The years 2017 and 2018 mark the 200th anniversary of the beginning of the Seminole Wars. These conflicts raged across parts of Florida, Georgia and Alabama for more than 40 years, but began with the 1817 reoccupation of a U.S. fort in what is now Decatur County, Georgia.
Fort Scott stood at the “Clay Banks,” a red clay bluff on the north or west side of the Flint River, about ten miles up from the Florida border. The area surrounding the site is now part of Lake Seminole. This designed reservoir covers 37,500 acres and inundates the original forks of the Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers.
The fort had served as the base for U.S. operations against the Fort at Prospect Bluff or “Negro Fort” on the Apalachicola River. Occupied by a force of around 300 maroons (i.e. escaped slaves) and 20 refugee Choctaw Indians, the fort was destroyed on July 27, 1816. The army estimated that 270 of the men, women and children inside died in the battle.
The American government believed that the destruction of the fort would provide a sufficient warning to Red Stick Creek and Seminole groups in the area against conflict with the United States. Fort Scott was ordered evacuated and troops were withdrawn up the Chattahoochee river to Fort Gaines, Georgia, and Fort Mitchell, Alabama. Red Sticks responded by setting fire to the abandoned fort and driving away George Perryman, the Lower Creek caretaker who had been left to watch over the stockade.
This action alarmed authorities in Georgia and Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson ordered Maj. Gen. Edmund P. Gaines to reoccupy Fort Scott:
…I received, not until the 24th ultimo, your order through the Adjutant Generals Office, of the 15th. february, to station a company of artillery at Fort Scott…The rumours mentioned to you some time past that the Indians had burnt the Barracks at Fort Scott, has been corroborated by subsequent reports from the vicinity of that place; and, although the reports of Indian countrymen should mostly be taken at a considerable discount; yet I have no reason to doubt, & much reason to rely on the truth of those just mentioned.[i]
Gaines instructed Capt. Sanders Donoho of the 4th Artillery to proceed to the fort with a company and rebuild the barracks. Donoho was at Charleston, South Carolina, and it was decided to assemble a company by pulling in detachments from the forts that surrounded Charleston Harbor. These included Castle Pinckney, Fort Johnson and Fort Moultrie. Construction would not begin on the better-known Fort Sumter until 1829.
Donoho pulled together a small company of 39 men by reducing the size of the garrisons at Pinckney, Johnson and Moultrie. His men followed the instructions given to similar unit being sent to serve on the St. Mary’s River. “The men will be armed with muskets and bayonets,” wrote Gen. Gaines, “and the captain will moreover take with him two six pounders mounted & complete for the field, with not less than one hundred rounds of fixed ammunition, for field pieces and muskets.”[ii]
Six-pounders were cannon mounted on two wheels for service in the field. The name was derived from the six-pound solid iron cannonball that they fired.
The men of Donoho’s command had a long and dangerous march ahead of them. They would leave Charleston on April 27th and march by land to Augusta, Georgia. From there they would proceed to Milledgeville and on to Fort Hawkins, an important post on the Ocmulgee River across from what is now downtown Macon, Georgia.
Fort Hawkins marked the true beginning of the frontier. Once beyond the safety of its walls, Donoho’s little company would be following a newly cut military road through the vast wilderness that covered Southwest Georgia in 1817. It was a long way from Fort Hawkins on the Ocmulgee to Fort Gaines on the Chattahoochee. The road was rough, muddy and in some places still had stumps cut just low enough for wagons and cannon carriages to pass over.
Fort Scott was another two days hard march south of Fort Gaines and on a frontier that was aflame with rumors of war and pending attacks.
The men busily set about their preparations for the march, however, as the sun set on this date 200 years ago in 1817.
To learn more about Donoho’s march and the history of Fort Scott, please consider the book Fort Scott, Fort Hughes & Camp Recovery which is available at the bottom of this page. You might also enjoy this free documentary on the history of Fort Scott:
[i] Maj. Gen. Edmund P. Gaines to Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson, April 2, 1817, Jackson Papers, Library of Congress.
[ii] Maj. Gen. Edmund P. Gaines to Commanding Officer, Harbor of Charleston, April 16, 1817, Office of the Adjutant General, Letters Received, 1805-1821.