Share This Article

The Cherokee Nation in the Civil War

 Clarissa W. Confer, University of Oklahoma Press

Just as the Civil War’s root causes were planted long before 1861, so the Five Civilized Tribes’ involvement followed decades of tensions with the U.S. government. Clarissa Confer investigates the role played by the Cherokees.

Two factors lay behind the Cherokees’ decision to fight for the South. First and foremost were memories of the “Trail of Tears,” the Cherokees’ forced removal from Georgia to Indian Territory; second was the fact that they owned some 4,000 slaves. Initially Chief John Ross tried to remain neutral, but the Lincoln administration left him little choice but to side with the South: The government stopped paying tribal annuities in 1861, then the U.S. Army withdrew from Forts Washita, Arbuckle and Cobb.

Meanwhile Richmond had already organized a Bureau of Indian Affairs. Albert Pike and Brig. Gen. Ben McCulloch established relations with the Cherokees, and the South offered them the right to participate in its legislature.

This is an important book on an overlooked topic that still influences us today. The conflict had disastrous consequences for those who fought for the South. But in the end, Brig. Gen. Stand Watie’s standing as the last Rebel general to surrender says something about the Indian soldiers.


Originally published in the October 2013 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.