The Cherokee and the Civil War

The Cherokee Nation, while not a state, was most certainly involved in the War Between the States as a "foreign ally". While some Cherokee troops were aligned with the Union, others aligned themselves with the Confederacy. The result was a war between factions within the Cherokee Nation. Below is a chronology of Cherokee involvement.

June 23, 1857: United States abandons Fort Gibson as a military outpost; buildings were transferred to the Cherokee Nation. All federal troops were withdrawn from the territory.

April 15, 1859: Traditional full blood and mixed-blood Cherokees organized the Keetowah Society; pro-Union members formed the Loyal League and were known as "Pin Indians."

February 7, 1861: Jefferson Davis elected President of the Confederate States.

March, 1861: Elias C. Boudinot, Stand Watie’s nephew, elected Secretary of the Arkansas Secession Convention. Watie helped to organize local chapters of the pro-Southern secret society called the "Knights of the Golden Circle" which later became "The Southern Rights Party." Watie also raised a company of Cherokees to assist the South.

May 17, 1861: Chief Ross issued a neutrality proclamation reminding the tribe of it's obligations to the United States.

July 12, 1861: Stand Watie organized "First Cherokee Mounted Rifles" regiment for the Confederates near Fort Wayne. He was promoted to Colonel and given command of his twelve companies. He departed for Missouri soon after to join the Confederate Army.

August 10, 1861: Union forces defeated at the Battle of Bull Run and Wilson Creek, Missouri. These early Confederate victories perhaps influenced Chief Ross’ decision to join the South. Watie was made a hero for his actions at Wilson Creek.

August 21, 1861: Chief Ross and the Executive Council called a general assembly of the tribe at Tahlequah. The approximate 4000 men attending the convention voted by acclamation to join the South. Soon after, Ross called up volunteers to form a mounted regiment for the South under command of Colonel John Drew.

October 7, 1861: Treaty with the South concluded and signed at the Murrell Home at Park Hill.

October 9, 1861: Chief Ross presented treaty to the Cherokee National Council for ratification.

October 28, 1861: Cherokee National Council issued declaration of war against the United States.

November 22, 1861: Brig. General Albert Pike is made Confederate commander over all of "Indian Territory".

December 9, 1861: Battle of Bird Creek, Confederates routed small troop of Union Creeks. Disillusioned at killing other Indians, Cherokees desert in numbers.

March 6-8, 1862: Battle of Pea Ridge in Northwest Arkansas. 14,000 Confederate troops led by General Earl Van Doren defeated by Union divisions commanded by General Samuel Curtis. Route of the Southern troops opened way to invasion of Indian Territory by the North. Soon after, the South diverted most of its forces and equipment back to the East of the Mississippi River as war escalated leaving Indian troops to defend the Territory.

Union troops at Fort Scott, Kansas ordered to prepare to barricade the Cherokee Nation.

June 26, 1862: Colonel J. J. Clarkson promoted to command over all Confederate troops in the Cherokee Nation.

July 3, 1862: Union forces, in a surprise attack captured Colonel Clarkson and many of his men.

July 3-7, 1862: Nearly all of Colonel John Drew’s Cherokee Mounted Rifles regiment surrendered and joined the Union side at Cabin Creek. The second and third Indian Home Guards were organized from the ranks July 5.

July 15, 1862: Chief Ross and 200 loyal "Pins" soldiers and former Confederate soldiers guarding his home at Park Hill arrested by Captain Harris S. Greeno of the Sixth Kansas Calvary. Nearly 1,500 men eventually joined the Union side.

Major William T. Campbell occupied Fort Gibson and re-established a Union command post in Indian Territory.

August 3, 1862: Chief Ross escorted out of the Cherokee Nation into Kansas along with his family, a few friends, records and the National Treasury. Ross was exiled to his wife’s family home in Delaware for the duration. Soon after, approximately 2,000 Cherokees sought refuge in neutral lands in southeast Kansas.

August 21, 1862: Stand Watie elected Principal Chief by first Confederate Cherokee Convention held at Tahlequah. The final session was held June 1, 1863 near the mouth of Coody Creek in Canadian District.

August 31, 1862: Confederate Cherokee troops reorganized (due to desertions) forming the First Cherokee Mounted Volunteers. Watie promoted to rank of Colonel. Several months later, Second Regiment Cherokee Mounted Volunteers formed under command of Colonel William Penn Adair.

October 22, 1862: Battle of Fort Wayne. Confederate troops were defeated and their artillery pieces were captured.

December 7, 1862: Battle of Prairie Grove in northwest Arkansas. Confederates defeated by Union army in a sweeping invasion into Indian Territory.

December 27, 1862: Fort Davis, the Confederate Command Post located just across the river from Fort Gibson, burned by Union Army and Indian troops. Confederates retreated south to Honey Springs.

February 20, 1863: Cherokees loyal to John Ross revoked treaty with the South and pledged loyalty to the Union at emergency session of the National Council at Cow Skin Prairie; also, removed Confederates from office, emancipated slaves and affirmed Ross as Principal Chief.

April 8, 1863: 3,150 Union troops (Kansas Calvary, Indian Home Guards and artillery units) occupied Fort Gibson at the start of a campaign to clear the area of Confederate resistance.

May 20, 1863: Watie’s men, reduced to making guerrilla raids without the support of Confederate army regulars, made a raid on Fort Gibson and captured mules and most of the Union’s horses.

July 17, 1863: Battle of Honey Springs in Creek Nation. Watie’s men and Confederate Indians defeated in what became the turning point in the territorial war.

October 28, 1863: Stand Watie and his men burned the Cherokee Capital buildings at Tahlequah.

October 29, 1863: Watie burned Chief Ross’ home at Park Hill and committed many other acts of vengeance and destruction.

May 10, 1864: The Confederacy promoted Stand Watie to the rank of Brigadier General.

June 15, 1864: Brig. General Watie captured the steamboat "J.J. Williams" on the Arkansas River which was headed for Fort Gibson loaded with supplies.

September 19, 1864: At Cabin Creek, Brig. General Watie and General Richard M. Ganoe captured a huge military supply train of 300 wagons headed for Fort Gibson. The extra food, clothing and supplies allowed his men to continue their raids.

April 9, 1865: Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox ending fighting in the east.

May 10, 1865: Confederate President Jefferson Davis captured.

May 31, 1865: Union Cherokee troops mustered out of military service.

June 23, 1865: Brig. General Stand Watie surrendered and signed articles of peace at Doaksville. He was the last Confederate General to lay down arms.

July 13, 1865: Cherokee National Council called into session by Lewis Downing.

September 1, 1865: Chief John Ross returned to the Cherokee Nation, arriving by boat at Fort Gibson.

September 8, 1865: Cherokee delegates and representatives of eleven tribes in Indian Territory met federal agents at Fort Smith to negotiate terms of a new peace treaty. The commission refused to recognize Ross as Principal Chief.

September 16, 1865: Tentative peace treaty signed by Cherokees at Fort Gibson. Final terms were to be finalized in Washington.

November 7, 1865: Chief Ross and seven delegates empowered by the National Council to go to Washington to finalize terms of the permanent reconstruction treaty.

July 19. 1866: Terms of reconstruction treaty agreed upon and signed by Cherokee delegation. It was ratified by Congress July 27, and further proclaimed by August 11, 1866.

August 1, 1866: Chief John Ross died in Washington.

November 28, 1866: Cherokee Constitution amended by the National Council to comply with the terms of the new treaty.


Information provided by the Cherokee Nation Cultural Resource Center please contact cultural@cherokee.org for further information.