Though Tecumseh was dead and the Northwest subdued, the seeds of dissension he had sown in a distant country took root and produced distressing and bloody consequences.
In northeast Alabama, where the Coosa and the Tallapoosa rivers join to form the Alabama, lay the center of the Creek country. The Creeks came under the classification of "good Indians." Game in that region was scarce so that the Creeks perforce abandoned the chase for the plow. Besides, Colonel Benjamin Hawkins, the government's Indian agent, was exceptional in that he was honest and had the interests of his charges at heart. (See Map V)
Map V. Creek Campaign
The Creeks might have continued to live in peace and comparative serenity if they had not come under the spell of Tecumseh. Tecumseh's mother was a Creek; so when he went on his southern mission at the time of the battle of Tippecanoe he was able to present himself as a kinsman. After the victory of the British and Indians at Detroit, in which Tecumseh played such a conspicuous role, the chieftain made a second visit to the Creek metropolis at the Hickory Ground, the peninsula above the confluence of the Coosa and the Tallapoosa. Along with him came his brother, the Prophet. Several thousand Creek warriors assembled to greet the distinguished visitors; and, after Colonel Hawkins had tactfully left the meeting, Tecumseh and his retainers danced the war dance while the Prophet moved among his fellow medicine men doing missionary work. The purpose of the visit was to encourage the Creeks to combine forces with their northern brethren and present a united front to their white oppressors.
The older warriors, content to let well enough alone, were cold to the proposal, but Tecumseh's eloquence, his commanding presence p234 and the knowledge of his glorious deeds in battle seized the imagination of the young men. The superhuman element also entered into the negotiations for the Prophet, having been privately advised by the British that the appearance of a comet was imminent, promised an omen from the sky. Tecumseh also warned the old warriors that if they did not accept his proposal they would hear the stamp of his foot when he returned to Canada. It happened that shortly after his departure an earthquake — the worst Alabama had experienced in years — occurred. These spiritual manifestations brought many hesitant warriors into line; yet, in spite of them, so strong was Colonel Hawkins' influence that many others held fast to their American allegiance.
In fact the disaffected Creeks were estimated at not many more than 4,000. And these were poorly armed. About 1,000 were equipped with guns of poor quality and uncertain mechanism. The guns could not always be trusted to go off and powder and shot were scarce. After the firing of the first volley the Creeks in their battles relied chiefly upon bows and arrows, and clubs. They could hardly be regarded as a formidable foe. Yet before they were through they achieved considerable success and created a diversion that absorbed the attention of thousands of American troops that might have been employed to better advantage elsewhere.
Tecumseh's visit created unrest among the Creeks, culminating in numerous cases of lawlessness which greatly alarmed the white settlers on the frontier of the Creek country. These settlers appealed for protection to the Governor of the Mississippi Territory and to Brigadier General Thomas Flournoy, who had succeeded Wilkinson in command at New Orleans and Mobile when the latter went off in search of the laurels Secretary Armstrong held out to him on the northern scene. Flournoy, with the indifference so frequently encountered in officialdom, scouted the dangers, refused to act and quoted army orders and regulations to sustain his decision.
Conspicuous among the Creek malcontents was Peter McQueen, a half-breed. Cruising in the Gulf of Mexico at this time was a British squadron, keeping in close contact with the Spaniards at Pensacola. To Pensacola went McQueen, heading a band of 350 warriors in quest of ammunition; and to each man the Spanish Governor gave balls and powder. Not more than enough for a hunting expedition, p235 explained the Governor. The white settlers got wind of McQueen's expedition, and, by now fully alarmed, determined to take matters into their own hands. They dispatched Colonel James Caller and a force of 180 mounted men to intercept the Indian party on its return. The two forces met at a spot called Burnt Cork Creek and the Indians had the advantage in a brief skirmish in which Caller lost two men killed and 18 wounded.
Encouraged by this initial triumph, McQueen returned to Pensacola for more supplies and ammunition. Meanwhile General Flournoy had aroused himself sufficiently from his lethargy to order General Ferdinand L. Claiborne, a brother of the Governor of the Orleans Territory, into Mobile county where the white population was hastily constructing forts and gathering refugees from the countryside into them. Claiborne was all for going straight into the heart of the Creek country but was overruled by Flournoy. He then proposed calling out the militia. Flournoy replied that he lacked the necessary authority. So Claiborne had to be content to distribute his regulars among the forts, while the situation grew successively worse.
One of the largest of the forts was Mims, on the Alabama River a short distance north of the Florida border, where over 500 persons — wealthy half-breeds, whites and Negroes — had taken refuge behind a stockade. To Fort Mims Claiborne sent Major Daniel Beasley with 175 volunteers and 16 regulars. Beasley entered upon his duties with greater zeal than good sense. He weakened his force by sending detachments of troopers to other forts and made reports to Claiborne in which he assured the general that Mims was perfectly secure.
On a sultry summer day, August 29, 1813, two Negro slaves who had wandered outside the stockade rushed in ashen with terror to report that they had seen several dozen Indian braves in war paint within a short distance of the fort. Beasley sent out a reconnoitering expedition to investigate the story and, when it returned and reported having seen nothing, Beasley charged the Negroes with lying and ordered them lashed. The master of one of them objected. Beasley replied that he could either obey the order or leave the fort. The master yielded and the whipping was set for the following day.
August 30 dawned clear and oppressively hot. The morning passed uneventfully. The women were busy with preparations for p236 dinner, as there were many mouths to feed. The young people amused themselves with dancing, children played innocently inside the stockade while the old people dozed or gossiped in the shade of the cabins. The only discordant note in the establishment was the sight of the Negro slaves bound to a post and waiting for their beating. But that was scarcely noticed, for the punishment of a slave was not unusual. Sentries walked their post methodically, but without especial diligence. In spite of all the rumors, nothing really alarming had happened and perhaps the dangers had been exaggerated.
While this carefree scene was being enacted in the fort, in the tall grass that waved not more than 400 yards away lay no fewer than 1,000 Creek warriors, armed and in war paint, waiting the signal to spring upon their unsuspecting victims. McQueen had now yielded his command to another half-breed, one William Weathersford, in whose veins mingled Indian, French, Spanish and Scottish blood. Weathersford might easily have passed as a white, as one of his brothers did, but he preferred the Indian life. A man of proud bearing, a superb horseman and distinguished for his courage, he compared favorably with the great Tecumseh himself.
Noon arrived and the cooks had completed their task. A drum beat to summon the hungry garrison to dinner. That, too, was the chosen signal for the Creek warriors to leap to their feet and, with savage yells, to charge the fort. Major Beasley was among the first to hear the war whoops and take in the situation. He ran at top speed to close the gate to the stockade before the Indians reached it. But he was too late. Sand had drifted against it and while Beasley struggled to release it the Indians fell upon him and clubbed him to death.
With Major Beasley dead, command of the fort fell to Captain Dixon Bailey, a half-breed, who proved equal to the occasion by stemming the confusion inside the fort and rallying the garrison to withstand the attack. The Indians swept into the first enclosure, cut two companies of soldiers to pieces and slaughtered the poor slaves where they stood strapped to the whipping post and but for whose unjust punishment the fort might have been saved. Before they could penetrate the second enclosure Bailey had organized his forces, which put up a stout resistance, the women of the garrison fighting side by side with the men.
p237 For three hours the battle raged, the Indians letting loose a storm of arrows and endeavoring to find a vulnerable spot in the ranks of the defenders, the men of the fort holding them back with well-directed shots which took a heavy toll among the Indians. Bailey moved from place to place, encouraging his people, exhorting them to hold out and reminding them of the Indian practice of abandoning an attack after encountering stout resistance. Gradually the fierceness of the assault diminished and the Indians retired out of range. It looked as though Bailey had judged them correctly. But he failed to take their leader into account. Weathersford's Scotch blood seemed to come to the surface and he refused to admit defeat. Instead he rallied the warriors and persuaded them to renew the attack.
The resistance of the white centered around the Mims house which provided shelter for sharpshooters whose accuracy of fire was creating much havoc among the Indians. Weathersford now ordered his warriors to tip their arrows with fire and direct them at the houses. Soon every house inside the stockade was aflame and the people who had taken refuge in them, afraid to leave and expose themselves to the Indians, were roasted alive.
Captain Bailey himself was severely wounded. When this disaster became known all resistance gave way. The Indians rushed the second enclosure and, brandishing their tomahawks and mad with the lust for blood, set to work upon the massacre of every white they could find. Men, women and children were indiscriminately slaughtered and soon the fort presented a spectacle of indescribable horror, the dead and dying strewn about everywhere in all stages of mutilation. Even Weathersford was shocked by the scene of brutality that lay before him. He pleaded with his warriors to end the unnecessary carnage but his appeals went unanswered. He was quite unable to control the force which he himself had unleashed. And so the work of murder went on. When, at last, the hot summer sun sank below the horizon not a white person remained alive. The Negroes were spared to be made the slaves of the victors. Of the 553 persons who, in the morning, had imagined that their presence inside the stockade and under the protection of the military made them safe from Indian attack, 400 now lay silent in death.
One Negro woman in the heat of the battle escaped from the fort, p238 found a canoe and paddled alone down the Alabama River to Fort Stoddard where she broke the news of the disaster to General Claiborne. Word of what had occurred at Fort Mims spread swiftly from mouth to mouth through Alabama and Mississippi, east to Georgia and north to Tennessee. And wherever it was heard a cry of vengeance went up. The Creek country lay equidistant from Mobile and the borders of Georgia and Tennessee. Extermination of Weathersford's band called for a march of •150 miles through a roadless wilderness from whichever direction an expedition might set out. From all three directions plans got under way. General Thomas Pinckney, of South Carolina, who commanded the Sixth Military District, comprising the Carolinas and Georgia, called out the militia and an expedition was organized under Georgia's General John Floyd. From New Orleans Flournoy sent instructions to Claiborne to do whatever he deemed necessary. But to Tennessee was to fall the most conspicuous part of the reprisals, thanks to the initiative and driving power of her most distinguished citizen.
From the outset of the war Andrew Jackson, planter, turfman and general of militia, had been impatient for active duty. Unfortunately, his tact was inferior to his military ardor. In Richmond, Virginia, during the trial of Aaron Burr, he delivered a speech on the street soundly berating Jefferson's administration. He called Secretary of War Dearborn "an old granny." When Jefferson chose Madison as his successor, Jackson ignored Madison's claim to the presidency and came out openly for Monroe. And, until he discovered the true nature of the man with whom he was dealing, he had been a friend of Aaron Burr and had unwittingly entertained him at his home. In consequence of these numerous indiscretions Jackson's stock was not as high in Washington as it was in Tennessee. When he volunteered for service on the Canadian border his offer was politely ignored.
A crisis in the South in the autumn of 1812, however, afforded Jackson an opportunity. Britain and Spain were threatening Mobile and New Orleans, where Wilkinson was then in command, and the administration in Washington determined to settle the problem once and for all by marching into Florida and taking possession. The government thereupon asked Governor Blount of Tennessee for 1,500 militia to reinforce Wilkinson. Though he was aware of the strained p239 relations between the administration and Jackson, Blount took the bull by the horns and commissioned Jackson to lead the expedition.
On December 10, 1812, Jackson assembled 2,000 men at Nashville in the bitterest winter weather that town had ever seen. On January 7 he embarked his infantry in flatboats lying in the Cumberland River and dispatched 670 cavalrymen under Colonel John Coffee by land direct to Natchez on the Mississippi. Jackson and the infantry put out down the stream and made the arduous journey of •over 1,000 miles by way of the Cumberland, Ohio and Mississippi rivers to Natchez in 39 days, joining Coffee and the cavalry on February 15. There he received a message from Wilkinson to stay where he was. The commander at New Orleans was far too shrewd a man to ignore the danger that lay in receiving to his bosom an ambitious military leader, 46 years of age.
Meanwhile the situation altered in Washington. A stubborn Senate refused point-blank to support the administration in its designs on Florida and, consequently, all military plans had to be canceled. It devolved upon General Armstrong, but two days in office as Secretary of War and unfamiliar with the department's details, to communicate with Jackson, thank him for his services and direct him to disband his army.
Upon receiving this unexpected order Jackson assumed that the old animosity of the administration against him had been revived. How, he argued, could his men get back to their homes hundreds of miles away after they had been disbanded, without food or means of transportation? He interpreted the order as nothing less than a shrewd scheme to get rid of him and, through necessity, to force his militia into the regular service. On the matter of shifting militia into the regular army Jackson was peculiarly sensitive. He was not the kind of man to accept defeat calmly. Without waiting for explanations of the order, he dispatched blistering letters to Washington and New Orleans telling his superior in no uncertain terms just what he thought of them. Furthermore he made it known that he would arrest any Federal recruiting officer who dared set foot in his camp. He then addressed himself relentlessly to the task of collecting supplies and equipment to be used by his troops on the long march by the land route back to Tennessee, giving his personal notes for the purchases made, since he was acting without authority from the p240 government. Traveling at the rate of •18 miles a day the army of West Tennessee reached Nashville on May 18, where Jackson dismissed it, confident that he had thwarted the administration in its clever scheme. It was not until then that he received a letter from Armstrong explaining the true reason for the cancellation of the original orders and also explaining that when he directed the disbanding of the army he had no idea that it was so far away from home. Where Armstrong was to blame was that after this episode he did not have the intuition to recognize that here was a military leader of astonishing resources and initiative — something that was just then very much in demand as Wilkinson was making his tediously prolonged journey from the land of the cypress to that of the laurel.
Jackson's move to Natchez and return was not, however, altogether barren of results. It gave the General valuable experience in handling a large body of men on the march. And it was through his untiring efforts and the trying journey back to Nashville that he earned from his men the nickname of "Old Hickory," which was to stick with him all the rest of his days and stand as a perpetual memorial after his death.
Events moved swiftly in Tennessee in those frontier times. Tennesseans were a proud people and their blood was hot. A chance word, a mistaken meaning and the friend of yesterday was the enemy of today. Jackson's friend and lieutenant on the trip to Natchez was Colonel Thomas H. Benton. Yet a few weeks after their return to Nashville they were in an altercation; Jackson attacked Benton with a horsewhip and Benton retaliated by plugging Jackson with lead, several bullets entering the General's shoulder. So Jackson was in bed recovering from his wounds when news arrived of the massacre at Mims.
The Tennessee Legislature acted promptly and authorized Governor Blount to call out 3,500 volunteers in addition to the 1,500 militiamen already in service. Too weak to mount a horse, Jackson dispatched Colonel Coffee with 500 dragoons to Huntsville, Alabama, below the Tennessee border, and ordered his militia division to assemble at Fayetteville just above the line. He joined them there on October 7. At the same time General John Cocke, with a division of 2,500 men recruited in East Tennessee, arrived at Knoxville.
p241 It was one thing to mobilize an army, but quite another to feed it. The army contractors were inefficient, the Tennessee River by which Jackson had hoped to obtain supplies on barges from East Tennessee was too dry to serve for the transportation. From the very outset hunger became as dangerous an enemy as hostile Creeks. For his 2,500 men and 1,300 horses Jackson figured that he needed each week 1,000 bushels of grain, 20 tons of meat, 1,000 gallons of whisky and many other miscellaneous provisions that would have been hard to obtain in the city of Nashville, much less in so remote a place as Fayetteville. But Jackson was not to be discouraged from carrying out his plans by the shortage of provisions. He determined to live off the land and sent Colonel Coffee to forage, hoping that his supplies would eventually overtake him.
Hearing that the Creeks were planning to attack a small body of loyal Indians at a place called Ten Islands, •some 50 miles away on the Coosa River, Jackson determined to go to the rescue. He set his men to work building a road through the mountain wilderness and established a post of supplies which he called Fort Deposit. On October 24 he set out from Fort Deposit with only two days' supply of bread and six days' supply of meat. Coffee went ahead of him, burned two Indian villages and brought in 300 bushels of corn. On the 29th Jackson arrived in the vicinity of Ten Islands and learned that the Creeks had assembled near by in a settlement named Tallassahatche. On November 3 he and his men reached the outskirts of the town and prepared for the attack.
Jackson's tactics were simple. They consisted of disposing his force in a semicircle, then sending a small body ahead to serve as bait for the Indians. As soon as the Indians attacked, the advance guard was directed to retire on the main body. Then, when the Indians were well within the semicircle, the two ends were to come together and the Indians would find themselves surrounded and ready for unhurried and systematic slaughter. That was, of course, provided no part of Jackson's line, upon seeing the Indians, turned tail and ran. At Tallassahatche the plan worked to perfection. The Indians took the bait, rushed pell-mell into the trap and the ends closed on them while the sides held firm. The bag on that occasion was 186 Indian braves killed outright at the cost of five Americans killed and 41 wounded. After this easy victory Jackson retired triumphantly p242 to Ten Islands where he built a fort which he named Fort Strother.
Four days after the fight on Tallassahatche information reached Jackson that 160 friendly Indians were being besieged by 1,000 Creeks at Talladega, •30 miles distant. The General also learned that the vanguard of General Cocke's army was approaching Fort Strother. In spite of his experiences with Wilkinson he did not realize that other military commanders were somewhat loath to come into close contact with his dynamic personality. Assuming that Cocke would soon be at Strother, Jackson left his sick and wounded without protection and plunged headlong toward Talladega with a force of 1,200 infantry and 800 horsemen. He had arrived within a few miles of his destination when his column was overtaken by a mounted messenger who informed him that Cocke had withdrawn his vanguard and that, therefore, Strother could not count upon him to defend it. In spite of this alarming news Jackson decided to carry out his attack on Talladega, praying that nothing would happen to his sick and wounded at Strother.
On November 9 Jackson attacked, employing the same method that had proved so successful at Tallassahatche. Unfortunately, on this occasion some of the militia lost courage when the Indians rushed against them 1,000 strong, and so the circle was broken and many of the Indians escaped. But in spite of this flaw the Americans did not do so badly. This time 290 Indians were slaughtered. Jackson's own losses were higher than at Tallassahatche, the fight costing him 15 dead and 85 wounded.
As soon as the battle was over Jackson hastened back to storther and, to his intense relief, discovered that the fort had been unmolested during his absence. Hunger, and not the Indians, was now his most formidable adversary. The Tennessee River was still low and no supplies were coming through from East Tennessee. Nor could he expect assistance from Cocke who built his own fort •70 miles away and named it Armstrong. Following the slaughter at Tallassahatche the Hillabee Indians, who lived along the Tallapoosa River, sent envoys to Jackson to sue for peace, and Jackson accepted their offer. Cocke was unaware of these negotiations, separated as he was by many miles from Jackson, and almost simultaneously with the peace settlement he decided to attack the Hillabee towns. The Hillabees p243 were, of course, quite unprepared for an attack so shortly after concluding a peace. Cocke advanced upon them from Fort Armstrong, burned three of their towns and slew 60 warriors before the error was discovered. The Hillabees naturally blamed Jackson for what they considered a breach of good faith and, when Jackson heard what Cocke had done, he was as furious as the Hillabees. Furthermore, he suspected Cocke of withholding provisions from him. But on this occasion he managed to keep his temper in control and avoided an open breach with Cocke by inviting him to come with his division to Strother. Cocke accepted the invitation and arrived on December 12.
It will be recalled that Jackson first assembled his army at Nashville on December 10 of the previous year. The men, who had enlisted for a year, held that their time was now up, and just then the comforts of home held out inducements far more compelling than the loneliness and hardships of Strother. Jackson, on the other hand, argued that the time during which they had been demobilized in the summer did not count as part of their enlistment. Jackson's arguments failed to impress his homesick troops; they showed as much determination as Jackson and plans for mutiny were whispered throughout the camp.
The militia were the first to break the deadlock. They packed their knapsacks and turned their faces northward. Jackson discovered the plot in time and as the militia set out they found the volunteers blocking the road. The volunteers next made the same attempt but again Jackson thwarted their plans, employing the militia against them just as he had used the volunteers against the militia.
The solution, however, proved to be temporary, for within a few days militia and volunteers combined and prepared to walk off in a body. But even a whole army in revolt could not overawe the redoubtable Commander. Jackson's wounded shoulder was still so weak that he could not raise a gun to it. Alone and disabled though he was, he dismounted from his horse on the road by which the troops had to pass. Then he rested a gun on the horse's back, placed a finger on the trigger and dared the soldiers to approach him. For a moment the men hesitated, overawed by the fire in the General's eye and the determination in his lined face and jutting chin. There could be no question that Old Hickory was in dead earnest.
p244 There was no telling what might have happened had not Colonel Coffee and a troop of loyal cavalry arrived on this strange scene where commander and men glared at each other across an intervening space of a few yards. Coffee's appearance was sufficient to turn the tide. Silent and glum the men returned to their billets.
Having won a moral victory Jackson at last decided to let those go who wished to leave and the majority seized the opportunity. The army was virtually disbanded. From Governor Blount Jackson received an urgent appeal to return home himself, but Jackson refused. His expedition had failed thus far to crush the Creeks and he no longer had an army, yet Jackson was determined not to leave Strother. Instead, he urged the Governor to recruit a new army and send it to him, and he dispatched Cocke to Tennessee to speed the word. Such determination was all too rare among the commanding generals.
Meanwhile the American forces to the east and south had not been idle. Brigadier General John Floyd with 950 Georgia militia invaded the Creek country from the east and, on November 29, attacked the village of Auttose, •20 miles above the Hickory Ground, where the Creek warriors a short time before had listened to the exhortations of Tecumseh. Artillery and a bayonet charge combined were too much for the nerves of the Creek warriors. Floyd slaughtered 200 of them with the loss of only 11 killed and 54 wounded in his own force. But, like Jackson, he was handicapped by lack of provisions and had to retire instead of following up his victory. He halted at Fort Mitchell on the Chattahooche River.
General Claiborne, to the south, received orders from Flournoy to march to the heart of the Creek country, drive the Indians to the frontiers and "kill, burn and destroy all their negroes, horses, cattle and other property that cannot conveniently be brought to a depot." Claiborne set out and on December 3 reached Econochaca, Weathersford's own town. At the cost of one man killed and six wounded he accounted for a modest 30 Indians, and burned the town. He almost captured the half-breed chief himself. In the course of the fight Weathersford found himself surrounded by Claiborne's men as he sat on his horse on a high cliff above the river. Rather than suffer the humiliation of surrender, as the Americans approached Weathersford dug his heels into the ribs of his mount and horse and rider together p245 plunged into the stream. Both came to the surface uninjured and made good their escape. Then the familiar bogey of short-term enlistments appeared to blast Claiborne's hopes as it had done Jackson's. Within a month only 60 men remained on duty with him in the fort to which he had retired and which bore his own name.
When the books were balanced at the close of the year 1813 the Creeks were on the credit, the United States on the debit side. More than 7,000 troops had been poured into the Indian country and in the course of the several expeditions 800 Creek warriors had been slaughtered. Yet, after six months' effort, the seat of the trouble had not yet been reached and the principal malefactors remained at large. It could not be said that Fort Mims had been avenged or even that guarantees had been created against a similar occurrence.
On the American side, however, there was one potent factor. The tall, iron-gray soldier with the piercing eye and the determined chin was still at Fort Strother. Jackson's indomitable will had not been broken. The obstacles that had stood in his way had merely served to strengthen his resolution. Slowly but surely he was convincing the administration in Washington, as he had already convinced his soldiers on the march back from Natchez, as to what sort of a man he was.
Shortly after New Year's there arrived at Strother 900 Tennesseans enlisted for 60 days' service. Jackson was determined to make those 60 days count. On January 15, hardly before the new men had had time to settle down to camp routine, he set out with them on a raid in the direction of the Tallapoosa River. Accompanying the expedition were 200 friendly Cherokees and Creeks and Colonel Coffee with 40 volunteer horsemen, all that remained of his command after the choice had been given the men of staying at Strother or going home. The expedition gained contact with the Indians near Emucfau and at Enotochopco Creek, and results were achieved as was customary where the American forces could get within striking distance. Some 189 Creeks were killed with a loss to Jackson's force of 20 killed and 75 wounded. After this minor success Jackson withdrew to Strother. It had served to keep his hand in and also to distract the Indians from a similar raid being made by General Floyd from the east. Floyd's column struck on the Calebee River. As soon as the Americans attacked the Indians retired, leaving 37 dead behind p246 them, but in their retreat they took a somewhat costly toll of 17 Americans killed and 132 wounded. The losses served to dampen Floyd's enthusiasm and, besides, his men were on short enlistments which were about to expire; so he, too, withdrew his force.
Unimportant as these various expeditions had been in bringing about a decision they taught Jackson that he could not lead a large body of men into the wilderness of central Alabama and count upon their living off the land. Arrangements had to be made for carrying provisions and maintaining supplies. He also learned that 60‑day militia and volunteers were not dependable for a sustained campaign. By February 6, thanks largely to the efforts of Governor Blount at home, Jackson had under his command a force of 5,000 men, including some friendly Choctaws. Most important of all was the arrival of 600 regulars of the 39th U. S. Infantry. Jackson used them to brace his command and also to help him in instilling discipline among the recruits.
Some of the Tennessee volunteers were not altogether satisfied with conditions as they found them at Strother and openly expressed their opinions. Jackson perceived that here were the seeds of the insubordination that had given him so much trouble a few months before and he had no intention of allowing them to germinate, and word came to him that General Cocke, who had returned to Strother, had addressed the malcontents in a manner that might be interpreted as sympathetic toward their complaints, Jackson, indifferent to Cocke's high rank, relieved that officer of his sword and ordered him placed under arrest. A private wilfully disobeyed an order. Jackson called a court-martial and, when the charges were proved, had the boy executed. It was harsh action and caused a stir in Tennessee. But, at Fort Strother, it put an abrupt end to all rumors of mutiny. With this housekeeping attended to, Jackson could proceed with the war.
Word now reached Fort Strother that a force of 900 Creek warriors with 300 women and children had taken refuge on a peninsula made by a sharp bend in the Tallapoosa River known as Tohopeka, or the Horseshoe, and that they had fortified the position and were awaiting attack. The Horseshoe was protected on three sides by the river itself. In its front, and extending all the way across the peninsula, the Indians had erected a rampart of stout logs.
p247 Jackson accepted the challenge and prepared to move against the Horseshoe. To insure adequate food supplies for his men he arranged for boats to pass down the Coosa River and he also set his men to work cutting a military road through the woods. At one point on this road he erected a fort. As soon as he was assured that his line of communications was intact he marched his men to within a few miles of the Horseshoe.
It was now March 27. Along the line of communications Jackson distributed troops to protect it so that his effective force for the actual assault on the Horseshoe was reduced to about 2,000 men. This was more than twice the size of the Creek garrison; but, on the other hand, the Indians were protected by fortifications. Having given the last instructions to his officers and inspected his men to see that they were adequately equipped with arms and ammunition, Jackson was ready to strike.
Early on the morning of the 27th Colonel Coffee, his cavalry and some friendly Cherokees were ordered to cross the river above the Horseshoe and make their way to the rear of the Indian stronghold. Jackson waited until he received a message from Coffee announcing that this movement had been successfully accomplished. With Coffee in the rear of the fort and separated from it only by the river, Jackson ordered the main body to advance until it was within 80 yards of the ramparts. On a near‑by hill, and commanding the fort, he placed two cannons, weapons the Indians most dreaded.
At 10 A.M. the engagement commenced with artillery fire. Jackson hoped to blast a breach in the defenses, but the shells from the cannons had little effect on the heavy logs which reinforced the ramparts. However, while Jackson was engaging the Indians in front, the Cherokees with Coffee swam the river and made off with the canoes of the Creeks which lay in the river behind the fort. Two hundred of Coffee's men embarked in the captured canoes, recrossed the river, set fire to the fort and attacked it from the rear. The defenders thus found themselves caught between two groups of assailants and were forced to weaken their front line in order to meet the threat in their rear.
The battle had now raged for two hours and the Indians were desperately holding on to their position. At noon Jackson determined to decide the issue by storming the ramparts. For this bold task he selected p248 the 39th Infantry to lead the van, supported by a brigade from East Tennessee. When the order was given the regulars, their bayonets flashing in the sun, rushed forward with a shout, to be met by a storm of bullets and arrows fired by the Indians concealed behind the breastworks. Men fell mortally wounded, but still the regulars pushed on. Major L. P. Montgomery, at the head of his men, was the first to reach the breastworks. He leaped onto them and shouted to his men to follow. As he did so a bullet pierced his brain, and he fell to the ground dead. Thus, at the most critical moment of the battle, the 39th lost its leader, but a young ensign was on the spot to take over the command. He was a Virginian and his name, later to become famous, was Sam Houston. Houston himself had been wounded by a barbed arrow but, unmindful of his injury, he ordered his men to give the Indians the bayonet.
The Creeks with their tomahawks and clubs were no match for the cold steel of the Americans wielded at close quarters. Some stood their ground bravely and were cut down, but the majority broke and fled. Some tried to swim the river and while they were in midstream became targets for the sharpshooters on the banks. Others sought shelter under a bluff and refused to obey Jackson's command to come out and surrender. Ensign Houston was ordered to dislodge them but before he could carry out the command he received another wound which put him out of the battle. Then the torch was applied and the Indians were smoked out of their hiding place.
The battle now degenerated into a slaughter. Throughout the rest of the afternoon the Americans occupied themselves rounding up and killing Indians and among them some of the squaws and children. Jackson expressed regret over the slaying of the noncombatants which, he said, was accidental. From the standpoint of the Indians the Horseshoe presented a tragic spectacle. On all sides lay the corpses of Indians. Nine hundred warriors had faced Jackson from behind the ramparts in the morning. As the sun went down in the evening the bodies of 550 were counted on the peninsula alone, not including those who had attempted unsuccessfully to escape by the river. Of the original 900 only 200 remained alive. Compared to the victory achieved the American losses were slight. The cost to Jackson was only 32 killed and 99 wounded; the friendly Cherokees lost 18 killed and 36 wounded.
p249 At last Jackson had made good his purpose. Fort Mims had been thoroughly avenged.
Equally important was the fact that the Horseshoe was the decisive battle in the war with the Creeks. Some of the Indian ringleaders remained at large and sought protection from the Spanish and British at Pensacola, but the Creek nation had been crushed. Weathersford did not wait to be hunted down but voluntarily went to Jackson, who withdrew to the Hickory Ground after the battle, and surrendered, asking Jackson to do with him whatever he pleased. Jackson, who admired Weathersford's courage, magnanimously forgave him. Weathersford walked out of the General's tent a free man, and also out of history. He gave no trouble again.
A deputation of Creeks, representing principally those who had remained loyal to the United States, appeared before Jackson to arrange terms of peace. The General had in his possession drastic articles of capitulation which had been prepared for the hostile Indians. But what hostile Indians survived had fled. Since the loyal Indians were the only ones with whom Jackson could deal he applied the capitulations to them, a proceeding that only impressed them all the more with the strange ways of white men. The Creeks could do nothing but accept the terms which hemmed them in on all sides by the whites.
The Creeks had at last been conquered, but the victory was hardly to the credit of the United States. For six months no more than 3,500 Creek warriors, incompletely equipped with guns and ammunition and dependent chiefly upon their bows and arrows, had defied no fewer than 15,000 American regulars, volunteers, and militia. It had cost the United States Government thousands of dollars for food, pay and equipment, not to mention the thousands of dollars that were to be paid out to the survivors and their widows after them over more than a hundred years.
The victory, if it can be called one, really belonged to the British. For at the cost of a small quantity of powder and shot dealt out to the Indians at Pensacola by their Spanish allies they had succeeded in distracting the attention of 15,000 troops that could have been put to more effective use elsewhere.
Images with borders lead to more information.
The thicker the border, the more information. (Details here.)
A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY
if its URL has a total of one *asterisk.
If the URL has two **asterisks,
the item is copyright someone else, and used by permission or fair use.
If the URL has none the item is © Bill Thayer.
See my copyright page for details and contact information.
Page updated: 9 May 16