Friday, December 27, 2019

Booknotes: Caught in the Maelstrom

New Arrival:
Caught in the Maelstrom: The Indian Nations in the Civil War, 1861-1865 by Clint Crowe (Savas Beatie, 2019).

By most estimates, the Five "Civilized" Nations (the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Seminole tribes) had by 1860 recovered from their traumatic removal and distant relocation as well as could be expected under the circumstances, and the situation of many Indian Territory residents at the time could be described as prosperous. Though wary neutrality was the preferred stance of most leaders, being situated squarely between the warring Union and Confederate factions meant that sitting out the American Civil War was not an option. The scale of human suffering and material destruction that ensued within the borders of Indian Territory and beyond remains underappreciated by most general Civil War histories.

Based on his dissertation and "grounded upon a plethora of archival resources, newspapers, diaries, letter collections, and other accounts," historian Clint Crowe's Caught in the Maelstrom: The Indian Nations in the Civil War, 1861-1865 "reveals the complexity and the importance of this war within a war, and explains how it affected the surrounding states in the Trans-Mississippi West and the course of the broader war engulfing the country." "Throughout, Union and Confederate authorities played on divisions within the tribes to further their own strategic goals by enlisting men, signing treaties, encouraging bloodshed, and even using the hard hand of war to turn a profit."

The main focus of Crowe's study appears to be on military events in Indian Territory, Missouri, and Arkansas that had strong Five Nations representation on either side, but cultural, social, and political aspects of the Civil War experience (including prewar tribal divisions over removal, secret society membership, alliance debates and negotiations, the war refugee crisis, and Reconstruction) are also discussed. 

Though the situation has improved of late, the literature isn't exactly swimming in modern books covering this kind of Civil War subject matter [if you're looking for worthwhile titles of most recent vintage, I would recommend When the Wolf Came: The Civil War and the Indian Territory (2013) by Mary Jane Warde and the essay anthology The Civil War and Reconstruction in Indian Territory (2015) edited by Bradley Clampitt], and I'm looking forward to reading this new one.

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