During the Civil War, Gatlinburg was occupied by Confederate forces under Major William H. Thomas. He organized a regiment of guerrillas, Indians, and whites totaling about two hundred men called the Thomas Legion. He promised the local men that if they joined his unit, they would not be called on to fight. They would only be used for road building and for mining work at Alum Cave. Food was being conscripted from the local people by the occupying forces; so this was good news to the hungry men. Alum Cave was a source for saltpeter, which was used to make gun powder and minerals which could be used to make Epson Salts. Both commodities were badly needed by the Confederate forces. Thomas made arrangements with the Confederate authorities to issue rations of flour and other food to the starving locals. Boys, too young to fight, were sent from Gatlinburg to Jefferson City by horseback or on foot to bring back the provisions. These rations did not contain soda or salt. It is said that salt cost a dollar a pound, and that men had to go by horseback to North Carolina to obtain the precious condiment. The occupation of Gatlinburg by Confederate forces lasted about two years. Thomas toward the end of the war told the local men that they would be required to fight. The Gatlinburg men became angry that Thomas had broken his promise to them; so they deserted.
In December of 1863 two companies of Union soldiers were ordered to roust the Confederates from Gatlinburg. Colonial William J. Palmer of Fifteenth Pennsylvania Cavalry led one hundred fifty men by mountain trails from Wear’s Valley. Reverend J. D. Lawson (a Wears Valley native) led them over Rich Mountain, down Laurel Branch, through Fighting Creek Gap, and down Fighting Creek to Gatlinburg. Lieutenant-Colonel C. D. Lamborn led fifty men from Sevierville by way of Pigeon Forge. These two forces met in Gatlinburg and camped beside the river where the Riverside Hotel is located today. On the morning of December 20, 1863 the Union soldiers advanced on the blockhouse built by Major Thomas on the Burg Hill. (At this time Gatlinburg was know by the locals as The Burg) A small skirmish occurred; and being outnumbered, the Confederate forces fled toward Roaring Fork and Dudley Creek. They would then cross the mountain to their homes in North Carolina. It is said that Major Thomas was in such a hurry to leave that he left his black hat on the table. This was a great souvenir of the Union forces. Colonial Palmer did everything he could to relieve the suffering of the local people. He burned the huts around the block house, but left it with its stores for the Burg inhabitants. Guerrillas came back across the mountain and burned the block house-to keep it, they said, from falling again to the hands of the enemy. Gatlinburg did not fully recover from the Civil War until the lumber companies began to work the timber in what is now the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Theresa Williams, Genealogist
Sevier County Public Library System