The Battle of Middle Boggy
February 13, 1864

Return to Phillips' Expedition of 1864 into Pontotoc County, Oklahoma

On February 1, 1864, approximately 1,500 Union soldiers under Colonel William A. Phillips set out from Fort Gibson, IT on an expedition to cut a swath through Confederate Indian Territory from the Arkansas River south to the Red River. Col. Phillips’ mission was to bring Indian Territory under Union control and offer amnesty to Creek, Seminole, and Chickasaw Indians provided in President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation of the previous December. Colonel Phillips also wanted to sever Confederate treaties with the tribes and gain new recruits. Phillips chose the old “Dragoon Trail” route west of the overused Texas Road for two reasons: (1) the Dragoon trail headed directly toward all three Indian nations he wished to control, and (2) he expected to find more forage (corn) along it to feed his little army, which he did. Three companies of the 14th Kansas cavalry led by Major Charles Willetts served as the spearhead of Phillips’ Expedition. During the month long campaign, the Federals subsisted off the land, raided Indian settlements, and fought one savage battle—The Battle of Middle Boggy.
 
Before departing Fort Gibson for Fort Washita and perhaps North Texas, Colonel Phillips told his men, "Soldiers! I take you with me to clean out the Indian Nation south of the (Arkansas) river and drive away and destroy rebels. Let me say a few words to you that you are not to forget ... 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. Muskogees! (Creeks) the time has now come when you are to remember the authors of all your sufferings; those who started a needless and wicked war ... Stand by me faithfully and we will soon have peace ..."
 
On February 11 the Union troops, marching down the 1855 Dragoon Trail of US 2nd Cavalry fame, pushed through the Creek Nation and reached the north bend of the South Canadian River at old Fort Holmes near Edwards Post at the mouth of Little River (five miles southeast of Holdenville, OK and 105 miles from Fort Gibson). Here Colonel Phillips camped for the night, hoping for the arrival from Ft. Smith of the remaining nine companies of the 14th Kansas Cavalry commanded by Colonel Thomas Moonlight. They would never arrive.
 
With the return of his own cavalry raiders into the Seminole Nation, on 2-12 Colonel Phillips sent his 1st Indian Home Guard (IHG) under Col. Stephen H. Wattles south across the South Canadian to begin his advance down
the Dragoon Trail southwest (S20W) toward Shawnee Town and Middle Boggy River, about 19 miles away. Wattles’ advance was supported by two howitzers of Captain Solomon Kaufman’s artillery. The 3rd Indian Home Guard (Phillips old command) followed Phillips’ wagon train as a rear guard.
 
Five miles south of the river (near Atwood, OK), the Dragoon Trail joined the Marcy Trail (California Trail) for about 10 miles while climbing past Shawnee Town (north of Allen) then down to a road junction (near Allen). Nearby were located Motes Springs (campgrounds) and the northern headwaters (Little Sandy Creek) of Middle Boggy. An eastern short-cut of the Marcy Trail (the newer Ft. Smith-Ft. Arbuckle supply road from Gerty/Stuart) joined the Dragoon Trail here. The old and little used (in 1864) Marcy Trail proceeded southwest along the Shawnee Hills toward Ada. OK 1 highway follows the Marcy Trail from Atwood thru Allen toward Delaware Mount (near Ada). This legacy (1849-59) western trail then passed Camp Arbuckle of 1850-51 (2 miles NW of Byars) on its way to Santa Fe, NM and California.
 
Proceeding S20W four miles past Allen junction along the eastern side of Little Sandy Creek, the Dragoon Trail crossed Middle Boggy (whose western headwaters are near Ada) just below both the mouth of Little Sandy and the formal Chickasaw/Choctaw Boundary of 1855. From the crossing, the Dragoon Trail headed southwest about 17 miles to the Clear Boggy ford just below the mouth of Bois d`Arc Creek near old Stonewall and Colbert Institute. The Ft. Arbuckle military road continued southwest past Cochran’s Store (and Trading Post) to Fort Arbuckle (near Davis). Near Cochrans’ Store, the Dragoon Trail turned south between Clear Boggy and Blue River to Fort Washita. Dragoon Trail was sometimes called the “Texas Cattle Trail” and it closely followed the Blue River along its eastern side in Johnston County until it crossed the Blue near Milburn.
 
Expecting a Federal invasion based on spy reports from Ft. Gibson, Confederate Brig. Gen. Douglas H. Cooper had established an outpost on the Dragoon Trail near Middle Boggy. Confederate forces at the outpost, under
the command of Captain Jonathan Nail, may have numbered as many as 90 poorly armed men who had no artillery. They were composed of Captain Nail's Company "A" of the First Choctaw and Chickasaw Cavalry, a detachment of the 20th Texas Cavalry, and a part of Lieutenant Colonel John Jumper's Seminole Battalion of Mounted Rifles. The rest of Jumper’s battalion was camped southwest of the outpost along the Dragoon Trail to Clear Boggy. (A plausible campsite was at Red Springs, an old Indian settlement near Sincere Creek crossing.)
 
Early on the morning of 2-13, Col. Phillips sent most of his refreshed cavalry of about 350 well-armed men under Major Willetts for a surprise attack on the remote outpost a few miles ahead of the line of march, passing Wattle’s 1st IHG infantry column bivouacked north of Allen. This mobile force consisted mainly of the three companies of the 14th Kansas Cavalry.
 
Capt. Nail’s Confederates were completely surprised by the cavalry attack. The Confederates fought desperately for about thirty minutes before scattering toward Colonel Jumper and the rest of his Seminole Battalion. During the night the Confederates fled south, some toward Boggy Depot. By the next day, Brig. Gen. Cooper, located about 45 miles away from the outpost at Boggy Depot, had been informed by Capt. Nail of the shocking defeat and Union advance toward old Stonewall.
 
Major Willetts, following the directives he had been given, had taken no prisoners. The bodies of the wounded that Capt. Nail had left unburied on the battlefield were discovered later by the Confederates to have had their throats cut. Major Willetts reported no Union casualties in the Battle of Middle Boggy. The Federals initially reported 47 Confederate killed, later increased to 49.  Brig. Gen. Cooper reported 11 Confederates died, including 4 from Nail’s command. Col. Phillips camped on the northeast side of Middle Boggy for the night, naming the site Camp Kansas. Phillips’ dispatch to Ft. Smith the next morning showed he believed he was still in the Choctaw Nation. The Dragoon Trail west of Middle Boggy crossing to near Ft. Washita had been the defacto eastern boundary between the Chickasaws and Choctaws from 1837-1855, (when a new treaty was approved), and this segment of the Trail became the practical national boundary from 1856 until 1872 when a federally approved initial land survey of the Chickasaw Nation was completed.
 
By the morning of 2-14, the morning after the battle, Col. Phillips knew that the remaining 9 companies of the 14th Kansas cavalry were not coming. Invading North Texas now was not feasible; however, communicating President Lincoln’s new amnesty proclamation to the Confederate Indians was. Col. Phillips divided his command, sending his mounted forces under Maj. Willetts south 21 miles (probably measured from Phillips’ HQ) pursuing the fleeing Confederates, and seeking Chickasaw Gov. Winchester Colbert, who sometimes resided near Colbert Institute and the (seldom used) Pontotoc District Court House (near old Stonewall/Frisco) on Clear Boggy. Col. Phillips followed Willetts’ van and camped that evening at Camp Kagi (John Henry Kagi was a John Brown martyr at Harpers Ferry) on Clear Boggy (1.5 miles southwest of old Stonewall near Cochran’s Store). Phillips ordered Col. Wattles to take the remainder of the straggling command (mostly Indian infantry since only the 1st IHG had reached Middle Boggy battlefield the afternoon of the battle) and return to old Ft. Holmes, which Col. Wattles did late in the evening of 2-14.
 
Circumstantial evidence suggests that the battlefield was located along the Dragoon Trail (or Texas Cattle Trail) near its crossing of Middle Boggy River between the Ft. Smith-Ft. Arbuckle junction just south of Allen, OK and the small community of Steedman about 2 miles southwest of the Middle Boggy River crossing. The proposed site is located in extreme northeastern Pontotoc County, Oklahoma.
 
Col. Phillips headquarters for the night of 2-13 (Camp Kansas) were most likely located just south of Allen and the trail junction (on high prairie land near Motes Springs) and not across Middle Boggy River, otherwise Phillips would have been in the Chickasaw Nation-- a well-known fact in 1864 which Col. Phillips surely knew. At this site for Camp Kansas, Phillips would have a nearby cross road junction to Ft. Smith (which he may have used for his dispatch of 2-14 to Brig. Gen. Thayer, commanding at Ft. Smith), a well-known clear headwaters springs, elevated open space for good defensive purposes, and most of his little army. While the 1st IHG arrived at the battlefield that afternoon, neither the 3rd IHG nor the wagon train did. Thus, the battlefield itself was most likely located a few miles ahead of Camp Kansas, very near the Middle Boggy crossing. The remaining question is “On which side of Middle Boggy, the east or west?”
 
Several bits of evidence suggest the northeast side (nearer to Allen). Col. Phillips initially reports on 2-14 that the Indian enemy were Choctaw (an east-sider) and not Chickasaw (a west-sider). Gen. Cooper notes the enemy is 45 miles from Boggy Depot. The east side (nearer to Allen junction and HQ) fits this distance better. The distance Col. Phillips later states Camp Kansas is from Camp Kagi is 21 miles, which fits nicely with his HQ being near Allen, and not at the river crossing 4 miles ahead with the bloody battlefield likely being on the west side. The Confederates were surprised and slaughtered. Confederates defending an east side (or suicide) outpost directly exposed to an enemy cavalry charge with rebel backs to the river, logically fits the results better. Willetts had good flanking attack paths from Allen junction with two pincer routes well hidden and linked to an east-side outpost. A path for a western flank attack along the old Marcy Trail (say OK 1) from Allen lay just to the west along Little Sandy Creek, and an eastern flank attack could easily follow the path of OK 48 highway from Allen as it would lie just east of the Dragoon Trail behind some hills. Both flanking routes would arrive just behind an east-side outpost without fording Middle Boggy. The Confederates would have been sitting ducks to such a large well-hidden mobile three-column attacking force. Capt. Kaufman’s two howitzers could have signaled the start of the attack on the outpost from several elevated positions near the Dragoon Trail east of the river crossing. A Confederate casualty rate exceeding 50% suggests this is what happened, given the reported zero Federal casualties.
 
A re-enactment of the Battle of Middle Boggy is hosted every 3rd year by the Atoka County Historical Society. The next re-enactment will be held in the year 2015.
 
Dr. Carroll Messer, Ph.D, TAMU, College Station, TX
 
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