The following is a preview chapter from the new Seminole and Creek Wars related book – Fort Gaines, Georgia: A Military History. If you enjoy the preview, please consider purchasing the book at the bottom of the page.
In the wake of Fort Jackson
The establishment of Fort Gaines on the Chattahoochee River was a direct result of the Creek War of 1813-1814 and the related signing of the Treaty of Fort Jackson on August 9, 1814. The treaty brought the Creek War to a close, but imposed upon the nation a cession of 23,000,000 acres along the border of Spanish Florida in what is now Southwest Georgia and South Alabama. The agreement was the brainchild of Major General Andrew Jackson, who had defeated the nativist or Red Stick branch of the Creeks at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend on March 27, 1814. Jackson considered the cession to be a fair indemnification to the United States for the expenses that it incurred during the war, but to the Creeks it was a national outrage that penalized friend and foe alike. The new “public lands” completely separated the dwindling territory of the Creeks from the Gulf Coast and their former Spanish benefactors in Florida.
From a point on the Coosa River at the “Great Falls,” present-day Wetumpka, Alabama the northern boundary of the Fort Jackson cession crossed overland to the nearby Tallapoosa River which it then followed upstream for a short distance. From a point ten miles above the mouth of the Tallapoosa, the line ran east in “a direct line to the mouth of Summochico creek, which empties into the Chatahouchie river on the east side thereof below the Eufaulau town, thence east from a true meridian line to a point which shall intersect the line now dividing the lands claimed by the said Creek nation from those claimed and owned by the state of Georgia.”[i]
The Treaty of Fort Jackson was signed by 31 Creek leaders, all but one of whom had sided with the United States during the war. It effectively ended the conflict, but also inspired new animosity among thousands of Native Americans.
The cession was particularly shocking to Lower Creeks who lived below the line in Southwest Georgia and Southeast Alabama. Most of their towns had stayed out of the war, but they had been given no part in the treaty negotiations. Now they were being told that they must give up the lands of their ancestors and move up to within the new limits established for their nation, lands where they had neither homes nor fields. Similarly outraged by news of the treaty were the thousands of Red Stick warriors who had fled into Spanish Florida after the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. Now supported by the British, they formed an alliance with the Miccosukee and Alachua Seminoles and began an accelerating series of small raids into Georgia and Alabama. The latter state was then part of the Mississippi Territory.
The situation achieved critical mass when U.S. surveyors tried to to mark the limits of the new cession. Anger surged, although the Creeks were so exhausted from war and their resources so depleted from the cataclysmic destruction nation. Most could do little more than oppose the survey with words, but a few showed that their willingness to fight had not been completely extinguished:
The Indians, however, still adhere to their resolution not to permit their interpreters and hunters to go upon the line. This alone, considering the Indian Character, can not but be viewed as a strong indication of dissatisfaction, if not of hostility. But we have lately received unquestionable information of an outrage which leaves no doubt that a spirit of hostility exists in a part of the nation. A Colonel Powell, a Captain Daniel Johnston, and another person from the neighborhood of Fort Stoddert, were some 10 or 12 days ago fired on by a party of Indians near Fort Claiborne. Powell only escaped, three balls having passed through his clothes.[ii]
The author of the above was Brevet Major General Edmund P. Gaines, a figure well known in the Mississippi Territory for his role in the 1807 arrest of former vice president Aaron Burr. He had served on the Niagara frontier during the War of 1812, gaining national acclaim during the heroic defense of Fort Erie against a larger British army. Gaines had been badly wounded in that engagement. By January of 1816 he had been placed in command of the Eastern Division of Major General Andrew Jackson’s Military Department of the South. General Gaines, like the Tennessee frontiersman David Crockett, would later oppose Jackson’s policy of Indian Removal.
Gaines investigated reports of the attack on Powell’s party and soon began to refer to the incident as the “Johnson & McGaskey murders,” a reference to the men who had lost their lives. The 1816 Census of Baldwin County, Alabama, lists both Daniel Johnson and John McGaskey as residents of the seven-year-old county. Their presence so early on a frontier then best known as the site of the 1813 Creek attack on Fort Mims indicates that they were probably trying to improve their fortunes by seeking good lands on the leading edge of American expansion. Contrary to the rules published by the U.S. military, they lost their lives by venturing into a region still frequented by Savannah Jack and other Red Stick chiefs and warriors.[iii]
The murders of Johnson and McGaskey brought the running of the survey to a temporary halt. General Gaines ordered Lt. Col. Duncan Lamont Clinch to march his battalion of the 4th U.S. Infantry Regiment to take up a line of march from Fort Hawkins in central Georgia to Fort Mitchell on the Chattahoochee River. The latter post was in the Creek Nation and had been established by General John Floyd’s army of Georgia militia during the Creek War. Although it was established as a base for land operations against Red Stick groups south of the Tallapoosa River, Fort Mitchell also had the advantage of being near the head of navigation on the Chattahoochee. The general planned for Clinch’s men to build flatboats that they would use to descend the river to the mouth of Cemochechobee Creek, the point where the cession line struck the Chatahoochee River. Everything below that point was now the land of the United States.[iv]
Gaines’ plan was evident. Col. Clinch would establish a new post at the Cemochechobee to establish an American presence in the new public lands. This would be augmented by a second new fort to be built on or near the Conecuh River north of Pensacola. Combined with existing posts such as Fort Mitchell, Fort Claiborne, Fort Jackson, Fort Williams and Fort Strother, these forts would allow U.S. troops to virtually surround the surviving lands of the Creek Nation.
The general also had his eye on another target, the so-called “Negro Fort” at Prospect Bluff on the Apalachicola River. This powerful work had been built by British troops under Lt. Col. Edward Nicolls in 1814-1815. Downstream from Fort Mitchell and the proposed new post at the mouth of Cemochechobee Creek, it was held by a large force of maroons or runaway slaves. Most of these individuals were from Spanish Florida and had enlisted in Nicolls’ battalion of British colonial marines. Gaines and others feared that the fort was a beacon to the slaves that worked the plantations in Georgia, the Carolinas and the Mississippi Territory. The “Underground Railroad” then ran south into Spanish Florida.
Slaveholders in the United States, Spanish Florida and the Creek Nation feared the influence of the well-armed maroons at Prospect Bluff. All three nations were developing plans for dealing with the perceived threat of the “Negro Fort” and Gaines clearly had a military campaign against the fort in mind when he told Andrew Jackson that the boats being built to carry Clinch’s battalion to the Cemochechobee would also prove valuable should it become “necessary to extend our operations lower down the river. There was no way that Jackson would not recognize the hint, but Gaines left no doubt when he concluded his report with the latest intelligence about the maroon establishment on the Apalachicola.[v]
Attacks by Red Sticks and the perceived threat from the fort on the Apalachicola were not the only issues facing the U.S. Army on the frontier. Settlers were trying to squat on the new “public lands” and offered a serious threat to government plans to sell the land. On February 20, two days after his report on the Johnson and McGaskey murders, General Gaines published a broadside from the War Department that bluntly told potential settlers to stay off the treaty lands. Anyone found squatting there after March 10, 1816, would be removed by force and suffered to witness the destruction of their homes and property.[vi]
The warning also extended to those who might be so foolhardy as to trespass on the remaining lands of the Creek Indians:
Intrusion upon the lands of the friendly Indian tribes, is not only a violation of the laws, but in direct opposition to the policy of the government towards its savage neighbors. Upon application of any Indian agent stating that intrusions of this nature have been committed, and are continued, the President requires that they shall be equally removed, and their habitations and improvements destroyed by military force, and that every attempt to return shall be repressed in the same manner.[vii]
Communications of the time were slow but it did not take long for news of the troubling situation to reach the people of Georgia. The Augusta Chronicle reported on March 1st that Gaines had ordered U.S. troops to the frontier. A more detailed article followed three days later with news on Creek opposition to the running of the cession lines:
Creek Nation. – A serious misunderstanding, which threatens the peace and tranquility of our frontiers, still exists between our commissioners for running the new boundary line and the chiefs of that confederacy. A determined opposition has been made to their farther progress, and we understand they have suspended their operations until a sufficient military force arrives to protect them from indignity and injury. General Gaines, who is now in the nation, has ordered all the disposable military force of the United States, now at Fort Hawkins, among which is a company of light artillery, to march immediately to Fort Mitchell. This precautionary measure we hope will have its desired effect, and that the misguided savage will avert that destruction, which threatens the extinction of his nation.[viii]
The soldiers themselves believed that they were going to war. One officer wrote to a friend in Richmond, Virginia, on March 20th that “we are going to have a Creek war to a certainty.” The writer noted that he was taking eight companies of infantry and one of artillery to the Creek Nation where Gen. Gaines was determined to run the line “PEACEABLY IF HE CAN, FORCIBLY IF HE MUST.” The words were in the upper case in the original.[ix]
Gaines reported to Jackson that day on the movement of Clinch’s battalion. The soldiers had crossed the Flint River on the 16th, he noted, and should be either at or near Fort Mitchell. Gaines was less convinced than the anonymous letter writer quoted by the Augusta Chronical that war was imminent, but clearly indicated that he was more than willing to spark a new conflict. After telling Jackson. After telling Jackson that a military escort would allow the surveyors to complete their work in two weeks, he suggested to Jackson the establishment of yet another new post even lower down the Chattahoochee. Such a fort, he wrote, could be used as a base for the destruction of the fort at Prospect Bluff:
Should a post be established, its supplies, I am persuaded may be derived more conveniently and more economically from Mobile or New Orleans than any other source. If such an intercourse could be opened down the Appalachacola, it would enable us to keep an eye upon the Seminoles and the Negro Fort. This Negro establishment is, (I think justly,) considered as likely to produce much evil, among the blacks of Georgia & the eastern part of the Mississippi Territory. Will you permit me to break it up?[x]
Gaines was confident of Jackson’s backing and began to put his plan into motion. Setting out on horseback he reached Fort Mitchell on March 21, 1816. There he found Lt. Col. Clinch and his men building seven large flatboats. Orders were sent to Major David E. Twiggs of the 7th Infantry, then at Fort Montgomery near the site of Fort Mims, instructing him to build a new fort on the Conecuh River at or just above the Florida line. The post would prove difficult to establish, but was in place on the high bluffs overlooking Murder Creek at what is now East Brewton, Alabama, by that summer. Then, without waiting for General Jackson’s response to the report detailing his plan, Gaines led Clinch’s force down the Chattahoochee River. The flatboats left Fort Mitchell on March 31.[xi]
— End of Excerpt (References can be found below.)
If you enjoyed this sample chapter and would like to read the entire book, it is available in both print and Kindle formats:
[i] Treaty of Fort Jackson, August 9, 1814.
[ii] Maj. Gen. Edmund P. Gaines to Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson, February 20, 1816, Andrew Jackson Papers, Library of Congress.
[iii] Dixie May Jones and Mary Elizabeth Scott, Citizens of Baldwin County, Mississippi Territory, in 1816 as enumerated in Inhabitants of Alabama in 1816, Broken Arrow Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution, 1955.
[iv] Gaines to Jackson, February 20, 1816.
[vi] Notice from Headquarters of Maj. Gen. Edmund P. Gaines, February 22, 1816, Spooner’s Vermont Journal, April 15, 1816, p. 3.
[vii] Orders of Hon. William Crawford, Secretary of War, included in Notice from Headquarters of Maj. Gen. Edmund P. Gaines, February 22, 1816, Ibid.
[viii] Augusta Chronicle, March 6,1816.
[ix] Baltimore Patriot, March 20, 1816, citing a letter from an officer to a friend in Richmond probably from February.
[x] Maj. Gen. Edmund P. Gaines to Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson, March 20, 1816, Andrew Jackson papers, Library of Congress.
[xi] Maj. Gen. Edmund P. Gaines to Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson, April 18, 1816, Andrew Jackson papers, 1775-1874, Library of Congress.