The Creek War of 1813-1814
On March 27, 1814, a frontier general named Andrew Jackson took a major step into American history when he defeated the “Red Stick” faction of the Creek Nation at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, Alabama.
For Jackson, Horseshoe Bend was the first step to the White House. For the Creeks, it was the first step on the Trail of Tears.
The Battle of Horseshoe Bend was the culminating event of the Creek War of 1813-1814. In reality a side conflict of the War of 1812, the confrontation grew from a tribal civil war after Mississippi Territorial Militia troops attacked a Creek supply party at Burnt Corn Creek, Alabama, during the summer of 1813.
The American attack brought the United States into a brutal conflict then being waged for control of the Creek Nation. The Red Stick faction of the Creeks, led by the Prophet Josiah Francis, were trying to seize control of the nation from the white-allied followers of the Big Warrior. When the Mississippi troops attacked their supply party at Burnt Corn, the Red Sticks retaliated by destroying a frontier stockade named Fort Mims. More than 250 men, women and children were killed in the attack and the U.S. frontier rose in alarm.
Outraged by the Fort Mims incident, U.S. authorities authorized three armies to converge on the Creek Nation. Two of these, marching from the Mississippi Territory and Georgia turned back after significant battles due to supply shortages. The third, however, remained in the field through the sheer willpower and determination of its commander, Tennessee militia general Andrew Jackson.
Fighting a series of major battles with Red Stick warriors, Jackson and his men slowly pushed south through the mountain and hill country of Alabama.
Reinforced by the 39th U.S. Infantry, he marched on the primary Red Stick fortifications at Tohopeka or Horseshoe Bend in March of 1814.
The Creek defenses had been constructed of heavy logs and zigzagged across the narrow neck of a looping bend of the Tallapoosa River. Carefully designed to allow the defenders to fire on any attacking force, the wall or barricade was a formidable obstacle.
The warriors lived with their women and children on the peninsula formed by the bend and had decided to fight to the death rather than submit to the oncoming American troops.
As he approached the battlefield, Jackson sent a large force of Tennessee riflemen across the river to surround the Horseshoe Bend from the opposite bank. Led by Gen. John Coffee, these men were joined by several hundred Creek and Cherokee warriors that had joined the fight against the Red Sticks. Among them was Sequoyah, the scholar and explorer who later invented the Cherokee alphabet.
On the morning of March 27, 1814, Jackson moved forward to a steep hill overlooking the Creek fortifications. Placing his two small cannon into position, he opened fire on the barricade but soon realized that the Creek defenses were too strong. The iron cannonballs ricocheted off or passed beyond the works without doing major damage.
The Red Sticks were led on the battlefield by the war chief Menawa and their battle cries could be heard from all points of the scene. On a hill behind the barricade could be seen several Red Stick prophets who were dancing and calling upon the Master of Life for victory over the whites.
As this impasse developed along the main lines, a portion of the troops sent to the opposite bank of the Tallapoosa took action that ultimately decided the battle. Commanded by General John Coffee, several hundred U.S.-allied Cherokee warriors, along with some Tennessee riflemen, swam the river to the Creek village and secured a number of canoes. Using them to ferry men across the river, they set fire to the village at the foot of the bend and opened fire on the Creek army from the rear.
Taking advantage of the diversion, Jackson ordered the 39th Infantry to storm the barricade. The fighting was intense. Major Lemuel Montgomery (for whom the city of Montgomery was later named) was killed, but his soldiers stormed the works and poured into the Creek warriors beyond. Among the soldiers wounded in the assault was Ensign Sam Houston, later destined to become famed for his role in securing the independence of Texas from Mexico.
The battle now turned into a bloodbath. Realizing that they were fighting for the independence and future of their people, the Creek warriors refused to surrender and literally fought to the last man. Although a few managed to escape during the next night, including Menewa who swam the river and slipped away despite his severe wounds, virtually the entire Creek force was killed in the fighting. More than 800 warriors died in the Battle of Horseshoe Bend.
U.S. casualties were heavy as well. Jackson later reported that his command suffered 49 killed and 154 wounded, many of whom later died. The results, however, were stunning. The Battle of Horseshoe Bend broke the back of the Muscogee Nation, forcing an end to the Creek War of 1813-1814. Jackson’s army swept on into the very heart of the nation, accepting the surrender of many of the principal Creek leaders. He forced upon them the Treaty of Fort Jackson, by which he agreed to end the war in exchange for the transfer of 20,000,000 acres of land. Most of the modern state of Alabama and part of Georgia were included in the cession.
After Horseshoe Bend, the Creeks were surrounded by white settlers and twenty years later were forced to give up the rest of their lands in Alabama and relocate to new homes west of the Mississippi in what is now Oklahoma. The long and deadly journey became known as the “Trail of Tears.” Jackson went on to defeat the British ten months later at the Battle of New Orleans, becoming a legendary American hero and ultimately President of the United States.
At Horseshoe Bend, the armies of two nations fought with courage and determination, knowing that the future was being decided. Their sacrifices are remembered today at Horseshoe Bend National Military Park in Daviston, Alabama.
Located on Alabama Highway 49, thirteen miles north of Dadeville, the park features a visitor center and museum, driving tour, hiking trails and interpretive displays pointing out where key parts of the battle were fought. Horseshoe Bend National Military Park is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.