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 www.exploresouthernhistory.com/massardbook and at the visitor center of Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park.