Stand Watie, Cherokee General in the Confederate army
Cherokee soldiers in the 1st Louisiana Native Gaurd
Understanding why the Cherokee and their kinfolk, the Seminole, Creek, Choctaw, and Chickasaw Indians joined the Confederacy against the North is very instructive to understanding the underlying issues of the Civil War. In 1861 the Cherokee Indians were largely divided into 2 groups, the Western Cherokees of about 20,000, and the Eastern Cherokees of about 2,000. The Cherokees were probably the best educated and literate of the American Indian tribes as well as the most Christian. They watched with consternation as the conflict between the North and South grew and they initially desired to remain neutral. Though the Cherokees had much common economy and contact with their Southern neighbors they also had a treaty with the U.S. Government which they did not wish to break. However, after seeing the Northern conduct in the war against the South and the trampling of the Constitution under the new regime, they decided as a nation to declare independence of the U.S.A. They did this not only to help their Southern friends but also as a protection for themselves after witnessing Northern exploitation of property and rights of the Indian tribes in Kansas, Nebraska, and Oregon. They felt compelled to abrogate the treaties in defense of their people, lands and rights. In the Cherokee Declaration of independence their reasons for joining the Confederacy in the conflict were clearly stated as: 1.) Self defense against Northern aggression, for themselves and their Southern neighbors. 2.) The right of a free people to determine their own destiny. 3.) The protection of their heritage. 4.) Defense of their political rights under a constitutional government. 5.) A desire to retain the principles of limited government and decentralized power guaranteed by the Constitution. 6.) To protect their economic rights and welfare. 7.) Dismay at the despotism and tyranny of those now in control of the U.S. Government. 8.) Dismay at the Unions total disregard for the accepted rules of war and their ruthless treatment of civilians and non-combatants. 9.) A fear of economic exploitation by the government and 10.) Alarm at the vengeful, self - righteous, extreme and punitive remarks pronounced on the slavery issue by radical northern abolitionists, of which the Unitarians were the most vocal. So we see that the Cherokees highly understood the issues behind the war and carefully thought out and articulated their declaration for supporting and joining the Confederacy.