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The history of Oakley 1 Reply

Started by Rob Neufeld in Local History. Last reply by Sheilah Jastrzebski May 16.

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Glenda Council Beall left a comment for Susan Lee Anderson
"It was good seeing you today, Susan. I am glad you are using your writing talent and speaking ability in such a good way. Glenda Beall "
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Terrel Garren's speech at Lt. Col William Clay Walker's grave, Nov. 2, 2010

IN MEMORIUM

Lt. Colonel William Clay Walker, Commanding
Walker’s Battalion of Thomas Legion, Confederate States Army

McGuire’s Mill Race Farm
November 2, 2010
By
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 ultimate price.

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 interconnected.

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 Battalion.”

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 considered treason.

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 killed him.

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 pursue.

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.

Thank you.

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