“The General” Continued…

The second part of the chapter “The General: The Western Cherokee and the Lost Cause” from Between Two Fires by Laurence Hauptman covers the battles and wartime struggles of the nation. Under the command of Brigadier General Ben McCulloch, two Cherokee colonels were recruited to lead the Indian regiments. One was Stand Watie the other was John Drew, a Ross supporter. These two men represented the two sides of the nation, which would later determine how their men fought in the war. General McCulloch was weary of Drew’s support due to his ties with Ross that he regularly praised Watie for his efforts saying that he was a “gallant man and true friend of our country” (46). McCulloch urged that Watie should have a separate battalion from Colonel Drew and in 1861, the treatment with the Confederacy formalized the separate regiments.

Hauptman described how Drew’s forces were reluctant warriors and many began to desert as early as 1861, from their refusal to fight Creek Chief Opothleyahola’s Union forces. In 1862, one of the biggest battles the Cherokee fought in was the Battle of Pea Ridge (48). From other sources I have read about this battle, it is said that Colonel Drew fought for the Union. In Hauptman’s book but it does mention numerous desertions in Drew’s Regiment to the Union but it is unclear whether or not they fought for the Union in this specific battle. This is something I plan on exploring more in the next couple of weeks. I hope to find more primary sources that might help me get a clearer version of the story.

Alongside McCulloch Texan forces, General Albert Pike led Watie and his regiments together in Arkansas at Pea Ridge. The battle lasted three days and resulted in a major Union victory. This was the end of Drew’s men in the Confederacy as they all deflected to the Union. The results of the Battle of Pea Ridge, Hauptman argued “Now the Cherokee schism was wider – between blue and gray as well as Indian and Indian” (48). Tension continued to grow back in Cherokee country as Watie’s confidence in the war grew with the desertion rates to the Union. Besides joining the Union, Watie’s opponents later in 1863 “abrogated the treaty of 1861 made with the Confederacy; they also abolished slavery” (49). I do not have any other sources stating this, only that slavery was officially abolished in the 1866 treaty after the war. This is another area I plan on looking into; how was the Cherokee homefront was affected during the war?

Watie’s commitment and drive won victories for the Confederacy. His cavalry continued to pursue the Creek’s Union forces and capture materials moving through Union lines. The increased pressure of Watie on Union lines led to the capture of John Ross during a federal invasion of the Cherokee capital, Tahlequah, in 1862 (50). Ross was brought to Washington D.C. where he would spend the remainder of the war. He soon would make a proclamation in Philadelphia where he negotiated his parole with a pledge of Cherokee loyalty to the Union (50). His change of side led to his sons and three grandsons later serve in the Union. But with Ross in exile, Watie’s followers took over all of the operations of the Cherokee Nation. In March of 1863, Watie was voted to be the new Principal Chief of the Cherokee.

Under Waties control, the Cherokee Nation experienced a large amount of damage. Hauptman mentioned that his followers “passed a conscription bill drafting all Cherokee men between eighteen-forty five, later amended to fifty into military service” (49). However, a significant number of Pins continued to support the Union. Hauptman argued Watie never accepted the existence of two Cherokee Nations in the Indian Territory and frequently attacked the Pins and Union, supporters. Watie used his forces to numerous attacks on Union supply lines to Fort Gibson, where Cherokee refugees were being held. He would often raid within the Nation “carrying off horses, cattle, hogs, wagons, farm utensils, beds, bedding, and clothing, while at times capturing and killing pins. Sometimes atrocities were committed by his men” (51). In October 1863, Watie personally took part in taking over the capital, Tahlequah, capturing John Ross’ son, killing Pins, and burning down Ross’s plantation home at Park Hill. African Americans received the worst treatment in these 1963 raids. Hauptman calls Watie “a ruthless, a negrophobe and no saint” as he captured and killed many of Ross’s former slaves (52). His attack on Union supply lines continued throughout the war as his main objective turned from the defense of slavery to destroying his Pin opponents.

As the war continued, Watie became weary of his southern alliance. In a Cherokee National Council meeting in 1863, he stated that “disaster upon disaster has followed the Confederate arms in the Cherokee country” (51). Despite his great efforts, to the Richmond Congress, he was unable to secure either victory in the field or commitment to supply Southern forces in his Union raids. Many Confederate soldiers, in typical race-conscious fashion, began to grow hostile towards a “mongrel force” (52). He accused the Confederacy of having “no vigorous efforts” to dislodge the Union force which has “laid waste our country, driven the women and children from their homes and kept the other nations which have yet escaped invasion, in a continual state of alarm (52). He saw their prejudiced nature as their soldiers were not paid as other White soldiers of the same rank. Watie had no intention of abandoning the struggle but realized his struggle was different than the Confederates. He encourages his followers to press on “for the preservation of Indian country” carry on the war alone to save their lands and appealed to their sense of nationalism. Many of his campaigns at the end of the war were motivated by his own rather than for the Confederates or slavery.

Laurence M. Hauptman. 1995. Between Two Fires. Free Press. http://archive.org/details/betweentwofiresa00haup.

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