Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Book News: Choctaw Confederates

Back in 2005 when I started this site, one of the gaps in Civil War publishing that I ruminated about was the lack of books covering the Civil War years in Indian Territory. Related to that was the fact that the general interest in writing and publishing unit histories never really got extended to the Indian regiments that fought on both sides. That's not to say there haven't been a few notable book-length works produced since then, though only quite recently. Published works from Mary Jane Warde [When the Wolf Came: The Civil War and the Indian Territory (2013)] and Clint Crowe [Caught in the Maelstrom: The Indian Nations in the Civil War, 1861-1865 (2019)] along with the Bradley Clampitt-edited anthology The Civil War and Reconstruction in Indian Territory (2015) all provide readers with good general background information. On the other hand, unit studies continue to be almost ignored, although LSU Press has taken some initiative in publishing M. Jane Johansson's Albert C. Ellithorpe, the First Indian Home Guards, and the Civil War on the Trans-Mississippi Frontier in 2016 and reprinting W. Craig Gaines's classic The Confederate Cherokees: John Drew's Regiment of Mounted Rifles the following year.

Getting more directly to the point of this post, the 2015 essay collection Civil War Wests: Testing the Limits of the United States included a chapter by Fay Yarbrough that examined the Choctaw freedpeople's long struggle to gain tribal citizenship. Yarbrough has since then greatly expanded her study of the Civil War-era Choctaw Nation, and later this year UNC Press will publish Choctaw Confederates: The American Civil War in Indian Country (NOV '21). Broader studies of the Civil War in Indian Territory are understandably dominated by the largest and most powerful tribal nation there, the Cherokee, so it's great to see the Choctaw get a much closer look.

From the description: "When the Choctaw Nation was forcibly resettled in Indian Territory in present-day Oklahoma in the 1830s, it was joined by enslaved Black people—the tribe had owned enslaved Blacks since the 1720s. By the eve of the Civil War, 14 percent of the Choctaw Nation consisted of enslaved Blacks. Avid supporters of the Confederate States of America, the Nation passed a measure requiring all whites living in its territory to swear allegiance to the Confederacy and deemed any criticism of it or its army treasonous and punishable by death. Choctaws also raised an infantry force and a cavalry to fight alongside Confederate forces."

Choctaw Confederates were organized into a number of companies, battalions, and regiments, the most prominent of those being Col. Douglas Cooper's First Choctaw and Chickasaw Mounted Rifles. In addition to exploring the many ingrained Choctaw connections with the institution of slavery, the book does appear to contain strong unit study elements. More from the description: "Mining service records for approximately 3,000 members of the First Choctaw and Chickasaw Mounted Rifles, Yarbrough examines the experiences of Choctaw soldiers and notes that although their enthusiasm waned as the war persisted, military service allowed them to embrace traditional masculine roles—including that of slaveholder—that were disappearing in a changing political and economic landscape. By drawing parallels between the Choctaw Nation and the Confederate states, Yarbrough looks beyond the traditional binary of the Union and Confederacy and reconsiders the historical relationship between Native populations and slavery." I am greatly looking forward to seeing this one come November.


  1. Drew,
    Thanks for bringing to my attention. Looks extremely interesting. I did some quick internet scanning and was surprised by the amount of Confederate Choctaw Companies, Regiments and Battalions that were raised. I also saw a clear distinction between "Choctaw Nation" and the far smaller "eastern" Choctaw's who remained in Mississippi. The Mississippi Choctaw's were involved in some interesting (and neglected) operations during the Battle of Ponchatoula Mar 24-26, 1863 and the the Expedition to Pass Manchac and Poncatouala in the Fall of 1862 in the swamps of Tangipahoa Parish, LA by Butler fearing the Confederates would retake New Orleans. Federal intelligence in New Orleans expected a "40,000 man army lead by Stonewall Jackson". Would be fascinating if the book discussed these operations. Curt Thomasco

    1. Hi Curt,
      I agree. I come across brief mention of the CW activities of remnant populations of removed tribes in the cis-Mississippi with some frequency. Someone probably could put together an interesting study of them.


  2. This is great news indeed! A number of years ago when I was in graduate school, one of my professors told me that “not much” happened in the Indian Territory during the war. I That struck me even then as inaccurate, and since then I’ve come to understand more clearly how the war had a tremendous impact on each of the Five Tribes. I’m looking forward to reading the new study of Choctaw Confederates.


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