Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Massard Prairie, Part Four - The Attack on Fort Smith, continued...
The halt by Confederate troops to collect supplies, arms and food abandoned by the retreating Federals gave the Union forces in Fort Smith time to the attack.
Rallying on the hill around Fort No. 2, the Federals reorganized and - with reinforcements coming up from the main garrison - moved forward to renew the fight. Advancing to a hill about one mile south of the fort, a section of the 2nd Kansas Battery took up a position from which it could fire on Watie's Confederates. Two companies from the 1st Kansas Infantry (Colored) moved up in support of the battery. The entire operation was carried out under fire from the Confederate guns on the next hilltop south.
One of the Confederate shells exploded near Colonel Judson of the 6th Kansas Cavalry, a fragment wounding him in the left leg. Despite his injuries, however, the colonel remained on the field for the rest of the fight.
The four Union cannon were of better quality and range than the Confederate guns and this superiority soon began to tell. Unwilling to sacrifice his own cannon for the sake of a demonstration, General Cooper ordered the Southern howitzers to pull back. As they were doing so, a Union shell exploded directly over the Confederate battery teams, killing 3 men and wounding another. A second shot decapitated one of General Gano's men. After completing his work on Massard Prairie, Gano had come across the ridge to join the fight.
The effectiveness and range of the Federal artillery convinced Cooper to end his demonstration and pull back. Leaving sharpshooters from his Native American units to hover around the edges of Fort Smith, he effectively pinned the Union troops in position while he withdrew the main body.
Losses in the fight had been relatively light considering the sizes of the two forces engaged. The Confederates suffered one killed, one mortally wounded and five wounded. Union forces lost 11 men killed and wounded, at least one of them killed.
With minimal losses, Cooper was able to achieve his goal of giving pro-Southern families in the area a chance to evacuate. Several moved out under the cover of his troops. His men also inflicted terror on pro-Union families living on the battlefield, burning their homes and carrying away livestock and supplies.
As the Confederates pulled back from the edges of Fort Smith, they heard the sounds of heavy artillery fire coming from the main fort. They later learned that Captain Gunter and his Cherokee troops were amusing themselves by firing into the fort from the cover of trees across the Poteau River. The Federals responded by rolling cannon out of the fort and firing at the smoke of the Cherokee rifles. The Indian soldiers simply changed positions and continued their sniping, leading to more artillery fire. Otherwise, though, the Massard Prairie expedition was over.
I'll look closer at the results of the attacks in the next post. Until then you can learn more by visiting www.exploresouthernhistory.com/massardindex or by reading The Battle of Massard Prairie, available for either at the upper right of this page or at www.amazon.com.