Indian Territory in the American Civil War

During the American Civil War, most of what is now the U.S. state of Oklahoma was designated as the Indian Territory. It served as an unorganized region that had been set aside specifically for Native American tribes and was occupied mostly by tribes which had been removed from their ancestral lands in the Southeastern United States following the Indian Removal Act of 1830. As part of the Trans-Mississippi Theater, the Indian Territory was the scene of numerous skirmishes and seven officially recognized battles [1] involving both Native American units allied with the Confederate States of America and Native Americans loyal to the United States government, as well as other Union and Confederate troops.

A total of 7,860 Native Americans participated in the Confederate Army, as both officers and enlisted men; [2] most came from the Five Civilized Tribes: the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole nations. [3] The Union organized several regiments of the Indian Home Guard to serve in the Indian Territory and occasionally in adjacent areas of Kansas, Missouri, and Arkansas. [4]

Native American alliances

Before the outbreak of war, the United States government relocated all soldiers in the Indian Territory to other key areas, leaving the territory unprotected from Texas and Arkansas, which had already joined the Confederacy. The Confederacy took an interest in the territory, seeking a possible source of food in the event of a Union blockade, a connection to western territories, and a buffer between Texas and the Union-held Kansas. At the onset of war, Confederate forces took possession of the U.S. army forts in the area. In June and July 1861, Confederate officers negotiated with Native American tribes for combat support. After refusing to allow Creek lands to be annexed by the Confederacy, the Creek Principal Chief Opothleyahola led the Creek supporters of the Union to Kansas, having to fight along the way. [5] Leaders from each of the Five Civilized Tribes, acting without the consensus of their councils, agreed to be annexed by the Confederacy in exchange for certain rights, including protection and recognition of current tribal lands. [6]

After reaching Kansas and Missouri, Opothleyahola and Native Americans loyal to the Union formed three volunteer regiments known as the Indian Home Guard. It fought in the Indian Territory and Arkansas. [7] [8]