Thursday, August 13, 2009
Battle of Massard Prairie - Part Two
The Confederates attacked the Union camp on Massard Prairie in three columns.
The first, composed primarily of Choctaw and Chickasaw soldiers, swung off to the right and closed in on the left flank of the camp. As these soldiers advanced, they also captured a Confederate deserter at a home just south of the battlefield and summarily executed him.
The second and third columns advanced together in a sweeping motion to the left. They quickly captured the herd of horses being grazed by the Federals on the prairie and then approached the camp itself. As they came within range of the grove of trees sheltering the camp, the third column broke away from the second and moved into a center position between the two flanking columns. All three forces then advanced on the camp.
As they approached, one group of Union soldiers came out to fight the advancing Confederate left column, but soon withdrew back to the camp itself where a line of battle was formed through the tents and parade ground. The Federals fought bravely, but the effort was hopeless. They were both outnumbered and taken by surprise.
As the Confederates moved to completely surround them, they broke and began to fall back across the open prairie. The battle deteriorated into a running fight that continued for more than a mile until the last organized contingent of Union troops were finally convinced to surrender. In a battle lasting just minutes, Gano had not only carried out a sweeping triple movement, he had led charging soldiers on horseback across miles of open prairie. An entire battalion of the 6th Kansas Cavalry was either killed, wounded or, with a few exceptions, captured.
Moving out the prisoners as quickly as possible, the Confederates returned to the Union camp where they collected weapons, provisions, camp equipment and every other needed item they could carry away on horseback. The rest was burned.
The Confederates then withdrew leisurely within sight of Union reinforcements that were gathering on the opposite side of the prairie. Total Southern losses at Massard Prairie were 7 killed, 26 wounded and one missing. Total Union losses were 10 killed, 17 wounded and 117 captured. In addition, the Southern forces captured 200 Sharps rifles and 400 revolvers.
In the next post, I'll take a closer look at a second Confederate attack on Fort Smith that followed closely on the heels of the fight.
To learn more about the Battle of Massard Prairie, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/massardprairie.