Memorial Day, a solemn day of remembrance in the United States, holds deep historical significance as a time to honor those who have sacrificed their lives in military service. The first national observance of Memorial Day occurred on May 30, 1868. Then known as “Decoration Day”, the holiday was proclaimed by Commander in Chief John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic to honor the Union soldiers who had died in the Civil War.
While the origins of this commemoration lie in the aftermath of the American Civil War, it is essential to recognize the often-overlooked contributions and impact of Indigenous peoples during this pivotal period.
This blog post explores and sheds light on the “Five Civilized Tribes” and events that took place throughout the Civil War.
Approximately 20,000 Native Americans served in the Union and Confederate armies. Tribes included: the Delaware, Muscogee Creek, Cherokee, Seminole, Kickapoo, Seneca, Osage, Shawnee, Choctaw, Lumbee, Chickasaw, Iroquois, Powhatan, Pequot, Ojibwa, Huron, Odawa, Potawatomi, Catawba, and Pamunkey.
The Cherokee, Choctaw, Seminole, Catawba, and Creek tribes were the only tribes to fight on the Confederate side.
By the 1830s, Andrew Jackson had removed many Native Americans from their lands in the southern United States. Most tribes were relocated into the Midwest in what was labeled “Indian Territory,” as they were promised by the government to be given land and to be considered nations of their own.
For Native Americans, fighting alongside the white man was seen as an opportunity to gain recognition and support from the prevailing government. They believed that participating in the war effort would restore Native lands and rights.
The term “Five Civilized Tribes” was applied by European Americans in the colonial and early federal period in the history of the United States to the five major Indigenous Tribes in the Southeast—the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee Creek, and Seminoles.
Americans of European descent classified them as “civilized” because they had adopted attributes of the Anglo-American culture. Examples of such colonial attributes adopted by these five tribes included Christianity, centralized governments, literacy, market participation, written constitutions, intermarriage with white Americans, and chattel slavery practices, including purchase of enslaved African Americans. For a period, the Five Civilized Tribes tended to maintain stable political relations with the European Americans, before the United States promoted Indian removal of these tribes from the Southeast.
The Seminole Nation
The Seminole in the American Civil War were found in both the Trans-Mississippi and Western Theaters. The Seminole Nation in the Trans-Mississippi Theater had split alliances.
However, the majority of the tribe in the Western territories joined the Union Army under the leadership of Sonuk Miikko (commonly known as Billy Bowlegs). Sonuk formally enlisted in the Union Army as a captain in May 1862 and was assigned command of Company A of the First Indian Home Guards.
Others, such as John Jumper (pictured left), supported the Confederacy. When the Civil War broke out, Chief Jumper reluctantly agreed to sign an alliance with the Confederate States of America. He also enlisted in the Confederate Army, first serving as a major in the First Battalion Seminole Mounted Rifles, and as lieutenant colonel of the First Regiment Seminole Volunteers. He led these troops in the battles of Round Mountain, Chusto-Talasah, Middle Boggy, and Second Cabin Creek
After the War ended, the Seminole Indians became reclusive and their history was obscured.
The Cherokee Nation
The Cherokee Nation was divided, with one side led by Principal Chief John Ross and the other by Stand Watie.
John Ross was the Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation from 1828 to 1866. Fearing that joining the Confederacy would void the earlier Cherokee treaties with the United States, Ross tried to persuade his people to remain neutral in the conflict, but eventually most chose sides. At a general assembly on August 21, 1861, Ross ended his speech by announcing that in the interests of tribal and inter-Indian unity it was time to agree on an alliance with the Confederate States of America.
Stand Watie was the only Native American to rise to a Confederate brigadier-general’s rank during the war. Watie took part in what is considered to be the greatest (and most famous) Confederate victory in Indian Territory, the Second Battle of Cabin Creek, which took place in what is now Mayes County, Oklahoma on September 19, 1864. The Confederate Army put Watie in command of the Indian Division of Indian Territory in February 1865. By then, however, the Confederates were no longer able to fight in the territory effectively. On June 23, 1865, at Doaksville in the Choctaw Nation (now Oklahoma), Watie signed a cease-fire agreement with Union representatives for his command. He was the last Confederate general in the field to surrender.
The Cherokee Nation was considered the most negatively affected of all Native American tribes during the Civil War, its population declining from 21,000 to 1,500 by 1865. Despite the Federal government’s promise to pardon all Cherokee involved with the Confederacy, the entire Nation was considered disloyal, and those rights were revoked.
The Chickasaw Nation was the first of the Five Civilized Tribes to become allies of the Confederate States of America. In addition, they resented the United States government, which had forced them off their lands and failed to protect them against the Plains tribes in the West. In 1861, as tensions rose related to the sectional conflict, the US Army abandoned Fort Washita, leaving the Chickasaw Nation defenseless against the Plains tribes. Confederate officials recruited the American Indian tribes with suggestions of an Indian state if they were victorious in the Civil War.
Because the Chickasaw sided with the Confederate States of America during the American Civil War, they had to forfeit some of their land afterward.
The Choctaw in the American Civil War participated in two major arenas—the Trans-Mississippi and Western Theaters. The Trans-Mississippi had the Choctaw Nation. The Western had the Mississippi Choctaw. The Choctaw Nation had been mostly removed west prior to the War, but the Mississippi Choctaw had remained in the east. Both the Choctaw Nation and the Mississippi Choctaw would ultimately side with the Confederate States of America.
There are several possibilities why they sided with the Confederacy:
1. They believed the United States was on the verge of collapse.
2. They were neglected by the United States.
3. A majority of Mississippi Choctaw soldiers were conscripted into service.
4. Some Choctaw may have been enticed to side with the Confederacy as a possible solution to their land grant problems.
5. Financial incentives including fifty dollar bounty to those who enrolled with the Provisional Army of the Confederate States.
The Choctaws continued their support for the Confederacy until its collapse.
Muscogee Creek Nation
At the outbreak of the American Civil War, Opothleyahola, a Muscogee Creek Indian Chief, was among the minority of Creek in Indian Territory who supported the Union. Because of rising conflict within the tribe, he led his followers to Kansas as a refuge. They engaged in three battles against the opposition along the way. Their journey became known as the Trail of Blood on Ice, because the people suffered harsh conditions.
Because many Muscogee Creek people did support the Confederacy during the Civil War, the US government required a new treaty with the nation in 1866 to define peace after the war.
At the end of the war, it was General Ely S. Parker, a member of the Seneca tribe, who drafted the articles of surrender that General Robert E. Lee signed at Appomattox Court House.
Ely S Parker was born in 1828 in Genesee City, New York, as a Seneca, although much of his life was spent straddling two cultures. Parker acquired knowledge of his grandfather’s Iroquoian religion, while he was educated at the local Baptist school. Raised and educated in two cultures, he was a trained attorney and a self-taught engineer. While a captain of engineers with the Rochester regiment of the New York State Militia, he was also a “sachem,” one of the honored positions in his tribe and active in Tonawanda affairs.
Despite being barred from practicing law and receiving an initial rejection from military service because of his race, Parker rose to General Ulysses S. Grant’s staff. In 1863, with Grant’s support, he was commissioned as a staff officer for Brig. Gen. John E. Smith.
The involvement of Native American tribes, including the Five Civilized Tribes, in the Civil War was a complex and nuanced aspect of this historic conflict. The divisions within tribes, such as the Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, Chickasaw, and Seminole Nations, reflect the challenges faced by Indigenous communities during this turbulent period. While their impact on the overall war effort was limited, the consequences of their involvement had lasting effects on their communities and their relationships with the U.S. government. Understanding the role of Native American tribes, including the Five Civilized Tribes, in the Civil War provides valuable insights into the broader complexities of this significant chapter in American history.
For many, national holidays do not carry the significance that they deserve.
Some see it merely as a day that they have off of work or a day that they have to prepare for their bank being closed. For those that do have to work, it may seem as if there is no change to their routine and therefore no realization that there is even a holiday happening. And for others, there is the acknowledgement of the holiday with only a brief, yet fleeting, moment of reflection…
Let this blog serve as an opportunity to find the ways that you can truly acknowledge this year’s Veterans Day. In this blog we will cover two issues that disproportionately impact Veterans and share some resources and organizations that are working to help.
(It should be noted that the resources provided in this blog are in no way meant to be a complete list. There are many great organizations across the country that are doing meaningful work to help Veterans)
First, the History of Veterans Day
The photo that you see here was taken in Stenay, Meuse in France on November 11, 1918: two minutes before the armistice ending World War I went into effect. A year from this date, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of “Armistice Day” with the following words:
“To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations”
Armistice Day was recognized but not made an official national holiday until 1938. WWI was said to be “the war to end all wars” and that was an honest sentiment of the time. However, in 1954, after World War II saw the greatest military mobilization in the nation’s history and after American forces had fought in Korea, the Act of 1938 that made Armistice Day a national holiday was amended to change “Armistice” to “Veterans” in its title. From this day forward, Veterans Day became a day to honor American veterans of all wars.
From the US Department of Veterans Affairs history page of the holiday:
“Veterans Day continues to be observed on November 11, regardless of what day of the week on which it falls. The restoration of the observance of Veterans Day to November 11 not only preserves the historical significance of the date, but helps focus attention on the important purpose of Veterans Day: A celebration to honor America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.”
WW1 was referred to as “the war to end all wars” but it was anything but. We see now that this once idealistic slogan is unfortunately far from reality a century later. As a result, our Veterans, no matter which era they served in, have oftentimes endured hardship and trauma that alters their lives forever.
Issues Veterans Face
Veterans Day should go beyond just expressing appreciation for those who have served. We should be doing more than Veterans Discounts at restaurants, moments of silence before sporting events and saying a simple “thank you for serving” in passing. The truth of the matter is that to properly appreciate our Veterans, we should be finding the ways that we can support them in their battle against a couple of unique issues that many of them face upon returning home that you may not be aware of.
Mental health issues and homelessness are struggles that many Americans face. Veterans of the US Military are disproportionately impacted by these issues. While these situations are dire, there are organizations and resources to support that are doing great work to attempt a remedy to these issues.
According to a 2014 study cited by the National Alliance of Mental Illness, nearly 1 in 4 active duty members showed signs of a mental health condition. The most common way that these conditions manifested were through:
- Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Traumatic events, often experienced during one’s time in the Military can come from combat, assault, witnessing disasters or sexual assault. These experiences can have long-lasting negative effects such as trouble sleeping, anger, nightmares, and substance abuse. The aforementioned 2014 study found that the rate of PTSD can be up to 15 times higher than civilians.
- Depression: Depression that interferes with daily life and normal functioning is five times more likely for Veterans and active duty members than civilians.
- Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI): A significant blow to the head or body, often as a result of combat, can later cause headaches, fatigue or drowsiness, memory problems and mood changes & swings.
In the most severe cases, unfortunately, there are Veterans who turn to suicide at alarming rates. According to the 2022 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Report, Veteran suicides in 2020 exceeded those of nonveterans in the U.S. by 57.3%. A total of 6,146 Veterans died from suicide in 2020 alone. That year, suicide was the the second leading cause of death among Veterans under the age of 45.
Mental Health Resources and Organizations to Support:
Veterans Crisis Line
Veterans in crisis, or people who are concerned about a loved one that is a Veteran, can call the Veterans Crisis Line at 988 then press “1” or text 838255 to connect with a crisis counselor 24/7, 365 days a year.
Web chat is also available here: https://www.veteranscrisisline.net/
Wounded Warrior Project
With the incredible support of donors, the Wounded Warrior Project has provided over 40,000 hours of intensive outpatient care and therapy sessions in just the past year- helping veterans and their families live happier and more fulfilling lives.
Learn more and donate here: https://www.woundedwarriorproject.org/programs/mental-wellness
The Headstrong Project
The Headstrong Project treats an average of 1,400 Veterans every month. Furthermore, 90% of the Veterans who participate in their programs report an improved quality of life. For example, 7 out of 10 of their clients report a decrease in suicidal thoughts and 8 out of 10 report improvements in their relationships.
Learn more and donate here: https://theheadstrongproject.org/the-headstrong-experience/
K9s for Warriors
Since their founding, K9s For Warriors has matched over 700 service dogs with veterans suffering from mental health conditions. 82% of veterans who participated in their programs reported a decline in suicidal thoughts, and 92% reported a reduction or elimination of prescription medications.
Learn more and donate here: https://k9sforwarriors.org/warrior-journey/
On November 3, 2022 the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and the US Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) announced preliminary results that showed that there are 33,136 unhoused Veterans nationwide. The results claim an 11% decline in this number since 2020 but there are many who believe that these numbers may be underestimated as it relies on sometimes unreliable local counts. Regardless, the number of unhoused Veterans, in a country that prides itself on showing appreciation for them, is staggering.
Homelessness is a huge topic of conversation in California. We have all seen the effects of homelessness which we have explored in a previous blog. However, the scope of Veterans experiencing homelessness in California is hardly the main focus of these public discussions. HUD estimates that 1/3 of our nation’s unhoused Veterans live in California, which means we have over 10,000 Veterans experiencing homelessness in our state alone. To put that into perspective, imagine a sold out football game at UC Davis Health Stadium packed to the brim with people sitting shoulder to shoulder. Now imagine that everyone in that stadium is an unhoused Veteran of the US Military.
Here are some more eye opening facts about unhoused Veterans in the US:
- The amount of female Veterans is sharply on the rise: in 2006, there were 150 unhoused female veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. That number rose to 1,700 in 2011 and is estimated to be closer to 6,000 in 2022. Studies conducted by HUD show that female Veterans are two to three times more likely to experience homelessness than any other group in the US adult population.
- Nearly 56% of all unhoused Veterans are Black or Hispanic, despite only accounting for 13.6% and 18.9% of the US population respectively.
- About 53% of unhoused Veterans have disabilities. Right around 50% suffer from mental illness, 67% suffer from substance abuse problems and many suffer from a combination of both
- Unhoused Veterans experience homelessness longer. On average, an unhoused Veteran will experience homelessness for nearly six years compared to four years reported among non-Veterans.
Unhoused Veteran Resources and Organizations to Support:
The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans
The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans(NCHV) is recognized as a leading entity to shape policy for Veterans and are often asked to testify in front of Congress. Since 2008, they’ve given 30 testimonials on behalf of unhoused Veterans. They have also allocated more than $700 million dollars to improve and expand services for unhoused Veterans.
Learn more and donate here: https://nchv.org/veteran-homelessness/
Nation’s Finest, Sacramento
Nation’s Finest provides supportive services to very low-income Veteran families living in or transitioning to permanent housing through the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) grant. Nation’s Finest provides eligible Veteran families with outreach, case management, and assistance in obtaining VA and other mainstream benefits that promote housing stability and community integration.
Learn more and donate here: https://nationsfinest.org/our-services/#transitional-housing
Operation Dignity helps an estimated 1,000 Veterans in Alameda County annually. In 2021, they served 200 unhoused Veterans and 83% of these Veterans in their transitional housing program moved on to secure permanent housing.
Learn more and donate here: https://operationdignity.org/