Battle of Horseshoe Bend
Battle of Horseshoe Bend took place on March 27, 1814, near Daviston, Alabama. American troops under General Andrew Jackson defeated a smaller force of Upper Creek or Red Stick Native American warriors. This was the final battle of the Creek War, which is considered part of the War of 1812. He later forced the Upper Creek to cede much of their land to the United States. Virtually forgotten today, the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in Alabama was one of the most significant military engagements in American history. Andrew Jackson's bloody defeat of the Red Stick faction of the Creek Nation at Horseshoe Bend was the first major step leading to what would become known as the Trail of Tears.
The purpose of this is to explore this extremely well preserved battlefield and learn more about the Battle of Horseshoe Bend.
The Battle of Horseshoe Bend
During the War of 1812, the United States engaged in a campaign against Indians in frontier bordering Tennessee, Georgia and Mississippi. The campaign began in 1813 and ended in 1814. The climax of the war with the Indians took place at a bend in the Tallapoosa River northeast of present day Alexander City, Alabama. 800 Creek Indian warriors and their families had set up a village at a meander in the Tallapoosa River. The Americans would call this bend the Horseshoe in reference to its shape. General Jackson, with a force of over 3,000, surrounded the 800 Creeks and attacked. The battle was extremely one sided. The Creeks held low ground with their backs to the river, only one third of the Creeks had firearms and they were outnumbered three to one. Only a handful of Creek warriors survived the battle while 300 women and children were taken prisoner. The American and friendly Indian casualties only totaled 49 dead and 154 wounded. Although the battle itself was simple, the causes and events that lead to the battle of Horseshoe Bend were extremely complicated. (Bill Yenne, 2005)
In the years following the American Revolution, colonial expansion continued westward across the State of Tennessee and the northern territories. American claims to territory west of the Appalachian Mountains was still questioned by Britain and Spain, who saw an opportunity to topple the young government and restore "Old World" boundaries. On the oceans, the British Navy had been losing sailors to desertions because of the wretched conditions and was boarding American Merchant Ships to "look" for the men. On occasion, the British even kidnapped and pressed some American sailors into service. The act furiously angered the American Congress, who began calling for war with Britain. (Wilcomb E. Washburn, 2002)
While Britain and Spain could not publicly do something for fear it might attract a united opposition from their European enemies, they continued to harass America and formed alliances with the numerous Native American tribes. They pointed out that the tribes were losing land to the colonists and they could "help" the tribes stop the flow of immigration. By doing so, they hoped it would create an entirely new war front in the west that would put America in a diplomatic crisis.
Causes leading up to Horseshoe Bend began the previous summer. Irate over an attack on one of their supply trains at Burnt Corn Creek by militiamen from the Mississippi Territory, a large force of "Red Stick" Creek warriors attacked and destroyed Fort Mims north of Mobile, Alabama. When the attack ended, at least 250 men, women and children lay dead. Fort Mims resulted in an uproar across the white settlements of the American South and armies soon closed in on the Creeks from three directions.
The primary of these, marching south from Tennessee under a hard-fighting general named Andrew Jackson, suffered severely from food shortages and other hardships while fighting four severe battles with the Creeks and establishing a chain of forts. Once before, Jackson had approached the Horseshoe Bend, only to all back in the face of devastating attacks from Creek Warriors. (Andrew Burstein, 2003)
Reinforced by the U.S. 39th Infantry, he marched southeast from Fort Williams (near today's Childersburg, Alabama) and arrived near Horseshoe Bend for a second time on the evening of March 26, 1814. Sending a large portion of his army across the Tallapoosa River to take up positions on the opposite bank surrounding the large bend which gave the battlefield its name, Jackson moved against the fortifications or "barricade" of the Tohopeka village early on the morning of the 27th.
Placing two pieces of artillery on a small hill overlooking the fortification, Jackson opened a bombardment of the works hoping to create a breach through which his troops could pass. The wall, however, was so strongly constructed that his field guns had little impact on either it or the army of Creek warriors who used it as a defense. Motivated by the exhortations of their prophets, the Creeks - led by the famed chief Menawa - challenged the soldiers and prepared for an intense battle.
As this impasse developed along the main lines, a portion of the troops sent to the opposite bank of the Tallapoosa took action that ultimately decided the battle. Commanded by General John Coffee, several hundred U.S.-allied Cherokee warriors, along with some Tennessee riflemen, swam the river to the Creek village and secured a number of canoes. Using them to ferry men across the river, they set fire to the village at the foot of the bend and opened fire on the Creek army from the rear.
Taking advantage of the diversion, Jackson ordered the 39th Infantry to storm the barricade. The fighting was intense. Major Lemuel Montgomery (for whom the city of Montgomery was later named) was killed, but his soldiers stormed the works and poured into the Creek warriors beyond. Among the soldiers wounded in the act was Ensign Sam Houston, later destined to become famed for his role in securing the independence of Texas from Mexico. (Bruce Vandervort, 2006)
The eastern Tribes had developed complex trading relations with many European companies. They sold the natives weapons and ammunition and were successful in finding a voice among the Native Americans in the Shawnee Chief Tecumseh and his brother known as "The Prophet". The British promised to return the land taken by the colonists if he would help them. In 1811, the rousing speaker addressed the Upper Creek tribes in Alabama. The Creeks were a confederation of different southeastern tribes, who often battled the Cherokee for control of the region. The prophets of the Upper Creeks quickly believed the persuasive Tecumseh and preached the doctrine of war to the warriors of the tribes.
Members of American militia heard reports of Creek Indians getting war supplies from Pensacola and decided to attack. The militia force consisted of 180 men and friendly Indians. The force met the diminished force of McQueen’s warriors. The Red Sticks had banished all those who were not willing to fight. They now numbered less than one hundred (Bill Yenne, 2005). The Americans caught the Red Sticks by surprise while they were eating dinner at a bluff near Burnt Corn Creek. The Red Sticks were initially driven off, and The Americans captured the supply train. However, while the Americans were busy securing the packhorses, the Red Sticks counter attacked and totally dispersed the American force. Many Americans fled on the captured horses. To the Red Sticks, the Battle of Burnt Corn would represent a declaration of war by the Americans. To get even, the Red Sticks planned to attack Ft. Mims.
The Red Sticks planned to hit Fort Mims with 1,000 warriors and another 600 in reserve. The Red Sticks were under the leadership of McQueen and Weatherford, who use be against war with the Red Sticks. One account declares that Weatherford agreed to be with the Red Sticks after three Red Stick Chiefs demanded that he join their cause or die. The Red Sticks waited for the most opportune time to attack. That moment came on August 30, 1813. At noon, the drums sounded, signaling lunch. The commander of the fort, Captain Dixon Bailey, foolishly left the gate unguarded. He also dismissed the report by two slaves that there Indians in the area the day before.
At the moment the drums beat, the Red Sticks attacked. The Americans were never able to retake the gate, which meant their doom. The Red Sticks, despite the pleas of the innocent, proceeded to kill every man women and child. The slaughter would take over 4 hours to complete. Some Americans may have been spared, but the reserve force of 600 Red Sticks entered the fort looking to spill blood and finished the job. The Indians took the fort with heavy losses and then killed all but about 36 of some 550 in the fort. Most of the survivors were slaves because the Red Sticks did not kill slaves after battle, but the slaves would become prisoner to the Red Sticks.
Jackson’s army had a huge advantage over the Red Sticks in men and weaponry. At the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, only one third of the Red Stick warriors had muskets. 40 Unfortunately for the Americans, enlistment disputes, a lack of supplies and lack of military discipline would severely hinder Jackson’s army from November 1813 to January 1814. At one point, only six men of one company crossed a river to continue the campaign. The men had claimed that they only enrolled for three months and would not go on. 41 Officers constantly pleaded with Jackson for a solution to the enlistment problem. Jackson’s solution was to arrest the offenders and place them back into the ranks. 42 Governor Blunt had advised Jackson to retire from the winter campaign, but Jackson pressed on. Jackson was almost defeated at Emuckfau and Enotocho in January 1814. 43 He then withdrew to form a new Army.
In February, Jackson raised a new Army with the aid of Governor Blount. This new force would also have 600 regulars from the 39th U.S. Infantry Regiment. 44 Jackson finally had a unit of discipline soldiers for his campaign. He would use the regulars over the militia to charge the wooden wall defense that the Red Sticks had erected at Horseshoe Bend. To bolster discipline among the militia, Jackson carried out a death sentence of a soldier, who was guilty of running in the face of the enemy, in front of his entire army. At the time, death sentences of this type were rarely carried out, with the offender being pardoned. Jackson paid special attention to supplying his army. He declared that he would not lose the coming campaign for a want of meat and flour. 46 Jackson was finally able to supply his army and carry out the attack at the Horseshoe.
Jackson surrounded the Red Sticks at the Horse Shoe and attempted to offer terms of surrender to the Red Sticks. As the American delegation approached the wooden wall that the Red Sticks had built for defense, an Indian warrior shot at the Americans, which ended negotiations with the Indians. The wooden wall was the main defense for the Red Sticks and reflected the Red Sticks name for the battle (Robert and Remini; Publisher, 2002). The Indians called the engagement the Battle of Tehopeska, Creek for wooden fence. Jackson began the attack by using his two artillery pieces, which had little effect on the wall. Some Cherokee Indians, who were a part of the holding force on the other side of the Tallapoosa River, crossed the river and attacked the Red Sticks from the rear two hours into the artillery bombardment. When the Cherokees attacked the wall, Jackson ordered his men to charge the wall. The Red Sticks could not hold against the attack and fought nearly to the last man.
The Creeks were surrounded by white settlers and twenty years later were forced to give up the rest of their lands in Alabama and relocate to new homes west of the Mississippi in what is now Oklahoma. The long and deadly journey became known as the Trail of Tears. Jackson went on to defeat the British ten months later at the Battle of New Orleans, becoming a legendary American hero and ultimately President of the United States. At Horseshoe Bend, the armies of two nations fought with courage and determination, knowing that the future was being decided. Their sacrifices are remembered today at Horseshoe Bend National Military Park in Daviston, Alabama. (John Ehle, 1989)
The War ended with the Treaty of Ghent signed on Dec. 24, 1815 in Belgium. Because of the poor communications of the day, word of the Treaty did not reach America in time to end the hostilities. Fifteen days later, on Jan. 8, 1815, General Andrew Jackson and his Tennesseans would stun the world with their victory over the British at the Battle of New Orleans.
The influence of the Creeks in the South is undeniable. Many landmarks in East Tennessee and Northern Georgia still carry Creek names that are often confused for Cherokee. Their influence stretched even to Louisiana, where the French named the City of Baton Rouge ("Red Stick") after the tribe. (Fred Anderson, 2005)
Jackson’s reliance on the Cherokees in his Creek campaigns seemed to be quickly forgotten when he became President. When the Cherokee were removed down the "Trail of Tears" by Jackson and Gen. Winfield Scott, many of the aged warriors, who were veterans of Horseshoe Bend, stopped off at the Hermitage near Nashville to shake hands and visit with the General who had led them against the "Red Stick" Creeks. A little known fact about Sam Houston was that, as a youth, he had lived among the Cherokee for three years and was adopted by the chief of the tribe. His Cherokee name "the Raven" was the one given to him by his adoptive father. The wound Houston received from a Creek arrow in the Battle of Horseshoe Bend never completely healed and plagued him throughout his life and was even rumored to have cost him a marriage. Houston always maintained close ties with the Cherokee and represented them on numerous occasions in Washington, D.C. (John Ehle, 1989)
Between the Cherokee warriors at the battle, was one named George Gist, whom the entire world would later come to know him as Sequoyah. Chief Junaluska, who saved Jackson’s life at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, was among the veterans of Horseshoe Bend removed to Oklahoma. At the time of the removal he reportedly made the comment: "If I had known Jackson would remove the Cherokee from our ancestral lands, I would have never saved him that day on the Tallapoosa River." (Gregory F. Michno, 2003)
When Junaluska reached the Oklahoma territory, however, he looked at it, turned around, and marched back to his beloved Smoky Mountains. His return to North Carolina angered some military leaders, but the state stepped in and made Junaluska a citizen to honor him for his service to America during the War of 1812. He was given a farm near present-day Robbbinsville, N.C. When the Cherokee Chief died, he was buried on a ridge near the old Mother Church in the City (Bill Yenne, 2005). In 1912, the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution erected a concrete monument to mark his final resting place and honor Junaluska for his service to America at The Battle of Horseshoe Bend.
Following the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, the Creek tribes were finally driven into Florida where they joined the Seminole Nation. The Seminoles were the only tribe to never sign a treaty with the United States and operated as an independent nation. In fact, following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, the Seminole Nation officially declared war on the Asian State before passage of the bill was secured through the U.S. Congress.