FIRST INDIAN CAVALRY BRIGADE
At the outset of the Civil War campaign of 1864 Maj. Gen. Samuel B. Maxey reorganized Confederate troops stationed in Indian Territory. He divided the Indian military units into two new brigades, the First and Second Indian Cavalry brigades. Stand Watie, colonel of the First Cherokee Regiment, and principal chief of the southern Cherokee, was placed in command of the new First Indian Cavalry Brigade. The unit included veterans of Watie's earlier forays, but conscripts also appeared in its ranks. In any case, Cherokee soldiers formed its core. Besides Watie's old regiment, now led by Col. Robert C. Parks, the brigade included the Second Cherokee Regiment, under Col. William P. Adair, Maj. Joseph A. Scales's Cherokee Battalion, and the First Osage Battalion, commanded by Maj. Broke Arm. In addition, Maxey assigned to it Col. Daniel N. McIntosh's First Creek Regiment, Col. Chilly McIntosh's Second Creek Regiment, Capt. R. Kenard's Creek Squadron, and Lt. Col. John Jumper's First Seminole Battalion. The Creek-Seminole troops were intended to form a third brigade, but it never became operational. This political decision emanated from Richmond to appease tribal governments by organizing separate Cherokee, Choctaw, and Creek brigades under their own leaders. To further such policies, Maxey soon stipulated no differential treatment was to be accorded Indian and white officers in his command. In 1865, moreover, whites in the brigade formed their own battalion.
The First Brigade was still completing its organization in June 1864. At that time, the Cherokee soldiers reenlisted for the duration of the war. In part, their action reflected patriotism, but it also recognized practical exigencies. Their homeland was under enemy occupation. Kinsmen were suffering ill treatment. Others had fled and now huddled as refugees along the Red River. The mixed-blood southern Cherokee had gambled in allying with the Confederacy. They hoped to tip the intratribal balance of power in their favor. Capitulation would leave them powerless against retribution from the Pin Indians. Like other occupied districts in the Confederacy, leaders called for intensified commitment and sacrifice to win the war, and they exhibited less outward disgruntlement than earlier characterized relations with the Richmond government.
The brigade's service mostly involved scouting and screening operations along and north of the Arkansas River, near Fort Gibson and the Missouri border. Early in spring 1864 it executed such missions, while Maxey was absent in Arkansas, and also did so after his return. Morale was bolstered in June when the brigade disabled a Federal steamer at Pleasant Bluff. The rebels captured the vessel but destroyed most of the supplies on board, worth $120,000, when a Federal column approached. Shortly thereafter, Watie was made a brigadier general, the only American Indian to hold that rank in the Confederacy.
Having disrupted the Federal supply line via the Arkansas River, the brigade next tried to interdict overland routes from Kansas and Missouri. During the summer and fall the unit raided supply trains and tried to cripple Federal cavalry by denying it access to forage, often driving off or capturing hay-gathering parties and then burning the fruits of their labor. In addition, detachments raided deep into the Cherokee Nation and northwest Arkansas, cut telegraph lines, ambushed patrols, intercepted mail and supplies, and intimidated civilians. In late July and early August 1864 the brigade joined the rest of the division in a demonstration at Fort Smith. Watie urged a full-scale assault, but his immediate superior refrained due to the strength of the fortifications and a shortage of artillery. The Confederates then withdrew. The Federal loss in supplies and equipment was estimated at $130,000.
The brigade's most spectacular achievement came on September 19, 1864. Along with Brig. Gen. Richard M. Gano's Texans, at Cabin Creek the Indian soldiers captured a supply train of 120 wagons and 740 mules, valued at $1.5 million. The supreme commander in the Trans-Mississippi praised the raid as "the most brilliant of the war." The brigade received the thanks of the Confederate Congress. A Cherokee delegate to it wrote Watie that the "whole country is alive with the glorious news of your success." The campaign of 1864, in which this unit played such a conspicuous part, did not compel the Federals to evacuate Forts Gibson or Smith. Deprived of mobility, however, the enemy was held to a defensive posture and experienced critical supply shortages. The Confederates retained the initiative and precluded any Federal offensive against southern refugees along the Red River and northern Texas, "the best supply district of the Confederacy."
Numerous small-scale victories heightened the brigade's morale and helped reaffirm Southern Indians' faith in the Confederacy. Earlier in the war complaints had been voiced about inadequate Confederate protection of Indian Territory and about Indian units being ordered to defend Fort Smith rather than their own homes and families. Desertion became a problem. By 1864, however, veterans in the brigade were more steadfast in their loyalty, and discontent was muted. Soldiers often were absent without leave to visit families, but most returned to duty. Deserters often were conscripts.
Success in battle bolstered unit pride, provided much needed supplies, and thereby mitigated disaffection in the ranks. But it did not resolve logistical shortcomings that hampered the brigade's performance. Its troops were ill fed, ragged, and barefoot. They were not well drilled, armed, or disciplined. Some carried flintlocks; many had only common sporting rifles. A majority rode on Indian ponies. Their irregular habits and distaste for paperwork made it almost impossible for inspectors to obtain an accurate report of their strength. These conditions somewhat impaired the brigade's usefulness in operations alongside white troops under the same rules and tactics. Yet, when deployed as raiders and given an opportunity to fight according to their own ideas of warfare, these Indians proved superb soldiers.
In early 1865 Watie was made division commander, and leadership of the brigade passed to Col. William P. Adair. The unit was refitted. Even Union sources describe it as in "pretty good condition." General talk circulated of a raid northward in the spring as soon as the grass appeared and horses arrived from Texas. By late April news of the capture of Gen. Robert E. Lee's army still had not reached them. In mid-May Watie continued to plan an expedition into Kansas. The mission never materialized. Shortly thereafter, he conceded the hopelessness of further resistance. Watie furloughed most of his troops and waited with a small force at Boggy Depot. On June 23, 1865, he surrendered his command, including the First Cavalry Brigade, at Doaksville. He was the last Confederate general officer to capitulate.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Allen C. Ashcraft, "Confederate Conditions in Indian Territory, 1865," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 42 (Winter 1964-65). Allen C. Ashcraft, "Confederate Indian Troop Conditions in 1864," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 41 (Winter 1963-64). Allen C. Ashcraft, "Confederate Indian Department Conditions in August, 1864," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 41 (Autumn 1963). Wilfred Knight, Red Fox: Stand Watie and the Confederate Indian Nations During the Civil War Years in Indian Territory (Glendale, Calif.: Arthur H. Clark, 1988). Lary C. Rampp and Donald L. Rampp, The Civil War in the Indian Territory (Austin: Presidial Press, 1975). Marvin J. Hancock, "The Second Battle of Cabin Creek," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 39 (Winter 1961-62). Lary C. Rampp, "Confederate Indian Sinking of the J. R. Williams," Journal of the West 11 (January 1972).
Tom L. Franzmann
© Oklahoma Historical Society