Saturday, October 25, 2008
As their main line of battle began to collapse, the Confederates started to fall back to the bridge and adjacent fords over Elk Creek.
Heavy fighting took place on the north side of the Creek as the Confederates took advantage of high ground overlooking the bridge in an effort to slow the Union advance. The stand was briefly successful, but the Union attack was now irresistable and the hard-fighting Southern troops began to fall back toward the bridge.
As the Union forces pushed their way forward to the northern banks of the creek, General Cooper ordered his men to make a last ditch effort to defend the fords and bridge. The situation, however, was beyond his control. The Confederates continued to fight, "desperately contesting every foot of ground," but the Federal advance could not be stopped.
Our series will continue.
Friday, October 24, 2008
This view shows the trace of the old Texas Road at the point it crossed through the center of the primary Confederate lines during the Battle of Honey Springs.
Eyewitness accounts indicate that the battle raged along this position for about two hours until a bizarre series of events determined the outcome of the day.
According to Union reports, the 1st Kansas Volunteer Infantry (Colored), an African American regiment, was heavily engaged with the center of the Confederate line when suddenly a unit to its right, the 2nd Indian Home Guards made an incorrect adjustment of their line and moved in front of the infantrymen from Kansas. The commander of the Kansas regiment ordered his men to hold their fire until the 2nd Indian could be moved back into a proper position.
The Confederates saw this movement and, mistakenly, thought the Union lines were beginning to retreat. Colonel Bass, commanding the 20th and 29th Texas Cavalry regiments (dismounted), ordered his men to charge. As the Southern troops came storming out of their covered position, they charged right into the face of the loaded muskets of the 1st Kansas. The Union infantrymen fired a volley literally into the face of the charging Texans, shattering their attack and forcing them back.
This caused the center of the Confederate line to bow or bend backwards, leading the men on the right of Cooper's line to believe they were unsupported. As a result, the Confederate right flank began a withdrawal from its initial position. The entire Southern line collapsed and the Confederates began to stream back toward the bridge and crossings over Elk Creek, fighting as they went.
The Union troops pushed forward and an intense fight now began for control of the Texas road bridge and adjacent fords.
Our series will continue. You can also read more by visiting our site in development on the battle at www.exploresouthernhistory.com/honeysprings1.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
The massive exchange of fire between the Confederates and Federals lasted, according to most eyewitnesses, for about two hours.
It was a gloomy, damp and rainy day and this impacted the Southern troops far more than their Union counterparts. The gunpowder used by the Confederates was of an inferior grade and in particular didn't work well in damp conditions. According to General Cooper's report, many of his men could not fire their weapons at all.
According to many Union eyewitnesses, the Confederates along sections of the line were so well concealed in the woods and underbrush that they could not be seen at all. Federal troops targeted their enemies by firing in the direction of the smoke given off by Southern guns.
In other areas, particularly near the center, the lines fought back and forth with astounding intensity. Confederate eyewitnesses mention driving back several Union attacks and Union eyewitnesses describe throwing back at least two Southern counterattacks.
The Confederates outnumbered the Federals on the battlefield by about 2 to 1, but the Union force had a 3 to 1 advantage in artillery (although the Confederates did possess a unique British-made rifled gun smuggled in through the blockade that fired with astounding accuracy during the battle). The Federal troops were also better armed and less subject to problems with their gunpowder. This evened the battle up considerably.
Our series will continue.
Monday, October 20, 2008
This is a view of the battlefield at Honey Springs looking south from the position of the Union line of battle to the first Confederate defensive position, located in the trees at the fair end of the open prairie.
Following the opening artillery exchange, the Union line move forward across this ground at about 10 a.m. Conditions were hot and rainy.
General Blunt described the attack in his official report:
Without halting, I moved them forward in line of battle, throwing out skirmishers in advance and soon drew their fire, which revealed the location of their artillery. The cavalry, which was on the two flanks, was dismounted and fought on foot with their carbines. In a few moments the entire force was engaged. My men steadily advanced into the edge of the timber, and the fighting was unremitting and terrific for two hours....
The Confederates described the attack in much the same terms, mentioning that other than constant firing by skirmishers, the main battle line held its fire until the Union troops advanced to within 20 or so paces. At this point, the Southern troops opened with massive volleys of fire and the two forces faced each other and fought in an intense battle.
It must have been a stunning scene as thousands of men from the two sides fought for control of the trees on the edge of the open prairie. The Confederates had only four pieces of artillery when the battle began, compared to 12 guns for the Federals, and had lost one of these to accurate Union fire during the artillery exchange. In addition, their defensive effort was weakened by the absence from the field of Colonel Stand Watie, the Confederacy's noted Cherokee commander. He had been sent by General Cooper on a mission to Webber's Falls prior to the battle.
Visiting the battlefield today, it is easy to visualize the scene as it must have appeared in 1863. The ground where the Union troops formed and advanced is open and can be viewed for virtually the entire length of their battle line. The Confederate position remains wooded and probably looks very similar to its Civil War appearance.
Our series on the Battle of Honey Springs will continue.
Friday, October 17, 2008
As he prepared to initiate the battle, General Blunt moved his men forward from the sheltered area where they had rested to the position that you see here.
On this ground, the Federal troops formed their line of battle.
The photograph was taken from the right flank of the Union line, looking east down the line toward the left flank. The Texas Road, a key feature for both troops, lay in the distance. The troops faced to the right of the photograph.
This position brought the two forces within artillery range of each other. The day was dark and cloudy, with General Cooper reporting that a heavy rain began to fall shortly after the battle opened at around 9 a.m. Eyewitnesses of both sides described how the artillery opened the fight.
This worked significantly to the advantage of the Federals, who had a superior number and weight of guns on the field. The Confederate infantry, formed in two lines in the trees beyond the right of this photo, were ordered to lay down on their weapons to present as limited a target as possible. The Federal infantry, according to Confederate eyewitnesses, was formed in lines four and five deep.
As the fire of the Southern cannon began to slow, Blunt ordered his troops to advance and the Battle of Honey Springs began in earnest.
Our series will continue.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
Pushing back Confederate pickets ahead of him, General Blunt advanced from the Arkansas River on the afternoon and evening of July 16, 1863.
There was a brief skirmish near Chimney Mountain, but no major fighting as the Federals approached Honey Springs the next morning.
The day was already hot and his men were exhausted when Blunt arrived on a ridge north of Elk Creek. Having learned of the Union advance, the Confederates formed in a wooded area (seen here), also on the north side of the creek. Cooper evidently hoped that the position would be a strong one, as his men would be sheltered by timber but would be able to fire on the Federals as they advanced over open ground. Unfortunately, it also placed the creek (with only three good crossing points) directly behind his line of battle. Any effort to retreat would likely become disorganized and fast.
The two sides were within earshot of each other as they both rested on their arms, waiting for the battle to start. After giving his men a chance to recover from the hot, grueling march, Blunt began to form his ranks for the attack.
Our series will continue.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
This is the memorial area at Honey Springs Battlefield State Park in Oklahoma.
Located at the southern end of the battlefield, the ridge seen here was the scene of the main Confederate supply depot prior to the battle.
Honey Springs takes its name from several small springs that rise just west of the battlefield. A pretty clear stream winds past the bottom of this hill.
At the time of the Civil War, the old Texas Road crossed the ridge. This important pioneer trail led from Missouri south across what is now Oklahoma to Texas. At the time of the war, of course, these were the Indian Nations. Honey Springs is located in the Muscogee or Creek Nation.
When he advanced north to join forces with General Cabell for a campaign against the Federals across the Arkansas River in the Cherokee Nation, General Cooper established his base at the Honey Springs Depot (or stopping point) on the Texas Road. Thousands of Confederate soldiers camped around the base and supplies were accumulated here for the coming campaign.
Our series on the Battle of Honey Springs will continue.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
This photograph shows all that remains of what was once a massive system of earthworks built by the Union army in 1863 to protect their base at Fort Gibson.
Called Fort Blunt, after General Blunt, by the Federals, the extensive earthen walls surrounded an extensive post area adjacent to the old Fort Gibson that had been built by the U.S. Army prior to the Trail of Tears.
Most of the vast fortification no longer exists, but this small section of earthwork can still be seen at the Oklahoma Historical Society's Fort Gibson Historic Site. The surviving earthworks are located down the hill from the Visitor's Center and were once part of the southwest wall of the irregular fort.
General Blunt was here when he learned that Cooper's force had taken up a position at Honey Springs Depot on the Texas Road. Cooper was waiting for the arrival of additional forces from Fort Smith under General Cabell before moving north in a campaign against the Federals at Fort Blunt. Deciding to strike before the two Confederate generals could unite their forces, Blunt moved out from his fortifications.
As our series continues tomorrow, we will look at the Confederate position at Honey Springs Depot. As the week goes along, we will also be launching our full site on the Battle of Honey Springs at www.exploresouthernhistory.com/honeysprings1.
Monday, October 13, 2008
On July 17, 1863, Union and Confederate forces engaged in a fierce battle along Elk Creek, a sluggish stream that flows through the Creek or Muscogee Nation in Oklahoma.
Sometimes called the "Gettysburg of the West," the engagement is known today as the Battle of Honey Springs or Elk Creek and was a dramatic Union victory that changed the course of the war in the West.
The battle took place when Union General James Blunt, suffering with fever, learned that a Confederate army was assembling at Honey Springs Depot on the Texas Road near present-day Checotah. Then at Fort Gibson (called Fort Blunt by Union forces), Blunt decided to strike the General Douglas H. Cooper's gathering Confederate force before the Southern general could move against his own command.
The result was one of the more dramatic rapid campaigns of the Civil War. Blunt moved 3,000 men and 12 pieces of artillery across the swollen Arkansas River, drove back Confederate pickets and slammed into Cooper's main force at Elk Creek.
The battle was unique because the forces of both sides were multi-racial in nature. Blunt's command included white, Native American and African American soldiers, while Cooper's force included both white and Native American troops.
As our series continues tomorrow, we will begin to retrace the Honey Springs campaign with a look at Blunt's command post at Fort Gibson (Blunt).
Saturday, October 11, 2008
Although it took place in what is now Oklahoma, the Battle of Honey Springs (or Elk Creek) had a dramatic impact on Confederate efforts in Arkansas.
Not only did it assure Union control of the Cherokee Nation, it also opened the door for the Federal advance that would lead to the permanent possession of Fort Smith by U.S. troops.
On Monday we will start a series on the battle and Honey Springs Battlefield as it appears today. Be sure to check in on Monday to learn more about this battle that was critical to the War in the West in so many ways.