Seminole War
Ships ordered to Apalachicola Bay (Seminole War 200th)

The waterfront of Mobile, Alabama, as seen from Historic Blakeley State Park’s Delta Explorer.

On this date in 1817, Maj. Gen. Edmund P. Gaines ordered U.S. supply and transport ships to set sail from Mobile, Alabama, to Apalachicola Bay in Florida.. The move would lead to the bloodiest U.S. defeat of the First Seminole War.

The war of words raging between U.S. troops at Fort Scott on the Georgia frontier and the Lower Creek village of Fowltown threatened to become an actual shooting war in October 1817.

The United States had laid claim to all of Southwest Georgia under the terms of the Treaty of Fort Jackson. Neamathla (Eneah Emathla) and the warriors at Fowltown, however, disputed U.S. ownership of lands east of the Flint River. They had not been party to the treaty and declared that they would defend their lands. Please see Neamathla warns the U.S. Army.

Maj. Gen. Edmund P. Gaines as he appeared later in life.
National Archives

Gen. Gaines believed that Neamathla was serious and that military action would be required to force the chief and his followers from Southwest Georgia. He ordered that Fort Scott be reinforced and that a new road be built linking Fort Gaines on the Chattahoochee River with Fort Crawford at today’s East brewton, Alabama. Next, he ordered Brevet Maj. Peter Muhlenburg of the 4th U.S. Infantry to escort regimental equipment and stores from Mobile to the front:

You will embark with the detachment assigned to you, on board the transports now at the landing, as soon as they shall be ready for your reception, and repair to Fort Scott upon the Flint River. The vessels are to receive in addition to the ordnance stores and baggage of the troops, such contractors stores as Mr. R. Tankersley, the principal agent at Mobile, may put on board to complete the cargo of each vessel, provided however, the said stores shall consist principally of salted pork, together with vinegar, soap and candles to be delivered to the contractors agent at Fort Scott, who will receipt for the same as  a part of the supply ordered to be forwarded in charge of Lt. Scott, and which it appears he was compelled for want of room on board his transports to leave at Mobile. (1)

The “Lt. Scott” mentioned in the orders was 1st Lt. Richard W. Scott of the 7th U.S. Infantry. A native of Virginia and veteran of the War of 1812, he was an officer in the company of Brevet Maj. David E. Twiggs. The wording indicates that Scott had been sent ahead with supplies for Fort Scott and that Muhlenburg was to follow:

Neamathla was the principal chief of Fowltown, a Lower Creek village in Southwest Georgia. Library of Congress

  The unfriendly character of the Seminola Indians and other persons inhabiting the country south and east of Fort Scott, and the possibility of your falling in with some of the pirates with which the coast upon the Gulph of Mexico has been infested, render it proper that your men should be kept upon the alert and always ready for action in defence of the vessels and cargo. Any hostile movement or outrage towards either will be repelled with a prompt effort of the skill and prowess of your command. (2)

Lt. Scott’s vessels reached Fort Scott as planned but he was ordered back down the Apalachicola River to assist Muhlenburg in getting his vessels up the river. Gaines had promised as much when he informed the major that “you may calculate upon meeting some boats below Fort Scott to assist you.” (3)

The plan led to the disaster which befell Lt. Scott and his command at the “Scott Massacre” on November 30, 1817.

Gen. Gaines ordered Maj. Muhlenburg to move with the utmost speed as the stores were badly needed at Fort Scott. In addition, the vessels had been chartered on a per day basis by the government at an expensive rate.

It is interesting to note that one of these ships contracted at Mobile was the leaky old General Pike. She had earlier taken part in the U.S. operation against the “Negro Fort” at Prospect Bluff. This Apalachicola River post was destroyed by American forces on July 27, 1816. The explosion of its magazine killed an estimated 270 of the 330 men, women and children within its walls.

The sailing of the ships from the Mobile waterfront marked a “point of no return” for the U.S. Army. With the ordnance stores and other supplies of the 4th and 7th regiments now on their way to Fort Scott, Gen. Gaines had committed himself to action against Fowltown.

The only way that war could be prevented now would be for Neamathla to unconditionally relocate with his people from their traditional lands. Neamathla had made clear that this would not happen.

This series marking the 200th anniversary of the First Seminole War will continue. To learn more about the First Seminole War, please consider my books Fort Scott, Fort Hughes & Camp Recovery and Fort Gaines, Georgia: A Military History.

You also might enjoy Two Egg TV’s documentary on Fort Scott, Georgia. Just click play below:

(1) Maj. Gen. Edmund P. Gaines to Maj. Peter Muhlenburg, October 11, 1817, Office of the Adjutant General, Letters Received, National Archives.

(2) Ibid.

(3) Ibid.

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