Operations to Control Indian Territory | American Battlefield Trust
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Operations to Control Indian Territory

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During the Civil War, Native-American tribes in the Indian territory of modern-day Oklahoma fought for both sides. Union and Confederate troops with Indian units frequently skirmished on the eastern plains of the territory for control of river crossings and forts. Many fights occurred near Union-controlled Fort Gibson on the Arkansas River. The Union forces near the Arkansas border, protected Indian refugee families.  The river valley was an avenue of approach into the territory from Arkansas, and the important north-south Texas Road crossed the river nearby. A band of Confederates under Colonel Stand Watie, a Cherokee Indian leader, unsuccessfully ambushed a Union supply column headed for Fort Gibson at Cabin Creek on July 1, 1863. The badly needed supplies reinforced the Union presence at the fort.


Two weeks later, the Union commander, General James G. Blunt, learned that Confederate troops, under General Douglas H. Cooper, were about to surround and attack the fort. Blunt’s garrison included pro-Union Indian Home Guard regiments, and Cooper’s force included a regiment from the Choctaw and Chickasaw tribes. Blunt pre-emptively moved against Cooper’s column at Honey Springs on July 17 and forced it to retreat. Confident that they had cleared the Confederates from the territory, Blunt turned his attention to the Rebel presence downriver around Fort Smith, Arkansas. Blunt captured the fort on September 1, and beat the fleeing Confederates in a rear-guard action at Devil’s Backbone the next day. Fort Smith remained a Union outpost on the Arkansas River for the remainder of the war, and with the river under Union control, Confederate raids into Indian Territory virtually ended.

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