"The 150th Anniversary of the Civil War is nearly here and a recent event at Petersburg National Battlefield underscored a bit of history that often escapes much notice—the role of American Indians in the conflict.
Estimates of the number of American Indians who fought for either the Union or the Confederacy vary widely; several sources cite numbers ranging from about 6,000 to over 20,000 men. One example occurred at Petersburg, Virginia, and that story has recently received some renewed attention.
Earlier this month, descendents of Company K of the First Michigan Sharpshooters returned to the park to meet with Superintendent Lewis Rogers and his staff and pay homage to their ancestors. Company K consisted entirely of American Indians from Michigan who enlisted in the Union Army.
According to information from the park, "The 1st Michigan Sharpshooters fought valiantly in every major battle in the Petersburg campaign. The American Indians were a memorable presence at the Battle of the Crater, where they were noticed for their composure under adversity. A Union officer described watching a group of them pull their jackets over their faces and sing their death chant when trapped in the crater under Confederate fire. When Petersburg fell in April, 1865, after a nine and half month siege, the First Michigan raised the first United States flag above the city."
It's not hard to see how specific details about individual units get lost in the history of the Civil War, and even just at Petersburg. A park publication notes that 800 regiments of nearly 160,000 soldiers served on both sides at Petersburg. That's a lot of history waiting to be told."
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American Indians in the Civil War? Petersburg National Battlefield is Part of the Story
(National Parks Traveler 12/17)