The U.S. Army, led in person by Southern Division commander Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson, made its difficult crossing of the Flint River 200 years ago today. He would reach Spanish Florida on the next afternoon.
Click here to read other articles in the series. We are posting on the 200th anniversaries of key events of the First Seminole War of 1817-1818.
The river was falling but still high as Jackson looked across from the top of the bluff at Fort Scott on the morning of March 10, 1818. The vast floodplain swamps are now submerged beneath the waters of 37,500 acre Lake Seminole. Every boat at the fort was put into service to help men move across the river, but it took until the next morning for everyone to make it:
…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. Having to cross the Flint river, which was very high, combined with some neglect in returning the boats during a very dark night, I was unable to move from the opposite bank until nine o’clock, on the morning of the 11th, when I took up my line of march down the east bank of the river. [I]
Lt. John Banks of the Georgia militia gave a similar account of the crossing. He reported drawing three days’ rations of corn and pork and then waiting for his turn in a boat. “We crossed about midnight in a little boat,” he wrote, “the river was very high.” [II]
Capt. Hugh Young, the army’s topographer, reported that the crossing was made from a point just below the fort:
The ferry is one-quarter of a mile below the Fort, where the river has a width of 190 yards and a rapid current. Bank high and open on the west – on the east a low open bluff two hundred yards below. Thence one-half a mile through miry pine woods to the hills. [III]
The crossing site described by Young is completely inundated by Lake Seminole today. The reservoir waters lap against the base of the hills that he described as being three-quarters of a mile from the fort.
Jackson absorbed the main bodies of the 4th and 7th U.S. Infantry Regiments as he left Fort Scott. A small garrison of sick and debilitated men under Maj. Enos Cutler were left behind to garrison the post. Cutler had returned from Fort Gaines at about the time of Jackson’s arrival. The artillery company at the post was also added to the general’s column along with its field guns. Lt. Col. Matthew Arbuckle, who had commanded the fort through the winter, joined the main army at the head of the 7th Infantry.
Col. Robert Butler, Jackson’s adjutant general, issued orders for the coming march 200 years ago this morning:
…The Officer of the front guard will cause taps to be given at 4 O’clock a.m. when the Troops will arise and the music assemble near Head Quarters and beat the Revalie, the Army remaining under arms untill daylight except sufficient number to cool. The Bugle will be the signal for the march for which purpose a Bugalman will repair each morning to head quarters immediately after Revallie. The Regular troops will form the front and near center collums, the Indian Warriors forming two flank lines in single files and twenty five yards distance from the center collums, And the Georgia Militia in single file, in open order forming the extreme flank lines one hundred and fifty yards from the Center Column; the Life Guards disposable under the direction of the Commanding Genl. The Pack Horses will occupy the center in column of six deep. The rear guard will not at any time be more than 150 yards in rear of the Collum and will be positively ordered to push forward all straglers. [IV]
Butler went on to instruct the assistant adjutants to call at headquarters after the completion of the crossing to receive the countersign and watchwords that would be used for the security of the army. His gave clear instructions for how soldiers and officers were to conduct themselves in the event of an alarm:
…The most rigit constructions will be given to the Articles of War in relation to false alarms and Centinals are warned not to fire without drawing blood, One gun will constitute an alarm when the Troops will occupy ground 25 yards, without noise or confusion and the officer of the day will report at Head Quarters as soon as possible the cause of alarm. The Genl. looks to the Genls. of Brigades for the faith and rigid execution of this order and tenders to the Army his Compliments that they will soon perform service to meet the approbation of their Country. [V]
The brigade generals with the army at the time of the crossing included Maj. Gen. Edmund P. Gaines who commanded the regular troops, Brig. Gen. Thomas Glascock who commanded the Georgia militia and Col. Noble Kennard who was temporarily commanding the Creek troops during the absence of Brig. Gen. William McIntosh.
The total strength of the army on the day of the crossing was around 2,200 men (900 militia, 600 Creek warriors and around roughly 700 regular troops) Gen. McIntosh was west of the Chattahoochee with another 700-900 Creeks, heading for the headwaters of the Chipola River. Two regiments of mounted Tennessee Volunteers had been expected to join he army at Fort Scott, but had disappointed Jackson by halting at Fort Mitchell.
Fearing that they would starve in the wilderness, the Tennesseans turned east on the Old Federal Road and headed for the Creek Agency on the Flint River and Fort Hawkins on the Ocmulgee. Had they marched down the Chattahoochee as ordered, they would have reached Fort Scott in time to join in the crossing but instead would not form a junction with Jackson until the Florida invasion was well underway.
The army consumed one full day of its three days’ supply of rations during the crossing of the Flint and was left with only two days’ of food as it bedded down for the night on the hills south of the river but still within sight of Fort Scott.
This series will continue tomorrow. You can catch up on any articles that you might have missed by visiting Seminole War 200th Anniversary. The photographs included in this article were taken during the annual Scott 1817 Seminole War Battle living history event. The 2018 version of this great event will take place on November 30 – December 2 at River Landing Park in Chattahoochee, Florida. The public is invited so mark your calendar now and plan to attend!
Learn more about Fort Scott and the First Seminole War from the books at the bottom of this page and by watching this free documentary from Two Egg TV:
[I] Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson to Secretary of War John C. Calhoun, March 26, 1818.
[II] John Banks, Diary of John Banks, 1936.
[III] Capt. Hugh Young, “Topographical Memoir of East and West Florida with Itineraries of Gen. Jackson, 1818,” The Florida Historical Quarterly.
[IV] Col. Robert Butler, General Orders of March 10, 1818.