The Little Known History of American Indians during the Civil War

The Confederate victory at the First Battle of Bull Run led many Cherokee to change allegiance. Library of Congress

1. The Trail of Blood on Ice

Following the secession of the Confederate states most of the tribes in the Indian Territory leaned toward supporting the Union. That changed with the fall of Fort Sumter and the subsequent Confederate victory at the First Battle of Manassas. Leaders of the Cherokee, then the largest of the Indian nations in Indian Territory, lobbied for the territory aligning itself with the Confederacy. Ancient tribal rivalries renewed. Several smaller tribes opposed the Cherokee leaders, and demanded the allegiance of the tribes to Washington. In November, 1861, a Confederate force entered the territory and clashed with some of the smaller tribes.

Opothleyahola, a Chief of the Upper Creek, decided to lead the pro-Union tribes to the safety of Union lines at Fort Row, Kansas. The Confederate troops under Colonel Douglas Cooper attacked them on their journey. The Trail of Blood on Ice was a series of battles between Confederate troops and their Cherokee allies against Opothleyahola and his followers, mostly Creek and Seminole. More than two thousand of his followers died as they fought their way to Kansas, where the survivors were mostly housed in refugee camps. Many, including Opothleyahola, died in them during the ensuing months. Their leader had survived the Battle of Horseshoe Bend during the Creek war, the relocation known as the Trail of Tears, and the Trail of Blood on Ice before succumbing to the harsh Kansas winter in 1863.