Sunday, August 31, 2014

"...frauds of a most extraordinary character...."

In recent years, a number of “memory” studies have been published. Although much has been written about white veterans as well as African-American veterans, very little has been written about American Indian veterans. Both sides fielded regiments that consisted almost solely of American Indians. The Union 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Indian Home Guards consisted mostly of Creek, Cherokee, and Seminole Indians. The 1st Indian also had a small number of African-American soldiers, some of who also served as interpreters in the regiment. So what was it like to be a veteran of one of these regiments? For some American Indians and African-American veterans of the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd Indian Home Guards, it meant being victimized.

The Committee on Indian Affairs presented a voluminous report to the U. S. House of Representatives in the spring of 1872 that documented that “frauds of a most extraordinary character have been so perpetuated, as that eventually Congress may be called upon to make good losses sustained by the Indian soldiers through the wrongful acts of the said [John D.] Wright” (page 1). Mr. Wright was supposed to pay former soldiers of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Indian Home Guards bounties, back pay, and pensions. Since 28.8% of the men of these regiments died during the war, there were a sizable number of widows that were also eligible for payments. In June 1870, Wright had received $420,254.42 for this purpose but $283,517.38 was unaccounted for by the spring of 1872. If you want to learn more, read through the report, Alleged Frauds Against Certain Indian Soldiers, that is full of governmental correspondence and depositions by former soldiers and widows. Albert C. Ellithorpe served as one of the high ranking white officers in the 1st Indian Home Guard. In a September 1862 letter he commented that the men of the Home Guards units had "sacrificed all, rather than fight against our Flag..." It is sad, indeed, that some of these soldiers had difficulties in getting their rightful benefits.

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