The beginning of the First Seminole War has generally been attributed to a refusal by the Fowltown chief Neamathla (Eneah Emathla) to surrender lands claimed by the United States under the terms of the Treaty of Fort Jackson.
There is truth in this assertion, but there is also solid evidence that Maj. Gen. Edmund P. Gaines of the U.S. Army anticipated the movement of large numbers of troops to Fort Scott on the Georgia frontier well before he knew of Neamathla’s stand. This anticipation on the part of the general was clearly revealed when he ordered Bvt. Maj. David E. Twiggs to leave Fort Crawford north of Pensacola and mark the path for a new wagon road across the entirety of South Alabama from the Conecuh River to the Chattahoochee.
Gaines also ordered the delivery of supplies to Fort Scott:
I have ordered a supply of provisions and other military stores to the Appalachicola by water, to be delivered at Fort Scott by the 30th of next month – at which time I wish to be in readiness to adjust our difference with the Indians. – Should they be disposed to continue in a state of war, they shall receive a full portion of its evils; but, should they desire peace, and yield to the demands of justice, they shall be gratified. In this case the troops will be occupied in completing a road which I have commenced from this place, via Fort Crawford on the Conaka, to cross the Chattahoochie about midway between Forts Scott and Gaines, and thence to Hartford in Georgia.[i]
Twiggs left Fort Crawford at today’s East Brewton and led his men across a region that was virtually unknown to the U.S. Army. The land had been ceded to the United States by the Treaty of Fort Jackson but was not yet open to settlement. Aside from the paths of Creek Indians, there were no roads and definitely no ferries or flats that a military force could use to cross the Choctawhatchee, Yellow Water, Pea or other rivers:
…We arrived here [i.e. Fort Gaines] late last evening being detained on the way by our horses, a number gave out and we had to leave some that were not able to carry the pack saddles, in fact there are not more than three or four fit for service, their backs with all the attention we could bestow are the worst I ever saw. I shall take them to Fort Scott where I shall be able probably to have them restored in a few weeks. We had rain every day since we left Conaka.[ii]
The inability of the soldiers to accurately navigate the trackless wilderness is evident from the fact that Twiggs and his men came out on the Chattahochee River north of Fort Gaines instead of to the south between that post and Fort Scott as planned.
A historical marker noting the site of a blockhouse stands not far from the path blazed by the soldiers through today’s Dale County, Alabama. It was placed by the Historic Chattahoochee Commission and can be seen on the east side of US Highway 231 between Dothan and Ozark.
The marker repeats local legend that the blockhouse was built by some of Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson’s troops in 1814, but the report filed by Bvt. Maj. Twiggs from Fort Gaines on June 29 reveals that the fortification was built in 1817 and was one of two constructed along the line of the proposed road. The first of these was thrown up on the Yellow Water River east of Fort Crawford:
…The distance to Yellow Water I suppose to be fifty miles and two large creeks to cross, at Yellow Water there is a good block house and a flat, and a corporal and four privates in charge of them. To Pea River about eighteen miles, and only one creek of any size, but about two miles of the way is low and marshy; this place we had to carry packs and horses over. At Pea River we left a very good flat….[iii]
From the crossing of the Pea River, which was near present-day Elba, Twiggs estimated that his men marched another 30 miles before reaching the banks of the Choctawhatchee. They forded Claybank Creek with considerable difficulty at a point about halfway between the Pea and Choctawhatchee Rivers. The creek was shallow enough for them to wade but had “very high banks.”
The soldiers reached the Choctawhatchee at a point near the confluence of its Big and Little branches. The river was too deep to ford, but Twiggs ordered the building of “a flat sufficient to carry a wagon and team, & a good block house, here I also left a Corporal and four, in charge of them.”[iv]
The blockhouse on the Choctawhatchee later became the center of a small settlement and the ferry first built by the military remained in use for many years.
From the Choctawhatchee the troops marched on to the Chattahoochee River. They passed through today’s Henry County, Alabama, before striking the later stream just north of the site where the town of Franklin would soon develop:
…Nearly the whole distance is continued pine country, until we got within three miles of the Chattahouchie, & then oak & hickory to the river. The trail that we came struck the river about a mile above the Fort, the distance from this to Fort Crawford I suppose to be one hundred and thirty miles, but as I did not measure it, probably it may fall shorter, as we were very much pestered with our packs. I think it would take one hundred Pioneers one month to make a good road from Fort Crawford to this place, the way I came in.[v]
The opening of the new road dramatically shortened the line of march for U.S. troops passing between Fort Crawford and Fort Gaines. Gen. Gaines noted the significance of this achievement in a letter to the acting Governor of Georgia:
…By this route the distance from Georgia to this place and Mobile will be considerably shortened – the road as I have reason to believe, will be better than that by Mannac’s [i.e. Samiel Moniac’s] and it will moreover open a direct and easy communication between our different military posts near to, and north of the national boundary line, and for the most part within our own territory. By the old road the traveler is compelled to pass near 150 miles through an Indian country: by the new, he will travel only 40 miles through the Indian country.[vi]
General Gaines requested that the acting governor have a a force of Georgia militia mustered and ready to move on his command, reporting that his entire disposable force would be assembled at Fort Scott “in order to settle our differences with the Indians.” This clear indication that the United States anticipated conflict with the Seminoles and Red Sticks was written weeks before Neamathla warned U.S. troops not to cross to the east side of the Flint River.
Our series commemorating the 200th anniversary of the First Seminole War will continue.
[i] Maj. Gen. Edmund P. Gaines to the acting Governor of Georgia, July 20, 1817, published in the Georgia Journal on September 15, 1817.
[ii] Bvt. Maj. David E. Twiggs to Maj. Gen. Edmund P. Gaines, June 29, 1817, Andrew Jackson Papers, Library of Congress.
[vi] Maj. Gen. Edmund P. Gaines to the acting Governor of Georgia, July 20, 1817.