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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Battlefield Dispatches No. 325: 'Friend or foe, rescued or captured?'

Friday, July 13, 2012

At the beginning of the Civil War, "Principal" Cherokee Chief John Ross was in a very difficult situation.

He wanted his people of the Cherokee Nation to remain neutral and not participate in the "white man's war." In fact, he declared that the Cherokees would remain neutral, however, that did not last very long. Eventually, he was convinced by Confederate representatives to sign a treaty of alliance with the Confederacy. However, in the summer of 1862, he received communications from Union officers asking him to declare his allegiance to the United States.

What was he going to do? Would he and the Cherokees become friends or continue to be foes of the Union. At that time, the tribes of the Indian Territory were very divided politically and Ross, his family and many Cherokees loyal to the Union were in danger. If he remained loyal to the Confederacy, he could be captured by Union troops. If he changed his mind, he could be rescued by the same Union troops.

What would he do? This question was ultimately answered by the arrival of Union troops at his farm (Park Hill) in July of 1862 as part of the Union's "Indian Expedition" to occupy the northeastern part of the Indian Territory in present-day Oklahoma.

The following after-action report describes what happened to Chief John Ross and is located in Vol. 13, Series I of the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion on pages 160-161.

"Camp on Grand River, July 17, 1862,

Sir: I have the honor to submit the following report:

I left this camp with my command, consisting of one company of whites and 50 Cherokee Indians, on the 14th instant for Tahlequah and Park Hill. Reached Tahlequah at about 5 p.m.; distance 22 miles. Surrounded the town very quickly for the purpose of detaining every man in the place, my object being to obtain information possible in regard to the situation of the country.

I found, however, but four or five men in the town; all had fled several days previous to my arrival. After spending a little time for resting, I moved the command 2.5 miles south of Tahlequah and in the vicinity of a fine spring and encamped for the night. I here learned through a Negro that there were some 200 or 300 Indians at Park Hill, supposedly, to be friendly, yet I could learn nothing positive in regard to that.

On the morning of the 15th, I moved my command to Park Hill (3 miles), the residence of John Ross, chief of the Cherokee Nation. Here I found about 200 Cherokee Indians waiting for an opportunity to join your command. The loyal people were very much excited, owing to the fact that several murders having been committed by Watie's men (Confederates) in the neighborhood within the past week.

I found at Ross' House Lt. Col. W. P. Ross, Maj. Thomas Pegg, 1st Lts. Anderson Benge and Joseph Chover, 2nd Lts. L. Hawkins, Archibald Scraper, Walter Chuster and George W. Ross and 3rd Lts. Allen Ross, Joseph Cornstalk and John Shell, all of whom had been in the Confederate service, members of Col. Drew's Regiment (2nd Mounted Cherokees) and had received orders from Col. Cooper to report for duty at once to his headquarters at Fort Davis. These orders had been received but a few hours previous to my arrival.

Col. Ross was hesitating what course to pursue and to decide the matter for him, I made them all prisoners of war and brought them to these headquarters.

John Ross had received a dispatch from Col. Cooper, in the name of the president of the Southern Confederacy, to issue a proclamation calling on the Cherokee Indians for every man over 18 and under 35 to take up arms to repel invasion in accordance with the treaty stipulation entered into last August between the Cherokee Nation and the Southern Confederacy, which treaty binds the Chief of the Cherokee Nation to furnish his ration of men whenever called upon by the president of the Southern Confederacy to do so.

In order to place the Chief in a position which it would be impossible for him to act or do anything in opposition to the government of the United States or in aid of the rebels, after thinking the matter over I concluded it was best under the circumstances to make him a prisoner of war and leave him at home on his parole until further action in this matter.

The Chief seems very much concerned about the situation of the people of his nation and is anxious that the United States government should send a sufficient force here to protect them from lawless bands that are daily threatening them, committing robberies and murders. He is quite apprehensive of his own personal safety and the safety of his family.

I could hear of no armed forces near Tahlequah and at Fort Smith on the 13th insant there were 400 men to garrison the post. Col. Rector had passed 15 miles east and south of Tahlequah on the 14th instant en route to Fort Gibson to join Cooper. I encamped for the night at Park Hill and started for camp on the 16th instant. About 200 friendly Cherokee Indians followed me back. Arrived at this camp at 4 p.m.; distance traveled from Park Hill to this camp 26 miles.

I remain, Colonel, with due consideration, your obedient servant,

H. S. Grenno,

Captain, 6th Ks. Vol. Cavalry, Commanding Detachment"

Now then, the Cherokee Nation remained divided for the balance of the Civil War and what happened to Chief John Ross?

He, his wife and family and the Cherokee tribe treasury were escorted to safety to Fort Scott and Fort Leavenworth, Kan. Eventually, he, his family and the Cherokee treasury traveled to his wife's home in Philadelphia, Pa., (she being white and of a prominent Philadelphia family) where he safely remained in exile from the violence in the Cherokee Nation and, of course, the war went on!

Arnold W. Schofield
Battlefield Dispatches