U.S. soldiers moved to save the corn from the fledgling farms around Fort Gaines by moving it into the stockade on January 15-16, 1818.
This article is part of a continuing series that marks the 200th anniversary of the Seminole War. Please click here to read other articles in the series.
The attack on the Weaver family by Red Stick warriors (please see Attack near Fort Gaines) had emphasized the danger to provisions stockpiled in the corn cribs and cattle ranges of local farmers. Capt. George Birch took action on the 15th to secure as much food as possible:
…This morning the Indians start on foot to drive in the cattle, and I turn out my whole command, for the purpose of removing the Public Corn into the fort for safety. This afternoon our Indians returned with about 30 head of all sizes of cattle and report they can get no more – I therefore concluded to select as many as I could of the best, and to start for fort Scott on the 17th in the morning having engaged four Indians at 5$ per head for the purpose of driving the cattle, they are to join me to morrow night.(1)
Birch commanded 120 men – in addition to the small garrison posted at the fort – and they moved out in large detachments to sweep neighborhood farms. By 2 p.m. on January 16th – 200 years ago today – they had completed their work. The soldiers brought in 920 bushels of corn, for which Capt. Birch agreed to pay $3 per bushel. He then ordered them to turn out “all the worst cattle” and had four beeves slaughtered as provisions for his men on their return march to Fort Scott. Three local citizens were appointed to appraise the cattle and fix a price that their neighbors would be paid for them.(2)
Another alarm hit the fort late that night when two local settlers arrived to report “a party of Indians about four miles from this post encamped on the [Three Notch] road.”
Fort Gaines was then garrisoned by a force of Georgia Militia that had come overland from Fort Early near Cordele, Georgia. The 120 U.S. troops there on the night of January 16th had come from Fort Scott under Capt. Birch and were prepared to begin their return march on the next morning. The captain ordered a detachment of militiamen to head out at sunrise to investigate the report of the settlers while his main body focused on the job of moving beef and corn to Fort Scott.
The party of Native Americans camped on the road proved to be evacuees – men, women and children – from downriver who were fleeing the war zone. They were brought to the fort the next morning where they explained that they were friendly to the United States and were simply “moving out of the way.” (3)
The local settlers by daylight, meanwhile, had decided not to accept paper notes from the civilian contractor’s agent for their cattle. Capt. Birch gave them orders on the Quartermaster’s Department – meaning that the army would pay them – and started his column off for Fort Scott on the morning of January 17, 1818.
This series will continue. If you are interested in learning more about the history of Fort Gaines, please consider the book: Fort Gaines, Georgia: A Military History.
(1) Diary of Maj. George Birch, 1809-1825.