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Saturday, November 13, 2010

Between Two Fires: American Indians in the Civil War by Laurence M. Hauptman

Well-researched and thorough

As the title clearly tells us, Between Two Fires: American Indians in the Civil War is (primarily) about the contributions of the American Indian to the American Civil War. It starts the reader with some of the early atrocities and misunderstandings that have characterized Indian and White interactions throughout American history. Some are the same things you will read about in any decent high school history text, and some are new for those that are not Indian history "buffs", such as myself. For example, I was not aware of the cruel and deliberate destruction of the Indian populations in California during the Gold Rush of 1849 until I read about it here.

The book discusses Indian participation on both sides of the war and their various motivations for joining in the fight. These motivations range from genuine patriotism to wanting to suck up to the government (be it Union or Confederate) for favors to wanting a steady, if small income to just wanting to get involved in the biggest thing that was going to happen to this generation of Americans.

General Grant's staff. Ely Parker is on the far left.
Among the more interesting vignettes are the story of how the Eastern Band of the Cherokees (if you have been to the Smoky Mountain Nat'l Park you've heard of them) earned their land through service to the CSA, the biography of Colonel Ely Parker, the Indian who drafted Lee's surrender for his friend U.S. Grant and the Battle of the Crater. This Battle in the Petersburg siege had 3 different groups of Indians fighting (one on the side of the CSA, two on the USA) along with Blacks and Whites. It was probably the most integrated battle the U.S. fought until the Korean War, when Truman desegregated the armed forces.

This is one of the most heavily referenced books I've ever read. There are 53 pages of end notes and 42 pages of bibliography for a 192 page book! If you are ever looking for a great source of information for a paper or research project on the Civil War, I'd recommend starting with this list.

Final Grade: 4 stars out of 5 (good writing style, occasionally too in-depth and bordering on trivia).

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Between Two Fires: American Indians in the Civil War by Laurence M. Hauptman.

Reviewed on February 11, 2005

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