Date of this Version
Great Plains Quarterly Volume 28, Number 2, Spring 2008, pp. 156.
Because military action in Indian Territory had negligible impact on the Civil War, most accounts of America's deadliest conflict are focused elsewhere. Few Civil War buffs realize the magnitude of death and destruction suffered by the Cherokees and neighboring tribes. Clarissa W. Confer's study of the impact of the conflict on the Cherokee Nation documents and personalizes the tragedy that decimated its people, destroyed the work of a generation following the Trail of Tears, and left a legacy of strife and animosity.
Confer focuses on a single tribe among the so-called Five Civilized Nations which she suggests "encapsulated much of the war experience in Indian Territory." After reviewing the schism over removal which precipitated prolonged bloodshed in the 1840s, she surveys events that drew the Cherokees and their neighbors into the Civil War. Clashing outlooks on slavery, religion, culture, and politics persisted even after federal officials arranged a truce between tribal factions in 1846. Northern and Southern attempts to secure tribal support as the federal union disintegrated in 1861 rekindled smoldering rancor, making neutrality impossible. Cherokee Chief John Ross reluctantly allied his tribe with the Confederacy in the vain hope of maintaining unity. That hope was shattered as the tribe split into antagonistic factions, with Stand Watie, Ross's arch foe from the removal era, leading Cherokees loyal to the South and the Ross Faction allying itself with the Union.