Andrew Jackson looked on as Maj. Gen. Edmund P. Gaines marched the men of the Georgia Militia from their camps near the frontier town of Hartford on the morning of February 19, 1818. Today marks the 200th anniversary of the first day of the Jackson’s 1818 Campaign.
This article is part of a continuing series that marks the 200th anniversary of the first year of the Seminole War. Please click here to access the entire series.
The hundreds of men looked more like civilians than soldiers as they stepped off from Hartford 200 years ago today. Most wore their everyday clothes and had gone straight from their farms and homes to local muster grounds from which their company and county officers marched them to Hartford. They had only been in the field for a few days but were already dirty, wet and cold.
Maj. Gen. Jackson had reached Hartford a few days earlier to find Gen. Gaines waiting with a small force of regulars from the 4th U.S. Infantry and a growing army of militia from the populated counties of Georgia. On the promise of Col. David Brearley of the regular army that two keelboats loaded with supplies would soon reach Fort Early from the Creek Agency on the Flint River, Jackson and Gaines set the morning of February 19 for the beginning of the campaign.
Knowing that many of his soldiers had never taken part in the march of an army before, Gaines issued specific instructions to company officers:
The troops will march 40 minutes after the proper Signal (the General) shall begiven from the Music, in the following order (viz):1The front guard 200 paces in advance of the center column, upon the road.
- The front guard 200 paces in advance of the center column, upon the road.
- The center column, to consist of one Battalion in double files.
- The right flank column to consist of one Battalion, in single files.
- The left flank column to consist of One Battalion, in single files. The heads of the two last mentioned columns will dress by the head of the center column, and will move within one hundred and twenty paces of the road on each side.
- The baggage waggons, which will be covered by the rear of the flank columns.
- The rear Guard.
In the event of meeting an enemy, the center column will form to the front in a single rank, ready for action, supported by the flans – the four rear companies of which will act as a reserve. The Guard to check the approach of the enemy, and when pressed, to retire in good order, through the interval of the front line, and form upon either flank – and the reserves, when attacked in the rear.
In the event of an attack upon either flank, it will be supported by the center – the opposite flank will act as the reserve. [I]
The orders were written in the hand of Maj. Clinton Wright but signed by Gaines. Neither man knew it but Wright would give his life for his country in less than one week.
The route of the march was via the road that Brig. Gen. Thomas Glascock of the militia had built from Hartford to the Flint River near today’s Cordele, Georgia. Parts of the pathway followed the “Blackshear Road” that troops under Gen. David Blackshear had blazed during the War of 1812. The immediate objective was Fort Early, which stood on the west side of the Flint near its confluence with Cedar Creek in what is now Crisp County.
Gaines expected to reach the fort in 2-3 days by which time the keelboats from the Creek Agency should be there with cargoes of flour, meat and other provisions. Jackson would follow a day or two later with a second force of Georgia militia and reach Fort Early by the 23rd. Their united columns would then turn south for Fort Scott and the war front.
Even as the column marched, however, a courier was approaching with a desperate letter from Lt. Col. Matthew Arbuckle at Fort Scott. Gaines received it that evening:
If supplies do not arrive here in eight days or there is a certainty by that time of their arriving within a few days after, I shall be compelled to abandon this post with perhaps the whole force, and if Fort Gaines has fallen, that will probably not be the only disaster in this quarter, as the reduction of that Post will much more increase the force of the enemy. Should I be compelled to leave this, I shall march on the west bank of the Flint and endeavor to make Fort Early. [II]
The letter had been dated four days earlier on February 15, 1818. It left Gaines and Jackson with virtually no time to act as it would take the former until February 21 to reach Fort Early while the latter would not arrive until the 23rd. From there it was another 100 miles south to Fort Scott.
Further complicating the situation was a contradictory postscript by Arbuckle that he might march in a completely different direction if he opted to abandon Fort Scott. “Should I be compelled to abandon this post, I may take the direction of Fort Gaines, if it is not destroyed,” he wrote, “as I am informed the route to Ft. Early is very bad.” [III]
The threat to abandon Fort Scott did not go over well with Andrew Jackson, who during the Creek War had kept his army in the field at the point of a musket with nothing to eat but a handful of acorns in his pocket. With rumors afoot that Fort Gaines might have fallen to Native American warriors, the evacuation of the post on the lower Flint would open the entire Georgia frontier to attack.
Gen. Gaines tried to accelerate the pace of his march from Hartford to Fort Early, but there was little he could do to move his command faster over the rough and muddy trail.
This series will continue.
[I] Maj. Gen. Edmund P. Gaines, General Orders of February 19, 1818.
[II] Lt. Col. Matthew Arbuckle to Maj. Gen. Edmund P. Gaines, February 15, 1818.