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The Creek War of 1813 and 1814|
Chapter 11: Attack on Fort Sinquefield
by Halbert, H. S. and Ball, T. H.
|To the writer of this chapter it seems that full credence can well be given to a statement coming down from James Cornells in regard to a great council held by the hostile Creeks on the Alabama River (perhaps at the Holy Ground), some two weeks prior to the attack on Fort Mims. In this council it was resolved to divide the Creek army into two divisions, and make a simultaneous attack on two forts. Fort Mims was unanimously selected in the very beginning of the council as one of the forts, since a large number of its inmates were the antagonists of the Creeks at Burnt Corn,--mostly half-breeds, against whom the Red Stick party seemed to entertain a special animosity. A discussion lasting two days then ensued, in which it was debated whether the second fort should be Fort Madison or Fort Sinquefield. It was finally decided in favor of the latter, and a force of one hundred and twenty-five warriors was assigned to the Prophet Francis, with which to operate against that stockade. At what time or place Francis and his warriors separated from the main Creek army can not now be known.
We return to the Fork of the Tombigbee and the Alabama. It was near sunset on the last day of August that the Tory Creek, Nah-hee, who had been out on an excursion, returned to Fort Madison and informed the garrison of the downfall of Fort Mims and of the presence of a large body of Creek warriors in the Fork, under the Prophet Francis. When this appalling news was heard, for a while the wildest panic prevailed. Some of the men grew deadly pale, women and children shrieked with terror, and many feared that Fort Madison would soon experience the same fate as Fort Mims. When the panic had spent its force, the garrison betook themselves zealously to their duties with the firm resolve to defend the post to the last. Nah-hee, who spent much of his time scouting, some days afterwards reported to Captain Dale that about the time of the massacre at Fort Mims, Francis and his warriors camped one night in the "Wolf's Den," a large deep ravine at the head of Cedar Creek, some three miles east of Fort Madison. Thence the Creek warriors moved northward, and on the middle of the afternoon of the first of September they committed the atrocious massacre on Bassett's Creek, of which a full and exhaustive account has been recorded in the preceding chapter.
When Colonel Carson, at Fort Madison, heard of this massacre, he sent early the next morning, the second of September, eleven mounted men, under Lieutenant James Bailey, armed with rifles, muskets, and holster pistols, up to Fort Sinquefield to assist in burying the dead and to learn the number of the Indians. John Woods. Isaac Hayden, and James Smith were of Bailey's party.
There were about fifteen arms-bearing men in Fort Sinquefield. The inmates were mostly the families of the settlers on Bassett's Creek. Among these was an aged man, named Charles Phillips, who had a large family of children, several married, among them Charles Phillips, Jr. In addition to the white families there were also a few friendly Creeks, or, as they were called in the language of the times, Tory Creeks, who had taken refuge in the fort.
Upon the arrival of Lieutenant Bailey's party, as has been stated, some of the garrison went with him and his soldiers out to Ransom Kimbell's house, and brought back in an ox cart the twelve bodies of the slain. On the east side of the present Grove Hill road, about seventy yards southeast of the fort, the graves were dug for the dead.
It was now about eleven o'clock and a large portion of the people were out at the graves attending the burial. About this time Mrs. Sarah Phillips, wife of Charles Phillips, Jr., with two or three other women, took a bucket apiece and went down to the spring to bring some water. Several women were already at the spring, busily engaged in washing. A small guard had been detailed for the protection of these women, but instead of accompanying the women down to the spring, the guard only went half way down the hill, there seated themselves on a log and engaged in idle conversation.
The burial services were now drawing to a close. At this time the elder Charles Phillips and Isham Kimbell were sitting in front of the gateway, which was on the west line of the picketing, near the southwest corner, and conversing about the massacre, when Phillips happening to look towards the south, saw what he supposed to be a flock of wild turkeys coming towards the fort Phillips called the attention of Kimbell to them remarking, "Look yonder, what a fine gang of turkeys." But the younger eyes of his companion saw at once that the supposed turkeys were a large band of Creek warriors advancing in a stooping position towards the fort. In an instant the shout of alarm was given and all were told to run into the fort. The party still lingering at the grave, rushed to the gate, the men seizing the smaller children and bearing them in their arms. The guard on the log also rushed into the place of refuge. The women at the spring, who had just finished their washing, heard the warning shouts, and began to flee for dear life, up the hill to the fort. As soon as the alarm was given, the Indians straightened themselves up and began to run forward with lightning speed so as to cut off the entrance of the burial party into the fort. They were about a hundred in number, armed with guns, tomahawks, and war clubs, and were commanded by the Prophet Francis. They were dressed in the usual Indian garb, their faces painted, their heads encircled with crowns or chaplets of upright turkey feathers, and many of them had a cow's tail tied on each arm from the shoulder to the wrist, the long hairs of the tail depending from the wrist. The Indians had run but a short distance, when seeing that they could not cut of the burial party, they saw then, for the first time, the women just beginning their flight from the spring. With appalling yells and waving of cow tails, they instantly whirled to the left and rushed down a hill to cut off the escape of the helpless females. To all human appearance, the escape of the women was hopeless and an awful death stared them in the face as they strained every nerve in upward flight towards the gate. Closer and closer did the swift-footed Muscogees press upon them and nearer and nearer did the savage war whoop sound upon their ears.
At this juncture of terror and confusion everywhere, Isaac Hayden suddenly conceived a bold and unique plan for the rescue of the women. Instantly leaping upon a horse, to the saddle of which was attached a pair of holster pistols, he cheered all the dogs in the fort, about sixty in number, and galloped down the hill with the fierce yelling pack upon the Indians. The Creek warriors, appalled by the onset of these new and savage foes, were compelled to halt and defend themselves for some moments against their savage fury. It was a singular encounter,--the fierce brutes, some baying and others leaping on and throttling the red warriors. In the struggle, some of the dogs were killed and some wounded. In the meantime, the daring Hayden was not inactive. Seeing one of the women hard pressed by an Indian, he galloped to her rescue with pistol in hand and shot down the warrior dead in his tracks, just as he had his tomahawk poised to strike the fatal blow. Hayden's "dogs of war" had by this time done their duty well and had so checked the charge of the Indians, that all the women, save one, safely escaped into the fort A negro woman, who was of the party, with wash-pot on her head, was the first to reach the gate. Almost bereft of her senses, when she heard the terrible cry of " Indians" she did not think to throw her pot aside, but bore it, poised with one hand on her head, all the way from the spring to the gate.
It was, indeed a terrible race for the women up that steep hill. One young woman, Miss Winnie Odom, had nearly reached the gate when she sank to the earth in terror and exhaustion. A soldier rushed out, gun in hand, and seizing her by the hair, thus dragged her into the gate. Such was the exigency of the occasion.
Mrs. Sarah Phillips was the unfortunate woman who failed to make her escape. Being in a delicate condition, she could not run fast and so was soon left in the rear. Three Indians, one of them a prophet, frightfully painted, sprang forward to intercept her flight. The prophet gave vent to the most unearthly screeching and yelling, at the same time waving aloft a cow's tail fastened to the end of a staff. The poor woman ran with all her might. She had reached about half way to the fort when, weakened with terror, she fainted and fell. But for this it was supposed that she might have made her escape. In a moment one of the warriors reached the spot where she lay, sank his tomahawk into her head, tore of the reeking scalp, and otherwise mutilated her person. It seems that Mrs. Phillips was slain just before Hayden had shot down the warrior mentioned above.
The daring Hayden, in his generous rescue, had done all that man could do. His task now over, for a moment, as he afterwards confessed, he was greatly bewildered what to do next, whether to dash off into the woods, or rush back into the fort. All at once, yielding to some strange impulse, he put his horse to the top of his speed and galloped entirely around the fort back to the front, and then dashed through the gate. The good horse had just cleared the gateway and was safe in the fort, when he fell to the earth, creased through the neck by a Creek bullet. It was an hour before he recovered and rose to his feet. Hayden, the bold rider, had run a narrow risk. Many a rifle had been fired at him, and five bullet holes were counted in his clothes.
The gate was now closed. The Indians then surrounded the stockade on all sides, but the main body massed themselves on the south, and the siege began in earnest. On the outside were still the faithful dogs, to whose furious onslaught on the Creek warriors the women were indebted for their safety. They now became frightened at the uproar of battle, and all fled, panic-stricken, to the neighboring forest, and, with but few exceptions, were never afterwards recovered by their owners.
The furious fire which was opened by the Creek warriors upon the stockade was vigorously returned. The garrison, numbering, soldiers and citizens, all told, about thirty men, were resolved to defend the post to the last. That very morning they had heard of the terrible downfall of Fort Mims, and were resolved, if it could be averted by human bravery, that no such fate should befall Sinquefield. A little incident, occurring at the very outset, gave the Indians great hopes of winning an easy prize. James Short, one of the citizens, was among the first to fire upon the besiegers. His gun it seems, had been loaded a long time, and the powder was probably in a damp condition. As he fired it off the gun gave a long, sputtering fire. The Creeks noticed this and shouted to each other in exulting glee, "They are almost out of powder." This exclamation, which was either in the Muscogee or the Alibamo tongue, was interpreted by one of the Tory Creeks to the garrison, some of whom shouted back, defiantly, in reply, "Come on and we will show you whether we are almost out of powder." A well directed fire, accordingly, undeceived the Indians, and checked their nearer approach. It was, perhaps, at this time that one of the pursuers of Mrs. Phillips, the prophet, was slain. He had approached near the gate, and began to leap to and fro near a tree, sometimes behind it, sometimes beside it, in full view of the garrison, all the time waving his cow tail and encouraging his warriors, when a bullet from the fort ended his prophetic career forever.
In the garrison, at the beginning of the fight, there was great excitement among the women and children, who screamed and shrieked in their terror. Some of the men thereupon went among them and soon succeeded in pacifying them, telling them not to be frightened, that they would certainly drive off the Indians. The women and children were then placed in the lower story of the block house, where some of the women busied themselves in moulding bullets.
During all this time a continuous fire was kept up by both parties. The men had taken positions at the various port holes of the stockade and some in the block house. The Indians took their positions behind trees and stumps, and quite a number behind Sinquefield's abandoned log cabin, which stood about seventy-five yards to the south. Others were in more exposed places. These latter would rise from the earth, deliver their fire, then throwing themselves again on the ground, and while reloading would roll to and fro, keeping their bodies in constant motion, so as to baffle the aim of the marksmen in the garrison. The Indians all fought with great bravery. If one was killed or badly wounded his companions dragged him off the field, back to the rear, as it was a custom of the Creeks never to permit an enemy to get possession of the bodies of their slain warriors if it were possible to prevent it. Those behind Sinquefield's house would come to the corners of the house and there deliver their fire. One warrior even ventured into the house and was there slain by a bullet that came through a crack; and for several years after could be seen the stain of his blood upon the puncheon floor. Another warrior had his arm broken not far from Sinquefield's house, and after making some vain efforts to reload his rifle with one arm, he retreated behind the house. Word was accordingly passed among the garrison to watch for him and for two or three to keep their fire in reserve for him. As was expected, it was not long before the crippled warrior attempted to retreat, when the sure aim of these marksmen stretched him lifeless upon the earth. But some of his companions succeeded in dragging his body off the field
The post assigned to James Smith, Stephen Lacey, and a few others, who were all fine marksmen, was in the upper story of the block house, whence they poured a destructive fire upon the Indians. Whilst these men were thus busily engaged, Mrs. Lacey and Mrs. Thomas Phillips, for some purpose, came up from below. The attention of Lacey at this time was directed to a large pine tree, about seventy-five yards to the south, behind which were posted several warriors. Lacey fired at this party several times. At last, he shot one down, and turning to his comrades, he exultingly exclaimed: "I have turned over one of the red skins." A few moments afterwards, whilst peering through the port hole preparatory to another fire, the brave man fell backward at the feet of his wife, who happened to be standing behind him. He had received his death wound, a rifle ball passing through his neck. The men present instantly realizing that any loud wailings of grief would give encouragement to the Creek warriors, if heard by them, cautioned Mrs. Lacey to control herself and give vent to no noisy exclamations. They wished to keep the Creeks ignorant of the fact that any of the garrison was slain. The poor woman, though suffering an agony of grief over her husband, heeded their admonition. As the dying man lay upon the floor, the blood gushed in torrents from the fatal wound, and through a crack poured down upon the floor of the story beneath, where were huddled together the women and children--an awful sight to eyes unused to the carnage of war. It seems that the party behind the tree had, at last, observed the particular port-hole, from which Lacey had sent so many leaden messengers of death, and concentrating their fire upon it, one fatal bullet did its sure work. Lacey's comrades stated that the ball came from the very tree, behind which this party of warriors was concealed. Lacey was the only man killed in the fort. He was a good, upright citizen and lived about two miles north of Fort Sinquefield.
About the same time that Lacey was killed, James Dubose, a boy about ten years of age, while on the stairway leading from the lower to the upper story of the block house, was slightly wounded in the back by a ball.
In the meantime, in the excitement and confusion of the fight, Charles Phillips was, for some time, ignorant of the death of his wife. He did not even know that she had gone out with the other women to the spring. When, at last, the terrible news was communicated to him that his wife was lying outside a mangled corpse, he became frantic with grief. In his wild frenzy, he was on the point of rushing out alone upon the Indians, when some of his comrades seized him and held him until the end of the siege.
The fight at Fort Sinquefield began about midday and lasted two hours, John Woods firing the last shot at the enemy. At the very close of the fight, he saw a warrior partially concealed behind a stump. Woods fired and broke the Indian's right arm. After reloading his ride, he saw that the warrior, owing perhaps to the pain of his wound, had unconsciously exposed his left arm on the other side of the stump. Woods fired again, the shot again took effect, and the Indian sprang to his feet and fled, a broken arm dangling helplessly at each side. The Creeks now despaired of success, and desisting from the siege, they retreated, taking with them all the horses hitched near the fort. Some of these horses belonged to citizens in the fort, others to Lieutenant Bailey's troopers. It was upon one of the latter that Hayden made his desperate charge. It may here be stated that three of the horses captured at Fort Sinquefield were, several days afterward, recaptured by Lieutenant Bradberry's command from a party of Indians, to which they gave chase, but which they could not bring to action.
As soon as the Indians had retired from the fort, Phillips went out with some of his friends and brought in the body of his wife. Over the mangled corpse, Philips gave vent to an agony of grief. A profound sympathy pervaded the garrison for the bereaved man and the motherless children, and many mingled their tears with those shed by the husband and the kindred of the dead. It was a heartrending scene. The settlers all present knew Mrs. Phillips well. She was a kind-hearted, religious woman, and universally beloved. She and Lacey were buried that evening, but there is some uncertainty as to the particular place on the fort grounds where their graves were made.
About an hour after the departure of the Indians, some of the people took the trail and followed it about two miles. Upon their return, they reported this, and the people, fearing a possible return of the Indians in greater numbers, resolved to abandon the fort as early as possible and retire to Fort Madison. A small portion of the people left Fort Sinquefield for Fort Madison late that evening. They did not move off in a solid body, but in quite a disorderly manner, some arriving at Fort Madison about the usual bed time, others, late in the night. In fact there were continuous arrivals during the entire night. Some of the women were badly frightened on their retreat, their fears frequently converting an innocent black stump into a blood thirsty Creek warrior, whereat they would give vent to shrieks of terror.
Among the inmates of Fort Sinquefield, was a man, named George Bunch. When he heard that the people were determined to go to Fort Madison, he cowardly abandoned his wife and children, struck out alone and was the very first man to arrive at the place of refuge. His poor wife--the family had but little worldly substance--in preparing for her departure, emptied a bed tick and filled it with all the family clothing and such other domestic articles as she prized. Throwing this heavy bundle on her shoulders, and encumbered besides with the care of two small children, she left the fort with the evening party. She was not able to travel as fast as the others, and consequently was soon left alone in the rear. All night, on her weary way, with the horror of the lurking savage harrowing her soul, and taking only occasional intervals of rest, the poor woman staggered along under her heavy burden. At sunrise she reached Fort Madison. She had just passed the guards, when, at last, relieved from all anxiety, she sank to the earth in a swooning fit. But kindly hearts and hands quickly and willingly administered to her comfort. Such were some of the trials of the women of the frontier. Mrs. Bunch was the last arrival of the evening party at Fort Madison as her coward husband was the first. The world has its cowards as well as its heroes. Hayden is a type of one class, Bunch of the other.
The day after the attack on the fort, the soldiers and the remaining families arrived at Fort Madison, where the inmates of Forts Glass and Lavier had also taken refuge. As a trophy of the Sinquefield fight, some of the party brought down with them the prophet's magical banner. It was a large cow's tail, dyed red, and the end of a red staff inserted and tightly fastened in the orifice, from which the bone had been taken, the staff, altogether, being about five feet long.
The loss of the Creeks at Fort Sinquefield was eleven killed on the field. Their wounded were, doubtless, much more numerous. With the exception of the prophet, killed near the gate, all the slain warriors were dragged, during the progress of the fight, down the hill, towards the spring. There they were slightly buried by being covered with leaves and brush, and for many years after their bones could be seen. After leaving Fort Sinquefield Francis and his warriors retreated across the Alabama River to Burnt Corn Spring. From information given by some of Mr. Kimbell's negroes, who were captured by the Indians and afterwards recovered, many of the severely wounded Creek warriors died after crossing the Alabama River. It is very probable that not all of Francis' warriors crossed the Alabama. From the fact, as has been stated, that a few of the horses captured at Fort Sinquefield were, several days afterwards, recaptured by Lieutenant Bradberry's command, it may well be supposed that some of Francis' warriors may have remained in the Fork.
The attack of Francis and his warriors on Fort Sinquefield was not characterized by that stratagem and sound judgment displayed by the other Creek war party, which enabled them to be so successful in the capture of Fort Mims. If during some day. or night, previous to the fight, Francis had led his warriors forward and secreted them near Fort Sinquefield, and there patiently watched his opportunity, then seizing the supreme moment had rushed forward, he might, by dint of overwhelming numbers, have taken the place by assault, and ruthlessly massacred every living being within its walls, and the name of Fort Sinquefield would have stood next to that of Fort Mims in the catalogue of Indian horrors. But by the unsearchable decree of the Supreme Ruler of events, such a dark chapter was never to be recorded on the pages of Alabama history.
In collating and compiling the facts for the chapter on Fort Sinquefield, free use has been made of the histories of Pickett and Meek, of Rev. T. H. Ball's History of Clarke County, of an of Fort Sinquefield by Mr. Isaac Grant, published in the Clarke County Democrat, and of a letter of General F. L. Claiborne, dated September 21, 1813, published in an issue of the American Weekly Messenger of that year.
In addition to the above printed authorities, several facts were derived from the late Rev. Josiah Allen, of Jasper County. Mississippi. Mr. Allen was well acquainted with many of the participants in the fight at the fort, as Isaac Hayden, James Smith, John Woods, and Isham Kimbell, and often heard them relate incidents of the fight. For many years too, he was intimately associated with James Cornells, and often conversed with him in regard to the war. The opening paragraph of the chapter states a fact related by Cornells to Mr. Allen, Cornells receiving this information from the Creeks after the war.
In 1886, the aged Mr. Clement Phillips, of Newton County, Mississippi, a son of Mrs. Phillips killed at the fort, gave the writer all the circumstances connected with the death of his mother, and other incidents of the fight, that he had often heard related in his father's family. The incident of the supposed wild turkeys was related by Mr. Phillips in substantially the same manner as described by Mr. Ball and Mr. Grant.
The writer is also indebted to the late Mr. Presly Odom, also of Newton County, for some incidents. Mr. Odom was a brother of Miss Winnie Odom, mentioned in the narrative. All his father's family were in the fort at the time of the attack.
Two slight incidents were received from the Rev. John Brown, of Lauderdale County Mississippi, whose eldest sister was a member of the fort.
Other parties, who had good opportunities for obtaining information, likewise gave incidents, but we consider it unnecessary to give their names, as these incidents were precisely the same as those given by the above quoted parties. It is sufficient to say that after reviewing and comparing all the statements, we conscientiously believe that the chapter gives an authentic account of the attack on Fort Sinquefield by the Creek Indians, and the circumstances connected therewith. H. S. H.