Confederate territory included areas of the Five Civilized Tribes of Native Americans. Tribal members joined the conflict.
The Cherokee Mounted rifles fought out west, ultimately coming under the command of one of their own, Stand Watie (shown here).
Watie’s birth name was Tak-er-taw-ker, meaning “Stands Firm.” He combined parts of his own Cherokee name with that of his father, Oo-wat-ie, to call himself Stand Watie in English.
Stand Watie caught the attention of senior officers when he captured a Union artillery battery and conducted a skilled rear guard action to protect a Confederate army. His courage, tactics and leadership lead to a higher command position. The 1st Cherokee Mounted Rifles formed in August of 1862, Colonel Stand Watie commanding.
Watie’s men were active in cutting Union supply lines and disrupting Federal operations in the Western Theatre of the Civil War. His raids behind enemy lines forced the Union to commit thousands of troops to the area, instead of sending them east, where they were needed.
Cherokee had long been used to “close-range combat,” and they were masters of the irregular warfare of guerilla tactics. They knew the tactics of hit-and-run, and how to limit their opponent’s capacity to attack them.
Watie’s regiment fought 18 battles and major skirmishes during the Civil War, including the pivotal Battle of Pea Ridge in northern Arkansas. His troops played an important role in protecting northern Texas and Indian Territory.
On May 10th, 1864, Watie was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General, in command of the 1st Indian Brigade of the Army of the Trans-Mississippi. He was the only Native American to reach the rank of a Confederate general, and the last Confederate general to officially cease hostilities, over two months after Appomattox.
The Cherokee Braves Flag is still reproduced today. Sometimes known as the “Cherokee Brigade Flag,” the design was based on the Confederate First National Flag pattern. The canton (upper left) is blue with eleven white stars in a circle, surrounding five red stars representing the “Five Civilized Tribes” (Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Seminole). The red star in the center represents the Cherokee Nation. “Cherokee Braves” is lettered in red in the center of the white stripe.
Watie displayed great commitment and bravery during his service to the Confederacy. Just after the war he wrote the following to Texans, June 1865: “During the whole period of the war my people have stood side by side with your own gallant sons, between your homes and the enemy on the north.” It was true: Federal troops were never able to gain control of the area to access Texas from the north.
In 1995 the US postal Service issued a set of 20 commemorative stamps. General Stand Watie was one of those honored.
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