Thursday, December 18, 2008

Battle of Massard Prairie now available through Amazon

I'm pleased to let you know that The Battle of Massard Prairie: The 1864 Confederate Attacks on Fort Smith, Arkansas is now in stock and available through

They can deliver the books by Christmas, so if you would like a copy as a gift for someone else (or for yourself!) there is still time to order. Just follow the link above and search for "battle of massard prairie."

The book is also available at Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park in Northwest Arkansas and at the Fort Smith Museum of History in Fort Smith.

Published earlier this year, the book explores the July 27, 1864, Battle of Massard Prairie. Fought on the outskirts of Fort Smith, the battle was an overwhelming Confederate victory and was unique from a number of perspectives. You can learn more about the battle itself by visiting

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Casualties of Prairie Grove - 1862

The recent anniversary of the Battle of Prairie Grove, Arkansas (December 7, 1862), brought several questions about the locations where casualties from the battle were buried.
The battle was one of the bloodiest ever fought west of the Mississippi. Of the more than 3,000 casualties reported by the two armies, 339 were found dead on the field following the battle. Hundreds of other men died in the following days and weeks from wounds they had received.
The dead of both sides were initially buried on the battlefield and, as is usually the case, some probably remain there to this day.
In later years, however, efforts were made to collect the bodies for reburial in permanent cemeteries. The Union dead that could be located were taken to Fayetteville National Cemetery and the Confederates were reburied at the Confederate Cemetery in Fayetteville. Hundreds of markers, many of them simply denoting the graves of unknown soldiers, can be found in the two cemeteries today.
Other Southern wounded from the Battle of Prairie Grove died after arriving back in Van Buren and many are also buried at Fairview Cemetery in that city.
All of the cemeteries are open to the public on a daily basis, as is Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park. To learn more about the battle, please visit

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Battle of Prairie Grove Anniversary Events

Events commemorating both the 146th Anniversary of the Battle of Prairie Grove, Arkansas, and the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the battlefield park will begin tomorrow (Friday) at Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park.

The park is located on U.S. Highway 62 only about 10 miles southwest of I-565 at Fayetteville.

Admission to the park, reenactments and other events will be free for the weekend, but there will be a $4 parking fee for all vehicles.

Here is the official release from the park outlining times and events:

Prairie Grove Battlefield Historic State Park will host the 2008 Battle of Prairie Grove Reenactment Special Event on December 6th and 7th, with approximately one thousand living historians on hand to interpret the life of soldiers and civilians during the Civil War. On December 7, 1862, about 22,000 soldiers fought an all-day battle at Prairie Grove, Arkansas, with casualties reaching 2,700. Everyone is invited to see the battle demonstration each day at 1:00 p.m., held on the actual battlefield near the historic Borden House. During the reenactment weekend there will be many activities, including guided tours through the Union, Confederate, and civilian camps, various military drills, cooking, spinning and lace making demonstrations, along with other living history programs. “Sutlers Row” will feature a number of vendors selling 19th century reproductions, books and other supplies throughout the weekend. Prairie Grove Boy Scout Troop #48 will have concession stands in the park. There is a cost of $4.00 for parking.
146th anniversary of the Battle of Prairie Grove will be celebrated with the unveiling of a new original oil painting by Andy Thomas, who will be onsite to sign limited edition prints of the painting. The unveiling will take place at 11:00 a.m., Saturday, December 6th, during the Battle Re-enactment This is the second painting of the Battle of Prairie Grove; “They came like demons” is set on the western side of the battlefield at the Morton House with an emphasis on the Confederate troops. The first painting focused on the eastern side of the battlefield at the Borden House with an emphasis on the Union troops.
The battle demonstrations begin at 1:00 p.m. each day, and features charges and counterattacks by Union and Confederate infantry and cavalry. A number of cannons will be positioned in support of the two armies firing loud, smoky rounds of black powder. The sights, sounds, and feel of a Civil War battle are brought to life through this event. Afterwards, the wounded are gathered and taken for medical treatment. The battle demonstration will be fought in the same direction as the original battle along the Prairie Grove ridge, with enough room for everyone to see what is taking place during the conflict. Remember to bring chairs. Activities start at 8:00 a.m. when Hindman Hall opens to the public with its exhibits, video programs, diorama of the Prairie Grove battle and gift shop. The soldier and civilian camps open at 9:00 a.m. with guided camp tours at posted times. These tours take visitors through the various camps and talk about the life of the common Confederate and Union soldiers, as well as the impact of the Civil War on civilians. Visitors are encouraged to wander the grounds and talk with reenactors. Visitors will be able to visit the medical department where soldiers would have been treated for a variety of ailments. Ladies will be demonstrating the art of spinning, lace making, and cooking over a fireplace throughout the weekend. Additional living history programs include training sessions for soldiers in all three branches of army service—the infantry, cavalry, and artillery. The only charge will be a $4.00 parking fee during the re-enactment weekend. Hindman Hall Museum & Visitor Center entry is free of charge during the reenactment weekend, open daily from 8:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. For more information, contact the park: Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park, 506 E. Douglas Street, Prairie Grove, AR 72753; or call (479) 846-2990, between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m.; e-mail

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Anniversary of the Battle of Prairie Grove is One Week Away

Next weekend (December 6-7) will mark both the 146th anniversary of the Battle of Prairie Grove, Arkansas, and the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the battlefield park.
The Battle of Prairie Grove was one of the bloodiest confrontations in the West and was a major battle of the Civil War. You can learn more about the history of the battle by clicking here.
Events are planned for both next Saturday (December 6) and Sunday (December 7) at Prairie Grove Battlefield State park to commemorate the battle itself as well as the establishment of the park.
A new painting of the battle will be unveiled by Andy Thomas on Saturday morning and limited edition prints will go on sale at 11 a.m. Visitors will be able to take part in guided tours through Union and Confederate camps and witness drills and other living history presentations.
Then at 1 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday, reenactors will portray the Battle of Prairie Grove on a section of the battlefield near the historic Borden House. The actual battle stretched for miles, but the reenactments will give visitors a chance to experience some of the sound and sights of an actual Civil War battle.
Admission to the park, reenactments and Hindman Hall Military Museum are all free for the weekend, but there is a $4 parking fee to park your car. There were will be concessions on the grounds so head out to Prairie Grove next weekend to enjoy a real step back in history.
I'll have more on the Battle of Prairie Grove and planned reenactment events over coming days.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Deadline approaching for Massard Prairie Christmas orders

If you are interested in purchasing a copy of The Battle of Massard Prairie: The 1864 Confederate Attacks on Fort Smith, Arkansas as a Christmas gift, please note that the printers have informed me they can guarantee delivery on orders placed before December 10th.
This book explores the history of the July 27, 1864, attack on the camp of the 6th Kansas Cavalry on the outskirts of Fort Smith. This engagement was significant because it was one of the few dramatic Confederate victories in Western Arkansas and because it involved one of the great open field cavalry charges of the war in the West.
The book is also available in Arkansas at Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park in Northwest Arkansas and at the Fort Smith Museum of History in Fort Smith.
If you would like to read more about the Battle of Massard Prairie, please click here.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Overgrown Grave of an Arkansas Soldier

This is the overgrown grave of Robert A. Worthington, a soldier in Company A, 3rd Arkansas Infantry.
Worthington is buried in the old Providence Methodist Church cemetery near the rim of Providence Canyon in Lumpkin, Georgia. Several other soldiers from his family are buried there as well, but they all served in Georgia regiments.
Raised in the Spring of 1861, the 3rd Arkansas served until the surrender of General Lee at Appomatox Courthouse, Virginia, and took part in some of the bloodiest fighting of the war.
Battles involving the 3rd Arkansas included the Seven Days, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, the Wilderness and Chickamauga. Part of the famed Texas Brigade of Gen. John Bell Hood, the 3rd Arkansas ended the war with only 144 of its 1,353 soldiers still in service and able to fight.
Company A was known as the "Arkansas Travelers" at the beginning of the war and was raised in Ashley County (in the sourtheast corner of Arkansas). Worthington enlisted at Portland, Arkansas, on February 14, 1862, and was paroled at Albany, Georgia, on May 18, 1865.
If you are interested in reading more about Providence Canyon and the Providence Church in Georgia, please visit:

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Flag of the C.S.S. Arkansas

This is the flag of the famed Southern ironclad C.S.S. Arkansas.
One of the most successful inland warships ever built by the Confederacy, the Arkansas was a unique, makeshift ironclad that was actually built in two places.
Work on the vessel started in Memphis in 1861, but when that city was captured by Union troops the unfinished gunboat was carried to the Yazoo River in Mississippi for completion.
On her maiden voyage, the Arkansas steamed down the Yazoo and smashed through a flotilla consisting of the Union warships Carondelet, Queen of the West and Tyler. The Queen escaped, but the Carondelet was driven aground by the Confederate warship. Heavy damage and casualties were inflicted on the Tyler as well.
Leaving the Yazoo, the ironclad entered the Mississippi and stormed through the Union river fleet to reach the cover of the Confederate batteries at Vicksburg.
The vessel eventually engaged additional Union warships on the Mississippi but finally was destroyed by her own crew after she experienced engine trouble about 5 miles above Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Her flag is now on display at the Port Columbus National Civil War Naval Museum in Columbus, Georgia. The museum preserves the wrecks of two Confederate warships as well as numerous artifacts relating to both the Confederate and Union navies. For more information, you can visit them at

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Battle of Honey Springs, Oklahoma - Conclusion

This is the interpretive shelter in the memorial area at Honey Springs Battlefield State Park.
The battle was a decisive Union victory. Confederate losses were about twice those of the Federals, which were reported at 75 killed and wounded. Considering the severity of the fight and number of men engaged, however, casualties were not excessive.
Cooper also reported that he was able to remove most of his critical supplies from the field before retreating, although some flour, sugar and other items were burned.
General Blunt's army occupied the battlefield after the fight and buried the dead. The next day they returned to Fort Gibson (Blunt), citing lack of ammunition and supplies necessary for further pursuit of the Confederates. Cooper withdraw south to North Fork Town.
The Battle of Honey Springs opened the way for Blunt's capture of Fort Smith later that same summer. Any hopes that the Confederates held of recapturing Fort Gibson and driving the Federals out of Oklahoma ended along the banks of Elk Creek, making the battle one of the most strategic of the war in Indian Territory.
The site of the fighting is now preserved at Honey Springs Battlefield State Park just north of Checotah, Oklahoma. A fairly new park, it offers interpretive trails and a tour road as well as a small visitor center, memorial area and picnic tables. There are no camping facilities at the park.
Our new Battle of Honey Springs pages are now active, so for more information please visit

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Battle of Honey Springs, Oklahoma - Part Thirteen

This is the monument area at the southern end of the Honey Springs Battlefield. Memorials here honor soldiers of both sides and all races.
The monuments stand on the slope of a ridge near the site of the Honey Springs Depot. This entire area was a massive Confederate supply center at the time of the battle. General Cooper was gathering material here for his planned move north against the Federals at Fort Gibson (Blunt) and elsewhere in the region.
As the Federals pushed south, fighting the resisting Confederates, Cooper ordered the supplies that could be removed quickly taken out and the rest of them burned. Union eyewitnesses reported seeing massive clouds of smoke rising over the depot as they fought their way across the battlefield.
Realizing that the battle was lost, General Cooper finally ended the fighting and pulled his men from the battlefield. Instead of retreating south as expected, he moved his men east, believing that this might slow any Federal pursuit by creating the ruse that he was moving to effect a junction with reinforcements coming up from Fort Smith.
The Union force, however, was exhausted from its long march down from Fort Gibson and the day of fighting. General Blunt ordered his men to take up positions on the battlefield for the night and, other than occasional skirmish fire, the fighting came to a close.
Our series on the Battle of Honey Springs, Oklahoma, will continue.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Battle of Honey Springs, Oklahoma - Part Twelve

As the Confederates were driven back from the ground along Elk Creek, General Cooper made one last effort to stop the oncoming Federals.
Forming the 1st Choctaw and Chickasaw Regiment on this ridge near the southern end of the battlefield, Cooper attacked the Union forces as they approached down the Texas Road:
The Choctaw, under Colonel Walker, opportunely arrived at this time, and under my personal direction charged the enemy, who had now planted a battery upon the tibered ridge about 1,000 yards north of Honey Springs. With their usual intrepidity, the Choctaws went at them, giving the war-whoop, and succeeded in checking the advance of the enemy until their force could be concentrated and all brought up.
The charge by the Choctaw and Chickasaw soldiers was particularly brave when it is noted that they were armed with some of the worst weapons used during the war. A report the following year indicated that many of their guns would barely fire and were almost useless in battle. At Honey Springs their ammunition also failed them. Dampened from weather conditions, few Confederates could even fire their guns by this time of the battle and the Choctaw and Chickasaw charged into the face of well armed Union troops with virtually no ability to return fire.
Discouraged by the state of their arms and ammunition, the Native American soldiers withdrew ahead of the now reformed Union forces and provided cover for the rear of Cooper's column as it withdrew from the battlefield.
Our series on the Battle of Honey Springs, Oklahoma, will continue.

Battle of Honey Springs, Oklahoma - Part Eleven

This view was taken at the Honey Springs Battlefield on the south side of Elk Creek.
The open ground in the photograph is what remains of the old causeway that led up to the Civil War bridge. The bridge itself began just beyond the signs visible here. The green trees in the background are actually on the opposite side of the creek.
This was the critical objective of the Battle of Honey Springs. As the Confederates fell back from their main position north of the creek, holding the bridge became vital if they hoped to beat back the Union assault and defend their stockpiles of supplies at Honey Springs Depot. For the Federal forces, seizing the bridge intact provided them with control of the Texas Road and access to those some supplies.
Despite an intense fight, the shattered Confederate lines could not hold the bridge. General Cooper ordered a withdrawal and Union troops stormed across the bridge and onto the causeway visible here, pushing Southern soldiers back ahead of them.
The focus of the battle now shifted to the south side of Elk Creek.
Our series on the Battle of Honey Springs, Oklahoma, will continue.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Battle of Honey Springs, Oklahoma - Part Ten

This is a view of Elk Creek from the Civil War bridge site on the Honey Springs battlefield.
As the main Confederate line crumbled, the bridge and two adjacent fords became critical objectives for the attacking Union forces. Southern troops waged a fierce fight for control of the crossings and heavy fighting took place along the northern (left) bank of the creek here.
By this stage of the battle, however, things were going badly for the Confederate defenders. Once his main line broke, General Cooper was not able to put enough men into position fast enough to hold back the Union advance. The battle degenerated into more of a fighting retreat as Southern officers tried to hold back Blunt's oncoming force long enough to withdraw most of their men across Elk Creek and save or destroy their stockpiles of supplies to the rear at Honey Springs Depot.
The bridge over Elk Creek no longer stands, but an interpretive trail leads from the tour road to the remains of the earthen causeway that led to the wooden bridge. The area is heavily wooded and a series of interpretive panels help visitors understand the nature of the fighting in the vicinity.
Our series on the Battle of Honey Springs, Oklahoma, will continue.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Battle of Honey Springs, Oklahoma - Part Nine

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

Battle of Honey Springs, Oklahoma - Part Eight

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

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Battle of Honey Springs, Oklahoma - Part Seven

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

Battle of Honey Springs, Oklahoma - Part Six

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

Battle of Honey Springs, Oklahoma - Part Five

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

Battle of Honey Springs, Oklahoma - Part Four

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

Battle of Honey Springs, Oklahoma - Part Three

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

Battle of Honey Springs, Oklahoma - Part Two

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

Monday, October 13, 2008

Battle of Honey Springs, Oklahoma - Part One

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

Coming on Monday - The Battle of Honey Springs

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.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Alexander Asboth's "other" Battle

This is a photograph of Brigadier General Alexander Asboth, a key figure at the Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas and the administrative force behind much of the organization of the Union army in Missouri at the beginning of the Civil War.
A freedom fighter during the Hungarian Revolution of 1848, Asboth had been forced to flee his native country when the effort to establish an American styled republic there failed.
Evacuated to the United States aboard the U.S.S. Mississippi, he settled in New York where he worked as an engineer and surveyor. In the years before the war, he is best remembered for his surveys of what is now Central Park in New York City.
When the South fired on Fort Sumter, Asboth volunteered his services to the Lincoln Administration. He was given the rank of general and sent to Missouri where he served as adlatus or chief of staff to Major General John C. Fremont. In this role, Asboth provided administrative structure to Fremont's efforts to establish a Federal army to preserve Missouri as a Union state.
He commanded a division at Pea Ridge, where he was wounded while helping to hold back Van Dorn's attack until the Union army could be turned around and faced in the right direction.
By 1863, Asboth had been assigned the command of the Union District of West Florida with headquarters at Fort Barrancas near Pensacola. At the time he was sent there, it was feared that Sherman's march on Atlanta might fail and the Union army would be forced to cut its way through to the Gulf of Mexico. Asboth was a competent officer and it was expected that he would be able to assist greatly in such an effort should it prove necessary.
On September 27, 1864, General Asboth was severely wounded while leading troops in a cavalry charge at the Battle of Marianna, Florida. Confederate home guards ambushed his force and the general was shot in the arm and cheek. Even so, the bloody little battle was a Union victory and culminated the deepest Federal penetration of Florida during the Civil War.
Greatly weakened from his wounds, Asboth returned to active duty before the end of the war. He subsequently became a U.S. diplomat to South America and died a few years later in Argentina from the injuries sustained at Marianna. His wounds had never healed. He is buried today at Arlington National Cemetery.
If you would like to learn more about General Asboth's "other battle," the Battle of Marianna, Florida, please visit

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Battle of Poison Spring, Arkansas - Part Eight

This is the final part in our series on the Battle of Poison Spring, Arkansas.
A small portion of the battlefield is preserved today as the Poison Spring State Park. Located about ten miles west of Camden, Arkansas, the park features an interpretive display, monument, nature trail and picnic area set in the beautiful countryside of southern Arkansas.
Although the surrounding battlefield is not developed at this time, it is preserved by the state and artifact hunting is prohibited.
The interpretive panels (seen here) provide visitors with a good overview of the battle and provide a good orientation of the setting. The nature trail also carries visitors down into the steep ravine created by Poison Spring and Poison Spring Branch and is quite beautiful.
If you would like to learn more about the Battle of Poison Spring, please visit

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Battle of Poison Spring, Arkansas - Part Seven (Ghosts?)

The site of the Battle of Poison Spring is one of a number of Civil War battlefields that are reputed to be haunted by the ghosts of long forgotten soldiers.
I visited Poison Spring on the late afternoon of a stormy summer day and noticed an odd yellow glow through the trees near the spring. Although my mobility is limited, I walked a short distance down the path into the woods and could no longer see the strange light, but when I returned back to the cleared area at the parking lot it was once again visible.
I took a quick photograph before heading to the car to get out of the approaching lightning and, surprisingly, it showed up. This photograph to provide a better view, but the light I saw is clearly visible in the background behind the tree. The other "orbs" are, I think, just light effects from the weather conditions, but notice that one small white one is visible in front of the yellow light, showing that it was at a depth into the woods.
What was it? I have no idea. It is the first time I have encountered something like this in my various visits to battlefields and historic sites. It was clearly visible to the eye during the afternoon from a distance, but could not be seen from locations closer to its apparent position. If you have any thoughts, I would love to hear them!
You can see other "ghost" photos from Poison Spring State Park and read more about the battle at

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Battle of Poison Spring, Arkansas - Part Six

By the time the firing stopped at the Battle of Poison Spring, the scene was apocalyptic.
The Union forces had sustained losses estimated at 204 killed or missing and 97 wounded.
The Confederates also reported the capture of around 120 prisoners, only four of them black soldiers from the 1st Kansas Colored Infantry.
In addition, Southern troops took all four pieces of Union artillery, several hundred stand of small arms and 1,200 mules.
Of the wagons filled with supplies or stolen goods, the Confederates captured them all, although nearly 30 had to be abandoned and burned because they were either damaged or there were insufficient teams left to haul them away. Eyewitnesses on the scene reported that the wagons were filled with everything from corn to personal goods stolen from houses and even the meager possessions from slave cabins.
Confederate losses, by comparison, were small. Official reports listed 13 killed, 81 wounded and 1 missing. Although the disparity in losses is often used to demonstrate post-battle killings by Southern troops at Poison Spring, it should also be remembered that the Confederates had superior artillery on the ground and struck the Union line from both the front and flank.
Confederate troops pursued the retreating Federals for some distance from the battlefield, but were eventually halted by order of General Maxey who was more concerned with getting the massive haul of captured supplies to a safe position.
Our series on the Battle of Poison Spring, Arkansas will continue. Until the next post, you can read more by visiting

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Battle of Poison Spring, Arkansas - Part Five

This is a view of the trickling stream that flows from Poison Spring in Arkansas. It can be viewed along the nature trail at Poison Spring State Park.
At the time of the Battle of Poison Spring, the stream or "branch" was flowing with much greater force due to heavy rains that had deluged the area over previous weeks.
As the Union retreat at Poison Spring degenerated into a rout, many of the Federal troops fled the battlefield in any direction possible. It was at this stage of the fighting that alleged murders of Union black soldiers took place.
According to Federal accounts, many men from the 1st Kansas Colored Infantry were shot down by Confederate troops as they were either taken prisoner or tried to flee. The eyewitness accounts are silent as to how many such incidents allegedly took place, but the allegations do surface in a number of the post-battle reports and accounts.
Confederate accounts also indicate that Union black soldiers were killed as they tried to flee the battlefield. Southern eyewitness accounts generally alleged that the men of the 1st and 2nd Choctaw and Chickasaw Regiments were responsible for these actions, noting that the families of these men had suffered greatly at the hands of these same Union troops prior to the beginning of the Red River Campaign.
The latter fact was definitely true. Outrages visited on Choctaw and Chickasaw homes and farms by Union troops had caused a massive flood of refugee men, women and children to flee south from their lands to the areas along the Texas border where they could be protected by Confederate forces. Many of these refugees were family members of Choctaw and Chickasaw soldiers that fought on the Southern side at Poison Spring and there can be little doubt but that they held grudges over the treatment of their loved ones.
Several of the Confederate accounts also note that as the black Union soldiers attempted to flee at the end of the battle, they did not throw down their weapons, but "shuffled" along carrying their firearms with them. This is strangely similar to the accounts of Southern troops describing the alleged massacre at Fort Pillow, Tennessee.
Could there have been something in the pysche of Union black troops that made them unwilling to surrender their weapons? It is certainly possible, considering that for the most part they had been slaves prior to the war and ownership or use of firearms was generally forbidden to them. The possession of a musket or rifle to a black soldier certainly would have been a powerful symbol of his new found freedom and it is reasonable to think that he would have been extremely relunctant to part with it.
It is interesting to contemplate whether the refusal of men from the 1st Kansas Colored to throw down their weapons at Poison Spring might have contributed to alleged post-battle killings there.
It is also worth noting that Colonel James Williams, the commander of Union forces during the battle, reported that nearly half of the men in the regiment had either been killed or wounded during the actual fighting and before the beginning of the retreat. The regiment was stationed in a position where it received massive fire from superior Confederate artillery and the main infantry battle lines of the Southern forces.
Our series on the Battle of Poison Spring will continue. To read more about the battle before the next post, please visit

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Battle of Poison Spring, Arkansas - Part Four

When the Confederate attacks broke the Union lines at Poison Spring, the battle quickly devolved into a bloody rout.
Pressed from three sides, the Federals began to fall back away from the coveted wagon train and tried to escape across a steep ravine and into swampy areas to the rear of the main battlefield.
The ravine proved impossible to cross with artillery, so the four Union field pieces were abandoned and fell into Confederate hands.
The 1st Kansas Colored Infantry had already sustained heavy casualties by this time of the fight, so it is difficult to determine how many of its men fell during the retreat phase of the battle. The subsequent reports of Union officers indicated that "half" of the regiment had been killed or wounded on the main battle line by Confederate artillery and musket fire.
When the regiment began its attempted retreat, it did so under heavy Confederate pursuit, particularly by the 1st and 2nd Choctaw and Chickasaw Regiments. These Native American soldiers were irate with the Union cause because of the suffering inflicted on their families by these same soldiers prior to the beginning of the Red River Campaign. Union treatment of Choctaw and Chickasaw families near Fort Smith had forced them to flee their homes by the hundreds and many now lived in refugee camps near the Texas border. The Choctaw and Chickasaw warriors struck back with a vengeance at Poison Spring.
According to Union and some Confederate reports, soldiers from the 1st Kansas Colored were killed as they fled from the scene of the fighting and much controversy about murders has swirled around the Battle of Poison Spring.
When our series continues, we will look closer at this phase of the battle and the evidence on murders at the battlefield. Until then, learn more about this fascinating and controversial fight by visiting

Monday, September 8, 2008

New Review of Battle of Massard Prairie Book

Just a quick note to say thanks to the folks with the Northwest 15th Arkansas Infantry for the very kind review of my latest book, The Battle of Massard Prairie: The 1864 Confederate Attacks on Fort Smith, Arkansas.
They featured a review of the book on the front page of their September newsletter and were very kind in their remarks.
The organization is involved in WBTS reenacting in Arkansas and Oklahoma and you can learn more about them by visiting their website.
If you are interested in purchasing a copy of the book, it is available in the museum at Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park in Northwest Arkansas and at the Fort Smith Museum of History in Fort Smith.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Battle of Poison Spring, Arkansas - Part Three

When the Confederates began their main advance, the Union wagon train was in tight formation along the road (visible here beyond the interpretive shelter) and the Federal troops were positioned beyond the road to defend the train.
Maxey and Marmaduke's plan was to push against the main Union force to divert their attention while a surprise assault was launched against their right flank.
The flank attack was not really a surprise because Col. Williams and his men were able to see the Southern troops moving into position through gaps in the underbrush, but even so it proved highly effective.
As the firing between the two sides reached a peak, the Confederates moved forward. Williams estimated his effective force at the beginning of the battle at around 1,000 men and Maxey later reported that, although his command was much larger, only about 1,500 of his men were actually engaged. Much has been said about the overwhelming size of the Southern force during the Battle of Poison Spring, but in truth the forces actually engaged were closer in size than has generally been stated.
The Confederates did have a major advantage in field artillery during the battle and employed it to good use. The twelve Southern guns devastated the Union lines and had inflicted heavy losses on Williams' command even before the main attack began.
When the Confederates moved forward against their front and right flank, the Federals quickly realized that they were in serious trouble. Williams tried to bring forward additional men from his rear guard to help, but found out that the Southern lines were overlapping him in all directions.
He and his officers would later report that they beat back three distinct Confederate attacks, but the reports of Generals Maxey and Marmaduke do not agree. The Confederate generals describe one constant push that ultimately drove the Federals beyond their wagons and broke their lines.
Our series on the Battle of Poison Spring, Arkansas will continue. Until the next post, you can read more and see battlefield photos by visiting the new Battle of Poison Spring website at

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Battle of Poison Spring, Arkansas - Part Two

On the morning of April 18, 1864, the Union raiding party began its return to Camden.
Commanded by Col. James Williams of the 1st Kansas Colored Volunteers, the Federal force numbered nearly 1,200 men with four pieces of field artillery. As they moved forward on the Washington-Camden Road, however, they soon began to encounter Confederate pickets. Pushing the Southern horsemen before them, the Federal vanguard advanced roughly one mile before a stronger line of Confederate skirmishers suddenly halted the advance.
Colonel Williams quickly realized he was in trouble and pulled the 198 wagons loaded with stolen supplies into a tight formation on the road and then placed his troops into a position to defend the train as well as possible. The Confederates were concealed by the thick undergrowth and timber of the battlefield and the Federals had difficulty determining what kind of a force they were up against. To better unveil the situation, Williams felt from his right flank with detachments from the 2nd and 6th Kansas Cavalry and opened fire with his artillery. To his chagrin the Confederates responded with massive volleys of musketry and artillery fire and began to show themselves in force both in his front and on his right flank.
The Confederates had devised a plan of action that called for them to push strongly against the main Union line while also striking hard at the Federal right flank. As Williams began to realize the difficulty he was in, Maxey and Marmaduke ordered their troops forward, accompanied by the crash of 12 pieces of Confederate artillery.
Our series on the Battle of Poison Spring will continue. Until the next post, you can read more and see photographs of the battlefield by visiting the new Battle of Poison Spring site at

Friday, September 5, 2008

Battle of Poison Spring, Arkansas - Part One

During the spring of 1864, Union forces engaged in one of the most ill-conceived campaigns of the Civil War.
Despite the objections of Gen. U.S. Grant, two armies were sent to invade northern Louisiana and southern Arkansas. Their target was the strategic city of Shreveport, Louisiana, and the ultimate goal was the establishment of a foothold in Texas.
The Louisiana wing of the invasion was turned back at Battles of Mansfield and Pleasant Hill. The Arkansas phase began to unravel here at the Battle of Poison Spring.
Following smaller engagements at Elkin's Ferry and Prairie d'Ane, the Union army of Gen. Frederick Steele occupied Camden, Arkansas on April 15, 1864. The Federals were desperately short of supplies, so three days later Steele sent a force of 670 men with nearly 200 wagons to confiscate corn from private farms about 20 miles east of Camden. This force was reinforced by around 500 additional men as it returned from its raid, giving the Federals 1,190 men and four pieces of artillery as they leisurely escorted the slow-moving wagons on their way back to Camden.
The Confederates, however, were aware of their activities. After Union troops had occupied Camden, Southern Gen. Sterling Price sent out cavalry forces to observe all of the roads leading in and out of the city. When the wagon train emerged and began to move west, Price's forces began to prepare a surprise for the enemy raiders.
The surprise came on April 18, 1864, near a trickling water source named Poison Spring.
We will continue our look at the Battle of Poison Spring, Arkansas in our next post. Until then you can read more by visiting our new Battle of Poison Spring website at

Monday, September 1, 2008

Battle of Poison Spring, Arkansas

I hope you are having a good Labor Day.
Beginning tomorrow I'll start a series of posts on the Battle of Poison Spring, Arkansas. An important part of the Red River Campaign, this engagement was a controversial and bloody Confederate victory.
A portion of the battlefield is now preserved as the Poison Spring State Park near Camden and much of the rest is protected in a natural state.
Be sure to check in tomorrow for part one on this new series!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Cooper's Expedition to Fort Smith - Part Ten

Cooper's expedition against Fort Smith had been more successful than anticipated in achieving its goals. In the engagements of July 27th and 31st, more than 100 Union soldiers had been taken prisoner and dozens more were either killed or wounded.
In addition, the Confederates had seized hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of supplies, herds of cattle and horses, badly needed weaponry and literally driven the Union forces at Fort Smith into the fortifications of the town itself. Local pro-Southern families had been evacuated and Unionist families lost homes, property and - in at least one documented case - lives.
The inability of the Federals to secure their perimiters ended their use of Massard Prairie and adjacent grasslands to feed their herds of horses and cows. In short, Cooper had succeeded in confining the thousands of Federal troops at Fort Smith to their fortifications. This was to cause drastic consequences for the Union cause in the West over the next few weeks.
The expedition against Fort Smith was an important preliminary episode to the Second Cabin Creek expedition, a dramatic Confederate sweep up through what is now eastern Oklahoma that resulted in the capture of a massive Union supply train making its way from Kansas to Fort Gibson. Second Cabin Creek was one of the greatest and most successful feats of Southern arms during the war. Although it is little known today, it was one of the greatest supply seizures of the Civil War. It would not have been possible had not Cooper's expedition against Fort Smith been successful.
The Civil War in Fort Smith can be explored at several locations today. Among these are Fort Smith National Historic Site and the Fort Smith Museum of History in downtown Fort Smith and Massard Prairie Battlefield Park near the intersection of Red Pine and Morgan in the southeastern section of Fort Smith.
If you would like to learn more about the expedition, please consider picking up a copy of the book, The Battle of Massard Prairie: The 1864 Confederate Attacks on Fort Smith, Arkansas. It is now available in paperback at the Fort Smith Museum of History and at Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park in Arkansas. You can also purchase the book online at

Friday, August 22, 2008

Cooper's Expedition to Fort Smith - Part Nine

The attack on the morning of July 31, 1864 by General Watie's men created great alarm within the defenses of Fort Smith. The Federals were unsure whether the Confederates were merely raiding or if they planned a full scale assault on the outer fortifications.
Reinforcements were rushed into the rifle pits and earthworks around Battery Number 2 and senior officers, including Colonel W.R. Judson of the 6th Kansas Cavalry soon arrived at the point of action.
Taking advantage of a lull in the firing brought on as Watie's men raided a captured campsite for supplies and food, the Federals pushed out from their defenses and seized a hill located about one mile south of Battery Number 2 and between the position of the Confederates and the Union fortifications. Troops from the 1st Kansas Colored Infantry and 2nd Kansas Battery opened fire on the Southern forces from this new position, effectively engaging a Confederate light battery that General Cooper had pushed forward in support of Watie's men.
The cannon of each side roared into action. On the Union side, Colonel Judson was wounded in the left leg by a shell fragment, but maintained his position on the field until the end of the engagement.
Among the Confederates, the effect of the higher grade Union artillery soon became obvious. Cooper ordered his light guns withdrawn, but in the process a Union shell exploded directly over the horses, killing three and wounding another and cutting the leg from one of the artillerymen. A second shell decapitated a second man.
The demonstration had, by this point, gone on almost all day and Cooper had achieved the goals of his attack. Pro-Southern families in the vicinity had been evacuated behind the protection of his troops, the homes of pro-Union families had been damaged and another large haul of supplies and livestock had been captured. With darkness falling, he left a line of skirmishers to engage the Federals from behind the cover of underbrush and began to pull his main force back.
The skirmishers kept up a hot fire with the Federal infantry and successfully shielded the withdrawal of the main body until well after nightfall.
Our series on Cooper's Expedition to Fort Smith will conclude in our next post. Until then, you can read more by visiting If you are interested in reading about the expedition in depth, please consider purchasing a copy of The Battle of Massard Prairie: The 1864 Confederate Attacks on Fort Smith, Arkansas. The book is now available at the Fort Smith Museum of History, Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park or for order online at

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Cooper's Expedition to Fort Smith - Part Eight

On the morning of August 31, 1864, Gen. D.H. Cooper launched a second attack on Fort Smith.
The advance began at sunrise with Major Barnett took the 2nd Creek Regiment and a detachment of Cherokee soldiers under Captain Samuel H. Gunter up the River road into Poteau Bottom, the low area opposite the Poteau River from Fort Smith. The river was too high to allow this force to do much damage, but they opened fire on the main garrison with small arms creating quite a bit of alarm.
At the same time, General Gano moved to the east and occupied a hilltop overlooking Massard Prairie (probably the one where the Fianna Hills subdivision is located today). Lt. Col. Jack McCurtain was sent down onto the prairie with his Choctaw battalion to try to draw enemy troops out into the open, but the Federals had largely abandoned the area following Gano's successful attack on the 27th. Even so, 11 Union soldiers were captured along with a few horses and a drove of beef cattle.
As these operations were underway, Cooper moved up the Fort Towson Road (today's Towson Avenue) with the main body of his force. General Watie led the advance and overran a picket post of 35 men from the 6th Kansas Cavalry about 4 1/2 miles south of the main garrison.
Driving quickly forward, Watie pushed the Federal pickets into the earthen fortifications that had been thrown up around Fort Smith, seizing a "plentiful dinner" and equipment valued at $130,000 in the process.
The Union fortifications facing the attack ran along the ridge marked generally by Dodson Avenue today. The principal redoubt in this section of the line was Fort or Battery #2, located off Dodson between Wheeler and Towson. Although the area is now heavily developed, a few sections of rifle pits can still be seen. Then known as "Negro Hill," the high ground offered a sweeping view of the land beyond across which the Confederates were advancing.
About one mile south of this point, a second hill (also located between Towson and Wheeler) can still be seen. This elevation became the key objective for both sides in the battle.
Our series on Cooper's Expedition to Fort Smith will continue. Until the next post, you can read more online by visiting If you would like to learn about the expedition in depth, please consider my book, The Battle of Massard Prairie: The 1864 Confederate Attacks on Fort Smith, Arkansas. It is now available at the Fort Smith Museum of History, Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park or for order online at

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Massard Prairie Book now available at Fort Smith Museum of History

Paperback copies of The Battle of Massard Prairie: The 1864 Confederate Attacks on Fort Smith, Arkansas are now available at the Fort Smith Museum of History in downtown Fort Smith.

Open daily from Tuesday through Saturday, the museum is located at the western end of Rogers Avenue directly across from the Fort Smith National Historic Site.

As of yesterday the museum had a full supply of autographed copies of the books. Proceeds from their sales are being donated to the museum to assist in their massive operational costs.

Copies of the book are also available in Northwest Arkansas at Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park. It can also be ordered online at

Proceeds from the sales also help support the new Cane Hill Battlefield Driving Tour project in Northwest Arkansas.

If you would like to learn more about the Battle of Massard Prairie online, please visit

Cooper's Expedition to Fort Smith - Part Seven

Following the return of Gano and his men from the successful action at Massard Prairie, General Cooper began to consider the possibilities for a second move against Fort Smith.
Like the first attack, he did not intend for this action to involve an actual assault on the fortified city itself. His numbers were insufficient and the Federal position too strong for that. Instead, he hoped to once again snap up outlying Union units, capture supplies and create a diversion that would allow pro-Southern families in the area to evacuate under the protection of his troops.
The plan this time called for demonstrations against multiple points. Gano was ordered to sweep back down onto Massard Prairie to snap up any isolated units that might have moved back out. A second detachment, composed of Native American Confederate soldiers, was sent up the west bank of the Poteau to fire across into the garrison itself. Cooper then moved up with two columns on the main roads approaching Fort Smith from the south.
The famed Cherokee commander, Brigadier General Stand Watie, was now with the Confederates and he led the advance as the Southern troops moved up the Fort Towson and Line roads.
As our series continues in the next post, we will look at the action that resulted from this advance, remembered today as the Battle of Fort Smith. If you are interested in learning more, please consider my book The Battle of Massard Prairie: The 1864 Confederate Attacks on Fort Smith, Arkansas. It is available for order online at and is also available in the gift shops at Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park in Northwest Arkansas and at the Fort Smith Museum of History in Fort Smith.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Cooper's Expedition to Fort Smith - Part Six

As they fell back from their victory at Massard Prairie, Gano's men passed over the ridges and open prairie to the Devil's Backbone (seen here).
Still hoping to draw a Federal pursuing force into an ambush along the commanding ridge south of Fort Smith, Gano moved slowly, making sure the Federal cavalry under Col. Judson was able to clearly see his men.
The very rear of the Confederate column skirmished with the oncoming Union troops, but it really amounted to little more than a sporadic exchange of shots with no casualties reported.
The Union officers simply were too stunned by the defeat at Massard Prairie and too concerned about the possibility of further disaster to engage in a spirited pursuit. Before they approached close enough for Gano to launch his planned ambush, they turned back to Fort Smith. In subsequent reports, they blamed the condition of their mounts for their lack of more aggressive action.
Realizing that there would be no pursuit and no second battle, Gano crossed his men over the Devil's Backbone to James Fork, a branch of the Poteau River and camped near the river that night before returning back to the main base at the old Choctaw Council House.
The stunning success of the attack on the 6th Kansas battalion at Massard Prairie electrified the main camp and news traveled like lighting across the mountains and prairies to the headquarters of the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department and from there on east where it was recounted in newspapers as far away as Augusta, Georgia, and Richmond, Virginia.
The victory led General Cooper to begin considering a second aggressive action against Fort Smith, a move by which he hoped to secure even greater results.
We will have more on that when our series continues. Until the next post, you can read more about the Battle of Massard Prairie and related events by visiting

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Cooper's Expedition to Fort Smith - Part Five

This is an engraving of James Asher, a member of the 6th Kansas Cavalry. He was wounded during the fight at Massard Prairie on July 27, 1864.
As the battle intensified with Confederate attacks from all sides, the Union line began to give way. The two companies on the left fell back first, dividing the Federal force and creating an even greater disaster.
The collapse of the Union line at the Picnic Grove led to a flight across the open prairie for over one mile. Although some of the Federals escaped, a large number were wounded or captured by Gano's cavalry.
According to eyewitness accounts, the Union soldiers fought desperately during this stage of the battle because they believed the Native American Choctaw and Chickasaw warriors fighting for the Confederacy would kill them all. This was, of course, not the case, but it took Southern officers some time to convince the Federals that they would not be harmed if they surrendered. Ultimately they agreed.
Rounding up his prisoners, Gano fell back quickly to the captured campsite where his men collected weapons and other needed supplies and then set fire to the tents. They then began a slow withdrawal from the prairie back into the hills, taking their prisoners and captured livestock with them.
Just as they disappeared from the southern edge of the prairie, Union reinforcements appeared on its northern edge.
Our series on Cooper's Expedition to Fort Smith will continue. If you would like to learn more before the next post, please visit
Also, please consider my book The Battle of Massard Prairie: The 1864 Confederate Attacks on Fort Smith, Arkansas. Paperback copies can be ordered online by following the link above and can also be obtained at the visitor center of Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park in Northwest Arkansas. They will also be available beginning next week at the Fort Smith Museum of History in downtown Fort Smith.
To obtain a hardcover edition, please see yesterday's post for more information.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Battle of Massard Prairie now in hardback

I will continue my series on Cooper's Expedition against Fort Smith tomorrow.
Because of the number of inquiries about obtaining hardback copies of the new Battle of Massard Prairie book, the publisher has arranged to make hardback copies available.
The price for hardcover editions is $24.95 plus shipping and handling.
The Battle of Massard Prairie was fought on the outskirts of Fort Smith, Arkansas on July 27, 1864. A Confederate victory, it involved one of the few documented cases of scalping of Southern dead by Union troops during the entire Civil War.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Cooper's Expedition to Fort Smith - Part Four

The key episode of Cooper's 1864 expedition to Fort Smith was the Battle of Massard Prairie, fought on this date (July 27th) in 1864.
Sweeping down from the ridge that overlooked the vast prairie, the Confederate forces stormed onto the open ground in two columns. One of these swept to the right to attack the left flank of the Union camp and the other, led by General Gano in person, rode hard to strike the right flank of the Union position.
A detachment of Union pickets, posted on the old Jenny Lind Road, was scattered by the oncoming Confederates and the sounds of the gunfire alerted the Federals at Picnic Grove that trouble was at hand.
The three companies of "Arkansas Feds," Union recruits from Arkansas, camped on the south side of the grove broke and fled in the face of the oncoming attack. The men of the 6th Kansas, however, hastily formed an east to west battleline through their camp. The position was along an almost distinguishable rise overlooking a trickling stream or branch that ran through the camp.
Because the herd of horses had already been moved out onto the prairie to graze, Company B of the 6th Kansas moved forward slightly and tried to cover the herd until it could be brought in to safety. There was no time, however, as Gano successfully cut off the herd and attacked the men of Company B in their advanced position.
The attack was one of sheer nerve against superior Union weaponry. The small arms of the 6th Kansas Cavalry were far superior to the shotguns, Mississippi rifles and other weapons carried by the Confederates. They had a much greater range. As a result, the Southern troops would wait for the Federals to fire a volley, then charge in on them, fire at short range with their own weapons and then pull back as the Union troops were reloading. It was an unusual, but in the case of Massard Prairie, highly successful tactic.
As Gano was engaged with Company B on the right (west) end of the Union line, the detachment from his column pushed through the grove and attacked the center of the Union position. At the same time, the Choctaw column suddenly appeared from behind the trees and opened fire on the left (east) end of the Union line.
The situation for the Federals quickly became critical and Company B was pulled back into line with the three other companies. Gano pushed forward after them and also began moving around the right flank to strike the Union line from both its flank and rear. The men of the 6th Kansas suddenly found themselves facing Confederate troops from all sides.
Our series will continue later today. Until the next post, you can read more by visiting

Cooper's Expedition to Fort Smith - Part Three

The Confederates moved into position for their attack on the Union camp at Massard Prairie during the night of July 26, 1864.
Led by guides, Gano's men experienced considerable difficulty getting into position due to the darkness and confusing road and trail patterns. Finally, though, they camped during the early morning hours in a position they believed to be only four miles from Camp Judson.
Daybreak, however, revealed that they were still more than 8 miles from their destination. Despite this disappointment, the Confederates were still anxious for action and Gano got them up and moving.
Pushing northeast from Cedar Prairie, they rode up onto the ridge just south of Fort Smith that is now the site of Fianna Hills subdivision, a large suburban neighborhood. From the crest of this ridge they could look out over Massard Prairie and clearly see the cluster of trees at the Picnic Grove, where the Federal troops were camped.
Gano's plan called for a textbook double envelopment of the Union camp. One column of men, led by Colonels Folsom and Wells and consisting largely of Choctaw troops, was ordered to sweep to the right and strike against the left flank of the Union camp. A second column, led by Gano himself and composed primarily of Texans, would at the same time sweep to the left and strike the right flank of the Federal camp. This latter column would also detach a smaller force to advance through the grove and strike the Union force from the front.
With these arrangements made, the Confederates moved down the slope of the ridge and began to move into the open prairie. As the ground leveled, they urged their horses forward and began one of the great open field cavalry charges of the war in the west.
Our series will continue with the opening shots of the Battle of Massard Prairie. To read more before the next post, please visit

Cooper's Expedition to Fort Smith - Part Two

We're resuming now our series on the Confederate Expedition against Fort Smith during the summer of 1864. I'm sorry I haven't been posting over the last few days, but hopefully we can catch up.
As his scouts and raiding parties brought information back to headquarters from their forays around Fort Smith, General Cooper developed a plan for an attack that he felt might have a reasonable chance of success. Union troops had ringed the town with a strong line of earthen fortifications and the Confederate force was not of sufficient strength to storm the works without sustaining great losses.
Instead, Cooper learned from his scouts that the Federals had moved several large bodies of troops into exposed positions around the town. Forage had grown so short at Fort Smith that Union commanders had little choice but to do this in order to save their horses and other livestock. The Southern general developed a plan for attacking one of this outlying camps, hoping to inflict damage and draw a pursuing Federal force into an ambush on the Devil's Backbone ridge south of Fort Smith.
The plan was placed in the quite capable hands of Brigadier General R.M. Gano. A native Kentuckian and resident of Texas before the war, Gano had achieved distinction east of the Mississippi as an able cavalry commander under the famed John Hunt Morgan.
Orders were sent for a striking force to assemble on the Poteau River in the Choctaw Nation on the afternoon of July 26, 1864. When Gano reached the launching point for the raid, however, he found that fewer troops had arrived than expected. Considering his options, he decided to alter the plan for the attack. Instead of carrying out Cooper's original plan (which called for a decoy force to lead pursuing Federal troops into an ambush while a larger Confederate force closed on them from the rear), Gano decided to strike a camp that scouts reported was in an exposed position on Massard Prairie.
This camp was Camp Judson, occupied by acting Major David Mefford's battalion from the 6th Kansas Cavalry. Assigned to a position at the "picnic" or "Diamond" Grove on Massard Prairie, an open grassland southeast of Fort Smith, the battalion was guarding a herd of horses that was being grazed on the open range. The battalion consisted of four companies from the 6th Kansas. Three companies of Arkansas Federal recruits were also camped at the position.
Our series will continue throughout the day on Sunday with a series of posts about the Battle of Massard Prairie. To read more until the next post, please visit

Friday, July 18, 2008

Cooper's Expedition to Fort Smith - Part One

The Confederate success during the Red River Campaign created an unexpected window of opportunity for Southern forces operating in the Indian Territory of present-day Oklahoma.
Commanded by Brig. Gen. Douglas H. Cooper, Confederate forces pushed north to the Old Choctaw Council House near Tuskahoma, Oklahoma, about 90 miles southwest of Fort Smith. It should be noted that this was not the Council House currently standing in Tuskahoma, as that structure was not constructed until the 1880s.
Sheltered by rugged mountains, Cooper consolidated his forces at the old council house and sent out scouting parties to observe Union activities along the Arkansas River and identify targets of opportunity.
While Southern-allied guerrilla bands preyed on small Union forces moving between through the Boston Mountains north of Fort Smith, Cooper's forces pushed out from their base.
In mid-June, Col. Stand Watie and his men struck the Union steamboat J.R. Williams as it made its way up the Arkansas River from Fort Smith to Fort Blunt (Fort Gibson). Watie disabled the boat with artillery fire, captured it and then burned it to the waterline.
The attack on the Williams was one of a series of incidents that tightened the noose around the Federals in Fort Smith, forcing them inside a ring of earthen fortifications they had constructed around the town. By the end of June, the Union cavalry horses were in poor condition and a lack of forage threatened the ability of the thousands of men there to make any offensive movements at all.
Our series on Cooper's expedition and the Battles of Massard Prairie and Fort Smith will continue. You can read more about this little known campaign by reading The Battle of Massard Prairie available at and at the visitor center of Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Civil War Anniversaries in Fort Smith

The anniversaries of two of the most significant events in the history of Fort Smith - the 1864 Battles of Massard Prairie and Fort Smith - will pass over the next two weeks and I thought it might be interesting to mark the occasion with a new series.
Beginning tomorrow, I will start a series on Gen. Douglas B. Cooper's 1864 Confederate expedition against Fort Smith. I've previously devoted some attention to the Battle of Massard Prairie here, but this series will be more wide-ranging and will look at the expedition as a whole.
Over the next two weeks, please stop by for a continuing discussion of both battles, as well as an overview of Cooper's movements and their significance as preliminaries to the dramatic Southern success at the Second Battle of Cabin Creek a short time later.
Also, if you are interested in learning more on the expedition, please consider my recent book The Battle of Massard Prairie: The 1864 Confederate Attacks on Fort Smith, Arkansas. For more information, please click here.