Native American warriors carried out their northernmost attack of the Seminole War on this date on January 22, 1818.
This article is part of our continuing series Seminole War 200th Anniversary. It commemorates the 200th anniversary of the first year of the Seminole War.
Soldiers from the Georgia Militia were busily at work 200 years ago today, putting the finishing touches on Fort Early. The new outpost stood on the east side of the Flint River near present-day Cordele, Georgia and not far from Cedar Creek. The work parties and other troops did not know it, but a detail of their comrades were fighting for their lives:
…I am informed that a party of Indians concealed in the swamp of Cedar creek, 7 miles east of Flint river, yesterday morning fired upon and killed Mr. Thos. Leigh, assistant wagon master and Samuel Lofters of captain Avary’s company of Georgia militia. The wagon master had been sent out with a small party of men and a drove of pack-horses, laden with provisions; which, by a prompt and judicious arrangement on the part of major Heard, were secured, with the residue of the party and horses. Gen. Glascock immediately ordered out a detachment under major Morgan in pursuit of the Indians. (1)
Leigh, in particular, had been well-known on the frontier. David B. Mitchell, the U.S. Agent for Indian Affairs, remembered that “his vigilance and attention to duty with an obliging & friendly disposition had given me a very favorable impression of him, and I regret his loss the more on that account.”(2)
The troops sent in pursuit of the warriors failed to either catch them or make it back to Fort Early by nightfall. Concerned that they might blunder into an ambush in the darkness, they bedded down for the night in the breastworks thrown up during the War of 1812 by the Georgia Brigade of Brig. Gen. David Blackshear. This temporary work was north of the “new” Fort Early, which is often incorrectly said to have been built on the same site. They made it back to the fort on the next day.
The attack was a serious affair, especially considering the chronic shortage of provisions being experienced by soldiers on the frontier. Authorities in Georgia did not know it, but the encounter also showed that the war was expanding.
Opony (sometimes spelled Hopony or Hoponee) was the chief of a Lower Creek town located south of Fort Early at the confluence of the Flint River and Kinchafoonee Creek. The city of Albany now stands at the site. He had signed a power of attorney to the Bahamian trader Alexander Arbuthnot in June 1817 and was closely allied with Neamathla and the warriors of Fowltown.
While the chief himself does not appear to have engaged in the war against the United States, many of his warriors were less reserved. The attack on the wagon detail was attributed to them.
This probably came as a shock to officers of the Georgia Militia, who believed themselves to be on good terms with the residents of the neighboring towns and villages. They had made this assumption, however, based on their generally good relations with the chiefs and warriors of the Chiaha (Chehaw) settlements. Opony’s town, however, was not a Chiaha (Chehaw) village, although the chief and most of his followers were on friendly terms with them.
The Georgia Militia, in fact, was not even sure of the location of Opony’s settlement, as would be demonstrated in April when they attempted a retaliatory strike on his town and instead mistakenly attacked one of the Chiaha villages.
Maj. Gen. Edmund P. Gaines of the regular army was in Hartford, Georgia, a day’s ride from Fort Early at the time of the Cedar Creek attack and was infuriated by it. He vented to a large degree at David B. Mitchell and others who sought to return peace to the frontier before the planned “punitive” campaign could be launched against the forces at war against the United States. Mitchell tried to defend himself and his policies by pointing out that his duties to the country were different than those of Gaines:
I was much surprised at seeing the expressions of indignation which you say you felt on seeing some intimations published that there was a possibility of peace. If these observations had any reference to myself, I can only assure you that I should rejoice if by any efforts mine, a peace with these unfortunate and deluded people could be secured, and altho’ your profession is a Military one, and as the old saying is, your “trade is war,” yet I cannot for one moment entertain a doubt but you feel the same desire, particularly when you reflect that the terms upon which it will be made must necessarily be dictated by our Government. (3)
Mitchell would find, however, that the time for peacemaking had passed. The United States was determined to avenge the deaths of Lt. Richard W. Scott and his party and, in fact, Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson left Nashville 200 years ago today – on the same day as the affair at Cedar Creek – to begin his long journey to assume command of the war effort.
This series will continue. Click here to learn more about historic Fort Early. Use the map below to help you find the Fort Early Monument:
(1) Maj. Gen. Edmund P. Gaines to Gov. William Rabun of Georgia, January 23, 1818.
(2) David B. Mitchell to Maj. Gen. Edmund P. Gaines, January 30, 1818.