Who Fought in the Civil War?

The Civil War was a conflict between the United States of America and the Confederate States of America as well as their Native-American allies.

Other countries across the world chose to remain neutral in the war, although many of them granted the Confederacy belligerent status, according to the Office of the Historian on the United States Department of State website:

“Following the U.S. announcement of its intention to establish an official blockade of Confederate ports in 1861, foreign governments began to recognize the Confederacy as a belligerent in the Civil War. Great Britain granted belligerent status on May 13, 1861, Spain on June 17, and Brazil on August 1. Other foreign governments issued statements of neutrality.”

On May 13, 1861, Queen Victoria also issued a “proclamation of neutrality” for Great Britain on the American Civil War, although the British press favored the Confederacy and many private British citizens and businesses covertly funded the Confederate cause up until the Emancipation Proclamation was issued in January of 1863.

On June 10, 1861, Napoleon III of France also issued a Proclamation of Neutrality and then on July 29, 1863, Queen Victoria, reconfirmed the British policy of neutrality.

By August of 1861, the Netherlands, Spain, Belgium, Portugal, Brazil and Hawaii had also issued Proclamations of Neutrality (Doyle 53.)

In addition, the Five Civilized tribes of Native-Americans originally tried to remain neutral during the war but were unable to do so after Federal Troops abandoned the Indian Territory in 1861 and ceased to make annuity payments to these tribes, prompting the tribes to side with the Confederates.

The following is a list of the various nations who fought in the Civil War:

United States of America:

The Federal government of the United States of America, which was referred to as the Union during the Civil War, never officially declared war on the Confederate States of America because it didn’t recognize the Confederacy as a sovereign nation.

Flag of the United States of America circa 1861-1863

Flag of the United States of America circa 1861-1863

The United States of America officially got involved in the Civil War on April 12, 1861, when Confederate forces opened fire on and captured Fort Sumter in the Confederate state of South Carolina after the Federal government refused to hand the fort over to the Confederacy.

On April 15, 1861, President Lincoln put out a call for 75,000 militia men to serve for three months to suppress this “insurrection.”

Confederates States of America:

The Confederate States of America, which existed from 1861 to 1865, was a collection of 11 states that seceded from the United States in 1860 and 1861.

The Stars and Bars, the First National Flag of the Confederate States of America circa November 28, 1861 – May 1, 1863

The Stars and Bars, the First National Flag of the Confederate States of America circa November 28, 1861 – May 1, 1863

The Confederate States of America officially got involved in the Civil War after it opened fire on and captured the Union fort of Fort Sumter in the Confederate state of South Carolina, which is considered the first battle of the Civil War.

Although the United States government never officially declared war on the Confederate States of America, the Confederate President Jefferson Davis felt it did on April 15, 1861, when Lincoln put out a call for troops to fight the Confederates.

In response to Lincoln’s call for troops, Davis decided to defend the Confederacy with military force, according to a speech he made to the Confederate Congress on April 29, 1861:

“The declaration of war made against this Confederacy by Abraham Lincoln, the President of the United States, in his proclamation issued on the 15th day of the present month, rendered it necessary, in my judgment, that you should convene at the earliest practicable moment to devise the measures necessary for the defense of the country.”

Cherokee Nation:

After the Federal government abandoned the Indian Territory in May of 1861, the Confederacy quickly stepped in to try and recruit the Five Civilized Tribes who lived there to become Confederate allies, according to Kevin Z. Sweeney in his book Prelude to the Dust Bowl: Drought in Nineteenth-Century Southern Plains:

“The Confederacy worked hard to negotiate treaties with the Five Nations, and with good reason. The Indian Territory was strategically located in that it flanked the state of Arkansas and buffered Texas from any Union invasion from the north. Indian territory would also be the jumping-off point for a southern invasion of Kansas. Trails through Indian territory shortened the time it took to get Texas cattle, horses, and others goods to Tennessee.”

The Cherokees were the first of the Five Civilized Tribes, which consisted of the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Seminole tribes, that the Confederates attempted to form an alliance with after the Federal Troops abandoned the Indian Territory in May of 1861.

Albert Pike, Confederate commissioner to the Indian nations, visited the tribe in the spring of 1861 and met personally with the Cherokee Chief John Ross.

The only problem was the Chief Ross was reluctant to side with the Confederates and wanted to wait and see how the events of the war unfolded.

The Cherokee were the most divided of the Five Civilized Tribes because of internal political divisions between Principal Chief John Ross and his long-standing rival, Stand Watie. While some Cherokee were in favor of allying with the Union, others were in favor of allying with the Confederacy and about 20 percent were in favor of Ross’s policy of neutrality.

Although the Cherokee chose to remain neutral for the meantime, Watie helped enlist some Cherokee troops to serve under Confederate General Ben McCulloch, even though Ross felt this was inconsistent with neutrality.

After Watie’s small Cherokee unit assisted in the Confederate victory at Wilson’s Creek, near Springfield, Mo, consensus among the Cherokee began to move towards allying with the Confederates. Ross also raised a regiment, which was named the First Cherokee Mounted Rifles, while Watie’s regiment was named the Second Cherokee Mounted Rifles.

After the other four of the Five Civilized Tribes later signed treaties with the Confederacy that summer, the Cherokee found they had little choice in the matter and signed a Treaty of Friendship and Alliance with the Confederates on October 7, 1861, according to Sweeney:

“The accords between the Confederacy and the Creeks, Seminoles, Choctaws, and Chickasaws had isolated the Cherokees, and the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Indian Territory added to the recent defeat of federal forces at Wilson’s Creek had left the Cherokee vulnerable if they remained neutral. The headman had little choice but to negotiate with the Confederacy. Pike and Ross finalized the treaty on October 7, 1861. These agreements between the Five Tribes and the Confederate States of America, though differing in some individual terms, bound all the five tribes to the Confederacy and required the tribes to furnish troops but guaranteed that no Indian companies would be required to serve outside Indian Territory. The Confederacy also agreed to take on the financial burden of of arming the Indian musters.”

In addition, Pike also promised the Confederacy would honor the tribe’s treaty payments which the United States government stopped paying after it abandoned the Indian Territory, even though Pike had explicit orders from the Confederate secretary of war not to make any such promises.

Some of the Cherokee later had a change of heart though, such as the First Cherokee Mounted Rifles which switched sides and allied themselves with the Union army later on in the war.

Ross also changed his mind about the Confederacy after Pike took the Cherokee soldiers out of the Indian Territory to fight, leaving the tribe vulnerable to Union attack, and after news reports surfaced following the Battle of Pea Ridge accusing the Cherokee troops of scalping, torturing and desecrating the bodies of Union soldiers.

On July 3, 1862, Chief Ross renounced the Confederate treaty and fled to Philadelphia.

In September of 1862, Ross sent a letter to Lincoln explaining the Cherokee’s mistake in siding with the Confederacy and stated that the “great mass of the Cherokee people rallied spontaneously around the authorities of the United States.”

On June 25, 1865, Watie actually become the last Confederate general to surrender in the last days of the war.

Creek Tribe:

In the summer of 1861, Albert Pike traveled to meet with the Creek tribe, which was a very divided tribe that consisted of two distinct factions known as the Lower Creek and the Upper Creek.

Upon arriving in Creek territory, Pike learned that Creek Chief Opothleyaholo was away meeting with other tribes in an attempt to form a confederation of Indian tribes that would agree to remain neutral in the conflict.

Pike instead met with the first chief of the Upper Creeks, Echo Harjo, and Principal Chief Moty Kinnaird, who were slaveholders themselves and were frustrated with the United States government for withholding treaty payments.

These issues worked in the Confederate’s favor because Pike was able to negotiate a treaty with the Creeks on July 10, 1861 at North Fork Village and the tribe promised to raise a Creek regiment, as long as the regiment would remain within the Indian Territory.

This treaty was met with immediate resistance from the Upper Creeks who wanted to remain loyal to the Union. As a result, in November of 1861, skirmishes broke between the Upper and Lower Creeks in the Indian Territory.

The Upper Creeks then fled the Indian Territory for the Union state of Kansas but were attacked numerous times by Confederate troops and Lower Creek troops in an attempt to stop them.
Hundreds of Upper Creeks were killed in the attacks but it is believed as many as 10,000 Creek refugess managed to reach Kansas. Union forces in Kansas were unprepared for the flood of Creek refugees though and many of the refugees died during the cold Kansas winter due to a lack of food and shelter.

In the spring, Union leaders decided to escort the Creek refugees back to the Indian Territory to avoid anymore deaths.

After the Upper Creeks returned to the Indian Territory, both sides continued to attack each other for the duration of the war.

The Lower Creeks participated in only a few non-Creek related battles, such as the Battle of Honey Springs.

Choctaw Tribe:

The Choctaw sided with the Confederacy early on. In February of 1861, the Choctaw sent delegates to the Montgomery Convention in hopes of signing a formal military alliance with the Confederates but were rebuffed because the war had not begun yet.

On May 25, 1861, the Choctaw legislative council issued a proclamation seeking alliance with the Confederates.

On June 14, 1861, many of the Choctaw leaders announced their desire to separate from the United States of America, although a small minority of the tribe disagreed with this sentiment.

In July of 1861, Albert Pike traveled to meet with the Choctaw tribe and the tribe signed a treaty with the Confederate States of America on July 12, 1861.

As part of the treaty, the Choctaws agreed to provide a regiment of ten companies of mounted men to fight in the Confederate army for one year, but the two sides agreed the regiment would only acts as home guards and defend their own territory.

Almost immediately the 1st Choctaw and Chickasaw Mounted Rifle Regiment as well as five other military regiments that included Choctaw were raised.

The treaty also guaranteed that the Choctaw territory could become a Confederate state and it pledged to establish a court in the Choctaw territory to try cases.

Chickasaw Tribe:

The Chickasaw tribe also sided with the Confederates early in the war. This was mainly due to economic reasons, since the tribal leaders owned a total of 1,000 black slaves, but also because the tribe resented the previous treatment they had received by the U.S. government, who forced them to relocate to the Indian Territory after the Indian Removal Act of 1830.

On May 25, 1861, the Chickasaws issued a proclamation seeking alliance with the Confederates and secession from the United States.

In July of 1861, Albert Pike traveled to meet with the Chickasaw tribe and the tribe signed a treaty with the Confederate States of America on July 12, 1861.

While some Chickasaws served alongside Confederate troops, most served in the Indian Territory as home guards.

As Union troops moved into the Indian Territory in 1863, several thousand pro-Confederate Seminole, Creek and Cherokee refugees fled to Chickasaw territory, putting a strain on the Chickasaw land and resources.

By the end of the war, the Chickasaws had lost 200 men in battle (about 4 percent of their population), the slaveholding Chickasaws lost their slaves and the U.S. government forced the

Chickasaw to pay reparations to the pro-Union Chickasaws who had fled the Indian Territory when the war began.

Seminole Tribe:

In July of 1861, Albert Pike traveled to the Seminole Agency to meet with Seminole leaders in the hopes of convincing them to become allies of the Confederacy.

Although the Seminoles had strong ties to the Creek tribe and they were tolerant of slavery, most Seminole supported neutrality.

To help make his case, Pike asked sympathizers of his cause to be present at the meeting, such as Creek Principal Chief Moty Kinnaird and Chilly McIntosh, the eldest son of executed Creek Chief William McIntosh, and Samuel Rutherford, a Seminole Indian agent and southern sympathizer, as well as Charles B. Johnson, a friendly Indian merchant from Fort Smith.

The meeting was a success and on August 1, 1861, the Seminole tribe signed a treaty with the Confederacy which obliged them to raise five cavalry companies that would remain in the Indian Territory and protect it from the Union.

The tribe was still divided on the issue though and some Seminole chiefs continued to pledge their loyalty to the Union.

Although most Seminole soldiers served in the Indian Territory, some Seminole soldiers fought outside of the Indian Territory, such as at the Battle of Pea Ridge and some even served in the Indian Cavalry brigade commanded by Cherokee leader Brigadier General Stand Watie.

As the Civil War progressed although, more and more Seminoles sided with the Union and some even enlisted in the Union army.

Other American Indian tribes that signed treaties with the Confederacy but did not actively fight in the war were:

August 12, 1861: Treaty with the Comanches
October 2, 1861: Treaty with the Great Osage Tribe of Indians
October 4, 1861: Treaty with the Seneca and the Shawnee
October 4, 1861: Treaty with the Quapaw

Delaware Nation:

The Delaware Nation, also known as the Lenape or Lenni Lenape, were a tribe of Mid-Atlantic coastal people who lived in what is now New Jersey, southeastern Pennsylvania and southeastern New York.

The Delaware had a long history of allegiance to the U.S. government. On October 1, 1861 they proclaimed their support for the Union and 170 out of 201 Delaware men volunteered in the Union Army.

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Krehbiel, Randy. “Indian Territory Suffered Greatly in Civil War.” Tulsa World, 25 April. 2011, www.tulsaworld.com/news/government/indian-territory-suffered-greatly-in-civil-war/article_fa74e336-d209-5140-98dc-3328448e1ed2.html
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Who Fought in the Civil War
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2 thoughts on “Who Fought in the Civil War?

  1. Ky Chin

    Thank you for your detail article re: the American Indians during the 1861 – U S Civil War time and how they viewed the Confederate and the Union side. Do you have any information about the Chinese who participated in this war also. I am reviewing the Chinn House in Manassas, Virginia where a hospital was operating for the Confederates soldiers. Do you know how the name Chinn came about? Ky Chin

    1. Rebecca Beatrice Brooks Post author

      No, actually I haven’t come across any information on Chinese soldiers fighting in the war but if I do I’ll let you know or add it to the article. Sorry, I’m not really familiar with the Chinn House in Virginia.


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