Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Battle of Honey Springs

General James Blunt
While great battles were being fought at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, other smaller movements were happening in the Indian territories in what is now Oklahoma. At the beginning of the war five civilized tribes (the Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, Chicksaw and Seminole) had sided with the Confederacy. But the Untied States attacked and captured the northern portions of the Indian territory, convincing many of the natives to join their side. The Confederates were planning a counter attack, so the aggressive Union commander, Major General James Blunt attacked them on July 17, 150 years ago today, at the important wagon road stopping point of Honey Springs. Blunt was very sick, but he knew that the Confederates would soon be reinforced by 3,000 more men from Fort Smith.

Honey Springs Battlefield
The Battlefield
Both sides would have about 3,000 soldiers engaged, but the Confederates had almost 3,000 more that did not make it into the fight. The Confederates were commanded by Brigadier General Douglas Cooper. Interestingly whites were a minority of both armies, most of the troops being Indians on both sides. The southerners were formed up under cover of trees with Elk Creek to their back. As Blunt began to position his 12 cannon on a ridge, the rebel guns opened on them. After an artillery duel the lines of blue infantry advanced, augmented by dismounted cavalry. Fierce fighting continued for two hours, the Union troops having been ordered to just put down as heavy a fire as they could on the Southerners.

The Confederates's powder was damaged by a rain shower just before the battle, but at first they appeared to be holding their own in the fierce fighting. At one point in the battle, one of the Union Indian units was ordered to fall back, as it had gotten in advance of the rest of the line. One Southern officer, believing this a signal for a general Federal retreat, ordered a charge. A portion of the Confederate line advanced, and at 25 paces was met with a deadly volley from the 1st Kansas Colored Volunteers, a black unit, driving back the rebel surge.

Honey Springs Monuments
Monuments at the battlefield
This proved to be a turning point in the battle, the Union forces continuing to gain the upper hand. Cooper ordered a retreat, which at some points degenerated into a rout. A good rear guard fight was put up by a reserve Indian regiment and some Texas cavalry. They put up enough of a fight to enable the Confederates to withdraw with their artillery and most of the stores. After this victory, Blunt decided not to pursue and fell back to Fort Gibson, but the way was opened for the Union forces to continue their advance. The Confederates reported 181 lost, and the Union 77, though both sides disagreed with the other's numbers. This was the largest battle fought in Indian territory during the Civil War, and paved the way for further Union successes. The southerners in the area resorted to guerrilla tactics to keep up the fight against the Federals.


Anonymous said...

what was the total number of union and confederate soldiers that died on the Battlefield.

Joshua Horn said...

134 Confederates killed, and only 17 Federals.

Gerald said...

Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

Your article is very well done, a good read.

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