The strategy of the Prophet Josiah Francis and other Native American leaders to starve out the soldiers at Fort Scott in Southwest Georgia was showing signs of success on January 6, 1818, 200 years ago today.
This article is part of a continuing series that commemorates the 200th anniversary of the Seminole Wars. Please click here to read the entire series.
Lt. Col. Matthew Arbuckle had returned to the fort on a previous day, his third and final raid on Fowltown ending in failure. (Please see The Destruction of Fowltown and Attapulgus). The Lower Creek village that had been the focal point of the war thus far was found abandoned and no supplies could be found either there or at nearby Attapulgus.
Arbuckle was now growing seriously concerned, as he informed Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson:
No provisions has yet reached us. We are now on half rations & have but a few days supply at that rate without a prospect of receiving any more soon. . .The contractor’s agent left here some time since for Fort Gaines for the purpose of procuring cattle, I have not heard how he has succeeded & fearing that he may not be able to furnish a supply in time, I have ordered Captain Birch with a party of men to repair to Fort Gaines, with a view of collecting cattle or assisting the contractor’s agent, in bringing in what he may have collected.[i]
The Prophet Francis, Peter McQueen, Homathlemico and other Red Stick leaders had learned the hard way during the Creek War of 1813-1814 that the key to defeating white troops was to deprive them of food. They now employed a strategy of stopping supply shipments from reaching the frontier while also seizing the stocks of William Hambly and anyone else who might be inclined to provide food to the soldiers. Supply boats had been attacked and parties of warriors patrolled all of the trails leading to and from Fort Scott.
The only way that soldiers could move between Fort Scott on the Flint and Fort Gaines on the Chattahoochee was in force. When Capt. George Birch – referenced above – left Fort Scott 200 years ago today on mission to Fort Gaines in search of provisions, he went with a strong escort:
You will be furnished with two Commissioned Officers and one hundred and twenty men at 10 O’clock A.M. to day for the purpose of obtaining Beef Cattle or Hogs at or near Fort Gaines and guarding them to this place with all possible dispatch. Should the Contractor’s Agent at Fort Gaines have collected the beef cattle required, you will immediately take charge of them & bring them to this post, or such portion of them as can be dispenced with by the inhabitants.[ii]
If Birch arrived at Fort Gaines to find that no cattle or provisions had been collected for the troops at Fort Scott, he was given authority to have a “disinterested person” appraise 40-50 head of cattle and then seize them on the promise that the quartermaster would pay the owners.
Birch left Fort Scott at the head of his assigned column “on the 6th at 12 O’Clock and halted at half past seven P.M. within eight miles of Spring Creek for the night.”[iii]
The normal rate of march for an army at the time was 15 miles per day, but the troops at Fort Scott were weak and had been on half-rations for weeks. They probably made no more than 5 or 6 miles that afternoon before stopping to rest.
The old Fort Scott or Three Notch Road that connected Fort Scott to Fort Gaines crossed Spring Creek at a site later known as Rhodes’ Ferry. The soldiers made it only about half the distance from the fort to the crossing that night so their camp was likely along the old road trace in today’s Silver Lake Wildlife Management Area Silver Lake Wildlife Management Area.
The original road is no longer in use but sections of it can still be seen in the 9,200 acre state preserve.
This series will continue.
[i] Lt. Col. Matthew Arbuckle to Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson, January 6, 1818, Andrew Jackson Papers, Library of Congress.
[ii] Lt. Col. Matthew Arbuckle to Capt. George Birch, January 6, 1818, included in “Diary of Maj. George Birch, 1809-1825,” manuscript.