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Cherokee Loyalties

May 2024
2min read

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John Ross, Principal Chief

Fearing that his powerful rival Stand Watie would fracture the Cherokee Nation, Principal Chief John Ross pushed for an alliance with the Confederacy in 1861, successfully arguing for its ratification in the following address. Two years later, Ross renounced the alliance and pushed for emancipation of slaves. Confederate Brigadier General Watie became the last Confederate general to surrender in 1865.

To the National Committee and Council in National Council convened: ...At the beginning of the conflict I felt that the interests of the Cherokee people would be best maintained by remaining quiet and not involving themselves in it prematurely. Our relations had long existed with the United States Government and bound us to observe amity and peace alike with all the States. Neutrality was proper and wise so long as there remained a reasonable probability that the difficulty between the two sections of the Union would be settled, as a different course would have placed all our rights in jeopardy and might have led to the sacrifice of the people. But when there was no longer any reason to believe that the Union of the States would be continued there was no cause to hesitate as to the course the Cherokee Nation should pursue. Our geographical position and domestic institutions allied us to the South, while the developments daily made in our vicinity and as to the purposes of the war waged against the Confederate States clearly pointed out the path of interest... In the exercise of the same general authority, and to be ready as far as practicable to meet any emergency that might spring up on the northern border, it was thought proper to raise a regiment of mounted men and tender its services to General McCulloch. The people responded with alacrity to the call, and it is believed the regiment will be found as efficient as any other like number of men. It is now in the service of the Confederate States for the purpose of aiding in defending their homes and the common rights of the Indian nations about us. This regiment is composed of ten full companies, with two reserve companies, and, in addition to the force previously authorized to be raised to operate outside of the nation by General McCulloch, will show that the Cherokee people are ready to do all in their power in defense of the Confederate cause, which has now become their own.

It is now pretty well established, that there are at the present moment many colored men in the Confederate army doing duty not only as cooks, servants and laborers, but as real soldiers, having muskets on their shoulders, and bullets in their pockets, ready to shoot down loyal troops, and do all that soldiers may to destroy the Federal Government and build up that of the traitors and rebels... Rising above vulgar prejudice, the slaveholding rebel accepts the aid of the black man as readily as that of any other. If a bad cause can do this, why should a good cause be less wisely conducted? We insist upon it, that one black regiment in such a war as this is, without being any more brave and orderly, would be worth to the Government more than two of any other; and that, while the Government continues to refuse the aid of colored men, thus alienating them from the national cause, and giving the rebels the advantage of them, it will not deserve better fortunes than it has thus far experienced. Men in earnest don't fight with one hand, when they might fight with two, and a man drowning would not refuse to be saved even by a colored hand.

From The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, series I, volume 13 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1881).

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