Native Americans During The Civil War


Many people do not realize that Native Americans made significant contributions in the American Civil War. Native Americans served as scouts for both the Confederates and the Union during the war. When the Southern States secedes from the Union in 1861, The Indian Territory (present day Oklahoma) was caught up in the pressure between the North and the South. The five major Indian tribes in the territory wanted to stay neutral, but some tribes eventually sided with the Confederate States while others sided with the Union.

Between 1861 and 1865, as many as 20,000 Native Americans left home to participate in battles on both sides hoping that their services in the armies will bring better treatment to their people.

The Scouts and Guides

Many Native Americans served as scouts and guides for the armies. One notable scout and guide was Black Beaver who was a Delaware Indian who volunteered his services to the Union Army. He served as a guide and interpreter during the war. He could speak English, French, Spanish, and about eight different Indian languages and use Indian sign language. He served as a guide at the age of 50 under Union commander Colonel William H. Emory in Indian Territory. While on a scouting expedition he observed some Confederate soldiers were near Forts Washita and Arbuckle where Colonel Emory's forces were stationed. To reduce the risk of an ambush by Confederate forces, Black Beaver helped lead Colonel Emory's men from Forts Washita and Arbuckle on the Texas border to Fort Cobb, a location much further northwest of their original location.

Colonel Emory was able to capture the first Confederate prisoners of war because of the information obtained from the scouting activities of Black Beaver. Black Beaver ultimately lead Emory's troop and Confederate prisoners on a 500 mile journey through open prairie to Fort Leavenworth. Despite the danger on the trail, there was not a single loss of men, horses, or wagons thanks to Black Beaver.

Falleaf, another Delaware Indian was 53 when he actively recruited Indians to start Company D of the 2nd Kansas Indian Home Guard. The regiment was consisted of Delaware, Kickapoo, Osage, Shawnee, Seneca, Cherokee, Seminole, Creek, Choctaw and Chickasaw. At it height, the company had 86 mounted Indians and none of them will ever be reported killed or wounded in action during the Civil War. The regiment lost 11 men to disease and nine deserted as recorded in the regimental books. This regiment fought many battles in the Indian Territory.

After the war, the government still treated the Indians unfairly. Falleaf made an attempt to collect pay the government owed him and his men for their services during the war, but was unsuccessful. The Department of Interior as before the war was still determined to remove the Delaware Indians from Kansas. The Indians were eventually moved to the Cherokee Nation after tribal leaders agreed to sell the land after the signing of two treaties in 1866 and 1867. Unfortunately, the Kansas and Washington politicians, and railroad officials made a large profit from it.

Falleaf was totally against his tribe's move to the Cherokee Nation. He protested for nearly six months with 500 other Delawares and finally gave in after starvation began to set in. Finally, he agreed to move with his wife and family to Indian Territory. Falleaf died in 1880, shortly after becoming a Baptist minister.

Native American Indian
Native American Indian

As Soldiers

Indians played their most prominent roles as soldiers in the Eastern Theater of the American Civil War, especially during the Petersburg Campaign. The campaign lasted from July 1864 to March 1865. American Indians such as the Iroquois from New York, Pequots from New England, Catawbas from South Carolina and Indians from Company K of the 1st Michigan Sharpshooters played a crucial role in the famous "Battle of the Crater" that took place in Petersburg, Virginia on July 30, 1864, with six Union assaults on the city. Most of the Indians fought with the Army of the Potomac and in some cases fought alongside Black soldiers in the United States Colored Troops.

The 1st Michigan Sharpshooters was the most famous fighting Indian regiment in the Union force. This regiment was composed mostly of Ottowas from the lower Michigan peninsula. Company K made contributions in the Battles of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania Courthouse in May 1864, and in the first Union assault on Petersburg, on June 17 ,1864.

About a month later Lieutenant Colonel Henry Pleseants can up with a bold idea of building a tunnel under the Confederate line to decimate them. Men of the 48th Pennsylvania Infantry constructed a 500 foot tunnel and at the other end loaded it up with four tons of gunpowder. The plan was to set off the explosion at a predetermined time.

At the other end of the tunnel, waited a group of Confederate soldiers with Catawbas Indians. The Catawbas were the most committed Indians in the Confederate forces because they felt they were Southerners as well as Indians. Many of the Catawbas joined the Confederates because of good pay ($50 for enlistment) and to prove their manliness on the battlefields. The Catawbas Indians also enlisted to help capture runaway slaves.

The decision was made to set off the explosion at 3:30 A.M, but initial attempt to light the fuse failed. Eventually three men went into the tunnel and lit the fuse and the mine finally exploded at 4:44 A.M leaving a crater 170 feet long, 60 feet wide and 30 feet deep.

The explosion killed 287 Virginians, South Carolinians and Catawbas Indians and destroyed two guns in an artillery battery. Immediately after the explosion, the Union forces opened fire on the Crater with everything they had, but due to the confusion that followed, many of the Union soldiers and Ottowas Indians ended up at the bottom of crater unable to get out. The men became sitting ducks and were literally massacred by the Confederates. Two hours later, the men of United States Colored Troop (U.S.C.T.) were ordered into the massive crater and they were also massacred by the Confederates.

By the time the battle ended, there were 3,800 Union casualties and less than 1,500 Confederate casualties. About 40 percent of Union casualties were from the Colored regiment. Austin George, a Pequot Indian from Connecticut, took a bullet in his shoulder and had to wait 18 days before he got it removed because so many white soldiers needed medical attention. After leaving the hospital, George deserted the army in January 1865 because he was dissatisfied with the way he was treated.

By the end of the war, most other Indians felt the same way. They had fought in the Civil War poor, frustrated, and desperate to save their land and their people, hoping for the best.

Stand Waite
Stand Waite

Indian Generals in The Civil War

Many Indian leaders in Civil War obtained the rank of Captain in their regiments, but there are two Indians named Stand Watie, a Cherokee Indian, became a Brigadier General and Ely S. Parker, a Seneca Indian, became a Brevet Brigadier General under Grant.

Waite rosed through the ranks by impressing the Confederate commanders with his strong determination to stand up in battles. He showed this determination in the Battle of Wilson's Creek in Missouri on August 10, 1861. By October he was promoted to Colonel and put in command of a Cherokee Mounted Rifles regiment. His regiment fought in guerrilla warefare in many small battles, and fought in the Battle of Pea Ridge in Arkansas in March 1862 and on May 10, 1864, he was promoted to Brigadier General. His troops were all Indians and they were Cheorkees, Creeks, Seminoles, and Osages.

Waite was the last Confederate General to surrender in the war. He held out until June 23, 1865 in a town called Doaksville, near Fort Towson in Indian Territory. After the war, he returned to his farm along Honey Creek in present day Delaware County, Oklahoma, where he died on September 9, 1871.

Parker also rosed through the ranks just as Waite did during the war. He served as Chief Engineer during Siege of Vicksburg and later became Grant's adjutant during the Chattanooga Campaign. He was eventually appointed military secretary for the U.S. Army with the rank of lieutenant colonel. His biggest achievement was the drafting of the surrender documents for Lee's surrender at Appomattox Court House in April 1865. Parker is one of the generals in the famous painting of Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox Courthouse. Parker was brevetted brigadier general of volunteers on April 9, 1865, a few days before the Civil War ended.

Unfortunately, life for the Native Americans after the civil war did not improve much. The centuries-old war against the American Indians picked up right where it had left off.

Parker sitting far left
Parker sitting far left

© 2010 Melvin Porter

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Comments 46 comments

Raven Blanket info 8 months ago

Who is the Indian in the photo with white fur skins? I thought this was Raven Blanket, am I correct, and if so where is he from? thank you. I have a photo of him and am very curious.

ajali 3 years ago

i know a lot about indian wars because my husbands father was in the war and he tells me all about it. We have a baby boy on the way and we are excited to tell him about it.

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melpor 3 years ago from New Jersey, USA Author

Barbara, as long as there are descendants around the Delaware (Leni-Lenape) are still here. People say the same of the Mayans, however, they are still around in Mexico because of their descendants. They are still here. Until the last one dies then they will not exist any more. Barbara thanks for reading my hub.

Barbara Renick 3 years ago

I know a living breathing Delaware (Leni-Lenape), yet many "authorities" say that none exist anymore.

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melpor 4 years ago from New Jersey, USA Author

NateB11, thanks for your comment and for reading my hub. I am planning to write more hubs on this subject in the near future.

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NateB11 4 years ago from California, United States of America

Fascinating and neglected part of American history, cheers to you for writing about it. Good too that you addressed the historical unfair treatment of Natives in America, especially after sacrifices they'd made.

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melpor 4 years ago from New Jersey, USA Author

DonnaMhicks, thanks for your comment. I agree. When I was in school the role of native Americans in the American Civil War was not mentioned and I did learned anything about this until I started doing my own reading on the civil war.

donnaMhicks 4 years ago

I, too, am a Civil War buff. There are many people who do not know the role the Native Americans played in the Civil War - on both sides. It's an aspect of the Civil War that was not in the school books when I went to school and is still not talked about much today. Great hub!

Hawkfeather 4 years ago

Great informative site. Never able to read about NA in Civil War. My GGGGF was in Rev War. We are descendants of Asharoken and Matinecock of Long Island NY. Live in OR, from Cheesequake NJ. I am a History and Genealogy follower for last 8 years.

Don S.

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melpor 5 years ago from New Jersey, USA Author

Carolyn, thanks for stopping by to read my hub and thanks for the reference for more information on native Americans.

Carolyn Ellertson 5 years ago

There are any number of books that reference the contributions made by Native Americans on both sides of the civil war. I guess I had three sides fighting, as I had my mother's maternal side for the Union; my mother's paternal side for the confederates; and my Native American family by my father's parents on both sides, who were for the confederates. A great site about Cherokee participation in the civil war on the confederate side is which began and is mostly about the men of Thomas' Legion of Highlanders and Indians from North Carolina, but there is also a lot of other fascinating stuff as well.

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melpor 5 years ago from New Jersey, USA Author

Rashida, I found several websites with information about Black Beaver. Just do a google search on his name and several websites will appear. I know he was a very popular scout for the Union Army during the American Civil War. He was originally from the Indian Territory and later settled in Delaware.

rashida williams 5 years ago

i am trying to write a good paper on a native american called black beaver. He was a good aspect to the europeans and is one that you don't hear about in history today. i was wondering if you could help me out by pointing me in the right direction of where to go to find information on him. Native American history for me is depressing just because of what the europeans did to those people. to be a native of the english people and know that my four fathers are rooted out of england makes me sick to the stomach. now i know what a white man or woman with a good heart feels like when they know that their family tree was created around the slavery of black people.

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melpor 5 years ago from New Jersey, USA Author

WesternHistory, thanks for stopping by and for the additional information about the contributions the American Indians made to the American civil war.

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WesternHistory 5 years ago from California

Interesting hub and enjoyed reading. Indians did indeed make contributions to both sides in the Civil War. There were however situations such as in Texas and in the far southwest where Indian raids did increase because of the absence or decrease in cavalry troops as a result of the Civil War. While the Civil War went on there were Indian skirmishes with both Union and Confederate troops in these far reaches of the frontier.

jodie 5 years ago

this is very interesting :)

David.C 5 years ago

I gotta say thank u so much, i am a Native American student at Huntington Middle School in Chillicothe Ohio, and this helped a lot with my report thank u so much, i really mean it

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melpor 5 years ago from New Jersey, USA Author

6hotfingers3, thanks for reading my hub. I am also from Virginia and remembered growing up not hearing anything about African Americans in history books. It is a shame how much history is not mentioned in history books even today about African Americans. I will write some future hubs on this subject.

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6hotfingers3 5 years ago

Thank you for this informative Hub! Now is the time to set the record straight. I am from Virginia and I know growing up, there was almost nothing mentioned about African Americans in history books. To learn what I've learned in this Hub about Native Americans makes me sad,races of people have been deliberately left out of history books until now. So sad!

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melpor 5 years ago from New Jersey, USA Author

Evan guy, native americans fought along side with Confederates and Union soldiers during the Civil War. Many of them fought with the soldiers for the same reasons black americans did to gain their freedom and rights.

evan guy 5 years ago

who did the native americans fight with in the civil war and why

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melpor 5 years ago from New Jersey, USA Author

Abraham, you are write. He was a general on the Union side. I will update my hub as soon as possible. Thanks for bring this to my attention.

Abraham 5 years ago

Hey im sorry if i am pushing any buttons but there were 2 Indian Generals in the Civil War. Stand Waite and Ely S. Parker

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melpor 5 years ago from New Jersey, USA Author

Ernest E. Walker, I found a link that may provide you additional information about your great-great grandfather. If this information is correct your great-great grandmother is Barbara Mariah Snyder and one of their children name was Nancy Josephine Hurt who married a fellow named William David Walker. Click on the following link:

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melpor 5 years ago from New Jersey, USA Author

Ernest E. Walker, I found a link that may provide you additional information about your great-great grandfather. If this information is correct your great-great grandmother is Barbara Mariah Snyder and one of their children name was Nancy Josephine Hurt who married a fellow named William David Walker. Click on the following link:

Ernest E Walker 5 years ago

I am looking for information on my Great Great Grandfather who is David Smith Tall Bull Hurt. I believe he was Choctaw,and Was wounded in the leg.He got gangerine in it had to have it cut off.That is all I know.

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melpor 5 years ago from New Jersey, USA Author

Alaina, I am part Native American. I am the great-grandson of a Native American woman who lived in Virgina. Most of my life I have been reading and researching everything about Native Americans in an effort to learn more about my relatives on my grandfather side of the family since his mother was Native American.

Alaina antone 5 years ago

hello what do you know about natives americans well just saying becaues some people think they know a lot about us but they really do not know

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melpor 5 years ago from New Jersey, USA Author

John Samuelson, yes, this information is from a reliable and accurate source. Some of this information was obtained from an article written by an historian that I read in the monthly issue of "America's Civil War" magazine a few months ago. I can not remember the issue number right now. but it is factual information.

John Samuelson 5 years ago

Is this information actually legitimate? I am asking because I am writing a report and need good info!!!

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melpor 6 years ago from New Jersey, USA Author

Happyboomernurse, thanks for your comment. Many people do not realize some of the significant contributions made by Native Americans during the growing years of the United States. I will be writing more hubs in the future in this area. Again thanks for reading my hub.

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Happyboomernurse 6 years ago from South Carolina

This was a really well written, informative hub and told me many things I didn't know about the contributions native American Indians made to the Civil War.

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melpor 6 years ago from New Jersey, USA Author

Freeway Flyer, I wrote this hub for that reason. Many people are unaware of the contributions native American Indians made to the American Civil War and to other American historical events. Thanks for your comment.

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Freeway Flyer 6 years ago

Great topic. I'm a history teacher, and I have rarely if ever heard this topic discussed. Just as in previous American wars, Native Americans fought on both sides.

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melpor 6 years ago from New Jersey, USA Author

Mquee, thanks for your comment.

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mquee 6 years ago from Columbia, SC

This is a very important and informative hub. Many contributors to American history have been glossed over. It is always great to find a piece of history that was previously unknown. Thanks for sharing.

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melpor 6 years ago from New Jersey, USA Author

Gabriel thanks for your comment. I wrote this article to bring to my readers' attention that native americans made signicant contribution to the development of our nation. I am also part native American, my parternal great-grandmother was a native American. Again thanks.

gabriel spoonhunter 6 years ago

my name is gabriel spoonhunter i am a student at wyoming indian high school and i say thank you cause this really helped me with my final paper

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melpor 6 years ago from New Jersey, USA Author

Glenn, thanks for your comments. I am glad you and your wife enjoyed reading my hub. I tried to write hubs to focus my readers on very important and sometime missed facts about passed events. I also write hubs to educate and inform my readers about important information. Again thanks.

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Glenn Raymond 6 years ago from Bailey, Colorado

This is absolutely fantastic! I love this one. My wife just read over my shoulder and she is really very impressed with you and your writing skills. I will eventually get to read all of these. Blessings!

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melpor 6 years ago from New Jersey, USA Author

Kendall H., Thanks for your comment. I'm glad you got some info from it. Again thanks.

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Kendall H. 6 years ago from Northern CA

Very informative and well detailed. Thanks for the good read!

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melpor 6 years ago from New Jersey, USA Author

Coolmon2009, thanks for your comment. I try to write hubs on historical events from a different perspective.

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Coolmon2009 6 years ago from Texas, USA

Good Article - I Love reading historical topics

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melpor 6 years ago from New Jersey, USA Author

Thanks Mit Kroy. I am glad you enjoyed my hub.

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Mit Kroy 6 years ago from Georgia,USA

Great hub! I like the history told here.

Keep on hubbing!

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