Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Honoring Choctaw Freedmen Civil War Freedom Fighters

People enslaved in the Choctaw Nation found themselves close to incredible activity that would change the trajectory of their lives. The time was 1863 and the conflicts of the Civil War was close by. Many lived in proximity to the Arkansas state line, and nearby Fort Smith provided an opportunity to seize their own freedom and to enlist in the Union Army. Several regiments recruited soldiers from both Cherokee and Choctaw Nations when they were encamped there.  For the enslaved men, with their slave holders and overseers from the two tribe having joined the confederate army, there was no one to prevent them from seizing their freedom and enlisting. They walked off the plantations and farms were they were held in bondage, and walked into freedom, and committed themselves to fight for the freedom of those left behind.

When Union forces came into Fort Smith one of the regiments that was organized in that city was the 11th US Colored Infantry. Some from the Skullyville district of the Choctaw Nation heard the call for able bodied men, and they enlisted. Others living in close proximity to Cherokee and Creek areas enlisted in the 79th and 83rd, which had been formed from the Kansas Colored regiments. And later when those units came back through Fort Smith more opportunity came for Choctaw held slaves to enlist.

As the war continued and they entered the conflict, some would not survive the war and live to see freedom. But others would survive, and lived several decades afterward, but died before statehood and the land allotment era, in their native Choctaw Nation. But these men served and are honored here. And it should be noted that for many their service is the only footprint on paper that is left that bears their name.

This is written to honor those men of courage whose names are seldom mentioned, but whose names belong on the Wall of honor of freedom fighters of Indian Territory. They are among the forgotten sons of Oklahoma, whose names I call, as Freedman History Month continues.

Partial List of Choctaw Freedmen in the Union Army

11th US Colored Infantry 
Theodrick Birgit
Thomas Blackwater

79th US Colored Infantry
Samuel Burris
Jefferson Rogers

83rd US Colored Infantry
Mobile Boyd
George Boyd
Ephraim Clark
Simon Clark
Joseph Dunforth
Phillip Fulsom
Austin Geary
Robert Hawkins
Hommedy James
Richard La Fleur
Jackson Monroe
Aaron Newberry
Cannon Ormsby
Thomas Phillips
Phillip Rushington
Duncan Walker
Dickson Williams

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