Between Two Fires: American Indians in the Civil War

May 15th, 1996 | By | Category: 8-1: Governance, Media Reviews

By Laurence M. Hauptman, The Free Press, 1995. 304 Pages.

Review by Greg Gagnon

Between Two Fires is not a seminal study, yet it is a valuable addition to tribal college libraries. This work is only the lat­est addition to a long series of publications dealing with Ameri­can Indians during the American Civil War. Professor Hauptman’s descriptions–of Delaware soldiers and scouts, of the Western Cherokee troops in both union and southern armies, of the Pamunkey river pilots, of Lumbee partisans, of Catawba infantrymen, of Eastern Cherokee Confederate rangers, of Ottawa sharpshooters, of Pequots among the colored units and of the Parkers of the Seneca– comprise a valuable, interesting reminder of American Indian realities.

Throughout history, American Indians have trooped to war just as they have been farmers, hunters, parents and neighbors. Sometimes Indians acted as distinct members of their own clans, bands, or tribes. Other times they acted in activities involving multi-cultural groups. Certainly the American Civil War exemplifies the latter. No matter what the setting, Indians remained Indians, and their motivations were varied. Hauptman reinforces this truism in his work.

American Indians are fortunate to have scholars like Hauptman who contribute to the huge body of American Indian history. Many of my students enter classes believing that no one has written histories of American Indians or Native American nations. I often bring issues of American History Abstracts, periodicals, and monographs to class so my students can see the sheer volume of work available. Many of the same students contend that if the history is written by non-Indians, it is ipso facto wrong. Unfortunately, there are examples of egregious “scholarship,” which makes it much harder to deal with this folk wisdom. As students develop academic maturity, they begin to realize that we Indians have been well-served by some writers and commentators and badly served by others.

Between Two Fires is an example of good service. Hauptman does press his material a trifle too hard to establish an overall pattern for Indian participants. He contends that the Catawba and others joined the military to try, in vain, to protect their sovereignty and their culture. This may seem logical, but the sources cited do not necessarily support this thesis. He is probably closer to the mark when he suggests pay as the reason. Hauptman establishes that Indians fought well, that they were officers, too, and that some did not “do well” after the war. Our students need to know this lest they continue to think that there are no good sources for Indian history and that Indians existed in isolation on reservations.

Between Two Fires almost qualifies as a synthesis of studies dating back to the nineteenth century, but there is original material, too. Hauptman’s bibliography provides substantiation for the quantity of work by scholars on the American Indian experience. Students could examine Arrel Gibson’s article, “Native Americans and the Civil War,” William Graves’ “Indian Soldiers for the Gray Army,” and numerous full length disserta­tions and monographs to complement Hauptman’s work. I particu­larly recommend studies by Robert Utley and Alvin Josephy, Jr., of the western Indian activities during the American Civil War. As Hauptman, these men are excellent historians.

The strength of Hauptman’s Between Two Fires lies in the de­tails, unfamiliar to many, about Indians in their metaphorical gray and blue uniforms. It is good to know the names of individu­als like Isaac Newton Parker (Seneca), members of the Thomas Legion (Cherokees), Henry Berry Lowry (Lumbee), and William Bradby (Pamunkey). Hauptman demonstrates that his interpretations are based on multiple sources and part of a long-standing pattern in historiography.

Greg Gagnon (Ojibwa) has returned to the history faculty at Oglala Lakota College after a two year stint as vice president for instructional affairs.

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