In the spring of the year 1812, the southern Indian tribal were visited by the bold and enterprising Tecumseh. His stirring appeals to their patriotism and valor were heard with attention, and he succeeded in stimulating them to open hostility. It is to be regretted that no specimen of the orations of this great Indian have been preserved. Judging from their effects, they would be ranked among the highest models of true eloquence. Tecumseh particularly appealed to the powerful Creek nation. These Indians had long been on friendly terms with the whites, and a portion of them were, therefore, unwilling to begin a war-fare against those to whom they had become attached. But the body of the nation consented.
The worst effects soon followed. Parties of Creeks began their depredations upon the frontier settlements. The first regular demonstration of hostility, however, was made by the Seminoles and the Creeks residing within the limits of Florida. Having been joined by a number of fugitive Blacks from the United States, they commenced a cruel and harassing warfare.
In the month of September, 1812, a party of volunteers from Georgia, under Colonel Newman, to the number of one hundred and seventeen, were attacked near the Lachway towns, by a superior force of Indians. A sharp conflict ensued, which ended in the retreat of the latter into a swamp, with the loss of their leader, who bore the title of king. Finding that his body remained in the hands of their opponents, they renewed the attack, for the purpose of obtaining it; and with a loyalty and valor, which among civilized nations, would have bought them an imperishable fame, continued a desperate contest until they succeeded in obtaining it. They then retired, but returned again the same evening with reinforcements; and after various success, the Georgians were compelled to return to the place from which they had set out. From this period, however, until the summer of the succeeding year, no event of any importance occurred. The national government had called out a force from Tennessee, for the protection of the southern section, which was immediately filled by volunteers, to the number of twenty-five hundred, and placed under the command of General Jackson, afterwards so justly celebrated. With this force he marched through the country of the Choctaws, to Natchez, where he remained a short time; and was then directed to return home. His expedition had the effect of overawing the Creeks for the time; but their animosity was only concealed, and burst forth with a fatal violence a few months afterwards,
On the 30th of August, 1814, Fort Mimms, situated in the Tensaw settlement, was surprised by the Indians, at noon. The fort contained one hundred and fifty men, under Major Beasely, and a number of women and children. The garrison made a desperate resistance; but were at length driven into the houses, and they set on fire. A dreadful carnage now ensued. The fire and the tomahawk were the fate of all but seventeen persons who escaped to the neighboring stations. The remaining settlements were visited with ruin and devastation, and the unfortunate inhabitants were either butchered or carried into captivity, to be reserved for more extended torture.
These outrages so exasperated the people of the neighboring states that they determined upon a full revenge. The legislature of Tennessee authorized the executive to call out three thousand five hundred of the militia, and General Andrew Jackson was appointed commander of the whole force, Jackson marched to the Ten Islands, on the Coosa, which he reached towards the end of October.
A few days afterwards General Coffee was detached with nine hundred men, to attack and disperse a body of the enemy, posted at Tallushatchee, about thirteen miles distant. Early on the succeeding morning, he arrived within a short distance of the town, and dividing his force into two columns, completely surrounded it. The Indians, perceiving the approach of a company of spies, sent to draw them into the field, made a furious charge, and drove them upon the main body. The latter, in their turn, compelled the enemy to fall back, and take refuge in their town, where they maintained, for a long time, a desperate conflict, neither asking nor receiving quarter, until nearly every warrior perished. The wounded survivors, and a number of women and children, were taken prisoners. One hundred and eighty-six of the enemy were killed, among whom were unfortunately some women and children, who are represented to have lost their lives in consequence of being mingled with the warriors. Of General Coffee’s force, five were killed, and forty wounded. The detachment rejoined the main body on the evening of the same day. Having received information, soon after this event, that the enemy had invested a fort of the friendly Indians, at Talladega, about thirty miles distant, General Jackson determined to proceed with his whole army to its relief. His force now consisted of twelve hundred infantry, and eight hundred mounted cavalry and gun men: and, leaving behind the sick, the wounded, and the baggage, under a sufficient guard, he commenced his march at midnight, of the 7th of December, the day on which he received the information. Such was the ardor of the troops, and the skill and resolution of their commander, that, not-with-standing a detention of many hours in crossing the river, and their fatigue and want of sleep, they arrived by the evening within six miles of the enemy. At five the next morning, the march was resumed, and at seven, the army having arrived at the distance of a mile from the Indians, General Jackson made his disposition for the attack. The advance, under General Carroll, was directed to commence the action, and having drawn the enemy out of their post, to fall back upon the main body. The mounted men were posted on the right and left, so as to be able to surround the enemy, while a corps of reserve, of two hundred and fifty cavalry, were posted in the rear of the center. This plan would have fully succeeded, had it not been for the defection of a part of the infantry, who fled on the first approach of the enemy. The reserve, however, having been brought up, a sharp conflict ensued, which ended in the total overthrow of the enemy. The greater part of them escaped, in consequence of the investment not being complete. Three hundred warriors were left dead on the field, and many more were killed in the pursuit. Their whole force was supposed to have exceeded one thousand. Fifteen of the Americans were killed, and eighty wounded. The friendly Indians were thus relieved from their anxiety, and the opportunity might have been taken, to follow up the blow, but for the want of provisions, and the situation of the posts in the rear. The American commander, accordingly, commenced his return on the succeeding day; but on his arrival at Fort Strother, at the Ten Islands, where a fort had been erected, he found, to his great mortification, that none of the expected supplies had arrived.
While in this situation, the firmness and decision of General Jackson were nobly displayed in quelling the continual attempts at mutiny. This was affected only by the most earnest remonstrance, and sometimes by force. Jackson risked his life upon one occasion; but his iron will prevailed and he maintained order and discipline until his army reached Nashville. During the time, the Indians were suffering a full measure of retribution in another quarter. General Cocke, who commanded the detached militia of East Tennessee, had dispatched General White, with a part of his force, against the towns of the Hillabee tribe. This unfortunate race, who had been the principal sufferers at the battle of Talladega, had applied to General Jackson for peace, offering to receive it on such terms as he should dictate. Ignorant of this proposal, General White proceeded to fulfill his instructions: and having destroyed their town, and killed sixty of the warriors, he returned with about two hundred and fifty prisoners. About the same time, too, the Georgia militia, under General Floyd, obtained a signal victory over a body of the enemy, at the Autossee towns, on the Tallapoosa River. The Indians fought with a degree of bravery, bordering upon desperation. The superior tactics of civilization, however, triumphed, and after a contest of three hours duration, the enemy fled, with the loss of about two hundred killed, among whom, two of their kings were included. Eleven of the Georgians were killed, and fifty wounded.
The discontent and insubordination of General Jackson’s army were not diminished by the discharge of the volunteers. Every accession of force appears to have been animated with the same spirit, or to have caught the baneful contagion. Many of the superior officers, regardless of their stations and characters, are represented to have given countenance to, or not sufficiently restrained the riotous conduct of their men. The term of service of the militia, too, having now expired, General Jackson was soon afterwards abandoned by all but a small number who had volunteered to remain. A reinforcement of about one thousand mounted volunteers, however, soon after arrived, who were engaged for sixty days only. They were placed under the command of General Coffee; and General Jackson resolved to lead them immediately against the enemy. They accordingly marched on the 15th of January, and at Talladega were joined by about two hundred friendly Indians. At this place, General Jackson received advices from General Floyd, of a contemplated movement of his force, and determined to advance further into the Indian country, for the purpose of making a diversion in his favor.
A considerable body of the enemy, being posted at a bend of the Tallapoosa, near the mouth of a creek, called Emuckfaw, he resolved to proceed thither immediately. After a difficult march, he arrived on the evening of the 21st, in the vicinity of the enemy, and on camped in a hollow square. Hearing from his spies, that the Indians were apprized of his approach, and appeared meditating an attack, every preparation was made to receive them. At dawn the next morning, they commenced a furious onset on his left flank; and after a warm action of half an hour, were repulsed, and driven back about two miles. General Jackson now ordered General Coffee, with four hundred men, to reconnoiter the enemy’s encampment, and to attack it, if he thought it advisable.
That officer, however, finding the post too strong, returned to the American encampment: and shortly afterwards, a part of the enemy made a feint upon the right of the army, while the main body commenced a furious assault upon the left. In the mean-time, General Coffee was detached to turn their left flank. His force, which had been considerable at the outset, was reduced by the desertion of his men, to about fifty, with whom, nevertheless, he succeeded in driving the enemy opposed to him, into the marshes of the creek. In this situation, covered with reeds, they were secured from danger. General Coffee, therefore, retired with the hope of drawing them out. In this design, he completely succeeded: the enemy advanced from the place of their retreat, and a sharp contest ensued, which continued about an hour, when a reinforcement arriving from the main body of the Americans, the Indians fled with precipitation, pursued by the victors, and perished, it is supposed, to a man.
In the meantime, the conflict on the right of the main body had also eventuated in the success of the American arms. The enemy, posted behind logs and trees, had maintained a warm fire for some time, which was sustained by the Americans with great gallantry. A general charge was, however, soon ordered, which the Indians were unable to resist. They betook themselves to flight, and reached their fortified post with great loss.
After this well fought battle, General Jackson determined to return to the Ten Islands, on account of the want of provisions and attendance for the wounded. Accordingly, on the succeeding morning, he commenced his march, and continued it without interruption until evening, when he encamped on the south side of the Enotichopco creek. On the next morning, in crossing the creek, the rear was attacked by a large body of Indians. The troops faced about, and a furious contest ensued. The Indians were at length defeated and pursued to a considerable distance. The victory was owing to the activity and determination of Generals Jackson and Coffee, and, but for the disobedience of some of the troops, the dispositions of the commander would have affected the capture of the whole force of the enemy. No further obstruction was met with by the army, and it reached Fort Strother on the 27th.
In the meantime, General Floyd had been pursuing a separate plan of operations. Before dawn, on the 27th of January, his camp was assailed with great fury by a large number of Indians. A fierce and obstinate struggle ensued, and the savages were again defeated, with the loss of thirty-seven killed and a large number wounded. The loss of the Americans was considerable.
Battle of Horshoe Bend
On the 14th of March, General Jackson commenced another expedition against the enemy, which was destined to end in the total overthrow of the unfortunate Creeks. Having established a fort at Cedar Creek, he set out with the intention of attacking the encampment on the Talapoosa, near New Youcka.
This post, which it had been deemed most prudent to leave untouched, on the former expeditions, was subsequently selected and fortified, with a degree of knowledge and skill uncommon among an uncivilized people. Surrounded almost entirely by the river, the only passage by which it was accessible was over a narrow neck of land, which had been fortified with the greatest care. A breastwork, from five to eight feet in height, formed of trunks of trees and timbers placed horizontally on each other, with only one place of entrance, and a double row of port holes, served as the means by which this brave but deluded race hoped to resist the torrent, which now threatened to overwhelm them.
The force which General Jackson brought with him to this encounter was greater than any he had heretofore commanded. Although reduced by the detachments left behind for garrisons, it amounted to little less than three thousand men. At ten in the morning of the 27th of March, he reached the vicinity of Tohopeka. The enemy, aware of his approach, made every preparation in their power to receive him; and arrayed their force, which was supposed to amount to about one thousand men, in the best manner for defense.
General Jackson soon arranged his plan of attack. Having dispatched General Coffee, at the head of the mounted infantry, and friendly Indians, with directions to gain the southern bank, and encircle the bend, he drew up the remainder of his forces in front of the breastwork. The cannon, directed by Major Bradford, were posted on an eminence, about two hundred yards from the enemy’s line, while the musketry was placed nearer, to take advantage of the appearance of the enemy from their works. In this situation, the army lay for some minutes. At last, the signal being made that General Coffee had reached the opposite side of the river, the troops moved forward to the charge. They advanced to the breastwork with the utmost gallantry, and were received with equal coolness. For some moments, a most destructive contest was maintained at the port holes; at length, Major Montgomery, of the regulars, springing to the wall, called to his men to follow him. He was immediately killed; but the ardor of his troops was not restrained by his fall. They scaled the rampart with impetuosity, and in a short time drove their opponents into the brush, with which the peninsula was covered. From this they were again forced, and retreated to the southern bank, where they found General Coffee’s command on the opposite shore. Driven now to desperation, by finding their retreat cut off, those who survived endeavored to take refuge behind the lofty and precipitous bank of the river, from which they occasionally fired upon their conquerors. General Jackson, who saw that the victory was completely gained, sent a flag, with an interpreter, to summon them to surrender. Either misunderstanding the nature of the proposal, or being determined to refuse quarter, they fired upon and wounded one of the party. The destruction which they appeared to seek, was now, therefore, accorded them. The trees and brush, in which they had concealed themselves, were set on fire, by means of torches, and they were thus exposed to the view of their assailants, by whom their numbers were soon materially thinned. This work of slaughter and misery continued until night. The few wretched survivors were enabled, by the darkness, to make their escape. In the mean time, General Coffee’s detachment, by making an attack upon the village, and diverting the attention of the enemy, had contributed materially to the success of the action.
This victory, which in its consequences was final and decisive, gave a death blow to the power and hopes of the Creeks. Never, in any preceding conflict, had their native valor and resolution been more eminently conspicuous. They fought with undaunted courage at their entrenchments, and only fell back when over-powered by vastly superior numbers. Their contempt of death, and loftiness of spirit, are manifested by the fact, that only four men were taken prisoners, while three hundred women and children fell into the hands of the victors. Five hundred and fifty-seven warriors were found dead on the ground, besides a great number who perished in attempting to cross the river. Among the killed were three of their religious counselors, whom they denominated prophets, and who met their death with that composure, which arose from a conviction of the justice of their cause, and the persuasion of future happiness. Thus, while we feel disposed to admit the propriety of inflicting exemplary punishment on those whom neither humanity nor treaties could restrain, we cannot but admire the unquenchable fortitude and devotion of this heroic race. Neither ought a just tribute of praise to be withheld from the American troops. When it is considered, that they had recently left their homes, and pacific occupations, to encounter an enemy, who, though inferior in numbers, was yet terrible from his bravery, and skill in the species of warfare practiced, and whose position, on this occasion, added greatly to his advantages, their steady and determined bravery entitles them to the highest encomiums. Throughout the whole of this campaign, indeed, their behavior was such as to obliterate the disgrace, which had previously attached to the militia of Tennessee, from the disorderly conduct of preceding detachments, as well as to acquire for them the highest praise from their commanding officer. In the battle of Tohopeka, fifty-five of the Americans were killed, and one hundred and forty-six wounded. Among the former was Major Montgomery, a young officer of great promise, and Lieutenants Moulton and Somerville.
After this engagement, General Jackson returned with his victorious army to Fort Williams: but, determined to give his enemy no opportunity of retrieving the misfortune that had befallen him, he recommenced operations immediately afterwards. On the 7th of April, he again set out for Tallapoosa, with tho view of forming a junction with the Georgia troops, under Colonel Milton, and completing the subjugation of the country. On the 14th of that month, the union of the two armies was effected, and both bodies moved to a place called the Hickory Ground where it was expected, the last final stand would be made by the Indians, or terms of submission would be agreed on. The principal chiefs of the different tribes had assembled here, and on the approach of the army, sent a deputation to treat for peace Among them was Weatherford celebrated equally for his talents and cruelty, who had directed the massacre at Fort Mimms. It had been the intention of General Jackson, to inflict a signal punishment upon him, if ever in his power. Struck, however, with the bold and nervous eloquence of this fearless savage, and persuaded of the sincerity of his wishes for peace, he dismissed him without injury. He shortly afterwards became the instrument of restoring peace, which was concluded by the total submission of the Indians. They agreed to retire in the rear of the army and occupy the country to the east of the Coosa, while a line of American posts was established from Tennessee and Georgia to the Alabama, and the power and resources of these tribes were thus effectually destroyed.