Battle of Perryville, August 26, 1863

During the Civil War in Indian Territory, the Confederate depot at Perryville was attacked on August 26, 1863, by Union forces. After the federal victory at Honey Springs in July 1863, Maj. Gen. James Blunt, division commander of the Union Army of the Frontier, had marched out of Ft. Gibson to find and defeat the Confederate army in Indian Territory, once and for all. Blunt’s scouts contacted Brig. Gen. William Steele’s rear guard as he was withdrawing south across the Canadian River.

Steele understandably did not want to stand and fight the freshly reinforced Blunt. Their recent defeat at Honey Springs deeply dispirited Brig. Gen. Douglas Cooper’s Indian troops. Brig. Gen. William Cabell’s Arkansas troops were deserting en masse, and all of Gen. Steele’s troops were in poor supply. Steele decided he would send Cabell to Fort Smith in a defensive position, where he could be reinforced. Cooper moved south to Perryville where he could resupply. Cooper then sent a detachment under Col. Chilly McIntosh further west to cover his flank.

It may have been on Steele’s mind that Blunt would pursue Cabell towards Fort Smith, which would expose Blunt’s flank and supply lines to Cooper, enabling Cooper’s Indians and Texans to spring a trap. Blunt would have been caught out in the open without an escape route, Cabell would have reinforcements from Fort Smith close at hand and could pin Blunt on the Arkansas River’s south side. Whether Blunt had insight to Steele’s plan is uncertain. Blunt decided to pursue Cooper, whom he had most recently defeated at Honey Springs. After detailing scouts to watch Cabell and McIntosh’s movements, Blunt hastened to catch Cooper.

Perryville, a major supply depot for the Confederates, was located halfway between Boggy Depot and Scullyville, or North Fork Town, on the Texas Road. By attacking Steele, Blunt hoped to catch and destroy Cooper’s five thousand men and their depot. Then he would be free to take Cabell and Fort Smith. Steele posted a strong picket, including two howitzers, on the north side of town blocking the road leading into Perryville. The Federals arrived at the edge of town and engaged the Confederates in a rare night fight. The Confederates were in a fixed position of hastily constructed barricades, and the Confederate artillery was centered on the road. The Federals deployed right and left of the road and brought artillery quickly into play. The heated exchange lasted a short time. The Confederates, fearing they would be engulfed, retreated without their stores, leaving them in the hands of the Federals. The Union troops hit with such swiftness that Steele was unable to summon reinforcements. Blunt secured what supplies he could use and ordered the town burned. The destruction of this major Confederate depot crippled the Confederate forces in Indian Territory as much as if Cooper’s army had been destroyed.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Wiley Britton, The Civil War on the Border, Vol. 2 (3rd ed., rev..; Ottowa: Kansas Heritage Press, 1994). Steve Cottrell, Civil War in the Indian Territory (Gretna, La.: Pelican Publishing Company, 1995). Whit Edwards, “The Prairie was on Fire”: Eyewitness Accounts of the Civil War in the Indian Territory (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Historical Society, 2001). Kenny A.Franks, Stand Watie and the Agony of the Cherokee Nation ( Memphis, Tenn.: Memphis State University Press, 1979).

Whit Edwards, “Perryville, Battle of,” Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture

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