Stand Waite, last major Confederate field commander to surrender to the Union


Last Updated: 3 years

Stand Watie became the last major Confederate field commander to surrender to the Union, on June 23, 1865, which took place at Doaksville, in the Choctaw Nation, Indian Territory.

Watie, a Cherokee, was the only Native American on either side in the Civil War who attained the rank of brigadier general.

Stand Watie’s surrender came 75 days after Robert E. Lee’s to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, Virginia, 66 days after Joe Johnston’s to William Tecumseh Sherman, at Bentonville, North Carolina, and 21 days after Trans-Mississippi Department head Edmund Kirby Smith’s to E. R. S. Canby at Galveston, Texas.

Himself a slave-owner of African-American plantation slaves, Watie was a diehard Lost Cause southerner.

Born Dec. 12, 1806 at Oothcaloga (now Calhoun) in the Cherokee Nation in northwestern Georgia, he was named Degataga, meaning “Stand Firm.” Watie was part Cherokee and part European. His parents were full-blooded Cherokee David UWatie (meaning “Ancient One”) and Susanna Reese.

He taught English at a nearby Moravian Missionary School, where he was baptized. Watie was an educated Cherokee citizen of the Five Civilized Nations: Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole.

A collaborator of articles in his brother Elias Boudinot’s bilingual English and Cherokee newspaper, the Cherokee Phoenix, Stand Watie forlornly stood for Native American rights and Cherokee national sovereignty within the Deep South cotton state of Georgia (and smaller portions of Tennessee, North Carolina, and Alabama.)

An undated photo of Stand Watie, the only Native American general in the Civil War and the last Confederate leader to surrender to the Union.

An undated photo of Stand Watie, the only Native American general in the Civil War and the last Confederate leader to surrender to the Union.

Passage of the Indian Removal Act by the U.S. Congress in 1830 heralded the forced relocation of all Native Americans southeast of the Mississippi River to mid-western Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma-state) within the “Great American Desert.”

Already seizing prize Cherokee Nation land, the slave state of Georgia coveted its short-term gold deposits, and longer-term, rich, fresh black soil, so as to continue the westward-wave of white-owned cotton plantations. State rights thus reigned.

Taking his home, state agents kidnapped Cherokee Chief John Ross. A schism now ruptured the Cherokees into two factions — the majority faction headed by idealistic principal chief John Ross (who had also owned black slaves) — and the rebel minority faction political rivals, Major Ridge, John Ridge, Elias Boudinot, and Stand Watie.


On Dec.29, 1835, a minority “Treaty Party” of Cherokee, including Stand Watie, unilaterally signed the (removal) Treaty of New Echota (the Cherokee capital).

Pragmatic Stand Watie realized the only way the Cherokee Nation could survive and avoid disintegration into oblivion was to go with the course of events it could not control.

President Andrew Jackson had prior demurred upon the Cherokee National Council’s plea for federal intervention against Georgia by instead encouraging its removal to Indian Territory in spite of U.S. Supreme Court findings to the contrary.

Along the 1,000-mile, bitter Trail of Tears, the eastern Cherokee Nation lost 4,000 in late 1838, including Quatie Ross, the wife of Chief John Ross.

Vengeful anti-treaty Cherokees murdered Stand’s older brother, Elias in 1839, along with both Ridges, in accordance with Cherokee tribal law, that it was a capital offense to give away the homeland. Lone surviving Stand Watie, in 1842, in turn killed one of the murderers, by which time, mortal violence extended to the Indian Territory. In more retaliation, his other brother, Thomas Watie was killed in 1845.

Fearing being overthrown when the American Civil War erupted in 1861, Chief Ross reluctantly had the Cherokee Nation join the Confederacy.

The blood-feuding Cherokees were split along Union and Confederate lines—while still fighting their own parallel inner civil war.

The two-thirds Ross faction, mostly full-blooded Unionists who democratically elected him, favored a united Cherokee Nation, and the mixed-blooded Cherokee one-third Watie faction, wanted it divided into two permanent Southern and Northern Cherokee Nations within the Indian Territory.

Absconding with the Cherokee Nation’s government archives, pro-Unionist John Ross fled to the Northern-controlled area in 1862. Pro-Confederate Stand Watie, remained in the Indian Territory, usurping the role of principal chief in August.

Stand Watie ably took command of the 1st Mounted Cherokee Rifles, who perhaps numbered up to about 1,800 horsemen.
Serving alongside the white Confederate soldiers, Watie’s Cherokee regiment fought in the battles of Pea Ridge/Elkhorn Tavern (1862), First Cabin Creek (1863), Flat Rock (1864), Second Cabin Creek (1864), and in the capture of the federal river supply steamboat J. R. Williams (1864).

Varying infamous stories of the Sept. 16 Flat Rock battle claimed either Watie’s Cherokees or accompanying fierce Texas troopers (or perhaps both), had massacred black Union soldiers, who were working as hay-cutters, as well as black women and children, also present.

Confederate Cherokee had an escalating desertion rate during the Civil War. If they captured enemy supply rations, they tended to leave the army to take them home to their families.

Upon facing-off for a battle, large groups of the Southern Cherokees openly deserted to the Union Creeks, with whom they felt no animosity. During the war, the Confederate Cherokees sometimes became Union Cherokees.

Native American Civil War soldier self-discipline was sporadic in battle. Artillery fire terrified the Confederate Cherokee soldiers. To them, the “Yankee wagon-guns” (cannons) were bad spirits spewing forth flame and thunder, which abruptly in turn brought death and disruption.

Elated upon their capture of one such “demonic” wagon-gun, it was set afire by igniting branches they had piled on and around it. Dancing and whooping in a circle about the burning artillery piece, the fire’s heat caused an explosion of powder inside the barrel, taking lives, sustaining low morale.

Half or more of the Cherokees of the Mounted Rifles were armed with only bows, arrows, and hatchets, their few firearms often being obsolescent muskets, rifles, or shotguns. Considered “valiant,” in combat by the white Confederate commanders, they came to be employed scouting, screening, or raiding the enemy, which they performed well.

On May 10, 1864, Watie received his promotion from colonel to brigadier general by Gen. Samuel Bell Maxey. (The white Texas troopers resented his advancement in rank.) Between set-piece battles, General Watie’s effort focused on guerilla fighting against the Union Cherokee for control of the Indian Territory itself.

Although the Southern “Cherokee Braves” battle standard was furled in June 1865, bravery was still much needed.

Watie and his men might likely face the wrath of John Ross, reinstated as principal chief of the Cherokee Nation. Intense division loomed over both Ross and Watie factions as to the fate of their former black slaves, now freed-men, -women, and -children.

The Northern Cherokee wanted to adopt the mixed black-Cherokee ex-slave families into the overall tribe. However Watie’s Southern Cherokee wanted them to be segregated outside of the Indian Territory.

Journeying to Washington in ill health, Chief Ross, 75, signed a treaty on July 19, 1866, which gave the Cherokee Freedmen U.S. citizenship, federal annuities, and land in the new Canadian (River) Addition. Ross died in Washington on Aug. 1.

Exiled in the Choctaw Nation, Stand Watie returned to his land on Honey Creek in Cherokee Territory. Sadly, all three of his sons had already perished, from non-war causes.

Although wealthy from his eastern plantation years, he could not bear his solitary loneliness (likely mental depression), dying at 64, on Sept. 9, 1871.

New compromise principal chief, full-blooded Cherokee Lewis Downing brought permanent peace to the post-Civil War reunited Cherokee Nation.