Ely S. Parker, a Native American, Drafted the Surrender Documents for the Civil War

Ely S. Parker, a Native American, Drafted the Surrender Documents for the Civil War

Trista - October 12, 2018

Ely S. Parker was a Seneca leader who had a hand in ending the American Civil War. In fact, Parker drafted the Confederate surrender documents with his own handwriting. Both Lee and Grant signed the official paperwork at Appomattox. Also known as Donehogawa, Parker, a member of the Iriquois tribe, played an influential role in the treaty between the north and the south.

Parker was born Hasanoanda in 1828 on the then-called Tonawanda Reservation at Indian Falls, New York. He was born into a Seneca family and showed great potential from his childhood. Hasanoanda was given the name Ely S. Parker when he was baptized. Parker’s father was a Baptist minister and believed that all his children needed the most exceptional teaching possible. Therefore, Parker received an education at a missionary school and learned to speak two languages, Seneca and English. After he completed his classes at the missionary school, Parker went off to college.

Excelling in college was only a small portion of the significant accomplishments Parker would make during his lifetime. He quickly became a “go to” man for the Seneca, which is one of the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy. However, all of Parker’s accomplishments would not be met without struggles and discrimination.

Above everything Parker accomplished, one of the most prominent facts was that he was indeed a Native American during the 19th century; this notion meant that according to some laws, Parker was not considered a real American civilian. However, the fact that Parker did not let this discrimination deter his determination throughout his life only makes him a bigger hero in American history.

Ely S. Parker, a Native American, Drafted the Surrender Documents for the Civil War
General Ulysses S. Grant and Staff: Ely Samuel Parker (left sitting), Adam Badeau, General Grant (at table), Orville Elias Babcock, Horace Porter in 1865. Wikipedia

Parker’s Education Expands

In a time where Native Americans were being placed in Reservations, Parker, his parents, and his siblings were living in a home where education was growing faster than the times. One of the most significant ways that this occurred in Parker’s home was his family opened the doors for non-Native American educators who were interested in expanding their education themselves. Some of these people Parker met included John Wesley Powell, Lewis Henry Morgan, and Henry Rowe Schoolcraft. While they discussed a variety of topics, one of the hot discussions was the study of human biological and physiological characteristics and their evolution. It was through this group that anthropology was formed as a discipline.

When Parker left the missionary school, he started working in an Ellicottville, New York law firm with the hopes of one day being a lawyer. Like many young lawyers at the time, Parker would study law while he was doing anything he could to gain hands-on experience in the legal firm. Unfortunately, Parker would hit a roadblock when he applied to take the bar examination. Parker was rejected from being able to test because he was Native American. At the time, and until the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924, Senecas were not considered United States citizens. Since Parker was not considered an American citizen, he was not allowed to take the bar examination anywhere in the United States.

Ely S. Parker, a Native American, Drafted the Surrender Documents for the Civil War
Ulysses S. Grant’s staff by Mathew Brady, Parker is the third person (second seated) from the far right. Wikimedia/ consanguinityandaffinit.

A Friendship Grows

Lewis Henry Morgan, who was also one of the men who studied at the Parker home, started to become fast friends with Parker during the 1840s. Morgan, who was a lawyer, was interested in the creating better laws and situations for the Native Americans.

On top of this, Morgan was in the process of establishing The Grand Order of the Iroquois. Parker felt this was a great opportunity and became Morgan’s primary source of information for his research and work. In return, Morgan helped Parker create connections in society, which is one way Parker was able to fulfill a majority of his accomplishments.

Ely S. Parker, a Native American, Drafted the Surrender Documents for the Civil War
Ely S. Parker wearing his grandfather’s Red Jacket’s medal. Thefirstscout.

One Door Closes, Another One Opens

With the realization that he could not become a lawyer, Parker decided to turn his sights onto new professional territory, engineering. Just like every other subject Parker had picked up throughout his life, he faced his new adventures head on with firm determination. At first, his focus was with the construction of canals, but in 1857, he was appointed with a new task. The Treasury Department had asked him to manage the development of a marine hospital and custom houses in Galena, Illinois.

It was when he was head of the construction in Galena in which he became friends with another popular historical figure of his time, Ulysses S. Grant. Parker was able to meet Grant because part of his job in Galena was to supervise governmental projects. Therefore, he began working closely with Grant on a couple of projects. Just like Morgan, Grant saw a lot of potential in Parker. In fact, Grant would never forget the determination Parker had, which would also come in handy in Parker’s future career.

The American Civil War

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Parker was quick to form an Iroquois volunteer regiment to help in the Union efforts. However, Parker was quickly turned down, and his regiment did not officially form. Parker then turned his efforts into trying to help the Union Army differently, by joining as an engineer. Again, Parker was turned down and told he could not participate because he was a Native American. But, like many times before, Parker did not let this rejection stop him from his goal in helping the Union efforts during the Civil War.

Ely S. Parker, a Native American, Drafted the Surrender Documents for the Civil War
Ely S. Parker, sitting second from right, with Ulysses S. Grant’s staff during the Civil War. American-Tribes.

Ely Parker then turned to his good friend, Ulysses S. Grant, who was involved in the Civil War. Grant, who remembered Parker’s determination and skill well, immediately worked on getting Parker a place in the Union Army. Because Grant’s forces were suffering from a shortage of engineers, Parker gained a spot under General John Eugene Smith. Parker’s first duty during the Civil War was with Smith’s 7th Division during the Siege of Vicksburg from May through July of 1863.

After Grant became commander of the Military Division of the Mississippi, Parker was given a different task. Parker became Grant’s adjutant during the Chattanooga Campaign, and then Parker followed Grant as his adjutant to the United States’ Army headquarters. Parker continued to follow Grant under this title until the Siege of Petersburg when Parker was given the rank of lieutenant colonel as Grant’s secretary. Parker then began writing out most of Grant’s correspondence and orders through the rest of the Civil War.

Ely S. Parker, a Native American, Drafted the Surrender Documents for the Civil War
Ely S. Parker’s homestead on Tonawanda Reservation. Accessgenealogy.

Parker and a Notable Civil War Document

While Parker wrote much of Grant’s correspondence throughout the last couple years of the Civil War, Parker’s most famous contribution to the Civil War would be the ending of the war. Parker was at the meeting in April 1865, where Confederate general Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse. In fact, Parker was the one who wrote the draft of the surrender documents. Of this meeting, Parker stated that General Lee “stared at me for a moment” before extending his hand towards Parker and stating, “I am glad to see one real American here.” Parker noted that everyone was a real American.

Post-Civil War

After the Civil War, Parker and Grant remained close. On July 1, 1866, Parker was appointed as an officer in the 2nd United States Cavalry. And once again, with the rank of colonel, Parker became Grant’s military secretary. Parker then began to renegotiate treaties with Native American tribes who had sided with the Confederacy during the Civil War. In 1867, Parker married a white lady, and together they had one child. On April 26, 1869, Parker resigned from the United States Army with the rank of brigadier general of Regulars.

Ely S. Parker, a Native American, Drafted the Surrender Documents for the Civil War
Ely S. Parker with his daughter. Pinterest.

Grant’s Presidency

One of the first people Grant appointed once he took office in March of 1869 was Parker. Grant had Parker on his team during and after the Civil War and wanted to continue that relationship as Grant knew Parker would do wonders during his presidency. Therefore, Parker was appointed as Commissioner of Indian Affairs, which he served from 1869 until 1871. On top of being one of the first people named by Grant, Parker went down in history as being the first Native American in this position.

One of Parker’s biggest responsibilities during this time was Grant’s Peace Policy. Parker took the lead on the policy and worked on the condition towards the Native American in the West. Under Parker’s leadership, the conditions were improved. One of the most significant improvements was that Parker was able to get help for the Native Americans during their transition to living on reservations. Another notable development was reducing the amount of military action against the Native Americans in the west.

End of Life

Once Parker was done in politics, he turned his sights onto the stock market. Like most everything Parker did in his life, he succeeded in the stocks until the Panic of 1873 when Parker lost everything. In order to support himself and his family, Parker used his connections to gain a position in the Board of Commissioners of the New York Police Department’s Committee on Supplies and Repairs section. However, Parker’s life did not turn after the Panic of 1873, and he died in poverty in Fairfield, Connecticut on August 31, 1895. But while the end of Parker’s life might not have been his greatest moments, he will forever remain a real American in the history books.


Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Ely Parker: Iroquois Chief and Union Officer.” Floyd B. Largent, Jr., Historynet. June 2006.

“Ely S. Parker: Straddling two cultures, he saved two nations.” Tom Augherton, True West Magazine. April 2015.

“Ely S. Parker 1828-1895.” Historical Society of New York Courts.

“Biography of Ely S. Parker.” Daryl Watson, Galena and U.S. Grant Museum.

“Ely S Parker, The Civil War’s Native American General.” Gill Troy. Thedailybeast.