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Monday, May 2, 2016

Bayonet, shell and sabers at Honey Springs, Indian Territory

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Yesterday was the 145th anniversary of the Battle of Honey Springs or Elk Creek that occurred near the present town of Checotah, Okla. This battle was a large Union victory that included both Union and Confederate infantry, artillery and cavalry forces. This particular battle has also been called a "Rainbow Coalition" because the opposing forces contained American Indian, African-American and Caucasian troops. This column and those of the next two weeks will include the "After Action Reports" of the Union and Confederate forces that participated in this battle. All of these reports are located on pages 448- 461 in Series I, Vol. 22, Part I, Reports of the Official records of the War of the Rebellion.

The commanding officer of the Union forces in the Battle of Honey Springs was Major General James G. Blunt and the conclusion of his battle report is as follows:

"The enemy's loss was as follows: Killed upon the field and buried by my men 150; wounded 400 and 77 prisoners taken, I piece of artillery, I stand of colors, 2,000 stand of arms, and 15 wagons, which I burned. My loss is 17 killed, 60 wounded, most of them slightly.

My forces engaged were the 1st, 2nd and 3rd (Kansas) Indian (Home Guards), 1st Kansas (Colored) Volunteer Infantry, detachments of the 2nd Colorado, 6th Kansas and 3rd Wisconsin Cavalry, Hopkins' Battery of four guns (cannon), two sections of the 2nd Kansas Battery, under Capt. E. A. Smith and four howitzers attached to the cavalry.

Much credit is due to all of them for their gallantry. The 1st 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 29th Cavalry) that fought against them went into the fight with 300 men and came out with only 60! It would be invidious (discriminating unfairly) to make particular mention of any one where all did their duty so well.

James G. Blunt, Major General, Commanding.

The "After Action Report" of the 1st Ks. Colored Volunteer Infantry Regiment is as follows: "Fort Blunt (Gibson), C. N., July 20, 1863.

(To:) Col. William R. Judson, Commanding 1st Brigade, Army of the Frontier.

Colonel: I have the honor to submit the following report of the 1st Regt. Ks. Colored Volunteers at the Battle of Honey Springs, July 17, 1863.

Previous to forming a line of battle Col. James M. Williams was informed that his regiment would occupy the right and support Captain Smith's battery. Colonel Williams then called "Attention" and said to the men, " I want you all to keep cool and not fire until you receive the command; in all cases aim deliberately and below the waust. I want every man to do his whole duty and obey strictly the orders of his officers."

We then moved in column, by company, to the position assigned us and formed in line of battle, when the engagement was opened by the battery (artillery). After a lapse of 10 minutes, during which time the fire from the battery was incessant, Gen. Blunt came in person to Colonel Williams and said, "I wish you to move your regiment to the front and support this battery (which was already in motion); I wish you to keep an eye to those guns of the enemy and take them at the point of the bayonet, if an opportunity offers." Col. Williams then made some remarks to the men, intimating that we had work to do and ordered them to "fix bayonet."

We then moved to the front and center, forming to the right of a section of Smith's battery, consisting of two 12-pounder field pieces (cannon), that had already taken position within 300 yards of the enemy's lines, which was only apparent by the smoke from the frequent firing of their battery, so completely were they concealed by brush in their position. Quite a number of rounds of shell and canister (artillery ammunition that consists of a tin can filled with iron balls that when fired is like a shot gun and kills everything man or beast in it's path) had been fired from our guns, when our gallant colonel gave the command, "Forward" and every man stepped promptly and firmly in his place, advancing in good order until within 40 paces of the concealed foe, when we halted on the right of the 2nd Colorado.

Col. Williams then gave the command, "Ready, aim, fire," and immediately there went forth two long lines of smoke and flame, the one from the enemy putting forth at the same instant as, as if mistaking the command as intended for themselves, or as a demonstration of their willingness to meet us promptly.

At this juncture Col. Williams fell, he and his horse at the same instant; Col. Williams was badly wounded in the right breast, face and hands. Being on the right and partly shut out from view of the left by the thick brush; I was, therefore ignorant of the fact that Col. Williams had fallen and could not inform myself until it was to late to give the command "Charge bayonet," for which every man seemed so anxiously awaiting. In the mean time the firing was incessant along the line, except on the extreme right, where some of our Indians had ridden in the brush between us and the enemy.

I immediately ordered them to fall back to the right. The enemy, which has since proven to have been the 29th Texas Regiment, commanded by Colonel De Morse in person, who was badly wounded in the right arm, supposed from the command that we were giving way in the front and like true soldiers, commenced to press, as they supposed (we were) a retreating foe. They advanced to within 25 paces, when they were met by a volley of musketry that sent them back in great confusion and disorder. Their color bearer fell, but the colors were immediately raised and again promptly shot down. A second time they were raised and again I caused a volley to be fired upon them, when they were left by the enemy as a trophy to our well directed musketry.

As soon as I learned of Col. Williams having been severely wounded and having left the field, I assumed command, our right pressing the enemy back to a cornfield, where he broke and fled in confusion.

Further pursuit being impossible on account of the nature of the ground, I ordered the right back to our original line of battle. At this time Lt. Col. F. W. Schaurte, of the 2nd Indian, sent an orderly informing me of the near approach of his command and that he wished to pass to the front and would I please inform my command of the fact, to prevent any accident. Some of his command passed our front and carried off the colors we had three times shot down and driven the enemy from in defeat and loss.

Some of my officers and men shouted out in remonstrance and asked permission to break ranks and get them. I refused permission and told them the matter could be righted hereafter.

Lt. Colonel Moonlight, chief of staff, ordered us to the front. We advanced in line for a distance of 3 miles, skirmishing occasionally with the enemy from the bluffs in front and to the left. The enemy being completely routed and defeated, we were ordered to fall back to the Springs, rest the men and cook supper.

At 7 p.m. we were ordered to take position on the battlefield near the ford, on Elk Creek and bivouac for the night.

Our total on entering the battle was 500 men, including the commissioned officers. Our total in killed and wounded was two killed and 30 wounded.

In conclusion, I feel it but justice and my duty to state that the officers and men throughout the entire regiment behaved nobly and with the coolness of veterans.

Each seemed to vie with the other in the performance of his duty and it was with the greatest gratification that I witnessed their gallant and determined resistance under the most galling fire. Where all performed their duty so well it would be hard to particularize.

J. Bowles, Lt. Col., Comdg. 1st Regt. Ks. Colored Vols."

On this day, July 17, 1863, the 1st Ks. Colored Vols. soundly defeated the 29th Texas Cavalry in battle.

However, less than a year later the Texans would have their revenge when they soundly defeated the 1st Ks. Colored and other "Union" troops at the Battle of Poison Spring, Ark., on April 19, 1864, and the war went on!

Arnold W. Schofield
Battlefield Dispatches