It is a pet peeve of mine that most people think the Civil War ended at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865, when General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General U. S. Grant.
|Brigadier General Stand Waite|
But here’s another little-known fact related to the end of the war that seems to me should be as widely known as the events at Appomattox: The last Confederate general in the field to surrender was Brigadier General Stand Watie, who did not lay down his weapons until June 23, 1865.
Why is this significant? Because Stand Watie was a member of the Cherokee Nation. He commanded the First Indian Brigade of the Confederate Army of the Trans-Mississippi.
It’s a stretch to say that Indians were at the heart of the American Civil War, but it’s not at all a stretch to say that the West was. Eastern Americans from the North and the South fought to control the economic system the nation would impose on the West. Easterners had lived with slavery in their midst since the very beginnings of European settlement on the Atlantic coast; it was only when the slave system threatened to spread across the lands of the old Louisiana Purchase that the inhabitants of the two eastern regions came to blows.
|Indian Frontier to 1890 (from Bedford St. Martin's). Click to enlarge.|
When Stand Watie took for himself the status of being the last Confederate general to surrender, he claimed the historical significance of the West and of Indians in the American Civil War.
That, it seems to me, is worth noting in the same breath that we use to talk about what happened at Appomattox.