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Tue Jun 23, 2015, 10:56 AM

June 23, 1865: Last Confederate General in the field, Brig. Gen. Stan Watie, a Cherokee, surrenders…

On this date in 1865, Brig. Gen. Stan Watie (CSA, defunct), signed a cease-fire agreement with Union forces. He was the last Confederate General, and his troops -- the First Indian Brigade of the Army of the Trans-Mississippi -- the final force in the field for the now-defunct CSA to lay down their arms. The American Civil War was over.

There's a certain irony to the denouement, that a brigade comprised of native Americans should be the last active force fighting for the Confederate cause, but then, the War was filled with little ironies and big contradictions. And native Americans played a role in it throughout. Watie was the highest ranking native American for the South, while Ely Parker, a Seneca, held the same high rank in the Union army. Parker, however, as an attorney and civil engineer, had the distinction to serve on Gen. U.S. Grant's staff, and was picked by Grant to write the terms of surrender presented to Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. That document is in Parker's handwriting.

Few Cherokee held slaves before the War. In this, they were similar to their white Confederate allies. They opposed the Union largely out of fear the Federal Government intended to carve a State out of the land they'd been forced onto by that same Government. Those fears proved valid after the War, when Oklahoma was established.

Watie's forces were both efficient and ruthless during the War. It is said they fought in more battles West of the Mississippi than any other Confederate unit. They also committed some of the war's most vicious atrocities, including the slaughter of Union troops and black civilian teamsters during a raid on a supply convoy in September, 1864.

I mention this both to mark the end of the War's sesquicentennial and to give a glimpse, for those unaware of it, at the War's complexity and the myriad individuals who fought it for so many different causes.

Let us hope, when the War's bicentennial is observed, that at least some of the passions that fed the Civil War, and continue to plague us today, will have finally, at long last, passed away.

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