Posts tagged ‘Fort Gibson’

On this date in Civil War history: December 9, 1861 – The Battle of Chusto-Talasah (150th Anniversary)

Chusto-Talasah Battlefield as it exists today. Photo taken in July 2011 by Jeffrey S. Williams

Also known as the engagement of “Caving Banks” or “Little High Shoals,” the Civil War Battle of Chusto-Talasa took place on Bird Creek near present Sperry in Tulsa County. In November 1861 Col. Douglas H. Cooper, Confederate commander of the Indian Territory, set out with Choctaw-Chickasaw, Creek, and Texas units to subdue Creek Chief Opothleyahola and his Creek and Seminole followers, who refused to accept their nations’ alliance with the Confederate States of America. The Confederates also hoped to confiscate the dissidents’ slaves and enslave all Indian freedmen. Cooper’s first attack on the alerted and fleeing “Union” Indians at the Battle of Round Mountain on November 19 was unsuccessful. The escapees retreated north and took position within the Horseshoe Bend of Bird Creek.

Opothleyahola had perhaps two thousand to twenty-five hundred individuals with him, the majority being women, children, and poorly armed men. The Confederates fielded thirteen hundred soldiers with the addition of two Cherokee regiments. Cooper attacked mid-afternoon on December 9. About dusk a Texas cavalry squadron outflanked the bend, while the First Regiment Choctaw-Chickasaw Mounted Rifles penetrated its center. But Cooper did not have enough ammunition to eradicate the defeated refugees as they fled toward Kansas. Cooper suffered fifty-two casualties plus some desertions from Col. John Drew’s First Cherokee Mounted Rifles. Opothleyahola lost an estimated 150 to three hundred dead and wounded, plus many noncombatants captured.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Carter Blue Clark, “Opothleyohola and the Creeks During the Civil War,” in Indian Leaders: Oklahoma’s First Statesmen, ed. H. Glenn Jordan and Thomas M. Holm (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Historical Society, 1979). LeRoy H. Fischer and Kenny A. Franks, “Confederate Victory at Chusto-Talasah,” The Chronicles of Oklahoma 49 (Winter 1971-72). W. Craig Gaines, The Confederate Cherokees: John Drew’s Regiment of Mounted Rifles (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1989).

Commentary by Whit Edwards in “The Prairie was on Fire” pp. 7-9:

Opoethleyohola did not want to join the unionists in Kansas, but he hoped to stay clear of the Confederates. He therefore moved his band north and east and settled into camp north of Tulsey Town on Bird Creek. There they, as well as the Confederates in their camps, suffered an outbreak of the measles, which debilitated both groups Spurred by concerns from the leadership in the Creek and Cherokee tribes that Opoethleyohola would stir up trouble, Cooper took action. On 30 November Cooper was again on Opoethleyohola’s trail The weather had turned fearfully cold and the troops were none too happy to be back in the saddle. On 7 December Cooper pinpointed the enemy camp and received word they might be willing to negotiate. Cooper sent emissaries from Col. John Drew’s Cherokee Regiment into Opoethleyohola’s camp. Later that evening Drew’s regiment suffered 400 desertions from a contingent of 480 men. Some fled back to Fort Gibson, while the majority went over to the enemy and joined Opoethleyohola’s camp. Alarmed that his flank was exposed and the enemy reinforced, Cooper formed a line of battle and waited for an attack. Because his men had slept “on their arms” all night, Cooper feared his force would be too weak to attack, and perhaps too weak to defend, so he proceeded down Bird Creek to Tulsey Town.

As the Confederates crossed the creek, Opoethleyohola ambushed the rear of the retreating column. Colonel Cooper reacted quickly by bringing his troops to bear and sending his wagon train east out of harm’s way. Opoethleyohola used the attack on Cooper’s rear as a ruse to get Cooper to chase the attackers to a battlefield of Opoethleyohola’s own choosing. Old Gouge had his men well posted in a bend of Bird Creek called Chusto-Talasah or Little High Shoals, a natural ambuscade that was easily defended.

The Battle of Chusto-Talasah lasted about four hours as both sides charged and attempted flanking maneuvers. Neither side could get the upper hand. As the day came to an end, the gunfire fizzled, and both sides slipped away under the cover of darkness. Once again Colonel Cooper had not been able to capture or subdue his wily enemy. The fight had exhausted Cooper’s ammunition supply, and he was forced to fall back to Fort Gibson to resupply. Old Gouge’s supplies also were depleted, and he headed northwest toward Shoal Creek to a place called Chustenahlah.

National Park Service/American Battlefield Protection Program Summary 

Chusto-Talasah  

Other Names: Caving Banks

Location: Tulsa County

Campaign: Operations in the Indian Territory (1861)

Date(s): December 9, 1861

Principal Commanders: Chief Opothleyahola [I]; Col. Douglas H. Cooper [CS]

Forces Engaged: Creek and Seminole [I]; Indian Department [CS]

Estimated Casualties: Unknown

Description: Following Chief Opothleyahola and his Union force’s defeat at Round Mountain, he retreated northeastward, in search of safety. On December 9, 1861, the force was at Chusto-Talasah, or Caving Banks, on the Horseshoe Bend of Bird Creek when Col. Douglas H. Cooper’s 1,300 Confederates attacked Chief Opothleyahola around 2:00 pm. Chief Opothleyahola knew Cooper was coming and had placed his troops in a strong position at Horseshoe Bend. For almost four hours, Cooper attacked and attempted to outflank the Federals, finally driving them east across Bird Creek just before dark. Cooper camped there overnight but did not pursue the Federals because he was short of ammunition.  The Confederates claimed victory. Chief Opothleyahola and his band moved off in search of security elsewhere. Although the Confederates had gained a victory, they would win a resounding one later in the month at Chustenahlah.

Result(s): Confederate victory

CWSAC Reference #: OK002

Preservation Priority: IV.2 (Class D)

See also: The Battle of Round Mountain – November 19, 1861; The Battle of Chustenahlah – December 26, 1861.

Map of the Chusto-Talasah Battlefield from the May 2010 Civil War Sites Advisory Committee's Oklahoma Update

 

Official Records of the War of the Rebellion

Chusto-Talasah – December 9, 1861

Series I, Volume 8

Excerpt from Colonel Douglas H. Cooper’s report from Fort Gibson, January 20, 1862

Brigadier General Douglas H. Cooper, CSA (Photo courtesy of Library of Congress)

On the 8th of December, about 12 o’clock, I found him encamped on Bird’s Creek. After a brief interview, in which he informed me that Hopoeithleyohola had sent a message expressing a desire to make peace, I authorized him to send in return to Hopoeithleyohola the assurance that we did not desire the shedding of blood among the Indians, and proposed a conference next day. Major Pegg, of the Cherokee regiment, was sent, and I proceeded to encamp about 2 miles below Colonel Drew, on the same creek. Much to my surprise, about 7 o’clock at night several members of Colonel Drew’s regiment came to my camp with the information that Major Pegg had returned without being able to reach Hopoeithleyohola, who was surrounded by his warriors, several thousand in number, all painted for the fight, and that an attack would be made upon me that night; that the Cherokee regiment, panic-stricken, had dispersed, leaving their tents standing, and in many instances even their horses and guns. Soon afterwards the wagon-master of the Cherokee regiment and his teamsters, true to their duty, brought down a portion of their trains and provisions. Lieutenant-Colonel Quayle, with a squadron of the Fourth [Ninth] Texas Cavalry, was then sent to Colonel Drew’s relief and to report the condition of his camp. Colonel Drew and 28 members of his regiment soon afterwards came into my camp and fully confirmed the statements made by the first party and declared their intention to assist in its defense.

My whole command had been, on the first alarm, formed and so disposed as to protect and defend our camp on all sides and remained under arms all night, quietly awaiting the enemy.

No attack was made, however, and soon after daylight Actg. Asst. Adjt. Gen. R.W. Lee, with a small party, went up to Colonel Drew’s deserted camp and found all standing and apparently untouched. Colonel Drew, with the Cherokees, a portion of the Texas cavalry, and some Choctaws, went up and brought away the camp equipage, and other property found there. About 11 o’clock I recrossed the creek and proceeded down on the east side, with a view of taking a position which would enable me to keep open communication with the depot at Coweta mission and with re-enforcements of Creeks, Seminoles, and Choctaws who were expected at Tulsey Town.

Captain Foster, of the Creek regiment, was sent with two companies of that regiment again across towards Parks’ Store, on Shoal Creek, to ascertain whether the enemy had come down from the mounts, and also to look after Captain Parks and his men, who had gone on a scout the night before to the rear of Hopoeithleyohola’s camp.

After proceeding down Bird Creek about 5 miles, two runners from Captain Foster reached me at the head of the column, stating he had found the enemy in large force below. Parks had exchanged a few shots with them, taken 6 prisoners¸ and was retreating, hotly pursued. Scarcely had this intelligence reached me before shots were heard in the rear. Hastily directing the Cherokee train to be parked on the prairie and a sufficient guard placed over it, the forces were formed in three columns, the Choctaws and Chickasaws on the right, the Texans and Cherokees in the center¸ and the Creeks on the left, and the whole advanced at quick gallop upon the enemy, who had by this time shown himself in large force above us, along the timber skirting the main creek for over 2 miles, as well as a ravine extending far out into the prairie. A party of about 200 having attacked our rear guard, Captain Young, in command of a squadron of the Choctaw and Chickasaw regiment, being in rear of the main column, perceiving the encounter, wheeled his squadron and advanced rapidly towards the enemy. Upon his approach the party retreated towards the timber on Bird Creek.

The leading companies of the Choctaw and Chickasaw regiment, commanded by Captains Jones and McCurtain, were directed to the right, so as to form a junction with the squadron under Captain Young. Col. D.N. McIntosh, with his Creek regiment, was ordered to turn the right of the enemy on the creek. That portion of the enemy on the ravine in the prairie were driven by the Choctaws and Texans across the open ground intervening between it and timber on the creek. The position then taken up by the enemy at Chusto-Talasah, or the Caving Banks (the Creeks call the place Fonta-hulwache, Little High Shoals), presented almost insurmountable obstacles to our troops.

The creek made up to the prairie on the side of our approach in an abrupt, precipitous bank, some 30 feet in height, at places cut into steps, reaching near the top and forming a complete parapet, while the creek, being deep, was fordable but at certain points known only to the enemy. The opposite side, which was occupied by the hostile forces, was densely covered with heavy timber, matted undergrowth, and thickets, and fortified additionally by prostrate logs. Near the center of the enemy’s line was a dwelling house, a small corn-crib, and rail fence, situated in a recess of the prairie at the gorge of a bend of the creek, of horseshoe form, about 400 or 500 yards in length. This bend was thickly wooded, and covered in front, near the house, with large interwoven weeds and grass, extending to a bench, behind which the enemy could lie and pour upon the advancing line his deadly fire in comparative safety, while the creek banks on either side covered the house by flank and reverse.

The Creeks, commanded by Col. D.N. McIntosh, on the left came soon into action, and, charging the enemy with great impetuosity, met them in hand-to-hand encounter, drove them from the timber, and dispersed them in every direction. On the right the Choctaws and Chickasaws boldly charged on horse to the bank of a ravine near the creek under a heavy fire, and, dismounting, drove back the enemy, who disputed every step of their advance with the greatest obstinacy and bravery. Major Laflore, Captains Jones, McCurtain, and Reynolds were particularly conspicuous in this part of the engagement; also Colonel Drew and his men, who acted with the Choctaws and Texans. Almost simultaneously with these movements on the right and left a detachment of the Texas cavalry, under Lieutenant-Colonel Quayle, made a charge to the left of the Choctaw and Chickasaw regiment and routed the enemy in that quarter; then, changing position to the right of the line, warmly engaged the Indians concealed about the creek and ravines. Another detachment of the Texas cavalry, under Colonel Sims, after making a demonstration to the right of the Creek regiment, moved up the creek about 1 mile, joined Lieutenant-Colonel Quayle, and assisted him in completing the rout of the enemy in that direction. In the mean time the enemy appeared in large force about the house at the bend, and Captain Young, of the Choctaw and Chickasaw regiment, was ordered with his squadron, about 100 strong, to attack them. The charge of the squadron was made in gallant style to the timber below the house, and, there dismounting, moved up under cover of the fence.

The enemy were driven from their stronghold and pursued far into the bend, where, receiving on the flank and unexpected fire, the squadron took position at the house. Being then re-enforced by some men from Captains Reynolds’, McCurtain’s, and Hall’s companies, of the Choctaw and Chickasaw regiment, the conflict with the persistent foe was renewed with increased vigor, and after a fierce struggle the enemy was forced, with heavy loss, through the bend and across the creek.

Our troops, changing position at this juncture to meet a flank fire again on the right, the enemy in front rallied, and by their direct firing from the creek and on the right and rear compelled a retreat again to the house. At this time the force of the enemy at this point was not less than 500, and at no time during the conflict here did our force equal one-half that number. The combat now was at close quarters, and raged with great fury on both sides for some half hour, the enemy alternately yielding and advancing and pouring upon our troops a galling fire. While thus engaged the horses of our men were menaced in rear, and, the alarm being given, caused a movement in that direction. The horses being secured, the troops formed again in line at some distance in front of the house.

I would particularly notice here the conspicuous conduct of Asst-Adjt. Gen. R.W. Lee, who fought on foot with the men, cheering and encouraging them during the conflict at this point, and who here received a contusion, his life probably being saved by his pistol-belt turning the ball.

A few minutes afterwards a detachment of Creeks, under Col. D.N. McIntosh, opportunely came up to the relief of the exhausted men of the Choctaw and Chickasaw regiment, and, throwing themselves upon the enemy, closed the battle.

The firing now entirely silenced, the enemy disappeared from our entire front, and the sun having set, the troops were withdrawn and marched to camp. The battle lasted over four hours.

On the next morning the Choctaw and Chickasaw regiment, the Creek regiment, Colonel Drew and his Cherokees, and a portion of the Texas regiment returned to the battle ground. The enemy had retreated to the mountains.

After burying our dead we followed the train, which had been sent with the wounded, under Colonel Sims, to Van’s, and encamped again for the night within a few miles from the battle-field.

The force of the enemy in the engagement at Chusto-Talasah was certainly over 2,500. Several Cherokee prisoners stated it at 4,000. This was also major Pegg’s estimate after his visits to Hopoeithleyohola’s camp. Their loss, as admitted by prisoners taken in our last scout, was 412. It probably was 500 in killed and wounded.

The force on our side actually engaged did not exceed 1,100, a strong guard being necessary at the Cherokee train. Our loss was 15 killed and 37 wounded.

The officers and men under my command behaved throughout the engagement at Chusto-Talasah on the 9th of December in such manner as to meet unqualified approbation, and coming under my personal observation I would mention as worthy of especial notice and commendation the conduct of the following:

Col. D.N. McIntosh, Creek regiment; Lieut. Col. William Quayle, Texas regiment; Actg. Asst. Adjt. Gen. R.W. Lee; Maj. Mitchell Laflore, Choctaw and Chickasaw regiment Mounted Rifles; Actg. Adjt. Joseph A. Carroll, Choctaw and Chickasaw regiment Mounted Rifles; Capts. R.A. young, Choctaw and Chickasaw regiment Mounted Rifles; Lem. M. Reynolds, Choctaw and Chickasaw regiment Mounted Rifles; Joseph R. Hall, Choctaw and Chickasaw regiment Mounted Rifles; Willis Jones, Choctaw and Chickasaw regiment Mounted Rifles; Jackson McCurtain, Choctaw and Chickasaw regiment Mounted Rifles; W.B. Pitchlynn, Choctaw and Chickasaw regiment Mounted Rifles; Lieuts. J.W. Wells, Choctaw and Chickasaw regiment Mounted Rifles; James F. Baker, Choctaw and Chickasaw regiment Mounted Rifles.

First Serg. Samuel P.C. Patten particularly distinguished; Capt. Alfred Wade, Choctaw battalion, and my young bugler, Nathaniel J. O. Quine.

The actual loss of the enemy in this engagement far exceeded our first estimate, and, although calculated to dishearten them, was of less importance than the moral effect produced. They had learned that their superior numbers could not compensate for the determined valor of our troops and that they could not successfully meet them in combat; that whenever we could find them we could defeat them, and that without material aid from abroad Hopoeithleyohola’s party must be entirely destroyed. Impressed with this conviction, the main body of Hopoeithleyohola’s army retired hastily towards Kansas, where an asylum had been offered them. This statement is made by intelligent prisoners, confirmed by the appearance of the trails leading towards Kansas seen on our scout two weeks afterwards.

Report of Col. D.N. McIntosh, First Creek Regiment, of engagement at Chusto-Talasah

CAMP PLEASANT,

Cherokee Nation, December 16, 1861

Colonel Daniel Newnan McIntosh, 1st Creek Mounted Rifles, CSA

SIR: According to your request I will hereby give you a brief account of the battle at High Shoal, Cherokee Nation, on the 9th instant:

The engagement took place about 2 p.m., and continued for [the] space of three and a half or four hours. Without any doubt our enemies had the following advantages over us:

1st. From all appearances it was a premeditated affair by them. They had placed their forces in a large creek, knowing by marching across the prairie that we would be likely to pass in reach of the place.

2d. The ground they had selected were extremely difficult to pass, and in fact most of the banks on the creek were bluff and deep waters, so that no forces could pass across only at some particular points, which were only known to them.

3d. This place was fortified also with large timber on the side they occupied, and on our side [the] prairie extended to the creek, where the enemies were bedded, lying in wait for our approach.

Having completed the above plan, they sent out to us a small portion of their forces to make the attack, in order to draw us down to their desired and selected place, which was done on our rear guard, and immediately we marched on to our enemies, taking the left division, while your command on the right and Texas regiment occupied he middle division. Thus the engagement was generally commenced. Our men, without any exception, fought bravely, and finally the Creek regiment, under my command, charged upon the enemy and chased them out from their strong fortified place and took the creek from them, after which I ordered my regiment to march out upon the prairie, and about that time a rumor came to me that you were still engaged in fighting on [the] right, and I ordered my regiment to your relief.

Our loss in the battle was 2, and from best information I have heard [the] Choctaw regiment lost 3 on the battle-field and 2 died since from wounds; and [the] Texas regiment 2 and 1 from [the] Cherokee regiment, making our total loss [in killed] 10 and about 21 wounded.

The enemy’s loss, from the best information I can gather, was 27 killed and seen on the battle-field, and from the signs a greaqt many dead were concealed or carried off during the night, and [the] wounded could not have been less than 200 or 300.

                                                                            [D.N. McINTOSH,                                                                                                               Colonel, &c.]

Col. D. H. COOPER, Commanding Indian Brigade

Report of Col. John Drew, First Cherokee Mounted Rifles, of engagement at Chusto-Talasah

FORT GIBSON,

Cherokee Nation; December 18, 1861

Opothleyahola, leader of the loyal Indians in the Trail of Blood on Ice campaign in 1861

SIR: I have the honor to report to you that the First Regiment Cherokee Mounted Riflemen, under my command, reached Bird Creek in the forenoon of Saturday, the 7th instant. It consisted the evening of that day of about 480 men, rank and file. The hostile Creeks were encamped from 6 to 8 miles distant.

The day following, under your instructions and with the concurrence of Colonel McIntosh, commanding the Creek regiment, I authorized Major Pegg to assure Hopoeithleyohola and party of your desire for a peaceable settlement of the difficulty with the Creeks, and that you had no wish to prosecute a war against them. Major Pegg was accompanied to the Creek camps by Capts. George W. Scraper and J.P. Davis and Rev. Lewis Downing. Before they returned and late that evening I found that there were only about 60 men in camp, and that a report was circulating that we were to be attacked by an overwhelming force then at hand. I ordered my horse to be saddled, and while in the act of [throwing] a blanket on my saddle Captain Benge came up and said we had better be off, as the enemy were upon us. After proceeding a part of the way to your camp the party returned to secure the ammunition. Major Pegg was then in camp, and reported that he had seen a large number of warriors painted for battle, who would be down upon us that night, and that he had been allowed to return only on the plea of removing some women and children from danger. This renewed the excitement, and as it [was] now quite dark, the party dispersed in squads. Information had been conveyed to you of the dispersion of the regiment, and while myself, Captain Fields, and a few others were making our way to your camp the squadron of Texas cavalry, which had been instructed to secure the public property in our camp, was fallen in with. This prompt movement saved my train, tents, & c.

Major Pegg, Adjt. James S. Vann, Capts. Davis and J.D. Hicks, Lieuts. S.H. Smith, Jesse Henry, Anderson Benge, Trotting Wolf, and several privates pursued their way to Fort Gibson.

Captains Vann, Pike, and Scraper, and Lieutenants White-Catcher, Eli Smith, Foster, Bearmeat, and N. Fish, with parts of their companies, were missing, and doubtless were in the camp of Hopoeithleyohola or made their way there.

Capt. James McDaniel and Lieuts. Wat Stop, N.D. Bear, and Skieyaltooka were absent, but were almost certainly at the same place.

The unarmed portion of the regiment – which consisted in the aggregate of about 1,200 in number – were left at his place in camp, with the following officers: Lieut. Col. William P. Ross, commanding; Capt. N.B. Saunders and Lieutenants Sanders, Hawkins, Ahmer-cher-ner, Crab-grass Smith, Fogg, Little Bird, Young, Webber, Downing, Drew, Ulteesky, and Deer-in-Water, and a surgeon – Corden.

The following-named officers and privates were with me in your camp and present at the battle of Bird Creek on the 9th instant: Company F: Capt. Richard Fields, whose horse was shot; Lieut. Broom Baldridge, killed; Sergt. Dempsey Handle, and Privates Creek McCoy, Situwakee, and Tracker. Company D: Capt. J.N. Hildebrand and Lieuts. George Springston and Ezekiel Russell, Private Nelson Hogshooter. Company H: Capt. E.R. Hicks, Lieut. George W. Ross, Sergts. William Hewbanks, Alan Ross, and Peter; Privates Henry Meigs, Richard Robinson, Carter Oo-yor-lor-cha-he, and Coming Deer. Company K: Capt. Pickens M. Benge, Lieut. George Benge, Privates Oliver Ross, Thomas Ross, Broad Christy, Thomas Yah-hoo-lar, and Adam (a Creek); Surg. James P. Evans, and Expressman William S. Coodey.

The deportment of these few officers and men, under the peculiar circumstances of their situation, was highly honorable to them. The teamsters present also deported themselves in a creditable manner throughout.

The causes which led to the dispersion of the regiment arose from a misconception of the character of the conflict between the Creeks, from an indisposition on their part to engage in strife with their immediate neighbors, and from the panic gotten up by the threatened attack upon us. The regiment will be promptly filled and ready for service.

For the very kind manner in which you were pleased to speak of myself and those who adhered to their obligations in your note calling for this report I beg you to accept my grateful acknowledgments.

I have the honor to be, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

                                                                                    JOHN DREW,                                                            Col., Comdg. First Regiment Cherokee Mounted Riflemen.

Col. D.H. COOPER, Commanding Indian Department

Report of Col. William B. Sims, Ninth Texas Cavalry, of engagement at Chusto-Talasah

REGIMENTAL HEADQUARTERS,

Fort Gibson, Ind. T., December 15, 1861.

Bird Creek at Horseshoe Bend in July 2011. The Battle of Chusto-Talasah was fought in this vicinity. (Photo by Jeffrey S. Williams)

SIR: At the commencement of the engagement on the 9th instant with Hopoeithleyohola’s forces on Bird Creek, Cherokee Nation, in obedience to your commands I proceeded to divide the detachment of my regiment, amounting to about 260 men, into two divisions, sending Lieutenant-Colonel Quayle, with about 50 of Captain Berry’s company, commanded by himself, and small detachments from the following companies: Captain McCool’s, under Lieutenant Brown; Captain Hart’s, under Lieutenant Black; Captain Williams’, under Lieutenant Bowen; and Captain Brinson’s, under Lieutenant Utley; amounting in all to about 100 men. He advanced with his command on to the creek, to the left of the Choctaw regiment. Not finding the enemy there, he returned and charged a ravine on the right of the Choctaws, which he succeeded in taking, under a heavy fire from the enemy. Driving them from their position, he marched on and charged another ravine still farther on the right, but when he got into the ravine the Indians, who had possession of its mouth, opened a raking fire upon his men. He ordered them to charge down the ravine, which they did, and put the enemy to rout. A party of Indians still kept up a heavy fire upon them from the right, who were at first supposed to be Choctaws, as they were wearing our badges, but they were deserted Cherokees and Creeks. In the last charge with Colonel Quayle there were about 20 Choctaws, who acted with the greatest bravery.

With the men under my command, to wit, parts of four companies, under command of Captains Duncan, English, wright, and Smith, after having dismounted I charged to the right of Colonel McIntosh’s command and put the Indians to flight without firing a gun. I then ordered my men to mount their horses and moved down, with the Creeks still remaining on their right, about half a mile, where we dismounted, charged into the creek bottom, and put the Indians to flight.

We then mounted our horses; it was then reported that the enemy was again advancing. We again dismounted and charged down the creek, putting the Indians completely to rout. We then mounted our horses and advanced up the creek about 1 mile, dismounted, and joined the remainder of my command on the right, who were then fighting on foot in a ravine. We there withstood a heavy fire from the enemy for some time, which finally abated. The Creeks then withdrew, followed by the Choctaws. I ordered my men to fall back [and] mount their horses, after which we made a charge, and succeeded in getting our wounded men off the field. I then formed a line to your left on the prairie.

The following is a list of the killed and wounded of my command.*

The forces of the enemy, I think, would have amounted to about 2,500 or 3,000 men. From the best information I can get I would suppose their loss to be about 150 men. The number wounded on their side not ascertained, as they were borne from the field.

All the officers and soldiers under my command conducted themselves during the engagement with great decision and bravery.

W.B. SIMS,

Col., Comdg. Fourth Regiment Texas Cavalry, C.S. Army,

Col. D.H. COOPER, Commanding Indian Department

*Nominal list omitted shows killed, 2; wounded 9.

Report of Capt. Joseph R. Hall, First Choctaw and Chickasaw Regiment, of engagement at Chusto-Talasah.

It being requested of me to make a report of the incidents of December 9, 1861, on which [day] we were attacked by the Hopeithleyohola band, on Bird Creek, Cherokee Nation, I do respectfully submit the following, as it came to my observation during the engagement:

My attention was first directed to the advance of the enemy by some Creeks, who, upon the discovery of the enemy, wheeled their horses and with a whoop charged in direction of the enemy. This attracted the attention of all and gave us a view of a good body of men advancing on our rear. Each commander immediately engaged himself, forming his company into a line facing the enemy, no sooner than which was done we were ordered to march on the enemy, when they began to fall back into a creek bottom and waited our approach. The great hurry in which they marched made it impossible to keep the companies together, on account of the great difference in their horses and ponies; some were not able to keep u and those on the best horses would not halt. The distance being near 2 miles from where they started to the place of engagement, my company being in rear of Captain Reynolds’, I dismounted with him on the prairie a half mile above the house in the bend. At this time I do not think I had over 25 men. We marched in the brush on the creek as far as the creek banks. Not finding anything there we fell back to our horses and hurried down to the house, where there was at that time very heavy firing. On moving down I noticed more of my men who had dismounted above the house and were watching their chance for a shot. I dismounted my men a little below the house, about a field, and there I found it impossible to hold some back, for others had not yet secured their horses.

They had not been there a great while before the firing ceased for a while form the enemy’s side, when it was again renewed, but not so heavy. I remained about the house about an hour, when I walked out to where I could see my horse. I met Colonel Cooper, who ordered me to get my men together and cross the creek below the house. Some of my men were then with Lieutenants Thompson and Krebs, on the creek above the house, mingled with men of different companies, while others were scattered around and below the house in the same manner with Lieutenant Tobly. Having secured me a good rifle and six-shooter from one of Captain Welch’s wounded men, I mounted my horse and got a few of my men together, which enabled me in getting together more of my men. Some of them were without caps and bullets. It being then quite late, I ordered the balance with me to save what ammunition they had until it was necessary for them to use it.

By this time I had 3 men wounded. The companies were then all forming on the prairie, and the enemy commenced showing themselves about the house and field below it, when the Creeks gave them a round.

Orders being given to march, we left behind 2 ponies which had fallen into the hands of the enemy.

I had about 45 men under my command, 40 of whom were engaged in the first; the rest were with the train.

Respectfully yours,

JOS. R. HALL,

Commanding Company D.

Col. D. H. COOPER

Report of Capt. Jackson McCurtain, First Choctaw and Chickasaw Regiment, of engagement at Chusto-Talasah.

FORT DERDANE,

Cherokee Nation, January 18, 1862.

            Being your guest, I will try to give you a full report of High Shoal battle, on December 9, A.D. 1861:

On our marching, the alarm apprehended [being given] from the rear guard that they [were] attacked by the enemy, [the] regiment was immediately ordered to turn to the right and form into line instantly. Then the enemy was falling back to the creek. Then order was given again to march by twos. Thence we were on rapid march in following the enemy for a mile and a half; crossed a prairie. Then I halted my men about 100 paces from bank of creek on the left of Captain Jones, dismounted from our horses, then ran down to the bank of creek and commenced firing on the enemy. I did [not] occupy the position but [a] short time, and was about crossing the creek, when I was ordered to go down farther, left of my first position. I then took my men and went down near where a house was. When we came to near a house the front of the house was crowded by the enemy. Then we commenced firing on them. We took possession of the house soon after we commenced. Then my men were fighting all along on the creek. I have no idea of what length of time we were engaged in fighting at that place. I was ordered to take my men out of that place; I did so. Then I was ordered again to go down to assist Captain Jones’ company. I went where Captain Jones’ company was in the ravine. While I was down there assisting Captain Jones [the] sun set, and [an] order was given to fall back to the regiment. My men and everybody else heard an order and left the place; but Lieutenant Riley and I, not hearing an order, remained until Lieutenant Riley told me we were left alone and was to be surrounded by the enemy. We were the very last men [to come] out [of] the ravine.

Lieutenant James Riley was [the] only lieutenant that [came] along with men, and in fighting he encouraged our men along and he stood and fought manfully with them through [the] whole fight.

I venture to say that all my men have bravely fought through during [the] whole battle; also I am confident the battle lasted fully hour hours from the commencement to the end.*

It was late in the evening when we left the battle-field.

Yours, respectfully,

                                                                                                JACKSON McCURTAIN,                                                                                                                                    Captain.

Colonel COOPER.

*Nominal list of casualties omitted shows 5 men wounded, 10 horses and equipments and 3 guns lost.

Report of Capt. William B. Pitchlynn, First Choctaw and Chickasaw Regiment, of engagement at Chusto-Talasah.

FORT DERDANE,

Cherokee Nation, January 18, 1862.

           SIR: I have the honor to submit a brief report of the engagement in which the company [of which] I am honored to be captain fought so successfully on Bird Creek, Cherokee Nation, December 9, 1861:

When orders were given to make a charge our point of attack was made a distance near half a mile above the old cabin, at the mouth of a certain ravine, and there we remained and fought desperately nearly an hour, when the firing of the enemy partially ceased. At this time we had orders to move and attack in the direction of the old cabin, where we remained the balance of the day.

The mode of warfare adopted by the enemy compelled us, as you are aware, to abandon strict military discipline and make use of somewhat similar movements in order to be successful.

At the close of the battle we took our proper place in the regiment, according to orders, and found one of my company fatally wounded, who expired on the second night after the battle. Two horses and equipments were lost in the engagement.

I will merely state that my men fought bravely and gallantly.

I have the honor to be, your obedient servant,

WM. B. PITCHLYNN,

Capt. Co. A, Choctaw and Chickasaw Regt. Mounted Rifles.

Col. D.H. COOPER, Commanding.

Map of Indian Territory around 1861

 _____ __, 1861*

            COLONEL: On the morning of December 19 I was ordered to bring up the rear with my squadron, and about 6 miles from camp the rear guard sent me a message that they were attacked by the enemy. I immediately wheeled the squadron and went back to their assistance and got about half a mile, [when] I discovered the enemy retreating towards the creek. I formed, and Colonel Cooper rode up and ordered me to charge. After pursuing about 2 miles we came to the creek and I dismounted my men and advanced into the swamp, but not finding the enemy, I ordered the men to return to their horses and mount. My squadron was on the right of our command, and after I had mounted the squadron I received orders from Colonel Cooper to form on the left of the Texas regiment, and in order to get to the left of the Texas regiment I had to pass down the creek, and discovered the enemy to my right in a bend of the creek, formed around a house. I formed and charged. We routed them from this position and followed them into the swamp 200 yards. They flanked us, and I fell back to the house in order to prevent them from surrounding us. We advanced on them a second time, and were compelled to fall back to the house in consequence of their flanking around. We had only 80 men in the squadron, while the enemy had 400 or 500, fighting us with all the advantages of the creek on us and a complete natural ambuscade to protect them.

I have to report the death of Private F. T. Rhodes and 9 others wounded in the squadron.

I am, colonel, respectfully, yours

R. A. YOUNG

Captain, Choctaw and Chickasaw Mounted Rifles, C.S. Army

Col. D. H. COOPER

Commanding Indian Department.

*Not sure if he wrote the date incorrectly or if it was a transcription error. The correct date was December 9, 1861 when the battle occurred.

Miscellaneous reports of Chusto-Talasah from participants

Capt. Robert A. Young

Company K, First Choctaw and Chickasaw Regiment Mounted Rifles, CSA

High Voltage Transmission Lines cut through the heart of the core battlefield land, as shown in this July 2011 photo. (Photo by Jeffrey S. Williams)

On the morning of the 19th [9th] I was ordered to bring up the rear with my squadron – about 6 miles from camp were attacked by the enemy. After pursuing about 2 miles we came to a creek – and received orders to form on the left of the Texas Reg. I discovered the enemy in a bend in the creek formed around a house. We routed them from this position and followed them into the swamp 200 yards distant. They flanked us and I fell back to the house. We advanced a second time and were compelled to fall back to the house – we had 80 men to their 400 or 500, fighting us with all the advantage of the creek on us and a complete natural ambuscade to protect them.

[Source: Robert A. Young, Report, 1861, Official Records, Series 1, Volume 8: 15]

Pvt. Edward Folsom

Company E, First Choctaw and Chickasaw Regiment Mounted Rifles CSA

We was in about 20 miles of the enemy old Ho-Poth-le-oh-Holo [Opothleyahola]. We lay in line of battle all night expecting them to attack us. The next morning our Creeks met them and the fight commenced. [Col.] Cooper ordered us to fall back they was too strong for us. We put the train in front and commence retreat, fighting for our train. We fell back several miles on the prairie, it was certain they would overtake us so the Gen. prepare to give battle. We formed the Choctaws on the north, and Col. [William B.] Sims Company of Texas cowboys in the center and waited and here they came. The Creeks was on the extreme left. The Pin Cherokees charged straight at us and attacked our rear guard. Just then the bugle sounded charge. I got on my horse and went for my man I had shot I got his horse and gun, everything he had in his coate pocket I found a 50c pocket knife. The northern Creeks ran to a large creek called Bird Creek and commenced fighting. We were in the prairie while they fought form the timber. Col. Sims dismounted his men and away they went I never did see such charge until they reach the brush the firing was heavy. They could not see anybody. It was not long before they all came running out Col. Sims trying to check them, but could not. I was with Capt. [Leto. M.] Renolds’ company we was to take the woods so Renolds went and another company so we took it in fine shape. There was some log house I saw the Capt. kill a man at the corner of the house. I shot a man I don’t know whether I killed but I got the scalp. Then we followed them to the creek I scalped another. It was getting dark the bugle sounded calling us back onto the prairie. There was 2 men killed on our side.

[Source: Reminiscences of E.A. Folsom, n.d., E.E. Dale Collection, Box 218, F17, OU/WHC]

Cpl. Thorton B. Heiston

Company I, First Choctaw and Chickasaw Regiment Mounted Rifles, CSA

We leave this place tomorrow for the purpose of making a “finish” of Opothleyoholo’s army. The act of secession served him as a basis upon which he has striven to consumate his long cherished hopes, seeking to become chieftain, and by misrepresentations he has induced the most ignorant of his tribe as well as a few of the Cherokee to form an alliance with the Lincoln Government. He has about 4 or 5 thousand warriors; but since suffereing two defeats his forces are now reported rapidly diminishing. The first battle was fought at Round Mountain, about 5 miles north of the Red Fork of the Arkansas. We lost only 7 men and the enemy about 50. The battle of Bird Creek the last and more important one was fought about 125 miles west of Fort Smith. The enemy numbered 4 or 5 thousand, our force was only 1400 strong. We fought 5 ½ hours; killing and wounding between 3 and 4 hundred of the enemy, and suffering the almost incredible loss of only 9 men killed and 18 wounded. Our men fought as patriots only can fight; the Choctaw regiment particularly distinguished itself and recieved the applause of the Col.

[Source: Thorton B. Heiston, Letter, May 26, 1862, Grant Foreman Collection, Box 43, Folder 97, TGM]

Sgt. George Griscom

Company D, Ninth Texas Cavalry CSA

As the rear guard was passing near Bird Creek timber they were fired upon by the enemy, our forces turned and engaged them most gallantly for 3 hours in one place then another. Our men fought on foot – about [?] pm our forces withdrew in good order. The Indians showed marked bravery, one half breed Perryman killed a foe from behind a tree took the captured gun and killed and scalped a second. The enemy were in force near 4000 strong, while we were not more than 1300. Our entire loss was 10 killed and about 20 wounded. The enemy loss ascertained to be near 200 killed and over 150 wounded.

[Source: Griscom. Fighting with Ross’ Texas Cavalry Brigade, 8-9]

Pvt. A.W. Sparks

Company I, Ninth Texas Cavalry CSA

At the break of day we marched out and started down the river on retreat, but in sequel found our retreat was to call him from his stronghold in the mountains so we could better get at him. We had marched only a few miles when we heard the rattle of guns and the chatter of the Indians, which told us of the approach of the enemy. Col. Sims formed and dismounted the regiment out on a high prairie, and gained the timber in time to meet their advance. The fighting was hot and we drove them some 2 miles up the creek, to a point where the hills come up sharp to the creek in a rough and broken way that furnished the retreating foe needed shelter. Col. Sims called the regiment to horse for the purpose of giving chase, but for the lateness of the house we did not follow. On the night after the battle, there fell about 3 inches of snow, and it was my lot to be on guard over the prisoners taken by our command, about 40.

[Source: Sparks. War Between the States, 43.] 

Casualties

Privates Edward Graves and Frank Rhodes, company K; Joseph Jeffery, nok sho pa, and Pa lash tubbee, Company E and Mishoutabbee, Company C, Choctaw and Chickasaw Regiment of Mounted Rifles were killed in action. Lieutenant Ellis Folsom, Company D; Sergeant Allen McCurtain, Corporal Pa cubbee, and Private Charles Henderson, Company G; Sergeant Waletubbee, Corporal George Grahm, and Privates me she mahtubbee and Davis Wakiah, Company H; Privates John Hodges, William W. Lovejoy, Nathaniel O’Quinn, and Jesse Thornton, Company I; Private Ter shunacha, Company E; Bugler Thomas Reed, Privates Tandy Neal and William Wells, Company K, Choctaw and Chickasaw Regiment of Mounted Rifles, along with Private Ashomco tubbee, Company C, First Choctaw Mounted Rifles CSA, were wounded.

[Source: Confederate Muster Rolls, Special microfilm Colletions, Roll IAD-5, passim, OHS/AD]

Additional reading:

Edwards, Whit. The Prairie was on Fire: Eyewitness Accounts of the Civil War in the Indian Territory. Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City, OK. 2001.]

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Creek Indians in the American Civil War

Map of Indian Territory around 1861

Inhabiting the area between the Arkansas and Canadian rivers in eastern Indian Territory, the people of the Creek Nation viewed the onset of the American Civil War with mixed emotions. Factions existed within the Creek Nation, but these divisions has endured since the mid-eighteenth century when English and Scottish fur traders established ties with the Lower Creeks in Georgia and Alabama. Intermarriage led to an increase of mixed-bloods among the Lower Creeks and the appearance of Creek leaders with the names such as McGillivray and McIntosh. The Lower Creeks voluntarily complied with the United States’ removal policy of the 1830s endorsed by their mixed-blood leaders, while the Upper Creeks had to be forcibly removed from their traditional homelands. These two Creek factions remained separated in Indian Territory, but they were able to put their animosity aside long enough to establish a seat of government, devise a phonetic written language, draft a slave code, and build schools (with the aid of missionaries) in the 1840s and 1850s.

On 10 July 1861, Principal Chief Motey Kinnard and Daniel N. and Chilly McIntosh (sons of William McIntosh – former principal chief of the Lower Creeks) met with Special Commissioner Albert Pike of the Confederate Bureau of Indian Affairs and together signed a treaty of alliance with the Confederacy. The McIntoshes also promised to raise a regiment of Creeks, provided they would only have to fight within the borders of Indian Territory. However, in the fall of 1861 thousands of loyal and neutral Upper Creeks refused to recognize the treaty of alliance with the Confederacy signed by the Lower Creeks, and prepared to march with their leader, Opotheyahola, to Kansas and safety. A force of Lower Creeks under the McIntosh brothers opposed them. In November, sporadic violence between the two factions began and quickly intensified. Pike ordered Colonel Douglas H. Cooper to take charge of the situation and restore tranquility among the Creeks while the special commissioner departed for the Confederate capital. Cooper called on other Indian home guard units to aid in his efforts to end the hostilities and prevent the Upper Creeks from leaving Indian Territory. In doing so, Cooper began what amounted to a civil war within the borders of the territory.

When Cooper arrived near the Canadian River, he discovered almost 4,000 Upper Creek men, women and children as well as Indians from assorted other nations crowded into encampments along with their livestock, wagons, and worldly possessions. About one-third of these Indians were armed. After failing to dissuade the Upper Creeks from their mission, Cooper chose to use force. Considering these Indians to be a threat to Confederate authority in Indian territory, Cooper assembled a body of 1,400 mounted soldiers composed of six companies of his Choctaw and Chickasaw regiment, Daniel McIntosh’s Lower Creek regiment, Chilly McIntosh and John Jumper’s battalion of Creeks and Seminoles, and 500 whites of the 9th Texas Cavalry. On 5 November 1861, the ever-growing group of loyal Creeks and refugees left their encampments and moved north toward Kansas. Two weeks later, Cooper attacked the slow-moving caravan at Round Mountain, near the junction of the Cimarron and Arkansas rivers. The loyal Creeks fought back, managing to escape at dusk after setting a prairie fire to impede Cooper’s progress.

Opothleyahola, leader of the loyal Indians in the Trail of Blood on Ice campaign in 1861

Slowed but undaunted, Cooper resumed the chase, now reinforced by John Drew’s Cherokee regiment, which was ordered by Cooper to aid in the operation. On 9 December, Cooper found Opothleyahola and the loyal Creeks waiting for him at Chusto-Talasah, or Caving Banks, on Bird Creek near present-day Tulsa. Cooper engaged the Upper Creeks for four hours before Opothleyahola finally withdrew his band. All told, Cooper lost fifteen men killed and thirty-seven wounded, and failed once again to cut off the fleeing loyalists.

Although claiming a victory, Cooper nevertheless withdrew to Fort Gibson near Tahlequah and waited for reinforcements from Texas and Arkansas. With the arrival of 1,380 Confederate troopers under Colonel James McIntosh, Cooper had the luxury to plan a combined attack against Opothleyahola’s band utilizing the converging columns of his own and McIntosh’s troops. The Confederates once again took to the field, but unfortunately were unable to synchronize their convergence on the Creek camp at Chustenahlah. Rather than wait for Cooper’s badly delayed troops, McIntosh chose to engage Opothleyahola’s numerically superior forces on 26 December. Weakened by exhaustion, cold weather, and lack of adequate food, the loyal Creeks could not withstand the Confederate onslaught. Warriors mixed with men, women, and children fled the field in panic pursued by white Confederate cavalrymen and the recently arrived mixed-blood Cherokee regiment under Stand Watie. Watie’s 300 men killed or captured many of the stragglers who were too weak to flee. Those who did escape finally made their way to Kansas and safety. There they fared little better, owing to a lack of adequate food, clothing, and shelter for the winter. U.S. Indian agents in Kansas were unable to aid the refugees, whose numbers eventually swelled to over 10,000. Eventually hunger and disease took their toll.

The destination for the loyal Indians was Fort Row in Kansas

In the spring of 1862, Brigadier General James G. Blunt, commander of the Union Department of Kansas, decided to return the loyal Indian refugees to their home in Indian Territory. The resulting operation resulted in frequent skirmishes with Confederate forces as the refugee column and its Federal escort entered Cherokee country north of the Arkansas River. The return of this contingent of loyal Creeks to Indian Territory fanned the flames of factionalism within the Creek Nation. While Creek soldiers participated in conventional military operations such as those that led to the Battle of Honey Springs on 17 July 1863, the real fateful combat for the two factions of the Creek Nation came in the form of guerilla raids upon each other that sowed the seeds for continued strife well after the war’s end.

–          Alan C. Downs in the  Encyclopedia of the American Civil War: A Political, Social and Military History by David S. and Jeanne Heidler. pp. 518-519]

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.

 

Honey Springs to get 5,000 square foot visitor center

By Cathy SpauldingMuskogee Phoenix Staff Writer

A new 5,000 square-foot visitor center could be in place at the Honey Springs battlefield in time for the 150th anniversary of the Civil War battle.

Oklahoma Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb, right, talks with Historical Society volunteers and civil war re-enactors Gerald Krows, left, and Jean Krows, center, following an announcement of plans for a $1.9 million visitor’s center at the site of Oklahoma’s largest Civil War battlefield in northeast Oklahoma, at a news conference in Oklahoma City on Monday. (Photo courtesy of Muskogee Phoenix)

On Monday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development  announced a $1.9 million public-private partnership that includes the Oklahoma Historical Society, McIntosh County and an area nonprofit organization.

Oklahoma Historical Society Director Bob Blackburn said the USDA will fund $500,000 through a grant and $600,000 through a 40-year, 4 percent loan to be repaid by the Friends of Honey Springs Battlefield. The rest of the funds will come from cash on hand or money to be raised by the Oklahoma Historical Society. Blackburn said the visitor center would be four miles north of Interstate 40 and one mile east of U.S. 69. From U.S. 69, it will be accessible from the Rentiesville or Oktaha exits, he said.

The visitor center could help the area benefit from Civil War-related tourism. The site could attract up to 100,000 visitors a year, Blackburn said. However, Checotah resident Emmy Stidham, newly elected president of the Oklahoma Historical Society board, said officials expect 150,000 visitors and $9 million in tourism revenue.

“This historic site is very critical to the area,” said State Rep. Ed Cannaday. “I am especially proud. Oklahoma gets to be a site of significance in Civil War tourism.”

The Engagement at Honey Springs — July 17, 1863 — was the largest of more than 107 documented hostile encounters in Indian Territory during the Civil War, according to the Oklahoma Historical Society website. At least 150 men died in the battle, which Blackburn said was critical for Union victory because it paved the way for the occupation of Fort Smith, Ark.

Blackburn said the Honey Springs battle is significant in that it “involved African American soldiers, Indian troops, Texas Confederates.”

“We also can link Honey Springs to Fort Gibson,” he said.

Blackburn said the Historical Society had tried several avenues to fund a new visitor center in time for the battle’s 150th anniversary, July 17, 2013.

He said they found a good contact with Ryan McMullen, state director of USDA Rural Development. Blackburn said McMullen had a keen interest in Civil War history and helped secure the USDA funding.

“The partnership recognizes that rural areas should increasingly capitalize on the tourism industry,” McMullen said. “The development of this attraction will create jobs, as well as educate visitors on one of Oklahoma’s most historic sites.”

Blackburn said architects are designing the visitor center “right now,” and ground could be broken by January.

Some Honey Springs re-enactments bring several thousand people to Checotah, said Lloyd Jernigan, executive director of the Checotah Chamber of Commerce. He said he welcomes a new visitor center for the site.

“Now, we have a visitor center in a doublewide trailer,” Jernigan said.

A Civil War re-enactment held late last April drew 3,000 to 3,500 people to Checotah, he said.

“Quite a few visitors stayed in our hotels and ate in our restaurants.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Reach Cathy Spaulding at (918) 684-2928 or cspaulding@muskogeephoenix.com.

Click here for a description of the battle.

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).

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