Edited by Bradley B. Clampitt
University of Nebraska Press (2015)
Review by Robert K. Sutton
On the back cover, this volume of essays is described as “a story best told through shades of gray rather than black and white or heroes and villains.” The authors provide a balanced and comprehensive look at the period shortly before, during, and after the Civil War in Indian Territory. The contributors discuss the question, faced by so many Native people, as to whether they were better off staying with the Union or joining the Confederacy. Several Indian nations such as the Cherokees were split. But after the war it ultimately mattered little which side they chose, because with the widespread destruction and the government’s policies that followed they all suffered.
Several chapters focus on military activities during the war, others concentrate on the horrible conditions that civilians suffered— particularly women and children—and those who chose not to side with the majority in their nation. Such was the case with several smaller nations living near the Wichita agency described in the chapter by F. Todd Smith. Some readers may not be aware that a number of American Indians—particularly in the Five Nations—owned African American slaves. Such slave owners, not surprisingly, found more in common with the Confederacy. In the chapter by Linda W. Reese, we learn that during and after the war these slaves and free Black people often faced greater difficulties than Indigenous people.
In his fine introduction, editor Bradley B. Clampitt writes that this volume “incorporates modern scholarship and interpretations into a readable narrative designed for students and scholars alike.” For the most part, the book achieves its goal. The writing is clear, interesting to follow, and the authors present materials that are probably new to many readers. Collectively, they make a convincing case that the Indigenous people living in Indian Territory suffered at least as much, if not more than, those living elsewhere during and after the war. For a general audience, however, there are several names and events that should have been more detailed. For example, at the beginning of the first chapter, the author references Clausewitz and briefly describes his dictum that war “blended political with military objectives.” It would have been useful to describe who Clausewitz was and what he wrote. Also, several chapters mention or describe the Battle of Honey Springs, a Union victory in Indian Territory. Most readers would be surprised to know that Whites on both sides were in the minority, and that Cherokees and Creeks fought against members of their own nations. Overall, this volume provides fresh and interesting material that achieves its goal of appealing to scholars, students, and a general audience.
Robert K. Sutton, Ph.D., is the Chief Historian of the National Park Service and editor of American Indians and the Civil War.