|BURNT CORN, ALABAMA|
& Ball: THE CREEK WAR of 1813 and 1814
(Kindly contributed by William C. Bell)
The writers who have treated of the "Creek War" briefly are many. Those who have gone much into the details are few. And these few seem to have had influences bearing upon them which led them to take different views of the same facts or sometimes to disagree in regard to the facts. Claiborne, to whose large work reference has already been made, doubtless meant to be, as he says in his Introduction that he has striven to be "truthful and impartial" but it is difficult to read several things in his "Mississippi," without thinking that his strong feelings and sympathies and his love for that brilliant rhetoric, which he knew how to command, have unduly colored some of his statements. He objects strongly to the view which Colonel Hawkins, the Government Agent among the Creeks, took of Tecumseh, as Claiborne himself gives that view, and of Colonel Hawkins' claim that there would not be much war if the Creeks were let alone. He says that General Flournoy was misled by Colonel Hawkins' representations concerning the degree of civilization attained by the Creeks and their peaceful disposition towards the whites. He makes this statement: " Even after the massacre at Fort Mims, Colonel Hawkins reiterated these assurances, laid the blame of that affair on the Tombigbee people, and declared that the war would be 'a civil war among the Creeks and not on the whites,' if let alone."
Claiborne adds: "Unfortunately General Flournoy adopted these views and forbade any aggressive movement on the savages."
Pickett also speaks of Colonel Hawkins as having been "strangely benighted," not properly realizing the danger that existed. It is not designed to suggest, here, who had the most accurate knowledge of the real state of affairs among the Creeks, some of Brewer's statements will appear in other chapters, and the readers will have other facts before them on which to form their own opinions--but it is certain that the inhabitants of these river settlements, these pioneers along the Mobile and Tensaw and the Alabama and Tombigbee, saw a dark looking war cloud rising to the eastward, and that they felt it needful, and that it was needful, for them to do the best which they could do in preparing for self-defense. They therefore erected as speedily as possible stockades, which they called, in the language of war, forts, in which they spent quite a little time in the summer and fall of 1813. No dates have been found giving the exact time of the erection of the stockades in Clarke county, but it is evident that some were erected in July.
An enumeration and some description of these forts is the object of this chapter, including also some erected long before 1813.
1. Fort St. Stephens, established by the French, probably about 1714, held afterwards by the Spanish, who made there a settlement about 1786, given up by the Spaniards to the Americans in 1799, has been already mentioned. So far as the Creek Indians were concerned, this was considered an impregnable fortress. As this locality, the old St. Stephens, will be again more fully mentioned, it needs no further notice here, only the statement that it was on the west bank of the Tombigbee, on a high bluff, at the head of sloop navigation.
2. Fort Stoddart, as established by United States troops in July, 1799, has also been named, with its stockade and bastion. As this was for some years a government post, held by United States troops, and became a port of entry where the Court of Admiralty was held, it was of course a strong point. In 1804 Captain Schuyler of New York was commander here, with eighty men, Edmund P. Gaines was Lieutenant, and Lieutenant Reuben Chamberlain was paymaster. At Fort Stoddart duties were exacted on imports and exports.* Four miles west of Fort Stoddart was Mount Vernon.
* A beautiful, or at least an instructive and strong example of the effect of duties on articles reaching the consumer was shown here in 1807. In that year the Natchez planters in the western part of the Mississippi territory paid for Kentucky flour four dollars per barrel, and the same flour brought round by Mobile and there subjected to Spanish duties, and coming up the river past the Fort Stoddart port of entry, cost the Tombigbee planters sixteen dollars a barrel.
3. Passing down the river, a strong fort was located at Mobile called Fort Charlotte. Another was also constructed here, Fort Bowyer.
4. Going now northward, on the east side of the Alabama, two miles below the "cut off," a quarter of a mile from the Tensaw Boat Yard, was the ill-fated Fort Mims. This was built in the summer of 1813 and will be again noticed. When the erection of this stockade was commenced is uncertain, perhaps in July, and, according to Pickett, its last block house was never finished.
This might be called No. 1 of the stockades erected especially for protection against the Creeks, but the former notation will be continued.
5. Fort Pierce was a small stockade some two miles south-east of Fort Mims. It took its name from two brothers, William Pierce and John Pierce, who came from New England and made there their home in Spanish times. William Pierce was a weaver and John Pierce a teacher.
6. Crossing the Alabama and coming into the new Clarke county, we reach Fort Glass, built sometime in July at the home of Zachariah Glass by himself and his neighbors, Nah-hee, called a Tory Creek, an intelligent Indian, employed in the Creek war as a scout, assisting, it is said, in the building.
7. Fort Madison was in the north-east corner of section one, township six, range three east of the St. Stephen's meridian, on the water-shed line, which was then the eastern boundary of Clarke County. As will be seen from the accompanying cut, it was north of Fort Glass only two hundred and twenty five yards, and the two stockades constituted one locality, being the center of the quite large Fort Madison neighborhood. The first store in this region was about due east from Fort Madison, on the Alabama River, distant six miles, opened, probably, in 1812; and one of the first grist mills was built about the same time, perhaps about four miles north; and in 1813 the first cotton gin in the vicinity was erected some two miles north. This was one of the seven principal settlements in the then new Clarke county and the region west of the Alabama. As is evident from the mention of the store and the mill and the gin, and the plantations that were opened around these, it was an important locality for these settlers to hold.
Fort Madison contained not quite an acre of ground, having been, as will be seen from the cut, sixty yards square. A trench three feet in depth was dug around the outside and bodies of pine trees cut about fifteen feet in length were placed perpendicularly in the trench side by side, making thus a wall of pine wood twelve feet in height. Port holes were cut at convenient distances so as to enable the inmates to look out, and in case of an attack to fire upon the besiegers. In about the same way all these stockades of 1813 were constructed. They were lighted at night by means of the abundant pitch pine placed upon scaffolds, covered with earth, erected for the purpose. Additional securities were added at Fort Madison and an improved method of lighting introduced, which will be by and by mentioned. Within this enclosure, bearing the name of the President of the United States, were the tents and cabins of the settlers of that neighborhood, and, after its erection, the date not certain, Fort Glass was occupied by the soldiers.*
* From information gathered in Clarke county, in the region occupied by several of these forts, it seems that when General Claiborne reached Mount Vernon, July 30th he immediately ascertained what could then be learned about the Burnt Corn action, and in regard to the stockades around the residences of Glass, Lavier, Singuefield, White, Easley, and Oarney, which of course were then already erected: and that be sent Colonel Carson with two hundred mounted men to Fort Glass, and that after their arrival Fort Madison was immediately constructed. This fixes the date some time in August. It may be added here that General Claiborne also sent Captain Scott with a company of men to St. Stephens, to occupy the old Spanish block-house.
8. Fort Sinquefield was about ten miles north of Fort Madison, on the western side of Bassett's Creek, a large stream of water for a creek, on section thirteen, township eight, range three east, a smaller stockade built very much in the same manner. As the map in this book will show, it was about five miles south-east from the present town of Grove Hill, formerly called Macon, the county seat of Clarke county. This fort stood on a table-land or height of ground extending for a mile north and south. Eastward is a gentle slope which terminates finally in the Bassett's Creek valley. Westward are deep valleys and narrow, between large, high ridges of land. No actual hill is within miles of this locality, yet the ascent from the valleys to the top of the ridges or table, might be called going up hill. The spring which supplied this stockade with water is south of wrest, in one of the deep valleys, distant two hundred and seventy-five yards.
Ninety feet distant from the once stockaded ground, in a north-west direction, are some graves. A few rods eastward of the fort ground is supposed to be an old burial place, although here the traces of the graves were not distinct in 1879. One of the principal highways of Clarke county runs directly by this locality, but, as it has been for many years a family home, no traces of the stockade outlines can be found here which are still so distinct at forts Glass and Madison.
9. Fort White was a small stockade a short distance north east of the present Grove Hill.
10. Landrum's Fort was eleven miles west from Fort Sinquefield; on section eighteen, township eight, range two east.
11. Mott's Fort was in the same neighborhood. These both were small.
12. Going now to the Tombigbee River and northward, Fort Easley was on section ten or eleven, township eleven, range one west, at what is now called Wood's Bluff. This fort was named, as were nearly all others, from a prominent settler in the neighborhood, and the bluff took its name from Major Wood, an officer in the Burnt Corn expedition. This stockade was on a small plateau containing about three acres. On the side next to the river the bluff is almost a perpendicular wall, there is "a bold spring of water flowing from its side," and the descent is quite abrupt from this plateau above and below the stockade ground, making this fort a naturally strong, position.
General Claiborne visited this stockade about the last of August, having received a report that it would be attacked by the Indians. It is possible that some of the Creeks started this report to call attention away from the real fort which they designed to attack, that Fort Mims, which was fifty miles south and twelve miles east from Fort Easley.
13. Turner's Fort was some eight miles south and five west, in the west bend of the Tombigbee River, near the residence of Abner Turner. This fort was built of split pine logs doubled and contained two or three block-houses. It was held by the citizens of the neighborhood, thirteen men and some boys forming the garrison that expected to protect the women and children. Two or three miles distant, on the river, was a Choctaw reservation known as Turkey Town, called by the Choctaws "Fakit Chipunta," Little Turkeys. In this stockade were members of the Turner, Thornton, Pace, and other families, early settlers in what became the delightful West Bend neighborhood. Here for a time resided Tandy Walker, who is mentioned in the Gaines records, who was "a most experienced and daring backwoodsman;" but in the summer of 1813 he was connected with the affairs at Fort Madison.
The inmates of the two forts, Turner's and Easleys', held religious services in their fort life. At Fort Easley a camp-meeting was held, probably in August, which some from the other stockade attended. The "love feast" on Sunday morning was held outside the fort, but guards were stationed to give warning if any attacking party of Indians appeared.*
* Among those attending this meeting from West Bend was Mrs. Martha Pace, known in her later life as Aunt Patsy, born about 1800, then a girl of thirteen, with whom I became acquainted in 1859 and who mentioned the incident of the love feast, when she was about eighty years of age, a very active even then, and noble hearted woman. In this West Bend neighborhood, at the home of Hon. Eli S. Thornton, among those who were in the Turner fort and their descendants, I spent nearly two years.--T. H. B.
14. Passing, now, down the river, on the west side, five miles below Coffeeville, about a mile from the river, was Cato's Fort.
15. Still further west, in Washington county, was Rankin's Fort, quite a large stockade, and the most western one of the River Group.
16. McGrew's Fort was in the corner of section one, township seven, range one west, about three miles north of Fort St. Stephens, in Clarke county, five miles north and eighteen west from Fort Madison. It is claimed that the area here enclosed with palisades was about two acres. Some of the posts were remaining in 1879, and around the fort locality was an old field. Here two brothers, William McGrew and John McGrew, British royalists then, refugees, probably, from the Atlantic coast, made an early settlement near the Tombigbee River. McGrew's Reserve, an old Spanish grant, is still a landmark in Clarke county. These brothers left the reputation of having been exemplary men, and of having become good Americans. How many families were in this fort is not known.
17. Six miles south from Jackson, at Gullet's Bluff, was Fort Carney, on the line of travel to Mount Vernon. This fort was built by Josiah Carney who settled on the river in 1809.*
* At this stockade an incident occurred illustrating the statement that skill acquired through disobedience may be useful. In one of the families was a girl about fourteen years of age who found the large water course attractive but whose father, knowing nothing about the management of a boat, fearing no doubt for her safety, had forbidden her to go to the river. One day an alarm was given that the Indians were near, and the families hurriedly sought safety on the west side of the river. But how should this family cross when the father could neither paddle nor row? The daughter procured a boat and to the astonishment of her father took them all rapidly over the river. And then the fact came out that she had slipped off secretly to the river when opportunities offered and by practice had learned to take a boat across that current. What her father said or did tradition has not preserved but that girl, surely not generally disobedient nor wayward, grew up to womanhood, became Mrs. Blackwell, one of the highly respected women of Clarke county and died near Jackson in the fall of 1879, eighty years of age. If disobedient she was at least, in her girlhood a heroine and in her womanhood we may be sure she did not encourage disobedience.
18. Three miles south of Fort Carney, near Oven Bluff, was Powell's Fort, where were about six families, including those of John McCaskey, James Powell, and John Powell.
19. Lavier's Fort, written sometimes by mistake or misprint Rivier's, was built, so far as has been ascertained, (the only authority is an aged colored man, Dick Embree), near the residence of Captain Lawson Lavier, who traded with the Choctaw Indians. It was built by himself and a few neighbors, but its locality is not known. Pickett names it, but no resident of Clarke County was found in 1877 who knew anything of it.
20. At Mount Vernon, to which as General Claiborne's headquarters we now come, and where was a United States arsenal, were two forts. An arsenal was maintained here until 1861, and since 1865 this has been held as a United States post, where a few officers and soldiers may always be found. Near the parade ground are some of those beautiful trees known as live oak, and the long leaf pine growth extends a long distance northward. The landing place on the river, known as Arsenal Wharf or Fort Stoddart four miles distant, the early United States "port of entry," is distant from Mobile by the river channel forty-five miles, and five miles further north by the river brings one to the head of the Mobile River, the union of the Alabama and Tombigbee. The Mobile River, of the formation of which, judging from the school maps of Guyot and others, many must be ignorant, is fifty miles in length. Mount Vernon is distant now from Mobile by railroad only twenty-nine miles. As a place supposed to be very secure the two forts there, in the summer of 1813, are said to have been "packed." How many people were in these different stockades at any one time is not certain. But after the alarm caused by the massacre at Fort Mims there were at Forts Madison and Glass more than one thousand citizens and soldiers. At Fort Carney there were about four hundred. Rankin's Fort contained five hundred and thirty. How many hundred were at St. Stephens and at Mount Vernon is not known.
In these river settlements there were at that time, it has been already stated, about two thousand whites and two thousand blacks, taking for the basis of authority the United States census of 1810.
Besides these twenty or twenty-one forts, so called, which were in the line of the river settlements proper, two forts, named Roger's and Patton's, were constructed in what is now Wayne county, Mississippi, Patton's Fort at Winchester and Roger's Fort, six miles above. There was little use for these, however, and no real need, for the Creeks were not likely to cross the Tombigbee and go into the Choctaw territory. In fact families of Clarke county instead of trusting themselves in the stockades and enduring the inconveniences of thus living, for even a few weeks, crossed the Tombigbee and selected camping grounds far enough west to be, as they thought, out of danger. Among some such was the family of Mrs. Cathell, a widow with four sons and four daughters, having come into Clarke county from Georgia in 1819. Two of her sons went as soldiers against the Indians. She dreaded to have them leave her, saying that she had lost two brothers in the Revolutionary War and she felt sure these sons would fall in the coming, conflict. And they did fall with so many others at Fort Mims. Disliking fort life for herself, as she had experienced it in her girlhood in the war of the Revolution, she with the other members of her family and ten or twelve other families crossed the river and went into camps.
1. Soon after the return of the Cathell family into Clarke County, one of the daughters, Jane Cathell, was married to Captain William R. Parker, and with her, eighty-four years of age in April, 1879, the writer of this chapter became acquainted. She had good use of her faculties, was intelligent and sprightly in mind, her eyes rather dim, but her hearing good.
She died suddenly in May, 1879, falling "lifeless to the floor, from the chair in which she was sitting."
2. That this fort life, although a necessity with many for a time, was to many mothers with their little children not pleasant, is evident from the statements of Mrs. Mary Cammack, with whom also this writer was acquainted. She was born in April, 1789, in South Carolina, was married in Kentucky in 1804, came into the Mississippi Territory in 1810, and when visited by the writer in August, 1874, then eighty-five years of age, was active, intelligent, cheerful, and recounted with a ready recollection the events of her earlier life. In 1810, for some five weeks, five hundred Choctaw Indians had camped within sight of her husband's cabin, near the Clarke county water-shed line. She reported them as well behaved, drinking no whiskey, not attempting to steal or plunder. Their chief was the noted Pushmataha. But when the Indian troubles commenced sixteen out of the seventeen of her husband's pack horses were taken by the Creek Indians, and the family were all soon obliged to seek safety in Fort Madison. But Mrs. Cammack expressly said, she did not think the behavior of some of the white people in the fort was equal to the conduct as she saw it of Pushmataha's Choctaws. The practices of some of them she very much disliked. And it is very evident, however virtuous these pioneer settlers were, as they had lately come from Georgia and the Carolinas, from Tennessee and Kentucky, that life in a crowded stockade, to sensitive mothers and little children, could not be pleasant.
Mrs. Mary George Cammack, in 1813 twenty four years of age then the mother of four children, was a woman of more than ordinary physical and mental endowments, as many of our pioneer women were, and hers I consider to be first class testimony, as an observing and unprejudiced woman, for all facts within her range of knowledge connected with the Creek Indian troubles of 1813.
3. This note is for the lovers of curious facts.
Mrs. Cammack was the mother of thirteen children, and these facts appear in examining the years in which they were born. The first birth was in 1805, and then the births were in each odd year, or every other year, until the year of the fort life, the year of dangers and alarms. As one illustration of the alarms, fifteen Indians, before fighting had commenced called one day at her home, and so startled her that she took refuge in the home of a neighbor.
No child was born in 1813. Then beginning with December, 1814, the other children were all born in the even years, thus: 1805,1807, 1809, 1811, 1814, 1816, 1818, 1820, 1822, 1824, 1826, 1828, 1830. What could be more regular in birth years?
A new England writer of note, some years ago, questioned the statement of a Sunday-school man in regard to families in the South having as many as eight and twelve children. Many of our questionings doubtless display our ignorance rather than our knowledge, for it is well known by those who have the means of knowing that many such large families were and still are in the South.
INTER-TRIBAL COUNCILS OF THE CREEKS AND THE CHOCTAWS
The Creek confederacy, in undertaking war against the Federal Government, was entering upon a conflict, that, for disparity of numbers and resources, never had a parallel in the annals of savage warfare. However little the ignorant and deluded warriors may have reflected over the magnitude of this undertaking,, the wiser of their chiefs knew that the confederacy, even with British and Spanish aid could not successfully cope with the Federal power, unless they secured the alliance of the powerful nation of the Choctaws on their western border Many efforts were made to accomplish this object.
It was at some period in July that a council was held between the two nations, at or near the present town of Pushmataha, in Choctaw County, Alabama. The Choctaws were chiefly represented by Pushmataha, Moshulitubbee, and Huanna Mingo. It is not known what Creek chiefs represented the confederacy. During the conference there were regular communications between the Choctaws and the whites, then in the fort at Winchester. About midway between the two places, lived a citizen, a white man, named Robert McLaughlin. Every event occurring at the council was conveyed to McLaughlin by a Choctaw messenger, and thence by McLaughlin through a white messenger to the whites at Winchester. The council lasted several days, the Creeks urging the Choctaws to join them in war against the whites, the Choctaws, on the contrary, contending for peace and appealing to their national tradition that they had never shed the blood of white men in war and they must not begin it now. Pushmataha was the principal speaker on the part of the Choctaws. It is said that he spoke the greater part of two days endeavoring to dissuade the Creeks from war. The council at last terminated with the Creeks bent on war, and the Choctaws firmly resolved that they would not co-operate with them in the impending conflict.
A tradition states that another attempt was likewise made by the Creeks to secure the alliance of at least a portion of the Choctaw people by means of a conference which Weatherford and another Muscogee chief, named Ochillie Hadjo, had with Mingo Moshulitubbee. But it, too, resulted in failure. It can not now be determined whether this conference occurred before or after the inter-tribal council, of which we have given some account above.
Both history and tradition agree that much interest was manifested by the Choctaws in the war impending with the Creek confederacy, and that they were resolved to maintain their peaceful relations with the Americans. During this exciting period, before the actual clash of arms had begun, councils were held at various places in the Choctaw nation, in which the most noted Mingoes made talks expressing their sympathy for the American cause and urging upon their warriors the duty of living at peace with the whites; and in every council was iterated the national tradition that the Choctaws had never shed the blood of white men in war.
No apprehension of Choctaw hostility was felt by the frontier people living along the Choctaw border, in the old counties of Wayne and Hancock. It is true that there were two forts built in Wayne county, Patton's Fort, at Winchester, and Roger's Fort. seven miles above. But the whites had taken temporary shelter in these forts, not on account of their Choctaw neighbors, with whom they lived daily in perfect concord, but from the fear of a possible inroad from the dreaded Creek warriors to the east of the Tombigbee.
But the case was somewhat different in the fork of the Tombigee and Alabama, where the people lived on the border of the Creek nation. Some solicitude prevailed there, for a brief period, among the new settlers in regard to Choctaw fidelity. The older settlers, however, who had been acquainted with the Choctaws for many years, did not share in this solicitude, but were confident that the Choctaw people would not deviate from that long-tried and unwavering friendship, which they had ever manifested toward the Americans.
Had the Choctaws united with the Creeks at the inception of the war of 1813, as has been truly said, in less than thirty days, the whole Southern frontier would have been drenched in blood; and the Federal Government, hampered, as it was with war else where, would have been forced to put forth its mightiest effort to retain a hold upon the territory of the South-west. But the Choctaws, true to the old tradition, did not break their record as steadfast friends of the whites; nay, even more, for as the war progressed, hundreds of their warriors enlisted in the armies of Claiborne and Jackson. No lapse of time should ever permit the people of Mississippi and Alabama, the old historic South-west, to forget this action of the Choctaw people. The story of their fidelity to the American cause should never be permitted to pass into oblivion.
As a fitting close to this chapter, we quote from Claiborne's Mississippi the following eulogium upon this race of Southern red men: "Honesty on the part of the men and chastity of the women were characteristic of the Choctaw people, the real proprietors of the domain of Mississippi, whose traditions have been preserved in the names of our streams and our counties, which should ever remind us and our posterity, that, when we were but a feeble people, they fought for us the martial Muscogee; and when we had become numerous and opulent, in the darkest days of our history, when pressed to the earth by a superior adversary, when we had no reward to hold out, only our broken lances and shattered shields, they came to our aid and shared with us the doom of the vanquished. Mississippi, if she survives for a thousand years, as God grant she may, should never forget the brotherhood that binds her to this noble race, born under her own stars and skies."
THE AUTHORITIES FOR THE STATEMENTS IN THIS CHAPTER.
The account of the international council of the Creeks and the Choctaws rests upon the authority of the late venerable Edmund Chapman of Newton County, Mississippi, who was an inmate of the fort at Winchester, at the time the council occurred
The tradition in regard to Weatherford and Moshulitubbee was related to the writer in 1877, by the late Mr. G. W. Campbell of Noxubee County, Mississippi, he receiving the statement in early life from one of Moshulitubbee's noted captains, named Stonie Hadjo, who died in Noxubee County, about 1838.
The statement in regard to the attitude of the Choctaws towards the whites is based upon conversations and correspondence with several aged frontiersmen, now dead a number of years, who lived in Wayne and Jefferson counties during the Creek War. These informants, without exception, were unanimous in their statements, that nowhere along the Choctaw border, and at no time, were there the slightest manifestations of hostility towards the Americans. One of these informants was the late venerable Mr. Archibald McArthur, of Winston County, Mississippi, whose early life was passed among the Choctaws, and who was for several years connected with the Presbyterian Choctaw Mission at Emmaus. The statements of these trustworthy informants, who had every opportunity to know the real facts, are utterly at variance with the statements in Claiborne's Mississippi, page 396, in regard to the Choctaws, and that "the Chickasahay towns began to paint and to chant their war-songs." This sentence strikes us as a mere rhetorical flourish. We are compelled to accept the evidence of these old frontiersmen as conclusive. H. S. H.
THE BATTLE OF BURNT CORN
From the letter of General James Wilkinson, much of which has been quoted in a preceding chapter, we learn that more than three hundred hostile Creeks, under the Prophet Francis, were camped, on the 25th of June, at the Holy Ground. General Wilkinson writes: "The last information received of their doings was on Wednesday [the 23d of June], by Ward's wife, who has been forced from him with her children. She reported that the party, thus encamped, were about to move down the river to break up the half-breed settlements, and those of the citizens in the fork of the rivers." While this was, no doubt, the real and ultimate design of the hostile Creeks, it was first necessary to put themselves on a thorough war footing by procuring supplies of arms and ammunition from Pensacola. With this object in view, at some period in the early part of July, a party of Creeks, comprising a portion, if not all, of the hostile camp at the Holy Ground, with many pack-horses, took up the line of march for Pensacola. This party was under the command of Peter McQueen, at the head of the Tallassee warriors, with Jim Boy, as principal war chief, commanding the Atossees,* and Josiah Francis, commanding the Alibamos. Pickett gives the entire force as amounting to three hundred and fifty warriors; Colonel Carson, in a letter to General Claiborne, estimates them at three hundred; but General Woodward, in his Reminiscences, simply states that their numbers have been greatly overrated. "On their way," writes Pickett, "they beat and drove off every Indian that would not take the war-talk. "On their arrival at Burnt Corn Spring, situated at the crossing of the Federal and the Pensacola roads, they burned the house and corncrib of James Cornells, seized his wife and carried her with them to Pensacola, where she was sold to Madame Baronne, a French lady, for a blanket. A man, named Marlowe, living with Cornells, was also carried prisoner to Pensacola. Cornells, it seems, was absent from home, at the time of this outrage. We hear of him, soon afterwards, at Jackson, on the Tombigbee, "mounted on a fast-flying grey horse," bringing to the settlers the tidings of Creek hostilities.
* Pickett in his narrative has here evidently made a slip writing Autaugas for Atossees. H. S. H.
The perilous condition of the southern frontier at this period, the early part of July, is well portrayed in the following passages from Pickett: "The inhabitants of the Tombigbee and the Tensaw had constantly petitioned the Governor for an army to repel the Creeks, whose attacks they hourly expected. But General Flournoy, who had succeeded Wilkinson in command, refused to send away of the regular or volunteer troops. The British fleet was seen off the coast, from which supplies, arms, ammunition, and Indian emissaries, were sent to Pensacola and other Spanish ports in Florida. Everything foreboded the extermination of the Americans in Alabama, who were the most isolated and defenceless people imaginable."
When Colonel Joseph Carson, commanding at Fort Stoddart, was informed that the above mentioned force of Creek warriors had gone to Pensacola, he despatched David Tate and William Pierce to the town to ascertain the intentions of the Creeks and whether Governor Manique would grant them a supply of ammunition. The information gained by these spies and reported on their respective returns, all summed up, was that the Creeks, on their arrival in Pensacola, had called upon the Governor and presented him a letter from a British general in Canada. This letter had been given to Little Warrior when he was in Canada and at his death was saved by his nephew and afterwards given to Josiah Francis, The Creeks, whether right or wrong, supposed that this letter requested or authorized the Governor to supply them with ammunition. The Governor, in reply, assured them that it was merely a letter of recommendation, and at first refused to comply with their demands. He, however, appointed another meeting for them, and the Creeks, in the meanwhile, made every exertion to procure powder and lead by private purchase. According to Tate's information, which he received from some of the prisoners whom the Creeks had brought down with them, their language breathed out vengeance against the white people and they dropped some hints of attacking the Tensaw settlers on their return. The Creeks finally succeeded in their negotiation with the Governor, who issued an order supplying them with three hundred pounds of powder and a proportionate quantity of lead. To obtain this large supply, McQueen handed the Governor a list of the towns ready to take up arms, making four thousand eight hundred warriors. Even this large amount of ammunition was not satisfactory to the Creeks; they demanded more, but it seems that Manique yielded no further to their demands. The Creeks now openly declared that they were going to war against the Americans; that on their return to the nation they would be joined by seven hundred warriors at the Whet Stone Hill,* where they would distribute their ammunition and then return against the Tombigbee settlers. They now held their war-dance, an action equivalent to a formal declaration of war.
* The hill on which the present town of Lownsoro is situated.
Such was the information brought by the spies from Pensacola, and their evidence clearly shows that the disaffected section of the Creek Confederacy was now committed to open war against the Americans. No other construction can be placed upon the words and actions of the agents or representatives of this disaffected section,--the hostile party in Pensacola. We may conjecture that this party left Pensacola about the twenty-fourth of July, but, as will be noticed hereafter, it seems that it was only a part of the force, mainly under the command of Jim Boy that took up the line of march, while the greater party, from some cause, tarried a while longer in Pensacola.
A slight incident here, perhaps, is worthy of being placed on record to the credit of Jim Boy. While in Pensacola the Creeks met with Zachariah McGirth a man well known in the Creek nation. Some of the Creeks wished to kill him. But Jim Boy interposed and said that the man or men that harmed McGirth should be put to death
In the meanwhile, the inhabitants of the Tombigbee and the Tensaw were in a state of great alarm. Many had abandoned their farms and taken refuge in the forts situated along the Tombigbee and the Alabama. Judge Toulmin, writing from Fort Stoddart, the twenty-third of July, says, "The people have been fleeing all night." This brief sentence clearly reveals the alarm and anxiety pervading the Alabama frontier at this period.
Upon the report of the spies from Pensacola relative to the action of Governor Manique and the Creeks, Colonel James Caller, of Washington County, the senior militia officer on the frontier, forthwith ordered out the militia. A force was soon embodied and enrolled under his command. Colonel Caller resolved to intercept the Creeks on their return and capture their ammunition. His command, at first, consisted of three small companies, two from St. Stephens, commanded respectively by Captains Baily Heard and Benjamin Smoot, and one company from Washington County, commanded by Captain David Cartwright. With this force Colonel Caller crossed the Tombigbee at St. Stephens, Sunday, July 25th; thence passing through the town of Jackson, he marched to Fort Glass, where he made a short halt. At this place he was reinforced by accompany under Captain Sam Dale, with Lieutenant Walter G. Creagh as second in command. Another force had also joined him in the expedition commanded by William McGrew, Robert Callier, and William Bradberry. The whole party were well mounted and carried their own rifles and shot guns, of every size and description. Captain Dale carried a double barrel shot gun--an unusual weapon in that day. An eye-witness has described Colonel Caller at Fort Glass as wearing a calico hunting shirt, a high bell-crowned hat and top boots and riding a large fine bay horse. Leaving Fort Glass, the party bivouacked the ensuing night at Sizemore's ferry, on the west bank of the Alabama River. The next morning they crossed the river, the horses swimming by the side of the canoes. This occupied several hours. They now marched in a southeastern direction to the cowpens of David Tate, where a halt was made. Here Colonel Caller received another reinforcement, a company from Tensaw and Little River, commanded by the brave half-breed, Captain Dixon Bailey. The whole force, composed of white men, half-breeds and friendly Indians, now numbered one hundred and eighty men, rank and file, in six small companies. From the cow-pens they marched to the intersection of the Wolf-trail and the Pensacola road, at or near the site of the present village of Belleville, in Conecuh County, where they camped for the night. The next morning, the twenty seventh of July the command was reorganized. William McGrew was chosen Lieutenant Colonel, and Zachariah Phillips, McFarlan, Wood, and Jourdan were elected to the rank of Major. It is stated that this unusual number of field officers was made to satisfy military aspirations. The command now took up the line of march down the Pensacola road, which here ran, and still runs, parallel with Burnt Corn Creek. About eleven o'clock the spies returned at a rapid rate and reported that they had found the enemy encamped near Burnt Corn Creek, a few miles in their advance, and that they were busily engaged in cooking and eating. A consultation of the officers immediately took place, and it was decided to take the Creeks by surprise. The troops were thrown into three divisions, Captain Smoot in front of the right, Captain Bailey in front of the centre, and Captain Dale in front of the left.
As the descriptions of the Burnt Corn battle ground given by Meek and Pickett are somewhat vague and inaccurate, a more correct account of the topography, gained from personal observation, is here given to the reader. Burnt Corn Creek, near which the battle was fought, runs southward for several hundred yards, then making an abrupt bend, runs southeastward for half a mile or more. Right at the elbow of the bend is the crossing of the old Pensacola road. The low pine barren enclosed in this bend--not a peninsula as called by Pickett--is enveloped by a semicircular range of hills, which extends from the creek bank on the south some half a mile below the crossing, and terminates on the west at the bank, some three hundred yards above the crossing. This western terminus is now locally known as the Bluff Landing. The Pensacola road from the crossing runs northward some two hundred yards, then turning runs eastward half a mile, making a continuous and gradual ascent up the slope of the hills, and then again turns northward. The spring, now known as Cooper's Spring, is situated about half a mile nearly east of the crossing, and about one hundred and fifty yards south of the road. It gushes forth at the base of a steep hill and is the fountain head of a small reed-brake branch, which empties into the creek about two hundred yards below the crossing. The hill, at the base of which the spring is situated, is about the centre of the semicircular range of hills which envelops the pine barren. About sixty yards northwest of the spring, between the spring and the road, is a comparatively level spot of land, about an acre in extent. This spot, we conjecture, was the Creek camp, or at least where the main body was encamped, as it is the only place immediately near the spring suitable for a camp. The hill here rises steep and abruptly to the northeast, and a hostile force could well approach and charge down this hill within close gunshot of the camp before being seen. This locality famed as the battle ground of Burnt Corn is in Escambia County, one-half a mile from the line of Conecuh County, on the north.
As reported by the scouts, the Creek camp was near the spring, and their pack-horses were grazing around them. No rumor of the foe's advance had reached their ears; all were careless, off their guard and enjoying themselves, for good cheer was in the Muscogee camp. Their martial spirits, as we may well imagine, were not now stirred by thoughts of war and bloodshed, but were concentrated on the more peaceful delights of cooking and feasting, the pleasures of the pot, the kettle, and the bowl.
The Burnt Corn battlefield was in the unorganized part of Mississippi Territory (in the Indian country proper) in the year 1818. Monroe county organized in 1815, included Burnt Corn. In 1818 the same locality was in Conecuh county established that year. Now it seems, it is in Escambia county, established in 1868 although Brewer, writing in 1872 still places the battle ground of Burnt Corn in Conecuh. (The following cut will give some idea of the locality).
Colonel Callers troops, as we may conjecture, must have turned to the left, off the road, perhaps near the Red Hollow, about a mile distant from the spring, and thence approached the Creek camp from the northeast and east, as from the nature of the country this was the only route they could have taken so as to surprise the Red Stick camp.* The troops moved cautiously and silently onward until they reached the rear of the hill that overlooked the Creek camp. Here, Pickett says, they dismounted; but Meek says the main body dismounted; yet neither Pickett nor Meek makes any statement as to the disposition of their horses--whether they were tied or were consigned to the care of a guard, or whether each trooper, as he dismounted, left his horse to shift for himself. From the fact that many of the horses fell into the hands of the enemy, one is led to the conjecture that no regular system was employed, but that every man did that which was right in his own eyes. After dismounting, the troops moved silently to the crest of the hill, whence they made a rapid charge down its slope and opened fire upon the Creek camp, as the red warriors stood, sat, or reclined in scattered groups over the ground. The Creeks, though startled by this sudden and unexpected onset, quickly sprang to arms, returned the fire, and for several minutes bravely withstood the charge of the whites, then gave way and retreated in wild confusion to the creek. Early in the fight a Creek woman and a negro man were slain. It is stated that the latter, who was busily engaged in cooking, had ample time to make his escape, but being a slave and non-combatant he doubtless apprehended no danger from the whites. A portion of the troops pursued the Indians to the creek--Meek says they even drove them across the creek into a reed-brake beyond--but we think this latter statement exceedingly doubtful. While these were performing this soldierly duty, the more numerous party devoted their energies to capturing and leading off the pack-horses. This led to a disastrous reverse. The Creeks in the cane and reed-brakes soon saw the demoralization of the greater part of the whites and the fewness of the assailants confronting them. They rallied, and, with guns, tomahawks and war clubs, rushed forth from the swamp, and with the fiercest cries of vengeance charged upon their foes and drove them headlong before them. Colonel Caller acted bravely, but unable to restore order, he commanded the troops to fall back to the hill so as to secure a stronger position and there to renew the battle. The plundering party, misconstruing this order, and seeing the fighting portion of the troops falling back before the enemy, were now seized with a panic, and fled in wild confusion, still, however, notwithstanding their terror, driving their horses before them, some even mounting their prizes so as to more quickly escape from the fatal field. In vain did Colonel Caller, Captain Bailey and other officers endeavor to rally them and persuade them to make a stand against the foe. Terror and avarice proved more potent than pride and patriotism, and the panic-stricken throng surged to the rear. Only about eighty fighting men now remained, and these had taken a stand in the open woods at the foot of the hill. Commanded by Captains Dale, Bailey, and Smoot, they fought with laudable courage for an hour or more under the fire poured upon them by McQueen's warriors from the cover of the thick and sheltering reeds. The battle may now be briefly described as "a series of charges and retreats, irregular skirmishes and frequent close and violent encounters of individuals and scattered squads." It was noticed that the Creek marksmanship was inferior to that of the Americans. It was in the fight at the foot of the hill that Captain Dale was wounded by a rifle ball, which struck him in the left side, glanced around and lodged near the back bone. The captain continued to fight as long as his strength permitted, and then threw aside his double barrel into the top of a fallen tree. This gun, we may here state, Dale recovered after the war from an Indian, at Fort Barancas. About the same time that Dale was wounded, Elijah Glass, a twin brother of David Glass, was slain. He was standing behind another soldier, who was in a stooping position, when a rifle ball struck him fatally in the upper part of the breast.
* The hostile Creeks were often called Red Sticks because their war-clubs were invariably painted red. "Red Stick" was considered an honorable appellation, and as such it will occasionally be used in this work. "Red Stick War" is the name by which the War of 1813 is still known among the Creeks of the Indian Territory. H. S. H.
The battle now at last began to bear hard upon the Americans. Two-thirds of the command were in full retreat, and no alternative lay before the fighting portion but to abandon the field, which they did in the greatest disorder. Many of them had lost their horses, some of which had been appropriated by the fugitives, and others, in some manner, had fallen into the hands of the enemy, among these, the horses belonging to Colonel Caller and Major Wood. The troops now fled in all directions. Some succeeded in reaching and mounting their own horses; others mounted the first horses they came to; in some cases, in their eagerness to escape, two mounting the same horse; while others actually ran off afoot. It was a disgraceful rout.
"After all these had left the field," writes Pickett, "three young men were found, still fighting by themselves on one side of the peninsula, [bend,] and keeping at bay some savages who were concealed in the cane. They were Lieutenant Patrick May, a private named Ambrose Miles, and Lieutenant Girard W. Creagh. A warrior presented his tall form. May and the savage discharged their guns at each other. The Indian fell dead in the cane; his fire, however, had shattered the Lieutenant's piece near the lock. Resolving, also to retreat, these intrepid men made a rapid rush for their horses, when Creagh, brought to the ground by the effects of a wound which he received in the hip, cried out "Save me, Lieutenant, or I am gone". May instantly raised him up, bore him off on his back, and placed him in the saddle, while Miles held the bridle reins. A rapid retreat saved their lives. Reaching the top of the hill, they saw Lieutenant Bradberry, bleeding with his wounds, and endeavoring to rally some of his men." This was the last effort made to stem the tide of disaster.
Two young men were slain in the battle, _____ Ballard and Elijah Glass, both it is believed, being members of Dale's company. Ballard had fought with great bravery. Just before the final retreat, he was wounded in the hip. He was able to walk, but not fast enough to reach his horse, which in the meantime, had been appropriated by one of the fugitives. A few of the soldiers returned and successively made efforts to mount Ballard behind them on their horses, but the Indians pressed them so closely that this could not be done. Ballard told them to leave him to his fate and not to risk their own lives in attempting to save him. At last the Indians reached him, and for some moments, he held them at bay, fighting desperately with the butt of his musket, but he was soon overpowered and slain. Several Indians now sprang forward, scalped him and began to beat him with their war clubs. Two of the retreating soldiers, David Glass and Lenoir, saw this. Glass was afoot, Lenoir mounted. "Is your gun loaded," asked Glass of Lenoir. "Yes," was the reply. "Then shoot those Indians that are beating that man yonder." Lenoir hesitating, Glass quickly spoke, "Then lend me your gun." Exchanging guns, Glass then advanced a few paces and fired at two or three of the Indians whose heads happened to be in a line, and at the discharge one of them fell, as Glass supposed, slain or wounded. This was the last shot fired in the battle of Burnt Corn, which had lasted from about midday until about three o'clock in the afternoon.
The Creeks pursued the whites nearly a mile in the open woods and nothing but their inability to overtake them saved the fugitives from a general slaughter. Pickett writes: "The retreat continued all night in the most irregular manner, and the trail was lined from one end to the other with small squads, and sometimes one man by himself. The wounded travelled slowly, and often stopped to rest." Such was the result of the battle of Burnt Corn, the first engagement in the long and bloody Creek War. Most of the Creek pack-horses, about two hundred pounds of powder and some lead was all the success the Americans could claim from this engagement. Their loss was two men killed, Ballard and Glass. Fifteen were wounded, Captain Sam. Dale, Lieutenant G. W. Creagh, Lieutenant William Bradberry, shot in the calf of the leg; Armstrong, wounded in the thigh; Jack Henry, wounded in the knee; Robert Lewis, Alexander Hollinger, William Baldwin, and seven others whose names have not been preserved.
The Creek loss is not positively known. Colonel Carson, in a letter to General Claiborne, written a few days after the battle, states that from the best information it was ten or twelve killed and eight or nine wounded.
As to the numbers engaged at Burnt Corn, we know that the American force numbered one hundred and eighty. General Woodward, in his Reminiscences, states, on the authority of Jim Boy, that the Creek force was two-thirds less. He writes. "Jim Boy said that the war had not fairly broke out, and that they never thought of being attacked; that he did not start [from Pensacola] with a hundred men, and all of those he did start with were not in the fight. I have heard Jim tell it often that if the whites had not stopped to gather up the pack horses, and had pursued the Indians a little further, they, the Indians, would have quit and gone off. But the Indians discovered the very great confusion the whites were in searching for plunder, and they fired a few guns from the creek swamp, and a general stampede was the result. McGirth always corroborated Jim Boy's statement as to the number of Indians in the Burnt Corn battle."
The above, perhaps, may be regarded, in some measure, as the Creek version of Burnt Corn. If possession of the battlefield may be considered a claim to victory, then Burnt Corn may well be regarded a Creek victory.
After the battle, a part of the Red Sticks retraced their steps to Pensacola for more military supplies, and a part returned to the nation. Their antagonists, Colonel Caller's troopers, were never reorganized after the battle. They returned home, in scattered bands, by various routes, and each man mustered himself out of service. About seventy of them on the retreat collected together at Sizemore's Ferry, where, for a while, they had much difficulty in making their horses swim the river. David Glass finally plunged into the stream and managed to turn the horses' heads towards the other shore. After the horses had all landed on the further bank, the men crossed over in canoes.
Colonel Caller and Major Wood, as we have related, both lost their horses at Burnt Corn. As the fugitives shifted, every man for himself, these two officers were left in the rear. They soon became bewildered and lost their way in the forest, and as they did not return with the other soldiers, their friends became very apprehensive as to their safety. "When General Claiborne arrived in the country, he wrote to Bailey, Tate, and Moniac, urging them to hunt for these unfortunate men. They were afterwards found, starved almost to death, and bereft of their senses." When found, Colonel Caller had on nothing but his shirt and drawers. After the war, the Colonel, with some difficulty, recovered his fine horse from the Creeks. But Major Wood was not so fortunate.
Colonel J. F. H. Claiborne, in his "Life of Sam Dale," writes: "Colonel Caller was long a conspicuous man in the politics of Mississippi Territory, often representing Washington County in the legislature. No one who knew Caller and Wood intimately doubted their courage; but the disaster of Burnt Corn brought down on them much scurrility. Major Wood, who was as sensitive as brave, bad not the fortitude to despise the scorn of the world, and sought forgetfulness, as too many men often do, in habitual intemperance."
The battle of Burnt Corn, on the whole, was damaging to the prestige of American prowess. For many years its participants had to endure the ridicule of their neighbors and friends; for it was not considered creditable to any one to claim that he had been a soldier in the Burnt Corn battle.
It should here be stated that at the time of its occurrence many of the citizens of Washington County censured Colonel Caller severely for this expedition and believed that he acted too hastily in the matter. They believed that, while putting themselves on a war footing, it would have been better to have made use of conciliatory measures towards the Creeks; that they thereby might have overruled them and perhaps averted hostilities. But this attack by Colonel Caller maddened them and converted numbers of hesitating and neutral warriors into deadly foes, and the massacre at Fort Mims was the result.
In writing the history of the Burnt Corn expedition, the writer has drawn his materials from the following sources: Pickett's History of Alabama, Meek's Romantic Passages of Southwestern History, General Thomas Woodward's Reminiscences of the Creek or Muscogee Indians, letters of Judge Toulmin and Colonel Carson, addressed to General Claiborne, published in the Alabama Historical Reporter of June, 1880, and a letter from Colonel Carson to General Claiborne, published in Claiborne's "Life of Sam Dale."
In addition to the above sources must be added conversations with the late Rev. Josiah Allen, of Jasper County, Mississippi, who, perhaps, was the last survivor of Capt. Sam Dale's company. Mr. Allen was not in the Burnt Corn expedition, but was intimately associated with many of the participants in the battle, from whom he derived a number of incidents and other minor facts, which have been incorporated in this narrative
The description of the battle ground, as has been stated, is the result of personal observation. H. S. H.
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