This Native American became Grant’s military secretary during the Civil War, the only Native American to earn the rank of General during the war, and the first Native Commissioner of Indian Affairs. Now WE know em


Hasanoanda was born in 1828 as the sixth of seven children to a prominent Native Seneca family at Indian Falls, New York (then part of the Tonawanda Reservation).

Ha-sa-no-an-da was later baptized as Ely Samuel Parker.

The Seneca were one of the Six Nations of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois Confederacy). His father had become a Baptist minister, which allowed Ely a classical education at missionary school.

Ely was bilingual, and went on to college.

He spent his life bridging his identities as a native Seneca and as a resident of the United States.

Ely Parker then began working for a legal firm reading law for three years in Ellicottville, New York and then applied to take his own bar examination.

Ely, however, was not permitted because, as a Seneca, he was not considered a United States citizen at that time.

Then, sometime in the 1840s, Ely Parker had a chance meeting in a book store with Lewis Henry Morgan, a young lawyer involved in creating The Grand Order of the Iroquois, a youthful fraternity of young white men from upstate New York who romanticized their image of the Native American and who wanted to model themselves on the Native Americans who had until recently been a dominant presence in their part of the world.

Through this chance meeting, Morgan and Ely became good friends.

Ely invited Morgan to the Tonawanda reservation, as Ely became Morgan’s main source of information about the Seneca and other Iroquois nations.

Soon Morgan dedicated a book on the Iroquois “League of the Iroquois “ (1851) to Ely Parker, noting their joint collaboration on the project.

The relationship between the two men proved important for them both.

Just as Ely helped Morgan to become an anthropological pioneer, Morgan helped Ely make connections in the white man society.

More immediately, with Morgan’s help, Ely gained admission to study engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York.

Upon graduation, Ely worked as a civil engineer, contributing to upgrades and maintenance of the Erie Canal, among other projects.

Then as a supervisor of government projects in Galena, Illinois, Ely befriended Ulysses S. Grant, forming a strong and collegial relationship.

Civil War

Near the start of the Civil War, Ely Parker tried to raise a regiment of Iroquois volunteers to fight for the Union, but was turned down by New York Governor Edwin D. Morgan.

Ely then sought to join the Union Army as an engineer, but was told by Secretary of War Simon Cameron that as an Indian, he was not allowed to serve.

Frustrated, Ely contacted his new friend Ulysses S. Grant, whose forces happened to suffer from a shortage of engineers.

Grant arranged for Ely Parker to be commissioned a captain in May of 1863.

Ely was ordered to report to Brig. Gen. John Eugene Smith.

Smith appointed Parker as chief engineer of his 7th Division during the siege of Vicksburg.

Then, when Ulysses S. Grant became commander of the Military Division of the Mississippi, Grant added Parker to his staff as his personal adjutant during the Chattanooga Campaign.

Ely was subsequently transferred along with Grant as the adjutant of the U.S. Army headquarters and served with Grant through the Overland Campaign and the Siege of Petersburg.

At Petersburg, Parker was appointed military secretary to General Grant, with the rank of lieutenant colonel.

Feft to right; Ely Samuel Parker (1828-1895), Adam Badeau (1831-1895), General Ulysses S. Grant, Orville Elias Babcock (1835-1884), Horace Porter (1837-1921)

Left to right; Ely Samuel Parker (1828-1895), Adam Badeau (1831-1895), General Ulysses S. Grant, Orville Elias Babcock (1835-1884), Horace Porter (1837-1921)



Ely Parker was present when Confederate general Robert E. Lee surrendered at the Appomattox Courthouse in April of 1865.

Ely helped draft the surrender documents, and the originals are in his handwriting. At the time of surrender, General Lee mistook Parker for a black man, but apologized saying, “I am glad to see one real American here.”

Parker was said to respond, “We are all Americans, sir.”

Ely Parker was brevetted brigadier general of volunteers on April 9, 1865.


Post-Civil War

After the Civil War, Ely was commissioned as an officer in the 2nd United States Cavalry on July 1, 1866.

He again became the military secretary to Grant as he finished out his time as general in chief.


Ely married Minnie Orton Sackett in 1867. They had one daughter, Maud Theresa (1878–1956).

Parker then became a member of the Southern Treaty Commission that renegotiated treaties with Indian Tribes that sided with the Confederacy. Parker resigned from the army with the brevet rank of brigadier general of Regulars on April 26, 1869.

Commissioner of Indian Affairs

Grant appointed Parker as Commissioner of Indian Affairs from 1869 to 1871.

Ely was the first Native American to hold the office.

Parker became the chief architect of President Grant’s Peace Policy in relation to the Native Americans in the West. Under his leadership, the number of military actions against Indians were reduced in the west.

After leaving government service, Parker invested in the stock market. At first he did well, but eventually lost the fortune he had accumulated, after the collapse of 1873.

Through his social connections, Parker received an appointment to the Board of Commissioners of the New York Police Department’s Committee on Supplies and Repairs.

Parker lived his last years in poverty, dying in Fairfield, Connecticut on August 31, 1895, where he was buried.

The Seneca did not feel Algonquin territory was appropriate for a final resting place, and requested that his widow relocate the grave.

On January 20, 1897, his body was exhumed and moved to Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo, New York.

Ely was reinterred next to his ancestor Red Jacket, a famous Seneca orator, and other notables of western New York.

Now WE know em






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