Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson found his army bogged down in a sea of mud as he tried to advance from Hartford to Fort Early 200 years ago today. The Georgia frontier was experiencing one of its worst winters on record.
This article is part of a continuing series that commemorates the 200th anniversary of the first year of the Seminole War. Click here to read other articles in the series.
Accompanying the Georgia militia and a battalion of regular U.S. troops under Maj. A.C.W. Fanning, Jackson was still pushing west for the Flint River on February 25, 1818. Maj. Gen. Edmund P. Gaines had rushed on to Fort Early ahead of the main body after receiving word that Lt. Col. Matthew Arbuckle was contemplating the evacuation of Fort Scott. Gaines was now lost in the wilderness, the victim of a boat wreck that took place as he tried to ride the flooded Flint River from Fort Early to Fort Scott. Please see U.S. Army meets disaster on the Flint River for more information.
Jackson, meanwhile, focused on the movement of the army. “The waters are unusually high, and the ground so rotten that it is with much difficulty even pack-horses can pass,” he wrote to Secretary of War John C. Calhoun. “Every stream we are compelled either to bridge or swim.”[I]
Lt. John Banks of the Georgia militia was in the ranks during the march:
…From Hartford to this place [i.e. Fort Early] we had an unpleasant march of it. The distance is only 48 miles which took us eight days’ hard march. It rained nearly all the time, the waters were very high, we had to build some bridges and flats to cross the creeks on. We carried our baggage wagons till we got in ten miles of the fort, found it impracticable to carry them any further. They were dismissed and we took our provisions on our backs, officers and all, and performed the balance of the expedition without a wagon. [II]
Making matters worse, the army was running out of the food. Banks wrote that the army had a drove of live hogs and some flour when it left Hartford but the march proved so slow and difficult that all of the flour had been eaten by February 25 and the army was forced to subsist on nothing but pork.
The average rate of march for Jackson’s army – and most large infantry forces of the time – was 15-miles per day. Some idea of the difficult conditions faced by the troops can be gained from the fact that it took eight days for the general to travel nearly 48 miles. The rate of march from Hartford to Fort Early was only 6 miles per day.
In other words, the road was so bad that the army needed 8 days to cover a distance that it should have been able to traverse in around three. Nightfall 200 years ago today found the column still several miles from the fort, bogged down in mud.
Capt. Hugh Young, the topographer assigned to Gen. Jackson’s staff, gave his professional opinion on the situation:
…The most singular features of the country between Hartford and Fort Early is the extreme rottenness of the soil during the winter months. This character extends even to the top of the hills, and frequently when the surface is perfectly dry and seemingly hard a wagon will sink to the body. This quality of the soil arises from the detritus of the pines forming a thin mould which mixed with the sand and red clay prevents the soil from ever becoming hard except in perfectly dry seasons. When the rainy months commence the falling water easily penetrates the surface but is stopped at the depth of a few feet by a bed of clay on which it remains pervading and swelling the sandy soil above and giving it that spongy penetrable character so destructive of the roads. [III]
This series will continue. Remember that you can read all of the articles at your convenience by visiting Seminole War 200th Anniversary.
[I] Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson to Secretary of War John C. Calhoun, February 26, 1818.
[II] John Banks, Diary of John Banks, 1936.
[III] Capt. Hugh Young, “A Topographical Memoir of East and West Florida with Itineraries,” 1818 (see Florida Historical Quarterly, Volume XIII, Number 3, January 1935: 132).