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General Watie

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During the Civil War the Indian problem was largely ignored by the U.S. Army as troops were removed to areas more strategic to the fight against the Confederacy. The removal of forces from Fort Gibson left Indian Territory at the mercy of whatever freebooters and renegades wished to exploit it. The Cherokees guaranteed protection from foreign invasion by the Treaty of 1846, suffered greatly during this interim because their land bordered the bloody Kansas frontier. Shortly after hostilities began, Albert Pike of Arkansas met with the Five Civilized Tribes as personal representative of Jefferson Davis. The Cherokees signed a treaty at their capital, Tahlequah, offering their alliance to the South, but many of the tribe were against this and capitulated to join the Union forces.

Among the tribal leaders loyal to the Confederacy was Col. Stand Watie, a half-blood Cherokee Chief who was 54 years old when the war began. He proved an outstanding commander, fearless in the face of overwhelming odds, and his fighting men-the Second Regiment of Cherokee Mounted Rifles-played an important role in the war.

Although he was a small man, physically, Watie had been known for his leadership since his youth. Watie and his troops got their first taste of the war when they were assigned to join General James McIntosh's Texas troops in driving about 2,000 loyalist Creeks from the Cherokee Nation. The forces clashed at hominy Creek in a fierce battle on Christmas Day, 1861. The Creeks, under Chief Apoth-le-yo-hola, were routed and retreated to Kansas, leaving behind many dead and wounded.

Watie's regiment figured prominently in the Battle of Pea Ridge, which began near Bentonville, Arkansas, on March 6, 1862. Pinned down by hidden artillery and a strong force of infantry and cavalry, Watie and his redskin warriors eschewed the usual military tactics and fought Indian style, skulking behind trees and boulders to close in on a battery of artillery and on the next morning, capture it. The Federals repeatedly tried to recapture the artillery, but Watie's outnumbered men held fast. Before noon of the next day, all of the Confederate troops except for Watie's regiment had been forced by superior numbers to retreat. As the Union line advanced, Watie commanded his men to charge. In the bloody fighting that followed, two Confederate generals and at least 800 men were killed and the North won its first victory west of the Mississippi. Few of the Indians were among the dead, however, for their stealthy style of fighting made them hard to shoot. The white officers of both sides were horrified by the "unethical" tactics of the Cherokee troopers and the tendency of some to take scalps.

In June, 1862, Colonel William Weer lead 5,000 Union troops-including two regiments of Indians-from Kansas into the Indian Territory. Opposed only by Watie's regiment, Weer probably would have taken over the entire Territory but for the intervention of his second in command, Col. Frederick Salomon, who declared Weer to be insane, had him arrested and ordered a retreat to Kansas.

During the following months Watie and his men continued to harass Union troops with raids and by stealing supplies and mounts, sometimes against impossible odds. After the falloff Vicksburg and Lee's retreat from Gettysburg, however, the Cherokees dissolved their alliance with the South. Watie and some of his command remained loyal to the Confederacy, however, and continued as Guerilla fighters long after most of the Indian Territory was occupied by the U.S. forces. Watie was commissioned a brigadier general by the Confederate Congress in the Spring of 1864. In September of that year he led 2,000 troops against Union supply lines and captured some 220 wagons, 1800 horses and mules and much strategic material. Watie's troops were the last Confederates to surrender, laying down their arms on June 23, 1865-two and a half months after Lee's surrender at Appomattox.

Watie passed his last years on his farm near Bernice, Oklahoma, and died after a short illness on Sept. 9, 1871.

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Collection of books and papers, 1922-1925

Indian Warriors

 

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