Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson reached Fort Scott 200 years ago today at the head of a starving army of 2,000 men.
This article is part of a continuing series that commemorates the 200th anniversary of the First Seminole War. Click here to read other articles in the series.
The arrival of Jackson at Fort Scott marked his only visit to the post from which U.S. troops had ignited the war that now burned across the frontier from Mobile Bay to the Atlantic Ocean. Capt. Hugh Young gave a brief description of the beleaguered fort:
…Fort Scott is situated on the west bank of Flint eight miles above the mouth of Chattahoochee – and on a high flat of sandy second rate soil. It was formerly only a cantonment and was afterwards irregularly enclosed by a quadrangular picketing. [I]
The bluff on which the fort stood then rose more than 25 feet above the normal level of the Flint River. The completion of the Jim Woodruff Dam in 1958 dramatically changed the environment of the site and its highest points now rise less than 8 feet above the level of Lake Seminole.
Jackson and his officers found that Lt. Col. Matthew Arbuckle’s reports of the desperate condition of his men were accurate and that food at Fort Scott was in extremely short supply. The general learned from Arbuckle that news had just reached the fort of the arrival of supply ships in Apalachicola Bay and that a keelboat was even then preparing to bring desperately needed provisions up the Apalachicola River:
At seven o’clock P.M. on the 9th instant, I reached Fort Scott, with the brigade of Georgia militia nine hundred bayonets strong and some of the friendly Creeks who had joined me on my march a few days before, where finding but one quart of corn per man, and a few poor cattle which added to the live pork I brought along, would give us three days’ rations of meat, determined me at once to use the small supply to the best advantage. Accordingly, having been advised by Col. Gibson, quartermaster general, that he would sail from New Orleans on the 12th of February with supplies, and being also advised that two sloops with provisions were in the bay, and an officer had been despatched from Fort Scott in a large keel-boat to bring up a part of their loading, and deeming that the preservation of these supplies would be to preserve the army, and enable me to prosecute the campaign, I assumed the command on the morning of the 10th; ordered the live stock slaughtered, and issued to the troops with one quart of corn to each man, and the line of march to be taken up at twelve meridian. [II]
The decision by Jackson to advance was typical of the headstrong general and represented something of a calculated risk, but not as much of one as has sometimes been represented. The nearest supplies in sufficient quantity to feed the army were those aboard ship at Apalachicola Bay. Advancing to meet them was much less a risk than retreating from the frontier, a move that would take longer and possibly lead to the disintegration of the army before food could be located.
An advance would also drive back 200 warriors that were supposed to be in position near the forks of the Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers. Headed by the Prophet Josiah Francis, this force was to observe and delay any advance by U.S. troops while most of the men from the Seminole, Red Stick and Miccosukee army went to their towns to move their women, children and livestock to safety ahead of the expected resumption of combat.
The sooner the general could get his men fed and resupplied, the sooner he could advance on the main Seminole, Miccosukee and Red Stick towns between the Apalachicola and Suwannee Rivers. Breaking up those villages and driving any resisting warriors beyond the latter river, Jackson hoped, would end the war.
Brig. Gen. William McIntosh, meanwhile, was driving down the west bank of the Chattahoochee River with the main body of the U.S. Creek Brigade. He hoped to strike at a concentration of warriors reported to be on the upper Chipola River within 24-hours:
…[O]n the Sunday in the evening there was about fourteen of our old enemies came and gave themselves up to us, with their women and children; I sent their women back with some of our own people to the Ufaula and we have taken two of the men along with us as pilots. They told me that the Red Ground Chief had got a great many of our enemies collected together to fight and these two men are piloting us to him. About 1 hour after we took these people, ten more came into our camp with white flags and joined us; I sent this to you – I am going to-day, and to-morrow about 9 o’clock the fight will be ended with us – if I conquer the Red Ground Chief, I don’t expect to meet as many more in number hereafter – you will hear from me as quick as the fight is over with us. [III]
While McIntosh and Jackson prepared to lead their columns across the international border into Spanish Florida, a large force of either Miccosukee or Seminole warriors struck deep into Georgia. They routed a force of Telfair County militia in a sharp battle 20-25 miles below Hartford on the Ocmulgee River:
…On the night of the 3d instant, Joseph Bush and his son were fired upon by a party of Indians, the father killed, and the son severely wounded and scalped, but so far recovered as to reach home in two days after. The citizens received information of the foregoing facts, assembled on the 9th inst. to the number of 36, and crossed the river in the forenoon, to seek redress. Finding considerable signs of Indians, they pursued the trail leading from the river some distance out, where they came in view of a body of Indians, 50 or 60, advancing within gun-shot. The firing was commenced by each party, and warmly kept up for three quarters of an hour. A part of the detachment effected their retreat, bringing off one badly wounded – four are certainly killed; the balance of the detachment has not been heard from – Maj. Cothom (commandant of the Telfair militia,) [i.e. Cawthon] is among the missing. Four Indians were killed. [IV]
A second account reported that 5 militiamen were killed and 2 wounded in the engagement, while noting that the bodies of only 2 Indian casualties were found on the ground. The number killed made it the deadliest battle for white forces since the defeat of Lt. Richard W. Scott’s party on November 30, 1817 (please see The Bloodiest U.S. Defeat of the First Seminole War).
The battle was a clear victory for the American Indian alliance fighting against the United States. The tide of the war turned on March 9, 1818. Both Jackson and McIntosh would cross the border into Florida over the next 48 hours, taking the conflict to the towns and homes of the warriors who had fought so effectively against U.S. forces during the fall and winter of 1817-1818.
This series will continue. Read any parts that you might have missed by visiting our main timeline at Seminole War 200th Anniversary.
You can also learn more about Fort Scott and the First Seminole War by watching this free documentary from Two Egg TV and reading the books available lower on this page.
[I] Capt. Hugh Young, “A Topographical Memoir of East and West Florida with Itineraries of General Jackson, 1818,” The Florida Historical Quarterly.
[II] Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson to Secretary of War John C. Calhoun, March 25, 1818.
[III] Brig. Gen. William McIntosh to Maj. Daniel Hughes, March 10, 1818.
[IV] Lt. Col. Richard Thomas to Gov. William Rabun, March 10, 1818.