Fort Scott was an important 19th century military post located on the Flint River in what is now Decatur County, Georgia. It served as the command post for U.S. operations during the First Seminole War of 1817-1818.
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The site of Fort Scott is undeveloped and neglected today. It overlooks the Flint River arm of Lake Seminole, a 37,500-acre impoundment completed in 1958. Despite projections that the site would be flooded by the lake, it remains well above the high water mark of the reservoir.
The first fort on this site was built long before the creation of the lake, when the bluff still towered above the cool clear water of the Flint River.
Lt. Col. Duncan Lamont Clinch landed here during the first week of June 1816 with his battalion of men from the 4th U.S. Infantry Regiment. The colonel had been ordered down by boat from Fort Gaines to locate and fortify a defensible position near the border between the United States and what was then Spanish Florida.
Clinch selected the high bluff because of its proximity to the confluence of the Flint and Chattahoochee Rivers, the obvious defensive potential of the site and the presence of a deep spring that flowed nearby. His men built a gunpowder magazine on the bluff top and then surrounded it with a rough log stockade.
The compound was named Camp Crawford after Secretary of War William Crawford of Georgia.
Because the occupation of Camp Crawford was expected to be temporary, no barracks or other structures were built. Less than six weeks after first setting foot on the bluff, Clinch led most of his men down the Apalachicola River into Spanish Florida as part of the American operation against the Fort at Prospect Bluff (called the “Negro Fort” by U.S. officials).
A former British post left in the hands of a well-trained and armed force of African American auxiliary soldiers at the end of the War of 1812, the Fort at Prospect Bluff was thought by the United States to be a haven for runaway slaves from Georgia and the Carolinas. It was attacked and destroyed in a joint land-sea operation on July 27, 1816.
Of the estimated 320 men, women and children in the fort when it was destroyed, 270 died instantly and many of the survivors were mortally wounded. Of those who lived, only a few were found to have actually been runaway slaves from the United States. Most were free blacks from Florida.
The survivors found to have come from plantations and farms of the United States were carried back up to Camp Crawford where they arrived on August 2, 1816. Clinch immediately sent out a notice that they could be claimed there by their owners, but it is unclear whether any actually were returned to
Among these was an individual named Abraham. He had lived in slavery in Georgia before escaping to Florida to join the British Colonial Marines at Prospect Bluff. He was eventually released from Fort Scott and went on to become an important Black Seminole leader and a noted adviser to the Seminole chief Micanopy.
Now realizing that the bluff on the lower Flint was destined for longer occupation, the colonel ordered the construction of a second and more permanent fort. By November the name of the installation was changed from Camp Crawford to Fort Scott, probably to honor Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott of the U.S. Army.
The new fort consisted of a long row of barracks built of squared longs in a single line back from the edge of the bluff. So strong that they could be defended merely by closing their heavy wooden doors and
window shutters, the barracks formed one wall of the new compound.
Quarters for officers were built between this line of buildings and the river, as were a hospital, magazine and other structures. An inspector who visited the site that fall reported that stockade walls would be built at each end of this compound to secure its flanks.
Fort Scott was still incomplete, however, when orders came for its evacuation. A military downsizing was underway and the fort was not thought necessary. No sooner did the soldiers leave at the end of 1816,
however, than did angry Red Stick Creeks ransack the fort and burn three of its buildings.
Recognizing that the government had been hasty in abandoning the fort, Maj. Gen. Edmund P. Gaines ordered Capt. Sanders Donoho to move his artillery company from Charleston to Fort Scott and to rebuild the defenses. Due to slow communications and the difficulty of the march, Donoho did not reach the bluff until June of 1817. The work of rebuilding the fort was not completed until late December of that year.
Long before the fort was finished, however, a war of words broke out between the U.S. Army and Neamathla, the chief of the Lower Creek village of Fowltown. Because he had not signed the Treaty of Fort Jackson by which the Creek Nation ceded most of Southwest Georgia to the United States, Neamathla refused to be bound by that agreement. The land was his, he said, and he was “directed by the Powers above to defend it.”
Anticipating violence, Gen. Gaines marched the full strengths of the 4th and 7th Infantry Regiments from Alabama to Fort Scott. On November 21, 1817, troops from Fort Scott marched on Fowltown with orders to bring back the chief and some of his people to be held as hostages. The warriors of the town
resisted and the first shots of the First Seminole War rang out.
The skirmish, along with a second encounter at Fowltown on the 23rd, stirred up a hornets’ nest for the soldiers at Fort Scott. Thousands of Creek, Seminole and Black Seminole reinforcements marched to Neamathla’s support from villages as far away as the Suwannee River.
On November 30, 1817, they retaliated for the attacks on Fowltown by ambushing a U.S. Army boat on the Apalachicola River near the modern city of Chattahoochee. Lt. R.W. Scott was killed, along with 34 of his men, 6 women and 4 children. Of the 7 survivors, five were badly wounded and one, a woman named Elizabeth Stewart, was carried away as a prisoner.
The Indian forces, now led by the Creek Prophet Josiah Francis and the Seminole chief Boleck (often called Bowlegs), followed up their bloody success by attacking Fort Scott on December 2, 1817. Firing from across the Flint River, the warriors sent the soldiers scrambling for cover and kept up their attack
until the fort’s cannon were directed against them.
News of the Scott Massacre reached Washington, D.C., in December and sent a shock wave through the halls of power. Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson was ordered from Nashville to assume command of an army
that would be assembled to punish the Indians for the attack. Militia troops were called up from Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, the Carolinas and the Mississippi Territory.
Jackson reached Fort Scott on March 9, 1818 only to find the soldiers there on the verge of starvation. Determined to march to his supplies, which were believed to be on their way up the Apalachicola River, he left the fort the next day and shortly thereafter invaded Spanish Florida.
With the exception of a few late raids, the First Seminole War was over by June. The army, however, did not repeat its mistake of 1816 and this time maintained a strong presence at the fort.
By 1820, in fact, a major reinforcement of Fort Scott was underway. Concerned that the Spanish might refuse to peacefully give up Florida to the United States, the American government prepared to seize the colony. The main bodies of the 4th and 7th Infantry regiments once again were ordered to the Flint River.
This time, however, the army encountered not enemy warriors but mosquitoes that swarmed up from the swamps to infect the men with malaria. The monthly reports of the post indicate that at one time as many as 769 of the 780 soldiers at Fort Scott were sick with malaria. Many died.
A few dozen men able to withstand the short march were moved across the Flint River to a high hill a few miles away in hope that a change of air might benefit them. Malaria was then thought to be caused by bad air. A tent camp was pitched in a grove of tall pine trees at a place still known today as Camp Recovery. The experiment, unfortunately, failed. Many of the men in this small group died at Camp Recovery and the rest were moved back to Fort Scott after a few months.
Despite such fearful sickness and the deaths of over 100 U.S. soldiers, a large force was maintained at Fort Scott until September of 1821. Once the peaceful transfer of Florida from Spain to the United States had taken place, the fort was abandoned and its garrison was sent west to the new frontier west of the Mississippi.
There is some evidence that Confederate troops may have camped at the site in 1861, but the top of the bluff was never again occupied by the U.S. military.
A monument was erected on the site during the 1880s to mark the burial ground where so many forgotten soldiers were buried. It remained there until the 1950s when it was moved to the J.D. Chason Memorial Park in Bainbridge after engineers predicted that the site would be flooded by Lake Seminole. The projections turned out to be wrong, but the monument was never returned.
The site of Fort Scott is protected today by Federal law, but otherwise is unmarked and neglected. The entire site is covered with dense underbrush and aside from a few earthen embankments, no trace can be seen of either the fort or its forgotten burial ground in which nearly 200 American soldiers rest in silent peace.
While the fort itself is not accessible, those interested in learning more can read a marker on the opposite side of Lake Seminole at Hutchinson Ferry Landing. The monument originally placed at the fort can be seen at Chason Park, located at the intersection of Donelson & Jackson Streets in Bainbridge, Georgia. An exhibit at the park tells the story of Fort Scott, Fort Hughes and the Creek Trail of Tears.
Enjoy the new documentary on Fort Scott for free by clicking play:
To learn more about these forts of the forgotten frontier, please consider the new book Fort Scott, Fort Hughes & Camp Recovery: Three 19th Century Military Sites in Southwest Georgia by historian Dale Cox: