Chustenahlah – Oklahoma in the Civil War


Most of the history books concentrate on Civil War battles in the eastern half of the country – but the west participated. In fact, Native Americans were involved on both sides of the Civil War.

On December 26, 1861, a battle took place in Oklahoma, one of a series of running battles that became known as the Trail of Blood on Ice.


Opothleyahola led a troop of Seminole and Creek Native Americans for the Federals against Douglas Cooper and McIntosh’s Cavalry brigade, along with Cherokee Stand Watie for the Confederates.

McIntosh set out from Arkansas on a seek and destroy mission – the idea was to decimate Native American opposition to the CSA and consolidate supply lines and territory. Cooper and McIntosh were to combine forces at Fort Smith, Arkansas, and meet Watie at Chustenahlah. On reaching Fort Smith, he discovered that Cooper would be delayed. Impatient, he set out on Christmas Day, 1861, and reached the rendezvous with Waite the next day.

They counseled about whether to wait for Cooper but decided to proceed with the attack. The weather was miserable, with freezing temperatures, howling winds, and a blizzard threatening from the west. At noon on Dec 26, they caught the Cherokee completely by surprise. Though they mounted a valiant, defense, and had superior numbers, the weather and the sudden onset of the attack proved too much. McIntosh sent cavalry around either side to flank the Cherokee, and the 3rd Texas, fighting as mounted infantry, on foot straight up the crest of a steep hill, where the Cherokee were sheltering from the storm.

Opothleyahola called retreat, and by 4 pm the Federals were fleeing towards Kansas. The Confederates scored a tactical victory and worried the retreating Cherokee north until the storm made further fighting impossible. Opothleyahola died in a refugee camp in Kansas. McIntosh was promoted to brigadier general. Watie had the distinction of being the last Confederate general in the field to surrender to the Federals in 1865.

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