Most Northerners thought of the home front as a place removed from the direct destruction of battle. It was a place to which news of the battlefield was sent back, a place of laboring for the war effort, a place for the wounded to convalesce or the dead to be mourned. But for Native peoples from the Atlantic to the Pacific and from the Mexican border to the northern Plains, the war was something different. Dozens of Indian communities experienced firsthand the cataclysm of the American Civil War. Violence and displacement came to unforeseen regions and drew Native lives into a war not of their making. The American Indian home front was not spared the horrors of war, but those accounts have not found their way into the national narrative of the conflict between the Union and the Confederacy.
The coming of the Civil War put new pressures on Indian Country. Both the Union and the Confederacy laid claim to territory outside the established states. Indian nations closest to the border regions were in immediate danger of being drawn into the conflict, but even those tribes further from combat found themselves in the sights of both armies when the gold fields of Colorado and California became strategic war objectives. Throughout the Civil War, violence raged between whites and indigenous peoples all over Indian Country, and especially in the Dakota, Colorado, and New Mexico territories. The press regularly carried reports and images of these violent events on the frontier, bringing them into Northern readers’ homes.