Native Americans in the Civil War - An Untold Story
Have you ever heard the name Stand Watie? How about Black Beaver? If so, you know more than I did when I started my research about Native Americans in the Civil War. Do you know anything about how the Civil War affected the Indians? Not many people do.
In fact, a lot of people don't know much about Native Americans' role in any of U.S. history. Did you hear Al Gore or George W. Bush mention Native Americans while they campaigned to be president? Have you seen anything about Native Americans in the news lately? I haven't, and I've been looking! So imagine my reaction when I was told to find out how Native Americans participated in the war that divided the U.S. Where to go? What to do? Help!
Stephanie and I started in Oklahoma, home of the Cherokee. We found out that most Native American tribes who fought in the civil war did so in order to survive. They didn't fight because they wanted to help the Confederacy preserve slavery, or because they wanted to help the Union destroy it.
Basically, Native Americans had to join the side on which they lived, or else be killed or driven off their land by the white Americans living around them. For example, the Cherokee were split down the middle by the Civil War because of where they lived. The northern part of Cherokee territory was in Union states, and the southern part was in Confederate states. Although the leader of the Cherokee, John Ross, was pro-Union, there was another important Cherokee leader, Stand Watie, who wanted to make a deal with the Confederacy. Eventually, John Ross, too, had to join the Confederacy in order to save his tribe.
Given the way they had been treated by white Americans, it's amazing any Indians would fight in the first place! But Native Americans did fight, and bravely. One of the bravest soldiers was Black Beaver, a Delaware Indian scout who volunteered his services to the Union. Black Beaver helped Colonel Emory capture a contingent of Texas Mounted Rifles at the start of the war. Black Beaver then guided everyone - Union troops and their Confederate prisoners - on a 500-mile trek across the prairie, without losing a single man, horse or wagon.
When the Union army won the war, tribes who had fought for the Confederacy, and tribes that refused to fight at all, were severely punished. The U.S. government killed many Native Americans or forced them to move.
How to right all these wrongs? What can we do? Well, we can start by uncovering the untold stories of Civil War; the ones that involved - and affected - thousands of Indians.
Please email me at:
Links to Other Dispatches
Irene - Was the Civil War really about freedom
Nick - The bloodiest square mile in America
Stephanie - I'm nine but I can still fight!