Indian Territory 1863

Battle of Honey Springs

The Battle of Honey Springs, sometimes called the Affair at Elk Creek, occurred on July 17, 1863, at the Honey Springs Depot which was a storage facility for the Confederate Army in the area at the time.  The depot was a stagecoach stop before the war and had good sources of water for travelers along the route from Texas to Missouri and Kansas.  The site is about 5 miles Northeast of Checotah and 80 miles south of our last stop, Cabin Creek.  Check out that story if you haven’t seen it yet.  I will very briefly review the events in the battle, but the event is more important for the influences that it has on the rest of the war in the Indian Territory, which is now Oklahoma.   

When War broke out in the US in 1861, the 5 tribes located in the Indian Territory sided with the Confederacy who was in control of the Indian Territory until 1863 when they began to lose their grip.  In that year the Union gained control of Fort Gibson, which was originally used to supply the tribes located in the area.  After retaking the fort, the union army used it as a supply base for both the friendly Native Americans in the area and their troops who were slowly moving into eastern Oklahoma.  By 1863, the Confederate troops made up mostly of Native American troops were reduced to attacking Union supply trains headed for Fort Gibson.

The Confederates needed to get Fort Gibson back.  To do this the Rebels planned to send General Douglas Cooper with 6,000 soldiers to attack the fort.  Cooper’s force was comprised mainly of Native American Soldiers with a few units from Texas assisting in the planned attack.  General Cooper was waiting on several thousand additional men coming to help under the command of General William Cabell.  This addition would give the Confederates a sizeable numerical majority.

General James Blunt had recently arrived at Fort Gibson with 3,00 men.  Having heard about the planned attack, Blunt decided to take the battle to Honey Springs rather than wait for The Confederate force to grow larger.  The battle commenced when the Union force arrived at Elk Creek, just a distance from the supply depot.  Even though they were outnumbered, the Union forces had far better artillery and firearms.  The Confederate’s efforts were plagued by wet ammunition, and they were quickly forced back from Elk Creek and eventually away from the supply depot.  While casualties are disputed most sources say that the victorious union army lost around 80 men, while the confederates lost 180.

This battle was important for a few reasons:

  • It was the largest battle in Indian Territory involving approximately 9000 men
  • It was one of the few if not the only battle in the civil war where white men were in the minority. Most of the soldiers in the battle were Native Americans.   The Union side was also made up of many African American Soldiers. 
  • Losing the supply depot at Honey Springs was disastrous for the Confederates who would never regain control in the Indian Territory. Fort Gibson would provide a base to prepare for the eventual taking of Fort Smith in Arkansas.

The museum at Honey Springs has been newly renovated and is very nice.  One highlight is the program available in the theater which has lights and movement on three sides of you.  See the images with this post to get an idea of the exhibits.  My only criticism is that I wish the exhibits had more information about the Native American contributions to the battle.  Their involvement is certainly included, but not highlighted.  In my mind, the Native American involvement is what makes the Oklahoma sites stand out from other Civil War sites.  It’s a very nice and well-done visitor’s center as the visuals are amazing, they have done a very nice job the facility.

My next post will concern Fort Gibson, which was the highlight of our trip though the “Indian Territory”.

Click on image to read captions