200 years ago today, Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson urged Maj. Gen. Edmund P. Gaines “not to hazard a general engagement with the Seminoles unless with such force as will ensure a decisive victory.”
This article is part of a continuing series that commemorates the 200th anniversary of the first year of the Seminole War. Please click here to access the entire series.
Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson was not a man prone to fear. Neither was Maj. Gen. Edmund P. Gaines. Unfortunately for the two generals, neither were Boleck, Cappachimico, Neamathla, the Prophet Joseph Francis, Peter McQueen, Econchattimico, Yuchi Billy and the other Seminole, Miccosukee, Red Stick, Lower Muscogee (Creek), Black Seminole and Yuchi chiefs that they faced.
The war that had erupted along the border of Spanish Florida was a serious affair and the Native American alliance was proving stronger than expected. Warriors had demonstrated clear success on battlefields along the Flint and Apalachicola Rivers and the U.S. Army had moved from the offensive to the defensive.
Jackson wrote from Nashville 200 years ago today to inform Gaines that he expected to begin his long journey to the front in two days on January 22, 1818. “Old Hickory” would head for Fort Hawkins at present-day Macon, Georgia, while a supporting force of Tennessee Volunteers moved separately for Fort Scott on the Flint River:
Two Regts of mounted Volunteers will rendevous on the 31st instt at Fayetteville, Tennessee, & move by forced marches the most direct route, via Fort Jackson to Fort Scott – Major [A.C.W.] Fanning is dispatched to Fort Hawkins to purchase, in the event of their being no Qr Master in that neighbourhood the necessary supplies of forage & provisions, to facilitate the movements of these Troops & to have the said supplies deposited at the most convenient points to intercept them on their march.(1)
Gen. Gaines had been authorized by Secretary of War John C. Calhoun to move across Florida from newly seized Amelia Island to engage the Seminole forces on the Suwannee River if he felt that he could do so with success. Jackson cautioned him, however, to avoid any action that might lead to another defeat for U.S. troops:
…I most particularly enjoin upon you not to hazard a general engagement with the Seminoles unless with such force as will ensure a decisive victory. The lives of our citizens are too precious to be wantonly exposed in an unequal conflict with Savages. You will therefore have your Forces prepared to march at a moments warning. As soon as reinforced by the Tennessee Volunteers, our strength will be sufficient to inflict, and speedily, merited chastisement on the deluded Savages – Let your supplies be abundant; I would not wish my movements retarded an hour on that account – If there is the least suspicion of the contractors failing, issue the necessary orders to the Qr Master to supply all deficiencies.(2)
It would take time for Jackson’s orders to reach Gaines, but he latter general had already ruled out a deeper advance into Florida without additional troops. He was also concerned about a deepening supply shortage. Gen. Gaines had just learned the day before that the private company contracted to supply provisions to the army was going to fail to meet its oblications:
In consequence of the failure on the part of the contractors agent to provide the proper supplies of provision, I have ordered the purchase of forty thousand rations. The meat part of which is to be delivered at this place [Hartford, Georgia] by the 23rd inst., one half of which will be driven out on foot to the new Fort on Flint river, the residue salted up at this place. The whole consists of pork at eleven cents per pound.(3)
The new fort on the Flint was Fort Early. A force of Georgia militia was building the new outpost – which would serve as a supply depot – near present-day Cordele. Gaines expected to use it as a base for his own operations down the Flint River to Fort Scott on what is now Lake Seminole.
The major movements planned by Jackson and Gaines would take time. Meanwhile, parties of warriors continued to move deeper into Georgia and the part of the Mississippi Territory that is now Alabama. They planned to carry out additional attacks over the coming days.
This series will continue.
(1) Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson to Maj. Gen. Edmund P. Gaines, January 20, 1818, Jackson Papers, Library of Congress.
(3) Maj. Gen. Edmund P. Gaines to Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson, January 19, 1818, Jackson Papers, Library of Congress.