Seminole War
Two battles shake the frontier (Seminole War 200th)

Archaeologist Brian Mabelitini (L), historian Dale Cox (C) and Bainbridge resident Clayton Penhallegon (R) walk the site of Fort Hughes.

Two battles raged along the Florida-Georgia frontier 200 years ago today on December 16, 1817. The Battle of Ocheesee Bluff continued as a second force of Seminole, Miccosukee and Lower Creek warriors directed their fire on the walls of Fort Hughes at today’s Bainbridge, Georgia.

This article is part of our special series that commemorates the 200th anniversary of the Seminole Wars. Please visit Seminole War 200th to read the rest of the series.

I detailed the start of the Battle of Ocheesee Bluff in yesterday’s article (see Battle of Ocheesee Bluff). That action continued on the Apalachicola River 200 years ago today as the Prophet Francis kept two U.S. supply ships penned down midstream with heavy rifle and musket fire.

On the Flint River, meanwhile, a second force of warriors had attacked Fort Hughes at virtually the same time as the attack at Ocheesee Bluff. The outpost had been built under the direction of Lt. Col. Matthew Arbuckle in the days following the Battle of Fowltown and was now held by a small company of 40-men under Capt. John N. McIntosh (sometimes incorrectly confused with Gen. William McIntosh, who led the U.S. Creek Brigade during the First Seminole War).

The Flint River as seen from the site of Fort Hughes in Bainbridge, Georgia.

The Battle of Fort Hughes lasted for three days from December 15-18, 1817. It began with a sudden attempt to storm the fort by several hundred warriors and then settled into an extended clash. Arbuckle later reported that McIntosh had been “surrounded by a large force, and his arrangements were such as to do him much credit.” (1)

At least one white man took part in the attack on the outpost. Peter Cook, a Bahamian merchant who had come to Florida as an employee of the trader Alexander Arbuthnot, was now allied with the adventurer Robert C. Armbrister. From their headquarters on the Suwannee, Armbrister ordered him to go with a party of warriors to join in an attempt to take Fort Hughes.

Cook was taking his life into his hands by leading Seminole warriors in battle against U.S. forces. The risk of being killed or wounded in battle aside, he faced immediate execution if captured by the army. It was not a pleasant expedition:

The Fort Hughes Monument, seen here, was placed by the U.S. government during the 1880s. It can be seen today at J.D. Chason Memorial Park in Bainbridge, Georgia.

…The balls flew like hail-stones; there was a ball that had like to have done my job; it just cleared by breast. For six days and six nights we had to encamp in the wild woods, and it was constantly raining night and day; and as for the cold, I suffered very much by it; in the morning the water would be frozen about an inch thick. (2)

The weather was extremely cold in December 1818 due to the continuation of the worldwide “Year without a Summer.” The explosion of a volcano in the Pacific caused the climate of the entire northern hemisphere to change. Temperatures plunged, crops failed and bitter cold was experience all the way south into Florida.

The compact design of Fort Hughes was such that the attacking warriors could do no damage to its walls. Only 90 feet square, the fort had two blockhouses on diagonally opposite corners. These provided strong points from which Capt. McIntosh’s men could fire without exposing themselves. The upper floor of the blockhouses allowed the men to sweep the walls of the fort with musket fire and also served as observation points that provided a clear view of the surrounding countryside.

The fighting at Fort Hughes on the Flint and Ocheesee Bluff on the Apalachicola continued into the night and would resume the next day.

To learn more about these actions, please consider the book Fort Scott, Fort Hughes & Camp Recovery. You can also learn more from the two free videos below:

(1)  Lt. Col. Matthew Arbuckle to Maj. Gen. Edmund P. Gaines, December 20, 1817, American State Papers, Military Affairs, Volume 1, pp. 689-690.

(2)  Peter B. Cook to Elizabeth A. Carney, January 19, 1818, American State Papers, Foreign Relations, Volume IV, p. 605.


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