The Battle of Miccosukee determined the fate of Florida’s largest town 200 years ago today on April 1, 1818.
This story is part of a continuing series commemorating the 200th anniversary of the First Seminole War. Please click here to access the entire timeline of stories.
Miccosukee was home to more people than any other community in Florida – Pensacola and St. Augustine included – as Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson’s army approached on the afternoon of April 1, 1818. It lay on the western rim of Lake Miccosukee in what is now Leon County and had been established more than 50 years before by Hitchiti-speaking Lower Creeks who came down from the Chattahoochee River.
The Miccosukee spoke the Mikasuki language, which was one of many dialects or languages that could be heard in the American Indian towns of Florida in 1818. It was derived from the Hitchiti language and, along with Alabama, Muscogee, Yuchi, Hitchiti, Spanish, English, French, African and other dialects, was spoken by the warriors who united to fight the American army. The Mikasuki and Hitchiti dialects had words and sounds in common with Muscogee, but Mikasuki and Muscogee speakers could not necessarily understand each other.
The principal chief of Miccosukee in 1818 was Cappachimico, a man often called Kenhajo or “King Hadjo” by many modern writers. The name Kenhajo, however was a pejorative and its continued use is insulting to the memory of a chief who called himself Cappachimico.
Aware of Jackson’s approach, Cappachmico began to evacuate his people on the morning of April 1, 1818. This was an extremely difficult undertaking as Miccosukee was a massive village that stretched for several miles down the lake. The town had herds that included thousands of head of cattle, horses, swine and more. As many of these animals as possible were driven east to save them from the approaching army.
Some of the town’s corn was also saved but much had to be left behind.
As Jackson prepared to march from his encampment, news arrived that 400 mounted Tennessee Volunteers were approaching. The general had hoped that these men – and many more from Tennessee – would join his army before it crossed into Florida, but they instead had headed to the populated areas of Georgia from Fort Mitchell after hearing reports of starvation at Fort Scott. The main body of the Tennessee regiments was still in Georgia heading south, but the arrival of the first 400 men greatly expanded the army and also increased its maneuverability.
The troops were held in column until the Tennesseans arrived. Gen. Jackson was quick to put the mounted men to use:
…[T]hey were ordered to form the advance of each flank, with Captains Russell and Evans’s companies, as spies, with Captain John Gordon. The army now advanced within a mile and a half of Kinghajah’s town, when a number of Indians were discovered herding cattle on the margin of a large pond. The general ordered the right and left columns to advance, with a view of cutting off their retreat, and at the same time instructed the advance light company, under Major Muhlenburg, the guard, under Major Nicks, together with the small companies composing his life guard, under Captains Dunlap and Critteden, to advance in support of the spies, in the event of a general engagement. [I]
The evacuation of Miccosukee continued even as Jackson’s army formed its line of battle to the west. The warriors spotted by the spies or scouts of the army chose a good defensive position and prepared to fight:
…The spy companies commenced the attack, and a brisk running fire was kept up on both sides for some minutes, when the enemy divided, the spy companies pursuing those on the right; and Lieutenant Colonel Elliott having turned their flank, became generally engaged, and bore them over to the left column, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Mitchell, within half gunshot of each other, when they were assailed by both flanks, and all would have fallen, had not the volunteers taken up the impression, from the similarity of dress, that some of the friendly warriors had reached in pursuit of the enemy, which occasioned the firing to cease for a short time, when a number made good their retreat into the swamp. [II]
Even as some of Cappachimico’s warriors retreated, others continued the fight. Thick clouds of smoke from black powder rifles and muskets added to the confusion as the battle raged. The pond near which the warriors were first spotted provided them with some protection from the front, but the columns of soldiers began to move around it. The mounted Tennesseans, however, had difficulty getting their horses across the swampy terrain:
…Captain Crittenden’s company, being on horseback, was unable to reach the head of Lieutenant Colonel Elliott’s column, when they dismounted, and operated against the enemy. Major Muhlenburg’s company, the advance guard, and Captain Dunlap’s company, being on foot, were not able to reach the scene of action in time. The right column of Georgia militia, on nearing the pond, filed round it; and Colonel King, with his regiment, was ordered to advance through it, to support the column of horse, should it be found necessary; which was executed by the colonel with great
The military reports can be a little confusing but this map should help in understanding the battle. Basically the army arrived at a point 1.5 miles west of Miccosukee and saw a force of warriors on the opposite side of a large pond. The Tennesseans under Lt. Col. Elliott, followed by Crittenden’s mounted men, advanced around the north side of the pond. The Georgia militia went around the southern edge of the water while Col. William King with the 4th U.S. Infantry went straight through it.
The outnumbered warriors divided into two groups to try to oppose the both of the flanking columns at the same time. The force opposing the Tennesseeans broke first and retreated into the swamps. The force opposing the Georgians fought longer.
Lt. John Banks of the Georgia militia was in the fight at Miccosukee:
…They met us a mile from town. They fled before us, but continued to fire back. The Tennesseans, being mounted, pressed them through the town. They took to a swamp. Eleven Indians were found dead on the ground. We took some prisoners. One of the Tennesseans was killed and five wounded. [III]
Col. Robert Butler, Jackson’s Adjutant General, reported that one Tennessean from Capt. Andrews’s company was killed and four from Capt. Evans’s company were wounded.
Fourteen of the Miccosukee warriors were reported killed in the fighting. An unknown number were wounded.
…The army now advanced upon the town, which was found deserted by the enemy; and, on reaching the square, discovered a red pole planted at the council-house, on which were suspended about fifty fresh scalps, taken from the heads of extreme age down to the tender infant of both sexes, and, in an adjacent house, near three hundred more, which bore the appearance of having been the barbarous trophies of settled hostility for three or four years past. [IV]
Scattered resistance continued as the soldiers advanced into the main town and square area. Jackson’s lead forces could see Indian families retreating across the wide expanse of Lake Miccosukee itself. The lake is vast but very shallow and was even more shallow then. The army went into the marshes after the fleeing inhabitants:
The army continued the pursuit to a large pond of water, which is eight miles in length, varying in width from six hundred to four thousand yards, and from two to five feet deep, through which the army passed, when the approach of night convinced the commanding general to draw off his troops. [V]
And so the Battle of Miccosukee came to an end with the arrival of night. It was the first engagement of Jackson’s 1818 invasion and ended with the largest town in Florida in the hands of the American army. The soldiers found plenty of corn and beef and enjoyed something of a feast after their long day of marching and fighting. Cappachimico and his people suffered a gloomy night on the opposite side of the lake. Exhausted, wet and cold, they continued their retreat through the night to find a safe refuge away from the troops.
The military would gain a better idea of the size of the town on the next day and would also engage in more fighting. That story will come tomorrow as this series continues. This video will give you a good idea of Lake Miccosukee’s appearance:
The map below combines parts of the army’s original route with modern roads to give you a good tour of the Miccosukee area. It follows Miccosukee Road from the area of the March 30 encampment northwest for 12.7 miles to the modern village of Miccosukee. The first few miles follow the route actually taken by Jackson but the tour then diverges in order to continue up the beautiful canopy road to today’s community.
Be sure to check out the historic marker for the Miccosukee Villages on County Road 59 just south of the intersection with Cromartie Road. The adjacent Methodist Church is on the National Register of Historic Places and was founded in the 1820s less than one decade after the battle. Return to Cromartie Road and continue east to Old Magnolia Road, a graded dirt road that runs south along the west side of Lake Miccosukee. Like Miccosukee Road, this is a beautiful canopy road and some of the trees that you will see have been growing since before the battle. Along the way you will pass an oak tree in the middle of the road. This is the famed “Duelling Tree” where early settlers once fought duels. Continue south until you reach Ro Co Co Road and turn left.
The battle itself was fought not far from the intersection and the countryside along Ro Co Co Road will give you a good understanding of the terrain that surrounded the village.
The road will take you down to Cypress Landing on the shore of Lake Miccosukee. From the dock you can take in a good view of the wide and beautiful lake. The fleeing inhabitants crossed immediately to your south, as did the soldiers who pursued them. Be sure to take your camera and birders will especially enjoy the ducks, egrets, herons and other waterfowl that populate the lake.
[I] Col. Robert Butler to Brig. Gen. Daniel Parker, May 3, 1818.
[III] Lt. John Banks, Diary of John Banks, 1936.
[IV] Col. Robert Butler to Brig. Gen. Daniel Parker, May 3, 1818.