“An enlisted man’s diary is more valuable than an officer’s,” Tom Wing of the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith said recently in explaining why he wrote his master’s thesis on Civil War Private Henry Strong, who served as a Union soldier at Fort Smith from July 1863 to September 1865.

Using first-hand materials of this eyewitness account of the interaction between Union soldiers and civilians in the Southern arena became so important to Wing that his thesis became a book.

“A Rough Introduction to This Sunny Land: The Civil War Diary of Private Henry A. Strong, Co. K, Twelfth Kansas Infantry,” is on sale at places like Amazon.com as well as at the Honey Springs Battlefield Park outside Checotah, Oklahoma. Wing is a west Arkansas native and has been a history professor at UAFS, as well as head of the UAFS Drennen Scott House in Van Buren.

At a speaking engagement attended by about 100 history buffs at the battle site recently, Wing described how he went from being an anthropology major focusing on Native American tribes to his current pursuit of a doctorate.

“He (Strong) describes the refugee situation at the historical town of Fort Smith, the presence of black troops and the interaction with townspeople, including the women,” Wing said. Usually the lower-ranked soldiers are not caught up in politics of the time and don’t try to fix things in their relating details, he explained.

“Arkansas’ population was divided during the war. Many people think that this state went South or were predominantly Confederate sympathizers, but that is not true,” Wing explained later. “When federal troops took control of the city, they found townspeople for the most part hospitable to them.”

Fort Smith was occupied by Confederate troops in the beginning of the war and then was taken under Union control directly as a result of Fort Gibson’s Brig Gen. James Blunt, an affirmed abolitionist, winning the Battle of Honey Springs after July 1863. Intelligence had informed Blunt that southern soldiers were about to be joined by 3,000 more troops and decided to attack before that happened.

Strong initially was at Fort Scott in southeast Kansas and not at the Battle of Honey Springs, but was relocated after the Checotah engagement. Kansas was rampant with abolitionists who had come West to settle and brought their beliefs and ideas. They clashed with Confederate sympathizers often and repeatedly. This led to the rise of the term “Bleeding Kansas,” as well as a fringe element known as “Quantrill’s Raiders,” who would drift into the history of Fort Smith. The Younger brothers were hidden by the infamous Belle Starr, the local historical celebrity who maintained a cabin at Younger’s Bend on the Canadian River near Lake Eufaula.

Since the construction of a $1 million building at Honey Springs Battlefield Site, more and more details of the historical battle have come to light. Through research and scholars of the Civil War working online and on site, archives and preserved parts of the battle are now on display, and experts in the field have been invited to speak.

Adam Lynn, executive director of the onsite museum, said he has scheduled experts to speak in the coming months who have unique knowledge of the battle. The importance of the battle includes the diversity in troops who fought there. The “colored regiments” who joined the Union Army after the Emancipation Proclamation, and in some cases led to the settling of black towns in Oklahoma, were among those who fought in the battle.

Now often referred to as the Gettysburg of the West, the little-known prairie field has changed to become of vast importance to scholars and interested visitors. Lynn said there are big plans in store for the historical site and as funds are contributed, there will be more additions such as statues of those who fought and died in the battle.

For information on Honey Springs Battlefield Park, visit www.okhistory.org/sites/honeysprings or call (918) 440-3914.