Capt. George Burch of the 7th U.S. Infantry was ordered 200 years ago today to make a long and dangerous march through Southwest Georgia.
This article is part of our continuing series that marks the 200th anniversary of the first year of the Seminole War. Please click here to read other articles in the series.
The food shortage at Fort Scott continued to worsen in mid-February 1818, prompting Lt. Col. Matthew Arbuckle to order Capt. Burch to make a dash through enemy territory with a relative handful of men:
You will proceed to Fort Gaines immediately with a Sergeant,corporal and twelve privates for the purpose of completing the boat commenced by Brevet Majr. Muhlenburg and bringing to this place, should safety to yourself and party permit, as much corn as the Boat will transport, as soon as she is finished and you will employ this opportunity to Pay the Citizens of Fort Gaines for the Beef you purchased of them by order. [I]
The mission was extremely dangerous as parties of Seminole, Miccosukee and Muscogee (Creek) warriors were known to be patrolling the areas around both Fort Scott and Fort Gaines, as well as the Three Notch or Military road that connected the two frontier posts. Two men – one a soldier and one a civilian – had been killed within sight of Fort Scott just four days earlier (please see Two men killed in attack at Fort Scott for more information).
The destruction of Lt. Richard W. Scott’s command two and one-half months before was likely very much on Arbuckle’s mind as he wrote orders for Burch to finish a large keelboat at Fort Gaines and bring it downriver loaded with corn:
…[S]hould the information you may possess at the time the Boat is completed make it in your opinion unsafe to proceed you will inform me of it, and during your continuance at Fort Gaines you will give every protection to the inhabitants your command is capable of. You will also inform yourself of the number of Beef Cattle that can be obtained there, and be ready to collect them should you be instructed to do so. [II]
Burch left Fort Scott with his detachment on the same day that he received his orders – February 13, 1818 – and was on his way up the Three Notch Trail to the crossing at Spring Creek when his soldiers spotted a man approaching:
On the way I met an express, a half breed Indian, who told me he had seen a trail, and did suppose from its appearance that there were from two to three hundred Hostiles on their way to attack Fort Gaines – however I kept on and got to [Spring] creek that night before dark & repaired the causeway with more logs so that I should not be detained in the morning. Just as we had finished it one of my men sung out Indians on the other side of the creek. I saw them, and immediately ordered my men to hide and lay in ambush knowing there was no other crossing. They came to the crossing, and was coming over when I was about to give the word fire. I fortunately knew the first one and found them to be an express. I then showed them my command by raising them in a firing position, and nearly scared them to death. [III]
The term “express” referred to an individual or party sent to deliver a message as quickly as possible between posts.
Burch wrote in his diary that the warriors who made up the express party crossed over Spring Creek and enjoyed a laugh with his soldiers. They told him that they had come from Fort Gaines and that “all was quiet at that place.”
The small detachment of soldiers would cross Spring Creek and continue its march on the next morning. The crossing site was near the point later known as Rhodes’ Ferry, which crossed the creek between today’s Decatur and Seminole Counties in Southwest Georgia.
This is the location of an unusual stone structure that local residents named “Jackson’s Oven” due to its similarity to a giant bake oven. They thought that perhaps the U.S. Army had built it during the First Seminole War. Others have claimed that it was possibly of Mayan or even Viking construction.
The structure was relocated last week for the first time since it disappeared beneath the waters of man-made Lake Seminole 60 years ago. Learn more about the discovery by clicking play in the video box:
 Lt. Col. Matthew Arbuckle to Capt. George Burch, February 13, 1818.
[III] Diary of Maj. George Burch, 1807-1825 (manuscript).