Like the rest of the country, the Native American population was divided as which to side to support in the Civil War. This division extended to individual tribes, with the Cherokees being perhaps the best example. Cherokee soldiers fought in both the Union and Confederate armies. The most well known Cherokee, or for that matter, Native American soldier of any tribe on the Confederate side was Stand Watie.
Watie was living in the Indian Territory, modern day Oklahoma, when the Civil War began. He was named Colonel of the 1st Cherokee Mounted Rifles in 1861, and he served throughout the entire war. Several other Native American units from various tribes were organized in Indian Territory for both sides. Though they were occasionally called upon to fight in larger battles in the west–Watie fought in the Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas in March 1862–most of the time western Native American units fought in the Indian Territory or Kansas.
Watie was promoted to Brigadier General in 1864, the only Native American in the Confederate Army to achieve that rank (Ely Parker, who served on Ulysses S. Grant’s staff and who was a member of the Seneca tribe, was the only Native American general on the Federal side).
Watie’s mounted infantry and cavalry excelled at conducting raids on Federal supply lines and outposts. As time went on, Watie’s command included pro southern members of other tribes along with Cherokees. On September 19th, 1864, Watie’s command, along with some white Texas cavalry units under Brigadier General Richard Gano, teamed up to carry out an attack on a large Federal supply train and haying operation that was gathering forage for horses. The train consisted of 205 wagons, and left Fort Scott, Kansas on September 12th, bound for Fort Gibson, Indian Territory, and Fort Smith, Arkansas. It was escorted by both white cavalrymen from Kansas cavalry units as well as Union Cherokee cavalry. This successful and destructive raid occurred near Cabin Creek in the Indian Territory, and is often referred to as the Second Battle of Cabin Creek. Here is General Stand Watie’s after action report on this raid, as well as some smaller actions just prior to it:
HEADQUARTERS FIRST INDIAN BRIGADE,
Camp Bragg, October 3, 1864.
CAPTAIN: I have the honor to submit the following for the information of the general commanding as my report of the operations of the troops of this brigade in the recent raid in the enemy’s rear and west of Grand River. Previous to setting out on-this expedition I had informed the general commanding that from the active service in which my brigade had been engaged since 31st of July before Fort Smith that my horses were not in condition to do much service. He then informed me that I could get additional fresh troops from the Texas brigade.
On the 12th ultimo Brigadier-General Gano called on me at Camp Corser, when the expedition was determined upon, and the general commanding so informed.
On the 13th I joined General Gano at Camp Pike, and the same evening arranged the plan of the expedition. By an arrangement with General Gano each one of us was to command his own troops, but act together and harmoniously. This we concluded to be the better plan, as the two brigades did not belong to the same division and were temporarily thrown together. I have had no cause to regret this arrangement, the conduct of General Gano on all occasions being such as might be expected of so gallant an officer.
On the 14th we marched to Prairie Springs, General Gano’s forces amounting to some 1,200 and Howell’s battery of six guns. My command consisted of 200 First Cherokee Regiment, Lieut. Col. C. N. Vann commanding; 150 Second Cherokee Regiment, Maj. John Vann commanding; 125 First Creek, Lieut. Col. Samuel Chekote commanding 1,200 Second Creek, Col. T. Barnett, and 130 Seminoles, under Col. John Jumper, the whole force amounting to about 2,000.
On the 15th, my brigade composing the advance, I dispatched Major Vann with regiment on the right flank, with instructions to throw scouts out as far as the river on the extreme right, which he did, but failed to find any of the enemy’s parties on the south side of the river. He crossed the Arkansas River at the Creek Agency. On the north bank of the river discovered one Federal Creek, who being fired upon escaped, leaving his horse and equipments in our possession. The remainder of the expedition crossed the river six miles above the agency. The river being deep we were delayed a short time, crossing artillery ammunition on our horses. Encamped first at Camp Pleasant, on Blue, four miles below Chosky.
On the 16th instant crossed the Verdigris River at Sand Town. About noon discovered a party of the enemy at work putting up hay on the road to Fort Scott, twelve or fifteen miles above Fort Gibson. Lieutenant-Colonel Vann, First Cherokee Regiment, and Captain Strayhorn, commanding Thirtieth Texas Regiment, were dispatched to the right, with instructions to gain the enemy’s rear and to intercept his escape to the timber on Grand River. This movement was executed promptly and with entire success. They gained the desired position and opened a vigorous fire on the enemy, who were encamped on a small creek on the prairie. They were driven into the creek and protected themselves from our fire by the banks. General Gano moved his command directly to the front, and my brigade took the left, and in a short time the enemy were completely surrounded. Owing to the distance and the rapidity of movement of my command the line became somewhat broken, when a party of about sixty-five of the enemy’s cavalry attempted to break through, but only four succeeding in making their escape; the rest were either killed or captured. The engage ment lasted but a short while owing to the great superiority of our numbers and the complete surprise of the enemy.
Lieutenant Porter, Second Creek Regiment, captured 7 of Second Kansas all armed with six-shooters. The whole number of prisoners was 85, about as many killed, and but few escaped. The enemy were two companies of the Second Kansas and one company of negro troops. Here we burned large quantities of hay–not less than 3,000 tons–in ricks and upon the ground; also a number of wagons and several mowing machines.
Having received information fram the prisoners that the train which was expected from Fort Scott–the capture of which was the principal object of the expedition–was looked for daily, I sent Major Vann, Second Cherokee Regiment, up the Fort Scott road four miles, with instructions to send forward a small party to ascertain whether or not the train was in our vicinity. He accordingly took charge of the party himself, and after going but a short distance was fired into by the enemy’s picket and narrowly escaped being killed. Thinking the train advancing, upon receiving this intelligence, I sent Lieutenant-Colonel Vann with his regiment to his assistance. This enemy, however, proved only a small re-enforcement going to the train and moved northward during the night. Everything remained quiet until morning.
Early in the morning General Gano sent a party to burn the hay at the Hickey place, but they found it strongly protected by additional troops from Fort Gibson. Re-enforcements were sent and a brisk skirmish ensued,
but they were unable to accomplish this object, and as time, which was now all-important to us, would be required, our troops were withdrawn and rejoined the command, which had been steadily moving northward. Encamped on Wolf Creek on the 17th.
General Gano on the 18th proceeded with 400 Texas troops and two pieces of Howell’s battery toward Cabin Creek, where we had learned the enemy had a garrison of 300 of the Second Indian Regiment (Cherokee Home Guards). About 3 o’clock I received a note from General Gano stating that the train was at Cabin Creek, and requesting me to move forward the whole command to that point as rapidly as possible. I joined him after midnight. After consultation we agreed to move on the enemy at once, who was aware of our approach, but entirely ignorant of our numbers. General Gano formed his line of battle on the right; my brigade formed on the left in the following order: First and Second Cherokee Regiments, Seminoles, Second and First Creek Regiments on the extreme left. Howell’s battery took position in the center. The enemy had decidedly the advantage in position. Our men were formed on an elevated prairie that descended to the enemy’s position on the creek. The moon, which shone very brightly, was in our rear. They thus had the double advantage of firing up hill with the moon and sky light. The enemy were strongly posted from the nature of the place under cover of the timber and bluff of the creek. They also had the residence of Joseph L. Martin on the road strongly fortified with heavy timbers set upright in the ground, that rendered them complete protection against small-arms. On the right of this they had placed long ricks of hay running parallel with each other and with the creek. The greater part of the train extended from the hay ricks up the creek on their right.
About 3 o’clock on the morning of the 19th the firing commenced by the enemy’s skirmishers on their right. Soon the engagement became general along the line from right to left. During the night it was difficult to ascertain the enemy’s exact position and strength, excepting from his fire. His line seemed to extend the length of ours. For a considerable length of time the firing was heavy and incessant. Our forces steadily advanced, driving the enemy to his cover. During the night our left drove the enemy from his position, leaving in our possession a part of his train, around which a guard was immediately thrown and most of the wagons moved to our rear.
Just at daybreak we supposed, from the noise in the enemy’s camp, that he was crossing his train over the creek and moving it in the direction of Fort Scott. I accordingly sent Lieutenant-Colonel Vann with the two Cherokee regiments across the creek on the left to gain the enemy’s rear and intercept the trains. He gained the position, but no wagons were crossing. He captured 18 prisoners.
After daylight we discovered the enemy’s true position and moved a section of Howell’s battery on the left, supported by the First and Second Creeks, and opened a vigorous fire from this advantageous position on his encampment and fortifications. The Seminole and Twenty-ninth Texas Regiments, moving on the left of the battery, drove the enemy from his cover and through the encampment. Soon the confusion became great in his ranks and a general stampede ensued, leaving in our possession his train, stockade, hay, camp and garrison equipage. Many of his dead and wounded were also left on the field.
Among our killed were Lieutenant Patterson, adjutant Seminole Regiment. He fell at his post gallantly doing his duty. His loss is great and irreparable to his command. Of the Texas brigade 7 were killed on the field. A complete list of the killed and wounded of this brigade will be furnished. Among the wounded are Major Vann, severely through the neck; Captain Taylor, dangerously through the thigh, and Captain Shannon, slightly in the breast–all of the Second Cherokee Regiment; and Lieut. Richard Carter, Company C, First Cherokee Regiment, slightly.
The enemy’s forces consisted (from the best information received from prisoners and others at their hospital of the garrison before mentioned) of 300 Indian Home Guards, 280 escort from Fort Scott, 150 re-enforcements from Fort Gibson, 250 teamsters, armed for the occasion, and many Pins, who came in on hearing of our approach. His numbers were, therefore, between 900 and 1,000.
Lieut. Col. C. N. Vann, Maj. John Vann, commanding First and Second Cherokee Regiments; Colonel Barnett, Second Creek Regiment; Col. John Jumper, Seminole Regiment, and Lieut. Col. Samuel Chekote, First Creek Regiment, deserve the highest commendation for their gallant conduct during the whole engagement, which lasted from 3 to 9 a.m. The greater part of this time they were under constant fire.
Maj. J. A. Scales, assistant adjutant-general; Lieut. Saladin Watie, aide-de-camp, and Sergt. Maj. Patrick Patton,First Cherokee Regiment, merited particular notice for the prompt and efficient aid rendered in keeping their troops in order, and for their brave and soldierly bearing on all occasions.
The conduct of the officers and men generally was fine, and all, without distinction, are entitled to great credit.
The train was composed of 250 wagons, besides post wagons loaded with Government quartermaster’s, commissary, and sutler’s supplies. Many of the wagons were so broken by the stampede of the teams when the artillery opened on the camp that it was impossible to bring them off. We crossed Arkansas with 130 wagons; all the rest were burned; also ten ricks of hay, each containing 500 tons. Mowing machines and everything in camp was destroyed. After getting out all the wagons possible under the circumstances we moved southward in good order. Near Pryor’s Creek we met enemy’s reenforcements going to the train. We drove them back several miles. The train moved during the night northwest and crossed Pryor’s Creek higher up; crossed Verdigris next evening at Claremore’s Mounds. Nothing of interest transpired during the rest of the march.
The greatest unanimity and good feeling existed between the officers and men of the two brigades. The fortitude and endurance displayed in the long and constant march for several consecutive days and nights speak for them the highest praise.
The actual loss in dollars to the enemy will exceed $1,500,000. The damage is inestimable and irreparable from the lateness of the season. The expedition returned after an absence of sixteen days.
Respectfully, your obedient servant,
Capt. T. B. HEISTON
Although Watie continued his hit and run operations and raids until the end of the war, none of his actions approached the size and scope of Second Cabin Creek. At the conclusion of the war, Stand Watie was the last Confederate general to surrender his forces, doing so at Doaksville, Indian Territory on June 23rd, 1865.
The American Indian in the Civil War, 1862-1865 by Annie Heloise Abel
The Civil War on the Border by Wiley Britton
Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies in the War of the Rebellion, Series I, Volume LXI, Part 1.