Maj. Gen. Edmund P. Gaines pushed off from Fort Early 200 years ago today to begin a dangerous boat run down the flooded Flint River.
This story is part of our continuing series that marks the 200th anniversary of the first year of the Seminole War. Click here to read other articles in the series.
Alarming news had been received by Gaines and Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson two days earlier that Lt. Col. Matthew Arbuckle might abandon Fort Scott, the southernmost U.S. post on the Southwest Georgia frontier, unless he received provisions by February 23rd. The two generals were then marching a brigade of Georgia militia from Hartford to Fort Early near present-day Cordele. It took Gaines until February 22, 1818 – 200 years ago today – to reach Fort Early.
He arrived at the post expecting to find two keelboats loaded with supplies that he had been promised would be sent down from the Creek Agency near present-day Roberta, Georgia. The boats, however, were not there and the stocks of the fort were down to barely enough food to supply the troops there for the next few days.
A small boat was nearing completion at Fort Early and Gaines decided to take it and what supplies it could carry and make a desperate run down the Flint to Fort Scott. He hoped that he would arrive there before Arbuckle carried out his threatened evacuation:
The Boats from the Cr. Agency have not yet arrived. There are at this place twenty six bushels of corn, and about two thousand rations flour and meat.
I have this day engaged 100 bushels of corn, to be delivered here by Noble Conard, on the 24th, and have left with Lt. Phillips 200 Dollars to pay for it.
The Boat will be complete in one hour from this time, when I will depart for Fort Scott, and shall go Night and Day with all possible expedition until I get there. [I]
The general seems to have had a premonition about the journey. The Flint was at flood stage and no U.S. boat had ever made the journey from Fort Early down to Fort Scott. Gaines knew that to run day and night on a flooded, unknown river in an overloaded small boat was extremely dangerous, but so critical was the moment that he decided to try it:
I have prevailed upon the Commanding General to permit me to repair to Fort Scott, to hold my Brigade in readiness to cooperate with the Troops now in march for that place, but lest any accident should impede or prevent my movement thither, I have deemed it proper to send by Major Nicks, and the officers of my staff, duplicates of this order. Should you have marched, on the receipt of this you will immediately resume your position at Fort Scott. [II]
Gen. Gaines informed Lt. Col. Arbuckle by letter that he was leaving at 4 p.m. on February 22, 1818 – 200 years ago today – and that Gen. Jackson had made clear that Fort Scott was not to be abandoned:
Your communication of the 15th was received near Hartford, on the 20 inst., late at night, and was immediately laid before Major General Jackson, who directed me to dispatch an express to you, with an order, forbidding your intended movement so long as you have 30 bushels of corn, or four horses. You will, in no event, abandon, or permit any part of your command to abandon Fort Scott, (except such parties as may be necessary to obtain supplies from the Bay, and from Fort Gaines). [III]
The reference to four horses meant that as a last resort Arbuckle should butcher the last remaining horses at his post and serve up the meat to his men.
No details are available about the boat that Gaines took on his journey down the Flint other than that it was “small.” Since he carried with him two officers and a handful of enlisted men, as well as all of the available meat from Fort Early, it was likely a small keelboat.
The dangerous voyage began as planned at 4 p.m. The general – a hero of the War of 1812 – disappeared down the Flint River with his small party. Disaster awaited.
The conclusion to this article is now online. Please see U.S. Army meets disaster on the Flint River.
Click the play button below to see the reconstructed keelboat Aux Arc underway on the Flint River arm of Lake Seminole during the Scott 1817 Seminole War event for an idea of the type boat on which Gaines and his men traveled:
[I] Maj. Gen. Edmund P. Gaines to Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson, February 22, 1818.
[II] Maj. Gen. Edmund P. Gaines to Lt. Col. Matthew Arbuckle, February 22, 1818.