Blood Moon: An American Epic of War and Splendor in the Cherokee Nation

Blood Moon: An American Epic of War and Splendor in the Cherokee Nation

by John Sedgwick


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781501128714
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 04/10/2018
Pages: 512
Sales rank: 149,050
Product dimensions: 6.40(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.70(d)

About the Author

John Sedgwick is the bestselling author of thirteen books, including Blood Moon; War of Two, his acclaimed account of the duel between Hamilton and Burr; two novels; and the family memoir In My Blood. A longtime contributor to GQ, Newsweek, Vanity Fair, and The Atlantic, he wrote the first national expose of the exploits of Whitey Bulger in GQ in 1992.

Read an Excerpt

Blood Moon

  • This is the last big surprise of the Civil War: It was fought not just by the whites of the North and South, and by the blacks who mostly came in after Emancipation. It was also fought by Indians,I as many as 30,000 of them, from the Seneca and Shawnee of the Northeast to the Creeks and Seminoles in the Southwest, nineteen tribes altogether. They fought at Second Bull Run, Antietam, Wilderness, Spotsylvania, and Petersburg in the East. But most of their battles were fought west of the Mississippi, beyond the range of the eastern newspapers that covered the war.

    While the Indians were skilled as scouts, trackers, horsemen, and sharpshooters, their greatest value may have been their fighting skills. Shaped by a warrior culture, most were used to violence, and they took to battle. Their long black hair spilling out from under their caps, their shoddy uniforms ill-fitting, their faces painted in harsh war colors, they surged into battle with a terrifying cry, equipped not just with army-issue rifles but also with hunting knives, tomahawks, and, often, bows and arrows. Even when mounted on horses, they exhibited a deadly aim, and their arrows sank deep, leaving their victims as much astonished as agonized. They’d close fast, whip out a tomahawk to dispatch their man, then pounce on the corpse with a bowie knife to shear off a scalp to lift to the sky in triumph. The New York Tribune fulminated against an “Aboriginal Corps of Tomahawkers and Scalpers” among the rebels, but President Jefferson Davis was not embarrassed enough to order his Indians to stop. The natives killed as Indians, and they often died as Indians, too. When one dwindling band of sharpshooters, fighting for the Union at Petersburg, Virginia, in the yearlong siege at the close of the war, found themselves out of bullets, surrounded by a tightening ring of Confederates, they lifted the blouses of their uniforms over their heads and chanted their tribal death song until the end came.

    If that is the last big surprise, another one lies hidden within it—about the mysterious behavior of the Cherokee in the conflict. Of all the tribes that fought in the Civil War, the Cherokee were one of the very few to come in on both sides, and, of those few, by far the most notable. The internal nature of their own conflict doubled the slaughter, and also drew the fight into their territory, bringing more sweeping devastation. Nearly a dozen battles were fought on Cherokee land, more than on any other Indian territory, starting with Caving Brooks in 1861 and Cowskin Prairie the following year; continuing through Pea Ridge just outside it, the greatest pitched battle in the West; and running through other battlegrounds that have been ignored by history. By the time of the surrender in 1865, the war had devastated the Cherokee Nation.

    At first, virtually all the Cherokee sided with the Confederacy, identifying with the Southern plantation owners, and proud of the black slaves they themselves had bought to pick their cotton. And, complicit with the state of Georgia, the Union had been responsible for the land theft that had cost them their ancestral territory and packed them west in the forced migration known as the Trail of Tears three decades before.

    But why did the Cherokee not stay united against a common enemy? How could they have divided against themselves? To answer this, we need go back three decades to the terrible winter of 1838 and the issue that would never go away. Removal—the cruel shorthand for the Trail of Tears—was to the Cherokee Nation what slavery was to America, an issue so profound as to be bottomless and unending. To the outside world, it pitted the Cherokee against Andrew Jackson and his nefarious Indian Removal Act. To the Cherokee themselves, the matter was more complicated and far more divisive. The Cherokee Nation did not stand as one against the threat of removal; it stood as two, one side agreeing that, given the relentless white encroachment, the Cherokee had to go, and the other insisting that they stay forever, come what may. Stay or go—the question could not have been more essential or more agonizing. On this, there could be no compromise. Follow the past, or chase the future? Hold to tradition, or start afresh? Philosophical as these questions might seem, they were as real as children, as houses that had been built by hand, as crops that had been teased from the earth, as the deer that gamboled in the forest, as the sun that rose over the mountains.

    The two sides were given body and voice by two proud Cherokee who loomed over the great debate like two great peaks on either side of a valley split by a raging river: John Ross and a man known as The Ridge. One the longtime principal chief, the other his primary councillor, and then his fiercest opponent. Their philosophies and personalities were so distinct as to name the two political parties that rose up over the issue. The Ross Party and the Ridge Party. One to stay, the other to go.

    Everything about them expressed their differences. The Ridge—short for He Who Walks on Mountaintops—was a big, imposing, copper-skinned Cherokee, a fearsome warrior turned plantation owner, whose voice quieted any room, and whose physique awed anyone who crossed his path. Smaller, almost twenty years younger, Ross was descended from Scottish traders and looked like one: a pale, unimposing half-pint who wore eastern clothes, from laced shoes to a top hat. If The Ridge radiated the power of a Cherokee who could drop a buck at a hundred paces, Ross could have strolled into an Edinburgh dinner party without receiving undue attention. Tellingly, The Ridge spoke almost no English, and Ross almost no Cherokee.

    Raised at either end of the string of Cherokee settlements from Tennessee down into Alabama, they were each a combination of Cherokee and Scottish, but in radically different proportions, and so demonstrated the startling variety of a seemingly homogeneous population: Cherokee skin ranged from a glowing tan to parchment white. In adulthood, the two men emerged as the two great leaders of the nation, statesmen both, united in their devotion to their Cherokee heritage, although no two men could have seen it more differently. Together, they created the first national Cherokee government, with a constitution, a legislature, and a supreme court, which certified the Cherokee as the most “civilized” tribe in America.

    In those halcyon years of the 1820s, the two worked together in backslapping harmony. It wasn’t hard to picture them, on a warm evening, sitting together in the shade of the elms under the porch of The Ridge’s fine house, sipping whiskey, although both professed not to drink it, and laughing into the night.

    But President Andrew Jackson’s hard push for removal touched something in them—a tension over whether to resist or to accommodate—that set each against the other, permanently. What started as an honest disagreement between friends developed into an active distrust that hardened into antagonism and then became a blinding hatred that consumed everything. A blood feud, in short, that went from personal vendetta to clan war to a civil war that swept through the entire Cherokee Nation before it got caught up in the even greater cataclysm of the American War Between the States.

    It was Ross against Ridge, but of course it was much more than that. It was a great battle over the truth about who the Cherokee people really were. The times had given the Cherokee such a shake that they’d lost track of themselves. Were they a people of the mountains, believers in the Great Spirit, attuned to the flight of a hawk across the sky? Or were they a people who’d largely abandoned their ancestral past, ready to start over with modern ways? Did their passions still run to the wild—or to the bright promise of industrial civilization? Did they want what the Cherokee had always wanted, or did they seek something new that would make them new? Identity should be obvious, the face in the mirror. But in their own uncertainty, the Cherokee turned to their leaders to tell them what they thought they were. Two leaders in particular. And, of course, John Ross and The Ridge saw wildly different things—tradition-bound for one, enterprising for the other—and when they described these, such was the power of their telling that the differences grew, and the two visions became so distinct there was no reconciling them: it was one or the other. And then it got even worse. Each of these two great men grew monstrous in the other’s eyes, and so did his ideas, and, following suit, the Cherokee Nation broke into two wrathful countries, each bent on annihilating the other before the other could annihilate it.

    As for the two men behind all this—things went no better for them. And that was the tragedy, right there. Their differences might have added to their understanding and joint strength, but led instead to division and acrimony—and ultimately to a disaster that was all the more excruciating because they had inflicted it on themselves. Their tragedy became the tragedy of their own nation, and also the tragedy of the greater nation they so uneasily inhabited.

    The tragedy did not begin with removal—that was simply when the sorrows hit hardest. It began earlier, at The Ridge’s birth just before the American Revolution, although its sources could easily be tracked back even earlier. And it took its shape as the Cherokee Nation did, its aspirations rising even as its borders were being squeezed by the settlers pushing in on every side.

    The resulting pressures on the Cherokee were tremendous, but hardly unique. Their story was the story of all Americans, really, as everyone in this land of emigrants tried to fit into a foreign nation. The difference, of course, was that the Cherokee were not emigrants; they had been here all along. By rights, everyone else should have been trying to get along with them, not the reverse. So, on top of all the other brutal hardships the Cherokee faced in being forcibly removed from their land, there was this one, which was possibly the worst of all: a terrible, grinding, and utterly legitimate sense of injustice that they should have to endure such suffering.

    I. I use the now somewhat antiquated word “Indians” because it was universally accepted by the country’s indigenous people and everyone else during the period of this book. I mean no disrespect.

  • Table of Contents

    List of Maps xiii

    Introduction 1

    Part 1 Paradise Lost

    1 A Birth on the Hiwassee 9

    2 Contact 17

    3 The Bloody Land 31

    4 The First Kill 40

    5 Foreign Relations 47

    6 A Birth on the Coosa 58

    7 A Death for a Death 64

    8 Prosperity 78

    9 Into the Wild 95

    Part 2 The Descent into Hell

    1 The Perils of Peace 115

    2 Deliverance 128

    3 A Nation of Verbs 142

    4 "Barks on Barks Obliquely Laid" 154

    5 Gold Fever 171

    6 The Imprisonment of Reverend Samuel Worcester 182

    7 The Terrible Truth 197

    8 "A Consummate Act of Treachery" 209

    9 Specters in the Shadows 223

    10 A Final Reckoning 238

    11 Our Strength Is Our Redeemer 246

    Part 3 Vengeance Be Mine

    1 Honey Creek 263

    2 The Business of Removal 271

    3 Exodus 281

    4 "The Cherokee Are a Complaining People" 289

    5 "They Can Leave Us" 305

    6 Indian Justice 312

    7 $1,094,765 320

    8 The Defense 328

    9 "The Groves of the Brandywine" 341

    Part 4 Fateful Lightning

    1 Slaves to Fortune 355

    2 "As Brothers Live, Brothers Die" 363

    3 Civil War 372

    4 The End 385

    5 "I Shall See Them No More on Earth" 393

    6 What Remained 405

    Epilogue: On Politics 412

    Acknowledgments 417

    Notes 421

    Selected Bibliography 447

    Credites 457

    Index 465

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    Blood Moon: An American Epic of War and Splendor in the Cherokee Nation 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
    Debbie_Reese_of_AICL More than 1 year ago
    In the Acknowledgments, Sedgwick writes that he asked two professors of Native studies for input. On April 16, 2018, Jace Weaver, one of the professors Sedgwick acknowledged, wrote this on his Facebook page: "Warning: Simon & Schuster contacted Colin Calloway and me to review John Sedgwick's new book, Blood Moon: An Epic of War and Splendor in the Cherokee Nation. The book was already typeset in galleys. It was horrible. There were numerous factual errors and faulty interpretations by someone who knows nothing about Indians. It was also bought into romantic and trafficked in the worst stereotypes. Both Colin and I wrote detailed readers' reports to this effect. I just saw the finished book today, which came out last week. The author only corrected most (but not all) the factual errors. He did nothing about tone or stereotypes. The worst of it is, we're thanked as "two of the most authoritative contemporary scholars of Native Americans." Arg! Avoid this book!" Prior to that, I had looked at the book and found stereotypes right away. I think the publisher should recall the book and remove the Acknowledgement because it misrepresents the two professors AND gives a false assurance to readers that the content is accurate.
    CLynnT More than 1 year ago
    This book is so engrossing and thorough, I feel as though I’ve completed a college course on "everything you thought you knew about Indian history but didn’t". This is such a well-written, historically accurate and enjoyable read. I had no idea these two Cherokee leaders, The Ridge and John Ross, were so instrumental in the survival and productivity of the Cherokee nation, then as a result of their bitter hatred for one another, the ultimate downfall and despair of their beloved people. It’s a sad read, because of course, given its history; we already know how it ended. Terribly, sadly, embarrassingly; an ending that America still hasn’t acknowledged or come to grips with. Through reading this, I met so many other colorful and interesting characters that could easily stand alone in their own book. Doublehead was the most impressive. How is it I’ve never heard of this man? What a colorful bloodthirsty warrior, fighting for whatever he, and especially he, wanted. John Sedgwick brings to life others we’ve heard of, but never as lively and humanely as shown here. For example, Tecumseh, Sequoyah, Harriet Ruggles Gold. And he sheds a less glamorous light on Andrew Jackson, well deserved after how he connived and treated the Indians. This is one of those books that I have to buy in hardback, there’s just too much to absorb and keep at my fingertips that can’t be done in eBook format. I love good historically accurate books, and this one surely outshines so many others. I appreciate the opportunity to read and review this engrossing novel, and I highly recommend it to anyone with any desire to learn about the Cherokee nation and their fight for survival during the formative years of America. (I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review. Thank you to Simon & Schuster and NetGalley for making it available.)
    brf1948 More than 1 year ago
    This is an absolutely must read for persons interested in the culture and lifestyles of native Americans before, during and after the influx of Europeans to North America. John Sedgwick takes you there, and lets you see the personalities, the agendas of the major roll-players prior to and during the French and Indian wars of 1754-1763 when the tribe backed the French, the War of Independence 1776-1783 and the War of 1812 when the Cherokee Nation aligned themselves with Britain. We watch as their traditional lands go from covering most of seven states in 1700 to a little chunk that catches the very corners of Alabama, Tennessee, North Carolina and a little bigger piece of pie in Georgia in 1835. And then we have the Trail of Tears affecting the Cherokee through 1838 and the American Civil War. Sedgwick takes us through these conflicts and choices and the infighting between different factors of the tribe that over time decimated the Cherokee and set them adrift. These are all facts that have been out there but never before have I understood the underlying causes for the decisions made. Thank you John Sedgwick. This is a book I will add to my research shelf. I received a free electronic copy of this historical novel based on historical fact from Jessica Breen at S&S, author John Sedgwick, and Simon and Schuster in exchange for an honest review. Thank you all for sharing your hard work with me.