Enlistment and the Military

From the very beginning of the war, many Native Americans joined the fight in the most formal way. An estimated 20,000 Indians joined the Union and Confederate armies, with more joining the Confederate than the Union Army. Death rates for Native Americans enlistees were similar to non-Indians, with about one-fourth of the enlisted soldiers from some tribes dying from battle wounds. Native American soldiers fought in many of the widely known battles in the east—including Second Bull Run,

Sitting Bull Ulysses Grant

Ely S. Parker, a Seneca Indian, is pictured (sitting, third from left) among other members of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's staff (ca. 1864). Parker served as Grant's military secretary. (National Archives)

Ely S. Parker, a Seneca Indian, is pictured (sitting, third from left) among other members of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's staff (ca. 1864). Parker served as Grant's military secretary. (National Archives)

Antietam, the Wilderness, and Petersburg. In the trans-Mississippi western theater, fighting was virtually nonstop as Indian warriors faced each other as well as Union and Confederate soldiers in formal battles and recurring raids. Many Native Americans joined the armies as part of Indian regiments; others enlisted in colored units. Some—like the Seneca Ely Parker—became trusted aids to white officers. In Parker's case, he served as aide-de-camp of Union general Ulysses S. Grant, and wrote the terms of surrender that formally ended the war at Appomattox Court House. Others served as guides and scouts, capitalizing on their tracking skills and knowledge of local terrain. Most Native American soldiers, however, served in the armies' infantries where they fought in largely segregated or tribally affiliated units.

On several occasions, officers praised Native American soldiers for their abilities. Union officer A. C. Elithorpe, for example, asserted that he had instilled in his Indian troops a good state of military discipline. You would be surprised to see our Regt. move. They accomplish the feat of regular time step equal to any white soldier, they form in line with dispatch and with great precision. . . . That they will make brave and ambitious soldiers I have no doubt. Our country may well feel proud that these red men have at last fell into the ranks to fight for our flag, and aid in crushing treason. (Abel 1919/1992b, 73)

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment