Most tribes and nations of Native Americans did not have amiable relations with the government of the United States. A long history of broken promises and violated treaties meant that thousands of Indians had been pushed off their land and forced to settle further west, or on reservations. During the Civil War, many remained tribes tried to remain neutral. Nevertheless, their loyalty to the Union was often severely tested. Because the war absorbed so many government resources, the annuities owed to the Santee Sioux in Minnesota were not paid on time in the summer of 1862. In addition, Long Trader Sibley refused the Santee Sioux access to food until the funds were delivered. In frustration, the Santee Sioux, led by Little Crow (Ta-oya-te-duta), attacked settlers. After the Sioux lost the fighting, they were tried (without defense lawyers), found guilty on flimsy evidence. After 303 Santees were sentenced to death, and 16 sentenced to long prison terms, President Lincoln was presented with the situation. According to General John Pope, commander of the Military Department of the Northwest, "the Sioux prisoners will be executed unless the President forbids it, which I am sure he will not do."
Lincoln requested full information about the convictions, and assigned two attorneys to examine the cases and differentiate between those guilty of murder and those simply engaged in battle. General Pope, as well as Long Trader Sibley, whose refusal to allow the Indians access to food had been largely responsible for the war, were angered by Lincoln's failure to immediately authorize the executions. They threatened that the local settlers would take action against the Sioux unless the President allowed the executions quickly. In addition, they arrested the rest of the Santee Sioux, 1,700 people, of whom most were women and children, although they were accused of no crime. On December 6, 1861, Lincoln authorized the execution of 39 Sioux, and ordered that the others be held pending further orders, "taking care that they neither escape nor are subjected to any unlawful violence." On December 26, 39 men were taken. At the last minute, one was given a reprieve, but it would not be publicized until years later that 2 of the men hanged were not authorized by Lincoln. In fact, one of these two men had saved a white woman's life during the fighting. Little Crow was killed in July of 1863, the year in which the Santees were transported to a reservation in Dakota Territory.
Other Native American tribes, including the Cheyennes and the Arapaho, engaged in serious clashes with Union troops. Some of these conflicts were ignited when Union troops, scouting for Confederates, met Native Americans on hunting trips, or raided Indian settlements.
Although there was a war going on, settlers did not stop pressuring the United States government to push Native Americans off their land to facilitated western expansion. In October of 1862, Brig. Gen. James H. Carleton commanded Col. Christopher "Kit" Carson and five companies in the Department of New Mexico to begin operations against Mescalero Apache and Navajo Indians in the District of Arizona. The Native Americans were to be captured and confined in the Bosque Redondo Reservation in the eastern part of the New Mexico Territory. Anyone who resisted was to be killed.
While the Mescalero Indians either escaped to Mexico or were removed to the reservation, the Navajos provided more resistance to the federal removal attempt. Navajos tried to negotiate a peace agreement, but were rejected in their efforts. At that point, they began a struggle for the right to keep their land. The federal troops adopted a "scorched-earth policy," by which they destroyed Navaho farmland and forced the Navajos to the point of starvation. The Indians surrendered as individuals or in small groups, while those who fled were pushed to the Canyon de Chelly in what would become Arizona. Col. Carson led troops to the Canyon de Chelly, killing and capturing some Navajos, and forcing the surrender of 200 people. Eventually, 11,468 Navajos were held at Fort Canby, and marched to the Bosque Redondo Reservation, which 425 miles away. This cruel march is called 'The Long Walk," and is estimated to have caused the death of about 3,000 Navajos from starvation and/or abuse. Within two years of confinement in the reservation, another 2,000 Navajos died.
While Union forces tended to alienate Native Americans, the Confederate leadership expressed an interest in making alliances with the Indians in the Indian Territory. Confederate officer Albert Pike, who had made many contacts among Native American tribal leaders, and had helped the Creeks and other tribes obtain $800,000 in a long court battle with the federal government, was a clear choice for a Confederate envoy to the Native Americans. He was able to convince many Indian leaders to support the Confederacy. On October 7, 1861, he negotiated a treaty with the Chief John Ross of the Cherokee Nation, which provided more generous terms than the treaties with the United States for members of the "Five Civilized Tribes": Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Seminole. As a brigadier general, Pike began training three Confederate regiments of Native Americans. Pike's troops fought victoriously at the Battle of Pea Ridge, but were routed by a Union counterattack. Unable to reassemble his troops, he contributed to the Confederate defeat. Later, the Union claimed that the Native Americans had scalped some of the dead or wounded soldiers on the field.
After the Battle of Pea Ridge, the service of Indian troops was restricted to fighting in Indian Territory. Nevertheless, many Native Americans served as scouts for the Confederacy; and one, Stand Watie, obtained the rank of general in the Confederate Army. Elias Cornelius Boudinot (1835-1890), a prominent Cherokee lawyer, represented the Cherokee Nation at the first and Second Confederate Congresses. Although he helped promote measures to provide food and supplies for Indian refugees, he was apparently involved in rather shady deals, some of which violated Cherokee-Confederate treaties. After the Confederates were defeated, however, Boudinot helped negotiate a peace between the United States and the Cherokee nation.
Neither the Confederacy nor the Indian troops ultimately benefited from their alliances. The Confederacy gained little military advantage from the help of Native Americans, except for the service of scouts. In fact, Confederate warfare was denigrated in the North when the traditional acts of Indian warfare, including scalping, were publicized in the Northern press as indications of Confederate depravity. Native Americans hardly fared better. Confederate coffers being so low, little food or other aid could be provided for Indians struggling with the challenges of a wartime economy. In addition, after the Civil War ended, Native American tribes and nations that fought with the Confederacy had their treaties with the federal government nullified.
Indian Territory in the American Civil War
During the American Civil War, most of what is now the U.S. state of Oklahoma was designated as the Indian Territory. It served as an unorganized region that had been set aside specifically for Native American tribes and was occupied mostly by tribes which had been removed from their ancestral lands in the Southeastern United States following the Indian Removal Act of 1830. As part of the Trans-Mississippi Theater, the Indian Territory was the scene of numerous skirmishes and seven officially recognized battles  involving both Native American units allied with the Confederate States of America and Native Americans loyal to the United States government, as well as other Union and Confederate troops.
A total of at least 7,860 Native Americans from the Indian Territory participated in the Confederate Army, as both officers and enlisted men  most came from the Five Civilized Tribes: the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole nations.  The Union organized several regiments of the Indian Home Guard to serve in the Indian Territory and occasionally in adjacent areas of Kansas, Missouri, and Arkansas. 
Native Americans and the Civil War - History
Native Americans and the Civil War
Digital History ID 411
Author: John Ross
In 1861, many Cherokees, Chickasaws, Choctaws, Creeks, and Seminoles decided to join the Confederacy, in part because some of the tribes' members owned slaves. In return, the Confederate states agreed to pay all annuities that the U.S. government had provided and let the tribes send delegates to the Confederate Congress. A Cherokee chief, Stand Watie (1806-1871), served as a brigadier general for the Confederacy and did not surrender until a month after the war was over. The author of the following letter, Chief John Ross (1790-1866), joined the Confederacy early in the war, accepted a commission in the Confederate Army, and then switched sides when a federal army invaded the trans-Mississippi West.
After the war, these nations were severely punished for supporting the Confederacy. The Seminoles were required to sell their reservation at 15 cents an acre and buy new land from the Creeks at 50 cents an acre. The other tribes were required to give up half their territory in Oklahoma. This land would become reservations for the Arapahos, Caddos, Cheyennes, Commanches, Iowas, Kaws, Kickapoos, Pawnees, Potawatomis, Sauk and Foxes, and Shawnees. In addition, all these nations had to allow railroads to cut across their land.
In this letter, Ross, the Cherokee leader, assures President Lincoln of the Cherokees' support for the Union cause. A week and a half later, Lincoln responded in a cautious and lawyerly way, mindful of the fact that Ross had initially sided with the Confederacy. "I shall. cause a careful investigation. to be made," Lincoln wrote. "Meanwhile the Cherokee people remaining practically loyal to the federal Union will receive all the protection which can be given them consistently with the duty of the government of the whole country. I sincerely hope the Cherokee country may not again be over-run by the enemy and I shall do all I consistently can to prevent it."
I. beg leave, very respectfully, to represent,
1st. That the relations which the Cherokee Nation sustains towards the United States have been defined by Treaties entered into between the Parties from time to time, and extending through a long series of years.
2nd. Those Treaties were Treaties of Friendship and Alliance. The Cherokee Nation as the weaker party placing itself under the Protection of the United States and no other Sovereign whatever, and the United States solemnly promising that Protection.
3rd. That the Cherokee Nation maintained in good faith her relations towards the United States up to a late period and subsequent to the occurrence of the war between the Government and the Southern States of the Union and the withdrawal of all protection whatever by the Government.
4th. That in consequences of. the overwhelming pressure brought to bear upon them the Cherokees were forced for the preservation of their Country and their existence to negotiate a Treaty with the "Confederate States"
5th. That no other alternative was left them surrounded by the Power & influences, that they were, and that they had no opportunity freely to express their views and assume their true position until the advance into their Country of the Indian Expedition during the last summer.
6th. That as soon as the Indian Expedition marched into the Country the great Mass of the Cherokee People rallied spontaneously around the authorities of the United States and a large majority of their warriors are now engaged in fighting under their flag.
The advance of the Indian Expedition gave the Cherokee People an opportunity to manifest their views by taking [as] far as possible a prompt and decided stand in favor of their relations with the U.S. Govt.
The withdrawal of that Expedition and the reabandonment of that People & Country to the forces of the Confederate States leaves them in a position frought with distress, danger and ruin! What the Cherokee People now desire is ample Military Protection for life and property a recognition by the Govt. of the obligations of existing Treaties and a willingness and determination to carry out the policy indicated by your Excellency of enforcing the Laws and extending to those who are loyal all the protection in your power.
*Includes a bibliography for further reading
Few people need to be reminded in the 21st century of the cost of European imperialism and colonization on indigenous and native cultures around the world. The increasingly controversial view of &ldquoColumbus Day,&rdquo still represented on the United States commemorative calendar, attests quite clearly to an ambiguous modern view of early European encounters with Native Americans. Slavery, disease, land and resource appropriation and the rapid disintegration of indigenous societies are all characteristics of European global expansion. There are those societies, particularly in Asia and Africa, that proved resilient enough to weather the European imperialism, but others, most notably those of Australia and North America, certainly did not.
By far the most important element in the Civil War from a native standpoint was what happened in and to Indian Territory, now part of the state of Oklahoma. There was a parallel civil war in Indian Territory, with the Cherokee nation splitting in two. While the 100,000 inhabitants of Indian Territory represent most of the experiences during the Civil War, many others were affected by it all over the country.
In fact, men from more than two dozen tribal peoples actively participated in the Civil War by fighting for one side or the other. There were full-size Indian regiments fighting for the Confederacy, and full-size Indian regiments fighting for the Union. Indians joined sharpshooter regiments, functioned as scouts, piloted Union ships, and served as guerrillas, while some joined units of United States Colored Troops. Recent estimates are that more than 28,000 Indians served as Civil War soldiers. One difference between Confederates and Union Indian troops is that Confederate Indian units were generally officered by Indians, and Union formations were usually led by white officers, but some Indians in the Union forces did eventually work their way into command.
Some 10,000 Indians are thought to have died in Indian Territory as a result of the Civil War, including soldiers, but also as a consequence of a total breakdown of law and order and chronic guerilla war. That estimate could be low, because the Cherokee population alone dropped from 21,000 before the Civil War to 15,000 after it.
While Indian Territory was the main stage in American Indian participation in the Civil War, it was not the only element. The Iroquois in New York produced a few hundred Union troops who served mostly with Pennsylvania units, and Ely Parker, who was General Grant&rsquos secretary and who drew up the terms for Lee&rsquos surrender at Appomattox, became a brigadier general, making him the only Indian Union general.
There were remnant tribes in Michigan who joined a sharpshooter regiment, the tiny Caddo tribe in South Carolina soldiered for the Confederacy, and the Eastern Cherokee defended western North Carolina from Union raids and repressed Unionist sentiment. Late in the Civil War, the Lumbee tribe in North Carolina skirmished with Confederate Home Guards. Union politicians in Kansas used war powers to remove Kansas Indians to Indian Territory.
There were also many tribal peoples affected by the war who were not direct participants on either side. The Confederate invasion of New Mexico Territory (what is now New Mexico and Arizona) and the Union response profoundly affected the Apache and Navajo. The withdrawal of federal troops to the East weakened federal influence in much of the West, and state militias became more important and were much less concerned about Indian rights and welfare.
Native Americans in the Civil War: The History and Legacy of Various Indian Tribes&rsquo Participation in the War Between the States explains the various roles played by Native Americans in America&rsquos deadliest war.
Here are some topic ideas to get you started when writing your paper.
How did the Civil War affect Native Americans? In the West? In the East? Did Native Americans fight in the Civil War? Which side did they choose, if any? Was there any effort to attract Native Americans into choosing one side over the other? What types of positions did Native American troops hold?
What happened with the 1st and 2nd Mounted Cherokee Rifles at the Battle of Pea Ridge? What happened after the Confederates won the battle? What happened to Albert Pike as a result?
A Civil Rights History: Native Americans
When European settlers first set foot on the shores of North America, they thought they had discovered an unclaimed territory that held a promise of riches and freedom: the New World. In fact, this world was already home to an estimated 10 to 16 million people — hundreds of native tribes whose ancestors had been on the continent for at least 10,000 years. But the European newcomers’ mistaken perception would have far-reaching, often painful implications for both groups.
The European colonists called the natives “Indians,” a mistake dating back to 1492 when Christopher Columbus thought he had reached India. As European colonists followed Columbus, they thought themselves superior to these “Indians.” At first, many of the natives welcomed the new arrivals with curiosity, wariness, gifts and sometimes friendship.
But relations quickly turned hostile and even deadly. Diseases from Europe decimated the native peoples, who had no natural immunity to contagions like smallpox and measles. The new settlers and the natives warred ferociously over territory and resources as whites embraced what the newly born United States saw as its “Manifest Destiny” to expand westward over the continent. As early as 1787, the new U.S. government began a series of promises to Native Americans to guarantee them safety, sovereignty, resources and their homelands. The government seldom kept the promises.
Thousands of Native Americans were forced from their ancestral lands onto specially designated “reservations” that were often barren wastelands. In 1838, for example, the Cherokee Nation was forcibly relocated from Georgia to Oklahoma. During the journey, 4,000 Cherokees died on what came to be called “The Trail of Tears.”
Discoveries of gold or other valuable resources on lands set aside for Indians often brought new white settlers and swindles of native tribes, who found even their reservations reshaped by new government policies or business deals. Many Native American children were shipped away to white boarding schools. Many families were relocated into growing urban areas.
Indeed, the first Americans were not legally U.S. citizens until 1924, when Congress enacted the Indian Citizenship Act after 10,000 Native Americans had served in the military during World War I. And even as citizens, many continued to be barred from voting by state laws through the 1940s.
After the 1960s civil rights movement led by African Americans, many Native Americans also pushed for more civil rights and renewed what many see as their original struggle to force the U.S. to keep its promises to native peoples. Today the relationship between native peoples and the rest of the U.S. remains complicated and often tense. The government, for example, still maintains agencies to deal specifically with Native Americans, such as the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
On its Web site, the bureau describes its mission as “the administration and management of 55.7 million acres of land held in trust by the United States for American Indians, Indian tribes, and Alaska Natives.” The U.S. government recognizes 562 tribal governments, which have grassroots autonomy over many tribal affairs. Many, such as the Oneida Nation in New York, operate casinos to generate income, fund school and health programs and work to preserve their traditional cultures.
But as recently as July 2003, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, a bipartisan group set up by Congress, decried what it calls a “quiet crisis” for American Indians. They remain among the nation’s poorest citizens with too little access to health care, education and economic opportunity, the Commission concluded, despite a “special relationship” of promises made to Indian nations through treaties and laws.
“To many,” the Commission wrote, “the government’s promises to Native Americans go largely unfulfilled.”
People, Locations, Episodes
*On August 3, 1990, President George H. W. Bush declared November as Native American Indian Heritage Month. To further affirm this community, we are sharing a brief article on the intersectionality of both African and Native America. From the beginning of U. S. history, American Native populations and Africans had a historical relationship of both cooperation and confrontation.
Europeans first enslaved Indians, introducing Africans to the Americas shortly after. Nicolas de Ovando, Governor of Hispaniola first mentioned African and Indian interaction in a report, circa 1503. Indians who escaped generally knew the surrounding areas, avoided capture, and returned to help free enslaved Africans. Europeans feared an Indian/African alliance. The first slave rebellion occurred in Hispaniola in 1522, while the first on future United States soil (North Carolina) occurred in 1526. Both rebellions were organized and executed by coalitions of Africans and Indians.
Europeans feared communities of escaped Africans, known as Maroons or quilombos in frontier areas. The largest of these communities, the "Republic of Palmores," originated in the 1600s, and at its peak had a population of approximately 11,000. This community composed primarily of Africans but including Indians, contained three villages, spiritual gather places, shops, and operated under its own legal system. Its army repelled European military attacks until 1694.
White reaction to such communities was extreme despite their limited numbers. Europeans sought to keep the two peoples separated and, if possible, mutually hostile. They taught Africans to fight Natives and bribed Indians to hunt escaped Africans, promising lucrative rewards. Natives who captured escaped Africans received 35 deerskins in Virginia or three blankets and a musket in the Carolina's. Further sowing division, Whites introduced African slavery into the Five Civilized Nations in the United States. The Intersectionality between Africans and Natives is further born out in Joseph Louis Cook, who fought against the British in the Revolutionary War.
The U. S. government ended slavery among Indians by 1776. From pre-Revolutionary times to the American Civil War, the government negotiated treaties with Indian tribes that included promises by the Indians to return escaped slaves. However, while harboring many slaves, they returned none. The most powerful African-Native alliance linked escaped Blacks who had settled in Florida, and Seminoles (a word that means "runaway"), who were fleeing the Creek federation. They fought whites for years to preserve their heritage, Fort Okeechobee is an example. The Africans taught the Natives rice cultivation, and the groups formed an agricultural and military alliance.
In 1816, a U. S. soldier reported that prosperous plantations existed for fifty miles along the banks of the Apalachicola River. The African-Seminole forces repeatedly repelled U. S. slaveholders' posses and the U. S. Army. The Second Seminole War resulted in 1,600 dead and cost over $40 million. The purchase of Florida from Spain was the U. S. government's attempt to eliminate it as a refuge for runaways. Before the American Civil War, many Native American nations on the eastern seaboard of the United States became biracial communities.
Blacks were victims in the Indian Removal Act of 1830. By 1860, the Five Civilized Nations in the Indian Territory consisted of 18 percent Africans. The Seminoles appointed six Black Seminoles members of its governing council. After the American Civil War, the Buffalo Soldiers, six regiments of Black U. S. Army troops, helped to end Native resistance to U. S. control after the War. The most significant African-Native American was John Horse, a Black Seminole Chief who was a master marksman and diplomat in Florida and Oklahoma and by the time of the American Civil War, the Black Seminole Chief in Mexico and Texas.
Horse negotiated a treaty with the U. S. government in 1870. On July 4th of that year, when his Seminole nation crossed into Texas, it was a historic moment: an African people had arrived together as a nation on this soil, under the command of their ruling monarch, Chief John Horse. Today, many African Americans can trace their ancestry in part to an Native American tribe.
African American and Native American History
Princeton Public Library
65 Witherspoon Street
Princeton, NJ 08542
Preserving Land Associated With Native American HistoryHorshoe Ridge at Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park
The stories of Native Americans during the Civil War are a vital component of the history of our nation’s greatest conflict. The American Battlefield Trust has been fortunate, through our battlefield preservation efforts, to have had the opportunity to help facilitate the telling of these stories by preserving land with important Native American associations. The sites very widely in terms of both geography and time period. Some of them have borned witness to active Native American participation in the Civil War and other early American conflicts. Others were saved almost by accident: centers of ancient cultures that lived long before Europeans arrived in the New World that just happened lie where battles were fought centuries after their decline. But all of them have an important story to tell about how Native Americans shaped the history of the land we now all share.
In addition to saving hallowed ground where Native Americans lived, struggled and fought, the Trust has worked with tribes on numerous occasions to solicit their invaluable input as part of the Section 106 review process. The Trust’s interactions with tribes regarding historic preservation has been uniformly positive, and we look forward to further successful partnerships in the future. The following is a brief overview of the Trust’s work on land acquisition projects with a Native American connection.
Sand Creek – In 1864, Sand Creek, Colorado became the site of one of the worst massacres of Native Americans in U.S. history. Today, the land remains preserved as a solemn memorial to those lives taken in the violence. In November of 2015, for the 151st anniversary of the Sand Creek Massacre, Governor John Hickenlooper announced the transfer of 640 acres of state-owned land to the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site. The preservation of this land was the result of years of collaboration between the State of Colorado (Colorado State Board of Land Commissioners), the History Colorado State Historical Fund, the History Colorado Office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation, the American Battlefield Trust, and the National Park Service (NPS). The Trust applied for and received a $200,000 grant from the History Colorado State Historical Fund to help fund the purchase of the tract and facilitate its transfer to NPS. The Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes provided a joint letter of support for the Trust’s grant application, noting that “events crucial to an understanding of the massacre” occurred on the property.
Chickamauga – In December of 2015, the Civil War Trust helped to preserve 30.9 acres associated with the opening action of the Battle of Chickamauga at Reed’s Bridge. After the owner of the tract alerted the Trust to the possibility that a Native American mound was located on the property, the Trust worked with the Georgia Department of Natural Resource’s Historic Preservation Division (HPD) to investigate this claim and the HPD determined that the archeological site in question was located outside of the target tract. Today, the National Park Service states that the site of Moccasin Bend contains evidence of "12,000 years of continuous human habitation." When Spanish Conquistador Hernando de Soto explored the area in 1540, he reported on finding multiple large, wooden towns, each capable of containing thousands of people. Very few people believed these reports for centuries, and yet part of the site contains renments of just such a village that he described. Further, as a requirement of the American Battlefield Protection Program (ABPP) land acquisition grant awarded to help fund the tract’s purchase, the Trust placed a perpetual conservation easement on the property held by the Georgia Piedmont Land Trust. During the easement recordation process, input from the Thlopthlocco Tribal Town of Oklahoma was incorporated into the conservation easement.
Wood Lake – Working with the Wood Lake Battlefield Preservation Association, the Minnesota Historical Society, and ABPP, the Trust has preserved via conservation easement 240 acres associated with the Battle of Wood Lake in Minnesota (60 acres in 2009 180 acres in 2011). Fought between U.S. troops and the Santee Sioux, the Battle of Wood Lake was the last major engagement in the Dakota War of 1862. The war began due to the failure of the U.S. government to abide by the terms made with the Dakota people ten years earlier, which guaranteed the Dakota supplies and ammunition in exchange for living in their designated reservation. Frustrated, the Dakota decided to take what they saw as rightfully theirs by force. The result was a series of frequent raids on settlers that lasted for months and until the U.S. Army pulled off enough troops from fighting the Confederacy to intervene. In 2010, Wood Lake was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Corinth– The site is the home to the Shiloh Indian Mounds, built around 800 years ago by a complex agricultural society. The mounds themselves probably served as either platforms for important buildings or burial places for chieftans or important elders. But what truly surprised archaeologists was that many of the artifacts excavated were from areas hundreds of miles from the area, including Cahokia in Illinois, easily the largest pre-Columbian urban center north of Mexico, larger even than most early colonial cities. Far from being a wilderness, these findings suggest extensive trading and political contacts throughout the Midwestern United States. Through member donations and grants from ABPP, the American Battlefield Trust has preserved over 700 acres at Corinth. The Trust’s most recent acquisition at the battlefieldy was completed in partnership with the the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, and with tribal input from the Jena Band of the Choctaw Nation.
Cherokee Nation leader Stand Watie was the last Confederate general to surrender in the Civil War. Wikimedia Commons
Cabin Creek – In 2011, the Trust saved 88 acres associated with the two Civil War battles fought at Cabin Creek. Both engagements at Cabin Creek were fought on Cherokee Nation land, within region then designated as “Indian Territory.” In both contests, Confederate forces were led by Stand Watie, a Confederate general and a leader of the Cherokee Nation. Watie later became the only Native American to reach the rank of general in either the Union or Confederate armies. The first battle at Cabin Creek in July 1863 was also one of the first battles in which African-Americans fought as a unit west of the Mississippi River.
Honey Springs – Fought on July 17, 1863, the Battle of Honey Springs was an important victory for Union forces in their efforts to gain control of the region known as “Indian Territory.” With significant numbers of African American and Native American soldiers taking part in the fight, the Battle of Honey Springs marked one of the few times during the war that white soldiers were in the minority. The Trust has worked to preserve 84 acres at Honey Springs Battlefield, including the recent acquisition of 5 acres on the northern end of the battlefield. During the Section 106 process for that 5-acre acquisition, the Trust worked closely with the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.
Indian Mound at Chattanooga c.1864 Library of Congress
Chattanooga – Combined with Chickamauga Battlefield in one military park, the Chattanooga battlefield is also connected to Native American history much more recent than the Moccasin Bend site. It was also the site of the camp at Ross Landing, where many members of the Cherokee nation were relocated in 1839 during the Trail of Tears, the infamously hazardous journey to modern Oklahoma. In 2015, in partnership with ABPP, the Trust acquired 11.6 acres at Brown’s Ferry associated with the battles of Wauhatchie and Chattanooga. This preservation project was undertaken in cooperation with the Tennessee Historical Commission, the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee and Thlopthlocco Tribal Town of Oklahoma. In 2020, the Trust saved the 9-acre Brown’s Tavern site, which contains the circa 1803 Tavern owned by John Brown, who is believed to have served as the captain of a Cherokee regiment in the War of 1812 and have participated in the Trail of Tears relocation to Oklahoma in 1838. The property is a stop on the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail. The Trust anticipates transferring the land and historic structure, as well as the two other properties previously purchased at Brown’s Ferry, to National Park Partners, the acclaimed friends group dedicated to safeguarding and promoting the six units of Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park.
Native Americans in the Civil WarPhotography: Artist Robert Lindneux commemorated the tragic Sand Creek Massacre, when Union soldiers attacked a peaceful Indian camp in Colorado/History Colorado (Scan #20020087)
In the midst of a war fought on land that once was theirs, over a nation that denied them citizenship, Native Americans found themselves faced with a dubious decision: Whose side should they be fighting for?
In 1861 it seemed that America was coming apart. Secession, Confederate nationhood, the firing on Fort Sumter, and a mesmeric rush to combat engulfed the nation. The realities of the crisis differed for everyone as individuals examined family, community, state, and national allegiances. One hundred and fifty years after the cataclysm of the American Civil War, we still tend to think of it in terms of black-and-white: the majority white soldiers and civilians, the minority African-American slaves. But what of the indigenous peoples of America?
For many American Indians, the impending conflict created no less of a crisis than it did for the dominant society. But their experience would be primarily defined by their location in the country. Geography was everything. As the tide of non-Indian settlement swept from East to West, indigenous people became minorities within settled regions. They remained Native, but adapted various political, economic, and cultural aspects of their lives to better coexist with their new neighbors. By the time the Civil War started, Indians in settled regions experienced the conflict as members of larger communities whose movements they did not control. Indians living on the edge of incorporated states were better able to retain tribal autonomy, yet they were still strongly influenced by national and state political discourse. Those groups well beyond the white frontier in “Indian Country,” however, generally lived with little concern for U.S. politics.
As the nation became consumed by war, few Anglos on either side of the Great Divide considered the Native Americans living among them. East of the Mississippi, tribal lands had been so diminished that most of the 30,000 Indians in the Union did not live in powerful tribal units. Thus, as the country headed for dissolution, Eastern Indians were left to make individual choices about whether or not to engage in the conflict. The Indian minority was concerned less about the divisive issues of slavery and the preservation of the American Constitution than about their ongoing struggle to hold on to their remaining land and culture. If fighting for the Union cause brought the respect and perhaps gratitude of those in power, then it was a means to an end. Army service also brought regular pay and food, adventure, and the continuation of an honorable tradition of Native warriors.
Photography: Although there are thousands of tintype images of Confederate and Union soldiers, few images remain of the many Native Americans who fought on both sides of the Civil War. The identity of this Union soldier is unknown. Courtesy Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield/National Park Service
Indians all over the North took up arms for the Union cause. Company K of the 1st Michigan Sharpshooters enlisted more than 150 Ottawa, Chippewa, Delaware, Huron, Oneida, and Potawatomi Indians. Sharpshooters received extra training, enjoyed high morale, and used their Sharps breechloaders to devastating effect. But they also experienced discrimination. Fellow soldiers often made uncomplimentary remarks, generally sticking to well-worn stereotypes of “desperate” or drunken men. Yet the Indian sharpshooters proved themselves time and time again in the grueling Virginia battles of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, and Petersburg. After the ill-fated Battle of the Crater during the seige of Petersburg, survivors recounted how a group of mortally wounded Indian soldiers chanted a traditional death song before finally succumbing, inspiring others with their valor.
Native Americans living on the ever-shifting Western frontier confronted a different situation. Most Indian nations on the periphery of the organized states sought to avoid involvement in national issues that did not seem to affect their lives. However, neutrality was not an option for those in strategic locations. Indeed, recently settled areas just west of the Mississippi would bear the full brunt of the conflict. Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) lay directly between Confederate and Union territory. Both the United States and the Confederacy eventually realized that this important buffer area between Kansas, Arkansas, and Texas would play a critical role in the war. But before the national governments organized diplomatic missions, citizens in states adjoining Indian Territory clamored for Indian involvement. They were determined to recruit the thousands of Native people on their borders for their side in the war. Arkansas offered weapons, while Texas readied men to occupy former federal forts. The Native nations found themselves facing mounting pressure to take sides.
Photography: This flag was carried by Brig. Gen. Stand Watie’s 1st Cherokee Mounted Rifles the white stars represent the 11 Confederate states, while the red stars represent the Five Civilized Tribes (Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Seminole). Courtesy Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield/National Park Service
The Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Seminole nations could still be considered newcomers in Indian Territory in 1861, having arrived there at the end of the arduous journey known to history as Indian Removal two decades before. They were still putting their societies back together when the war came. Native leaders consumed with economic progress, political infighting, and societal disarray now had to choose sides in the conflict dividing the larger nation. The choice was not an easy one as the federal government provided the annuities owed to the nations for surrendering land in the East, while tribal members had strong economic, social, and religious ties to the surrounding Southern culture.
Each of the five southeastern Indian nations decided independently which side to support, and each chose the Confederacy. The United States’ complete disengagement with the region and the Confederacy’s proactive diplomatic overtures helped to sway the Indian leaders. The Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Seminole nations all signed treaties of alliance with the Confederate States of America in 1861. Official lines were drawn, but the outcome was far from simple.
Native soldiers were mustered into Confederate units comprised of their own members — including officers, a privilege the Union never afforded to either Indians or African-Americans in its service. At least one of the Indian officers, Cherokee Brig. Gen. Stand Watie, rose to prominence and is remembered as the highest-ranking Indian in the Confederate army.
Photography: (FROM LEFT) Company K of the 1st Michigan Sharpshooters was primarily made up of Ottawa, Chippewa, and Potawatomi Indians. Seven members of Company K died as POWs at Georgia’s notorious Andersonville prison. Library of Congress
Military service quickly became complicated for the Cherokees as they were ordered to attack neighboring Creeks loyal to the Union. This demand, which ran counter to ideas of Native kinship and values, caused unrest among Cherokee troops, and many left Confederate service. Soon their chief, John Ross, took advantage of the belated arrival of Union support in the territory and pledged his allegiance to the United States for the remainder of the war. The Cherokees were now sending men to don both blue and gray, causing an internal civil war within their nation.
The loyal Creeks suffered terribly as refugees in Kansas territory, awaiting federal support to allow them to return home unmolested by their Confederate kin. Seminoles, too, were split by mid-war and fought for both sides. However, the Choctaw and Chickasaw entered the war more united politically. Because they were heavily engaged in a slave-based, cash crop market economy, these two nations decided for Southern allegiance and remained committed.
Fighting raged in Indian Territory for most of the war. Regular troops from both armies, as well as countless guerrillas and raiders, swept back and forth through the region. Except for a few notable battles, like Honey Springs in July 1863, most of the fighting was characterized by skirmishes and raids. These small but destructive engagements took a terrible toll on soldiers and civilians. Homes and businesses burned, farmland lay fallow, mills ceased operation, livestock disappeared. Poverty, disease, and dislocation threatened to destroy Native society. The region suffered both military engagements and enemy occupation unlike any area of the Union and most of the Confederacy.
Photography: Gen. Brig. Stand Watie was the highest-ranking Indian in the Confederate army. Research Division Oklahoma Historical Society
As the federal government became consumed with war, Indian relations fell off the radar screen in Washington. But on the Western fringe, the drumbeat of nationalism combined with the lack of federal oversight created a perfect storm for the Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho people.
In 1862, Colorado was still a territory with a new and ambitious governor, John Evans. A railroad and real estate investor, Evans presided over a territory facing increasing tensions between white settlers and Plains Indian tribes. Evans began to fear that the tribes were uniting and amassing arms as troops were being pulled out of Colorado to fight in the Civil War, so in the summer of 1864 he obtained authorization from President Lincoln to temporarily form the 3rd Colorado Infantry for the sole purpose of fighting “hostile” Indians.
Commanded by Methodist minister Col. John Chivington, the 3rd Colorado found itself with no one to fight after chiefs Black Kettle and White Antelope met with Evans and Chivington in Denver and accepted the governor’s entreaty to make peace. The chiefs agreed to bring any Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians who didn’t want to fight to Fort Lyon for protection, where they camped nearby alongside Big Sandy Creek.
But when Evans left for Washington to personally advocate for statehood, Chivington created his own conflict. On November 29, 1864, Chivington led his men in a surprise attack on the encampment of 500 Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians. This was an Indian village — not a raiding party — and at daybreak the still sleepy community was entirely unprepared for attack.
Surviving witnesses described the morning as a frenzied bloodlust of torture and killing. Seven hundred troops of the 1st and 3rd Colorado Cavalries committed atrocities upon 500 Cheyenne and Arapaho, most of whom were unarmed women and children, leaving 160 to 200 dead and many more raped and severely injured. Congressional investigations into the Sand Creek Massacre revealed that Chivington launched the gruesome attack without authorization and found that he should be removed from office and punished, but no charges were ever brought. In response, many Cheyenne and Arapaho joined the militaristic Dog Soldiers, seeking revenge on settlers throughout the southern Plains.
For many Native Americans, the irony of the Civil War was that they were inexorably involved, whether they chose to take sides or not. The repercussions of the enormous conflict entangled Native peoples living both within and without the borders of the Union and Confederate states. Not desired as participants at the start, their value as recruits grew as the war dragged on, as more and more white men died. By the end, a Native American — Ely S. Parker — would stand side by side with Ulysses S. Grant for the signing of the Confederate surrender at Appomattox Court House, forever immortalized in that historic moment. But military involvement, whether sought or forced, did not substantially benefit Native peoples. Instead, the war of brother against brother, tribe against tribe, would cost them a great deal.
Dr. Clarissa W. Confer is an assistant professor of history at California University of Pennsylvania and the author of The Cherokee Nation in the Civil War (University of Oklahoma Press, 2007) and Daily Life During the Indian Wars (Greenwood, 2010).
The Civil War Wasn't Just About the Union and the Confederacy. Native Americans Played a Role Too
I t was the first summer of the Civil War, and everyone thought it would be the last. Hundreds of thousands of Americans converged on train platforms and along country roads, waving handkerchiefs and shouting goodbyes as their men went off to military camps. In those first warm days of June 1861, there had been only a few skirmishes in the steep, stony mountains of western Virginia, but large armies of Union and Confederate soldiers were coalescing along the Potomac River. A major battle was coming, and it would be fought somewhere between Washington, D.C., and Richmond.
In the Union War Department a few steps from the White House, clerks wrote out dispatches to commanders in California, Oregon and the western territories. The federal government needed army regulars currently garrisoned at frontier forts to fight in the eastern theater. These soldiers should be sent immediately to the camps around Washington, D.C.
In New Mexico Territory, however, some regulars would have to remain at their posts. The political loyalties of the local population&mdashlarge numbers of Hispano laborers, farmers, ranchers and merchants a small number of Anglo businessmen and territorial officials and thousands of Apaches and Navajos&mdashwere far from certain. New Mexico Territory, which in 1861 extended from the Rio Grande to the California border, had come into the Union in 1850 as part of a congressional compromise regarding the extension of slavery into the West. California was admitted to the Union as a free state while New Mexico, which was south of the Mason-Dixon Line, remained a territory. Under a policy of popular sovereignty, its residents would decide for themselves if slavery would be legal. Mexico had abolished black slavery in 1829, but Hispanos in New Mexico had long embraced a forced labor system that enslaved Apaches and Navajos. In 1859 the territorial legislature, made up of predominantly wealthy Hispano merchants and ranchers with Native slaves in their households, passed a Slave Code to protect all slave property in the Territory.
In order to ensure that this pro-slavery stance did not drive New Mexico into the arms of the Confederacy, the commander of the Department of New Mexico would have to keep most of his regulars in place to defend the Territory from a secessionist overthrow, as well as a possible Confederate invasion of New Mexico. Union officials wanted more Anglo-Americans to settle in New Mexico Territory at some point in the future, in order to colonize its lands and integrate the Territory more firmly into the nation. As the Civil War began, however, they wanted to control it as a thoroughfare, a way to access the gold in the mountains of the West and California&rsquos deep-water ports. They needed the money from the mines and from international trade to fund their war effort. The Confederates wanted these same resources, of course. In the summer of 1861, Union forces had to defend New Mexico Territory in order to protect California, and the entire West.
Edward R. S. Canby, the Union Army colonel who was in control in Santa Fe, hoped that in addition to his army regulars, he could enlist enough Hispano soldiers to fight off an invading Confederate Army. To recruit, train, and lead these soldiers the Union Army needed charismatic officers, men who could speak Spanish and who had experience fighting in the rolling prairies, parched deserts, and high mountain passes of the Southwest. Several such men volunteered for the Union Army in the summer of 1861, including Christopher &ldquoKit&rdquo Carson, the famed frontiersman. Carson had been born in Kentucky but had lived and traveled throughout New Mexico for more than thirty years, working as a hunter, trapper, and occasional U.S. Army guide. He volunteered for the army when the Civil War began, accepting a commission as a lieutenant colonel. In June 1861, Canby sent him to Fort Union to take command of the 1st New Mexico Volunteers, a regiment of Hispano soldiers who had come into camp from all over the Territory. Carson knew that most of New Mexico&rsquos Anglos were skeptical about these men and their soldiering abilities. The frontiersman believed, however, that the soldiers of the 1st New Mexico would fight well once the battles began. His job was to get them ready.
Some of Carson&rsquos men came with experience, having served in New Mexican militias that rode out to attack Navajos and Apaches in response to raids on their towns and ranches. It was a cycle of violence with a long history, one that predated the arrival of Americans in New Mexico. That summer, however, as soldiers gathered in Union military camps, there had been few raids into Diné Bikéyah, the Navajo homeland in northwestern New Mexico. The calm was unusual, but welcome.
The Navajos were not the only ones who noticed a shift in the balance of power in the summer of 1861. In the southern reaches of New Mexico Territory, the Chiricahua Apache chief Mangas Coloradas watched Americans move through Apachería, his people&rsquos territory. This was the latest in a series of Anglo migrations through Apachería over the past 30 years. Mangas decided that these incursions would not stand. In June 1861, sensing that the U.S. Army was distracted, he decided that this was the time to drive all of the Americans from Apachería.
Navajos and Chiricahua Apaches were a serious challenge to the Union Army&rsquos campaign to gain control of New Mexico at the beginning of the American Civil War. If Canby could secure the Territory against the Union&rsquos Confederate and Native enemies, he would achieve more than Republicans had thought possible after ten years of constant, angry debates about the introduction of slavery into the West, and the significance of that region in the future of the nation. Would the West become a patchwork of plantations, worked by black slaves? Southern Democrats, led by Mississippi senator (and future Confederate president) Jefferson Davis, had argued that the acquisitions from Mexico, particularly New Mexico Territory, &ldquocan only be developed by slave labor in some of its forms.&rdquo The amount of food and cotton that New Mexico plantations would produce, Davis imagined, would make that Territory a part of &ldquothe great mission of the United States, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, and to establish peace and free trade with all mankind.&rdquo
Members of the Republican Party disagreed. A relatively new political organization born out of disputes over slavery in 1854, Republicans considered slavery to be a &ldquorelic of barbarism&rdquo and argued that it should not be expanded into the western territories. &ldquoThe normal condition of all the territory of the United States is that of freedom,&rdquo their 1860 party platform asserted. Preventing Confederate occupation of New Mexico Territory and clearing it of Navajos and Apaches were twin goals of the Union Army&rsquos Civil War campaign in New Mexico, an operation that sought not only military victory but also the creation of an empire of liberty: a nation of free laborers extending from coast to coast.
As those determined to make that dream a reality &mdash and those determined to prevent it from becoming one &mdash converged in New Mexico Territory in 1861, a comet appeared overhead, burning through the desert sky. Astronomers speculated about its origins. It could be the Great Comet of 1264, the huge and brilliant orb that had presaged the death of the pope. Or it might be the comet of 1556, whose tail resembled a wind-whipped torch, and whose splendor had convinced Charles V that a dire calamity awaited him. In either case, the editors of the Santa Fe Gazette found the appearance of this &ldquonew and unexpected stranger&rdquo in the skies to be ominous.
&ldquoInasmuch as bloody [conflicts] were the order of the day in those times,&rdquo their report read, &ldquoit is easy to see that each comet was the harbinger of a fearful and devastating war.&rdquo