MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

March 16, 2013

Honey Springs has national significance

— The Battle of Honey Springs has national significance because it was the key moment in Civil War history that turned Indian Territory from a Confederate stronghold to a Union one. The battlefield was recently named a National Historic Landmark. The 150th anniversary of the battle will be noted in July of this year.

Honey Springs was located on the Texas Road, also called the military road and the immigrant road, about 25 miles south of Fort Gibson. It was known for having a good water supply that was sweet, not salty, and therefore made a good location for an overnight stop along the road.

Following the capture of Confederate Fort Davis which sat across the Arkansas River from Fort Gibson, the Confederates set up a supply depot at Honey Springs. Warehouses were built to hold barrels of flour, sugar and sorghum, as well as bacon, clothing, camp equipment and gun powder brought up from Mexico. There was also a hospital, powder magazine and officers’ quarters located there.

With the intent of attacking Fort Gibson, Confederate troops began to gather at Honey Springs in the summer of 1863. While these troops awaited the arrival of 3,000 more from Arkansas, word reached the Union forces at Fort Gibson of the buildup. Fort commander General James Blunt made the decision to strike against Honey Springs before the Arkansas forces could arrive.

Troops from Fort Gibson forded the Arkansas River by flatboats and marched by night down the Texas Road.

The Battle of Honey Springs took place on July 17, 1863. It has been called “The Gettysburg of the West” because it had proven to be a turning point in the fight for control of Indian Territory.

In this battle in an area that straddles the Muskogee and McIntosh counties’ line, 3,000 federal troops under Maj. Gen. James G. Blunt faced 5,700 Confederate forces under Gen. Douglas H. Cooper. The majority of the troops were Native Americans; Blunt’s forces were mostly Native Americans and African Americans.

The First Kansas Colored, as one of the first black units in the Union Army, played a key role in the Battle of Honey Springs. On that sweltering July day of 1863, the First Kansas Colored held the center of the Union line and helped secure the victory against the larger Confederate force. They later served and fought in battles in Arkansas.

This is another significance of the Battle of Honey Springs. It was a truly American battle — a melting pot of races and cultures including blacks, Indians, whites and some Hispanics serving in the Texas units of the Confederate Army.

When the day of battle ended, the victory belonged to the Union, and the Confederate forces and many Southern sympathizers withdrew southward toward Fort Washita, Bogey Depot and the Red River. The Confederates burned everything at Honey Springs, including the supplies, so they would not be useful to the Union forces.

Reach Jonita Mullins at jonita.mullins@gmail.com.

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