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Doc. 109.-battle of Honey Springs.

Letter from General Blunt.


headquarters District of the Frontier, in the field, Fort Blunt, C. N., July 25, 1863.
dear friend: The boys have probably written you concerning our trip down here, and of the battle of the seventeenth. I have been pressed with official business, besides being sick. This is the reason I have not written before. My health is quite good again now, although the “fat boy” has lost about thirty pounds since leaving Fort Scott. I was taken sick on the fourteenth, and on the fifteenth, at midnight, I got out of a sick-bed with a burning fever, and, taking three of my staff, ferried over Grand River, got two hundred cavalry and two howitzers and twenty-six-pound guns, marched thirteen miles up the Arkansas, forded the river in the face of the enemy's pickets, passed down on the south side of the crossing at the mouth of Grand River, opposite Fort Blunt, expecting to come in the rear and capture the enemy's outpost, but they had got the scent and had “skedaddled.” I had learned that Cooper was on Elk Creek, twenty-five miles south of the Arkansas with six thousand men, and was to be reenforced the next day, the seventeenth, by three thousand men from Fort Smith, when they expected to move upon this place. I immediately commenced crossing my forces at the mouth of Grand River, ferrying the infantry on boats I had built when I arrived here and found the river high.

The column moved from the south bank about ten o'clock P. M., less than three thousand strong, and twelve pieces of artillery, the latter of very poor quality.

At daylight I came up with their advance, five miles this side of Elk Creek, and drove them in. I kept all the time with the advance-guard and watched and superintended every movement, as I was playing a desperate game and did not dare trust any one but myself. With a small party I went forward and reconnoitred their position with a glass. They were formed on the north side of the timber of Elk Creek, which formed a partial semicircle, the road running through the centre. The timber here was quite brushy, and formed a complete cover for them, but I had watched them take their position, and knew the “game” was there, and, as the prisoners have since told me, they thought they had a very “soft snap” when they saw us approaching, and intended to “gobble” us up certain. I could not tell where their artillery was posted, as it was masked in the timber, but I soon found out by the “bark,” as my little wearied column closed up. I had then halted behind a little rise of ground to rest and take a lunch from their haversacks. After they had rested I went back among the officers and men of the different commands, and told them what I expected of them. They were now about one half-mile from the rebel line.

About ten o'clock in the morning I formed them in two columns, one under Colonel Judson on the right of the road, and the other under Colonel Phillips on the left. The columns were closed in mass infantry by companies, cavalry by platoons, and artillery by sections, with the cavalry in the front. I moved up this way to within four hundred yards of their guns, when I suddenly deployed the column into line on his right and left, and in five minutes my entire force was in line of battle, covering the whole rebel front. Without halting a moment, I moved up in line, going myself in the advance to encourage the men, and soon my skirmishing drew their fire, and now the fun commenced. The cavalry who were on the flanks I dismounted, and fought them on foot with their carbines. The attack was one of the prettiest affairs I ever witnessed. They all moved up to the rebel lines as cool and steady as if going on dress-parade. I encouraged them to push into the timber and engage them at close quarters, which they did with a will for two hours. The rattle of musketry and artillery was incessant, until at last their line gave way and became a rout.

They made quite a formidable stand at the bridge on the creek, but were repulsed. Honey Springs, the headquarters of General Cooper, was two miles south of where the battle commenced, on the south side of the timber, and [381] when they commenced their retreat they set fire to all their commissary buildings and destroyed all their supplies. I followed them up until my artillery horses could draw the guns no further, and infantry and cavalry were all “played out” with fatigue. Their cavalry still hovered on the prairie in my front, and about four o'clock P. M., Cabell came up with his three thousand reenforcements. My ammunition was nearly exhausted, but I bivouacked upon the field all night, determined to give them the best turn I had in the morning if they were not yet satisfied; but daylight revealed the fact that they had all “skedaddled.”

Their loss killed upon the field, which we buried, was one hundred and fifty, and fifteen or twenty have since died of their wounds. Parties who have come in with a flag of truce say their wounded is between three hundred and four hundred, and they all acknowledge that they were badly thrashed. They had no knowledge that I was in the country, until they learned it in the fight. Some of the rebel officers, when taken prisoners, asked who was in command, and when told, replied, “that they thought that either Blunt or the devil was there.” I have about fifty prisoners, all Texans, among them several commissioned officers. They are much surprised at the treatment they receive, as they all expected to be murdered if taken prissoners. Cooper sent me a very warm letter of thanks for the care I had taken of his wounded and the burial of his dead. They continually overshot my men, which explains the comparatively small loss of our side. One Texas regiment went in with three hundred men, and came out with only sixty. This regiment was opposed to the First colored, and the negroes were too much for them ; and let me say here, that I never saw such fighting done as was done by the negro regiment at the battle of Honey Springs. They fought like veterans, with a coolness and valor that is unsurpassed. They preserved their line perfect throughout the whole engagement, and although in the hottest of the fight, they never once faltered. Too much praise cannot be awarded them for their gallantry. The question that negroes will fight is settled; besides, they make better soldiers in every respect than any troops I have ever had under my command. Among the trophies, I have one piece of artillery, two hundred stand of arms, mostly English Enfield rifles, and a stand of rebel colors. But I did not intend to scribble at this length. I commenced to tell you how I got along, being sick as I was, and have got entirely off the track. The excitement kept me up until after the battle, when my powers of endurance gave way, and I had to come down in the bottom of an ambulance, from which I issued my orders until I got back here on the nineteenth, then I was confined to my bed for several days. I had been, when the battle closed, forty hours in the saddle, with a burning fever all the time — had eaten nothing for several days, and drank gallons of dirty, warm water. But such is a soldier's life, and if they don't like it they should not go to war.

I know not what I am to do in future. I have given up all idea of getting troops, and shall make no more applications. The weather is very warm here now, and much sickness prevails. I shall do every thing I can to preserve their health by scattering them around where they can get good water. My cavalry are on the south side of the Arkansas. I cannot raise over three thousand effective men for a fight. Cooper has since been reenforced. His morning report of the seventeenth, which I captured, showed five thousand seven hundred enlisted men present for duty that day. Unless he gets additional force, I can maintain my line to the Arkansas River; but if Price and Holmes, with what they had left after the Helena fight, should swing around this way, it will put me to my trumps. However, the “old man” will do the best he can. It is better after all and under all the circumstances, than being a police officer in Kansas.

Yours truly,

1 See page 853 Docs. ante.

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S. Cooper (4)
James G. Blunt (3)
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