The main bodies of the 4th and 7th U.S. Infantry regiments reached Fort Scott on the evening of November 19, 1817. Less than 24-hours later they were on the march again, this time on their way to the first battle of the Seminole Wars.
This is part of a continuing series marking the 200th anniversary of the Seminole Wars. To read the full series, please visit Seminole War 200th.
The final march from Spring Creek to Fort Scott had taken place without incident. Much of the route is now flooded by the waters of Lake Seminole. The troops had barely arrived at the fort when Maj. Gen. Edmund P. Gaines drafted orders to Brevet Maj. David E. Twiggs for a movement against Neamathla and the warriors of Fowltown:
The hostile character & Conduct of the Indians of the Fowl Town, settled within our limits, rendering it absolutely necessary that they should be removed, you will proceed to the town with the detachment assigned you, and remove them. You will arrest and bring the chiefs and warriors to this place, but should they oppose you, or attempt to escape, you will in that event treat them as enemies. Your men are to be strictly prohibited, in any event, from firing upon, or otherwise injuring, women and children.
Twiggs was instructed to lead 250 soldiers to Fowltown. Additional firepower was added to his command by the inclusion of a cannon from Capt. Sanders Donoho’s artillery company. The orders for the chiefs and warriors of the town to be brought back to the fort as prisoners almost guaranteed that they would oppose the soldiers and that would allow Twiggs to “treat them as enemies.”
The troops left Fort Scott on the afternoon of November 20, 1817 – 200 years ago today – and marched up the west side of the Flint River via a trail that is approximated by today’s 10 Mile Still and Spring Creek Roads in Decatur County, Georgia.. Temperatures dropped as the soldiers advanced. Newspaper accounts of the time indicate that a wave of cold air swept down across the Southeast on the 20th. Ice formed in the streets of Charleston, South Carolina, that night.
Twiggs arrived in what is now West Bainbridge after dark on the evening of the 20th and began to cross his men over the Flint River. The surviving reports do not mention how the crossing took place but the width and depth of the river at Bainbridge – even before dredging operations began later that century – would almost certainly necessitate the use of a raft or boats of some type. The soldiers also had to get their small artillery piece across. The process was laborious, slow and the night got colder.
The east bank of the Flint River then as now was characterized by a commanding bluff. It was known in 1817 as Burges’s Bluff after the 18th century trader James Burges who settled there at the Lower Creek town of Pucknauhitla prior to the American Revolution. Burges died during the first decade of the 19th century and the site was abandoned when the troops crossed, but the ruined houses of the trading post and village could still be seen. The city of Bainbridge is located there today.
The distance marched from Fort Scott to the river crossing at Bainbridge was roughly 14 miles but Twiggs was determined to reach Fowltown by morning. The march resumed as soon as the column was across the river. The route of march now turned south along a trail shown on the 1819 District Plats of Survey. Today’s Faceville Highway (GA-97) parallels the 19th century trail but does not follow its actual path.
The trail used by the troops no longer exists but was much closer to the east bank of the Flint River than today’s highway. How far the column advanced by midnight is not known but Maj. Twiggs later reported that they marched “all night” on the 20th. They would reach Fowltown before sunrise the next morning.
The first battle of Seminole Wars was now imminent.
One of the great mysteries surrounding Fowltown is its actual location. Fowltown Swamp – still known by that name today – is located 4 miles south of Bainbridge along Four Mile Creek. The swamp is still large today, but was much larger in 1817. Much of its original expanse has been adapted for use as farm fields, residential areas and timber lands over the last two centuries.
U.S. officers reported that the town bordered a large swamp that almost surrounded it. They further indicated that it was 12 miles east of Fort Scott. Bvt. Maj. Twiggs did not estimate the distance that his men marched in his report to Maj. Gen. Gaines, writing only that they marched “all night.” Capt. George Birch of the 7th Infantry, one of the officers under his command, estimated in his personal diary that the total length of the march was 18 miles. Fort Scott is approximately 14 miles from today’s Bainbridge (Burges’s Bluff) via the route taken by the troops. If Birch’s estimate was accurate, then the distance from the crossing point to the village was 4 miles.
Lt. Col. Matthew Arbuckle returned to Fowltown two days later but reported that his men crossed the Flint River at Fort Scott instead of Burges’s Bluff. From the bank of the river opposite the fort, he reported that they marched 18 miles to the bluff, stopping at Fowltown along the way. The distance from the village to Burges’s Bluff he estimated to be 4 miles – matching Capt. Birch’s estimate – which means he believed that the village was 14 miles from Fort Scott via the southern approach route.
The actual distance from the fort to Four Mile Creek, by way of the trail used by Arbuckle, is approximately 15 miles.
The estimates provided by Lt. Col. Arbuckle and Capt. Birch both place the site of Fowltown as being 4 miles south of the riverfront at Bainbridge. This would seem to conclusively place the site of the town somewhere immediately on or just south of Four Mile Creek.
Another officer reported, however, that Fowltown was 12 miles from Fort Scott and that some of the cattle seized there by Arbuckle was “retaken in the towns lying about 8 miles from Fort Scott.” Since no other town is known to have existed between Fowltown and Fort Scott, this account raises the interesting possibility that the name “Fowltown” actually applied to a concentration of several villages and not to a single place.
This could explain the conflicting archaeological data from the basin of Fowltown Swamp and Four Mile Creek. Sherds of Chattahoochee Brushed pottery – a distinctive type made by Creek, Miccosukee and Seminole people – have been found on the north side of the creek near today’s Bainbridge Country Club and then at two other places closer to the point where it flows into the Flint River. A small cannonball and a British military button, however, have been found on property near the head of Parramore Creek – a tributary of Four Mile Creek – and about 11 miles from Fort Scott via the road followed by Lt. Col. Arbuckle. The ball is consistent with solid shot fired by the smaller field pieces at Fort Scott and Capt. Birch confirmed in his diary that Twiggs carried “one piece of Artillery” on his raid. Artillerymen were also present on Arbuckle’s march several days later.
The British military button is very interesting as well, since Twiggs later reported that he saw a British uniform coat in Neamathla’s cabin at Fowltown. The chief and his warriors had supported Lt. Col. Edward Nicolls of the Royal Marines during Great Britain’s War of 1812 intervention in Florida.
The two military artifacts may represent the site of a military action near the head of Parramore Creek in Decatur County, with the logical explanation being that Fowltown stood in the vicinity. To date, however, no diagnostic Creek pottery has been found at the site so no positive conclusion can be made. The best that can be said at present is that Fowltown (or its scattered communities) stood somewhere on the extended watershed of Four Mile Creek.
This series will continue tomorrow on the 200th anniversary of the first fighting of the Seminole Wars.
To learn more about the events surrounding the Battle of Fowltown, please consider the new book Fowltown: Neamathla, Tutalosi Talofa & the first battle of the Seminole Wars.
 Maj. Gen. Edmund P. Gaines to Bvt. Maj. David E. Twiggs, November 20, 1817, Adjutant General, Letters Received, National Archives.
 Bvt. Maj. David E. Twiggs to Maj. Gen. Edmund P. Gaines, November 21, 1817, Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, Letters Received, National Archives.