Affair At Toqua

The William's Boys During
The Civil War

In Memory of 
George - Bartley - Jesse and Marion Williams, of Company H

By Bill Baker


   In June of 1861, George, Bart, Marion and William Williams, the sons of Bill and Triphena Williams of Cherokee County, North Carolina, enlisted in the Twenty-Ninth North Carolina Infantry, C.S.A. Although their enlistment pre-dated the Confederate Conscription Act, they may have been forced to join the Rebel army. By late 1864, George, Bart, Jesse and Marion were in the Union army, enlisted on the rolls of Company H, Third Tennessee Mounted Infantry, One Hundred Days Union Volunteers. They were under the command of Lt. Col. Joseph Devine. Captain Joseph Gray was their company commander. George, Bart and Jesse were all killed during the war. Marion died in 1873, finally succumbing to a bullet that struck him in 1864. Of the five Williams brothers, only my great-great-great-grandfather, William Williams, would survive the war.

   Note: Some of the following information was excerpted from the Robert B. Barker Papers, of the McClung Historical Collection, with the typing and spelling left in Mr. Barker's original note form ... other information was compiled and arranged by William D. Baker.




   When General John Crawford Vaughn of the Confederate Army, arrived in Monroe County from Carter's Depot in Carter County, upper East Tennessee, in November 1864, complaint was made to General Vaughn by citizens, regarding the raids of Bushwhackers and robbers from Ball Play in the ridges, on farmers and others near Madisonville and Sweetwater. General Vaughn had been Sheriff of Monroe County for several years, resigning to go into the Confederate Army, and he had taken the 1860 Federal Census himself on horseback and knew the Ball Play section well. General Vaughn had, with 100 Calvary, completely dispersed and routed Captain Goldman Bryson's Company at Beaver Dam, Cherokee County, N.C., October 27, 1863 and he knew exactly how to handle these Bushwhackers.

   He gave the officer, formerly in charge of his personal bodyguard, Captain W. R. Abbott, sixty to eighty men and ordered them to go to Ball Play and clean out the nest of Bushwhackers and robbers. Captain Abbott and his men, all well mounted and heavily armed, started out about December 3, 1864. The Kirkland Bushwhackers were either at their hide-out at the Kirkland Springs just below the mouth of Little Santeetlah Creek and near the present Joyce Kilmer National Memorial Forrest, in present Graham County, North Carolina, or they spotted the Confederate Calvary and fled because no Kirkland Bushwhacker was caught in the dragnet, according to available records. Apparently Captain Abbott never divided his command but swept through the 15th, 16th, 17th, and 20th Civil Districts of Monroe County, from December 4th to December 7th 1864.

   Captain Abbott picked up several deserters from the Confederate Army and several from the Union Army too. Their names and that of their regiments in the Union Army, show up on the Register at Asheville, NC Jail or at the Confederate Military Prison at Flat Rock in Henderson County, North Carolina.

   On December 4th, Captain Abbott and his men appear to have been at the Tallassee Ford (Calderwood) on the Little Tennessee River in Blount County, Tennessee, near the Monroe County line, and killed Jesse Williams (brother of George and Bart Williams) (four Williams brothers, Bartlett, George, Jesse, and Marion, are listed as privates on the rolls of Company H, 3rd Tennessee Mounted Infantry) and at the same time, captured David Ohr (Dave Orr) and Miles Gray. (also of Company H)

   On the Muster Out Roll of Company H, Third Tennessee Mounted Infantry, 100 Days Union Volunteers, it is noted of Pvt. Jesse Williams, who was around 35 years old at the time ... "Killed by Guerillas in Chilhowee Valley, Dec. 4, 1864." Of his brother, Pvt. Marion M. Williams, who was about 19 years old, this comment is found on the Muster Out Roll ... "Wounded in skirmish in N. C. on Dec. 4, 1864, and cannot be moved."

   Returning to Captain Abbott and his detachment of Scouts in Monroe County on December 7, 1864, it appears that he captured two deserters from Company D, 100 day's Third Tennessee Mounted Infantry of the Union Army, John Cottrell and his brother-in-law, Thomas R. Arp, they being in the road in a drunken condition. Cottrell tried to escape and was shot dead and Arp died later of smallpox in the Confederate Prison at Salisbury, N. C., on February 4, 1865. on the same day, December 7, 1864, Captain Abbott and his men, shot and killed Benjamin C. Mull of Captain Timothy Lyons' Company C, Third Tennessee Mounted Infantry, but no details have been found regarding the circumstances of Mull's death.

   Also, after the war, Wesley McCann, a former private of Company E, Seventh Tennessee Mounted Infantry, 12 Months Union Volunteers, testified that he and Private Edward Forrester, of the same unit, were captured on Ball Play on December 7, 1864.

   About noon on December 7th, Captain Abbott and his Scouts, unexpectedly ran into a gang of thieves and robbers on their way to rob a Tan Yard which was located on Tan Yard Branch near the grist mill and general store of Squire S. S. Glen and now defined as being near Little George Sloan's store in the Tariffville Community. (In the mountains, anybody on the other side was considered a bushwhacker during this period of the Civil War) The Confederates apparently met the gang before they reached their objective, somewhere in the road near the house of John Skidmore on Little Toqua Creek. The Confederates charged immediately and opened fire, killing Richardson Mills, the leader, instantly and shooting John Brown from Stecoah Township, Cherokee, now Graham County, N. C., three times and leaving him for dead. The remainder of the gang escaped or were captured and among those captured were Bas Shaw and his son, Joe Berry Shaw, a mere boy.

   From the pension claims, affidavits and testimonies of those who were witnesses as recorded in Mr. Barker's research, it is possible to piece together the following account of the affair at Little Toqua.

   The Union "gang" was taken by surprise; there is no doubt about that. They were badly out-numbered... 60 to 80 men, against 12, and one of them a "mere boy". Of the twelve, three were on the rolls of Company H, 3rd Tennessee: Richardson Mills, Bart Williams, and George Williams. The Rebels later turned Joe Berry Shaw loose because he was so young, only 17.

   Richardson Mills was killed immediately. In an affidavit years later, Squire Randolph Laney, who was wounded, but escaped, testified that he was in the f fight with the Rebels and that "Lieutenant" Mills was killed; that "Captain" Shaw was taken prisoner, and John Brown was shot off of his horse.

   John Brown was hit three times by the volley that raked the little Union command. He was left for dead, bleeding profusely, with wounds that appeared to be mortal. But miraculously, he somehow survived, and years later, in 1882, he testified under oath that he was shot three times on December 7, 1864 ... once in the left t thigh, once in the hip, and once through the back of his neck, with the rifle ball coming out under his jaw. He also testified that he crawled 200 yards, crossing over a fence, while calling f or help. Four women came out of the house of John Skidmore and carried him back to the house in a quilt. Their names were: Jennie and Margaret Skidmore, Fannie Jenkins, and Nancy Thompson. During the same testimony he also stated that he had served 12 months in the 39th North Carolina Infantry, C.S.A., but had deserted and joined the Union Army.

   George William's wife, Elizabeth Kirkland Williams, testified to a pension examiner in 1885 that she heard the shooting at John Skidmore's place. She said her husband's mule came back to the gate, (of the William's home) and that some Rebels came by and took it. She and some other women went to see what had happened, and she found that her husband, his brother, Bartley, and Jeff Deaver had been captured, and that John Brown and the Laney boy had been wounded. She also testified that John Cottrell and Richardson Mills had been killed.

   The brother-in-law of George and Bart Williams, Lieutenant Charles Anthony of Company C, Third Tennessee Mounted Infantry, stationed at Loudon, upon hearing of the fight at Little Toqua, sent a detachment of twenty men to bury the dead. Corporal John Adams and Private J.B. Crisp, who were members of the burial party, testified years later that they went to Little Toqua with the intentions of burying John Brown, but found him to still be alive. Although there is no official mention of the burial of Richardson Mills, if the local citizens had not already done so, then most likely, he was interred by the men of Company C. After leaving Little Toqua the burial party went on to Knoxville, where they were mustered out of service.

   The Little Toqua Cemetery lies at a crossroads, at the point where the old Unicoi Turnpike running from the Little Tennessee River to Tellico, is bisected by the road running from Chilhowee and Citico Creek to the Vonore area. Richardson Mill's gravestone is the oldest dated stone in the cemetery, although, there are several stones of plain slate that bear no inscriptions. Some members of the Skidmore family are also buried nearby. The engagement was reported to have happened on Little Toqua Creek, which is only about an arrow's shot distance from the cemetery. So, it undoubtedly took place near the old crossroads, with Richardson Mills being buried within sight of where he fell.

   From two survivors of this engagement, if it can be called that, on December 7, 1864, the following tally has been made from their testimony, years later:

(Age could be plus or minus (±) one year)

Richardson Mills (36 ) - Killed
John Brown (42 ±) - Wounded (left for dead)
George Williams (29 ±) - Captured
Bart William's (22) - Captured
Jeff Deavers (39) - Father-in-law of Marion William's) - Captured
Bas Shaw (50) - Captured & Killed
Joe Berry Shaw (17) - son of Bas Shaw) -Captured
Thomas Mills (Nephew of R. Mills) -Escaped
Squire Randolph Laney (nephew of R. Mills) -Wounded-Escaped
Tom Skidmore -Escaped
John Skidmore -Escaped
Dave Jones -Captured

   Enroute to Asheville, NC Jail from the Hardin Farm now known as Calderwood, Tennessee, next day, December 8, 1864, Bas Shaw was shot dead by his captors and left in a low gap on the Old Tennessee River Turnpike, Maryville to Franklin, N. C., the place since being known as Shaw Grave Gap at the Big Poplar Turn on present U. S. Highway 129. Bas Shaw's grave has been marked where he was killed, some six and one half miles from Deal's Gap on the Tennessee side of the Smoky Mountains.

   Bas Shaw was the uncle of John Jackson "Bushwhack" Kirkland by marriage. Bas's wife and John's mother were sisters. John Kirkland, who had been a second lieutenant in the Confederate Third Tennessee, is undoubtedly the most notorious figure to emerge from the bloody guerrilla actions fought in the mountains surrounding the Little Tennessee River. According to family tradition, after Union men burned his family's gristmill on Turkey Creek above Tellico Plains, John swore an oath against the Union. Apparently, he was not with the Third Tennessee when they were captured at Vicksburg, although, his brothers were. During the last years of the war Lt. Kirkland took to the mountains and headed a band of outliers with ostensible Confederate leanings. They ruled the mountains between Robbinsville, NC and Madisonville, TN. Ball Play and Citico Creek were their Tennessee hideouts. In fact, part of the population of that area migrated to Sweetwater and camped along the railroad tracks, for it was too dangerous to stay at home. The Kirkland Raiders bushwhacked Captain Joe Gray of Company H, Third Tennessee, at his home. That night the raiders had a drunken frolic at their hideout on the Little Tennessee River, where their women took turns dancing around the fire in Captain Gray's calvary boots. Bas Shaw's sons, Jim and Jeff, of the llth Tennessee Calvary, Union Volunteers, were also killed by the Kirkland Raiders. They were John Kirkland's 1st cousins.

   After his sons were killed, Bas Shaw took part in Captain Timothy Lyon's raid on Robbinsville NC, in which Jesse Kirkland (John Kirkland's brother, who was also the Confederate provost marshal of Graham County) was killed. Bas apparently joined the expedition as a scout, but not under military command. One source says he went along as a "freebooter", to get what plunder he might be able to lay his hands upon during the raid. Jesse Kirkland was of course, Bas Shaw's nephew. Lt. Colonel Joe Divine wrote a letter about the raid from his post in Madisonville, which was published in the Knoxville Whig and Rebel Ventilator, the newspaper of the radical, Rebel hating editor, Parson Brownlow. Using Devine's letter, Brownlow informed his readers of the death of Jesse Kirkland and some Rebel Indians. The Ventilator described Jesse as being a notorious bushwhacker of course, and went on to say, that his death made life considerably safer for the good and loyal, God-fearing Union citizens of Graham County and the surrounding mountain settlements.

Bas Shaw's Gravesite.

Bas Shaw's Gravesite


   Squire Randolph Laney was listed as wounded but escaped, during the Little Toqua affair. But from testimony years later, it was found that he was captured and taken to the Hardin Farm, where the old Tallassee Ford crossed the Little Tennessee River. Because he was wounded, he was left t in the care of his aunt at the Hardin Farm, and had actually made his escape from there. Squire Randolph Laney was the son of Randolph Laney, who headed up the Laney Gang, a band of outlaws, who were the Union counterpart of the Kirkland Raiders. With his brother-in-law, James Elliot, Randolph Laney and his gang preyed upon the property owning citizens of Ball Play and Monroe County, taking whatever they pleased, then retreating to their hideout in the mountains. A descendant of John Kirkland told the story of the demise of the Laney Gang, as passed down from the ex-lieutenant himself, a few generations later ... At the fording place where Buck Highway, running from Ball Play, comes down off of Kitchen Mountain and crosses Citico Creek, the Kirkland Raiders laid an ambush for the Laney Gang. Seven of the Kirkland outfit lay in wait with their rifles at ready. From the other side, the unsuspecting Laney Gang appeared and started across Citico Creek on their horses... eight mounted men. When they were in the middle of the creek, the Kirkland Raiders opened fire. Seven men were shot from the saddle... with only one escaping. Randolph Laney and James Elliot were both killed. In a pension testimony years later, a local citizen said that when word got back to Ball Play, there was great rejoicing by all, upon hearing that "Ol' Man Laney was dead".

John  Jackson "Bushwhack" Kirkland

John Jackson "Bushwhack" Kirkland


   After the war was over there were indictments returned by the Circuit Court at Madisonville against John Kirkland and some members of his gang, charging them with robbery and murder. But, the former lieutenant of the Confederate Army was never arrested or served papers on, because even the bravest law man knew, that to have gone into the mountains to arrest John Kirkland would have been the equal of suicide. He moved to Polk County to live out his last years, mostly because, he had too many enemies in Monroe County. He died there in 1902.

   When George William's wife applied for a pension on the basis of her husband's military service, there was a government inquiry into the circumstances surrounding his death. The following excerpt from the Barker Papers of that inquiry describes the tragic fate of George William's, Bart William's, and Jeff Deavers.

   Former Confederate Captain Dewitt Clinton Ghormley on November 16, 1885, gave a sworn statement to Special Agent A. B. Casselman of the Pension Bureau at Robbinsville, in the George William's case, stating that he had known William's since his childhood. Ghormley went on to testify that during the war, he was in charge of a Confederate outpost on the Little Tennessee River in North Carolina, as a Captain in Colonel Thomas' Confederate Legion. That sometime in the winter of 1863 or 1864, a Captain Patterson of the Rebel Third Tennessee Calvary, passed through his post with a detachment of seventy or eighty men and fifteen or twenty prisoners, enroute to Asheville, NC Jail. That George William's was one of the prisoners and he was informed that he had been captured, with others, in a fight in Monroe County, Tennessee. That among the other prisoners, were Bartley William's and Jefferson Deavers. That four or six weeks later, these three prisoners, who had escaped from Jail, were killed under the following circumstances: Ghormley said that he had gone to Qualla Town (known today as Cherokee, North Carolina) and on returning, had stopped to spend the night with William Coleman. That about 10 or 11 o’clock that night, he discovered that his horse and the horse of Andrew Vaught, a Rebel Scout and a third horse, belonging to a Confederate soldier; had been stolen out of William Coleman's barn. That himself, Dallas DeHart, Cleveland Stephens and two others, whose names he could not recall, gave pursuit, over-taking the horse thieves about 1 or 2 o’clock the next morning, about fifteen miles from William Coleman's house and not far from the house of A. B. Welch on the (Little) Tennessee River. That he was behind when Cleveland Stephens and the other two men with Stephens, came back and said they had killed all three. That he did not know, at the time, who these three men were, but DeHart, Welch and himself viewed the bodies and identified them as George William's, Bart William's and Jeff Deavers, the same three prisoners who had passed through his post some four or six weeks before.

   The bodies of George William's, Bart William's and Jeff Deavers were buried in the side of the Old State Road, where they were killed, January 10, 1865. (The Old State Road was formerly known as the Little Tennessee River Turnpike, the same road which Bas Shaw was killed upon ... Today's Highway 129, which crosses the mountains from Blount County, Tennessee into North Carolina, winds back and forth across much of the old turnpike, which can still be seen in many places. In 1892 the Quartermaster General, U.S. Army had these bodies removed to the National Military Cemetery at 939 Tyson Street in Knoxville. George William's is buried in Grave 3167, Row C. Bart William's in Grave 3166, Row B, and Jefferson Deavers in Grave 3165. When exhumed, the middleman, in the three graves, had the longest bones ever seen in the country, being 7 1/2 to 8 1/2 feet tall. (An account given by one of the persons who helped exhume the bodies stated that an axe handle was lain end to end 3 times alongside the skeleton, which was supposedly that of Bart William's.)

   One account in the Barker Papers says that Marion William's was shot in the thigh, with the bullet breaking the bone. He suffered on as a practical invalid until 1873, when his Civil War wound finally claimed his life. He is buried in the Lower Yellow Creek Cemetery, in Yellow Creek, North Carolina. Sadly, Marion's wife lost both her father and her husband to the war.

   William William's apparently never served in the Union Army. Several years after the war he married John "Bushwhack" Kirkland's daughter. Had he ever been a Union man, that probably would have never happened, as old grudges over the war lived long and died hard. He lived to be 91 years old, and fathered 17 children.

William William's & Wife Deliah "Lila".

William William's and his 2nd wife,
Deliah (Lila) Kirkland

   The situation in which the people of the southern Appalachians found themselves during the last few years of the Civil War could best be described by the old saying, "between a rock and a hard place". It was practically impossible to be neutral. The mountain people, civilian and soldier alike, suffered greatly, and yet, they actually had little to gain from their participation, in what really was, a rich man's war ... a poor man's fight". The tragic deaths of the four William's brothers must have been an unendurable loss to their families and loved ones ... may their memory be preserved.


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