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Maxey's Reconstruction among Southern Indians

 Native American Nations | Participant in the Civil War                    


Among the southern Indians, Maxey's reconstruction policy was all this time having its effect. It was revitalizing the Indian alliance with the Confederacy, but army conditions were yet a long way from being satisfactory. In March Price relieved Holmes in command of the District of Arkansas.944 A vigorous campaign was in prospect and Price asked for all the help the department commander could afford him. The District of Indian Territory had forces and of all the disposable Price asked the loan. Maxey, unlike his predecessors, was more than willing to cooperate but one difficulty, which he would fain have ignored himself—for he was not an Albert Pike—he was compelled to report. The Indians had to be free, absolutely free, to go or to stay.945 The choice of cooperating was theirs but theirs also the power to refuse to cooperate, if they so desired, and no questions asked. The day had passed when Arkansans or Texans could decide the matter arbitrarily. Watie was expected to prefer to continue the irregular warfare that he and Adair, his colonel of scouts, had so successfully been waging for a goodly time now. Formerly, they had waged it to Steele's great annoyance;946 but Maxey felt no repugnance to the services of Quantrill, so, of course, had nothing to say in disparagement of the work of Watie. It was the kind of work, he frankly admitted he thought the Indians best adapted to. The Choctaws under Tandy Walker were found quite willing to cross the line and they did excellent service in the Camden campaign, which, both in the cannonade near Prairie d'Ane on the thirteenth of April and in the Battle of Poison Spring on the eighteenth of April, offered a thorough test of what Indians could do when well disciplined, well officered, and well considered. The Indian reinforcement of Marmaduke was ungrudgingly given and ungrudgingly commended.947 The Camden campaign was short and, when about over, Maxey was released from duty with Price's army. His own district demanded attention948 and the Indians recrossed the line.

Price's call for help had come before Maxey had taken more than the most preliminary of steps towards the reorganization of his forces and not much was he able to do until near the end of June. Two brigades had been formed without difficulty and Cooper had secured his division; but after that had come protracted delay. The nature of the delay made it a not altogether bad thing since the days that passed were days of stirring events. In the case of Stand Watie's First Brigade no less than of Tandy Walker's Second were the events distinguished by measurable success. The Indians were generally in high good humor; for even small successes, when coupled with appreciation of effort expended, will produce that. One adventure of Watie's, most timely and a little out of the ordinary, had been very exhilarating. It was the seizure of a supply boat on the Arkansas at Pheasant Bluff, not far from the mouth of the Canadian up which the boat was towed until its commissary stores had been extracted. The boat was the Williams, bound for Fort Gibson.949

It was under the inspiration of such recent victories that the southern Indians took up for consideration the matter of reenlistment, the expiration "of the present term of service" being near at hand. Parts of the Second Brigade took action first and, on the twenty-third of June, the First Choctaw Regiment unanimously reenlisted for the war. Cooper was present at the meeting "by previous request."950 Resolutions951 were drawn up and adopted that reflected the new enthusiasm. Other Choctaw regiments were to be prevailed upon to follow suit and the leading men of the tribe, inclusive of Chief Garland who was not present, were to be informed that the First Choctaw demanded of them, in their legislative and administrative capacities "such co-operation as will force all able-bodied free citizens of the Choctaw Nation, between the ages of eighteen and forty-five years, and fitted for military service, to at once join the army and aid in the common defense of the Choctaw Nation, and give such other cooperation to the Confederate military authorities as will effectually relieve our country from Federal rule and ruin."

The First Brigade was not behindhand except in point of time by a few days. All Cherokee military units were summoned to Watie's camp on Limestone Prairie.952 The assemblage began its work on the twenty-seventh of June, made it short and decisive and indicated it in a single resolution:

Whereas, the final issue of the present struggle between the North and South involves the destiny of the Indian Territory alike with that of the Confederate States: Therefore,

Resolved, That we, the Cherokee Troops, C.S. Army, do unanimously re-enlist as soldiers for the war, be it long or short.953

No action was taken on the policy of conscription; but, in July, the Cherokee National Council met and, to it, Chief Watie proposed the enactment of a conscription law.954

As a corollary to reorganization, the three brigade plan was now put tentatively into operation. It was, in truth, "a fine recruiting order," and Commissioner Scott, when making his annual rounds in August, was able to report to Secretary Seddon,

It is proposed to organize them into three brigades, to be called the Cherokee, Choctaw, and Creek Brigades; the Cherokee Brigade, composed of Cherokees, Chickasaws, and Osages, has already been organized; the Creek Brigade, composed of Creeks and Seminoles, is about being so, and the Choctaws anticipate no difficulty in being able to raise the number of men required to complete the organization of the Choctaw Brigade.955

Behind all this virility was General Maxey. Without him, it is safe to say, the war for the Indians would have ended in the preceding winter. In military achievements, others might equal or excel him but in rulings956 that endeared him to the Indians and in propaganda work he had no peer. At Fort Towson, his headquarters, he had set up a printing press, from which issued many and many a document, the purpose of each and every one the same. The following quotation from one of Maxey's letters illustrates the purpose and, at the same time, exhibits the methods and the temper of the man behind it. The matter he was discussing when writing was the Camden campaign, in connection with which, he said,

... In the address of General Smith the soldiers of Arkansas, Missouri, Texas, and Louisiana are specially named. The soldiers from this Territory bore an humbler part in the campaign, and although they did not do a great deal, yet a fair share of the killed, wounded, captured, and captured property and cannon can be credited to them. I had a number of General Smith's address struck off for circulation here, and knowing the omission would be noticed and felt, I inserted after Louisiana, "and of the Indian Territory," which I hope will not meet General Smith's disapproval.

I would suggest that want of transportation in this Territory will cripple movements very much....

During my absence General Cooper urged General McCulloch to help him in this particular; General M. replies he can do "absolutely nothing." I am not disposed to complain about anything, but I do think this thing ought to be understood and regulated. Supplies of breadstuffs and forage, as well as clothing, sugar, etc., all having to be drawn from beyond the limits of this Territory, a more than ordinary supply of transportation is necessary. To that for the troops must be added that made necessary by the destitute thrown on the hands of the Government and who must be taken care of. I do not expect General Smith to investigate and study the peculiar characteristics of command here so closely as I have. He hasn't the time, nor is it necessary. In my opinion no effort should be spared to hold this country. Its loss would work a more permanent injury than the loss of any State in the Confederacy. States can be recovered—the Indian Territory, once gone, never. Whites, when exiled by a cruel foe, find friends amongst their race; Indians have nowhere to go. Let the enemy once occupy the country to Red River and the Indians give way to despair. I doubt whether many of the highest officials in our Government have ever closely studied this subject. It is the great barrier to the empire State of the South from her foe now and in peace. Let Federalism reach the Red River, the effects will not stop there. The doctrine of uti possidetis may yet play an important part.

I believe from what I have heard that Mr. Davis has a fair knowledge of this subject, and I think from conversations with General Smith he has, but his whole time being occupied with his immense department—an empire—I trust he will pardon me when I say that no effort of commissaries, quartermasters, or anybody else should be spared to hold this country, and I only regret that it has not fallen into abler hands than mine....957

Military reorganization958 for the Indian troops had, in reality, come too late. Confederate warfare all along the frontier, in the summer and autumn of 1864, was little more than a series of raids, of which Price's Missouri was the greatest. For raiding, the best of organization was never needed. Watie, Shelby, Price were all men of the same stamp. Watie was the greatest of Indian raiders and his mere name became almost as much of a terror as Quantrill's with which it was frequently found associated, rightly or wrongly. Around Fort Smith in July and farther north in August the Indian raided to good effect. Usually, when he raided in the upper part of his own country, Federal supply trains were his objective, but not always. The refugees were coming back from Kansas and their new home beginnings were mercilessly preyed upon by their Confederate fellow tribesmen, who felt for the owners a vindictive hatred that knew no relenting.

Watie's last great raid was another Cabin Creek affair that reversed the failure of two years before. It occurred in September and was undertaken by Watie and Gano together, the former waiving rank in favor of the latter for the time being.959 A brilliant thing, it was, so Maxey, and Smith's adjutant after him, reported.960 The booty taken was great in amount and as much as possible of it utilized on the spot. Maxey regretted that the Choctaws were not on hand also to be fitted out with much-needed clothing.961 It was in contemplation that Watie should make a raid into Kansas to serve as a diversion, while Price was raiding Missouri.962 The Kansans had probably much to be thankful for that circumstances hindered his penetrating far, since, at Cabin Creek, some of his men, becoming intoxicated, committed horrible excesses and "slaughtered indiscriminately."963

Had the force at Fort Gibson been at all adequate to the needs of the country it was supposed to defend, such raids as Watie's would have been an utter impossibility. Thanks to Federal indifference and mismanagement, however, the safety of Indian Territory was of less consequence now than it had been before. The incorporation with the Department of Arkansas and the consequent separation from that of Kansas had been anything but a wise move. The relations of the Indian country with the state in which its exiles had found refuge were necessarily of the closest and particularly so at this time when their return from exile was under way and almost over. For reasons not exactly creditable to the government, when all was known, Colonel Phillips had been removed from command at Fort Gibson. At the time of Watie's raid, Colonel C.W. Adams was the incumbent of the post; but, following it, came Colonel S.H. Wattles964 and things went rapidly from bad to worse. The grossest corruption prevailed and, in the midst of plenty, there was positive want. Throughout the winter, cattle-driving was indulged in, army men, government agents, and civilians all participating. It was only the ex-refugee that faced starvation. All other folk grew rich. Exploitation had succeeded neglect and Indian Territory presented the spectacle of one of the greatest scandals of the time; but its full story is not for recital here.

Great as Maxey's services to Indian Territory had been and yet were, he was not without his traducers and Cooper was chief among them, his overweening ambition being still unsatisfied. In November, at a meeting of the general council for the confederated tribes, Maxey spoke965 in his own defense and spoke eloquently; for his cause was righteous. General Smith was his friend966 in the sense that he had been Steele's; but there soon came a time when even the department commander was powerless to defend him further. Early in 1865, Cooper journeyed to Richmond.967 What he did there can be inferred from the fact that orders were soon issued for him to relieve Maxey.968 He assumed command of the district he had so long coveted and had sacrificed honor to get, March first,969 General Smith disapproving of the whole procedure. "The change," said he, "has not the concurrence of my judgment, and I believe will not result beneficially."970

But Smith was mistaken in his prognostications. The change was not just but it did work beneficially. Cooper knew how to manage the Indians, none better, and the time was fast approaching when they would need managing, if ever. As the absolute certainty of Confederate defeat gradually dawned upon them, they became almost desperate. They had to be handled very carefully lest they break out beyond all restraint.971

Phillips was again in charge of their northern compatriots972 and, at Fort Gibson, he, too, was handling Indians carefully. It was in a final desperate sort of a way that a league with the Indians of the Plains was again considered advisable and held for debate at the coming meeting of the general council. To effect it, when decided upon, the services of Albert Pike were solicited.973 No other could be trusted as he. Apparently he never served or agreed to serve974 and no alliance was needed; for the war was at an end. On the twenty-sixth of May, General E. Kirby Smith entered into a convention with Major-general E.R.S. Canby, commanding the Military Division of West Mississippi, by which he agreed to surrender the Trans-Mississippi Department and everything appertaining to it.975 The Indians had made an alliance with the Southern Confederacy in vain. The promises of Pike, of Cooper, and of many another government agent had all come to naught.

944: Official Records, vol. xxxiv, part ii, 1034, 1036.
945: Maxey to Smith, April 3, 1864, ibid., part iii, 728-729.
946: For Steele's opposition to Adair's predatory movements, see Confederate Records, chap. 2, nos. 267, 268.
947: Williamson to Maxey, April 28, 1864, Official Records, vol. xxxiv, part i, 845.
948: It had not been Smith's intention that he should go out of his own district, where his services were indispensable, until Price's need should be found to be really urgent [Boggs to Maxey, April 12, 1864, ibid., part iii, 760-761].
949: Ibid., part i, 1011-1013; part iv, 686-687.
950: Official Records, vol. xxxiv, part iv, 694.
951: Ibid., 695.
952: Stand Watie to Cooper, June 27, 1864, ibid., part i, 1013.
953: Official Records, vol. xli, part ii, 1013.
954: Ibid., 1046-1047. The general council of the confederated tribes had recommended an increase in the armed force of Indian Territory and that it was felt could best be obtained, in these days of wavering faith, only by conscription. The general council was expected to meet again, July 20, at Chouteau's Trading House [ibid., 1047]. In October, the Chickasaws resorted to conscription. For the text of the conscription act, see ibid., vol. liii, supplement, 1024-1025.
955: Ibid., vol. xli, part ii, 1078. For additional facts concerning the progress of reorganization, see Portlock to Marston, August 5, 1864, Confederate Records, chap. 2, no. 259, p. 37; Portlock to Captain E. Walworth, August 27, 1864, ibid., pp. 42-43.
956: The most significant of Maxey's rulings was that on official precedence. His position was that no race or color line should be drawn in determining the relative rank of officers [Maxey to Cooper, June 29, 1864, Official Records, vol. xxxiv, part iv, 698-699] and he held that Confederate law recognized no distinction between Indian and white officers of the same rank. Charles de Morse, a Texan, with whom General Steele had had several differences, took great exception to Maxey's decision. Race prejudice was strong in him. Had there been many like him, the Indians, with any sense of dignity, could never have continued long identified with the Confederate cause. For De Morse's letter of protest, see ibid., 699-700.
957: Maxey to Boggs, May 11, 1864, Official Records, vol. xxxiv, part iii, 820.
958: For progress reached in reorganization by October, see orders issued by direction of Maxey, ibid., vol. liii, supplement, 1023.
959: Cooper to T.M. Scott, October 1, 1864, Official Records, vol. xli, part i, 783; Watie to T.B. Heiston, October 3, 1864, ibid., 785.
960: Ibid., 793, 794. Cooper described it "as brilliant as any one of the war" [ibid., 783] and Maxey confessed that he had long thought that movements of the raiding kind were the most valuable for his district [ibid., 777].
961: Maxey to Boggs, October 9, 1864, ibid., part iii, 990.
962: Cooper to Bell, October 6, 1864, ibid., 982-984.
963: Curtis Johnson to W.H. Morris, September 20, 1864 [ibid., part i, 774].
964: Official Records, vol. xli, part iii, 301. Wattles was not at Fort Gibson a month before he was told to be prepared to move even his Indian Brigade to Fort Smith [ibid., part iv, 130]. The necessity for executing the order never arose, although all the winter there was talk off and on of abandoning Fort Gibson entirely, sometimes also there was talk of abandoning Fort Smith. So weak had the two places been for a long time that Cooper insisted there was no good reason why the Confederates should not attempt to seize them. It is interesting that Thayer notified Wattles to be prepared to move just when there was the greatest prospect of a Confederate Indian raid into Kansas.
965: Official Records, vol. xli, part iv, 1035-1037; vol. liii, supplement, 1027.
966: In July, 1864, orders issued from Richmond for the retirement of Maxey and the elevation of Cooper [ibid., part ii, 1019]; but Smith held them in abeyance [ibid., part iii, 971]; for he believed that Maxey's "removal, besides being an injustice to him, would be a misfortune to the department." The suppression of the orders failed to meet the approval of the authorities at Richmond and some time subsequent to the first of October Smith was informed that the orders were "imperative and must be carried into effect" [ibid.].
967: Official Records, vol. xlviii, part i, 1382.
968: Ibid., 1403.
969: Ibid., 1408.
970: Ibid.
971: The evidence for this is chiefly in Cooper's own letter book. One published letter is especially valuable in this connection. It is from Cooper confidentially to Anderson, May 15, 1865. Official Records, vol. xlviii, part ii, 1306.
972: For Phillips's own account of his reinstallment, see his letter to Herron, January 16, 1865, ibid., part i, 542-543.
973: Smith to Pike, April 8, 1864, ibid., part ii, 1266-1269. It was necessary to have someone else beside Throckmorton, who was a Texan, serve; because the Indians of the Plains had a deep distrust of Texas and of all Texans [Smith to Cooper, April 8, 1864, ibid., 1270-1271; and Smith to Throckmorton, April 8, 1864, ibid., 1271-1272].
974: Smith issued him a commission however. See ibid., 1266.
975: Ibid., 604-606.

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The American Indian as Participant in the Civil War, 1919

Participant in the Civil War


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