Wednesday, July 17, 2013

"Man Must Die Sometime...": The Engagement at Honey Springs

Today is the sesquicentennial of the engagement at Honey Springs in the Indian Territory. The Honey Springs Battlefield is preserved today by the State of Oklahoma and is well worth visiting. About 2,800 Union soldiers and between 3,400-5,100 Confederate soldiers were at the battle according to an Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture article. Besides being a significant Union victory, the engagement was notable for the fact that white troops, Native American units, and an African-American regiment (the 1st Kansas) were involved in the battle.

A Creek Warrior for the Confederacy: The Autobiography of Chief G. W. Grayson, edited by W. David Baird, is a favorite Oklahoma history book of mine. George Washington Grayson served in the Second Creek Mounted Rifles at Honey Springs and here is a portion of his account of the engagement:

“…with our colonel Chilly McIntosh in immediate command, we were ordered to occupy a certain position in a dense bottom of the creek, and to remain out of sight under cover of the foliage of the trees until ordered to take active part in the day’s work. Here we remained listening breathlessly at the rattle of small arms and an occasional exulting whoop that was one of the characteristics of the fighters of the southern forces, and anxious to take a hand in the affray, but could do nothing without orders. The morale of our men was the best, and they could and would have made things alarmingly unpleasant for whomever they might be pitted against.

On this occasion I remember hearing delivered by our colonel in Indian the finest war-speech I ever heard. Among other things said by him in [the] course of his talk in which the men were urged when the time came to do their full duty fearlessly and bravely, [was]

When you first saw the light, it was said of you ‘a man child is born.’ You must prove today whether or not this saying of you was true. The sun that hangs over our heads has no death, no end of days. It will continue indefinitely to rise and to set; but with you it is different. Man must die sometime, and since he must die, he can find no nobler death than that which overtakes him while fighting for his home, his fires and his country.” (pages 62-63).

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