Native Americans in the American Civil War composed various Native American bands, tribes, and nations.  Native Americans served in both the Union and Confederate military during the American Civil War. At the outbreak of the war, for example, the minority party of the Cherokees gave its allegiance to the Confederacy, while originally the majority party went for the North. Native Americans fought knowing they might jeopardize their freedom, unique cultures, and ancestral lands if they ended up on the losing side of the Civil War. 28,693 Native Americans served in the Union and Confederate armies during the Civil War, participating in battles such as Pea Ridge, Second Manassas, Antietam, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, and in Federal assaults on Petersburg. Many Native American tribes, such as the Creek and the Choctaw, were slaveholders and found a political and economic commonality with the Confederacy.  The Choctaw owned nearly 6000 slaves.
Overview of the War
Many Native Americans served in the Union and confederate military during the Civil War. The Delaware tribe had a long history of allegiance to the U.S. government, despite removal to the Wichita Indian Agency in Oklahoma and the Indian Territory in Kansas. On October 1, 1861 the Delaware people proclaimed their alliance to the Union. During the war 170 out of 201 Delaware men volunteered in the Union Army. A journalist from Harper's Weekly described them as being armed with tomahawks, scalping knives, and rifles.
In January 1862, William Dole, U.S. Commissioner of Indian Affairs, asked Native American agents to "engage forthwith all the vigorous and able-bodied Native Americans in their respective agencies." The request resulted in the assembly of the 1st and 2nd Indian Home Guard. Many Native American tribes fought in the war including: the Delware, Creek, Cherokee, Seminole, Kickapoo, Seneca, Osage, Shawnee, Choctaw, Lumbee, Chickasaw, Iroquois, Powhatan, Pequot, Ojibwa, Huron, Odawa, Potawatomi, Catawba, and Pamunkey. The Cherokee, Choctaw, Seminole, Catawba, and Creek tribes were the only tribes to fight on the Confederate side. Like other American communities, some tribes had members fighting on either side of the war. The majority of the Creek sided with the Union as two-thirds of the people preferred to be guided by the advice of their chief Opothle Yahola. Ex-Chief McIntosh was bought by the South, whose leaders appointed him a colonel in the Confederate Army. During November of 1861, the Creek, Black Creek Indians, and White Creek Indians of their tribe were led by Creek Chief Opothle Yahola, fought three pitched battles against Confederate whites and other Native Americans that joined the Confederates to reach Union lines in Kansas, and offer their services.
People who were Black Indians served in colored regiments with other African American and Native American soldiers. Black Indians served in the following regiments: the 1st Kansas Colored Infantry, the Kansas Colored at Honey Springs, the 79th US Colored Infantry, and the 83rd US Colored Infantry, along with other colored regiments that included men who were identified only as Negro.
Some Civil War battles occurred in Indian Territory. The first battle occurred July 1-2, 1863 which involved the 1st Kansas Colored Infantry. The first battle against the Confederacy outside of Indian Territory occurred at Horse Head Creek, Arkansas, on February 17, 1864, and involved the 79th U.S. Colored Infantry.
The Delaware demonstrated their "loyalty", daring and hardihood" during the attack of the Wichita Agency in October 1862. Considered a major Union victory, Native American cavalrymen killed five Confederate agents, took the Rebel flag and $1200 in Confederate currency, 100 ponies, and burned correspondence along with the Agency buildings.
The Cherokee Nation had an internal civil war. The Nation divided, with one side led by principal Chief John Ross and the other by renegade Stand Watie. Chief John Ross wanted to remain neutral throughout the war, but Confederate victories at First Manassas and Wilson's Creek forced the Cherokee to reassess their position. All other Native American tribes bordering the Cherokee were on the Confederate side, which added to the pressure of possible occupation by the Confederate forces.
Stand Watie, along with a few Cherokee, sided with the Confederate Army, in which he was made Colonel and commanded a battalion of Cherokee. Reluctantly, on October 7, 1861, Chief Ross signed a treaty transferring all obligations due to the Cherokee from the U.S. Government to the Confederate States. In the treaty, the Cherokee were guaranteed protection, rations of food, livestock, tools and other goods, as well as a delegate to the Confederate Congress at Richmond. In exchange, the Cherokee would furnish ten companies of mounted men, and allow the construction of military posts and roads within the Cherokee Nation. However, no Indian regiment was to be called on to fight outside Indian Territory. As a result of the Treaty, the 2nd Cherokee Mounted Rifles, led by Col. John Drew, was formed. Following the Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas, March 7-8, 1862, Drew's Mounted Rifles defected to the Union forces in Kansas, where they joined the Indian Home Guard. In the summer of 1862, Federal troops captured Chief Ross, who was paroled and spent the remainder of the war in Washington and Philadelphia proclaiming Cherokee loyalty to the Union army.
In his absence, Col. Stand Watie was chosen principal chief of the Cherokee Nation. He immediately drafted all Cherokee males aged 18-50 into Confederate military service. Watie was a daring cavalry rider who was skilled at hit-and-run tactics. He was considered a genius in guerrilla warfare and the most successful field commander in the Trans-Mississippi West. Promoted to brigadier general in May 1864, Watie was placed in charge of the Indian Cavalry Brigade, which was composed of the 1st and 2nd Cherokee Cavalry and battalions of Creek, Osage and Seminole. He achieved one of his greatest successes at Pleasant Bluff, Arkansas on June 10, 1864, capturing the Union steamboat J.R. Williams. which was loaded with supplies valued at $120,000. At the Second Battle of Cabin Creek, (Indian Territory), Watie's cavalry brigade captured 129 supply wagons and 740 mules, took 120 prisoners, and left 200 casualties. The Cherokee who had not been removed were also caught in the middle of the Civil War. Some chose to side with the Confederate Army since they were located in the southern states.
The Thomas Legion, an Eastern Band of Confederate Cherokee, led by Col. William Holland Thomas, fought in the mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina. Another 200 Cherokee formed the Junaluska Zouaves. Nearly all Catawba adult males served the South in the 5th, 12th and 17th South Carolina Volunteer Infantry, Army of Northern Virginia. They distinguished themselves in the Peninsula Campaign, at Second Manassas, and Antietam, and in the trenches at Petersburg. A monument in Columbia, South Carolina, honors the Catawbas' service in the Civil War. As a consequence of the regiments' high rate of dead and wounded, the continued existence of the Catawba people was jeopardized.
In Virginia and North Carolina, the Pamunkey and Lumbee chose to serve the Union. The Pamunkey served as civilian and naval pilots for Union warships and transports, while the Lumbee acted as guerrillas. Members of the Iroquois Nation joined Company K, 5th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, while the Powhatan served as land guides, river pilots, and spies for the Army of the Potomac.
During the Civil War, there was no distinction made when a Native Americans joined the U.S. Colored Troops. Well into the twentieth century, the word "colored" included not only African Americans, but Native Americans as well. Individual accounts revealed that many Pequot from New England served in the 31st U.S. Colored Infantry of the Army of the Potomac, as well as other U.S.C.T. regiments.
The most famous Native American unit in the Union army in the east was Company K of the 1st Michigan Sharpshooters. The bulk of this unit was Ottawa, Delaware, Huron Oneida, Potawami and Ojibwa. They were assigned to the Army of the Potomac just as Gen. Ulysses S. Grant assumed command. Company K participated in the Battle of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania, and captured 600 Confederate troops at Shand House east of Petersburg. In their final military engagement at the Battle of the Crater, Petersburg, Virginia, on July 30, 1864, the Sharpshooters found themselves surrounded with little ammunition. A lieutenant of the 13th U.S. C.T. quoted their actions as
"splendid work. Some of them were mortally wounded, and drawing their blouses over their faces, they chanted a death song and died - four of them in a group."
By fighting with the European-Americans, Native Americans hoped to gain favor with the prevailing government by supporting the war effort. They also believed war service might mean an end to discrimination and relocation from ancestral lands to western territories. While the war raged and African Americans were proclaimed free, the U.S. government continued its policies of submission, removal, or extermination of Native Americans.
General Ely S. Parker, a member of the Seneca tribe, created the articles of surrender which General Robert E. Lee signed at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865. Gen. Parker, who served as Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's military secretary and was a trained attorney, was once rejected for Union military service because of his race. At Appomattox, Lee is said to have remarked to Parker, "I am glad to see one real American here," to which Parker replied, "We are all Americans."
The Cherokee Nation was the most negatively affected of all Native American tribes during the Civil War, its population declining from 21,000 to 15,000 by 1865. Despite the Federal government's promise to pardon all Cherokee involved with the Confederacy, the entire Nation was considered disloyal, and their rights were revoked. At the end of the war, Gen. Stand Watie was the last to surrender, laying down arms two months after Gen. Robert E. Lee, and a month after Gen. E. Kirby Smith, commander of all troops west of the Mississippi.
Problems in the Midwest and West
The west was mostly peaceful during the war due to the lack of U.S. occupation troops. The federal government was still taking control of native land, and there were continuous fights. From January to May 1863, there were almost continuous fights in the New Mexico territory, as part of a concerted effort by the Federal government to contain and control the Apache; in the midst of all this, President Abraham Lincoln peacefully met with representatives from several major tribes, and informed them he felt concerned they would never attain the prosperity of the white race unless they turned to farming as a way of life. The fighting led to the Sand Creek Massacre caused by Colonel J. M. Chivington, whom settlers asked to retaliate against natives. With 900 volunteer militiamen, Chivington attacked a peaceful village of some 500 or more Arapaho and Cheyenne natives, killing women and children as well as warriors. There were few survivors of the massacre.
In July 1862, settlers fought against Santee Sioux in Minnesota. 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 in order to get supplies. After the Sioux lost the fighting, they were tried (without defense lawyers), found guilty on flimsy evidence,and many were sentenced to death.
When President Lincoln found out about the incident, he immediately requested full information about the convictions. He assigned two attorneys to examine the cases and differentiate between those guilty of murder and those who simply engaged in battle. General Pope, as well as Long Trader Sibley, whose refusal to allow the Sioux 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, and they quickly tried to push forward with them. 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, based on information he was given, 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. It was not until years later that information became public that two men were executed who had not been authorized for punishment by President Lincoln. In fact, one of these two men had saved a white woman's life during the fighting. Little Crow was killed in July 1863, the year in which the Santees were transported to a reservation in Dakota Territory.
Tribes Involved in Battles
- Abraham Lincoln
- Civil War
- Native American tribes
- Native Americans and World War II
- Slavery among Native Americans in the United States
- Slavery in the United States
- Ely Parker Famous Native Americans
- W. David Baird et al. (2009-01-05). ""We are all Americans", Native Americans in the Civil War". Native Americans.com. http://oha.alexandriava.gov/fortward/special-sections/americans/. Retrieved 2009-01-05.
- "Native Americans in the Civil War". Ethic Composition of Civil War Forces (C.S & U.S.A.). 2009-01-05. http://www.civilwarhome.com/nativeamericans.htm. Retrieved 2009-01-05.
- Rodman, Leslie. The Five Civilized Tribes and the American Civil War. p. 2. http://www.amtour.net/downloadable/The_5_Civilized_Tribes_in_the_Civil_War_a_Biographical_Essay.pdf.
- Rodman, Leslie. The Five Civilized Tribes and the American Civil War. p. 5. http://www.amtour.net/downloadable/The_5_Civilized_Tribes_in_the_Civil_War_a_Biographical_Essay.pdf.
- "The Choctaw". Museum of the Red River. http://www.museumoftheredriver.org/choctaw.html.
- Wiley Britton (2009-01-05). "Union and Confederate Indians in the Civil War "Battles and Leaders of the Civil War"". Civil War Potpourri. http://www.civilwarhome.com/unionconfedindians.htm. Retrieved 2009-01-05.
- William Loren Katz (2008). "Africans and Indians: Only in America". William Loren Katz. http://www.williamlkatz.com/Essays/History/AfricansIndians.php. Retrieved 2008-09-20.
- Angela Y. Walton-Raji (2008). "Oklahoma Freedmen in the Civil War". Oklahoma's Black Indians. http://www.african-nativeamerican.com/14-freedcw.htm. Retrieved 2008-10-24.
- Angela Y. Walton-Raji (2008). "Battles Fought in Indian Territory and Battles Fought by I.T. Freedmen outside of Indian Territory". Oklahoma's Black Indians. http://www.african-nativeamerican.com/battles.htm. Retrieved 2008-10-24.
- "Native Americans". History Central.com. 2009-01-05. http://www.historycentral.com/civilwar/people/Native.html. Retrieved 2009-01-05.