Cherokee Indians and Civil War

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Cherokee Indians and the Civil War

The Path to Civil War

The Path to Civil War
William Holland Thomas, a Cherokee chief, senator, lawyer, and Confederate colonel, displayed a rare ability because he earned the respect and loyalty of the Cherokee and Western North Carolinian. As an adopted Cherokee, Indian agent, and Cherokee chief, Thomas earned the confidence of the Cherokee; as a North Carolina state senator, he gained the vote and trust of the Western North Carolinian; and as a self-taught lawyer, he even convinced Washington to exempt approximately 1000 Cherokee from the Trail of Tears.
The Western North Carolinians had fought the Cherokee for decades. If the Cherokee fight in the American Civil War will they join the North? Or will they remain neutral? On the other hand, the Cherokee entered into six separate treaties with the United States between 1777 and 1835. In each case, federal authorities sought to extend the frontiers of white settlement by extinguishing Indian title to land. The U.S. had broken several promises, including President Andrew "Old Hickory" Jackson's unconscionable betrayal of Chief Junaluska and his Cherokee. The great warrior and chief had saved General Jackson's life at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, and, subsequently, when "Old Hickory" was elected the 7th President, he forced the Cherokee from their homeland. But by the 1860s, the Western North Carolinians and Cherokee were neighbors and, moreover, friends. Cherokee intermarriage with neighboring whites was also more common. Furthermore, prior to his death, Chief Yonaguska commanded his people to obey Chief Thomas. In 1883 Ziegler recorded:
"Before Yonaguska died he assembled his people and publicly willed the chieftainship to his clerk, friend and adopted son, W. H. Thomas, who he commended as worthy of respect and whom he adjured them to obey as they had obeyed him. He was going to the home provided for him by the Great Spirit; he would always keep watch over his people and would be grieved to see any of them disobey the new chief he had chosen to rule over them."
General Winfield Scott and the U.S. Army, enforcing Jackson's Indian Removal Policy, eradicated the Cherokee during the forced removal termed "Trail of Tears," which the Cherokee refer to as Nunahi-Duna-Dlo-Hilu-I or Trail Where They Cried. The Indians, consequently, vividly remembered Jackson's great betrayal and the 4000 Cherokee that perished. (Cherokee Declaration and the American Civil War and American Indians in the Civil War.) 
And in the beginning of the Civil War, Scott was appointed General-in-Chief of the Union Army; he was also a veteran of the War of 1812, hero during the Mexican-American War, former presidential candidate, and during the Civil War was credited  for his superb Anaconda Plan. Other notable soldiers of the Mexican-American War: Robert E. Lee, Braxton Bragg, U. S. Grant, "Stonewall" Jackson,  Zachary Taylor, and Jefferson Davis.

"Long time we travel on way to new land. People feel bad when they leave old nation. Women cry and make sad wails. Children cry and many men cry, and all look sad like when friends die, but they say nothing and just put heads down and keep on go towards West. Many days pass and people die very much. We bury close by Trail."
— Survivor of the Trail of Tears
The majority of the Cherokee supported the Confederacy and the Confederate Army. The bulk of the Cherokee, moreover, remained loyal to their respective chief, and they submitted, obeyed, and served him even when it "demanded and resulted in death." (Cherokee Declaration and the American Civil War and Cherokee Indians and the American Civil War.)

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.

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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...


Highly Recommended Viewing: Indian Warriors - The Untold Story of the Civil War (History Channel) (2007). Description: Though largely forgotten, 20 to 30 thousand Native Americans fought in the Civil War. Ely Parker was a Seneca leader who found himself in the thick of battle under the command of General Ulysses S. Grant. Stand Waite--a Confederate general and a Cherokee--was known for his brilliant guerrilla tactics. Continued...

Also highlighted is Henry Berry Lowery, an Eastern North Carolina Indian, who became known as the Robin Hood of North Carolina. Respected Civil War authors, Thom Hatch and Lawrence Hauptman, help reconstruct these most captivating stories, along with descendants like Cherokee Nation member Jay Hanna, whose great-grandfathers fought for both the Union and the Confederacy. Together, they reveal a new, fresh perspective and the very personal reasons that drew these Native Americans into the fray.

Recommended Viewing: The Great Indian Wars: 1540-1890 (2009) (230 minutes). Description: The year 1540 was a crucial turning point in American history. The Great Indian Wars were incited by Francisco Vazquez de Coronado when his expedition to the Great Plains launched the inevitable 350 year struggle between the white man and the American Indians. This series defines the struggles of practically every major American Indian tribe. It is also a fascinating study of the American Indians' beginnings on the North American Continent, while reflecting the factional splits as well as alliances. Continued...

The Great Indian Wars is more than a documentary about the battles and conflicts, wars and warfare, fighting tactics and strategies, and weapons of the American Indians. You will journey with the Indians and witness how they adapted from the bow to the rifle, and view the European introduction of the horse to the Americas and how the Indians adapted and perfected it for both hunting and warfare. This fascinating documentary also reflects the migration patterns--including numerous maps--and the evolution of every major tribe, as well as the strengths, weaknesses, and challenges of each tribe. Spanning nearly 4 hours and filled with spectacular paintings and photographs, this documentary is action-packed from start to finish.


Recommended Reading: The American Indian in the Civil War, 1862-1865 (Bison Book) (403 pages) (University of Nebraska Press). Description: Annie Heloise Abel describes the divided loyalties of Native Americans and the American Civil War and makes it vividly clear that it brought only chaos and devastation to the Indian Territory. For example, she describes in detail the 1862 Battle of Pea Ridge, a bloody disaster for the Confederates but a glorious moment for Colonel (later promoted to "General")  Stand Watie and his Cherokee Mounted Rifles. The Indians were soon swept by the war into a vortex of confusion and horror. 

Recommended Reading: Storm in the Mountains: Thomas' Confederate Legion of Cherokee Indians and Mountaineers (Thomas' Legion: The Sixty-ninth North Carolina Regiment). Description: Vernon H. Crow, Storm in the Mountains, spent 10 years conducting extensive Thomas Legion's research. Crow was granted access to rare manuscripts, special collections, and privately held diaries which add great depth to this rarely discussed Civil War legion. He explores and discusses the unit's formation, fighting history, and life of the legion's commander--Cherokee chief and Confederate colonel--William Holland Thomas. Continued below...
Numerous maps and photographs allow the reader to better understand and relate to the subjects discussed. It also contains rosters which is an added bonus for researchers and genealogists. Crow, furthermore, left no stone unturned while examining the many facets of the Thomas Legion and his research is conveyed on a level that scores with Civil War students and scholars alike.

Try the Search Engine for Related Studies: Cherokee Indian Civil War History, Why did Native Americans fight in the Civil War, Indians and Americans, Results Purpose Details Facts Alliance Loyalty Treaty Declaration Convention Proclamation Treaties

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