Last Phases of the Civil War

Last Phases of the War

In spite of the discouraging outlook, the southern Indians fought bravely on to the end. It would not be profitable to attempt any detailed account of the numerous minor engagements fought in the Indian Territory during the last two years of the war. Most of these were mere skirmishes that took place during raids, or "scouts", as such expeditions were often called. The numbers engaged were never large and the casualties were comparatively few. Stand Watie, who in the spring of 1864 was advanced to the rank of brigadier general, proved himself the most active aggressive leader in the entire Indian country. In June, 1864, he captured with his cavalry a steamboat moving up the Arkansas River with supplies for Fort Gibson. Later in the autumn of that year Watie performed his most brilliant exploit--the capture of a great wagon train en route from Fort Scott to Fort Gibson. The train carried quartermaster and commissary stores; and a number of wagons were loaded with goods for the post sutler at Gibson. From the proceeds of this raid Stand Watie was able to clothe, feed, and equip the ragged, hungry men of his little army and to send some supplies to their families in refugee camps near the Red River. Stand Waties own wife and younger children spent the closing years of the war in Texas with some of Mrs. Watie's relatives. Here they bravely faced poverty, sickness, and hardships that might well have discouraged the stoutest of hearts.

In February, 1864, Colonel Phillips led an expedition southward from Fort Gibson and marched almost unmolested through the Indian country nearly to the Red River. While ostensibly conducting a military venture, Phillips eventually sought to make it in effect a peace movement more nearly diplomatic than warlike in its nature. He distributed numerous copies of President Lincoln's amnesty proclamation; he sent kindly and encouraging messages to chiefs and leaders with pronounced southern sympathies. Apparently, he felt that they seed thus sown had fallen upon fertile ground. At any rate, upon his return he reported that for some tribes at least the war was virtually over.

It seems now that Phillips was right, and that if generous terms of peace had been offered the Indians guaranteeing to them their lands, the greater part of them would have gladly accepted, and would have repudiated the alliance with the south. By this time, however, any such offer was politically impossible. There were many Indians and much Indian land in Kansas, and the state's United States Senators had early seen in the Five Civilized Tribes' alliance with the south an opportunity to rid the state of these unwelcome inhabitants and to secure a cession of their lands. In July 1862, an act of Congress had authorized the President to suspend wholly or in part all treaties with any tribe in revolt against the United States. Proving again the the government could without provocation break any treaty it so desired with the Indians, while they, on the other hand, had no recourse at the breaking of a treaty but to accept their fate, even when they had been provoked into their actions.

During the winter of 1862-1863, Senator James H. Lane of Kansas presented a bill authorizing the President to treat with the Indians of Kansas for their removal from that state. The bill was later amended to authorize the President to secure "by treaty or otherwise" lands in the Indian Territory for the Indians then living in Kansas. These provisions were incorporated in the Indian Appropriation bill which became a law on 3 Mar 1863. It is clear, therefore, that strong political pressure would have been used to prevent a separate peace with the Indians, unless such a peace had included a clause providing for the cession of a large area of Indian lands. The desire of the Kansas political leaders was to complete the conquest to the Indian Territory and then to demand large land cessions as a war indemnity, or as the price of peace. Attempts had even been made to secure treaties with the refugees in Kansas for the surrender of large tracts of land, but all these attempts eventually failed.

By the autumn of 1864 the situation of the Indian allies of the south was growing desperate, as indeed was the plight of the entire Confederacy. Stand Watie retired to the Choctaw Nation with his little force and established winter quarters near Boggy Depot, where he hoped to secure for his men and horses some sorely needed rest. Since the condition of the refugees was deplorable, attempts were made to transport cotton from the Indian Territory to Mexico in order to secure funds to relieve their distress. Stand Watie also sent his adjutant across the Mississippi to purchase medicine and such articles as cotton cards, so that the women in these refugee camps might card, spin, and weave cotton in order to provide clothing for themselves and their children. Great difficulty was experienced in getting supplies across the river, however, owing to the vigilance of the Union gunboats. Even when the supplies were safely across, it was difficult to transport them to the border to the Indian country.

By the early spring of 1865 even the Indians realized that the south could not keep up the struggle much longer. Yet with the coming of warm weather the tireless Stand Watie once more took the field and continued to wage war to the best of his ability with the meager forces under his command. Richmond was evacuated on April 6, and three days later General Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House.

Although Lee's surrender virtually ended the war, General E. Kirby Smith, in command of the Trans-Mississippi Department, held out until May 26, when he surrendered the entire Department to General E. R. S. Canby. Stand Watie kept up the struggle until June 23, when he at last laid down his sword--the last Confederate general to surrender.

At the close of the war the Indian Territory was described by one writer as "a vast scene of desolation where only chimney monuments are left to mark the sites of once happy homes". Such a description was undoubtedly true. Houses had been burned, all movable property had been carried off or destroyed, the cattle had been stolen or slaughtered, and most of the fields had become covered over with bushes, briars, and wild black berries. The southern refugees of the Creek and Cherokee tribes, in camps along the Red River, feared to return to their own countries. Bands of lawless men rode about the country, heavily armed, plundering, stealing horses, and often murdering people regardless of whether their victims had been on the side of the North or the South.

To most of the Indians, moreover, the future looked dark. The war had been lost, and the Confederacy with which they had cast their lot was no more. They were eager to know the terms of peace which the victors would impose upon the vanquished and yet they had little hope that the terms would be generous. They \had not long to wait before such terms where made plain to them, and with sinking hearts they realized that the peace was even more harsh than their worst fears had led them to expect.

OKGenWeb Index Page | USGenWeb Index Page | WorldGenWeb Project Index Page | USGenWeb Archives | OkGenWeb Archives | Twin Territories Project of the OkGenWeb | State and Unknown County Queries | The Civil War in Indian Territory Index Page | Civil War Battle Sites in the Indian Territory | The Civil War in Indian Territory - The Story in Brief | The Shadow of War | The Mission of Albert Pike | Civil War and the Kansas Refugees | The Military Operations of General Pike | The First Indian Expedition | Difficulties of the Southern Indians | Division of the Cherokees | Occupation of the Cherokee Country by the Union | Waning Fortunes of the South | Last Phases of the War | Bibliography

This information has been gathered from research done in several areas. Source information is available on the bibliography page. This page has been designed and put together by Ann Maloney, Bartlesville, OK. If you would like to add anything, please contact me at the address below.

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