Wednesday, July 31, 2013

July 17, 1863

July 17, 1863

---Battle of Honey Springs, Oklahoma – The largest and most decisive of the war’s battles fought in the Indian Territory, this battle put an end to Confederate hopes that the Five Civilized Tribes (Cherokee, Creek, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Seminole) who occupy this territory would help the South dominate in the region west of the Mississippi, and thus threaten the western borders of the northern states, too.  Maj. Gen. James Blunt, always resourceful in the face of shortages and administrative indifference, was the first to raise black troops (in Kansas) and Indian troops for the Federal army.  He marches his small, 3,000-man division down to Fort Gibson in the Territory to make it a strong point, positioned as it was at the junction of the Neosho and Arkansas Rivers in northeastern Oklahoma.  Gen. Douglas Cooper, Confederate commander of the district, has two brigades---one of Texas troops and another of Indian troops, making nearly 5,700 men altogether---and is waiting at Honey Springs (about 20 miles to the southwest), a major Confederate supply depot, for Gen. Cabell to arrive from Ft. Smith with another 3,000 men.  Gen. Blunt gets wind of Cooper’s idea, and in spite of suffering from incephalitis, Blunt gets his 3,000 troops on the road to attack the Rebels first, before they can effect a junction with Cabell’s force.  With 250 mounted men and 4 cannon, Blunt first secures a crossing over the Arkansas River, and the rest of his force follows him.  He now has 3,000 infantry, 12 field pieces, and a few cavalry.  As he approaches Honey Springs along the Texas Road, he finds the Rebels arrayed for battle just east of Elk Creek. 

Map courtesy of Civil War Trust,

Army of the Frontier – Maj. Gen. James Blunt, comm.
    1st Brigade - Col William R. Judson
        2nd Indian Home Guard --- Lt Col Fred W. Schaurte
        1st Kansas Colored Infantry--- Col James M. Williams (w), Lt Col John Bowles
        6 Companies, 3rd Wisconsin Cavalry --- Capt Edward R. Stevens
    2nd Brigade - Col William A. Phillips
        6 Companies, 2nd Colorado Infantry --- Col Theodore H. Dodd
        1st Indian Home Guard --- Col Stephen H. Wattles
        Detachments of 6th Kansas Cavalry* --- Col William F. Campbell
        2nd Kansas Light Artillery
        1st Section --- Capt Edward Smith
        2nd Section --- Lt John P. Grassberger
        3rd Kansas Light Artillery* --- Capt Henry Hopkins

Blunt lines up his two brigades---one under Col. William Judson on the right, and another under Col. William Philips on the left, supported by 12 field guns.  On the Confederate side, Gen. Cooper had only 4 field guns, and three of these were 12-pounder howitzers, which fired only small loads at a limited range.  Cooper’s army was organized as follows:

First Brigade, Indian Troops, Brig. Gen. Douglas Cooper, comm.
    Texas Brigade - Col Thomas C. Bass
        20th Texas Cavalry (Dismounted) --- Col Thomas Coker Bass
        29th Texas Cavalry - Col Charles DeMorse (W)
        5th Texas Partisan Rangers--- Col Leonidas M. Martin
    Indian Brigade - Brig Gen Douglas Cooper
        1st Cherokee Mounted Rifles* --- Maj Joseph F. Thompson
        2nd Cherokee Mounted Rifles# --- Lt Col James M. Bell
        1st Choctaw---Chickasaw Mounted Rifles --- Col Tandy Walker
        1st Creek --- Col Daniel N. McIntosh
        2nd Creek--- Col Chilly McIntosh
    Artillery & Cavalry
        Lee's Battery--- Capt Roswell W. Lee
        Scanland's Squadron Texas Cavalry --- Capt John Scanland
        Gillett's Squadron Texas Cavalry --- Capt L. E. Gillett

Cooper is at a disadvantage because nearly a fourth of his force lack serviceable weapons, and the Rebels’ powder supply is limited and of poor quality.  Some eyewitnesses claim that nearly half of the Rebels were not even engaged.  The battle commences with an artillery duel that lasts for over an hour, each side having only disabled one gun of the other.  Blunt has his cavalry dismount, and the battle turns into a seesaw firefight in the underbrush.  At one point, the Confederate superior numbers are put to use as they extend their right to flank the Federal left.  Blunt orders the 1st Kansas Colored to attack the Rebel center and capture their guns, and the black troops move forward and pour in a deadly volley fire.  But the 2nd Indian Home Guard, in the smoke and confusion, veers to the right and finds itself between the 1st Kansas and the Texans they were fighting.  Lt. Col. Bowles orders the Indians to retreat back into their position.  From the Confederate lines, it sounds and looks as if the Union troops are retreating, and they advance into what they hope is a disintegrating Union line; but as they hit the Union line, they find an established and solid battle line, and the Federal troops pour deadly volleys into the surprised Southerners.  The 20th Texas Cavalry takes especially heavy losses, and after the loss of their colors, the Confederate line begins to fall back.  Cooper moves his forces farther back to guard the Elk Creek bridge while his artillery is evacuated, and later, at the Honey Springs Depot itself, the Chickasaw and Choctaw troops, supported by Texas troopers, hold off the Federals long enough to cover the retreat.  The Rebels set fire to the depot, but Blunt’s men salvage much of the supplies.  The Rebels immediately march west, and---two hours after the battle is over---encounter Gen. Cabell and his reinforcements---who are too late.  The next day, July 18, Blunt marches his men back to Fort Gibson.  Union Victory. 
Losses:  U.S.  79           C.S.  637

Maj. Gen. James G. Blunt, USA

---Civil strife in the streets of New York is less severe, even as more troops arrive from the Army of the Potomac.

---Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles writes more in his journal concerning the denouement of Gettysburg and Vicksburg:

In a conversation with General Wadsworth, who called on me, I learned that at the council of the general officers, Meade was disposed to make an attack, and was supported by Wadsworth, Howard, and Pleasonton, but Sedgwick, Sykes, and the older regular officers dissented. Meade, rightly disposed but timid and irresolute, hesitated and delayed until too late. Want of decision and self-reliance in an emergency has cost him and the country dear, for had he fallen upon Lee it could hardly have been otherwise than the capture of most of the Rebel army.

The surrender of Port Hudson is undoubtedly a fact. It could not hold out after the fall of Vicksburg. We have information also that Sherman has caught up with and beaten Johnston.

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