The Chickasaw Nation During the Civil War

By May of 1861, the Civil War in the East had begun. The distance of Indian Territory from Washington and the lack of communications created confusion among Federal troops and civilians. A dispatch rider was sent from Washington to the commander of Union troops in the territory ordering him to withdraw to Kansas.

Most of the southern whites that were serving as Indian agents convinced the leadership of the Five Nations to cast their lot with the Confederacy. As the Federals withdrew from the territory, there was no protection of the Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations from the wild tribes of the Leased District.

The Confederacy coveted the land and saw it as a vast supply of beef, grain, horses, lead and salt for the Confederacy. The southern agents promised the Five Nations that annuities would continue as well as protection from the Kiowas and Comanches. Neither of these happened. As a matter of fact, the Confederate Indian agents stated that they considered the annuities "a waste of money". The Chickasaw Battalion spent most of the civil war stationed at Ft. Arbuckle to offer what protection they could against the raiding wild tribes.

The Cherokee tribe was split over the decision of joining the Confederacy. They suffered their own bloody civil war. The other four nations willingly signed treaties on the condition that the annuities and protection would be forthcoming. Many individual members of the Five Nations moved to Kansas and refused to make allegiance to the south.

The reality, though, is that the Chickasaws were linked culturally, socially and economically to the south. The Chickasaw Nation was the wealthiest among the Five Nations. They owned, some have estimated, as many as ten thousand slaves. Most of the mixed-bloods were directly related to white southerners and they were tied culturally to the Deep South.

Economics were the main reason for the Chickasaw's alliance with the Confederacy. Most of the monies held in trust by the federal government for the tribe was invested in securities of southern states. Loss of these funds, loss of their vast investment in slaves and the promise of trade with the Confederacy supplying the needed war supplies persuaded the Chickasaw government to side with the south.

Most of the slaveholders were mixed bloods and the mixed bloods dominated politics and the tribal government. There was also evidence that the federal government had mishandled the nations funds. The federals were very slow in completing treaty obligations and there was the lingering resentment of being removed from their traditional homeland.

On May 25, 1861, the Chickasaw Legislature passed a resolution to dissolve their alliance with the Union. Their lot was now cast. Governor Cyrus Harris had warned the leaders of the Five Nations to not make a hasty decision that would destroy the tribes. But, the passions of war were now stirred in both Chickasaw and white.

The District of Indian Territory of the Confederacy was established with former agent Douglas Cooper appointed as commanding general. It should be noted here that Douglas Cooper and Jefferson Davis served together in the U. S. Army in the Mexican War. This may explain how a third level public servant suddenly became a commanding general.

At Cooper's call the First Regiment of the Chickasaws and Choctaws was formed with Tandy Walker, a Choctaw, second in command. The First Chickasaw Infantry Regiment was formed with Colonel William Hunter commanding. Shecoe's Chickasaw Battalion of Mounted Volunteers, sometimes called the "Chickasaw Battalion", was formed with Colonel Martin Shecoe commanding. Lt. Col. Lemuel Reynolds took command of the newly formed First Battalion of Chickasaw Cavalry.

Cooper ordered that a detachment of volunteers would be formed and drilled in each county of the two nations. However, Cooper didn't have the proper supplies and the individual soldier had to supply and equip himself as best as he could. When the Federals had withdrawn from Ft. Washita and Ft. Arbuckle in the Chickasaw Nation and Ft. Cobb in the leased district, they had left behind a vast quantity of military stores.

Colonel Emory, the Union commander, had orders, at his discretion, to burn the forts and supplies upon his retreat north. Fortunately, Colonel Emory thought better of razing the posts. He may have been farsighted enough in that he knew the north would win the war and that there would be a need of these facilities afterward.

Now the under-equipped Chickasaw troops would put to good use the abandoned Federal supplies. But these supplies did not last more than a year until they were exhausted. By the end of the first year, the commander at Ft. Arbuckle reported that the Chickasaw Battalion was barefoot and malnourished. They were equipped with shotguns, "old pattern rifles" and Colt pistols. The situation became so bad for the troops at Ft. Arbuckle that some of them simply went home so they could get something to eat.

The main supply depot and headquarters of the territory was located at Boggy Depot. The posts at Forts Arbuckle and Washita became mostly defensive for the protection of the stores now located at Boggy Depot. The Chickasaws and Choctaws did have some experience in battle. In December of 1861, Cooper orders his troops to attack the Creek Indian troops under the command of Opothleyaholo who lead a band of troops sympathetic to the Union. In March of 1862, the Chickasaws participated in the Battle of Pea Ridge in western Arkansas. Later in September of that year, the Chickasaws participated in the battle at Newtonia, Missouri gaining a victory.

In October the troops of General Cooper were defeated at the Battle of Ft. Wayne by a superior Union force. The troops wintered over at Ft. Gibson. In July of 1863, the Chickasaw Battalion and other units, under Cooper's command were defeated at the Battle of Honey Springs near Checotah. The loss of this battle by the Confederate troops allowed the Union forces to seize all lands in the Indian Territory south to the Canadian River and capturing Ft. Gibson.

In February of 1864, a Union force consisting of 450 cavalry, a company of infantry and one howitzer left Ft. Gibson to break the Confederate hold on the upper Boggy. By the time the troops stationed at Forts Arbuckle and Washita could muster and respond as an organized force, the union troops were retuning to Ft. Gibson. The Union commander, Colonel William Phillips, was spreading leaflets from President Lincoln assuring amnesty to the Indian leaders and civilians who would lay down their arms. On this expedition, Colonel Phillips reported that he had traveled four hundred miles to near Ft. Arbuckle and killed two hundred fifty Confederate soldiers.

An aspect of the war not generally considered was that of the refugees on both sides. Over two hundred twenty full blood Chickasaws who remained loyal to the Union took refuge in Le Roy, Kansas with the loyal Creek, Seminole and Cherokee. After the Union victory north of the Canadian, Confederate Creeks, Cherokee and Seminole took refuge in the Chickasaw Nation to escape the federals. All these people were as most refugees are in any war. They were homeless, cold, hungry and sick.

The refugee depots in the Chickasaw Nation gave emergency rations of beef, flour and soap to 4,823 Creeks on the Washita; 2,906 Cherokees at Tishomingo; 574 Seminoles at Oil Springs; and 241 Osages located at Ft. Arbuckle.

Farming and business in the Chickasaw Nation during the war mostly came to a standstill. Only 1,500 bales of cotton were produced in 1864. Neighborhood schools were closed as well as the academies. All free males between the age of eighteen and forty-five were conscripted for the Confederacy. This left very few people to grow food and raise cattle. The fields fell into their previous primitive state. The cattle ran unattended across the prairie.

As the war came to a close the Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations, similar to the southern states, lay in ruins.

Contributed by Dennis Muncrief - December, 2003