The Civil War in The Indian Nation

The Civil War in the Indian Nation

THE Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Seminole tribes were the only Indian tribes who took an active part in the civil war but no people in the United States suffered heavier losses than the Cherokee, Creek, and Seminole tribes, where the bitterness of internal strife was added to the destruction of large scale war. Most destructive was the irregular fighting of partisan groups raids, the flight and pursuit of civilian bands, the burning of homes and schools, and the readjustments to refugee camps. The Cherokee tribe alone lost over 25% of its population. Before the war very few of the Indians manifested any interest in the question of slavery, and only a small number owned slave property. Slavery among them was not regarded in the same light as among the whites, for in many instances the slaves acted as if they were on an equality with their masters. But the tribes named occupied valuable territory, and the Confederate authorities lost no time in sending agents among them to win them over. When the Confederate agents first approached the full-blood leaders of the Cherokee and Creek tribes on the subject of severing their relations with the United States, the Indian expressed themselves cautiously but decidedly as preferring to remain neutral.

Conspicuous among these who took a decided stand against organizing the Indians to oppose the Federal Government was Hopoeithelyohola, the old chief of the Creek tribe. The Confederate agents had succeeded in winning over ex-Chief McIntosh, by appointing him colonel, but, perhaps, two-thirds of the people preferred to be guided by the advice of their valuable old chief, Hopoeithleyohola.

In the fall of 1861, Colonel Douglas H. Cooper, commanding the department of Indian operations under authority from the Confederate Government, made several ineffectual efforts to have a conference with the old chief of for the purpose of effecting a peaceful settlement of the difficulties that were dividing the nation into two hostile camps. Finding Hopoeithleyhola unwavering in his loyalty to the United States, Colonel Cooper determined to force him into submission, destroy his power, or drive him out of the country, and at once commenced collecting forces, composed mostly of white troops, to attack him. In November and December, 1861, the battles of Chusto Talasah and Chustenhlah were fought, and the loyal Indians finally were defeated and forced to retire to Kansas in midwinter.

In the spring of 1862 the United States Government sent an expedition of five thousand men under Colonel William Weer, 10th Kansas Infantry, into the Indian Territory to drive out the Confederate forces of Pike and Cooper, and to restore the refugee Indians to their homes. After a short action at Locust Grove, near Grand Saline, Cherokee Nation, July 2d, Colonel Weer's cavalry captured Colonel Clarkson and part of his regiment for Missourians. On the 16th of July Captain Greeno, 6th Kansas Cavalry, captured Tahlequah, the captain of the Cherokee Nation, and on the 19th of July Colonel Jewell, 6th Kansas Cavalry, captured Fort Gibson, the most important point in the Indian Territory.

The Confederate forces were now driven out of all that part of the Indian country north of the Arkansas River, and the loyal Indians of the Cherokee, Creek, and Seminole nations were organized, by authority of the United States Government, into three regiments, each fully a thousand strong, for the defense of their country. The colonel and part of the field and line officers of each regiment were white officers. Most of the captains were Indian. William A. Phillips, of Kansas, who was active in organizing these Indian regiments, commanded the Indian brigade from its organization to the close of the war. He took part with his Indian troops in the action at Locust Grove, C. N., and in the battles of Newtonia, Mo., Maysville, Ark., Prairie Grove, Ark., Honey Springs, C. N., Perryville, C. N., besides many other minor engagements. In all the operations in which they participated they acquitted themselves creditably, and to the satisfaction of the Federal commander in the Indian Territory.

On the Confederate side, General Albert Pike and Colonel Douglas H. Cooper, in the fall and winter of 1861, organized three regiments of Indians from the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee, Creek, and Seminole nations or tribes, for service in the Indian Territory. These regiments, under General Pike, participated in the battle of Pea Ridge, Ark., on the 7th and 8th of March, 1862. In the five tribes named a battalion and parts of four regiments were raised for the Confederate service, but these amounted in all to perhaps 3500 men. The National Archives does maintain a separate index for the Indian Troops. Their actual numbers are unknown

At the close of Mr. Buchanan's administration nearly all the United States Indian agents in the Indian agents in the Indian Territory were secessionists, and the moment the Southern States commenced passing ordinances of secession, these men exerted their influence to get the five tribes committed to the Confederate cause. Occupying territory south of the Arkansas River, and having the secessionists of Arkansas on the east and those of Texas on the south for neighbors, the Choctaws and Chickasaws offered no decided opposition to the scheme. With the Cherokee, the most powerful and most civilized of the tribes of the Indian Territory, it was different. Their chief, John Ross, was opposed to hasty action, and as first favored neutrality, and in the summer of 1861 issued a proclamation, enjoining his people to observe a strictly neutral attitude during the war between the United States States. In June, 1861, Albert Pike, a commissioner of the Confederate States, and General Ben. McCulloch, commanding the Confederate forces in western Arkansas and the Department of Indian Territory, visited Chief Ross with the view of having him make a treaty with the Confederacy. But he declined to make a treaty, and in the conference expressed himself as wishing to occupy, if possible, a neutral position during the war. A majority of the Cherokees, nearly all of whom were full-bloods, were known as Pin Indians, and were opposed to the South. Commissioner Pike went away to make treaties with the less civilized Indian tribes of the plains, and in the mean time the battle of Wilson's Creek was fought, General Lyon killed, and the Union army defeated and forced to fall back from Springfield to Rolla.

Chief Ross now thought that the South would probably succeed in establishing her independence, and expressed a willingness to enter into a treaty with the Confederate authorities. On his return from the West in September, 1861, Commissioner Pike, at the request of Mr. Ross, went to Park Hill and made a treaty with the Cherokees. The treaties made with each tribe provided that the troops it raised should be used for home protection, and should not be taken out of the Indian Territory. Even before the treaty with Commissioner Pike, Chief Ross had commenced to organize a regiment composed nearly altogether of Pin Indians. John Drew, a stanch secessionist, was commissioned colonel, and William P. Ross, lieutenant-colonel, of this regiment. Colonel Stand Watie, the leader of the secession party, had also commenced to raise a regiment of half-breeds for General McCulloch's division. As already stated, there were two facing among the Creeks, one of which was led by Hopoeithleyohola and the other by D. N. and Chitty McIntosh, who were sons of General William McIntosh, killed in 1825 by Hopoeithleyhola and his followers in Georgia, for making the treaty of Indian Springs. It is asserted by General Pike and others that will Hopoeithleyohola it was not a question of loyalty or disloyalty to the United States, but simply one of self-preservation; that when he found the Confederate authorities had commissioned D. N. McIntosh as colonel of a Creek regiment, and Chitty McIntosh as lieutenant-colonel of a battalion of Creeks, he left certain that the Indian troops thus being raised would be used to persecute and destroy him and his followers. In November, 1861, he started for Kansas, and was pursued and overtaken by the Confederate Creeks, Choctaws, Chickasaws, Cherokee, and Texans under Colonel Douglas H. Cooper. A fight took place in the night, and Colonel Drew's regiment of Cherokees, which had been raised by Chief Ross, went over to Hopoeithleyohola, and fought with him in the next day's desperate battle (known as the battle of Chusto Talasah), in which five hundred of the Union Indians were reported by Colonel Cooper to have been killed and wounded.@@ The Confederate Indians of Colonel Stand Watie's regiment, and those of Colonel Drew's regiment, who had returned to the Confederate service under Pike and Cooper, also participated in the battle of Pea Ridge in March, 1862, where they were charged with scalping and mutilating the Federal dead on the field. General Pike, hearing of the scalping, called up the surgeon and assistant-surgeon of his field-hospital for reports, and in their reports they stated that they found one of the Federal dead who had been scalped. General Pike then issued an order, denouncing the outrage in the strongest language, and sent a copy of the order to General Curtis. General Pike claimed that part of the Indians were in McCulloch's corps in the first day's battle; and that the scalping was done at night in a quarter of the field not occupied by the Indian troops under his immediate command. After Pea Ridge the operations of the Confederate Indians under General Cooper and Colonel Stand Watie were confined, with a few exceptions, to the Indian Territory. In connection with while troops from Texas, they participated in several engagements with the Federal Indian brigade under Colonel Phillips, after he recaptured Fort Gibson in the spring of 1863; and they made frequent efforts to capture Federal supply trains from Fort Scott to Fort Gibson and Fort Smith, but were always unsuccessful. They fought very well when they had an opportunity to take shelter behind trees and logs, but could not easily be brought to face artillery, and a single shell thrown at them was generally sufficient to demoralize them and put them to flight.

The position chosen by Hopoeithleyhola at Chusto Talasah, where he determined to make a stand and fight the Confederate forces, was naturally a very strong one to resist an attack made with small-arms. It was at a gorge of a bend of Bird Creek, the bend being in the form of a horse-shoe, and fourth hundred yards in length. The creek made up to the prairie on the side approached by the Confederate forces in an abrupt and precipitous bank about thirty feel high. On the opposite side of this precipitous bank was the inside of the horse-shoe or bend, which was densely covered with heavy timber cane, and tangled thickets. The position was also strengthened by felled trees and by the creek forming the bend or horse-shoe. The creek was deep and was fordable only at certain places known to the Union Indians. In this battle Hopoeithleyhola's forces were posted after they were obliged to fall back in the preliminary skirmish. A house and crib at the mouth of the bend served as a shelter for a while, from which his sharp-shooters kept back the Confederates. The Union Indians, however, were finally driven from this position back into the bend, contesting the ground with much obstinacy. The Confederate troops made repeated efforts to dislodge them from the bend, but without success. Every time a detachment of Hopoeithleyhola's warriors showed themselves in an opening or in the prairie, the Confederates charged them to the timber, when a volley from the concealed Union Indian threw the charging column into confusion and sent it back in a hasty retreat. Night coming on put an end to the fight.-W. B.

Following the Battle of Doaksville, Brigadier General Stand Watie, a Confederate commander of the Cherokee Nation, became the last Confederate general to surrender in the American Civil War, on 23 June 1865.

Source: "Battles and Leaders of the Civil War" article by Wiley Britton