, Muskogee, OK

August 17, 2013

Union forces assisted Cherokees in evacuation

By Jonita Mullins
Three Rivers History

— In 1862, Indian Territory was solidly under the control of Confederate forces, primarily made up of mounted units from the Five Civilized Tribes. In the first years of the war, the Union concentrated troops east of the Mississippi and did little to engage the Confederate forces in Indian Territory.

Chief John Ross of the Cherokees tried to remain neutral in the War Between the States and for some time resisted efforts to bring the Cherokees into the conflict. But as the other four tribes chose to side with the South, Ross later wrote that he felt like a man standing alone on a spot of ground while flood waters rose around him. If a log were to drift by him, should he not seize it in order to save his life?

For Ross, an alliance treaty with the Confederacy was his grasp at the best opportunity for saving the unity of his tribe. With all U.S. authority gone from the Territory, Confederate forces all around, and the other Five Tribes joining the South, Ross signed the alliance treaty. He quickly came to regret this choice as he witnessed the chaos that developed in the Cherokee Nation.

By August of 1862, Union forces were being sent into Indian Territory. Cherokees who had remained loyal to the United States and living at Tahlequah and Park Hill were anxious to leave the territory as fighting intensified. On the first of August, the Second Kansas Volunteer Calvary was instructed to make a quick march into Cherokee Nation. Private George Haas with the Second Kansas wrote about this campaign.

 Six squadrons (about 325 men) marched out of Fort Scott, Kan., that August. They crossed the nearby Neosho River and by nightfall had reached Rock Creek, about 45 miles into Indian Territory. The next day they reached Grand Saline (now Salina) and by Aug. 3 arrived at Park Hill. In just three days they had covered over 100 miles inside Confederate-held territory.

The troops spent the night of Aug. 3 helping residents who wished to leave Park Hill and Tahlequah pack their belongings. They also secured the national archives of the Cherokees and other important documents of the tribal government, including the treasury.

On Aug. 4, the troops along with several Cherokee families began the journey back to Kansas. A small contingency of soldiers were sent out as scouts to see if any Confederate troops stationed in the area were on the move to intercept them. It was known that the Confederates had a much larger force stationed around Fort Gibson. But finding no Confederate movement, the whole group proceeded north as rapidly as possible. By Aug. 6, they arrived safely at Baxter Springs, Kan. So in a matter of six days they had marched more than 210 miles, successfully avoiding any bloodshed.

John Ross was then taken to Washington. By this time, he had grown disenchanted with the Confederacy which had proved no more inclined to keep its treaty obligations than the U.S. government. Factionalism had returned to the Cherokees despite his efforts to avoid them.

When Ross met with President Abraham Lincoln, he pledged a return to the Union. He would hold this position until his death only a few years later.