Thursday, September 15, 2011

Battle of Honey Springs - Rentiesville, Oklahoma

Monuments at Honey Springs Battlefield
One of the most fascinating battlefields of the Civil War is actually located far to the west of what many consider the main battlefields of the conflict, yet it was the scene of a fight every bit as brutal and significant as those fought on other fields far to the east.

The Battle of Honey Springs, fought on July 17, 1863, has been called the "Gettysburg of the West" by some historians. The site is now preserved at Honey Springs Battlefield State Historic Site just north of Checotah, Oklahoma.

Also called the Battle of Elk Creek, the battle took place when Union forces from Fort Gibson (then called Fort Blount) launched a preemptive strike against a Confederate army gathering at Honey Springs for an effort to wrest control of the Indian Nations (today's Oklahoma) from Federal troops. Commanded by Brigadier General D.H. Cooper, the Confederates were massing supplies and waiting for reinforcements to begin their long awaited campaign.

Union Major General James H. Blount, in command at Fort Gibson, learned of Cooper's efforts and, despite the fact that he was suffering from a high fever, organized an army of 3,000 men and began a secret movement across the Arkansas River.

Position at which Blunt's Army rested.
Moving down the historic Texas Road which led from Texas to the cattle markets in Kansas, Blunt's army reached Honey Springs on the morning of July 17, 1863. Cooper was far from ready to give battle. One of his best units, Stand Watie's famed Cherokee Confederates, was on detached duty and too far from the scene to reinforce the Southern commander.

Even so, Cooper moved his men into position to oppose the Federals. On the surface it appeared that the Confederates were more than a match for Blunt's army. Cooper's army outnumbered Blunt by around 1,700 men, but with the exception of an experimental rifled piece, his artillery was badly outclassed and his men were armed with inferior weapons and most would experience problems with bad ammunition during the battle.

Position of Confederate Army as battle began.
Having fought with Confederate skirmishers through the night and marched for long, hard hours, the Union soldiers were exhausted when they reached the battlefield. Blunt ordered them to fall out for rest on a hill overlooking the valley of Elk Creek. His artillerymen moved their 12 cannon into position on a ridge from which they could rain fire down on the Confederate army, which was forming along the edge of a skirt of timber near the creek.

Before the Federal cannon could open fire, however, the Southern guns opened up. A blast from one Confederate cannon blew apart the carriage of a Union artillery piece. The Federals returned the fire in a fierce artillery exchange that signaled the beginning of the Battle of Honey Springs.

I will continue to post on the battle over coming days. If you would like to learn more before then, please visit

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