5 Pictures and Sources to Celebrate Ely S. Parker

The Major & Knapp Eng. Mfg. & Lith. Co. 71 Broadway - Library of Congress / The Room in the McLean House, at Appomattox Court House, in which Gen. Lee surrendered to Gen. Grant. Pictured, from left, are: John Gibbon, George Armstrong Custer, Cyrus B. Comstock, Orville E. Babcock, Charles Marshall, Walter H. Taylor, Robert E. Lee, Philip Sheridan, Ulysses S. Grant, John Aaron Rawlins, Charles Griffin, unidentified, George Meade, Ely S. Parker, James W. Forsyth, Wesley Merritt, Theodore Shelton Bowers, Edward Ord. The man not identified in the picture’s legend is thought to be General Joshua Chamberlain, a hero of Gettysburg who presided over the formal surrender of arms by Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia on April 12, 1865.

5 Pictures and Sources to Celebrate Ely S. Parker

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.

Wikipedia/National Archives / Ely S. Parker, a Seneca attorney, engineer, and tribal diplomat, wrote the final draft of the Confederate surrender terms. 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.

Photographer unknown, 1850s. Appomattox Court House National Historic Park / Ely Parker wears his grandfather Red Jacket’s medal. The silver medal was given to Red Jacket by President George Washington in 1792.

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.

From Publications of the Buffalo Historical Society, Volume 23 / General Grant, Ely S. Parker and other staff officers are seen here at Cold Harbor, Virginia in 1864.

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.

From Publications of the Buffalo Historical Society, Volume 23 / This image, titled “Grant’s Headquarters, Army of the Potomac, 1864,” shows Colonel Parker seated to the right of the door.

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