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What Happened In Indian Territory

Union and Confederate Indians in the War Between the States

Brigadier General Stand Waite

Choctaw Nation Light Horsemen

Battle of Round Mountain November 19, 1861

Battle of Chusto-Talasah December 9, 1861

Battle of Chustenahlah December 26, 1861

Battle Of Cowskin Prairie, July 3, 1862

Watie Returns to Cowskin Prairie in 1863

What Caused the War Between the States (Civil War)

What is the Official Name For the Conflict That Took Place Between 1861 and 1865?

Definitions of Terms

Visit a Reenactment or Living History Near You.


My Southern English

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The War...

The Civil War was fought in 10,000 places, from Valverde, New Mexico, and Tullahoma, Tennessee, to St. Albans, Vermont, and Fernandina on the Florida coast. More than 3 million Americans fought in it, and over 600,000 men, 2 percent of the population, died in it.

American homes became headquarters, American churches and schoolhouses sheltered the dying, and huge foraging armies swept across American farms and burned American towns. Americans slaughtered one another wholesale, right here in America in their own cornfields and peach orchards, along familiar roads and by waters with old American names.

In two days at Shiloh, on the banks of the Tennessee River, more American men fell than in all the previous American wars combined. At Cold Harbor, some 7,000 Americans fell in twenty minutes. Men who had never strayed twenty miles from their own front doors now found themselves soldiers in great armies, fighting epic battles hundreds of miles from home. They knew they were making history, and it was the greatest adventure of their lives.

The Civil War has been given many names: the War Between the States, the War Against Northern Aggression, the Second American Revolution, the Lost Cause, the War of the Rebellion, the Brothers’ War, the Late Unpleasantness. Walt Whitman called it the War of Attempted Secession. Confederate General Joseph Johnston called it the War Against the States. By whatever name, it was unquestionably the most important event in the life of the nation. It saw the end of slavery and the downfall of a southern planter aristocracy. It was the watershed of a new political and economic order, and the beginning of big industry, big business, big government. It was the first modern war and, for Americans, the costliest, yielding the most American causalities and the greatest domestic suffering, spiritually and physically. It was the most horrible, necessary, intimate, acrimonious, mean-spirited, and heroic conflict the nation has ever known.

Inevitably, we grasp the war through such hyperbole. In so doing, we tend to blur the fact that real people lived through it and were changed by the event. One hundred eighty-five thousand black Americans fought to free their people. Fishermen and storekeepers from Deer Isle, Maine, served bravely and died miserably in strange places like Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Fredericksburg, Virginia. There was scarcely a family in the South that did not lose a son or brother or father.

As with any civil strife, the war was marked by excruciating ironies. Robert E. Lee became a legend in the Confederate army only after turning down an offer to command the entire Union force. Four of Lincoln’s own brothers-in-law fought on the Confederate side, and one was killed. The little town of Winchester, Virginia, changed hands seventy-two times during the war, and the state of Missouri sent thirty-nine regiments to fight in the siege of Vicksburg: seventeen to the Confederacy and twenty-two to the Union.

Between 1861 and 1865, Americans made war on each other and killed each other in great numbers — if only to become the kind of country that could no longer conceive of how that was possible. What began as a bitter dispute over Union and States' Rights, ended as a struggle over the meaning of freedom in America. At Gettysburg in 1863, Abraham Lincoln said perhaps more than he knew. The war was about a "new birth of freedom." From Ken Burns, The Civil War.

Brigadier General Stand Watie, C.S.A.,

Watie was the only Native American on either side to rise to a brigadier general's rank during the war. On June 25, 1865, two months after Robert E. Lee's surrender, he officially surrendered his command of the First Indian Brigade, C.S.A to federal authorities at Doaksville near Fort Towson in the Choctaw Nation.

He was the last Confederate general in the field to surrender.

  Two Wars In One

The War Between the States in Indian Territory was in reality two wars. It was a war between pro-Northern and Pro-Southern factions among the Five Civilized Tribes. Among the Creeks and the Cherokees, however, it was also a continuation of the conflict between those factions that had supported removal and those that had been opposed. It was this second element that made the war such a destructive and bloody conflict.

What is the eastern part of Oklahoma was known as the Indian Nations and it would be this area that would feel and see most of the action during the war. The Indian Nations suffered more destruction and loss of civilian life than any state of the Confederacy. But the Indians held. They were ordered to keep the Union Army from reaching the Red River. They were the only Army of the Confedercy that was successful in carrying out their assigned mission; the Federals were never able to reach the Red River.  After the war and into statehood this division of Indian Territory and the Indian Nations caused discontent.  The Indian Nations went so far as to apply for statehood under the name Sequoyah to be separate from the tribes of the Indian Territory.

Ties to the South

At the start of the war Choctaw Chief George Hudson joined with other tribes in repudiating his nation’s treaty obligations to the United States.  The Confederacy would pay them what they were entitled to and they even offered them representation in the Confederate Congress, which in fact took place. They (The Confederate Government) promised that they would supply them and if they provided soldiers to protect the Indian Territory that they would make sure that they were well supplied and well armed. The Confederacy offered to send medical care to treat the Choctaw people while their men were at war. For the most part, the Confederacy followed through on their promises. They did seat Indian representations - non-voting in the Confederate Congress. They did send supplies and they did send ammunition. They armed Confederate troops. That was, of course, until tremendous supply shortages throughout the Confederacy forced them to abandon that program. The other problem was that you had racist white officers who would often divert supplies and ammunition earmarked for Indian regiments to white troops. The Confedercy sent two older doctors to Indian Territory, they were to old for duties in the regular army, to take care of the health needs of the people and the Indian soldiers.  

Similarly Confederate Indians often fought because their enemies of the tribe were on the other side and this was their chance to get back at them. Tribal cluture was still very much a part of life.   

The Five Civilized Tribes had strong ties with the South. Transportation and trade linked them with the Southern states. Among all of the tribes, except the Seminoles, there was the presence of a large, politically important group of slave owners dependent upon plantation agriculture. At the outbreak of the Civil War, federal troops were withdrawn from Indian Territory, opening the way for Confederate agents. In the summer of 1861, the Creeks, Choctaws, Chickasaws, Seminoles, Quapaws, Senecas, Caddos, Wichitas, Osages, and Shawnees signed treaties of alliance with the Confederacy. In October, Chief John Ross of the Cherokees abandoned his initial position of neutrality and also signed a treaty with the Confederacy. In these treaties the Confederacy promised to assume former federal obligations, to protect the tribes from invasion, and to invite Indian representation in the Confederate Congress. In turn the tribes were to provide troops for their own defense.

War of the Rebellion Battle Site listed by year. This site provides a short summary of the battle.

Seeking Adventure

Another main reason they fought was non-partisan, just other reasons. Just like some white citizens of north and south, they found going to war an adventure. Some of them found it exciting. Soldiering provided an income for Indians that they often didn't have an opportunity for, they could collect volunteering bounties, they could collect stand-in bounties and they could collect a regular paycheck, something that they had a tough time doing very often. Soldiering often provided them an opportunity to bring some clothing and supplies to the family back home because they would be issued uniforms, coats, blankets, food, ammunition, rifles. There were many cases of Indians deserting for several weeks and it would then be found out that they brought home some of the food, blankets, overcoats, jackets, supplies, ammunition so that the families back home could hunt. They would make their way back to their units to fight. Soldiering provided a way for many Indians to prove their manliness in battle. Some Indian cultures held in high esteem warriors - men who proved themselves in battle. With the coming of civilization, the opportunity to prove your self in battle didn't come too often and the Civil War provided a window. Still another reason was tribal culture mentality. If your people’s enemy was fighting for one side you fought for the other. Many lines were political especially in the division of the Cherokee. Many of the leaders as well as the people remembered the “Trail of Tears” and the politics that brought them to Indian Territory.

In compliance with these treaties, tribal governments organized three Indian regiments: (1) a Choctaw-Chickasaw regiment, (2) a Creek-Seminole regiment, and (3) a Cherokee regiment. The latter regiment, under Colonel John Drew, was composed primarily of supporters of Chief Ross. Independently, Cherokee colonel Stand Watie organized a second, anti-Ross regiment, which brought the total to four regiments comprising five thousand Indian troops. These forces were placed under the command of Colonel Douglas Cooper, a former Choctaw agent. At this time the smaller tribes were not asked to provide troops, but by the end of the war men from all tribes would be involved, with over ten thousand Indian troops under arms.

Although the Confederacy had treaties with the tribal governments, popular support for the Confederacy varied. Among the Five Civilized Tribes, the Choctaws and the Chickasaws were the most enthusiastic Secessionists, while the majority of full bloods among the Cherokees, Creeks, and Seminoles initially favored neutrality. In the late fall of 1861 the Creek leader Opothle Yoholo called on all of the Indians favoring neutrality to join him in his camp at Deep Fork. Fearing this movement, Confederate Indian forces, supported by a detachment of Texas cavalry, moved to disperse Opothle Yoholo's growing following. Moving slowly north toward Kansas, the Neutrals repulsed the attacking Confederate forces at the battles of Round Mountain and Chusto Talasah. At Chusto Talasah some of Drew's Cherokee troops deserted and joined Opothle Yoholo. However, the Neutrals were now low on ammunition, and on December 26 the Confederates defeated them and captured most of their wagons, supplies, and livestock at the Battle of Chustenahlah. With little more than the clothing on their backs, the survivors then fled on foot through the snow to Kansas, where they became refugees.

Confederate defeats in Missouri and Arkansas brought Union troops into the Nations, and war came home to the Indian People. The Confederate defeat in March 1862 at the Battle of Pea Ridge in Arkansas ended the threat of a Southern invasion of Missouri and opened the way for a federal thrust into Indian Territory.  Watie and Drew's Cherokee regiments returned home from Arkansas to prepare for the coming battle. In Kansas, Union officers had organized two Indian regiments from among the growing number of Creek, Seminole, and Cherokee refugees and deserters. In June 1862 the Indian Expedition—the two Union Indian regiments, together with several regiments of Kansas and Wisconsin volunteers invaded the Cherokee Nation, capturing both the capital at Tahlequah and Fort Gibson. Chief Ross declared his support for the Union, and most of Drew's regiment surrendered and joined the Union Army. However, fearing an attack by Watie, the expedition quickly withdrew to Kansas.

With the Indian Expedition's withdrawal, a chaotic period ensued in which the Confederate Cherokees attacked Ross's supporters in the Cherokee Nation and even raided as far north as Fort Scott, Kansas. Thousands of Union Cherokees fled to Kansas, where Colonel William Phillips recruited most of the men into the Indian regiments (there were now three) that formed the Indian Home Guard.

In 1863 the Union Cherokees held the Cowskin Prairie Council, in which they disavowed the treaty with the Confederacy, denounced Stand Watie, abolished slavery in the Cherokee Nation, and elected Thomas Pegg as acting chief. In the spring of 1863, Colonel Phillips, commanding the Indian Home Guard and supported by other federal troops, invaded Indian Territory again, recapturing Tahlequah and Fort Gibson and driving the Confederate Indian forces south and west of the Arkansas River.

Brigadier General Douglas Cooper Society

Brigadier General Douglas H. Cooper
Douglas H. Cooper, a native of Mississippi, was born November 1, 1815, probably in Amite County, where his father, a physician and Baptist preacher. After attending the University of Virginia from 1832 to 1834, the Douglas Cooper returned to Mississippi and engaged in farming in Wilkinson County. During the Mexican War he served as captain of the 1st Mississippi rifles, and in 1853 was appointed by President Franklin Pierce U.S. agent to the Choctaw Nation in Indian Territory. In 1861 he was enlisted by the Confederate government to secure allegiance of the Indians, and was commissioned colonel of the 1st Choctaw and Chickasaw Mounted Rifles. He commanded the Indians at Elkhorn and at Newtonia, Missouri, and was subsequently promoted to brigadier general May 2, 1863. His last important military service was rendered as commander of the Indian brigade in General Sterling Prices second invasion of Missouri. After the war General Cooper prosecuted the claims of the Choctaws and Chickasaws against the federal Government, claims arising out of nonperformance by the government in connection with the removal of the tribes from their original lands. General Cooper Died at Old Fort Washita in the Chickasaw Nation (in what is now Bryan County just outside of Durant, Oklahoma) April 29, 1879, and was buried in the Fort cemetery.

Native American Confederate Warrior

In July the Confederates massed a force of almost five thousand Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, Seminole, and Cherokee troops, together with some Texas cavalry, near Honey Springs, Creek Nation, in preparation for an attack on Fort Gibson. On July 17, they were attacked and defeated by an army of almost three thousand federal troops. In August, a force of forty-five hundred Union soldiers crossed the Canadian River and destroyed the important Confederate munitions depot at Perryville, Choctaw Nation, before re-crossing the river. On September 1, Union troops captured Fort Smith, Arkansas, cutting off supplies flowing into the territory from the east. In February 1864, fifteen hundred troops made a quick strike down the Texas Road—the main trail to Texas from Missouri—through the Choctaw Nation almost to the Red River. Colonel Phillips had his men systematically destroy everything in their path, telling them, "I do not ask you to take prisoners."

The war now entered its final and most destructive phase. Union forces settled in north of the Arkansas and Canadian Rivers, in the Cherokee, Creek, and Seminole Nations. Sixteen thousand pro-Union Indian refugees moved south from Kansas to new camps near Fort Gibson, where they lived off rations issued by federal troops. At the same time, the Confederate forces were reorganized. The Creek, Seminole, and Cherokee units became the First Indian Cavalry Brigade, commanded by Stand Watie, now a brigadier general. The Chickasaw and Choctaw units became the Second Indian Cavalry Brigade.

In the region controlled by the Union, pro-Union Indians, supported by federal troops, began wreaking vengeance on Southern sympathizers. They burned homes, stole livestock, and murdered many who opposed them. Thousands of Creek, Cherokee, and Seminole families fled south. By the fall of 1864 almost eleven thousand pro-Confederate Indians were living in disease-ridden camps along or near the Red River, while thousands more had fled farther south into East Texas.

Poorly armed and short of supplies, Watie and his Confederate allies responded with highly effective guerrilla raids into Northern-held areas. General Watie's main target was the long federal supply line from Kansas, which was critical not only for providing troops, but also for provisioning the large camps of Union refugees. Small cavalry units carried out most of these raids, but Watie would attack federal forces whenever he found a good opportunity. In June 1864 he captured the supply steamboat J. R. Williams on the Arkansas River. In September, he struck just south of the Kansas line, capturing a supply train of 240 wagons and 740 mules at Cabin Creek Crossing. Watie also ordered the burning of Tahlequah as well as the plantation home of John Ross at Park Hill. Many of his men took vengeance on pro-Union families whenever they encountered them.

As the war approached its end, anarchy prevailed throughout most of Indian Territory. Union and Confederate "deserters," Indians and non-Indians alike, formed outlaw gangs and roamed the countryside, indiscriminately killing, burning, and looting. In the last months of the war, some of the high-ranking Union officers joined in the lawlessness, stealing over three hundred thousand head of Indian-owned cattle and driving them to Kansas.

The Civil War in Indian Territory ended on July 14, 1865, when the Chickasaws and the Caddos surrendered.  This was after the surrender of the last Army under the command of Cherokee Brigadier General Stand Watie. General Watie surrendered at Doaksville (located in present day Choctaw County Oklahoma), in the Choctaw Nation, on June 23, 1865. This was nearly four months after the surrender of General Robert E. Lee. The Indian people and the Confederates in Indian Territory was out of supplies and cut off they had no choice but to surrender.

The war had been fought at an incredible cost. Estimates of those who were killed or died of war-related causes range as high as 25 percent for the Creeks, Seminoles, and Cherokees. Other estimates show that out of a total population in excess of sixty thousand for the Five Civilized Tribes, over six thousand and possibly as many as ten thousand died. The economy of Indian Territory was totally destroyed; almost every house, barn, store, and public building had been burned. The vast majority of Indian families had been reduced to impoverished, homeless refugees. Nevertheless, there was one more blow yet to fall. Even though almost as many members of the Five Civilized Tribes had served in the Union Army as had served in the Confederate Army, the federal government declared its treaties with the tribes to be void and forced the tribes to negotiate new treaties that ceded the western part of Indian Territory to the United States. The Indian people lost their freedom, their land, society, their dignity, their livelihoods, and the right to govern themselves as a people because they believed in and fought for the Southern Cause.