Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Battle of Honey Springs Reenactment

On November 9th we attended the re-enactment of the Battle of Honey Springs in Checotah, OK.  Thankfully, for reenactors and spectators the event was moved from the July 17, 1863 anniversary date to a delightful fall day. 

The objectives of the battle were control of the Indian Territory and the Union-controlled Fort Gibson.  Fort Gibson was located where the Texas Road crossed the Arkansas River.  The army that controlled the fort commanded the territory north of the Canadian River. 

In July 1863 Confederate forces under General Douglas H. Cooper assembled at the small supply depot along the Texas Road called Honey Springs.  When Union General James G. Blunt learned that Rebel troops had gathered at the depot, he led his men out of the fort toward to the depot thirty miles to the southwest.  The Confederate forces were composed of 6,000 men from the Texas Brigade (20th and 29th Texas Cavalries and 5th Texas Partisan Rangers) under Colonel Bass and the Indian Brigade (1st Cherokee Mounted Rifles, 2nd Cherokee Mounted Rifles, 1st Choctaw-Chickasaw Mounted Rifles, and the 1st and 2nd Creek).   The Federal forces contained 3,000 men from the 1st Brigade (Colonel William R. Judson) and 2nd Brigade (Colonel William A. Phillips). The Union forces included the First Kansas Colored Troops. 

The numerical advantage held by the Confederate troops was more than neutralized by more Union artillery (twelve vs. four pieces) and inadequate arms and ammunition by about a third of the Rebel Indian force.

At ten o'clock on the morning of July 17 the two armies met at Elk Creek.  Cooper had placed his Confederate forces in a line almost a mile and a half long among the trees of the creek bed.  Alerted by fire from advance pickets, Blunt's Union troops along a ridge about a quarter mile away began firing down on the Rebel skirmishers. 

For the next two hours, the troops fought in hand-to-hand combat along the creek bed.  Neither side gained an advantage until the First Kansas advanced in an attempt to capture the Confederate artillery. 

While the US Colored Troops were exchanging fire with Texas cavalrymen, part of a Federal Indian regiment wandered into the crossfire.  When their Union officer yelled at them to get back, the Confederate commander of the Texas units thought it was an order for a general retreat.  Hoping to surprise the Union line, he ordered a charge.

The Texans charged the Union line.  When they were only twenty five yards away, the First Kansas fired at point-blank range.  The effects were devastating and created a large gap in the center of the Confederate line.  Cooper was unable to close the gap and was forced to order a retreat across a small bridge over Elk Creek.

The battle became a running fight as the Federals drove the Rebel troops a mile and a half south to the edge of the Honey Springs depot.

Confederate casualties included 134 killed and wounded and 47 capture.  Union losses were 17 killed and 60 wounded. 

(Source: Honey Springs Battlefield)

Please see Honey Springs, OK 150th Reenactment for more pictures of the re-enactment.

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