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Interpreting the Evidence

Analyzing a Photograph: Ely S. Parker and Ulysses S. Grant

  • Documents in this Activity:
  • Historical Eras:

    Civil War and Reconstruction (1850 - 1877)

  • Thinking Skill:

    Historical Analysis & Interpretation

  • Grade Level:

    Upper Elementary
    Middle School
    High School

  • Topics:

    Civil War
    Indigenous Peoples of North America

  • Primary Source Types:


  • Regions:

    New York State
    United States

  • Creator:

    NYS Archives Partnership Trust Education Team

  1. Load General Ulysses S. Grant and General Ely S. Parker (Tonawanda Seneca Sachem), c. 1860 in Main Image Viewer

Suggested Teaching Instructions

Document Description
General Ulysses S. Grant poses for a photograph with his generals, including Ely S. Parker a Tonawanda Seneca sachem, c. 1860.

What people do you see in this photograph?
Where was this photograph taken?
What are two inferences you can make based on this photograph?

Historical Context
This photograph was taken by Matthew Brady who became famous for his photographic record of the Civil War. Brady himself was born in Warren County, New York. This photograph, courtesy of the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society, shows Parker, a Tonawanda Seneca sachem (seated on the far right). Upon orders from Grant, Parker drew up the surrender papers that General Robert E. Lee signed at Appomattox. Parker later became the first Native American to be appointed as United States Commissioner of Indian Affairs.

The Tonawanda Seneca is part of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois Confederacy). Many Iroquois distinguished themselves in the Civil War as in other wars including the War of 1812, World War I & II, the War in Vietnam, Desert Storm, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Perhaps as many as 600 Iroquois from New York, Wisconsin, Indian Territory, and Canada served in the Union army and navy.

Essential Question
What role did Native Americans play in the American Civil War?

Check for Understanding
Based on the evidence in this photograph, how did Ely Parker contribute to the Union during the American Civil War?