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Oklahoma has large share of Civil War history

BY MELYN JOHNSON Published: January 17, 2010
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The Civil War had an interesting history in Oklahoma and left many memorable sites across the state that are worth exploring. For example, Gen. Stand Watie, the only American Indian Confederate brigadier general and a slave-holding Cherokee, is buried northeast of Jay.

The Battle of Honey Springs, which occurred near Rentiesville, is a battle of significance often overlooked in Oklahoma. Civil War historian Ed Bears says troops included whites, blacks and American Indians. The Battle of Honey Springs was in size and importance the Gettysburg of the Civil War in Indian Territory because it marked the climax of massed Confederate military resistance and opened the way for the capture of Fort Smith and much of Arkansas. It is also significant because it was one of the earliest engagements of the Civil War in which blacks proved their qualities as fighting men.

Gen. James G. Blunt heaped praise on the blacks who fought with him at Honey Springs. He said of them in his official report on the battle: "The First Kansas (colored) particularly distinguished itself; they fought like veterans, and preserved their line unbroken throughout the engagement. Their coolness and bravery I have never seen surpassed; they were in the hottest of the fight, and opposed to Texas troops twice their number, whom they completely routed. One Texas regiment (the 20th Cavalry) that fought against them went into the fight with 300 men and came out with only 60.”

The fateful attack by black soldiers at Fort Wagoner, S.C., under the command of Robert Gould Shaw (upon which the movie "Glory” is based), occurred only one day after the Battle of Honey Springs.

The federal victory at Honey Springs opened the way for occupation of Fort Smith and the later Union victories in the Red River Valley. Know It: Travel