On this day in 1806, Confederate General Stand Watie is born near Rome, Georgia. Watie, a Cherokee Indian, survived the tribe’s Trail of Tears in the 1830s and became the only Native American to achieve the rank of general during the Civil War.
Watie came from an influential family and played a major role during the Cherokee difficulties in Georgia. The tribe was under increasingly intense pressure by their Anglo neighbors to move to a reservation in the West. Watie was part of a faction that began to believe that voluntary removal might be the only way to preserve their autonomy. He was a signer of the Treaty of New Echota in 1835, which ceded the Cherokee’s Georgia lands for a reservation in Indian Territory. After the disastrous Trail of Tears trek to the West, during which one in four Cherokee died, all who signed the treaty were assassinated except for Watie.
Even though the Cherokee suffered at the hands of Southerners, Watie and others always saw the federal government as the real culprit. When the South began to secede from the Union in 1860, Watie and others supported the new Confederacy. Watie was named colonel and raised a regiment of 300 mixed-blood Cherokee. Watie’s first action came against Unionist Creek Indians near the Kansas border in 1861. At the Battle of Pea Ridge in Arkansas in 1862, Watie’s regiment captured a Union battery in the midst of a Confederate defeat.
From the summer of 1862 until the end of the war, Watie served back in his home territory. In 1864, he captured a Union steamboat on the Arkansas River and a large supply train at Cabin Creek in Indian Territory. Mostly, however, Watie fought against his own people. The Cherokee became bitterly divided between the followers of John Ross, who pledged loyalty to the Union, and Watie, who stood by his Confederate allies. For the rest of the war, the Cherokee waged a bitter internecine guerilla war. After a brief foray into the tobacco business after the war, Watie died in 1871 at his home along Honey Creek in Indian Territory.