Saturday, May 28, 2016

DID YOU KNOW THAT the Cherokee Nation Allied Themselves With the Confederate States of America in 1861.

DID YOU KNOW THAT the Cherokee Nation Allied Themselves With the Confederate States of America in 1861.

Many have no doubt heard of the valor of the Cherokee warriors under the command of Brigadier General Stand Watie in the West and of Thomas' famous North Carolina Legion in the East during the War for Southern Independence from 1861 to 1865. But why did the Cherokees and their brethren, the Creeks, Seminoles, Choctaws, and Chickasaws determine to make common cause with the Confederate South against the Northern Union? To know their reasons is very instructive as to the issues underlying that tragic war. Most Americans have been propagandized rather than educated in the causes of the war, all this to justify the perpetrators and victors. Considering the Cherokee view uncovers much truth buried by decades of politically correct propaganda and allows a broader and truer perspective.
On August 21, 1861, the Cherokee Nation by a General Convention at Tahlequah (in Oklahoma) declared its common cause with the Confederate States against the Northern Union. A treaty was concluded on October 7th between the Confederate States and the Cherokee Nation, and on October 9th, John Ross, the Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation called into session the Cherokee National Committee and National Council to approve and implement that treaty and a future course of action.
The Cherokees had at first considerable consternation over the growing conflict and desired to remain neutral. They had much common economy and contact with their Confederate neighbors, but their treaties were with the government of the United States.
The Northern conduct of the war against their neighbors, strong repression of Northern political dissent, and the roughshod trampling of the U. S Constitution under the new regime and political powers in Washington soon changed their thinking.
The Cherokee were perhaps the best educated and literate of the American Indian Tribes. They were also among the most Christian. Learning and wisdom were highly esteemed. They revered the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution as particularly important guarantors of their rights and freedoms. It is not surprising then that on October 28, 1861, the National Council issued a Declaration by the People of the Cherokee Nation of the Causes Which Have Impelled them to Unite Their Fortunes With Those of the Confederate States of America.
The introductory words of this declaration strongly resembled the 1776 Declaration of Independence:
"When circumstances beyond their control compel one people to sever the ties which have long existed between them and another state or confederacy, and to contract new alliances and establish new relations for the security of their rights and liberties, it is fit that they should publicly declare the reasons by which their action is justified."
In the next paragraphs of their declaration the Cherokee Council noted their faithful adherence to their treaties with the United States in the past and how they had faithfully attempted neutrality until the present. But the seventh paragraph begins to delineate their alarm with Northern aggression and sympathy with the South:
"But Providence rules the destinies of nations, and events, by inexorable necessity, overrule human resolutions."
Comparing the relatively limited objectives and defensive nature of the Southern cause in contrast to the aggressive actions of the North they remarked of the Confederate States:
"Disclaiming any intention to invade the Northern States, they sought only to repel the invaders from their own soil and to secure the right of governing themselves. They claimed only the privilege asserted in the Declaration of American Independence, and on which the right of Northern States themselves to self-government is formed, and altering their form of government when it became no longer tolerable and establishing new forms for the security of their liberties."
The next paragraph noted the orderly and democratic process by which each of the Confederate States seceded. This was without violence or coercion and nowhere were liberties abridged or civilian courts and authorities made subordinate to the military. Also noted was the growing unity and success of the South against Northern aggression. The following or ninth paragraph contrasts this with ruthless and totalitarian trends in the North:
"But in the Northern States the Cherokee people saw with alarm a violated constitution, all civil liberty put in peril, and all rules of civilized warfare and the dictates of common humanity and decency unhesitatingly disregarded. In the states which still adhered to the Union a military despotism had displaced civilian power and the laws became silent with arms. Free speech and almost free thought became a crime. The right of habeas corpus, guaranteed by the constitution, disappeared at the nod of a Secretary of State or a general of the lowest grade. The mandate of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court was at naught by the military power and this outrage on common right approved by a President sworn to support the constitution. War on the largest scale was waged, and the immense bodies of troops called into the field in the absence of any warranting it under the pretense of suppressing unlawful combination of men."
The tenth paragraph continues the indictment of the Northern political party in power and the conduct of the Union Armies:
"The humanities of war, which even barbarians respect, were no longer thought worthy to be observed. Foreign mercenaries and the scum of the cities and the inmates of prisons were enlisted and organized into brigades and sent into Southern States to aid in subjugating a people struggling for freedom, to burn, to plunder, and to commit the basest of outrages on the women; while the heels of armed tyranny trod upon the necks of Maryland and Missouri, and men of the highest character and position were incarcerated upon suspicion without process of law, in jails, forts, and prison ships, and even women were imprisoned by the arbitrary order of a President and Cabinet Ministers; while the press ceased to be free, and the publication of newspapers was suspended and their issues seized and destroyed; the officers and men taken prisoners in the battles were allowed to remain in captivity by the refusal of the Government to consent to an exchange of prisoners; as they had left their dead on more than one field of battle that had witnessed their defeat, to be buried and their wounded to be cared for by southern hands."
The eleventh paragraph of the Cherokee declaration is a fairly concise summary of their grievances against the political powers now presiding over a new U. S. Government:
"Whatever causes the Cherokee people may have had in the past to complain of some of the southern states, they cannot but feel that their interests and destiny are inseparably connected to those of the south. The war now waging is a war of Northern cupidity and fanaticism against the institution of African servitude; against the commercial freedom of the south, and against the political freedom of the states, and its objects are to annihilate the sovereignty of those states and utterly change the nature of the general government."
The Cherokees felt they had been faithful and loyal to their treaties with the United States, but now perceived that the relationship was not reciprocal and that their very existence as a people was threatened. They had also witnessed the recent exploitation of the properties and rights of Indian tribes in Kansas, Nebraska, and Oregon, and feared that they, too, might soon become victims of Northern rapacity. Therefore, they were compelled to abrogate those treaties in defense of their people, lands, and rights. They felt the Union had already made war on them by their actions.
Finally, appealing to their inalienable right to self-defense and self-determination as a free people, they concluded their declaration with the following words:
"Obeying the dictates of prudence and providing for the general safety and welfare, confident of the rectitude of their intentions and true to their obligations to duty and honor, they accept the issue thus forced upon them, unite their fortunes now and forever with the Confederate States, and take up arms for the common cause, and with entire confidence of the justice of that cause and with a firm reliance upon Divine Providence, will resolutely abide the consequences.
The Cherokees were true to their words. The last shot fired in the war east of the Mississippi was May 6, 1865. This was in an engagement at White Sulphur Springs, near Waynesville, North Carolina, of part of Thomas' Legion against Kirk's infamous Union raiders that had wreaked a murderous terrorism and destruction on the civilian population of Western North Carolina. Col. William H. Thomas' Legion was originally predominantly Cherokee, but had also accrued a large number of North Carolina mountain men. On June 23, 1865, in what was the last land battle of the war, Confederate Brigadier General and Cherokee Chief, Stand Watie, finally surrendered his predominantly Cherokee, Oklahoma Indian force to the Union.
The issues as the Cherokees saw them were 1) self-defense against Northern aggression, both for themselves and their fellow Confederates, 2) the right of self-determination by a free people, 3) protection of their heritage, 4) preservation of their political rights under a constitutional government of law 5) a strong desire to retain the principles of limited government and decentralized power guaranteed by the Constitution, 6) protection of their economic rights and welfare, 7) dismay at the despotism of the party and leaders now in command of the U. S. Government, 8) dismay at the ruthless disregard of commonly accepted rules of warfare by the Union, especially their treatment of civilians and non-combatants, 9) a fear of economic exploitation by corrupt politicians and their supporters based on observed past experience, and 10) alarm at the self-righteous and extreme, punitive, and vengeful pronouncements on the slavery issue voiced by the radical abolitionists and supported by many Northern politicians, journalists, social, and religious (mostly Unitarian) leaders. It should be noted here that some of the Cherokees owned slaves, but the practice was not extensive.
The Cherokee Declaration of October 1861 uncovers a far more complex set of "Civil War" issues than most Americans have been taught. Rediscovered truth is not always welcome. Indeed some of the issues here are so distressing that the general academic, media, and public reaction is to rebury them or shout them down as politically incorrect.
The notion that slavery was the only real or even principal cause of the war is very politically correct and widely held, but historically ignorant. It has served, however, as a convenient ex post facto justification for the war and its conduct. Slavery was an issue, and it was related to many other issues, but it was by no means the only issue, or even the most important underlying issue. It was not even an issue in the way most people think of it. Only about 25% of Southern households owned slaves. For most people, North and South, the slavery issue was not so much whether to keep it or not, but how to phase it out without causing economic and social disruption and disaster. Unfortunately the Southern and Cherokee fear of the radical abolitionists turned out to be well founded.
After the Reconstruction Act was passed in 1867 the radical abolitionists and radical Republicans were able to issue in a shameful era of politically punitive and economically exploitive oppression in the South, the results of which lasted many years, and even today are not yet completely erased. 

The Cherokee were and are a remarkable people who have impacted the American heritage far beyond their numbers. We can be especially grateful that they made a well thought out and articulate declaration for supporting and joining the Confederate cause in 1861.
The largest force in Indian Territory was commanded by Confederate Brig.Gen. Stand Watie, who was also a chief of the Cherokee Nation. Dedicated to the Confederate cause and unwilling to admit defeat, he kept his troops in the field for nearly a month after Lt. Gen.E.Kirby Smith surrendered the Trans- Mississippi May 26. Finally accepting the futility of continued resistance, on June 23 Watie rode into Doaksville near Fort Towson in Indian Territory and surrender his battalion of Creek, Seminole, Cherokee, and Osage Indians to Lt.Col.Asa C.Matthews, appointed a few weeks earlier to negotiate a peace with the Indians. Watie was the last Confederate general officer to surrender his command.

     Certainly the most famous American Indian of the War of Northern Aggression and the first American Indian to ever earn the rank of a general officer was Stand Watie. On the wild frontier of the Trans-Mississippi west he earned a reputation as one of the most daring and courageous warriors to ever ride a horse. He was born on December 12, 1806 near Rome, Georgia to David Uwatie and Susanna Reese who was of mixed Cherokee and European blood. He was named Isaac S. Watie or Degataga which can be translated as "standing together as one" or "stand firm" which in either event led to him being known as Stand Watie. Educated by missionaries and instilled with a sense of his southern as well as Indian heritage, he and his brother Buck Watie, along with Major Ridge and John Ridge were in favor of moving the Cherokee to Oklahoma but were opposed in this by their Chief John Ross though both sides knew that their position in Georgia was unsustainable. Ultimately the Cherokees were moved to Oklahoma in 1838, but the feud between the Ross and Ridge factions and of the two Ridge brothers and two Watie brothers Stand was the only one not assassinated by Ross partisans.

     Stand Watie became a prominent man in the Indian Territory (as Oklahoma was called) where he established a flourishing plantation on the Spavinaw Creek (numerous Native American elites were slave owners) and from 1845 to 1861 he served on the Cherokee Council. When the War Between the States commenced in 1861 the Indian tribes were somewhat divided. Some feared that a failure to support the Union would lead to the revocation of the treaties they had signed with the federal government while others were quick to take up arms against the government which had already broken numerous treaties and seemed to regard them as enemies anyway. Questions of states' rights and other political controversies also existed, though not to the same degree since the Indian Territory was not a state and there were relatively few slaves west of the Mississippi.

     Ultimately, most of the Cherokees favored the Confederacy, but fear of having their treaties with the Union nullified led Chief John Ross to try to remain neutral in the conflict. For Stand Watie, however, there could be no neutrality and he left no doubt about his sympathy being with the Confederate States. As more Chickasaw, Choctaw and Creek Indians expressed their desire to ally with the Confederacy, Chief John Ross altered his position and the Cherokee Council voted for an alliance with the Confederate States of America. Stand Watie had pushed for this development and had constantly urged his countrymen to join with the Confederacy in fighting their common enemy; the United States government. As soon as the choice was official Stand Watie organized the First Cherokee Mounted Rifles of which he was commissioned colonel in October of 1861. He was on his way to becoming the most legendary American Indian of the war.

     With his hard fighting Cherokee cavalry Stand Watie battled Union incursions into the Oklahoma territory was well as Creek and Seminole Indians who had sided with the United States. His first major engagement and rise to notoriety came at the battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas where the Confederate Army of the West attempted an attack on Union forces that would allow them back into southern Missouri. The battle was a southern defeat, but Stand Watie and his men acquitted themselves bravely, charging Union artillery and fighting hard to cover the retreat of Confederate forces. On the home front, however, there was to be no unity to back up the heroic actions of Stand Watie and his men. Many of the Indians dropped their support of the Confederacy at the first indication that the north might win, nonetheless, others remained committed to the cause they endorsed and in 1862 the Confederate sympathizers or Southern Cherokee elected Stand Watie their chief. In 1863 pro-Union Cherokees captured the tribal council headquarters at Tahlequah which Watie and his men later burned.

     Stand Watie led his cavalry in constant raids against Union forces, tying down thousands of federal troops that could have been employed elsewhere. He was so successful that General Samuel B. Maxey promoted him to brigadier general, the first American Indian to achieve that rank, and gave him command of a brigade of two regiments of mounted rifles, three Cherokee, Seminole and Osage infantry battalions based just south of the Canadian River. General Watie led these men in daring attacks all across Oklahoma and into parts of Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas and Texas. No brigade west of the Mississippi fought more battles that General Stand Watie and his Indians. All Confederate units were undersupplied but the situation was even worse on the western frontier and Watie had to sustain his men almost totally off of captured Union supplies. One raid saw the capture of a federal supply train loaded down with 16,000 pounds of bacon which his troops put to good use. On another occasion General Watie was wearing a captured Union overcoat that was much too large for him. As he sat outside his tent with his head down one of his soldiers tried to make off with the prize only to be startled when Watie shouted, "Hold on! There's a man in this coat!"

     Despite all of the efforts of the vastly more numerous Union forces, they could never catch or defeat General Watie and his men and his harassment continued until the end of the war. Ultimately, Stand Watie fought on longer than any other Confederate general of the war. It was not until June 23, 1865 that he signed a cease-fire agreement with Union forces at Fort Towson in the Choctaw area of Oklahoma, bringing his troops in to lay down their arms worn and weary but never defeated. After the war, Stand Watie continued to work on behalf of his people as Chief of the Southern Cherokee and negotiated the 1866 Cherokee Reconstruction Treaty which aimed at helping the Indian Territory recover from the devastation of the war. He died in 1871 and is buried in Polson Cemetery, Oklahoma. Among all of the accounts of the Civil War out west the name of General Stand Watie will always be remembered for his boldness, courage and dogged determination which knew no equal in the territory.
Source: Crisp Confederacy
 Sergeant Swimmer. NC Cherokee, Thomas Legion
Col. Tandy Walker, CSA
Col. John Jumper, CSA


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