Watie Is Last Confederate General to Surrender Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Among the thousands of Native Americans who fought in the Civil War, the Cherokee leader Stand Watie stood out—both as the only Native American to achieve the rank of brigadier and as the last Confederate general to surrender his forces after the war was declared over.

Summary of Event

After the outbreak of the Civil War in April, 1861, both the Union and the Confederate governments looked toward Indian Territory for support from Native Americans. Most of the Indians in the territory were members of the so-called Five Civilized Tribes—Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole. Many of them had connections with the federal government through various agencies, but many also had southern roots in the Carolinas, Alabama, Kentucky, Georgia, and Tennessee. Hence, their loyalties in the Civil War were divided. Watie, Stand Civil War, U.S. (1861-1865);Watie’s surrender Civil War, U.S. (1861-1865);and Native Americans[Native Americans] Native Americans;and Civil War[Civil War] Cherokees;and Civil War[Civil War] Indian Territory;and Civil War[Civil War] Confederate States of America;and Native Americans[Native Americans] Native Americans;and Confederate States of America[Confederate States of America] [kw]Watie Is Last Confederate General to Surrender (June 23, 1865) [kw]Last Confederate General to Surrender, Watie Is (June 23, 1865) [kw]Confederate General to Surrender, Watie Is Last (June 23, 1865) [kw]General to Surrender, Watie Is Last Confederate (June 23, 1865) [kw]Surrender, Watie Is Last Confederate General to (June 23, 1865) Watie, Stand Civil War, U.S. (1861-1865);Watie’s surrender Civil War, U.S. (1861-1865);and Native Americans[Native Americans] Native Americans;and Civil War[Civil War] Cherokees;and Civil War[Civil War] Indian Territory;and Civil War[Civil War] Confederate States of America;and Native Americans[Native Americans] Native Americans;and Confederate States of America[Confederate States of America] [g]United States;June 23, 1865: Watie Is Last Confederate General to Surrender[3840] [c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;June 23, 1865: Watie Is Last Confederate General to Surrender[3840] Drew, John Davis, Jefferson [p]Davis, Jefferson;and Native Americans[Native Americans] McCulloch, Ben Pike, Albert Ross, John

In March, 1861, the new Confederate president, Jefferson Davis, commissioned Albert Pike Pike, Albert to visit Indian Territory to seek treaties with the Five Civilized Tribes. Davis Davis, Jefferson [p]Davis, Jefferson;and Native Americans[Native Americans] hoped that a strong Confederate force in Indian Territory would prevent Union sympathizers in Kansas Kansas;and Civil War[Civil War] from raiding Texas. Texas;and Civil War[Civil War] Pike’s visit with all the tribes in Indian Territory was largely successful. Shortly afterward, Confederate general Ben McCulloch McCulloch, Ben raised two regiments from among the Indians. One was led by Colonel John Drew, Drew, John a full-blooded Cherokee, and the other was commanded by Colonel Stand Watie, who was three-quarters Cherokee.

Drew and Watie were bitter enemies, and through much of the war, Confederate commanders on the western front had to keep their two Cherokee regiments separated as much as possible. Watie had been born in Georgia and was one of the signers of the New Echota Treaty (1835) New Echota, Treaty of (1835) , by which the Cherokees sold their lands in Georgia to the U.S. government. He was also a prosperous Cherokee landowner and businessman, a brilliant warrior, and a member of an opposition faction within the Cherokee tribe. His signature on the new Echota Treaty put him at odds with the more dominant faction of the Cherokee Nation, led by John Ross Ross, John .

Watie proved to be a great military leader, and even in the face of extreme hardships, especially during the winter months, he kept his regiment together and participated in numerous battles. He would eventually become the last major Confederate commander to surrender at the conclusion of the war.

Confederate general Stand Watie.

(Library of Congress)

Although the treaties that the Indians signed with the Confederacy promised that Indian regiments would not be required to fight outside Indian Territory, Watie’s troops also were called to duty in Missouri and Arkansas. Over a four-year span, the old Cherokee warrior and his forces fought at Wilson’s Creek, Newtonia, Bird Creek, Pea Ridge, Spavinaw, Fort Wayne, Fort Gibson, Honey Springs, Webber’s Falls, Poison Spring, Massard Prairie, and Cabin Creek. Watie’s abilities on the battlefield were widely recognized and greatly heralded by both his contemporaries and historians. His greatest skills were gaining and keeping the confidence of his troops and his wily guerrilla tactics. His regiment also fought the Second Battle at Newtonia Newtonia, Second Battle of (1864) in Southwest Missouri in 1864 without him.

The first Newtonia battle Newtonia, First Battle of (1862) , fought in 1862, is of major historic significance, because it was the only Civil War battle in which American Indians fought on both sides. In most battles, Watie’s Cherokees fought admirably. In a losing cause at the Battle of Pea Ridge in Arkansas, however, they and Drew’s Drew, John troops were accused of bad conduct because they were too easily routed and because they allegedly scalped some of the Union casualties. This act, when reported to the upper command of the Confederate army, created a great embarrassment among officers, most of whom had been trained at such prestigious military academies as West Point, where cadets were taught to be gentlemen as well as warriors. The loss at Pea Ridge was made even greater by the death of General McCulloch McCulloch, Ben , who had organized and fought with the Cherokees from the beginning.

Despite the overwhelming support that Indians initially gave to the Confederacy in 1861, after the tide of war turned in favor of the Union, and the Confederacy could no long supply its forces on the frontier, disenchantment took hold of the leaders of the various tribes. In February, 1863, the Cherokee Council met on Cowskin Prairie in Indian Territory and voted to end its alliance with the Confederacy. However, Watie refused to accept the vote and vowed to continue his fight. This created an even deeper split within the Cherokee Nation.

Watie’s forces and Cherokee civilians with attachments in the South remained loyal to Watie and even established a government that they claimed was the legitimate government of the Cherokee Nation. These Southern sympathizers elected Watie as the principal chief. The Cherokees who were now aligned with Union forces recognized John Ross Ross, John as their chief, although he left Indian Territory and returned to his wife’s family in Pennsylvania. At the time of this deepening split, about ten thousand Cherokees had Union sympathies, and about seven thousand supported the Confederacy. This Cherokee split actually created a civil war within a civil war.

On May 10, 1864, Watie was promoted to the rank of brigadier general. He was the only American Indian who attained that rank in the Civil War. During the remaining months of the conflict, Watie fought without reservations for the Confederacy. One of his most spectacular successes was the sinking of the steam-driven ferry J. R. Williams on the Arkansas River at Pleasant Bluff and making off with food and clothing for his Cherokee and Creek Creeks;and Civil War[Civil War] troopers, while breaking a major supply route for Union forces at Fort Gibson. Successful raids on Union supplies kept Watie’s forces busy, well supplied, and inspired to stay in the fight. As the military situation for the Confederacy grew worse, Watie called all the Cherokee units to his camp on June 24, 1864. At that meeting, the Cherokee troops resolved unanimously to reenlist for the duration of the war, regardless of how long it lasted.

During the following September, Watie masterminded a plan to attack and steal a Union supply-wagon train worth one million dollars. This battle was fought at Cabin Creek Cabin Creek, Battle of (1865) in Indian Territory and is said to have been Watie’s greatest success. His brilliance and bravery were not enough, however, as the Confederacy continued to lose battle after battle. On April 9, 1865, General Robert E. Lee surrendered for the Confederacy at Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia. General Watie fought on, hoping to win the battle for the West, but it was not to be. On June 23, 1865, he surrendered at Doakesville in Indian Territory. He was the last Confederate general to lay down his sword.

Significance

The contribution made by American Indians in the Civil War was enormous. Of the estimated 3,500 who fought for the Union, 1,018, or more than 28 percent, died while in service to their country. Census figures in the Cherokee Nation showed a population of 21,000 in 1860. By 1867, that number had dropped to 13,566. Approximately one-third of the nation had been lost, either in battle or to hunger and exposure, which were suffered by soldiers and civilians alike. After the war, Stand Watie became more involved in the political activities of the Cherokee Nation and in resettling his people in the aftermath of the conflict. On September 7, 1871, the great general became ill and was taken to his old home at Honey Creek, where he died on September 9.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Cunningham, Frank. General Stand Watie’s Confederate Indians. 1959. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1998. A full account of Stand Watie’s efforts during the Civil War and his political life within the Cherokee Nation that includes many photographs of that era.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Dale, Edward Everett, and Morris L. Wardell. History of Oklahoma. New York: Prentice-Hall, 1948. Contains a thorough chapter on the Civil War in Oklahoma by two Oklahoma historians.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gaines, W. Craig. The Confederate Cherokees: John Drew’s Regiment of Mounted Rifles. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1989. Concentrates on Colonel John Drew’s regiment and contrasts it with Stand Watie’s more successful regiment.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Josephy, Alvin M., Jr. Civil War in the American West. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1991. Study of the Civil War battles that were fought west of the Mississippi River by an expert in Native American history.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">McLoughlin, William G. After the Trail of Tears: The Cherokees’ Struggle for Sovereignty, 1839-1880. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1993. Examines the social, cultural, and political history of the Cherokee Nation in the forty years after the tribe was forced to resettle in Oklahoma. Describes Ross’s leadership during this period.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Woodworth, S. E. Jefferson Davis and His Generals: The Failure of Confederate Command in the West. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1990. Discusses Jefferson’s top military men and their leadership on the western front during the Civil War.

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Apache Wars

Establishment of the Confederate States of America

U.S. Civil War

Great Sioux War

Long Walk of the Navajos

Sherman Marches Through Georgia and the Carolinas

Sand Creek Massacre

Surrender at Appomattox and Assassination of Lincoln

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Jefferson Davis; John Ross. Watie, Stand Civil War, U.S. (1861-1865);Watie’s surrender Civil War, U.S. (1861-1865);and Native Americans[Native Americans] Native Americans;and Civil War[Civil War] Cherokees;and Civil War[Civil War] Indian Territory;and Civil War[Civil War] Confederate States of America;and Native Americans[Native Americans] Native Americans;and Confederate States of America[Confederate States of America]

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