From the book: Rugged and Sublime: The Civil War in Arkansas; Mark K Christ
The Confederates discovered, upon inspecting the wagons, that the Federal foraging party had secured far more than grain on its expedition: included in the cargo was "every kind of provision from the farm-yard, the pantry, the dairy, and the sideboard. . . . men's, women's and children's clothing, household furniture, gardening implements, the tools of the mechanic, and the poor contents of the negro hut.
From an “award winning” essay: Poison Springs AR: By Gregory J W Urwin
“The Poison Spring Massacre has gone down in history as the worst war crime ever committed on Arkansas soil. It exemplified the Confederate reaction to the Union Army’s increasing reliance on black soldiers.”
From the book: Rugged and Sublime: The Civil War in Arkansas; Mark K Christ
“Once penetrated, the Union line collapsed rapidly. Threatened with envelopment when the cavalry screen on their left flank was beaten back, the remains of the First Kansas broke and ran. This proved to be their undoing. Pursuing Confederates, enraged as the Rebels usually were when the Federals used blacks as combat troops, showed no mercy. They continued to fire into the fleeing ranks, and many wounded blacks were murdered as they lay on the ground. One Rebel colonel admitted, "Away trotted the poor black men into the forest, clinging to their rifles, but not using them, while the pursuing Confederates cut them down right and left."
[Union officers say that the men of the 1st Kansas Colored Volunteers, which suffered 117 killed in the battle, refused to lay down their arms but insisted on carrying them away from the battlefield. This led to severe casualties among them and raises the point for discussion that they fought to the death rather than surrender.] Dale Cox, author
Number 29. Report of Lieutenant Josephus Utt, Fourteenth Kansas Cavalry, of engagement at Poison Spring.
CAMDEN, ARK., April 20, 1864.
SIR: In answer to circular dated April 19, 1864, I have the honor to submit the following as my report: First. Josephus Utt, first lieutenant, K Company, Fourteenth Kansas Volunteer Cavalry, commanding detachment comprised of details from Squadrons A, C, E, H, I, and K-mounted, 50; dismounted, 20; total, 70. On the morning of the 18th instant, First Lieutenant Smith, Company C, Fourteenth Kansas Volunteer Cavalry, reported to the escort with 20 mounted men; total, 90 men and 2 commissioned officers of the Fourteenth Kansas Volunteer Cavalry. Second. Missing since the engagement on the 18th instant.* Third. The conduct of the officers and men was good under the trying circumstances, being outnumbered eight or nine to one, and entirely surrounded, none being daunted; continued fighting with the most daring heroism, determined not to surrender, preferring death. After the right and left wings were broken and driven in and almost entirely surrounded, a galling cross-fire broke the columns and it was impossible to form another line at the rear of the train. Many heroic efforts were made by the officers and men, though the result was so evident to all. A line was partly formed where the charging columns of the enemy were so numerous and their fire so destructive that it was again abandoned. The entire train being surrounded, and almost the entire command hemmed in, nothing but surrender or retreat was left. All preferring death to surrender, all was lost and retreat in the best possible manner was the only recourse left.
All of which is respectfully submitted, by your very humble servant,
First Lieutenant Co. K, 14th Kans. Vol. Cav., Commanding Detach.
Colonel J. M. WILLIAMS,
Page 750, LOUISIANA AND THE TRANS-MISSISSIPPI. Chapter XLVI., Official Records
[The Union commander at the battle states in his report that many of the men of the 1st Kansas found themselves without officers at a key stage of the battle, a fact that resulted in great confusion in their ranks at a point when they were under heavy fire in both front and flank.] Dale Cox, author
[Union officers at the battle did indicate there were reports of Confederates shooting wounded men, but at the time they made no claims of a massacre. Instead, they reported that they had inflicted twice as many casualties on the Confederates as they had received. The massacre claims grew after the battle, but were not a point of discussion immediately after the fact.] Dale Cox, author
[A review of service records and muster rolls indicates that casualties were quite a bit lower than traditionally stated. Most of the missing in action actually returned to their regiments within a month or two of the battle and the number of killed and seriously wounded was quite a bit lower than is stated in some accounts.] Dale Cox, author
The reports given by Confederate officers on the scene:
Number 77. Report of Colonel Tandy Walker, commanding Second Indian Brigade, of engagement at Poison Spring.
HDQRS. SECOND INDIAN Brigade, In the Field, April 19, 1864.
CAPTAIN: The following report of the action of this brigade in the engagement at Poison Spring on the 18th is respectfully submitted: ……………………………………………
The enemy formed next at his wagon train, drawn up on the road which ran along the brow of a wooded hill, but was pressed so closely by this brigade that he soon fled across the road and in a direction up the road to the left, when the train fell into our hands, and soon a portion of his artillery, which my troops found concealed in a thicket near the train. I feared here that the train and its contents would prove a temptation too strong for these hungry, half-clothed Choctaws, but had no trouble in pressing them forward, for there was that in front and to the left more inviting to them than food or clothing-the blood of their despised enemy. They had met and routed the forces of General Thayer, the ravagers of their country, the despoilers of their homes, and the murderers of their women and children; and on they went, driving immediately by a second charge the enemy from a strong position, which he had taken behind the buildings to the left and near by the wagon train. The enemy retreating to the left threw my brigade in front, and, being encouraged by the capture of the artillery, they pursued them madly…………………………….
Colonel, Commanding Second Indian Brigade.
Captain TOM P. OCHILTREE, Assistant Adjutant-General.
Page 849, Chapter XLVI. THE CAMDEN EXPEDITION
Number 75. Report of Brigadier General Samuel B. Maxey, C. S. Army, commanding Cavalry Division, of engagement at Poison Spring.
HEADQUARTERS MAXEY'S CAVALRY DIVISION,
Camp on Middle Camden Road, Ark., April 23, 1864.
COLONEL: I respectfully submit the following report of the operations of the troops I had the honor to command in the battle of Poison Spring on the 18th instant: ……………..
I beg leave to call special attention to the Choctaw brigade. These people came of their own volition. No law or treaty compelled them to do so. They were placed on the extreme left of the attacking division. Nobly, gallantly, gloriously they did their duty. They fought the very army (Thayer's, from Fort Smith) that had destroyed their once happy homes, insulted their women, and driven them with their children destitute upon the world, and many an avenging blow was struck; many yet will be. ……………………
I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
S. B. MAXEY,
Lieutenant Colonel J. F. BELTON,
Asst. Adjt. General, Dist. of Ark., in Camp.
[The records of the various Kansas regiments indicate that there were constant raids out of Fort Smith throughout the last two years of the war. These inflicted much misery on the Choctaw people.] Dale Cox, author
Some events in Indian Territory prior to Poison Spring
Col. D. N. McIntosh
First Creek Mounted Rifles CSA
The raid by the Federals was made at the mouth of the Little River. I was on my way to the Grand Council when the intelligence of which caused me to return from Boggy Depot. When I reached my command, they had left that place and had been gone too long for me to over take them. I had gotten information that the Federals had returned in the direction of Ft. Gibson. They took no prisoners but killed all without mercy, what number I am not able to learn, but shall learn when we return. How brutal the actions of the enemy! The much savage tribe of Indian who never heard of Civilization would shudder at such barbarity. I am starting back to that place with a few wagons to help the dispatched families running. The Feds numbered more than 200 and had 2 pieces of artillery. [D. N. McIntosh, Letter, February 9, 1864, MS378, Microfilm Division, UAL.]
Sgt. Jacob Perryman
First Indian Home Guard USA
We took a trip south on the 9th day of February and returned on the 22nd. On route we killed 110 Rebels mostly Indians. Most of them were killed at their homes because Col. Phillips instructed his men not to take any prisoners for they have had all the chances to come in if they wanted to do so. We went to Little River and crossed Canadian and went on near to Boggy and returned brought good many prisoners that the 14th Kansas Cav, had taken. [Jacob Perryman, Letter, March 3, 1864, Alice Robertson Collection, OHS/AD]
Pvt. Warren Day
Company E, First Indian Home Guard,
Detached from Company C, Thirteenth Kansas Cavalry USA
We brought out of the Creek Nation about 1000 head of cattle about 250 ponies, 30 yokes of work cattle about 800 bushels of corn, between 130 and 200 refugee Indians and about 30 or 40 Negroes and killed 90 bushwhackers. I think that the Rebels will clear out for Texas. [Warren Day, Letter, February 23, 1864, Day Letters, M175, Manuscript Division, KSHS]
2nd Lt. Riley Perryman
Company H, First Creek Mounted Volunteers CSA
The Federals had all gone back in the direction of Ft. Gibson. They came out in a force of about two thousand as far as Mill Creek in the Chickasaw Nation and went back from there taking all the women and children who were left back on the Canadian back with them. It has not yet been ascertained how many of the Creeks they killed as they were scattered when the raid was made, but the general supposition is that there is thirty to fourty killed. Ab Lott and Colbert Lowe were killed near Wewoka and their families taken back to Ft. Gibson. There are several others that are supposed killed who have not yet been heard of. [Riley Perryman, Letter, February 15, 1864, Richard J. Ross Letters, Private Collection, Patsy Mann, Checotah, Oklahoma]
These reports, etc are from the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion
CIRCULAR.] HDQRS. FIRST Brigadier ARMY OF THE FRONTIER,
Fort Gibson, C. N., January 30, 1864.
Soldiers! I take you with me to clean out the Indian Nation south of the river and drive away and destroy the rebels. Let me say a few words to you that you are not to forget. Do not begin firing in battle until you are ordered. When you fire, aim low, about the knee, or at the lower part of a man's body, if on horseback. Never fire in the air. Fire slowly and never until you see something to shoot at that you may hit. Do not waste your ammunition. Do not straggle or go away from the command; it is cowards only that leave their comrades in the face of the enemy; nearly all the men we get killed are stragglers. Keep with me close and obey orders, and we will soon have peace. Those who are still in arms are rebels, who ought to die. Do not kill a prisoner after he has surrendered. But I do not ask you to take prisoners. I ask you to make your footsteps severe and terrible. Muscogees! the time has now come when you are to remember the authors of all your sufferings; those who started a needless and wicked war, who drove you from your homes, who robbed you of your property. Stand by me faithfully and we will soon have peace. Watch over each other to keep each other right, and be ready to strike a terrible blow on those who murdered your wives and little ones by the Red Fork along the Verdigris or by Dave Farm Cowpens. Do not be afraid. We have always beaten them. We will surely win. May God go with us.
WM. A. PHILLIPS,
O R, Series 1, Vol 34, Part 2, Red River Campaign,
Page 190, Chapter XLVI. LOUISIANA AND THE TRANS-MISSISSIPPI
HDQRS. U. S. FORCES,
Camp Willetts, 35 Miles S. W. North Fork, C. N., Feb. 5. 1864.
Acting Assistant Adjutant-Gen.:
SIR: I arrived with my command here last night after four days' hard marching. No forage until we got here. Rebels all fled on our approach. Tell Provost Waterhouse to see that the egress is closely guarded and few passes given. There have been traitors there. I have sent Maj. Willetts, with Capt. Harris, Lieut.'s Jacob's and Timpson, and detachment from battalion Fourteenth [Kansas] and First and Third [Indian], up to clean out the rebels on Little River and upper Canadian. I shall leave no secesh in the country. I have also sent Capt. Anderson with detachment of First and Third to Caney Creek to clean out a camp there and get or destroy their train. There has been no fighting, but some skirmishing; 7 rebels have been killed and as many taken prisoners. Andy Murrell, the scout, is severely but I think not dangerously wounded.
The enemy, Cooper, Watie, and some Texans, are concentrating at Boggy Depot, which I rather like, as I would rather fight them there than hunt them up.
I do not expect to get a battle short of Pike's Ditches, but they may move on me. I am anxiously looking for Col. Moonlight, who was to have joined me, but of whom I have not yet heard. Watie marched past this place as he went back from his raid after the Barren Fork battle three weeks ago. I find also that a well-mounted force of white rebels passed in here just ahead of us, going south. They had crossed Arkansas River 60 miles above Gibson. I expect some of Quantrill's men. Col.'s McIntosh and Hawkins' commands were here, but have fled. Forward mail for the whole command here. They can follow my trail.
By order of Col. William A. Phillips:
R. T. THOMPSON,
First Lieut. and Acting Assistant Adjutant-Gen.
HDQRS. U. S. FORCES IN THE FIELD,
Indian Territory, South Canadian, February 8, 1864.
Cmdg. District of the Frontier:
SIR: Your favor of the 3d instant just received and contents noted. I have had a detachment of cavalry at North Fork for three days to guide Col. Moonlight to my command. I have the honor to report the most eminent success in clearing out the rebel Indian country so far. My forces under Maj. Willetts on Little River, and under Capt.'s Anderson, Phillips, Lowe, Jacobs, and Crafts, Lieut.'s Stevens and Timpson, have been sweeping the whole valley of the upper Canadian and its tributaries north and south, and secessionist is about wiped out. In the various skirmishers we have killed nearly 100 of the enemy, including Capt. Washburn , and taken 25 prisoners. The enemy appear to be stricken with consternation, and have abandoned this country. Each of the commands did well. From the best evidence I get the two Col.'s McIntosh and a Choctaw force are at Boggy Depot or on Boggy River.
Gen. Cooper had his headquarters at Fort Towson two weeks ago, but rumor has it that he has moved to the vicinity of Fort Washita. Col.'s Stand Watie and Adair are at Preston, Tex., and Quantrill reported to be at Bonham. I had intended to move to-morrow on Boggy, as I deemed it wiser to strike the enemy with what I had rather than allow them to concentrate. I shall, however, wait one day for Col. Moonlight, and then move out my infantry. I moved out Col. Wattles with the First to-day. I have now hopes that I may be able, substantially, to crush and end the rebellion in the Indian nation. I am adopting stern measures. The rebels here have hitherto only trifled with propositions for peace. When next made I have no doubt they will embrace them heartily.
I have the honor to remain, very respectfully,
WILLIAM A. PHILLIPS,
Report of Col. William A. Phillips, Third Indian
Home Guard, commanding Indian Brigade.
LITTLE RIVERTOWN, NEAR OLD FORT ARBUCKLE,
Creek Nation, February 16, 1864.
SIR: After heavy marching, day and night, I have reached this point, 105 miles from Fort Gibson, at which point my infantry and wagons under Col. Wattles had reached night before last. With the force I took farthest south (450 mounted men and 1 howitzer) I could, of course, not fight the enemy after they had concentrated.
They declined sending any parties to fight me, evidently designing to fight me on Red River in force, which was, of course, out of the question. I regret the non-arrival of the force promised me from Fort Smith, as I could have then been justified in attempting to drive them into Texas before they could complete their organization. I have, however, fully accomplished all the specific instructions of Gen. McNeil with my present force.
I sent a force up the Canadian to the Seminole country to sweep north to the Arkansas, crossing and marching to Gibbon on the north side; Maj. Foreman with another up Little River to pursue the same course. I shall send another up North Fork and return with my baggage and forage train direct to Gibson. I am getting out an ox train from the county with wagons to haul to Gibson what corn there is that my command do not use. I hope to be able to get oxen enough to make a commissary train for my command as soon as grass grows.
We have left behind us copies of the President's proclamation in the Indian languages. I learned that Gen. Maxey was present with the Choctaw legislature ten days ago, and urged them to remain at home and raise crops. There were delegations present from the Choctaw Nation, Creek (rebel portion), Cherokee (rebel portion), Chickasaw, &c. The Choctaws urged a separate confederacy, as the rebel Confederacy was unable to protect them. The rebel Creeks were preparing to fly into the Wichita Mountains. Gen. Maxey has got De Morse's Twenty-ninth Texas Cavalry, Martin's Fifth Texas Partisan Rangers, Bass' Twentieth Cavalry, Scanland's and Gillett's battalions cavalry, besides two full batteries of 6 and 12 pounder brass and three howitzer. The two batteries have just been received and include two rifled guns. He has of Indian troops, Col. Watie, First and Second Cherokee; what is left of the Second Creek Regt. (which amounts to little). There are two Choctaw regiments, if they do not slough off at this time, which is probable, and Col. Jumper's regiment, which consisted of the Chickasaw and Seminole battalions, but was broken to pieces in the late battle. In addition to this, Gen. Maxey is conscripting every man on Red River. As an offset, I am happy to be able to say that all the Canadian Valley and it tributaries are clear of rebels. I shall sweep out the upper Seminole country as I return. I shall leave no subsistence for a rebel army, or forage, so that all it supplies must come from Red River in any movement toward the Arkansas, the stretch being 180 miles. The rebel Indians are entirely disheartened and discouraged. Gen. Maxey urged that they remain to raise a crop, promising to place his force between the Canadian and Fort Gibson, and that they should be protected. His utter failure to do so will throw a damper on the efforts he has made to reorganize.
It has rained a great deal in the past two days. I expect the many streams in this county to be filled soon, and, of course, shall records them to my base before the rise. Gen. Maxey has either to content himself with defending North Texas, in which case he will lose his Indian, allies, or recover the prestige which he had lost by our recent successes in an attack on us on the Arkansas River, which he must do under great difficulties, and which I should much prefer that he would undertake at this season of the year, under all circumstances.
While I could not accomplish all I would have done had I been supported by Col. Moonlight's command, and able to enter Northern Texas, still the result, in view of the condition and temper of the rebel Indians, is, I think, highly satisfactory, and will materially reduce their power to plant a force of these rebel Indians on the Arkansas River the coming spring.
I have the honor to remain, very respectfully,
WM. A. PHILLIPS,
Cmdg. Department of Kansas.
HDQRS. U. S. FORCES IN THE FIELD,
Camp Kagi, Chickasaw Nation, February 15, 1864.
TO THE COUNCIL OF THE CHOCTAW NATION:
I have been told that the head men of the Choctaw Nation are in council. I write to the council. I want to say to you who are acting for the Choctaw Nation and people that the President of the United States has issued a proclamation offering peace and mercy. The rebellion is coming to an end, its paper money is worthless, its means destroyed, but little of it left, and that fast going to destruction. I should not write to you, but I know you have been grossly deceived by those rebels, who made this wicked and unnecessary war to overthrow a good Government, a Government under which all had their rights, and which you know never wronged you. The President does not wish to destroy you, but everything will be destroyed that stands in the way of peace to the great Republic. As your friend and the friend of peace in the Indian Territory, I write to you to think of these things, and to see whether your people want to be destroyed in the vain hope of giving aid to a wicked rebellion. There is no possible reason why you should want to rebel against had peace. Peace you will never have again until you come back to its shelter. Do not deceive your people. God will curse and they upbraid you if you do. You have to choose between peace you with a little money that never did you any good. It will not be long before destruction comes. I think you understand I am in earnest. Do you want peace? If so, let me know before we come to destroy.
Very respectfully, yours, &c.,
WM. A. PHILLIPS,
Col., Cmdg. U. S. Forces in the Field.
HDQRS. INDIAN BRIGADE,
Fort Gibson, Cherokee Nation, February 29, 1864.
Cmdg. Department of Kansas:
SIR: I deemed it proper to report that, as a part of the plan of the campaign of which the late expedition was the beginning, I had designed to clean out the Choctaw Nation in April, or as soon as I could get ammunition and my command in shape. I moved through the Creek, Chickasaw, and Seminole Nations because there was corn there to use and take from the enemy, and the make it difficult for them to move on me the only way they could safely. Secondly, by entirely cleaning out that country for 170 miles, by the same width, and leaving neither rebels nor means to organize rebels there, they have to operate on me from Red River with little transportation, and the Choctaw Nation is isolated and cut off.
I am satisfied that if I had the little addition to my force I have asked, I could drive Maxey into Texas if he dared to cross Red River, and clean out the Choctaw Nation by May, so that the Government could, if desired, open it for settlement. I might be justified in saying that, with the addition of a white regiment and battery, I could operate from Washita as a base to Central Texas, but I make no suggestions, knowing that such is a question involving the movement of other forces, bases, and supplies, on which I would expect to be advised, when it was deemed expedient that I should do anything. …
I am, general, very respectfully,
WM. A. PHILLIPS
From the Itinerary of the Indian Brigade.
February 1.--Battalion of infantry, under Maj. Wright, marched to Rhea's Mills, 65 miles, to run mills and get forage and breadstuff. Commands from the First Indian Regiment, Col. Wattles; Third Indian, Maj. Foreman; battalion Fourteenth Kansas Cavalry, Maj. Willetts; section of Kaufman's howitzers. Capt. Kaufman, with the commanding officer, marched southward across Arkansas River; reached Hillabee after a march of 75 miles.
February 9 and 10.--Three expeditions as advance columns to Little River, which whole command reached on the 11th. The enemy was broken up into little companies, and had not time to recover. In one affair 30 were killed by Maj. Willett's command, 10 by Capt. Phillips', 9 by Maj. Foreman's, and 6 by Capt. Jacob's; 20 prisoners taken.
February 13.--On Middle Boggy the advance had an engagement, in which 49 rebels were killed in action; left dead on the field. Rebel force completely routed and pursued considerable distance.
February 14, 15, 16 and 17.--Marched southward toward Washita and some to Mexico. Rebel force under Gen. Maxey and Gen. Cooper fled across Red River. Col. Baylor fled from Red River to Brazos. Ammunition expended, the command marched back to Gibson. While detached mounted forces swept the whole country for 80 miles on each side, the main command proceeded to countries depopulated of their rebel inhabitants. Oxen taken for supply train. The command subsisted itself during the greater part of the expedition on corn taken in the country, ground in hand mills taken from the enemy.