Thursday, June 9, 2011

When Black Soldiers Met Stand Watie's Soldiers

As one who researches both US Colored Troops as well as the Black soldiers who served with the Indian Home Guards., I have often wondered about the fate of black soldiers when they came into combat with the Indian Confederate units.

The Indian Confederates were from the Five slaveholding tribes---Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek and Seminole nations. These tribes signed an alliance with the South at the beginning of the Civil War, in 1861.  One of the leaders of the Cherokee Confederate units was Stand Waite, the well known Cherokee leader and slave holder himself.  

Stand Watie was the only Indian with the rank of general in the Confederate Army. 

As noted before, there were many Confederate regiments from Indian Territory---and among them were the Cherokee Confederates:

Cherokee Confederates:
-1st (Watie’s) Cherokee Mounted Volunteers
-2nd Cherokee Mounted Volunteers
-Drew's Regiment (1st Cherokee Mounted Rifles)
-1st Bryan's Batallion
-1st (Holt’s) Squadron,Cherokee Mounted Volunteers
-Frye’s - Scales’ Battalion,Cherokee Mounted Volunteers (1st Battalion, Cherokee Mounted Rifles)
-Cherokee Battalion, Thomas’ North Carolina Legion (2nd Battalion, Thomas’ Legion; Indian Battalion)

The first unit mentioned above was that of the Cherokee Mounted Volunteers---this unit was commanded by Stand Watie. There is a lot that is known about Watie himself, including the fact that he owned slaves.  The 1860 Slave Schedule reflected his ownership of slaves.

1860 Slave Schedule Reflecting Slaves of Stand Watie

I am fully aware of the rich history of the former slaves from the T.erritory who went into Kansas and joined the Union Army. Some joined the 1st and 2nd Kansas Colored, which later became the 79th and 83rd US Colored Infantry.  I have identified a few more than also joined the Indian Home Guards.  

I have often wondered if any of these regiments ever came into contact with the Indian Confederates and if so, how did they engage?  Especially when the regiments were commanded by slave holders such as Stand Watie---how were enemy soldiers treated?  Did they experience the same rage as was experienced by the soldiers at Ft. Pillow?  Did they come close enough to have had that kind of contact?

I found an answer when I was not looking for it.  While examining records of the 11th US Colored Infantry, a regiment organized in Ft. Smith Arkansas, I saw the service record of a soldiers that had died in a battle involving Stand Watie's regiment. The record was that of Stephen Arbuckle. 

Part of the military service file of Stephen Arbuckle, of the 11th US Colored Infantry

I continued reading and noticed that Pvt. Arbuckle was at the Battle of Gunter's Prarie in the Cherokee Nation.  At some point in the battle he tried to retreat from danger when he was captured and killed.  The manner of his death however, was a bit painful to read, and it answered a question that I had had---how were black soldiers treated by Indian Confederates when captured.

Document describing death of Pvt. Arbuckle

The soldier was not shot, but died by knife wound and mutilation. Was this standard? I can understand that in those circumstances where arms are down and soldiers did on many occasion engage in hand to hand combat.  Thus knives and any other weapons are used in those moments of intense crisis.  But beyond the fighting that brought death to an enemy soldier---was disembowelment a part of the standard combat?  

Or was this the kind of death such as that of Pvt. Arbuckle, the result of rage?  

Ft. Pillow taught us the degree of rage in which those who thought themselves superior as human beings, to black soldiers, went further than required to meet enemy soldiers. The very presence of former slaves as armed men brought forth a rage so strong that heinous acts occurred on the battlefield.

Did the Cherokee soldiers under Gen. Watie also have the same kind of rage that was repeated at Ft. Pillow, Poison Springs, Saltville and other battlefields?

There is no easy answer, except that Pvt. Arbuckle paid the ultimate price for his freedom, and that of others.
His record, like that of so many demand our attention, and reflect our need to look at the lives of the most ordinary of men, to learn to the greater lessons of human kind. For me, the lesson is that there are times, in which one must fight for causes that matter. 

No cause is greater than that of Freedom. Rest in peace Private Arbuckle.

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