Battle of the Horseshoe

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Leaving a guard at Fort Williams, General Jackson put his army, which consisted of two thousand men, upon the march. He opened a passage across the ridge which divides the Coosa and Tallapoosa, and, in three days advanced to the immediate neighborhood of the enemy.

Cholocco Litabixee, the Horse-Shoe, where the Red Sticks had assembled to make a desperate defense, was admirably adapted by nature for security if well guarded, but equally for destruction if not well defended. About one hundred acres of land was bordered by the Tallapoosa River, forming a peninsula. Across the neck of the bend, the Red Sticks had a breastwork of logs, so arranged as to expose assailants to a crossfire. The houses of the village stood upon some low grounds at the bottom of the bend, where hundreds of canoes were tied to the banks of the river. The warriors of Hillabee, Ocfuske, Oakchoie, Eufaulahatche, New Yauca, Hickory Ground and Fish Pond towns had concentrated upon the remarkable peninsula. General Coffee, with a large body of mounted men, and the friendly Indians, forded the Tallapoosa two miles below the breast-work, and, having gained the eastern side, extended his lines for a great distance, so as to encompass the bend. Morning of. As soon as Jackson saw, from signals which were made, that Coffee had taken his position, he marched the remainder of his force towards the breast-work, planted two pieces of artillery, eighty yards distant from the nearest part of the Indian defense, and, at ten o’clock in the morning, began to open them upon the enemy. These pieces, accompanied by occasional discharges from the muskets and rifles, effected but little. In the meanwhile, the Cherokees, under Coffee, swimming the river, took possession of the canoes, and returning with them to the opposite bank, they were presently filled with friendly Indians and Americans, the latter headed by Colonel Morgan and Captain Russell. They reached the town and wrapped it in flames. Jackson then ordered his troops to storm the breastwork, behind which all the warriors had posted themselves. A short contest was maintained at the portholes, but presently the impetuous Americans mounted the breastwork, and, dyeing the huge logs with their blood and that of the enemy, they finally, after a most desperate struggle, became masters of the interior. The Red Sticks, now assailed in front by Jackson, who had taken possession of their breastwork, and attacked from behind by a portion of Coffee’s troops, who had just completed the conflagration of their village, fought under great disadvantages. However, none of them begged for quarter, but every one sold his life at the dearest rate. After a long fight, many of them fled and attempted to swim the river, but were killed on all sides by the unerring rifles of the Tennesseans. Others screened themselves behind treetops and thick piles of timber. Being desirous not to destroy this brave race, Jackson sent a messenger towards them, who assured them of the clemency of the general, provided they would surrender. They answered by discharges from their guns and shouts of defiance. The artillery was then ineffectually brought to bear upon them. The Americans then applied fire to their retreat, which soon forced them to fly, and, as they ran, they were killed by American guns. It was late in the evening before the dreadful battle ended. The Red Sticks numbered about one thousand warriors, and, out of that number, five hundred and fifty-seven were found dead on the peninsula.1 As many were killed in the river by Coffee’s troops, while they were endeavoring to swim over, it may be safely stated that not more than two hundred survived. Some of them long afterwards suffered with the most grievous wounds. Manowa, one of the bravest Chiefs that ever lived, was literally shot to pieces. He fought as long as he could. He saved himself by jumping into the river, where the water was four feet deep. He held to a root, and thus kept himself beneath the waves, breathing through the long joint of a cane, one end of which he held in his mouth, and while the other end came above the surface of the water. When night set in the brave Manowa2 rose from his watery bed, and made his way to the forest, bleeding from many wounds. Many years after the war, we conversed with this Chief, and learned from him the particulars of his remarkable escape. His face, limbs and body, at the time we conversed with him, were marked with the scars of many horrible wounds. Another Chief was shot down, among a number of slain warriors, and, with admirable presence of mind, saved his life, by drawing over him the bodies of two of them, under which he lay, till the darkness of the night permitted him to leave the horrible place.

The loss of the Americans was thirty-two killed and ninety-nine wounded. The friendly Cherokees had eighteen killed and thirty-six wounded. The Tory Creeks had five killed and eleven wounded. Among the slain were Major L. P. Montgomery and Lieutenants Moulton and Somerville, who fell in the charge upon the breast-works.

Major Lemuel Purnell Montgomery was born in Wythe County, Virginia, in 1786. He was a relation, by consanguinity, of the gallant general of that name, who fell at the storming of Quebec. His grandfather, Hugh Montgomery, of North Carolina, a man of fortune and talents, commanded a Whig company during the revolution, which he equipped and supported at his own expense. With this company he fought the British and Tories with great success. He was a member of the convention which formed the constitution of the State of North Carolina, and not long afterwards one of the counties of that State was named in honor of him. The father of Major Montgomery, also named Hugh, was a man of talents, and, having removed to Virginia, was a member of the Senate of that State. At Snow Hill, in Maryland, he married a lady, whose maiden name was Purnell, which was the middle name of her son, the brave major, who fell at the Horse-Shoe. The father removed from Virginia to East Tennessee, near Knoxville.

Major Montgomery completed his education at Washington College, Tennessee, studied law with Judge Trimble, of Knoxville, and established himself in that profession at Nashville, where, in four years, his attainments, eloquence, zeal, fearless independence and popular bearing, rendered him a formidable rival of the able Felix Grundy. During this period, he was frequently placed at the head of parties of armed horsemen; and with them he scoured the dark gorges of the Cumberland Mountains in pursuit of desperate banditti, who had long pillaged the people in the valleys. At length he was appointed by Madison first major of the thirty-ninth regiment, which he gallantly led to the breast-works of the Indians at the Horse-Shoe. He was the first man that mounted the breast-work, and, while waving his sword and animating his men, a large ball, shot from the rifle of a Red Stick, entered his head and instantly killed him. When the battle was ended, Jackson stood over his body and wept. He exclaimed, “I have lost the flower of my army!”

At the time of his death, Major Montgomery was only twenty-eight years of age. His eyes were keen and black; his hair was of a dark auburn color; his weight was one hundred and seventy-five pounds; his height was six feet and two inches; his form was admirably proportioned, and he was, altogether the finest looking man in the army.

A diversity of opinion prevails among the soldiers of this campaign as to the disposition of the body of Major Montgomery. Some contend that Jackson caused it to be sunk in the Tallapoosa River to protect it from Indian brutalities. We have in our possession the affidavit of two soldiers, now living in Tennessee, John Lovelady and Samuel Gearing — which states that they assisted to bury the body of Montgomery, and bore off the surplus dirt which remained about the grave upon the skin of a beeve and threw it into the river. They then burnt brush over the grave to conceal it from the keen eyes of the savages. Since then, and only a few years ago, the people of Tallapoosa County took up these remains, conveyed them to their courthouse and deposited them in the ground with military honors. The county of Montgomery, Alabama, was named in honor of Major Montgomery, while the memory of his relation, who fell at Quebec, is preserved in the name of the city.

The day after the terrible battle of the Horse-Shoe General Jackson assumed the line of march, and reached Fort Williams on the second of April.

Upon an examination of the Coosa River, it was found impracticable to transport the stores from Fort Williams to the termination of the falls, by water, and the reduced condition of the horses and the roughness of the country rendered it impossible to transport them by land in any quantity. April 4 1814: However, with such provisions as the men could carry upon their backs, Jackson marched towards the Hickory Ground, relying upon the eastern army, whose advance guard was then under Milton, for supplies. Heavy rains retarded his march, but he reached Fooshatchie, where he captured a few prisoners. The Red Sticks fled from Hoithlewaule and other towns across the Tallapoosa.

Colonel Milton, with troops from the two Carolinas, had been a month at Fort Decatur, situated upon a commanding bluff, on the eastern side of the Tallapoosa, but took no steps to co-operate with Jackson in preventing the escape of the Indians.

Prevented from pursuing the enemy by a flood in the river and the scarcity of provisions, Jackson marched to the head of the peninsula formed by the confluence of the Coosa and Tallapoosa, and planted his colors upon the spot where Governor Bienville, one hundred years before, had erected Fort Toulouse, so long garrisoned by French troops. Here the rivers approach within six hundred yards of each other, and diverging unite four miles below.

The battle of the Horse-Shoe had nearly put an end to the war, and the dispirited Red Sticks made but few efforts to rally. Many came in and surrendered, while the larger portion escaped towards Florida. The old French trenches were cleaned out, and an American stockade with blockhouses was erected upon the site, which received the name of Fort Jackson.

Deputations of Chiefs continually arrived, and submitted, in behalf of themselves and their people, to such terms as General Jackson thought proper to impose. Among the most conspicuous of these was William Weatherford, who led the Indians at Fort Mims, and at the battles of Calebee and Holy Ground. Jackson had directed that he should be captured, if possible, and brought to him, confined, to receive such punishment as his crimes merited. Weatherford, a man without fear, boldly resolved to appear at the American camp voluntarily. Mounting the same splendid gray steed which had borne him over the bluff at the Holy Ground,3 he rode within a few miles of Fort Jackson, when a fine deer crossed his path and stopped within shooting distance, which he fired at and killed. Re-loading his rifle, with two balls, for the purpose of shooting the Big Warrior, should he give him any cause at the fort, he placed the deer behind his saddle and advanced to the American outposts. Some soldiers, of whom he politely inquired for Jackson’s whereabouts, gave him some unsatisfactory and rude replies when a gray-headed man a few steps beyond pointed him to the marquee. Weatherford rode up to it, and checked his horse immediately at the entrance, where sat the Big Warrior, who exulting exclaimed:

“Ah! Bill Weatherford, have we got you at last!”

The fearless Chieftain cast his keen eye at the Big Warrior, and said in a determined tone,

“You d–d traitor, if you give me any insolence, I will blow a ball through your cowardly heart.”

General Jackson now came running out of the marquee with Colonel Hawkins, and, in a furious manner, exclaimed:

“How dare you, sir, to ride up to my tent, after having murdered the women and children at Fort Mims?”

Weatherford said: “General Jackson, I am not afraid of you. I fear no man, for I am a Creek warrior. I have nothing to request in behalf of myself; you can kill me, if you desire. But I come to beg you to send for the women and children of the war party, who are now starving in the woods. Their fields and cribs have been destroyed by your people, who have driven them to the woods without an ear of corn. I hope that you will send out parties, who will safely conduct them here, in order that they may be fed. I exerted myself in vain to prevent the massacre of the women and children at Fort Mims. I am now done fighting. The Red Sticks are nearly all killed. If I could fight you any longer, I would most heartily do so. Send for the women and children. They never did you any harm. But kill me, if the white people want it done.”

At the conclusion of these words, many persons, who had surrounded the marquee, exclaimed, “Kill him! Kill him! Kill him!” General Jackson commanded silence, and, in an emphatic manner, said:

“Any man who would kill as brave a man as this would rob the dead!”

He then invited Weatherford to alight, drank a glass of brandy with him, and entered into a cheerful conversation, under his hospitable marquee. Weatherford gave him the deer, and they were then good friends. He took no further part in the war, except to influence his warriors to surrender.4 He went to the place of his former residence, upon Little River, but soon had to leave it, as his life was in constant danger.

He then went to Fort Claiborne, and the commanding officer of that place saved him from being killed, by placing him in a tent by himself, which was pitched very near the marquee, and which was constantly guarded by a file of soldiers. After he had been kept there ten or fifteen days, the commanding officer became still more uneasy, for fear he would be killed by persons who had lost relations at Fort Mims, and who were bent on his destruction. He now resolved to send him beyond the lines, during a dark night. About midnight, he sent his aid, followed by Weatherford, to the station of Major Laval who was then a captain, and the officer on guard. He said, “Captain Laval the commanding officer says you must take Weatherford to yonder tree, under which you will find a horse tied, and that he must mount the horse and make his escape.” Captain Laval instantly told Weatherford to follow him. He passed by the guard, giving the countersign, and reached the tree. Weatherford eagerly seized the limb to which the horse was tied, threw the reins over the animal’s head, shook Laval by the hand, and said, in earnest and grateful tones, “Good-bye! God bless you!” He then vaulted into the saddle and rode off rapidly. That was the last time he ever saw Weatherford. For the distance of one mile, at least Laval heard the clattering of the horse’s feet.5

After the war was over, Weatherford became a permanent citizen of the lower part of the county of Monroe, where, upon a good farm, well supplied with Negroes, he lived, maintained an excellent character, and was much respected by the American citizens for his bravery, honor and strong native sense. In 1826 he died from the effects of fatigue, produced by a desperate bear hunt.

Many persons yet living bear testimony to the bravery and honor of William Weatherford in private life, an instance of which we here take occasion to mention:

In 1820, many people assembled at the sale of the effects of the deceased Duncan Henderson, in the lower part of Monroe County, Alabama. An old man, named Bradberry, the father of the gallant lieutenant, who fought at Burnt Corn, and who was afterwards killed in another action, was cruelly murdered upon this occasion by one C___r, who plunged a long knife into the back of his neck. The murderer had an accomplice, one F–r, who was in pursuit of Bradberry at the same time, and who had, a few moments before, broken a pitcher over his head. These men were so desperate, and flourished their knives with such defiance, that Justice Henderson in vain called upon the bystanders to seize them, while the poor, unoffending old Bradberry lay weltering in his blood.

Shocked at the cowardly and brutal act, and provoked at the timidity of the bystanders, William Weatherford, who lived in that neighborhood, now advanced towards Henderson, and said in a loud voice: “These, I suppose, are white men’s laws. You stand aside and see a man, an old man, killed, and not one of you will avenge his blood. If he had one drop of Indian blood mixed with that which runs upon the ground there, I would instantly kill his murderers, at the risk of my life.” Justice Henderson implored him to take them, and, being assured that the white man’s law would not hurt him, but that he would be commended for the act, Weatherford now drew forth his long, silver-handled butcher-knife and advanced towards the murderers, who stood forty paces off, threatening to kill the first man who should attempt to arrest them. He first advanced to C___r, who, trembling at his approach, let his knife drop by his side, and instantly surrendered. Seizing him by the throat, he said to the bystanders, “Here, tie the d___d rascal.” Then, going up to F___r, upon whom he flashed his tiger eyes, he also arrested him without the least opposition, F___r exclaiming, “I will not resist you, Billy Weatherford.”

General Pickney arriving at Fort Jackson, and being the senior officer of the Southern army, assumed the command and approved of all the acts of Jackson. Learning that the Indians were generally submitting, he ordered the West Tennessee troops to march home. Two hours after the order was issued they were in motion. Arriving at Camp Blount, near Fayetteville, Jackson discharged them, after gratifying them with a feeling address. He then repaired to the Hermitage, from which he had been absent eighteen months, in a hostile land, and, a portion of the time, almost alone.

Pinckney remained at Fort Jackson with the troops from the two Carolinas and those from East Tennessee. Four hundred of General Dougherty’s brigade of East Tennesseans were stationed at Fort Williams. General Johnson, at the head of five hundred men, had been dispatched to the Cahawba River, who proceeded to its source and joined Jackson before he reached the Tennessee River. Several detachments were sent forth from Fort Jackson, who scoured the country in all directions for the fugitive Red Sticks. Colonel Hawkins performed several trips to the Chattahoochie, and exerted himself to induce the wretched Creeks to surrender and terminate a war which had proved so disastrous to them. July 1: But the British at Pensacola were endeavoring to rally them. Two vessels had anchored at the mouth of the Apalachicola, and had landed five thousand stand of arms and abundant ammunition, and three hundred British troops had commenced a fortification, under the command of a colonel. Runners were sent to all parts of the nation, inviting the Indians to rush to that point for provisions and military supplies, and thither many of the Red Sticks repaired. The condition of the friendly Indians, too, was at this time most wretched, and upwards of five thousand of them were fed at the different
American posts.6

Footnotes

  1. Kendall, Eaton, and Waldo’s Lives of Jackson. 

  2. Known by the American settlers as “Old Manorway.” 

  3. The Weatherfords always had fine horses, and old Charles, the father, was a celebrated patron of the Alabama turf. 

  4. Such is the account of Weatherford’s interview with Jackson, as related by the Chieftain himself, to Colonel Robert James of Clark, William Sisemore of Little River, and many other persons. The incorrect statements of Eaton, in his Life of Jackson, are doubtless based entirely on camp gossip. 

  5. Conversations with Major Laval, a resident of Charleston, S. C. 

  6. Indian Affairs, vol. 1, pp. 857-860. 



MLA Source Citation:

Pickett, Albert James. A transcription from the manuscript History of Alabama, Incidentally of Georgia and Mississippi, From the Earliest Period. Charleston: Walker and James. 1851. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 21 November 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/alabama/battle-horseshoe.htm - Last updated on Jun 15th, 2014


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