for their participation (Buffalo soldiers) in the wars designed to eradicate the American Indian which occurred following the War to deny Southern Independence. We do remember of course how proud the blacks are of the Buffalo Soldiers.

I find it somewhat amusing that those who cherish and uplift the stories of the Buffalo Soldiers claim they were not involved in any massacres of American Indians or their displacements but were “actually camped near where some of the massacres occurred and assisted the survivors.” Yeah, right! President Clinton, our first black president, also smoked Marijuana but he didn’t inhale.

Union General William Tecumseh Sherman once wrote to his wife in October of 1862: “the war will soon assume a turn to extermination not of soldiers alone, that is the least part of the trouble, but the people. …There is a class of people, men, women, and children, who must be killed…” (Emphasis mine)

If the symbols of the Confederacy in the War to Prevent Southern Independence are completely destroyed, do the advocates of that destruction believe the “resistance to tyranny” in the DNA of “the class of people, men, women and children, who must be killed” will perish with our flag, our ancestors, our monuments and historic sites, or is further action necessary? Perhaps a better understanding of those “Racist” Rebels, white and red, of Thomas’ Legion is in order.


“Patriotism–real patriotism–has a most important venue, and it is not always about putting on a uniform to fight some senseless, insane war in order to sustain the meaningless myths about freedom or America’s greatness.  There is a higher loyalty that real patriotism demands and encompasses, and that loyalty is the pursuit of truth, no matter how painful or uncomfortable the journey.” ~Peter Janney

“We Americans are the ultimate innocents. We are forever desperate to believe that this time the government is telling us the truth.” ~Sydney Schanberg

“Most human beings only think they want freedom. In truth they yearn for the bondage of social order, rigid laws, materialism. The only freedom man really wants, is the freedom to become comfortable.” ~Emma Goldman

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  1. Bravo to this writer who obviously was not taught that nugget of true history in a government school, once again proving that the winner gets to rewrite history.

  2. Finally the TRUTH is coming forth. A. Lincoln established BIG GOVERNMENT. The rest is history.
    Great article. Make it viral
    George N. Crawford