EXCERPT: The Civil War and Reconstruction in Indian Territory

An excerpt from The Civil War and Reconstruction in Indian Territory (December 2015) edited and with an introduction by Bradley R. Clampitt.


Bitter Legacy
The Battle Front
Richard B. McCaslin


Abraham Lincoln never read Clausewitz, but if he had, he would have found much that sounded quite familiar. The embattled president pursued a Clausewitzian strategy during the Civil War that blended political with military objectives. His four steps to a Union victory became to secure the border states, isolate the Confederacy diplomatically, defeat the Confederate armies, and eliminate the South’s will to resist. In order to win, he had to do this throughout the Confederacy, which included Indian Territory. As long as Confederate forces operated there, threatening the adjacent border states, undermining Lincoln’s diplomatic claims of military primacy, and encouraging violent resistance to Federal authority, the Civil War would continue. Confederates seized the initiative from the Federals several times in Indian Territory, but they lacked effective leaders and military resources. By the war’s end, Federals occupied much of the territory, and Indians, Unionist and Confederate alike, had yet another bitter legacy to contemplate.1

For Indians who remained loyal to the Union, life became complicated when the U.S. Army in 1861 abandoned its three active forts in Indian Territory—Arbuckle, Washita, and Cobb—and withdrew north into Kansas. These outposts were occupied by Texans under the command of Col. William C. Young, who advanced slowly in May. His entry into the territory was facilitated by the efforts of commissioners sent by the Texas secession convention to meet with the Five Nations. The governor of the Chickasaws, Cyrus Harris, readily cooperated, and the envoys were welcomed by Choctaw leaders as well. Cherokee leader John Ross did not welcome the agents, but at a council in April with Cherokees, Creeks, Seminoles, and others, the commissioners were told that all those present would support the Confederacy.2

The Texas commissioners were soon joined by an official agent of the Confederacy. Albert Pike was a former captain in the U.S. Army who had settled in Arkansas as a lawyer and an Indian agent. He was known to be eccentric, but Confederate authorities chose him as their commissioner to secure alliances with the Five Nations. Pike expected to work with Ben McCulloch, a Texas Ranger who was appointed as a brigadier general and told to organize Confederate forces in the territory. McCulloch had been promised a regiment from each of three adjacent states—Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana—and was also expected to raise several regiments of Indians with Pike’s help.3

Both sides wanted the support of the powerful Cherokees. McCulloch and Pike together went to Ross’s home near Tahlequah, but Ross refused to muster even a home guard. He was in a difficult position. His supporters were deeply divided, with reasons to support either faction in the national conflict. At the same time he was opposed by Cherokees led by Stand Watie, who quickly recruited a mounted regiment and was appointed as a Confederate colonel by McCulloch. Ross subsequently convened his executive council in August 1861 and signed an alliance with the Confederacy. He then authorized the muster of a second regiment of Cherokee cavalry led by John T. Drew, who had friends among the followers of both Watie and Ross. In October 1861, with two regiments of Cherokee troopers already in the field, Pike signed alliances with Ross, Watie, Drew, and other Cherokee leaders.4



  1. The standard study of military operations in Indian Territory during the Civil War has been Lary C. Rampp and Donald L. Rampp, The Civil War in the Indian Territory (Austin TX: Presidial, 1975). A more culturally nuanced perspective into the Five Nations at war is offered by Mary Jane Warde in her award-winning When the Wolf Came: The Civil War and the Indian Territory (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2013). Another intriguing Indian perspective is provided by Laurence M. Hauptman in Between Two Fires: American Indians in the Civil War (New York: Free Press, 1996). Much about the Civil War in the territory within a regional context can be found in Jay Monaghan, Civil War on the Western Border, 1854–1865 (Boston: Little, Brown, 1955); and Alvin M. Josephy, Jr., The Civil War in the American West (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1992). The classic work on the residents of Indian Territory in the Civil War remains the two volumes produced by Annie H. Abel: The American Indian as Slaveholder and Secessionist (Cleveland OH: Arthur H. Clark, 1915) and The American Indian as a Participant in the Civil War (Cleveland OH: Arthur H. Clark, 1919).
  2. For more on William C. Young and his troopers, see Allen G. Hatley, Reluctant Rebels: The Eleventh Texas Cavalry Regiment (Hillsboro TX: Hill College, 2006).
  3. More detailed information can be found in Walter Lee Brown, The Life of Albert Pike (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1997). Thomas W. Cutrer’s Ben McCulloch and the Frontier Military Tradition (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1993) provides great perspectives on both the man and the events in which he participated.
  4. Clarissa W. Confer, in The Cherokee Nation in the Civil War (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2012), recounts the hard decisions made by the Cherokees. This work is based upon her Penn State dissertation, which provided information on all of the Five Nations in Indian Territory during the Civil War. The best works on John Ross are by Gary E. Moulton: John Ross, Cherokee Chief (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1978) and The Papers of Chief John Ross, 2 vols. (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1985). Stand Watie has drawn much attention as the only Indian to be a Confederate general. Among the best books on him, in chronological order, are Frank Cunningham, General Stand Watie’s Confederate Indians (San Antonio TX: Naylor, 1959); Kenny A. Franks, Stand Watie and the Agony of the Cherokee Nation (Memphis TN: Memphis State University Press, 1979); and Wilfred Knight, Red Fox: Stand Watie’s Civil War Years in Indian Territory (Glendale CA: Arthur H. Clark, 1988). Letters to, from, and about him appear in Edward Everett Dale and Gaston Litton, eds., Cherokee Cavaliers: Forty Years of Cherokee History as Told in the Correspondence of the Ridge-Boudinot-Watie Family (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1939). W. Craig Gaines’s book, The Confederate Cherokees: John Drew’s Regiment of Mounted Rifles (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1989), enhances the perspectives offered by those who focus primarily on Ross and Watie.

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