The growing seriousness of the situation facing the U.S. Army on the Florida-Georgia frontier showed itself in letters sent from Fort Scott 200 years ago today.
To read more articles in this special series commemorating the 200th anniversary of the Seminole Wars, please visit Seminole War 200th.
Seminole, Muscogee (Creek) and Miccosukee warriors had surrounded Fort Scott on Southwest Georgia’s lower Flint River for 18-days straight by December 20, 1817. They regularly fired into the fort, despite efforts by troops to drive them away with cannon and musket fire (for example, see “A Constant and Tremendous Firing”):
Our situation is really an alarming one. An enemy around us of treble our force, and but 20 days provisions. How we are to be relieved I know not. Major Muhlenburg has two schooners about 30 miles below – the Indians and Negroes all around him, keeping up a constant fire; some of his men have been killed and wounded, and the rest left entirely to the mercy of the winds, for they cannot move in any other way.[i]
This short account was written by an anonymous officer at Fort Scott to an unnamed individual in Alexandria, Virginia, on this date 200 years ago. He noted that “an attempt is to be made to-morrow” to try to get an express rider through to Fort Hawkins at today’s Macon, Georgia, and hoped that his letter might make it past the parties of warriors who were blocking all trails from his post.
Similar worry was creeping into the mind of Fort Scott’s commanding officer, Lt. Col. Matthew Arbuckle. He sent a report out via the same express rider to inform Maj. Gen. Edmund P. Gaines that he had not heard from Fort Gaines in nearly three weeks, that the 2 supply ships under Maj. Peter Muhlenberg were pinned down by 800-1,400 warriors at Ocheesee Bluff, that Fort Hughes had been abandoned after a determined attack and that he was running low on food for his men:
The present war with these Indians will require a much greater force than was contemplated to bring it to a speedy and favorable conclusion. Capachemico, or the principal chief of the Mickasukee town, is in command of all the hostile Indians.
I have a large keel boat on the stocks, and should I not be deceived, will have her in a condition for service in twenty days, at farthest; she will transport from three to four hundred barrels, and will be constructed to navigate the Appalachicola river with safety and despatch.[ii]
The new keelboat under construction at Fort Scott was being armored with planking thick enough to repel or stop small arms fire and high enough up the sides of the boat to allow her crew to operate the vessel without exposing themselves to the rifles and muskets of the Native American and Black Seminole warriors.
The problem, however, was that there was nowhere to which she could sail to obtain provisions for the soldiers. Arbuckle hoped that beef could be obtained from the farmers around Fort Gaines, most of whom had retreated inside the log walls of that post for their own safety. There were no provision shipments on the Apalachicola River or in Apalachicola Bay, despite hopes that some might soon arrive. Muhlenberg’s vessels carried badly needed clothing, arms, ammunition and other supplies, but had run so low on food that a shipment had been sent down from the dwindling stock at Fort Scott.
The situation at Fort Scott was further endangered by the need to send strong escorts with every courier, scout or boat that left the post. The garrison at the fort had been reduced to 287 officers and men available for duty. Another 32 soldiers were sick in the post hospital and 2 were in confinement. The loss of 34-35 soldiers in the attack on Lt. Scott’s party was having a major impact on the ability of the army to protect itself, let alone carry on offensive operations (please see The Bloodiest U.S. Defeat of the First Seminole War).
This series will continue tomorrow.
[i] Officer to unknown individual, December 20, 1817, Alexandria Gazette, February 12, 1818, p. 2.
[ii] Lt. Col. Matthew Arbuckle to Major General Edmund P. Gaines (dated Fort Scott), December 20, 1817, ASPMA Vol 1, No. 164 p. 689-690.