The army of Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson crossed the Apalachicola River to Ocheesee Bluff to what is now Calhoun County, Florida, 200 years ago today. The march on Pensacola was underway.
This article continues a series commemorating the 200th anniversary of the First Seminole War and begins the West Florida phase of the 1818 campaign. Click here to catch up on articles that you might have missed.
The Apalachicola River was Andrew Jackson’s Rubicon. Like Caesar on the Rubicon in 49 B.C., he crossed 200 years ago today knowing that it was his point of no return. His plan was to attack and take Pensacola and in doing so would clearly exceed the orders that he had received from the Monroe Administration.
Jackson was authorized to enter Florida and “punish” the Seminole, Miccosukee and Red Stick warriors responsible for the attack on Lt. Richard W. Scott’s command (please see Bloodiest U.S. Defeat of the First Seminole War). He justified his destruction of Tallahassee Talofa, Miccosukee and the Suwannee Old Towns pursuant to these orders and to some degree the taking of the Spanish fort of San Marcos de Apalache as well.
200 years ago today, however, the general began a campaign to take the capital city of an entire Spanish colony. The United States was not at war with the King of Spain and Secretary of War John C. Calhoun warned Jackson not to attack Spanish settlements or forts without prior authority from Washington. He took St. Marks, of course, but the fort there was an isolated outpost. Pensacola was an ancient and historic city and the seat of Gov. Jose Masot.
Students of history often think of Florida in the modern or singular sense. In 1818, however, there were two colonies: East Florida and West Florida. Jackson invaded East Florida in March but had not set his sets on its capital city of St. Augustine. On May 10, 1818, he crossed into West Florida to begin his second invasion of a Spanish colony in less than two months.
The logistics of the crossing are not well-known. Soldiers of the 4th U.S. Infantry brought boats and supplies down from Fort Scott and met the army at today’s Torreya State Park. Likely this force – composed of 137 U.S. regulars – made the first landing on the west bank at Ocheesee Bluff. The rest of the army then moved over on the boats:
…Leaving a strong garrison of regulars in Fort Scott and Gadsden, I resumed my march with a small detachment of the 4th regiment of infantry, one company of artillery, and the effectives of the Tennessee volunteers, the whole not exceeding twelve hundred men, to fulfil m intentions, communicated to you, of scouring the country west of the Appalachicola river. On the 10th of May, my army crossed that river at the Ochesee village, and, after a fatiguing, tedious, and circuitous march of twelve days, misled by the ignorance of my pilots, and exposed to the severest privations, we finally reached and effected a passage over the Escambia. [I]
The “Ochesee village” mentioned by Jackson was Ocheesee Talofa, the town of Jack Mealy. He and his people were fighting against the United States in the conflict and took the swamps before the arrival of the army. It stood slightly back from the river face of Ocheesee Bluff. Like most Muscogee (Creek), Miccosukee and Seminole towns of the day, the village was spread out and surrounded by extensive fields and cattle ranges:
The Ochese Bluff commences on the west side of the river fifteen miles below Fort Scott, and extends several miles down the river, affording a body of second rate land with spots of first rate soil. At its southern extremity, a Bluff comes in on the east side – a barren spur from the sand hills. [II]
The bluff “on the east side” referred to the high hills where Torreya State Park exists today.
It took the army all day to complete the crossing, using keelboats and flats brought down from Fort Scott. By sundown, though, the entire army was across and read to begin a march that would cross the entire Florida Panhandle from east to west. The army would march into present-day Jackson County on the next morning (March 11, 1818).
The total strength of the army was now 1,092 officers and men. Present were 11 staff officers, 52 men from the 4th Battalion of the Corps of Artillery, 137 men from the 4th U.S. Artillery, 837 soldiers from the 1st and 2nd Regiments of Tennessee Volunteers and the general’s lifeguard of 55 volunteers from Kentucky and Tennessee. [III]
This series will continue. To learn more about the later history of Ocheesee Bluff, enjoy this mini-documentary from Two Egg TV:
The best way to see Ocheesee Bluff is to visit the boat landing in the northeastern corner of Calhoun County, Florida. This map will show you how to find it. You can also view the scene of the crossing from the trail that leads along the east bank of the Apalachicola River at Torreya State Park.
[I] Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson to Secretary of War John C. Calhoun, June 2, 1818.
[II] Capt. Hugh Young, “A Topographical Memoir of East and West Florida with Itineraries of General Jackson, 1818,” The Florida Historical Quarterly, Vol. 13, No. 1 (Jul., 1934): 34.
[III] Col. Robert Butler, “Field Report of the operating Army under the immediate command of Major General Andrew Jackson, at Pensacola, May 24, 1818.”