Oklahoma’s largest Civil War battlefield may become National Park

Civil War, Honey Springs
The Honey Springs Battlefield Park in Oklahoma may become a new addition to the National Park Service, the Tulsa World reports.

The U.S. Department of the Interior said in a report that there’s “potential action” for “support designation of Honey Springs as a National Battlefield Park.” Now Oklahoma history buffs are scratching their heads over just what that means. The Tulsa World couldn’t get an answer. Hopefully that government-speak translates into real action. The Battle of Honey Springs was the largest Civil War battle in Oklahoma, which was the Indian Territory back then. The battle was notable in that white soldiers were a minority on both sides.

On July 17, 1863, a Confederate army was gathering at Honey Springs in order to attack the Union position at Fort Gibson. About four or five thousand rebels had assembled, mostly Cherokee, Choctaw and Chickasaw. More reinforcements were coming, so the Union troops at Fort Gibson, which only numbered 2,800, decided to attack before it was too late. The Union side was mostly black and Indian troops, some from the same tribes as the rebels.

After a night march, the Union army attacked the Confederate position in a pouring rain. The rain ruined much of the rebel gunpowder, and this helped decide the battle. Nonetheless there was enough powder left for the rebels to put up a hard resistance. After a few hours they were forced to retreat, having to burn part of their wagon train to keep it out of Union hands.

The Confederates lost 150 men killed, 400 wounded, and 77 taken prisoner. The Union lost only 17 killed and 60 wounded. The rebels lost control of the Indian Territory north of the Arkansas River. This helped open up Arkansas for invasion and led to a Union army capturing Little Rock that September.

Prominent in the fight on the Union side was the First Kansas Colored Volunteers, a black unit of mostly escaped slaves that was the first American black regiment to see combat when they defeated a larger force of rebel guerrillas at the Battle of Island Mound in Missouri on October 29, 1862. The victory made headlines across the country and helped dispel a widespread belief that black soldiers wouldn’t fight.

The First Kansas Colored Volunteers fought in several engagements in Missouri, Kansas, and Arkansas yet they aren’t very well known. The justly famous 54th Massachusetts has inspired books, a monument, a movie, even a rap video, but the First Kansas remains largely forgotten. I’ve been sending a book proposal on the regiment around to publishers for a few years now, and despite being an established Civil War author I keep getting told there’s an “insufficient market” for the subject. Apparently the American public can only deal with one group of black heroes at a time.

Here’s hoping the Honey Springs battlefield will become a National Park and the First Kansas will get some of the recognition they deserve. Thanks to Jane Johansson over at the The Trans-Mississippian blog for bringing this to my attention. Jane blogs about all aspects of the Civil War west of the Mississippi and is worth reading.

Photo courtesy farmalldanzil via flickr.

Gawker’s Worst 50 States

I’ve been following Gawker’s newest series, The Worst 50 States. I’ve been enjoying following this series. In an effort to pin down not only the best states in the US of A, but, more importantly, the worst states, Gawker compiled a Gawker-invented rating system in order to rank our fair fifty. Granted, this rating system consists solely of the viewpoints of those on staff for Gawker, so the viewpoints are just about as biased as you would deem Gawker (Which might be not at all according to you!), but there’s some interesting stuff in there. Yes, they’re focusing on the bad more than the good, those damn pessimists, but all in all, fact or fiction, the commentary on the 50 states is makes me laugh. And, I’ll just throw this in there, I’ve been to 48 of the 50 states and much of every summary they make rings true to me. They’re not done wrapping up the states yet, but check out their analysis of most of the states here.

If you’re inflamed, saddened, or curling over with laughter after reading what’s so bad about your home state, come back here and tell us in the comments how Gawker made you feel.

Study Ranks States By Individual Freedom

The 5 ugliest states in the country

ugliest statesThey say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. San Francisco Examiner writer and occasional Gadling contributor Bob Ecker doesn’t behold much, at least for a few unlucky states. Ecker previously named the prettiest US states including coastal California, exotic Hawaii, diverse New York, historic Virginia, and verdant Washington. He’s now determined the unfortunate ugliest states, measured by landscape, not people:

  • Connecticut: the Constitution State is called a “suburban hell”
  • Delaware: small and boring
  • Kansas: land-locked and a “throwback,” in a bad way
  • Nevada: outside of Las Vegas, it’s a “desolate and forbidding wasteland” (what about Lake Tahoe, Bob?)
  • Oklahoma: another flat, hot, and boring state (don’t tell Lonely Planet’s Robert Reid, an OK native)

Obviously the article is tongue in cheek — there are beautiful corners in every great state in this country — but Ecker’s skewering provides a good starting point for thinking about vacation destinations. Do these places deserve to be called ugly? What do you think the ugliest states are?

Photo courtesy Flickr user Gage Skidmore

Bigger is better: scout these mega-sized attractions on a cross-country trip

largest attractionsTaking to the roads this long weekend or on a summer road trip? Don’t miss these larger-than-life tourist attractions.

World’s Largest Rooftop Farm
New York City
Brooklyn Grange, is 40,000 square foot elevated garden is located on top of a six-story warehouse, and grows everything from tomatoes to peppers to fennel to salad greens and much, much more. Check out Inhabitat for more info and pics of the rooftop farm.

Largest Tourist Trap: South of the Border
Dillon, South Carolina
Perhaps more famed for the signs up and down Interstate I-95 that lead up to the attraction than for the actual destination, South of the Border has caused many a family carload to play never-ending games of “I Spy,” and, at least in my family, caused an unexpected delay as my childhood self insisted that we stop for a drive-through.

Largest Ball of Twine
Cawker City, Kansas
This ever-growing attraction today weights more than nine tons. Sadly, this is the only “big” attraction we could find in Kansas. Do let us know if we’ve missed anything else in this flyover state.

Largest Hole in the Ground: Grand Canyon
Arizona
Okay, so it’s way more than a hole in the ground, but it is certainly a destination unto itself. Pause for a day or an afternoon and marvel. Check out our previous coverage on Gadling for more information about what to see and do.

World’s Largest Dinosaur
Cabazon, California
Say hi to Mr. Rex and Ms. Dinny (12 million people visit them annually) or visit this great exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History.

Should you want to fly to any of these destinations, CheapOair.com is offering a great series of travel promotions to all of these destinations, bookable through June 7.

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Odd Locations and Events on Road Trips in America

Remembering the Confederate dead

Civil War,civil war, ConfederateNext year marks the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War. As state and local planning committees gear up for a host of events, a quiet spot in western Missouri has been commemorating the war for more than a century.

The Confederate Memorial State Historic Site in Higginsville, 53 miles east of Kansas City, opened as a retirement home for Confederate veterans in 1891. More than 1,600 former soldiers and their families lived amid quiet forests and placid lakes. Remarkably, the last one didn’t die until 1950. John T. Graves was a veteran of General J.O. Shelby’s Iron Brigade, the best cavalry raiders west of the Mississippi. The Iron Brigade saw countless battles throughout the war but Graves survived them all, to die in the modern world at the age of 108.

Today the Confederate Memorial is still a peaceful spot. You can stroll through the woods where old men once hobbled along swapping war stories, or fish in lakes that fed more than a regiment of veterans. The chapel is open to visitors, as is the cemetery, where the tombstones preserve the names of some of the best, and worst, men who fought for the South.

The most notorious rebel to be buried here is William Quantrill. A bandit turned Confederate guerrilla, Quantrill was the terror of the border states, looting and burning civilian homes as much as he fought Union troops. A young Frank James, brother of Jesse James, rode with Quantrill and participated in his biggest atrocity–the burning of Lawrence, Kansas, where Quantrill’s band killed about 200 mostly unarmed men and boys. Quantrill was killed in the last days of the war in Kentucky. Part of his body is buried in Louisville, some of his remains are interred in his hometown of Dover, Ohio, and the Higginsville memorial has three arm bones, two leg bones, and a lock of hair.

More honorable soldiers are also here, including several from the Iron Brigade as well as other units that saw action in every theater of the war. In fact, every Confederate state but one is represented here. Many veterans moved to Missouri after the war to farm its rich, underpopulated land, so a wide cross-section of the Confederacy ended their days at the home.

So if you’re driving through Missouri on I-70, take a quick detour and check out a piece of history. And keep an eye out next year for lots of Civil War articles here on Gadling to mark the 150th anniversary.

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