Lt. Colonel William Clay Walker, Commanding
Walker’s Battalion of Thomas Legion, Confederate States Army
McGuire’s Mill Race Farm
November 2, 2010
TERRELL T. GARREN
Today we are gathered to offer recognition to an ordinary citizen.
Just a regular guy who might have gone unnoticed had it not been
for the time in which he lived. A time like no other, a time of
hope and great disappointment, a time of toil and sacrifice, and
worst of all, a time of destruction and early death.
Even with great odds stacked against them and with their personal
survival at risk, the best of men step forward at such times and
the truly great ones step to the front. They serve and they
sacrifice equally with the most common among us. They often pay the
We only see great men from time to time. Often they are not with us
very long. They are the true leaders among us. To me, one of the
greatest was William Clay Walker, Confederate Colonel and North
Carolina hero. An ordinary citizen who came of age within the dark
shadows of the The American Civil War. Were it not for the war, he
might have lived to an advanced age while enjoying the tranquil
serenity of the forest and mountains around him. But for William
Clay Walker this could not be. Destiny would take him away from
home and family and eventually take his life.
We have to go back a ways to understand how the people of Cherokee
County and the other WNC counties and the Cherokee Indians were
At the time of the removal and the “Trail of Tears,” Cherokee
Indians and their white neighbors were considerably integrated.
Church minutes going back to 1834 prove that there were mixed
congregations of Cherokee and whites in the area. When in 1838
President Jackson set about moving the Cherokee to Oklahoma, many
local whites sheltered, hid and protected the Cherokee. There were
many inter-marriages between Cherokees and mountain whites.
When Fort Sumter was bombed and Lincoln announced an invasion of
the south, the “upper tier states” of Arkansas, Tennessee, North
Carolina and Virginia which had not seceded with the deep south
states, reversed position and did so. Lincoln’s plan to invade the
South pushed them into secession. North Carolina left the Union on
May 20, 1861. Just 28 days later, William Clay Walker was elected
Captain of the newly formed Cherokee Guards. This group was
officially designated Company A, 29th NC Infantry Regiment in the
fall of 1861.
Walker’s potential as a leader had long been recognized in Cherokee
County. He had represented Cherokee County in the North Carolina
legislature in the late 1850s. So it came as no surprise that on
September 24, 1861 Captain Walker was transferred to Field &
Staff and promoted to Lt. Col. for the Regiment.
In early 1862 Col. Walker fell ill for a period. This resulted in
his return to Cherokee County. When William Holland Thomas began
raising his legion, Walker, who had regained his health, was once
again called upon to serve. This time he organized a company and
joined Thomas Legion as a Captain. Throughout 1862 Walker and his
men served in East Tennessee and Western North Carolina guarding
the railroads and mountain passes.
During this period, Walker and his men worked side by side with
their Cherokee brothers. The alliance between the whites of
Cherokee County and the Indians was a bond of both blood and steel.
The whites and the Indians were so intermarried that direct family
ties strengthened their bond of state.
In October 1862 Colonel Thomas decided to reorganize his unit. He
organized a new battalion and William Clay Walker was elected by
the men to serve as Lt. Colonel and commander of the unit. From
then until present day this unit has been known as “Walker’s
In 1863 the tide of war began to shift. The overwhelming numerical
and material advantages of the North began to take their toll. The
many bloody battles of 1862 and the hardships of camp life had led
many men to desertion and eventually led some to what the majority
During this period, things began to deteriorate for the southerners
who continued to fight on. Walker and his men were increasingly
forced to fight deserters, bushwhackers and criminals of every
description. Lt. James N. Bryson described it when he wrote: “the
outlaws are a terror to the citizens, and especially the soldier’s
wives who are alone.” Michael W. Coffey writing for the North
Carolina Office of Archives and History stated, “Bryson concluded
that the men were mainly deserters and draft evaders.”
Throughout this period Walker’s men and the Cherokees kept major
Union armies from penetrating the area. But this did not totally
prevent raids and crimes from befalling the citizens. In 1863, a
Tennessee mercenary by the name of Goldman Bryson led raids against
Cherokee County and Murphy in particular. He was a paid operative
for the Union Army.
Goldman Bryson led another raid on Murphy in October 1863. This
time Confederate General Vaughn supported by Walker’s Battalion and
the Cherokee Confederates met him. Bryson was defeated and forced
to retreat. The next day Lt. Campbell Taylor, himself a Cherokee,
led a party of nineteen Indians in pursuit of Goldman Bryson and
his raiders. The Cherokees went for two days without food. Finally,
they tracked down Goldman Bryson near his home in Tennessee and
But the threat of raids in the area persisted and the citizens
suffered terribly because of it. In spite of all the raids and the
resulting difficulties, the private citizens of the area knew they
could count on one officer to protect and defend them. There was
also a constant problem with Confederate armies from Tennessee and
Georgia coming into Western North Carolina and taking supplies
without paying for them.
In late 1863 Col. Walker was ordered to organize a defense of
Cherokee County using his men and Cherokees from the Indian
Battalion. While Col. Thomas was famous for giving unclear
instructions and keeping poor records, the same could not be said
of Col. Walker. Michael W. Coffey writing for the NC Department of
Archives and History wrote the following: “Whatever doubts he might
have harbored, Walker instructed C. C. Berry and Whitaker on
November 19 to gather up all their officers and men and rendezvous
with him at Murphy on November 23…Unlike Thomas, Walker provided
specific instructions for Whitaker which demonstrated his concern
for the citizens: Whitaker was to draw upon government cattle only,
and was to buy corn from the locals. All sellers were to be
presented with receipts showing the exact number of bushels
purchased to show to the local quartermaster for reimbursement.
Impressment of private property was strictly forbidden, as was the
absence from camp without orders…”
Throughout his military career Walker consistently demonstrated
that he was a man of honor, dignity and integrity. In addition he
was known to be intelligent, skilled and efficient. He was also
dedicated and loyal.
By the end of 1863, the Union Army had completely taken over east
Tennessee. They had not ventured into WNC except to raid and run
back to Tennessee. The main reason they feared coming here was
because they knew WNC was guarded and protected by Cherokee
Confederates. The Union Army feared the Cherokee and they hated
them. It was at this time that Union General Sturgis began forming
plans to attack the Cherokee directly.
Even today, one can use common sense and logic to calculate
probabilities and most likely scenarios. If you were planning an
attack against the Cherokees and you had spies telling you critical
information about the armies and the men in WNC, who would
represent the most credible threat to your plans? There was only
one man who was trusted and respected by all, the soldiers, the
civilians, the Indians and the enemy. There was only one man who
was likely to lead a swift and punitive response. There was only
one man both skilled and brave enough to lead such a response. That
man was Lt. Col. William Clay Walker.
Sometimes luck has more to do with victory that skill or bravery.
It was extremely good fortune for the Union Army that Col. Walker
had come down with typhoid fever and was home sick and
incapacitated in bed.
It is my opinion that local spies reported this to Union Army. I
believe that the Union officers probably acted quickly. They hired
locals to lead an approach Col. Walker’s home. At least one of the
assassins had to have been known to the family; otherwise I don’t
think the Walkers would have opened the door. But at any rate, on
the night of January 3, 1864, men knocked on the door of Walker’s
home. When the door was opened they burst into the house and shot
Col. Walker dead in front of his wife and children. Thus ended the
life of a great man, Confederate Colonel and North Carolina hero
William Clay Walker.
From the day it happened, everyone in WNC called it “murder.”
Honestly, I don’t think you can call it that. It was a military
assassination. The US Navy did the same thing to Admiral Yamamoto
during WWII. A war was on and that’s what people do in wars, they
kill each other.
It is also my opinion that the killing was part of the larger plan
to attack and kill the Cherokees. Just 29 days after Walker was
assassinated the 14th Illinois Cavalry, aided by the same spies,
snuck through the passes and attacked the Cherokee at Deep Creek.
Many Cherokees were killed, wounded or captured. Since it was a
winter camp in native territory I suspect that women and children
were also killed or injured. It was a great blow to the Cherokees
and the Confederate cause in WNC. Captain Berry and Sgt. John
Smiley tried to organize a response but the Union soldiers were
long gone by the time they moved with force.
When I discovered this long forgotten battle at Deep Creek last
year, I was surprised to learn that almost no one seemed to be
aware of it. I spent several months digging into the research and
in the fall of 2009 I submitted a formal application to the North
Carolina Office of Archives and History to have the site officially
recognized. After quite a long process and extensive research by
the department, my application was formally approved in December
2009. On October 19, 2010 a North Carolina Highway Historical
Marker was placed in front of the old courthouse in Bryson City
permanently marking the site for future generations.
My only regret is that Col. Walker has not been equally recognized.
Proper recognition for Walker is something I will continue to
So here I stand nearly a century and a half later speaking of
behalf of this great man. So, in closing I ask for no recognition
for myself. Instead I request that you stand with me in recognition
our Cherokee brothers and Colonel Walker.