Saturday, January 28, 2012

How Many Cherokees Fought In The Civil War? A Lot...

How Many Cherokees Fought In The Civil War? A Lot...
It is not common knowledge that Indian units fought in the Civil War. Although the problem with Indian tribes, including forced removals from their territory, brutal treatment at the hands of American soldiers and militia and skirmishes from revolutionary times onward occurred regularly, some of these tribes, particularly the Cherokee, had a mixed relationship with the powerful government of the United States of America.

By 1806, a series of treaties had whittled down the Cherokee lands so dramatically that when a group of leaders ceded a final parcel of 10 million acres to the Federal Government it resulted in the assassination of the chief responsible, Chuquilatague, known as Doublehead. A rebellious faction under the leadership of Guwisguwi, known as John Ross, and Kahnungdatlageh (Major Ridge) took over determined not to cede any more land. They also gradually made some astounding cultural changes, introducing a constitution modeled after that of the United States as well as creating an elected tribal council as opposed to leadership by clan.

Unparalleled prosperity followed within 30 years. The Cherokees were soon able to boast well made homes, beautiful cultivated fields, and large herds of livestock. They invited Christian missionaries into their territory who taught them how to read. In almost no time the Cherokees became a literate people. They built schools, developed a court system, and published a newspaper named the "Cherokee Phoenix" in 1828. They copied colonial methods of home building, weaving and farming. Religious literature was translated into the new language created by Sequoyah, a Cherokee who aided the American Army in the Creek War of 1813-1814.

An inventory made in 1826 showed how successful the Cherokee had become: It listed "1,560 black slaves. 22,000 cattle, 7,600 horses, 46,000 swine, 2,500 sheep, 762 looms, 2,488 spinning wheels, 172 wagons, 2,942 plows, 10 sawmills, 31 grist mills, 62 blacksmith shops, 8 cotton machines, 18 schools, and 18 ferries."

But the good times would not last. Gold was found in Northern Georgia, white miners poured into the territories, President Andrew Jackson forced through the Indian Removal Act of 1830 ordering the Cherokee out of their lands. Through a terrible journey known as the "Trail of Tears" these eastern Cherokee were pushed into Oklahoma. There they united with previous settlers. Tensions between the "old" and "new" settlers erupted into civil war, but ultimately they were compelled by self interest to band together into the "Cherokee Nation".

Through the 1850s, the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma prospered, with the "new" settlers wealthy and prosperous, owning slaves. But most of the Cherokee Nation, especially the "old" settlers, were mostly non slave owning, and all of them were about to become pawns in the festering tensions between the north and south. In the summer of 1861, the Union army left the Indian Territory and the Confederate Army moved in. A treaty was signed by the Cherokee nation with the Confederates and this was to prove deadly to the Indians at the end of the war.

In the meantime, for the Indians as well as for the American soldiers who fought, it was often brother against brother. 3000 "New" settlers fought for the Confederacy, and about 1000 "Old" settlers fought for the Union. In the east, 400 North Carolina Cherokee fought a bitter war on behalf of the south as bushwhackers and guerilla fighters in the mountains of the region.

When all is said and done, the Cherokee nation lost more than 1/3 of its population during the Civil War. No side suffered correspondingly in the conflict, or came even close to experiencing those kinds of losses. Because they fought primarily on the losing side, they were treated harshly by the Union forces and never regained the prosperity they had prior to the Civil War. For the Cherokees, who in their history with the political and military forces of the United States Government fought against them, appeased them, made treaties with them and appealed to them, it was all in vain.

The Cherokee story is a sad mixture of selfishness, hostility, cruelty, deceit and theft. Yet today the Cherokee Nation has managed to become a powerful presence in northeastern Oklahoma, responsible for some 200,000 tribal members. With a good working relationship, at last, with the United States, the spirit that led the Cherokee Indians on the Trail of Tears still leads them today to a much more hopeful future.

Matthew Isaacson is a partner at Haskell New York Inc., a company which sells Office Supplies and Storage Cabinets / Office Furniture through its web site and Holiday / Christmas Cards at their sister site

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