Hundreds of Red Stick Creek, Lower Creek, Miccosukee, Seminole, Yuchi and Black Seminole chiefs and warriors gathered along the east bank of the Apalachicola River 200 years ago today. They were prepared to retaliate for the U.S. Army’s attacks on Fowltown.
This is part of a continuing series marking the 200th anniversary of the beginning of the Seminole Wars. Please visit Seminole War 200th to read the entire series.
The target of the coming attack was the keelboat being navigated upstream by soldiers under the command of 1st Lt. Richard W. Scott of the 7th U.S. Infantry. On board were 39-40 soldiers, 7 women and 4 children. Half of the soldiers were sick with fever and unarmed. Scott had reached Spanish Bluff in Calhoun County on the previous day and had continued upriver despite warnings that an upstream attack was being prepared. Please see Lt. Scott’s last message for more.
While command of the Native American army being assembled on the Apalachicola River had been placed in the hands of the Prophet Josiah Francis (Hillis Hadjo), direction of the smaller force gathering below the forks or confluence of the Chattahoochee and Flint rivers was entrusted to Homathlemico and Chenubby.
Homathlemico was “an old Red Stick” chief who had fled what is now Alabama at the end of the Creek War of 1813-1814. Battle-hardened from the fighting there, he was a formidable leader. He was closely associated with the large Red Stick bands led by Peter McQueen and the Prophet Francis.
Chenubby, meanwhile, was described as the war chief of Fowltown, the Lower Creek village that had been attacked by U.S. troops one week earlier. Little is known about him. His name was similar to that of Chinnabee, an Upper Creek chief who had sided with the whites during the Creek War, but they were different individuals.
Neamathla was the primary or head chief of Fowltown but his location at the time is not known. He may have been present but he was not mentioned in the surviving accounts of the attack. Scalps of some of Scott’s command were later found in the temporary Florida town that he established following the Battle of Fowltown.
In addition to the Red Stick and Fowltown warriors led by Homathlemico and Chenubby, other towns known to have been present at the attack site included Attapulgus and Etohussewakes from Southwest Georgia; Ekanachatte, Ocheesee Talofa, Tallahassee Talofa, Miccosukee, Boleck’s (Bowlegs’) town, Francis’s Town and various Red Stick villages from North Florida. A party of Yuchi led by a chief known as Yuchi Billy by the whites were living on the site of today’s Jim Woodruff Dam Overlook in Sneads, Florida, and also joined in the attack.
No one really knows how many warriors gathered for the attack but estimates ranged from 300-600. Lt. Scott’s command, on the other hand, would be able to field 20 muskets at most.
The point selected for the attack was one-mile downstream from the confluence of the Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers at the site of today’s River Landing Park in Chattahoochee, Florida. The river course there has changed since the 19th century, but in 1817 the Apalachicola made a sharp almost 90-degree bend where the park is now located. The construction of Victory Bridge during the early 20th century and the completion of the Jim Woodruff Dam in 1958 have caused dramatic changes in the northernmost two miles of the Apalachicola River. A large section of the bend has eroded away leaving beds of rock exposed where a floodplain forest grew in the 19th century.
U.S. reports later described the location of the coming attack as “the red clay bluff” or “Fort Apalachicola,” both of which were reported to be one mile below the forks. The “red clay bluff” visible in 1817 was one of the prehistoric Native American mounds, a group of 6 or 7 of which was located at today’s River Landing Park. The river has completely or partially destroyed three of these mounds and as they eroded away they presented the appearance of red clay bluffs when seen from the river. “Fort Apalachicola” was the name applied by U.S. officers to the abandoned British fort built atop one of the mounds by Lt. Col. Edward Nicolls during the War of 1812. The fort is generally called Nicolls’ Outpost today.
The British fort was a well-known landmark to the warriors who gathered there 200 years ago today as most of them had been part of Col. Nicolls’ force in 1814-1815. The earthworks of the outpost were still visible in 1817 and would have provided extra protection for part of the attacking force while the height of the mounds would allow warriors to fire down into Scott’s boat.
In addition, the American Indian attackers would be able to fire on the U.S. vessel from points all along the east bank of the bend, the sharp angle of which would allow them to create a brutal crossfire that the soldiers would have little chance of withstanding.
The attack on Scott’s command would prove to be the bloodiest U.S. defeat of the First Seminole War. It would begin in less than 24 hours.
Chattahoochee will commemorate the 200th anniversary of the battle with a major event and reenactment this weekend (Nov. 30-Dec. 2). Please see Chattahoochee ready for Major Reenactment and this poster for more information: