As this country celebrates the Civil War Sesquicentennial, there is one Native American who lived during that time who deserves mentioning.
He was an attorney, an engineer, and a tribal diplomat, he even wrote the final draft of the Confederate surrender terms at the end of the Civil War. He later served as Commissioner of Indian Affairs, the first Native American to hold the post.
That man is Ely Samuel Parker, a Seneca Indian, born Ha-sa-no-an-da (Leading Name) in 1828 in Genesee County, New York. Parker held many titles during his lifetime, some of which have been mentioned. During his youth, he was a representative and advocate for the Tonawonda Senecas. When the Senecas lost their land in 1842, it was Parker who was sent to Washington, D.C. to fight the fraudulent treaties. It took him five years, but according to “General Ely Parker: We Are All Americans,” he’s credited with saving three-fifths of the land. He became chief of the Wolf Clan in 1851.
According to a biography from The Newberry, he studied at Elder Stone’s Baptist School, Yates Academy and Cayuga Academy, and the National Park Service says he was well educated in law. But, being that he was American Indian he was not eligible to sit before the bar. So, he became an engineer for the U.S. Treasury Department. It was the Treasury that sent him to Galena, Illinois to supervise the construction of a customhouse. While there he met Ulysses S. Grant, who at the time was an ex-Army captain working as a clerk in his brother’s store. The two became friends.
Parker’s military career started before the Civil War began. He joined the Army in 1863 as captain of engineers and then served as Grant’s personal military secretary the following year. He had mastered English, and wrote much of Grant’s correspondence.
The Civil War between the Union, led by Grant, and the Confederate States of America broke out in 1861 as President Abraham Lincoln took office, and after the loss of more than 620,000 lives, it ended when Robert E. Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865.
Lieutenant Colonel Parker was at that surrender meeting, and when Lee saw that Parker was American Indian, Lee said to him, “I am glad to see one real American here.” Parker later shook Lee’s hand and said, “We are all Americans.”
As Lieutenant Colonel, Parker made the formal ink copy of General Grant’s letter that detailed the terms of surrender. “Having finished it, I brought it to General Grant, who signed it, sealed it and then handed it to General Lee,” Parker said, according to the National Park Service.
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