The Battle of Honey Springs was an American Civil War battle, an important victory for Union forces in their efforts to gain control of the Indian Territory. The battle was also unique in the fact that white soldiers were the minority in both forces. African and Native Americans made up significant portions of each of the opposing armies.
Background[edit | edit source]
At the start of the American Civil War, for cultural and economic reasons, all of the Five Civilized Tribes in Indian Territory opted to side with the Confederate States of America, raising native troops under the leadership of General Douglas H. Cooper, and driving out pro-Union Creek Indian forces after a short campaign culminating in the Battle of Chustenahlah. By 1863 Confederate fortunes in the region had sunk low, however. A Union campaign launched from Kansas led by General Blunt having driven the Confederacy from the north of the region, many of the Cherokee switched sides to support the Union. Confident in their numerical superiority, the Confederates plotted a counteroffensive against Union forces at Fort Gibson, to be launched by Cooper's Indians and some attached Texan troops, and the soldiers of Gen. William Cabell's brigade, camped in Fort Smith, Arkansas. Cooper moved his army forward to Honey Springs, Indian Territory, an important Confederate supply depot, to rest and equip, while awaiting Cabell's brigade, marching to link up with Cooper. Union forces under General Blunt got wind of Cooper's plan however, and opted to attack him first, before Cabell arrived, which would've given the Confederates overwhelming numerical superiority. Blunt's command included three federal Indian Home Guard Regiments recruited from all the Five Nations and the 1st Kansas Colored Infantry, with two white cavalry battalions (6th Kansas and 3rd Wisconsin), one white infantry battalion consisting of six companies of the 2nd Colorado Infantry, and two Kansas artillery batteries making the remainder.
The battle[edit | edit source]
His attack began on July 17, with desultory morning skirmishing that revealed many of the Confederate soldiers had wet gunpowder, causing numerous misfires and accidents. The main Union attack began at mid-afternoon, and the beginning of a rain squall intensified the Confederate's ammunition problems. Opposing artillerymen each eliminated one gun on the opposing side during an early artillery duel. Then Blunt saw an opportunity, and ordered the 1st Kansas Colored Infantry to attack. Colonel James M. Williams led the Colored infantry forward, but the Confederates held their ground. Williams was wounded but the Colored troops conducted a disciplined withdrawal and sporadic firing continued. During this period the 2nd Indian Home Guards, fighting for the Union, accidentally strayed into no man's land between the Confederate and Union lines. The Federal commanders gave the order for the Home Guards to fall back, the Confederates assumed it was an order to retreat and attacked. The Confederates charged into an established defensive line held by the 1st Kansas Colored Infantry, which repulsed the charge.
Cooper pulled his men back towards the depot to obtain new ammunition, but the Federals continued to press his army closely. Heavy fighting occurred when Cooper's men made a stand at a bridge over Elk Creek, roughly 1/4 of a mile south of the original position. Union forces continued driving them back further and gradually beginning to turn Cooper's left, causing a general Confederate retreat. Cooper attempted to fight a rearguard action, making a last stand another 1/2 mile south near Honey Springs Depot. Despite a notable half-hour stand by the Choctaw and Chickasaw regiment, most of the badly-organized, disheartened, and in many cases due to their poor powder, unarmed Indians and Texans simply continued to flee. Victorious Union forces took possession of the Honey Springs depot, burning what couldn't be immediately used, and occupying the field. Blunt trumpeted the battle as a major victory, claiming Union losses of only 76, with enemy casualties in excess of 500, although Cooper reported only 181 Confederate casualties.
Reasons for Union Victory[edit | edit source]
The terrible equipment of the Confederates and the rain squall which ruined their powder, played a large part in the Confederate defeat, although some eyewitness sources, notably future Creek Indian chief George Washington Grayson, claimed Cooper's poor generalship was responsible for the defeat, arguing that about half the Confederate army was never even engaged.
Aftermath[edit | edit source]
The battle was the largest ever fought in the Indian Territory, and would indeed prove to be decisive. The victory paved the way for Blunt's forces to capture Fort Smith. Despite the efforts of notable Confederate officers like Stand Watie Confederate forces in the region would never regain the initiative or engage the Union army in an open, head-on battle again, instead relying almost entirely on guerilla warfare and small-scale cavalry actions to fight the Federal Army. The loss of the supplies at Honey Springs depot would likewise prove disastrous. Confederate forces, already operating on a shoe-string budget and with bad equipment, would come to increasingly rely on captured Union war material to keep up the fight.
Opposing Forces[edit | edit source]
Union[edit | edit source]
- 1st Brigade - Colonel William R. Judson
- 2nd Indian Home Guard --- Lieutenant Colonel Fred W. Schaurte
- 1st Kansas Colored Infantry--- Colonel James M. Williams(W), Lieutenant Colonel John Bowles
- 6 Companies, 3rd Wisconsin Cavalry --- Captain Edward R. Stevens
- 2nd Brigade - Colonel William A. Phillips
- 6 Companies, 2nd Colorado Infantry --- Colonel Theodore H. Dodd
- 1st Indian Home Guard --- Colonel Stephen H. Wattles
- Detachments of 6th Kansas Cavalry* --- Colonel William F. Campbell
- 2nd Kansas Light Artillery
- 1st Section --- Captain Edward Smith
- 2nd Section --- Lieutenant John P. Grassberger
- 3rd Kansas Light Artillery* --- Captain Henry Hopkins
Confederate[edit | edit source]
- Texas Brigade - Colonel Thomas C. Bass
- 20th Texas Cavalry (Dismounted) --- Colonel Thomas Coker Bass
- 29th Texas Cavalry - Colonel Charles DeMorse (W)
- 5th Texas Partisan Rangers--- Colonel Leonidas M. Martin
- Indian Brigade - Brigadier General Douglas Cooper
- 1st Cherokee Mounted Rifles* --- Major Joseph F. Thompson
- 2nd Cherokee Mounted Rifles# --- Lieutenant Colonel James M. Bell
- 1st Choctaw---Chickasaw Mounted Rifles --- Colonel Tandy Walker
- 1st Creek --- Colonel Daniel N. McIntosh
- 2nd Creek--- Colonel Chilly McIntosh
- Artillery & Cavalry
- Lee's Battery--- Captain Roswell W. Lee
- Scanland's Squadron Texas Cavalry --- Captain John Scanland
- Gillett's Squadron Texas Cavalry --- Captain L. E. Gillett
Sources[edit | edit source]
- National Park Battle Summary
- War in the Indian Nations 1861-1863 - extensive bibliography
- The Battle of Honey Springs: The Civil War Comes to the Indian Territory, a National Park Service Teaching with Historic Places (TwHP) lesson plan