As the Civil War wound down and the Confederate army accepted its defeat, one last home guard held on until the very end before surrendering: The home guard of Thomas Legion that was located right here in Macon County. In fact, the last surrender happened right in front of where the county court house stands today. It's a little known piece of history that even many residents from the area were seldom told, but one in particular found it fascinating.
Viola Thorne hails from Czechoslovakia and worked in real estate in Greensboro, N.C., before she and her husband, Bruce, made up their minds to retire in Franklin where they would be able to enjoy its vast beauty and culture.
“My husband said to me, you always enjoyed doing sketches and stuff, why don't you do something for yourself and take some art classes,” she said. “It just so happens that we went to church at Cowee Baptist Church and somebody told me about a lady who teaches an art class.”
And beginning there, the rest was history. With Bruce volunteering his time at the Historical Museum and keeping Viola up on all of the history of the area spanning the Cherokee culture and events like the Civil War, she decided that she wanted to do something for the museum as well.
“I enjoyed doing the painting. Reed and Robert [Shook] know a lot about history and they helped me out and gave me books because I had to find out about the uniforms and things like that,” she said of the oil painting.
She began painting with acrylics but found her medium of choice when she began using oil based paints and as a result used her skills to beautifully craft the scene of soldiers meeting in front of the court house and the Old Dixie Hall beneath a Smoky Mountain sunset.
“The reason that I painted it the way I did with the sunset is to illustrate what was happening,” said Thorne. “The sun was setting for these soldiers too, it was a sad time for them and that's why I made the scene with a sunset behind them.”
The scene as described is one that she and Shook, who serves as the director of the museum hope to make copied prints of to earn some money to help out with operating expenses.
“We really appreciate her doing this,” said Shook. “It's just beautiful. The detail on it is wonderful. The southern uniforms were kind of rag tag at the end of the war.”
At the moment she is finishing up a large painting of the Teton Mountains that are located in Wyoming and after that, she may look towards the Cherokee culture for inspiration on her next project.
“I enjoy their culture and their artwork,” she said.
The depiction of the Last Surrender can be found on the ground floor of the museum among the Civil War artifacts and upstairs visitors can find another piece of artwork from Thorne that resembles a portrait from the 18th century.