Fighting continued on the Apalachicola River 200 years ago today as the Battle of Ocheesee Bluff entered its third day.
Our Seminole War series commemorates the 200th anniversary of the conflict. Please visit Seminole War 200th to read all of the articles in the series.
Heavy fire from Seminole, Miccosukee, Red Stick, Lower Creek, Yuchi, Black Seminole and even a few Choctaw warriors continued to pound against the sides of two U.S. supply ships on December 18, 1817. The vessels were anchored between Ocheesee Bluff and the heights of today’s Torreya State Park unable to move. Anytime a man so much as showed himself above the sides of the ships he invited the fire of hundreds of Native American rifles and muskets.
The U.S. Army keelboat sent upstream under Capt. J.J. Clinch reached Fort Scott on this date with news of the attack. Lt. Col. Matthew Arbuckle immediately responded to Maj. Peter Muhlenberg’s please for help, but promised no assistance at all:
I am making some alteration in the boat Captain Clinch came in which I think will render her safe and convenient in carrying forward a kedge by which means you will have it in your power to progress a little every day and should the wind be favorable I shall have hopes of your reaching this in eight or ten days, but should it take longer it cannot be avoided as I have not the means of doing more for you at present. I have a large keel boat on the stocks which I think I can have in readiness for service in about sixteen days. This boat will be of sufficient size to carry three or four hundred barrels and will be made perfectly safe from injury from small arms.[i]
Arbuckle did send down 15 days rations of meat and bread on the 18th, along with some soap and liquor, but gave not even a hint that he might move with troops to break the siege. He did ask Muhlenberg to fire a cannon every morning at sunrise and every evening at sunset so he would be able to estimate the progress of the ships. The sounds of the guns would also enable him to find the vessels should his situation change and he find himself in a position to move with troops.
The lieutenant colonel did express sympathy for the wounded men who were suffering aboard the schooners:
I very much wish your wounded men were here and should you not be able to arrive soon you may find most advisable to send them up by the boat and independent of this consideration I am fearfull there is not a sufficient quantity of iron here to finish the keel boat. Therefore should you be able to spare the boat with safety, send it up in eight days with your wounded & five or six hundred weight of iron.[ii]
Another of the men wounded in the initial attack on December 15th had died but Muhlenberg was still trying to care for another dozen wounded men. The boats were overcrowded and the men had been on half-rations for sometime.
It is not known whether any women and children were aboard the two ships. Eleven had been placed aboard Lt. Richard W. Scott’s keelboat for passage up to Fort Scott but only one of them remained alive. The others had been killed in the attack at today’s Chattahoochee on November 30, 1817.
The Battle of Ocheesee Bluff had settled into a stalemate. The Prophet Francis and his warriors could not get close enough to storm the ships but their volleys of fire likewise prevented the men aboard from doing anything either.
The keelboat headed back down from Fort Scott with the provisions. On board were only 18 soldiers, barely enough to manage and control the boat.
To learn more about the Battle of Ocheesee Bluff, please enjoy this video:
[i] Lt. Col. Matthew Arbuckle to Maj. P. Muhlenburg, December 18, 1817, Adjutant General, Letters Received, National Archives.