Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Fight at Chimney Mountain, Oklahoma (July 17, 1863)

Monuments at Honey Springs Battlefield
150 years ago today (July 17, 1863), Union forces continued their advance on the Confederate camp at Honey Springs in the Creek Nation of what is now Oklahoma. Read yesterday's post about the beginning of the advance.

Confederate commander Brig. Gen. Douglas H. Cooper had ordered Col. Tandy Walker's 1st Cherokee and Choctaw Regiment up to Chimney Mountain the previous afternoon, along with Capt. L.E. Gillett's squadron of Texas cavalry. They were there to watch for the approach of the Union column and resist its approach to the main Southern camps along Elk Creek at Honey Springs in the Creek Nation.

Chimney Mountain, Oklahoma (upper left)
Located just southwest of today's city of Muskogee, Chimney Mountain is an isolated but impressive height that offers a commanding view of the surrounding area. The roads from the Creek Agency and Fort Gibson (then called Fort Blunt) intersected here, creating an ideal choke point where Confederate troops could observe and delay a Union advance in force:

     About daylight on the morning of the 17th, the advance of the enemy came in sight of the position occupied by the Choctaws and Texans; commenced a brisk fire upon them, which was returned and followed by a charge, which drove the enemy back upon the main column. Lieutenant Heiston reported the morning cloudy and damp, many of the guns failing to fire in consequence of the very inferior quality of the powder, the cartridges becoming worthless even upon exposure to the damp atmosphere. - Brig. Gen. Douglas H. Cooper, CSA (August 12, 1863).

The primary force engaged by the Confederates at Chimney Mountain was the Sixth Kansas Cavalry. Lt. Col. William T. Campbell reported that the fighting began just as the sun was rising:

Brig. Gen. D.H. Cooper, CSA
...I, with my command, was ordered to take the advance, Company F, Captain Gordon, being advance guard. About daybreak the advance came up with the enemy in considerable force, posted on a rise of ground, and near the timber. The captain immediately formed his men and opened a brisk fire on the enemy, but was compelled by superior numbers to fall back. - Lt. Col. William T. Campbell, USA (July 19, 1863).

Campbell brought up the full force of his regiment and the Confederates began to fall back. According to General Cooper, a heavy rain began to fall as the Union resistance stiffened, causing even more problems with the inferior ammunition with which his men had been equipped. Unable to fire their weapons, they began to fall back "slowly and in good order to camp, for the purpose of obtaining a fresh supply of ammunition and preparing for the impending fight."

The Sixth Kansas Cavalry lost 1 killed and 5 wounded (2 minor) in the skirmish at Chimney Mountain. Confederate losses were not reported.

Place where Union forces halted prior to the battle.
With Walker withdrawing his command back to the main camp at Elk Creek, the Union advance resumed. A few Confederates were left as skirmishers at Prairie Mountain, 3 miles north of Cooper's main position.

When the Federals came within sight of these men, the halted to rest briefly and deploy for battle. Lt. T.B. Heiston, Cooper's aide-de-camp, commanded the skirmishers and soon reported back to the Confederate commander that the Union force was deploying and appearing to number 4,000 men. The actual number was around 3,000.

Where the Confederate line formed in the brush
The Union commander, Maj. Gen. James G. Blunt, rode forward with his escort to to examine the Confederate position:

While the column was closing up, I went forward with a small party to examine the enemy's position, and discovered that they were concealed under the cover of brush awaiting my attack. I could not discover the location of their artillery, as it was masked in the brush. While engaged in this reconnaissance, one of my escort was shot. - Maj. Gen. James G. Blunt, USA (July 26, 1863).

The two main forces were now within sight of each other and began to deploy for the coming engagement. I will have more on the Battle of Honey Springs later today in a second post.  Until then, you can read more at

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