The Battles of Cabin Creek
The battles at Cabin Creek were two distinct Civil War battles between Union and Confederate forces in Indian Territory. Both battles were attempted Confederate ambushes on federal supply trains along the great Texas Road at Cabin Creek, near present day Big Cabin, Oklahoma. The first battle began in July of 1863, and the second in September of 1864. Both Confederate assaults were led by Cherokee Brigadier General Stand Watie, who was the last general to surrender in the Civil War. The battlefield was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971.
Backstory and Context
The battlefield site is located along Cabin Creek, which flows into the Grand River, which is currently known as the Neosho River. Both battles were fought on the great Texas Road, a military supply trail stretching from Kansas to Texas. This road was a notable boundary that also served as the dividing line between Indian Territory to the west, and the settled lands of the United States to the east.
Even before Union troops arrived in 1862, Cabin Creek had become a small settlement with a church, private housing, and stage-station. It was located at a strategic point by the creek, and was ideal for a military post. This caught the attention of Cherokee Brigadier General Stand Waite and his pro-Southern Indian troops. The forest surrounding Cabin Creek provided excellent cover for possible ambushes along the Texas Road, which was well-fitted for Waite's Indian troops, as they moved quickly through the countryside.
The first battle was an attempted ambush of a federal supply train heading south along the great Texas Road on the first days of July in 1863. The plan, led by Watie, was to hold a defensive position along the road and wait for 1,500 more men, commanded by Brigadier General William Cabell, before striking the Union wagon. Waite already had mustered nearly 1,800 men. However, Cabell was delayed due to high water levels along the Grand River and Cabin Creek. Union Colonel James Williams was notified about the presence of Waite's forces and plotted a counter-offense. As the water receded, Col. Williams ordered artillery fire and cavalry charges. The charges by the 1st Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry, 2nd Colorado Volunteer Infantry, and the 3rd Indian Home Guard motivated a Confederate retreat. Estimated casualties for Watie's brigade totaled nearly 65 men, while Col. Williams' lost about 23. This Union victory led to the reinforcement of troops and supplies at Fort Gibson. The inability to capture or halt the Union supply train on the Texas Road led to a Union victory at Honey Springs and established Union control in the region.
The second battle at Cabin Creek began nearly a year later in September of 1864. Once again, Stand Watie led 800 Indian men in effort to capture another federal supply train. This time he was accompanied by General Richard Gano, commanding a force of 1,200 men consisting of mostly Texas Cavalry divisions. On September 13th, Watie and Gano convened at Camp Pike in the Choctaw Nation to discuss expeditions in the regions held under federal control in Indian Territory. Since the two Generals had their own brigades, both agreed to individually command their units.
On September 12th, a federal wagon train led by Major Henry Hopkins left Fort Scott, Kansas. Hopkins was suspicious of Confederate attacks along the Texas Road, and periodically received letters from Union command posts warning him of rebel positions. As a response, Hopkins ordered the wagon train to quicken its march to Cabin Creek. They arrived on September 18th, 6 days after leaving Fort Scott. He was then notified that rebels were spotted three miles south of Cabin Creek. In preparation for an eminent Confederate attack, Hopkins ordered every building in the settlement to be fortified, and stockades were to be strategically placed along the road to defend against cavalry charges.
On the same day, General Gano, with the help of 400 men and artillery cannons, scouted the whereabouts of the federal train. After locating them at Cabin Creek, Gano encouraged Watie's forces to march the rest of the men up the road and hold their position until nightfall. At one o'clock in the morning of the next day Watie and Gano assaulted the supply train. After hours of battle, Watie and Gano captured 130 wagons, 740 mules, and almost a million dollars' worth of supplies. Recognition of this capture made its way to Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederate States. He acknowledged this great victory and praised the two generals. However, this had no effect on the outcome on the Civil War.
Steven L. Warren, "Cabin Creek, Battles of," The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=CA001.
"Battle Summary: Cabin Creek, OK." National Parks Service. Accessed April 11, 2019. https://www.nps.gov/abpp/battles/ok006.htm.
"The Significance of the 2nd Colorado Volunteer Infantry In Oklahoma's Civil War History." Second Colorado Living History Association. February 13, 2017. Accessed February 22, 2019. https://www.secondcolorado.org/2013/02/significance-of-the-2nd-colorado-in-oklahomas-civil-war-history/Hancock, Mj. "The Second Battle of Cabin Creek, 1864." Chronicles of Oklahoma 39 (1961): 414-425.