Summary Objective 16

Students will examine how Indigenous people participated in and were affected by the Civil War. Maps to Key Concepts 8, 9 & 10


What else should my students know?

16.A Indigenous people fought on both sides of the Civil War, depending on which side they believed would better protect the interests of their own nation.

16.B During the Civil War, the United States failed to meet many treaty obligations with Native nations. In Minnesota, the Dakota Nation stopped receiving payments and food that had been promised for ceded land. They were starving and sought to reclaim their land. This led to the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862. When the Dakota nation surrendered, it suffered mass internment. Lincoln authorized the hanging of 38 Dakota soldiers, the largest mass execution in the history of the United States.

16.C In the Southwest, the Union army drove Texans out of New Mexico and killed 150 Cheyenne and Arapaho civilians in the Sand Creek Massacre. Next, Union forces led by “Kit” Carson attacked Navajo people when they would not surrender and cede their land. Slavers from Mexico and some Native nations took thousands of Navajo captives during the war and its aftermath. The United States forced thousands of Navajo civilians to walk hundreds of miles, interning and ultimately displacing them.

16.D After the Civil War, the United States redeployed many federal troops west to continue national expansion by taking Indigenous land. Indigenous people resisted. The ensuing campaigns, which some call the “Indian Wars,” lasted through 1877.


How can I teach this?

  • Scott Manning Stevens’ chapter “American Indians and the Civil War” in Why You Can’t Teach United States History without American Indians provides a useful overview for the history of the Civil War with regard to Indigenous people.
  • The National Park Service and the Essential Civil War Curriculum websites have various resources related to Indigenous people in the Civil War.
  • The magazine of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian has covered the role of Tuscarora soldiers in the Civil War.
  • A Michigan Public Radio segment describes a regiment of Indigenous people from several nations that fought for the Union.
  • The University of Minnesota’s Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies has a timeline and many resources for teaching about the U.S.-Dakota War.
  • The National Museum of the American Indian’s exhibit Patriot Nations: Native Americans in Our Nation’s Armed Forces discussed the role of Indigenous people in many conflicts, including the Civil War.
  • An editorial by scholars Boyd Cothran and Ari Kelman from The New York Times charts the relationship between the Civil War and the “Indian Wars.”



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