Indian Territory Civil War History

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INDIAN TERRITORY MILITARY DISTRICT (C.S.A.)

Oklahoma Civil War Map
Oklahoma Civil War Map.jpg
Map showing battles fought in Indian Territory during the Civil War

After the outbreak of the Civil War in April 1861, Confederate States of America (C.S.A.) President Jefferson Davis assigned Albert Pike to negotiate treaties with the Five Civilized Tribes of Indian Territory, who had been removed from the South in the 1830s. Many of the tribesmen were slaveholders with divided loyalties.

From the Southern point of view Indian Territory was a buffer between Union Kansas and Confederate Texas and a potential source for livestock and grain. In May 1861 the District of Indian Territory, C.S.A., was created. In January 1862 it joined Arkansas and Missouri to form the Trans-Mississippi Department. Throughout the war Indian Territory passed from one district or departmental jurisdiction to another until it became a separate district of the Trans-Mississippi Department in July 1864, with Brig. Gen. Douglas H. Cooper commanding.

By November 1861, Pike had concluded treaties stipulating that the tribes could retain their lands, property, and annuities and would receive supplies and weaponry. Regiments from Texas were sent to defend Indian Territory, whose various commanders included Pike and Maj. Gen. Earl Van Dorn. The Indians fought as separate units under their own leaders. Notable among them was Stand Watie.

The Confederacy controlled less than half of Indian Territory following the battle of Honey Springs in July 1863. The beleaguered South was unable to send supplies and arms. Tribal warfare destroyed property and left thousands homeless. The Five Civilized Tribes were forced to renegotiate treaties with the United States after the Confederacy's defeat in April 1865.

(References listed at bottom of page.)

Recommended Reading: The Blue, the Gray, and the Red: Indian Campaigns of the Civil War (Hardcover) (288 pages). Description: Inexperienced Union and Confederate soldiers in the West waged numerous bloody campaigns against the Indians during the Civil War. Fighting with a distinct geographical advantage, many tribes terrorized the territory from the Plains to the Pacific, as American pioneers moved west in greater numbers. These noteworthy--and notorious--Indian campaigns featured a fascinating cast of colorful characters, and were set against the wild, desolate, and untamed territories of the western United States. This is the first book to explore Indian conflicts that took place during the Civil War and documents both Union and Confederate encounters with hostile Indians blocking western expansion. Continued below...

From Publishers Weekly: Beginning with the flight of the Creeks into Union territory pursued by Confederate forces (including many of Stand Watie's Cherokees), this popular history recounts grim, bloody, lesser-known events of the Civil War. Hatch (Clashes of the Cavalry) also describes the most incredible incidents.... Kit Carson, who fought Apaches and Navajos under the iron-fisted Colonel Carleton, arranged the Long Walk of the Navajos that made him infamous in Navajo history to this day. The North's "Captain" Woolsey, a volunteer soldier, became a brutal raider of the Apaches. General Sibley, a northerner and first Governor of Minnesota, oversaw the response to the Sioux Uprising of 1862 that left several hundred dead. The slaughter of Black Kettle's Cheyennes at Sand Creek in 1864 by Colorado volunteers under Colonel Chivington, a militant abolitionist whose views on Indians were a great deal less charitable, “forms a devastating chapter.” Hatch, a veteran of several books on the Indian Wars that focus on George Armstrong Custer, has added to this clear and even-handed account a scholarly apparatus that adds considerably to its value. 

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Recommended Reading: Civil War in the Indian Territory, by Steve Cottrell (Author), Andy Thomas (Illustrator). Review: From its beginning with the bloody Battle of Wilson's Creek on August 10, 1861, to its end in surrender on June 23, 1865, the Civil War in the Indian Territory proved to be a test of valor and endurance for both sides. Author Steve Cottrell outlines the events that led up to the involvement of the Indian Territory in the war, the role of the Native Americans who took part in the war, and the effect this participation had on the war and this region in particular. As in the rest of the country, neighbor was pitted against neighbor, with members of the same tribes often fighting against each other. Continued below...

Cottrell describes in detail the guerrilla warfare, the surprise attacks, the all-out battles that spilled blood on the now peaceful state of Oklahoma. In addition, he introduces the reader to the interesting and often colorful leaders of the military North and South, including the only American Indian to attain a general's rank in the war, Gen. Stand Watie (member of the Cherokee Nation). With outstanding illustrations by Andy Thomas, this story is a tribute to those who fought and a revealing portrait of the important role they played in this era of our country's history. Meet The Author: A resident of Carthage, Missouri, Steve Cottrell is a descendant of a Sixth Kansas Cavalry member who served in the Indian Territory during the Civil War. A graduate of Missouri Southern State College in Joplin, Cottrell has participated in several battle reenactments including the Academy Award winning motion picture, "Glory". Active in Civil War battlefield preservation and historical monument projects and contributor of a number of Civil War relics to regional museums, Cottrell recently co-authored Civil War in the Ozarks, also by Pelican. It is now in its second printing.

 

Recommended Reading: Rifles for Watie. Description: This is a rich and sweeping novel-rich in its panorama of history; in its details so clear that the reader never doubts for a moment that he is there; in its dozens of different people, each one fully realized and wholly recognizable. It is a story of a lesser -- known part of the Civil War, the Western campaign, a part different in its issues and its problems, and fought with a different savagery. Inexorably it moves to a dramatic climax, evoking a brilliant picture of a war and the men of both sides who fought in it.

 

Recommended Reading: General Stand Watie's Confederate Indians (University of Oklahoma Press). Description: American Indians were courted by both the North and the South prior to that great and horrific conflict known as the American Civil War. This is the story of the highest ranking Native American--Cherokee chief and Confederate general--Stand Watie, his Cherokee Fighting Unit, the Cherokee, and the conflict in the West...

 

Recommended Reading: Native American Weapons. Review From Library Journal: In this taut and generously illustrated overview, Taylor (Buckskin and Buffalo: The Artistry of the Plains Indians) zeroes in on North American Indian arms and armor from prehistoric times to the late 19th century, dividing his subject into five efficient categories. The chapter on striking weapons covers war clubs and tomahawks, cutting weapons include knives from Folsom stone to Bowie, piercing weapons comprise spears and bows and arrows, and defensive weapons feature the seldom-emphasized armor both men and horses wore in battle. Most interesting, however, is the chapter on symbolic weapons, which describes how powerful icons on dress or ornament were used to ward off blows. The illustrations mostly color photos of objects help the reader see distinctions between, for example, a regular tomahawk and a spontoon or French one. Continued below...

Old paintings and photographs show the weapons held by their owners, giving both a time frame and a sense of their importance. The text is packed and yet very readable, and the amount of history, tribal distinction, and construction detail given in such a short book is astounding. This excellent introduction is a bargain for any library. Featuring 155 color photographs and illustrations, Native American Weapons surveys weapons made and used by American Indians north of present-day Mexico from prehistoric times to the late nineteenth century, when European weapons were in common use. Colin F. Taylor skillfully describes the weapons and their roles in tribal culture, economy, and political systems. He categorizes the weapons according to their function--from striking, cutting, and piercing weapons to those with defensive and even symbolic properties, and he documents the ingenuity of the people who crafted them. Taylor explains the history and use of weapons such as the atlatl, a lethal throwing stick whose basic design was enhanced by carving, painting, or other ornamentation. The atlatl surprised De Soto's expedition and contributed to the Spaniards' defeat. Another highlight is Taylor's description of the evolution of body armor, first fashioned to defend against arrows, then against bullets from early firearms. Over thousands of years the weapons were developed and creatively matched to their environment--highly functional and often decorative, carried proudly in tribal gatherings and in war.


Recommended Reading: Race and Radicalism in the Union Army (Hardcover). Review: "This incredible work broadens understanding of the Civil War in the West and expands historical knowledge about the Native American contributions to the war effort. It will appeal to any Civil War historian and those interested in Native American or military history." Eugene H. Berwanger, author of The Frontier against Slavery: Western Anti-Negro Prejudice and the Slavery Extension Controversy. Continued below...
Description: In this compelling portrait of interracial activism, Mark A. Lause documents the efforts of radical followers of John Brown to construct a triracial portion of the Federal Army of the Frontier. Mobilized and inspired by the idea of a Union that would benefit all, black, Indian, and white soldiers fought side by side, achieving remarkable successes in the field. Against a backdrop of idealism, racism, greed, and the agonies and deprivations of combat, Lause examines links between radicalism and reform, on the one hand, and racialized interactions among blacks, Indians, and whites, on the other. Lause examines how this multiracial vision of American society developed on the Western frontier. Focusing on the men and women who supported Brown in territorial Kansas, Lause examines the impact of abolitionist sentiment on relations with Indians and the crucial role of nonwhites in the conflict. Through this experience, Indians, blacks, and whites began to see their destinies as interdependent, and Lause discusses the radicalizing impact of this triracial Unionism upon the military course of the war in the upper Trans-Mississippi. The aftermath of the Civil War destroyed much of the memory of the war in the West, particularly in the Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). The opportunity for an interracial society was quashed by the government's willingness to redefine the lucrative field of Indian exploitation for military and civilian officials and contractors. Assessing the social interrelations, ramifications, and military impact of nonwhites in the Union forces, Race and Radicalism in the Union Army explores the extent of interracial thought and activity among Americans in this period and greatly expands the historical narrative on the Civil War in the West.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: LeRoy H. Fischer, ed., The Civil War Era in Indian Territory (Los Angeles: Lorrin L. Morrison, 1974). Fred Hood, "Twilight of the Confederacy in Indian Territory," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 41 (Winter 1963-64). Lary C. Rampp and Donald L. Rampp, The Civil War in the Indian Territory (Austin, Tex.: Presidial Press, 1975). George H. Shirk, "Indian Territory Command in the Civil War," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 45 (Winter 1967-68).
Martha Hartzog
Oklahoma Historical Society

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