Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson invaded Spanish Florida 200 years ago today with an army of nearly 2,500 men. He crossed the border at present-day Chattahoochee, Florida.
This article is part of our continuing series that marks the 200th anniversary of the First Seminole War. Please click here to read other articles in the series.
It was the second time that Jackson had invaded Florida. He led an army against British forces occupying Pensacola during the War of 1812, driving them out and briefly raising the U.S. flag over the historic Spanish city. American forces quickly withdrew back to their own territory in 1814. Things would be different this time.
Although he is often accused by modern writers of invading Florida without higher authority, Jackson was actually ordered to pursue Seminole, Miccosukee and Red Stick Creek warriors into the Spanish colony by the administration of President James Monroe. News of the destruction of Lt. Richard W. Scott’s party had infuriated leaders in Washington and they unleashed “Old Hickory” as their weapon of revenge. Please see The Bloodiest U.S. Defeat of the First Seminole War for more about the Scott attack.
Capt. Hugh Young, Jackson’s topographer, described the route taken from the encampment across the river from Fort Scott to the border of Spanish Florida:
…10 1/2 miles to Musquito Creek. Through high sand hills with mixed growth of oak and pine and abundance of moss…Cross a small branch of good water in the fourth mile and one fourteen feet wide in the sixth mile, both branches of Musquito Creek on the east, the road running at this point on the hills between that creek and the river. Some second rate land near the last creek. [I]
Young’s wording is a bit confusing as he mentions the two small creeks crossed as being “branches of Musquito Creek on the east.” This would seem to imply that the army was coming down the east side of Mosquito creek. He also mentions, however, that the road was on the hills between “that [i.e. Mosquito] creek and the river.” This clearly indicates that the army was marching down the west side of the creek. Capt. Young’s description probably meant that Mosquito Creek was “on the east” of the line of march, not that the branches or streams were east of the creek.
His original map of the campaign is in the National Archives and confirms the latter interpretation of the line of march. It shows the route of the army as coming down the west side of Mosquito Creek between it and the river. Several small branches and two larger creeks flow from the west to intersect with the trail along the 10 mile distance from the approximate encampment site to Chattahoochee. The largest of these is now dammed to form a small pond or lake called Cypress Lake on the grounds of Florida State Hospital. It can be seen at Cypress Cove Nature Park, which is open to the public.
The army crossed into Florida on the afternoon of March 11, 1818. The development of Chattahooche has changed the appearance of the area but an idea of the terrain and woods through which the army passed can be obtained by taking a short walk on the Angus Gholson Nature Trail at the Chattahoochee Nature Park. It is located at the intersection of Bolivar and Morgan Avenue. (See the video lower on this page for about the park).
The army crossed crossed the grounds of today’s Florida State Hospital after entering Florida. The U.S. Government would later establish the Apalachicola Arsenal on this site. The original gunpowder magazine, built during the Presidency of Andrew Jackson, is preserved as a museum today.
Jackson and his men continued south along the general route of what is now Main Street from where it leaves the hospital grounds to the crossing of Mosquito Creek. A modern bridge now spans the creek near the site of the original ford:
Musquito Creek is twenty-five feet wide at the crossing place, has sandy banks – a bottom of argillaceous rock and no swamp. The main branch of Musquito Creek runs nearly parallel with the Flint to the crossing place” when it turns nearly west, and enters the Apalachicola one mile below the junction of Flint and Chattahoochee. [II]
The standard rate of march for an army in that day was 15-miles per day and Jackson’s troops were pretty seasoned to marching by the time they reached Florida. They were malnourished, however, and the steep hills around Chattahoochee undoubtedly slowed their forward progress. The probably camped somewhere in the River Junction area on the night of the 11th.
The army passed very near the scene of the 1817 attack on Lt. Richard W. Scott’s party as it marched south across the site of present-day Chattahoochee (please The Bloodiest U.S. defeat of the First Seminole War). This was the reason that the Monroe Administration had ordered the old general to Florida, but it is not known he paused to view the site. It would have been easy for him to do so as the road being followed by the army intersected with the Old Spanish Trail at Chattahoochee. The latter pathway led west a short distance and then down a ravine in the bluff line to a prehistoric mound group on the bank of the Apalachicola River. Seminole, Miccosukee, Black Seminole and Red Stick Creek warriors had attacked Scott’s boat at this location, now part of River Landing Park.
Whether or not Jackson visited the battlefield in person, some of his troops likely did so. He was hoping to meet supply boats coming up the river and Capt. Young mentions that frequent checks were made of the Apalachicola in hopes of spotting them.
The need for food was desperate. The soldiers would begin their march the next morning with just a single day of rations remaining. No sign had been detected of the supply vessels and the men were eating as little as humanly possible to conserve their last scraps of food.
It is rarely recognized as such today, but Andrew Jackson’s crossing into Spanish Florida at Chattahoochee 200 years ago today was one of the most important moments in American history. Against all odds he had assembled an army on the international border and invaded an allied country.
The invasion turned the tide of the Seminole War and devastated the Seminole, Miccosukee, Red Stick Creek and maroon (Black Seminole) towns of North Florida. The destruction inflicted by the army caused a humanitarian crisis and drove thousands of people south into Central and South Florida. Jackson also stormed Spanish forts and towns, demonstrating with a cold certainty that His Catholic Majesty could no longer defend his ancient colony. Within three years the United States would stretch from the Great Lakes to the Gulf and from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The future of North America and the world changed forever on the day that Andrew Jackson invaded Florida.
This series will continue. You can catch up on any articles that you might have missed by visiting Seminole War 200th Anniversary. The books shown at the bottom of this article contain a wealth of information on the First Seminole War.
The map lower down this page will help you drive the approximate route taken by Jackson’s army 200 years ago today. Be sure to spend some time in Chattahoochee and check out some of the delightful restaurants, shops and points of interest. These videos will tell you more about River Landing Park and the Chattahoochee Nature Park:
[I] Capt. Hugh Young, “A Topographical Memoir of East and West Florida with Itineraries of General Jackson, 1818,” The Florida Historical Quarterly, Volume 13, Number 3 (Jan., 1935), pp. 137-138.