The U.S. Army crossed out of modern Okaloosa County and into what would become Santa Rosa County 200 years ago today as it arrived within one-day’s march of Escambia Bay.
This article continues a special series marking the 200th anniversary of the First Seminole War. Please click here to see the timeline for the entire series.
The army began its march 200 years ago today on the west side of the Yellow River near the point where State Highway 2 crosses that stream in Okaloosa County. The crossing point was within site of the bridge. (To learn more, please visit Across the Yellow River in Okaloosa County, Florida).
The soldiers spent the day marching generally to the southwest along a trail shown on many maps of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It took them west across a small branch and then Big Horse Creek. The latter stream is 2.5 miles from the crossing point on the Yellow. The army continued west along the “Path to Yellow Water” as it was by mapmaker Joseph Purcell in 1778, crossing Mare Creek and reaching the upper Blackwater River.
Capt. Hugh Young, the army’s topographer, reported that the last of these streams was “thirty feet wide – without swamp – with sandy bottom and banks, and a glady flat on the western side.” He described the total distance from the Yellow River to the Blackwater as 11.5 miles. [I]
The trail led them on across three branches and another 9.5 miles to a “a large creek with high steep hills on the east side and a palmetto flat on the west.” Once across, they continued another 1.25 miles to “a branch of ten feed wide and a sandy bottom.” The larger of these streams corresponds well with Big Juniper Creek, which flows beneath high red clay cliffs near today’s Red Rock Road. The smaller branch may have been the Maria Branch of Horns Creek. [II]
The army camped by the latter stream, having covered by Capt. Young’s estimate more than 22 miles on May 19, 1818. This was a long march but the army had completed even longer distances during the campaign and conditions were good. The rivers and creeks were fordable with sandy bottoms and the soldiers were moving along a well-established path that had been in use for more than 40 years. The camp that night was not far east of today’s Springhill Baptist Church on Munson Highway.
Much of the march 200 years ago today was through what is now the Blackwater River State Forest. The forest commemorates the army’s march with the appropriately-named Jackson Red Ground Trail, a 21.5 mile hiking trail that some believe was the route that Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson followed. He probably did use a short section of the modern trail near Red Rock Road and Big Juniper Creek, but most of his route was more to the north. The modern path, though, is a good way for the adventurous to recreate the march and see terrain very similar to that through which the army passed.
It is interesting that Jackson’s topographer did not realize that the army had crossed into the drainage of the Blackwater River but thought that the streams crossed that day flowed into the Yellow:
…All these streams are tributaries of Yellow Water and are very similar in character and appearance. Their currents are rapid-beautifully clear and run in wide channels of the whitest sand. The banks mostly open and low with commonly a hill on one side and a glady flat stretching to a small distance on the other. . .The soil on the hills among these creeks is alternately yellow, white and reddish sand and clay. The hills are based on a reddish sand-rock which in many places is seen on the surface in a semi-indurated state. West of Yellow Water this concrete has an argillaceous mixture, which renders it friable and when found pulverized on the surface mixed with a little vegetable mould would be productive. The timber is altogether pine except in the swamps and thickets. [III]
The army was now within striking distance of Escambia Bay and just a few hours away from the populated districts along its eastern shore. This series will continue tomorrow on the 200th anniversary of a critical day in the history of the 1818 campaign.
To learn more about the campaign and the events leading up to it, please visit our main timeline of stories at 200th Anniversary of the First Seminole War.
To experience the sights and sounds of the First Seminole War era, be sure to attend this year’s Scott 1817 Seminole War Battle in Chattahoochee, Florida. It features living history encampments, battle reenactments, demonstrations, exhibits, food, vendors and more. This 60-second video from Two Egg TV will give you a preview:
[I] Capt. Hugh Young, “A Topographical Memoir of East and West Florida with Itineraries of General Jackson, 1818,” The Florida Historical Quarterly : 158.
[II] Ibid.: 158-159.
[III] Ibid.: 159-160.