Indian warriors: the untold story of the Civil War.

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Indian warriors: the untold story of the Civil War. DVD (50 min.). Dir. Geoffrey Madeja. Prod. Bernard Dudek. The History Channel, 2006. Item #AAE-76954


This compelling documentary first aired on The History Channel on May 25, 2007. It combines useful background information on the role of Native Americans in the Civil War with segments on three warriors:

(1) Ely Parker, a Seneca from Albany, New York, was educated as an engineer and an attorney, experienced in the New York militia, and was placed on Ulysses S. Grant's military staff as his military secretary. Parker was at Grant's side at every moment during the Civil War, even in battle. Parker drew up the surrender papers for Robert E. Lee. The documentary gives a surprising and interesting account of Lee's reaction when he met Parker, a "red man," at the surrender ceremony.

(2) Stand Watie, a Cherokee leader who signed a treaty with the U.S. government in 1835 and agreed to move his people west to the Indian Territory. Other Cherokees, led by John Ross, refused; but were later forced to move, at gunpoint, on the Trail of Tears. After the Civil War, a bitter conflict ensued between Waity's family and followers and those of Ross. Watie sided with the Confederacy during the Civil War. He led a fierce,highly effective Cherokee mounted rifle unit that won several key battles for the Confederacy in the Western theatre of the war. He was called the "Red Fox" and was the last Confederate general to sign surrender papers (three months after Lee surrendered).

(3) Henry Berry Lowery: This is the last segment of the documentary, because the Lowery Band action begins in the spring of 1865—with the execution of Allen and William Lowery—as the Civil War was drawing to a close. This segment features commentary from Thom Hatch (author of The Blue, the Gray, and the Red: Indian campaigns of the Civil War, 2003) and Lawrence M. Hauptman (author of Between Two Fires: American Indians in the Civil War, 1995). The segment provides background discussion of the independent status of the Lumbee prior to the Civil War; the Nat Turner Rebellion in 1831 and the ensuing distrust, and disfranchisement, of free people of color; the conscription of slaves and Lumbees to help build Fort Fisher, the "Gibraltar of the South Atlantic"; and Lumbee men "lying out" in the swamps, along with slaves and escaped Union soldiers, to evade conscription officers. After discussing the execution of Henry Berry Lowery's family members and the formation of his band, the documentary emphasizes that the band's deeds were motivated more by survival of the tribe—many people were starving to death—than by retribution. The band stole from wealthy planters but did not harm them; and stolen food and goods were shared with both Whites and Indians. The segment also mentions that when Sherman's army had to cross the Lumbee River and the swamps of Robeson County, local Indians volunteered as their guides.

The documentary effectively draws the three segments together at the end of the Civil War. A telling comment, following the documentary's emphasis on how Native Americans were used by both the Union and the Confederacy, is that after the war, Native Americans were seen not as allies but as obstacles to progress.

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