January 13, 1818 was a Tuesday. Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson spent the day thinking about how best to carry out his orders to invade Spanish Florida.
This article is part of our continuing series that marks the 200th Anniversary of the First Seminole War. Read other articles in the series by following the link.
Jackson was at home in Nashville at The Hermitage 200 years ago this week when he received orders from the Monroe Administration to proceed to the frontier and lead an invasion of Florida. He was to “punish” the Native Americans responsible for the attack on Lt. Richard W. Scott’s command (please see The Bloodiest U.S. Defeat of the First Seminole War).
Jackson had been to Florida only once before. An army under his command had taken Pensacola during the War of 1812 after British forces used the Spanish capital as a base for an attack on Fort Bowyer at the mouth of Mobile Bay. He was at least generally familiar with the colonies, more so West Florida than East Florida, but he was among a growing chorus of Americans who felt that Spain’s North American lands should be added to the United States.
The general had experience fighting Native American forces. The Prophet Josiah Francis, Peter McQueen and other chiefs now leading Red Stick forces in the Seminole War had opposed his army during the Creek War of 1813-1814. He knew that the Red Sticks could be tough opponents. They had driven his army back in hard fighting at the battles of Emuckfau and Enotachopco and he had seen them fight to the last man at Tallushatchee and Horseshoe Bend. Now he was being called upon to fight them again.
From experience Jackson knew that the regular troops on the frontier would not be sufficient for the task at hand. Since the U.S. Army was small in those days, he would be forced to depend on militia – much of it from Georgia – and he knew that militia was not always reliable. He decided that the best approach would be to bring militia forces in from several states. If one state’s militia decided to go home – as the Tennessee militia had tried to do to him during the Creek War – he could use the militia from another state to oppose them.
His first action, then, was to call for a large force of Tennessee volunteers:
The Seminole Indians have raised the war hatchet. They have stained our land with the blood of our Citizens; their war spirit must be put down; and they taught to know that their safety depends upon the friendship and protection of the U States. To accomplish this the aid of one Regiment of mounted Gun men, of one thousand strong, completely armed and equipped, and to serve during the Campaign is asked from West Tennessee: can you raise them and be ready for the Field in ten days?[i]
This appeal went out to many of his old officers from the Creek War and Battle of New Orleans days: Col. R.H. Dyer, Col. John H. Gibson, Col. Thomas Williamson, Col. George Eliott, Major William Mitchell, Major John Smith of Montgomery County, Colonel William Martin of Williamson and Captain Francis S. Ellis of Dixon County.[ii]
While he waited to hear back from this corps of officers, he pondered how to go about fighting the Seminole, Miccosukee, Red Stick, Lower (Muscogee) Creek and Black Seminole warriors engaged in the war against the United States. Like most white officials of his time, he blamed the Native Americans for starting the war, ignoring the fact that U.S. troops had started the conflict by attempting to surround Fowltown during the dead of night (please see The Battle of Fowltown).
The situation would be different than it had been during the Creek War. He would not be able to depend on additional armies holding the warriors in place while he advanced against them. This meant that the Native Americans would be able to concentrate against him and he would need a much larger army than he had commanded for most of the 1813-1814 campaign.
He explained some of his thinking in a letter to his old friend and former second-in-command, Brig. Gen. John Coffee of the Tennessee Militia:
The officers are to meet me next Monday the 19th, instant at Nashville, to report to me whether two Regts. can be raised – at which time and place, I have great solicitude to meet you – not that I expect you can go, or that I could ask you under existing circumstances to go, notwithstanding nothing could be more pleasing than to have you with me, but I do know under existing circumstances it would be too great a Sacrafice of interest for you to leave your official duties…If I can get 1200 mounted gunmen from Tennessee with my regular force – If the Georgians should mutiny, I can put it down, & drive into the Gulf all the Indians and adherents be them, [be] who they may.[iii]
Coffee would not be able to join him this time but he did confer with the general to offer his advice. The decisions they reached were forced to some degree by the reports and pleas for help coming from Lt. Col. Matthew Arbuckle who commanded the beleaguered garrison at Fort Scott. As Jackson could see for himself, Arbuckle was becoming more and more unnerved as supplies ran short and parties of warriors struck settlements all along the Georgia frontier.
Lt. Col. Arbuckle had begun to hint that unless he received provisions shortly, he might be forced to evacuate Fort Scott. Jackson knew what a disaster that would be, as it would break the line of defense that separated the main body of the Native American alliance from the settled frontier of Georgia. He would have to move men and supplies quickly and from multiple directions if he hoped to avoid calamity.
The general sent out a flurry of orders over the next few days, trying to coordinate the movement of supplies from New Orleans and troops from Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia and the Carolinas. U.S. Navy vessels would be needed to protect supply ships from pirates and to blockade the coast to prevent additional supplies from reaching the warriors in Florida. It was a demanding and complicated duty that tested the abilities of both Jackson and his long-time adjutant, Col. Robert Butler.
The chiefs and warriors in Florida did not know it, but their war against the soldiers who had attacked Fowltown had taken an ominous turn. The Long Knife was coming.
This series will continue. To learn more about the life of Andrew Jackson, please watch the following documentary from PBS:
[i] Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson to Col. R.H. Dyer, Col. John H. Gibson, Col. Thomas Williamson, Col. George Eliott, Major William Mitchell, Major John Smith of Montgomery County, Colonel William Martin of Williamson and Captain Francis S. Ellis of Dixon County, January 11, 1818, Jackson Papers, Library of Congress.
[i] Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson to Brig. Gen. John Coffee, January 14, 1818, Jackson Papers, Library of Congress.