The Civil War News & Views Open Discussion Forum

Gen. Stand Watie--Cherokee Hero

Stand Watie was one of my favorite Trans-MS generals, after Dick Taylor and General John George Walker.

Always a clear-thinking man, even on a day when kinsmen were murdered and vengeful fellow Cherokees dogged his heels, Stand Watie knew that he had to maintain a straight face and stay calm if he wanted to remain alive.

The son of an old friend had ridden from one of three murder scenes and brought him a warning. The youth remained collected and spoke calmly with Watie, who was inside a small store he kept in northeastern Indian Territory. Knowing that enemies could be listening, the young man bargained loudly for sugar and softly told Watie what had happened and where to find the horse called Comet standing bridled and ready. Deliberately, Watie left the store and rode off safely. He would remain in jeopardy for almost six years.
The murders, which took place on the morning of June 22, 1839, pushed Watie into the leadership of a small and unpopular Cherokee faction for the rest of his life. Watie’s uncle, the prominent chief Major Ridge, Watie’s cousin John Ridge and Watie’s brother Elias Boudinot (also known as Buck Watie) all died that day in the new Cherokee Nation in the West. Stand Watie faced few worse days in his adventurous and violent life that saw him become a Confederate brigadier general. On the losing side twice in his life, he had intimate familiarity with dashed hopes and lost causes.
At the outbreak of the Civil War, Watie quickly joined the Southern cause. He was commissioned a colonel on July 12, 1861, and raised a regiment of Cherokees for service with teh Confederate army. Later, when Chief John Ross signed an alliance with the South, Watie's men were organized as the Cherokee Regiment of Mounted Rifles. After Ross fled Indian Territory, Watie was elected principal chief of the Confederate Cherokees in August 1862.

A portion of Watie's command saw action at Oak Hills (August 10, 1861) in a battle that assured the South's hold on Indian Territory and made Watie a Confederate military hero. Afterward, Watie helped drive the pro-Northern Indians out of Indian Territory, and following the Battle of Chustenahlah (December 26, 1861) he commanded the pursuit of hte fleeing Federals, led by Opothleyahola, and drove them into exile in Kansas. Although Watie's men were exempt from service outside Indian Territory, he led his troops into Arkansas in the spring of 1861 to stem a Federal invasion of the region. Joining with Maj. GEn. Earl Van Dorn's command, Watie took part in the bAttle of Elkhorn Tavern (March 5-6, 1861). On the first day of fighting, the Southern Cherokees, which were on the left flank of the Confederate line, captured a battery of Union artillery before being forced to abandon it. Following the Federal victory, Watie's command screened the southern withdrawal.

Watie, or troops in his command, participated in eighteen battles and major skirmishes with Federal troop during the Civil War, including Cowskin Prairie (April 1862), Old Fort Wayne (October 1862), Webber's Falls (April 1863), Fort Gibson (May 1863), Cabin Creek (July 1863), and Gunter's Prairie (August 1864). In addition, his men were engaged in a multitude of smaller skirmishes and meeting engagements in Indian Territory and neighboring states. Because of his wide-ranging raids behind Union lines, Watie tied down thousands of Federal troops that were badly needed in the East.

Watie's two greatest victories were the capture of the federal steam boat J.R. Williams on June 15, 1864, and the seizure of $1.5 million worth of supplies in a federal wagon supply train a the Second battle of Cabin Creek on September 19, 1864. Watie was promoted to brigadier general on May 6, 1864, and given command of the first Indian Brigade. He was the only Indian to achieve the rank of general in the Civil War. Watie surrendered on June 23, 1865, the last Confederate general to lay down his arms.

After the war, Watie served as a member of the Southern Cherokee delegation during the negotiation of the Cherokee Reconstruction Treaty of 1866. He then abandoned public life and returned to his old home along Honey Creek. He died on September 9, 1871.