Union and Confederate troops had frequently skirmished in the vicinity of Honey Springs Depot. The Union commander in the area, Major General James G. Blunt, correctly surmised that Confederate forces, mostly Native American troops under the command of Brigadier General Douglas H. Cooper, were about to concentrate and would then attack his force at Fort Gibson.
He decided to defeat the Confederates at Honey Springs Depot before they were joined by Brigadier General William Cabell's brigade, advancing from Fort Smith, Arkansas. Blunt began crossing the swollen Arkansas River on July 15, 1863, and, by midnight on July 16-17, he had a force of 3,000 men, composed of whites, Native Americans, and African Americans, marching toward Honey Springs.
Blunt skirmished with Rebel troops early on the morning of the 17th, and by midafternoon, full-scale fighting ensued. The Confederates had wet powder, causing misfires, and the problem intensified when rain began. After repulsing one attack, Cooper pulled his forces back to obtain new ammunition.
In the meantime, Cooper began to experience command problems, and he learned that Blunt was about to turn his left flank. The Confederate retreat began, and although Cooper fought a rearguard action, many of those troops counterattacked, failed, and fled. Any possibility of the Confederates taking Fort Gibson was gone.
Following this battle, Union forces controlled Indian Territory, north of the Arkansas River.
The 1st Kansas Colored fought with courage again. Union troops under General James Blunt ran into a strong Confederate force under General Douglas Cooper. After a two-hour bloody engagement, Cooper's soldiers retreated.
The 1st Kansas, which had held the center of the Union line, advanced to within fifty paces of the Confederate line and exchanged fire for some twenty minutes until the Confederates broke and ran. General Blunt wrote after the battle, "I never saw such fighting as was done by the Negro regiment....The question that negroes will fight is settled; besides they make better solders in every respect than any troops I have ever had under my command."
Result(s): Union victory
Location: Muskogee County and McIntosh County
Campaign: Operations to Control Indian Territory (1863)
Date(s): July 17, 1863
Principal Commanders: Major General James G. Blunt [US]; Brigadier General Douglas H. Cooper [CS]
Forces Engaged: District of the Frontier [US]; 1st Brigade, Native American troops [CS]
Estimated Casualties: 716 total (US 79; CS 637)