For those intrigued by the history of Fort Smith and the surrounding areas, such as the stories of Belle Starr and the Younger Brothers and the bloody Civil War Battle of Honey Springs, then professor Tom Wing is the man to find.
Full of firepower, he came out with fellow enthusiasts on a hot sizzling July to show just what it was like to be there during the battle, one of the most diverse of the war which tore apart any North v. South run of the mill stories.
Wing is a 20-year professor of history of the University of Arkansas -- Fort Smith and he not only instructs history but also gets out there and becomes part of the battle front. The Civil War has interested him since childhood and he has grown with knowledge, this time working with Adam Lynn, curator of Honey Springs Battlefield Memorial as they bring out a new documentary by Pantheon Films in Los Angeles.
Wing described his fascination with history combined with serving as Tour Guide from the areas of Van Buren to Checotah, Oklahoma.
"It gives me the opportunity to help students at the university and towns people to connect to the past in a way they may not have done before. Understanding past influences makes us relate to the present in a unique way," Wing said in a recent interview.
"I'm local. I went to elementary schools in the area and began my education here. One of the highlights for me was trekking on out to the grounds where the Battle of Pea Ridge was fought. My Dad bought me a small cannon and I became hooked. From then on, I was part of history," Wing said.
He still keeps the cannon on his desk at work at the university. From that day, he delved into both the Northern and Southern arenas, the men who led the charges, the freedom of the slaves and the tribes of what was then Indian Territory over the bridge in Oklahoma. In fact, he attended the University of Oklahoma as an undergrad and is currently studying for his doctorate.
Wing also worked for the National Park Service in Fort Smith for 10 years leading tours through the park in what was once Old Fort Smith vividly describing Judge Leroy Parker, Bass Reeves as well as stressing the importance of the jump from Arkansas into the barren land where the five civilized tribes were dragged across the continent on the barbaric trek known as the "trail of tears." Although it is far from the Eastern theatre of the Civil War, Honey Springs played a huge part in swinging the area to the North.
One of the most unique parts of the bloody battle was the diversity of the men who fought. As plantation owners joined the fray for the Confederacy, runaway slaves and Indians joined the Northern side pitting an unusual part of factions against each other. In this battle, whites were in the minority.
Although the Confederacy was strong up to this point, the Union took the day and grabbed Fort Gibson as their headquarters. Today, an impressive building stands on the site of the battle under the leadership of Adam Lynn. In a few short years, Lynn has wasted little time and with a substantial Grant hired Pantheon Films out of Los Angeles to put together a $100,000 documentary of the battle which is currently part of the film festivals in the area.
Reenactments are staged every other year and area historians, as well as descendants of the men who participated in the event often draw enormous crowds. But also men whose ancestors fought in the battle come out becoming their relatives for the day dressed in Union blue or Confederate gray.
One of these is Jeffrey Kennedy, an architect, who portrays his ancestor, Quash McLeesh, a Black and Creek Indian who fought for the Union Indian Home Guard.
As Kennedy explains it, "The Emancipation Proclamation was signed in 1863 but in Indian territory these men were fighting under the laws which did not go into effect into 1866 when the land was officially turned over to the natives. Therefore, his ancestors as well as others fought as runaway slaves, not freedman. "The unique part of this and a very little known part of history is the 500 pairs of shackles which were ready to take the runaway slaves back into captivity should the South have won.
Wing in his description of the unique area of the country described the main reason the North won. "Some of the area farmers were Southern sympathizers as was Fort Smith, but the North had superior artillery, in fact it was thought there was a defective problem with the southern ammunition," Wing said.
Wing besides teaching at the university, authors historical books, takes visitors on tours and enlightens the local and traveling historical buff out to many historical sites. In his spare time, he travels both to the surrounding country, as well as overseas. He bikes and hikes through the mountains becoming a part of the land where history was made. He views the forts, the living history sites and the wilderness where it all took place and brings back to the classroom a unique perspective.
For more information on the Honey Springs Battlefield Museum, Adam Lynn can be contacted online.
A panorama of the battle is being planned, complete with the documentary set for the weekend of November 5, 2022, as well as other events to take the attendee back in time.
"He's been an amazing supporter of our facility as well as a specialized speaker when we need him for events," Adam Lynn, Curator of Honey Springs Battlefield, said describing professor Tom Wing, 20 year veteran of the University of Arkansas, Fort Smith and Civil War historian and author. Wing who is playing a major part at the reenactments as well as contributing his knowledge recently led the charge dressed in Union Blue reenacting the July 16, 1863 in the broiling heat on the anniversary of the bloody battle.
Wing describes his fascination with history and as a tour guide from Van Buren to Alma to Fort Smith.
"It gives me the opportunity to help students of both the university and of the town to connect to the past in a way they may not have before, Wing said. "Understanding past influences makes us relate to the present in a unique way.
Wing born November, 1964, Wing began his education by attending local schools. He also had parents who took him up to the grounds where the Battle of Pea Ridge was held when he was just in the third grade. Wing was entranced. His father gave him a gift of a replica of a Civil War cannon which he still keeps on his desk to this day. From that day he delved into both the north and southern experiences during that time, attending the University of Oklahoma and studying for his doctorate.
Wing also worked at the National Park Service in Fort Smith for 10 years leading tours through the park and teaching visitors about Judge Leroy Parker, as well as the importance of the unique place Fort Smith centers before the entrance to Indian territory across the bridge into Oklahoma.
Since the Cherokees were moved via the "Trail of Tears" from the East in the barbaric trek across country from the East, Wing became entranced by the part that the area in its placement has on the entire country during the Civil War even though it was not located in the Eastern theatre.
One of the most unique parts of the bloody battle was the diversity of the men who fought. As plantation owners joined the fray for the Confederacy, runaway slaves from what might have been their own masters joined the Union as Indians fought in their own territory. Although the Confederacy was strong up to this point, the Union did take the day and became headquartered in Fort Gibson, Oklahoma. Today an impressive building stands on the spot of the battle under the leadership of Adam Lynn. In a few short years Lynn has wasted little time and with a substantial grant hired Pantheon films to put together a $100,000 documentary on the battle which will be highlighted on a festival to be held on the weekend of Nov. 5, 2022. Pantheon Films from Los Angeles has made the film which has already been nominated to several area film festivals.
Reenactments are held every other year and area historians as well as descendants of the men who participated in the memorable event often draws an enormous crowd. One of these is Jeffrey Kennedy, architect who portrays his ancestor Quash McLeesh, an Afro-American Creek Indian who fought for the Union Home Guard.. As Kennedy explains it, "The emancipation proclamation was signed in 1863 but in Indian territory where the battle was held it did not go into effect before 1866 when the land was officially turned over to the natives, specifically the Creek Indian portion of his multi-colored ancestors. Therefore, his ancestors fought as runaway slaves, not freedman. The unique part of this and very little known part of history is that found on the property after the battle were 500 pairs of shackles waiting to take the slaves back to their plantations should the South win. This was documented by Col. Thomas Moonlight during the fray.
Wing described some of the reasons the factions came to death grips in Indian territory. “Some of the area farmers were Southern sympathizers and just across the Arkansas River, Fort Smith had an impact by being Confederate as well as being the home of a Southern regiment,” Wing discussed in a recent interview. “The North wanted in right there to provide a stronghold in a unique strategic move to be in the center of Texas and Arkansas which were huge Southern states."
The Blacks, most of whom were runaway slaves, but not designated as such at the time and the members of the Five Civilized tribes became a definitive reason why the North took the day and grabbed Fort Gibson as their headquarters, Wing said But what really made the difference out in the hot fields of Honey Springs?
“Superior Federal artillery," Wing said.
There were 258 soldiers mortally wounded, some to be buried where they fell, and the area itself then swung into the hands of the North.
Wing also writes books, takes visitors on tours and finds time to trek into the mountains of Colorado for hikes and bike rides, especially in the long, hot summers of Arkans, he said.
This article originally appeared on Fort Smith Times Record: Tom Wing, UAFS professor, reenacts a Civil War battle