The first attempt by the U.S. Army to navigate Georgia’s Flint River ended in a disaster killed Maj. Clinton Wright and 3 soldiers. Maj. Gen. Edmund P. Gaines, Maj. John Nicks and others were marooned in the wilderness. The second attempt, by Brig. Gen. Homer V. Milton of the Georgia militia, was a success.
This article is part of a continuing series to mark the 200th anniversary of the First Seminole War. Please click here to read other articles in the series.
Gen. Homer V. Milton was a veteran soldier when he took command of the “Southern Regiment” of the Georgia militia in 1818. Born in 1781 near Louisville, Georgia, he was the son of a Revolutionary War officer named John Milton who had served as a captain and aide-de-camp to Gen. Benjamin Lincoln and the famed “Swamp Fox” himself, Gen. Francis Marion. His son, named John Milton after his father, was Florida’s Confederate Governor in 1861-1865.
Homer V. Milton had served as a major in the 3rd U.S. Infantry, lieutenant colonel in the 5th and 6th U.S. Infantries, and finally back to the 3rd Infantry as its colonel and commanding officer. A veteran of the War of 1812 and Creek War of 1813-1814, he left the army after those conflicts and returned home to the family plantation near Louisville in Jefferson County, Georgia. He returned to military service in 1818 when he was named brigadier general in the Georgia militia.
Gen. Milton was sick with a fever when the first wave of the Georgia militia marched out from Hartford with Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson and Maj. Gen. Edmund P. Gaines in February 1818. He soon recovered sufficiently to take the field and made his way to Fort Early on the Flint River.
News of the disaster that had befallen the keelboat carrying Gen. Gaines had reached the fort by that time (please see U.S. Army meets disaster on the Flint River) and Milton knew that the supply situation on the lower frontier was critical. Maj.Gen. Jackson was marching south with little food and insufficient stocks of ammunition for the planned campaign. Taking matters in hand as best he could, he decided to make another attempt at getting supplies down the flooded and rock-strewn Flint River.
Keelboats with supplies from the Creek Agency – on the Flint River near today’s Roberta – were finally arriving at Fort Early so Milton took personal command of a vessel loaded with ammunition and set out downriver. He may have been the unidentified officer who soon wrote from Fort Scott to describe the voyage:
…The first two days run from Fort Early we had a very narrow river, rapid current, numerous small islands, abrupt windings, and on the whole rather dangerous navigation – The third day the river became wider, the current more gentle, the lowlands, which before had been very narrow and poor, more extensive and fertile, and the country began to appear desirable. For about thirty miles by land above this, the navigation will be tolerably good for small keel boats, but above that, it can never be made good. [I]
The “abrupt windings” and “rather dangerous navigation” had claimed Gen. Gaines’ boat on February 23, 1818. Milton, however, made it through and soon came into the wider and calmer section of the river that began above Fort Hughes at Burges’s Bluff (please see Finding Fort
The observations of the officer about the Flint River would prove accurate over time. Regular steamboat navigation would eventually be possible only up to Bainbridge, although smaller boats were able to navigate the Flint as far up as Newton, Albany and even higher during the seasons of high water.
The ride down the river had been wild and dangerous, but Gen. Homer V. Milton had proved that the Flint River was navigable. Other keelboats would soon follow with food and other desperately needed supplies. One clue that he was the writer of the account of the voyage can be found in a sentence where he mentioned that the Flint would never offer the advantages of navigation of the “Tombigby and Alabama” Rivers. Milton had spent considerable time on those rivers during the Creek War and War of 1812.
The writer also gave a brief description of Fort Scott as it appeared in March 1818:
This Fort is situated upon a Bluff, on the western side of Flint River, 12 miles above its confluence with Chatahoochie, & has complete command of the river, with strong defences; but from the hostility of the Indians, and the Spaniards having in possession the mouth of the river it will be many years before the lands can be rendered valuable. [II]
Gen. Milton continued to serve a support role for Jackson’s army during the Florida invasion and then returned home when the war came to an end. He died at his home on April 2, 1822, survived by his wife Emily Jane Robinson Milton. His oldest son, John Milton, eventually became a militia general himself and served as Governor of Florida in 1861-1865.
Homer V. Milton was buried at the family cemetery near Louisville, Georgia. His remains were exhumed in 1927 and reburied at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Marianna, Florida. He rests there by his wife who died at Marianna in 1836.
This map will show you how to find the beautiful and historic church where he is now buried:
[I] Officer of the Georgia Detachment to the Editor of the Augusta Chronicle, March 17, 1818.