Snow and ice hampered the movement of Andrew Jackson’s army 200 years ago today as the coldest day of the campaign was suffered on March 4, 1818. It was also the day that Maj. Gen. Edmund P. Gaines was unexpectedly rescued after spending nine days lost in the Southwest Georgia wilderness.
This article is part of a series that commemorates the First Seminole War of 1817-1818. Click here to read other articles in the series.
The sudden appearance of Gen. Gaines to the vanguard of Jackson’s army was a total surprise. Detachments from Fort Scott and Fort Gaines had been searching for him since learning of the February 23rd keelboat wreck that cast him and an enlisted man ashore on the west bank of the Flint. Other survivors, led by Maj. John Nicks, reached Fort Scott but other than footprints and a penciled note, no trace of Gaines had been found. A doctor even concluded that he could not have survived such exposure to the elements.
Jackson later reported that the general was in deplorable condition when he reached the army:
…In his passage down the Flint he was shipwrecked, by which he lost his assistant adjutant general, Major C. Wright, and two soldiers, (drowned.) The general reached me six days after, nearly exhausted by hunger and cold, having lost his baggage and clothing, and being compelled to wander in the woods four and a half days without any thing to subsist on, or any clothing except a pair of pantaloons. I am happy to have it in my power to say that he is now with me, at the head of his brigade, in good health. [I]
As best as can be determined from the various reports, it appears that the wreck happened when the keelboat struck a tree that had been brought down by flood waters – called a “sawyer” by boatmen – and then crashed into rocks and lodged midstream. The site was just above the mouth of Ichawaynochaway Creek near today’s Newton, Georgia.
After making it to the west bank, Gaines and the soldier with him started up the bank of the Ichawaynochaway, looking for a way to get across the stream. Flood waters prevented them from crossing and they traveled some 20 miles up the creek beyond the confluence of the Ichawaynochaway with Chickasawhatchee Creek. They finally found a spot where they could wade the Chickasawhatchee and crossed over to its western side after leaving a penciled note behind to tell rescuers that they had given up on trying to reach Fort Scott and were instead going to make for Fort Gaines.
The Ichawaynochaway was too flooded, however, and the general and his companion could not get across. They turned north instead, following a Native American trail up the west side of the Chickasawhatchee Creek Swamp. This vast wetland is the second largest swamp in Georgia. Gaines was on this path when he and the unnamed soldier with him stumbled into the vanguard of Jackson’s army and were saved.
Meanwhile, events were suddenly taking place on multiple fronts at the same time. Maj. Enos Cutler reported on the same day from Fort Gaines that the U.S. Creek Brigade under Gen. William McIntosh was on the move down the west side of the Chattahoochee River:
McIntosh is at Ufala with about seven hundred Indians, and out of provisions. I have written to him that he must bring meat with him. A citizen arrived last night from Fort Mitchell, who tells me the Hogs left there on the 2nd Inst. and that the boat will be ready to move this day. He says it will bring provisions unless the Tennessee troops eat it. I have sent a third express for salt to Colo. Brearly but have not yet heard from him. [II]
The rest of the Creek brigade was moving overland between the Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers and planned to join Jackson’s main body before it could reach Fort Scott.
The Seminole, Miccosukee and Red Stick Creeks had scouts out watching the approach to the front of the two large columns. The Prophet Josiah Francis was reported to be near present-day Chattahoochee with 200 warriors for the purpose of watching and delaying the U.S. army when it crossed into Florida.
This series will continue tomorrow. Until then, be sure to read any articles that you might have missed by visiting our main timeline at Seminole War 200th Anniversary.
[I] Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson to Secretary of War John C. Calhoun, March 25, 1818.
[II] Maj. Enos Cutler to Lt. Col. Matthew Arbuckle, March 4, 1818.