Posts from the ‘1863’ Category

Oklahoma’s largest Civil War battlefield may become National Park

by Sean McLachlan 

1st Kansas Infantry was a black regiment with distinguished service at Honey Springs (Photo by farmalldanzil via Flickr)

The Honey Springs Battlefield Park in Oklahoma may become a new addition to the National Park Service, the Tulsa World reports.

The U.S. Department of the Interior said in a report that there’s “potential action” for “support designation of Honey Springs as a National Battlefield Park.” Now Oklahoma history buffs are scratching their heads over just what that means. The Tulsa World couldn’t get an answer.Hopefully that government-speak translates into real action. The Battle of Honey Springs was the largest Civil War battle in Oklahoma, which was the Indian Territory back then. The battle was notable in that white soldiers were a minority on both sides.

On July 17, 1863, a Confederate army was gathering at Honey Springs in order to attack the Union position at Fort Gibson. About four or five thousand rebels had assembled, mostly Cherokee, Choctaw and Chickasaw. More reinforcements were coming, so the Union troops at Fort Gibson, which only numbered 2,800, decided to attack before it was too late. The Union side was mostly black and Indian troops, some from the same tribes as the rebels.

After a night march, the Union army attacked the Confederate position in a pouring rain. The rain ruined much of the rebel gunpowder, and this helped decide the battle. Nonetheless there was enough powder left for the rebels to put up a hard resistance. After a few hours they were forced to retreat, having to burn part of their wagon train to keep it out of Union hands.

The Confederates lost 150 men killed, 400 wounded, and 77 taken prisoner. The Union lost only 17 killed and 60 wounded. The rebels lost control of the Indian Territory north of the Arkansas River. This helped open up Arkansas for invasion and led to a Union army capturing Little Rock that September.

Prominent in the fight on the Union side was the First Kansas Colored Volunteers, a black unit of mostly escaped slaves that was the first American black regiment to see combat when they defeated a larger force of rebel guerrillas at the Battle of Island Mound in Missouri on October 29, 1862. The victory made headlines across the country and helped dispel a widespread belief that black soldiers wouldn’t fight.

The First Kansas Colored Volunteers fought in several engagements in Missouri, Kansas, and Arkansas yet they aren’t very well known. The justly famous 54th Massachusetts has inspired books, a monument, a movie, even a rap video, but the First Kansas remains largely forgotten. I’ve been sending a book proposal on the regiment around to publishers for a few years now, and despite being an established Civil War author I keep getting told there’s an “insufficient market” for the subject. Apparently the American public can only deal with one group of black heroes at a time.

Here’s hoping the Honey Springs battlefield will become a National Park and the First Kansas will get some of the recognition they deserve. Thanks to Jane Johansson over at the The Trans-Mississippian blog for bringing this to my attention. Jane blogs about all aspects of the Civil War west of the Mississippi and is worth reading.


The Battle of Honey Springs – July 17, 1863

This engraving of the Honey Springs battle was published in Harper's Weekly.

Honey Springs was the most important Civil War battle fought in Indian Territory. It preserved Union ownership of Fort Gibson and dealt Confederate forces a blow from which they never fully recovered. It also opened the way for the Federal capture of Fort Smith, Arkansas, and helped justify the recruitment of black regiments by the Union army.

In April 1863, Colonel William A. Phillips and a Union column out of Kansas challenged Confederate authority in Indian Territory by occupying Fort Gibson on the Arkansas River. Confederate brigadier general Douglas H. Cooper decided to retake that vital post, and he began gathering troops and supplies at Honey Springs, a Confederate depot twenty miles southwest of his objective.

By mid-July, Cooper had massed a mixed force of 6,000 Texans and Indians at Honey Springs. He also had a four-gun battery. Another 3,000 Confederate soldiers under Brigadier General William L. Cabell were enroute from Fort Smith, and Cooper expected them at Honey Springs sometime around 17 July. Once these reinforcements arrived, Cooper planned to advance on Fort Gibson, whose garrison barely numbered more than 3,000 men.

Unfortunately for Confederate hopes, Major General James G. Blunt, the aggressive commander of the Union District of the Frontier, learned of Cooper’s offensive preparations. Blunt realized that he had to smash the enemy at Honey Springs before Cabell arrived or forfeit Fort Gibson. Organizing a field force consisting of 3,000 men and twelve cannon, Blunt forded the Arkansas above Fort Gibson on 15-16 July and followed the Texas Road south. A rainy night march brought the Federals within six and a half miles of Honey Springs by daybreak on 17 July.

Elk Creek at the Honey Springs battlefield

Blunt discovered that Cooper had advanced a mile and a half from Honey Springs to meet him at Elk Creek. Cooper took advantage of the timber fringing the north bank of the creek to deploy his Texans and Indians in a sheltered line one and a half miles long, but his position was not as strong as it looked. Blunt’s superiority in artillery offset the Confederates’ superiority in numbers. Furthermore, nearly a quarter of Cooper’s troops lacked serviceable firearms, and their gunpowder was an inferior brand imported from Mexico. An early morning rain turned much of this powder into useless paste, leaving many rebels virtually defenseless.

The battle opened at 10:00 A.M. with a one-hour artillery duel. The Confederates knocked out a Federal 12-pound Napoleon howitzer, but their main opponents responded by disabling a mountain howitzer. Dismounting his cavalry units to fight on foot, Blunt sent them and his infantry to rake Cooper’s line with rapidly delivered small arms fire.

In keeping with his abolitionist principles, Blunt entrusted the 1st Kansas Colored Infantry, the first black combat regiment in the Union Army, with holding the center of his line. After nearly two hours of fighting, Blunt directed the 1st Kansas to advance and capture the rebel artillery.

The black soldiers soon found themselves exchanging volleys with the dismounted 20th and 29th Texas Cavalry, posted in support of Cooper’s guns. In the midst of this standoff, the Union 2nd Indian Home Guard Regiment blundered into the 1st Kansas Colored’s field of fire. As the Indians scampered out of the way, the Confederates mistakenly assumed that Blunt’s entire line was giving way. The 29th Texas surged forward with a cheer. The 1st Kansas calmly permitted their opponents to close to twenty-five paces and then unleashed a series of destructive volleys that sent the Texans reeling to the rear without their regimental colors. A jubilant Blunt later reported: “I never saw such fighting as was done by the negro regiment. They fought like veterans, with a coolness and valor that is unsurpassed. They preserved their line perfect throughout the whole engagement and, although in the hottest of the fight, they never once faltered. Too much praise cannot be awarded for their gallantry.”

1st Kansas Volunteer Infantry, Colored, marker at the Honey Springs battlefield

With the center of the Confederate line shattered beyond repair, Cooper retreated across Elk Creek. Blunt drove the Confederates past Honey Springs and managed to save much of the depot’s stocks of foodstuffs from fires hastily set by his beaten foes. The fighting ended at 2:00 P.M., two hours before Cabell arrived on the scene with his 3,000 men from Fort Smith.

At a loss of seventeen killed and sixty wounded, Blunt had saved Fort Gibson and the Union foothold in Indian Territory. Cooper admitted to 134 killed and wounded and forty-seven captured, but his army had suffered a major blow. Henceforth, Confederate forces in Indian Territory would confine themselves to hit-and-run raids against Union supply trains.

[Written by Gregory J.W. Urwin in the Encyclopedia of the American Civil War: A Political, Social and Military History by David S. and Jeanne Heidler. pp. 994-995]

For further reading:

Britton, Wiley. Memoirs of the Rebellion on the Border, 1863 (1993).

Cornish, Dudley Taylor. The Sable Arm: Negro Troops in the Union Army, 1861-1865 (1966).

Fischer, LeRoy H. The Civil War Era in Indian Territory (1974).

Josephy, Alvin M. The Civil War in the American West (1991).

Rampp, Larry C., and Donald L. Rampp. The Civil War in Indian Territory (1975).

Gettysburg Address text

On this date 148 years ago, the final battle, forever known as Pickett’s Charge, occurred at Gettysburg, Pa. Even though the speech was not given until November 1863, it is still important, during this Civil War Sesquicentennial, to take a moment to reflect upon the meaning of these important words:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground.

Bronze statue of Grace Bedell and Abraham Lincoln, Westfield NY.

The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Deutsche Bank case may signal new use of Civil War-era law

NEW YORK, May 3 (Reuters) – The government’s mortgage fraud lawsuit filed against Deutsche Bank AG on Tuesday takes advantage of a Civil War-era law that has rarely been used against Wall Street.

The suit, which accuses Deutsche Bank and its MortgageIT unit of lying to the government in order to obtain federal insurance on mortgages, relies on the False Claims Act, a law first passed in 1863 in response to contractors accused of gouging the Union army.

The statute provides for treble damages and penalties and has been used to take on industries that rely heavily on government contracts. In recent years, it has been the basis for securing multimillion settlements and fines from pharmaceutical companies accused of bilking government programs like Medicare and Medicaid.

The financial-services industry has not been a major target of the False Claims Act. But given the government’s outsized role in providing mortgage insurance, many litigation experts are not surprised that the law is now being used to target mortgage fraud.

The new government suit alleges that Deutsche Bank made false certifications to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development about its mortgages in an effort to obtain insurance for them. The Federal Housing Authority, the world’s largest mortgage insurer, has paid $386 million in insurance claims on more than 3,100 mortgages endorsed by Deutsche Bank’s MortgageIT, according to the government.

Deutsche Bank said the claims are “unreasonable and unfair, and we intend to defend against the action vigorously.”

Marc Greenwald, a former federal prosecutor who is now a partner at the law firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, LLP, said it wouldn’t be surprising if the government files similar suits against other lenders.

“It’s great to see the government actually try to recoup some of the losses suffered by government agencies during the mortgage credit crisis,” said Greenwald.

Whistleblowers may have already filed False Claims Act cases against mortgage lenders, said Neil Getnick, managing partner of the law firm Getnick & Getnick LLP. Such cases, known as qui tam actions, are typically first filed under seal while plaintiffs seek to recruit the government to join their suit.

“The full impact of those suits may not be felt until later,” said Getnick.

No whistleblower suit was filed against Deutsche Bank before the case brought by the civil fraud unit of the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s office. The unit was created in March 2010, to tackle a variety of financial frauds.

When he announced the formation of the unit, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara noted that bringing civil cases offered several advantages over criminal cases, including a lower standard of proof, the ability to freeze assets early, and broad pretrial discovery.

Sean Cenawood, who was in charge of the civil frauds unit before he left to become a partner at the law firm SNR Denton, said Bharara has given the unit a lot of resources and attention.

“The mandate from Preet and the administration in general when I was as there was ‘let’s not overlook the civil arrow in our quiver,'” said Cenawood.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Bharara said there was no evidence of criminal wrongdoing by individuals at Deutsche Bank.

The case is U.S. v. Deutsche Bank AG et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 11-02976.

(Reporting by Andrew Longstreth; Additional reporting by Jonathan Stempel)

Photo of the Day: 1st Minnesota Monument at Gettysburg

Monument to the 1st Minnesota Infantry at Gettysburg National Battlefield, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Image licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic and 1.0 Generic license.

Extraordinary Letter: William A. Louks, 56th Ohio Infantry Regiment

Originally posted on Soldier Studies – a great website to find 1860s letters from soldiers.

Colonel Peter Kinney organized the 56th Ohio Infantry Regiment at Camp Morrow, Portsmouth, Ohio, where it was mustered in on December 12, 1861. During Grant’s Vicksburg campaign the regiment saw action at Port Gibson and Champion Hills, capturing 2 guns and 125 prisoners. At Champion Hills it lost 135 men killed and wounded. After the fall of Vicksburg, it followed Johnston to Jackson and next moved to Natchez, joining Banks’ Red River expedition where it endured heavy casualties in the retreat with a number of officers and men captured.

Regiment lost during service 3 Officers and 55 Enlisted men killed and mortally wounded and 2 Officers and 156 Enlisted men by disease. Total 216.

On Monday, August 31st, 1863, while stationed in Carrolton, Louisiana, Louks wrote a letter home to his wife Mary.

The letter is fascinating for several reasons. First, Louks discussion concerning politics and the Constitution are not common and when we do find political discussion it is not with the depth of knowledge Louks conveys. He is obviously very articulate and opinionated. It is also a significant letter as Louks offers detailed description of what the battlefield was like during a fight. Louks was also wounded severely at Port Gibson and discusses the agony of battle and of losing a comrade.

Letter Highlights:

“You ask me to look at the unconstitutional arrest. I wish you would have showed me one (though I do not doubt that a good many loyal men have been arrested and imprisoned by designing men who have went to the provost martial and swore lies to affect his purpose) yet we can not doubt that there has been a great deal of good done in the way of arbitrary arrests for there certainly has been a great many traitors arrested and may more be made to shut their mouths for fear they would be arrested Some object to this because it seems like taking away the liberty of speech, but should I or any other man be allowed to preach treason in the faces of loyal men.”

“I know that it would not be much like hunting rebels here where every woman and child that you see you must feel that they are your enemy and most of them even thirst for your blood for a good many of the women seem more blood thirsty than the men do.”

“I too well remember the day I lay upon the ground with one of my comrades lying almost at my feet in his blood uttering his last groans while to my side lay two more, one mortally wounded while the other had a frightful shot clear across his shoulders and my right arm was paralyzed by a ball through my shoulder. But even then with balls flying thick and fast around me I did not feel like having peace on rebel terms and don’t yet. But I hope to do what I did then, fight them with one hand if f can not use two. We have a peace that may be called peace.”

To read the entire letter…

[Regiment History Source:]

Rare Civil War flags unfurled in Lansing

Published: Sunday, April 17, 2011, 2:48 AM

By Kim Schneider; Grand Rapids Press

LANSING — Matt VanAcker dims the lights of the temperature-controlled storage room off a display area of the Michigan Historical Museum in Lansing. We don white gloves and only then slide open one of the dozens of special-made storage drawers to unveil a silk flag that brings the Civil War into focus in a particularly powerful way.

Keith Harrison, National Commander in Chief of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, conducts a tour of the Grand Army of the Republic Post in Sunfield, near Lansing. Harrison or other post members offer tours by prior arrangement of the hall filled with war photos and memorabilia, and still used for meetings of Civil War "sons." Grand Rapids Press photos | Kim Schneider

Nine men, one after another, died or were critically wounded while carrying this particular flag on July 1, 1863 at Gettysburg — determined not to let it fall into enemy hands, said VanAcker, Capitol tour and information service director and a Civil War buff. Abel Peck, the first to die, had written his daughter a few months earlier, saying, “If I fall, you must not mourn, for I think I am doing my duty ….”

This flag was never surrendered. Yet even without the story behind it, the flag makes the war real. Like others in the valuable collection of 230 flags stored in this room, 160 from the Civil War, it is stained with the blood of soldiers who carried it.

Bearing the flag was particularly dangerous, VanAcker said, because it was a rallying point and also a means of organizing a unit. One beautiful silk flag, engraved with gold lettering for the 8th Michigan Cavalry by the “ladies of Mount Clemens,” was ordered off a battlefield by an officer because it afforded such a visible target for the rebels and unnecessarily risked too many lives.

The flags were presented at war’s end to then-Gov. Henry Crapo. At a dedication ceremony, he pledged they would not be forgotten and would remain not just the state’s proudest possession, but also: “a revered incentive to liberty and patriotism, and a constant rebuke and terror to oppression and treason.”

Matt VanAcker, Michigan's Capitol Tour and Information Services Director, displays one of the many fragile original Michigan Civil War flags in storage at the Michigan Historical Museum currently out in a rare public display.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War. The battle of Bull Run was fought on July 21, 2861 and was considered the first major battle of the four-year war. As just one of many events taking place in Michigan and nationwide this year, the Michigan Historical Society is hosting the current exhibit “Plowshares into Swords,” Running through February 2012, the exhibit features a display of the battle flags, which are being brought out of storage on a rotating basis.

The exhibit shares the story of those who fought in the war and their families. It shares tales of regiments, such as the First Michigan Colored Infantry, which began training in 1963, shortly after the Emancipation Proclamation allowed blacks to serve. The flag of the Fourth Michigan Cavalry Regiment bears 40 battle honors; Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, surrendered to the Fourth under this flag after unsuccessfully trying to flee the country.

Michigan was first

Michigan was the first western state to answer Lincoln’s call for volunteers following the April 12, 1861 attack on Fort Sumter. Lincoln greeted the First Michigan Volunteer Infantry Regiment as it marched into Washington, D.C., and glanced up at the country’s Capitol dome for inspiration.

Michigan’s Capitol was later built with the same dome-style architecture as homage to the role the dome played in inspiring soldiers, launching a trend among many northern Capitols. A tour of the building, offered several times daily, shares this and other Civil War trivia. The fire-proof building also was constructed in part to store treasures such as the flags, now stored in their temperature- and humidity-controlled vault at the Michigan Historical Museum. At any time, private tours can be arranged, with special consideration going to families of those who fought in one of the represented regiments.

Until 1990, the collection of original flags was displayed in the Capitol Rotunda. Concern that the flags were deteriorating led to their replacement with the current replica flags. The battle flags were repaired by a professional textile conservator, Fonda Thomsen, as part of a Save the Flags program that placed flags out for symbolic “adoption.”

Other must-see Civil War sites on Capitol Square include the statue of Austin Blair, one of the nation’s most beloved “war” governors and the monument to the all Native American, Company K.

The Michigan Historical Museum is at 702 W. Kalamazoo St. in Lansing. For museum hours and events, go to or call 517-373-3559. Guided tours of the Capitol are offered 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

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