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The Creek War of 1813 and 1814|
Chapter 18: Battle of the Holy Ground
by Halbert, H. S. and Ball, T. H.
|On the 10th of November, General Flournoy wrote to General Claiborne, ordering him to proceed to Weatherford's Bluff and there establish a depot of provisions for General Jackson, who had written that he was more in dread of famine than of Indians, and that without a supply he could not carry on the campaign. In accordance with this order, on the 13th General Claiborne broke up his camp at Pine Level and took up the line of march across Clarke County towards the Bluff. The troops manifested the greatest satisfaction on learning their objective point, and were greatly elated by the prospect, as they supposed, of an active campaign towards Pensacola. On the route, the Choctaw Battalion, under Pushmataha, camped for a day and night at Fort Madison, where twenty fine new rifles were distributed among them. On the 16th, the army arrived at the Alabama River, opposite Weatherford's Bluff, there camped for the night, and the next day, by means of rafts, the entire army was landed on the other shore. Here General Claiborne at once began the construction of "a strong stockade, two hundred feet square, defended by three block houses and a half-moon battery, which commanded the river." In about ten days these works were completed, and the place received the name of Fort Claiborne in honor of the commander. The town, where the fort stood, still bears his name.
We here quote from Claiborne's Mississippi a letter from General Claiborne to Governor Holmes, dated the 21st of November, 1813, which gives a brief account of the operations at Weatherford's Bluff.
"I am now on the east bank of the Alabama, thirty-five miles above Mims, and in the best part of the enemy's country. From this position we cut the savages off from the river, and from their growing crops. We likewise render their communication with Pensacola more hazardous. Here will be deposited for the use of General Jackson, a supply of provisions, and I hope I shall be ordered to co-operate with him. Colonel Russell of the Third U. S. Infantry has been ordered to co-operate with the Georgia troops, and is now on his march to this place. We have by several excursions alarmed the Indians, and the possession of this important position will induce them to retire. I have with me Pushmataha, who, with fifty-one warriors, accompanied by Lieutenant Calahan of the volunteers, will march this morning and take up a position to intercept more effectually the communication of the enemy with Pensacola."
A statement has been made to the writer by two contemporaries of the Creek War, that while the army was at Weatherford's Bluff, Pushmataha went on an excursion with some of his warriors to Burnt Corn Creek. There he discovered a Creek camp, upon which he made a night attack and killed several of the enemy, whose scalps his warriors bore in triumph back to Claiborne's camp. It is probable that this excursion may be the very one which General Claiborne, in the letter above speaks of Pushmataha's making with fifty-one warriors in the direction of Pensacola.
On the twenty-eighth Colonel Gilbert C. Russell, the commander at Mount Vernon, arrived at Fort Claiborne, with the Third Regiment of U. S. Infantry. Agreeably to General Claiborne's desire, Colonel Russell had, at last, been ordered to cooperate with him. Pickett tells us: "General Claiborne wrote [the fifth of December] to General Jackson, congratulating, him upon his victories, giving him an account of the operations in the Southern Seat of War, and acquainting him with the fact that an abundance of corn and other provision were to be obtained in the neighborhood of Fort Claiborne. He also wrote to Governor Blount, apprising him of the arrival of more English vessels in Pensacola, and added that he wished 'to God that he was authorized to take that sink of iniquity, the depot of Tories and instigators of disturbances on the Southern frontier.' He had, a few days before, dispatched Major Kennedy and others to Mobile, to learn from Colonel Bowyer the particulars of the arrival of the British at Pensacola. They reported, giving satisfactory assurances that a large quantity of Indian supplies, and many soldiers, had arrived there; and in addition, that the Indians were committing; depredations in Baldwin County, having recently burned down Kennedy's and Byrne's mills. Lieutenant Colonel George Henry Nixon had succeeded Russell in the command at Mount Vernon. At his request, Claiborne permitted him also to man Fort Pierce, in the neighborhood of the disturbances."
The year 1813 was now drawing to a close, and General Claiborne, at last, prevailed upon General Flournoy to authorize him to advance with his army into the Creek nation. He accordingly resolved upon an expedition to Ikana chaka, the Holy Ground, situated about one hundred and twenty miles above Fort Claiborne. Many of Claiborne's officers were opposed to this expedition into the heart of the Creek nation. A written memorial or remonstrance, signed by these officers, giving their objections against the expedition, was placed in General Claiborne's hands. We reproduce this memorial from Claiborne's Mississippi:
"The undersigned, volunteer officers as republican soldiers devoted to their government, and warmly attached to yourself, and disclaiming any authority to remonstrate or complain, nevertheless, respectfully ask permission to lay their opinions before you in relation to the movement into the Creek Nation. Considering that winter and the wet season have set in; the untrodden wilderness to be traversed; the impossibility of transporting supplies for the want of roads; that most of our men are without winter clothing, shoes or blankets; that a large majority of those ordered to march will be entitled to their discharge before the expedition can be accomplished; for these and other considerations, we trust that the enterprise may be reconsidered and abandoned, declaring at the same time that be your decision what it may, we shall cheerfully obey your orders and carry out your plans." Louis Painboeuf, C. G. Johnson, C. V. Foelkil, Ben Dent, Philip A. Engle, R. Jones, A. Wells, James Foster, H. Morrison, Captains; Alexander Calvit, Lieutenant and Aid-de-Camp; Ben. F. Harper, Surgeon; John Allen, John Camp, Wm. Morgan, R. Bowman, R. C. Anderson, Layson J. Lockridge, Theron Kellog, A. L. Osborne, Lieutenants; George Dougharty, B. Blanton, M. Calliham, H. O. Davis, E. Burton, Stephen Mayers, James Luckett, Ensigns.
Notwithstanding the truly forcible objections to the expedition presented in this remonstrance, General Claiborne adhered to his resolve. From Claiborne's Mississippi, we quote the following extract from a dispatch of General Claiborne himself, published in the Mississippi Republican, relative to this memorial:
"Their objections were stated with the dignity, feeling, and respect which these officers had always manifested. But these abused, calumniated defenders of their country, in a situation to try the stoutest heart, rose superior to privation and suffering. As soon as the order to march was issued, each man repaired promptly to his post. Many, whose term of service had expired, and who had not received a dollar of their arrearages, volunteered for the expedition, and with cheerful alacrity moved to their stations in the line." This includes every officer who signed the address. "Yes," continues the General, "when they were exposed in these swamps and canebrakes to an inclement winter, without tents, warm clothing, shoes or food; when every countenance exhibited suffering; when they were nine days without meat and subsisted chiefly on parched corn, these brave men won an important battle, and endured without a murmur the exigencies of the service."
On the thirteenth of December, the army left Fort Claiborne and took up the line of march towards the noted Holy Ground of the Creek Nation. The force consisted of the Third Regiment of U. S. Infantry, commanded by Colonel Russell, Major Cassel's Battalion of Cavalry, Major Smoot's Battalion of Militia, of which Patrick May was adjutant, and Dale and Heard Captains, the Twelve Month Mississippi Territory Volunteers, under Colonel Carson, and Pushmataha's Choctaw Battalion, numbering, according to Pickett, one hundred and fifty warriors. The entire army amounted to near one thousand men.
After several days' march in a north-eastern direction, the army reached the high lands south of Double Swamp, in the present County of Butler. Here General Claiborne built a depot, called Fort Deposite, where he left his wagons, cannon, baggage, and the sick with one hundred men as a guard. On the morning of the twenty-second, the troops again took up the line of march through the pathless forest, and late in the afternoon made their camp within ten miles of the Holy Ground.
A full description of the Holy Ground of the Creeks may, perhaps, be an acceptable digression to the reader of these pages. We quote from A. B. Meek: "The Holy Ground proper was situated along the south bank of the Alabama, between Pintlala and Big Swamp Creeks, in the present County of Lowndes. It received its name from being the residence of the principal prophets of the nation, and having been by them consecrated from the intrusion of white men. Wizard circles were described around its borders, and the credulous inhabitants were assured that no enemy could tread upon its soil without being blasted. It was emphatically called the 'Grave of White Men.' A more fertile and beautiful tract of country, especially when clothed with the vegetation of springtime, does not exist in our State; and it was thickly populated by the aborigines. Near the mouth of Pintlala, stood a village of eighty wigwams. The chief town, a few miles below, contained two hundred houses and here the council house of the Alibamo tribe was situated." It is with this chief town, to which the name, Holy Ground, will be restricted, that the main interest of our narrative is concerned. At the outbreak of the war many of the Indians carried their families into this town. After the massacre of Fort Mims, it became the headquarters of Weatherford, Hossa Yohola, Josiah Francis, and other chiefs. The town was designed by these chiefs, not only as a place of refuge for their women and children, but as a depot for provisions and military supplies, and a point to which those discomfited in battle might retreat,--in short, the base of Creek military operations. The site of Holy Ground Town is about two miles north of the present town of White Hall. Holy Ground Creek rises near White Hall and flows northward to the Alabama River. On nearing the river, which here runs nearly west, the creek deflects somewhat to the northeast before emptying into the river. Within this horse shoe or peninsula formed by the creek and the river stood Holy Ground Town. About half a mile above the mouth of the creek, and on its west side, is a small spring branch emptying into the creek. It is now locally known as Sprott's Spring Branch. About midway between this spring branch and the mouth of the creek, also on its west side, is another spring. This latter spring doubtless furnished the main supply of water to the people of the Holy Ground. Between the two springs is a low hollow emptying into the creek, which may have been a small branch in primitive days, but now shallow from the washings of the cultivated soil. On the western border of the Holy Ground are two ravines, each about two hundred yards long, and emptying into the Alabama River. The course of one ravine is to the north, the other to the northwest, and their mouths unite on the banks of the river. Meek states that the Holy Ground was enclosed with pickets. If so, we conjecture that the pickets must have extended across the neck of the land from the lower spring on Holy Ground Creek to a point on the river just above the two ravines. The enclosed area would embrace about fifty acres. In addition to the pickets, a long low pile of finely split lightwood was laid, on the outside of the town, extending entirely across the neck of land. The prophets assured their credulous people, that should the white people ever come and attempt to make an assault on their town, they would fire this consecrated fuel, whereupon every white man would at once fall lifeless to the earth.
Such was the Creek Holy Ground, and its ignorant and fanatical warriors no doubt deemed that its sacred precincts would be forever secure from the intruding footsteps of an invading foe.
Notwithstanding all their vaunted professions of belief in the impregnability of their town, the authorities of the Holy Ground, early on the morning of the twenty-third, when they became aware of the approach of Claiborne's army, had the good sense to take the precaution to convey their women and children across the river and lodge them securely in the thick forests of what is now known as the Dutch Bend of Autauga County. About eleven o'clock, the same morning, the army arrived within about two miles of the Holy Ground. Here General Claiborne ordered a short halt,--we conjecture a few hundred yards north or northwest of the present town of White Hall--and made his disposition for attack on the place. His plan was to surround the town in such a manner that the enemy could not escape. He divided his troops into three columns. The centre, commanded by Colonel Russell, at the head of which was Claiborne himself, consisted of the Third Regiment of U. S. Infantry, with Lester's Guards and Wells' Dragoons acting as a corps of reserve. The right column consisted of the Twelve Months Mississippi Territory Volunteers, commanded by Colonel Carson. The left was composed of Major Smoot's Battalion of Militia and Pushmataha's Battalion of Choctaw warriors, both under the command of Major Smoot. Colonel Carson was instructed to attack the Creeks upon the upper side of the town while Major Cassel's mounted riflemen were ordered to take a position on the river bank, west of the town, to prevent their escape down the river. The plan of battle now arranged, the army was put in motion towards the town. The central column, after marching a short distance, halted for a while so as to give the right and left columns time to reach their respective places on the upper and lower sides of the town. We follow the fortunes of Carson's column. It was evidently General Claiborne's instruction or at least his desire, that Carson's column should cross Holy Ground Creek and march down along its right bank so as to strike the upper side of the town. But in consequence of an impassable reed-brake, this could not be done, and Carson was compelled to march down along the left bank. It was a very cold day, and for nearly a mile, Carson's men, with great difficulty, marched, or rather waded, over a level piney woods country, covered with water from six inches to two feet deep. Upon emerging from the chilly waters to firmer land, the troops heard, issuing from the Holy Ground, the loud shouts and yells of the Creek warriors and the roll of their war drums, showing that the Indians were advised of their approach. Carson's men were the first troops to strike the enemy. About mid-day they came within sight of the town. A short distance from the town, and athwart Carson's line of march, was a branch emptying into Holy Ground Creek. At this lapse of time, it is impossible to determine whether this branch was the Spott's Spring Branch, or the hollow beyond, both referred to above. Our opinion inclines to the latter. In this branch, and behind a large, long log lying parallel with it and on the side towards Carson, was posted a large body of warriors. As Carson's men, now in line of battle, came within gun shot, they were suddenly greeted with a volley of rifle bullets from the Creek ambuscade and the battle began. The soldiers returned the fire and pressed steadily forward. Taking advantage of every tree and stump, they moved nearer and nearer the enemy, who under the lead of Weatherford, stubbornly held their ground. On the west side of the branch, immediately in the rear of the Creek gun men, were many warriors equipped with bows, who sent an incessant shower of arrows towards the American line; but the missiles, shot too high, fell mostly harmless in Carson's rear. A prophet was seen in the midst of the Creek bowmen, frantically rushing to and fro, waving a red-dyed cow's tail in each hand and uttering most appalling yells. Sometimes he would rush behind a cabin, that stood near by, and then would return at full speed, with his never-ceasing wild and frenzied gesticulations. Some of the soldiers finally making an oblique movement passed around the log and gave the Indians a severe enfilading fire, whereby several were killed and wounded. At the same time some of the whites were wounded. But this fire caused the Creeks to retreat across the branch. Still from other points, from behind trees, and among the fallen timbers, they continued to resist their enemies. The battle had now lasted about half an hour, when the other troops began to make their appearance upon the field. Major Cassels had found it impossible to reach the position assigned him on the western side of the town, on account of the extensive marsh connecting with Big Swamp, which lay in front of his line of march. This unforeseen obstacle caused him to fall back on the head of Carson's regiment. The Third regiment, Major Smoot's battalion, and Pushmataha's warriors had now taken a position in front of the Holy Ground, and the enemy began to give way. About this time, a soldier of Carson's command, named Gatlin, resting his musket against a tree and taking deliberate aim, stretched the prophet lifeless upon the earth, the ball shattering his arm and piercing his breast. Colonel Carson who had up to this time endeavored to restrain the ardor of his men, wishing merely to keep the enemy engaged until the town could be completely in vested from the creek to the river, now saw that this object could not be effected; so he shouted to his men, "Boys, you seem keen! go ahead and drive them!" The eager soldiers took their Colonel at his word and rapidly pressed the retreating foe back into the town. The Indians now fled in all directions, many casting away their arms. In accordance with the laudable custom peculiar to the Creeks, they bore off all the wounded warriors that were unable to make their escape. Carson's men pursued the Indians through the town to a bluff near the mouth of Holy Ground Creek. The fugitives here crossed, and some fled to the neighboring cane-brake, while others crossed the river, some in boats, others, by swimming. One of the last retreating warriors received a mortal wound and fell upon the very edge of the bluff. Here he tossed to and fro for a few moments in mortal agony and then rolled headlong down the slope. The mouth of Holy Ground Creek was not the only avenue of escape to the discomfited Creek warriors. According to Pickett, hundreds of them made their escape, along the Alabama River, by the western border of the town. These warriors evidently made their escape at this point before the close of the battle.
Weatherford was the last man to retreat from the Holy Ground, the defence of which he had conducted with judgment and courage. We here introduce from Major J. D. Dreisback's sketch of the noted chieftain, the story of his escape and his wonderful leap as received by Major Dreisback from William Hollinger, a friend of Weatherford's, to whom it was related by Weatherford himself.
"When Weatherford found that most of his warriors had deserted him, he thought of his own safety. Finding himself hedged in above and below on the river, he determined to cross the Alabama River. He was mounted on a horse of almost matchless strength and fleetness; he turned down a long hollow that led to the bank of the river; on his arrival he found the bluff about twelve feet high; he took in at rapid glance the situation, and determined to make the leap; he rode back about thirty paces and turned his horse's head towards the bluff, and then, with touch of the spur and the sharp 'ho ya' of his voice, he put the noble animal to the top of his speed and dashed over the bluff full twenty feet into the flashing waters below, which opened its bosom to receive the dauntless hero, who sought its sparkling waters as a barrier between him and the pursuing foe. He did not lose his seat; his horse and the lower part of his own body went entirely under the water, he holding his rifle high above his head. The gallant horse struck out for the opposite shore with his fearless rider upon his back. When he had advanced some thirty yards from the shore, the balls from the guns of the troopers who were above and below him began to spatter around him like hail, but it appeared that the 'Great Spirit' watched over him, for not a shot struck either man or horse. As soon as he reached the further shore he dismounted and took off his saddle, and examined his brave and noble horse to see if he had been struck; one shot bad cut off a bunch, or lock of the horse's mane just in front of the saddle. Finding his noble 'Arrow' (the horse's name) unhurt, he re-saddled him and mounted, and sending back a note of defiance, rode off, to fight again on other ensanguined fields."
A digression may here be permitted. A Mr. Sprott, a man of great intelligence, was the first American settler on Holy Ground Creek. According to a tradition coming down from him, and still current with the people of the vicinity, the ravine that runs northwest was the ravine down which Weatherford rode when he made his wonderful leap. General Woodward, in his Reminiscences, has attempted to cast discredit upon the reality of this incident. We quote his language: "Weatherford was among the last to quit the place. He made an attempt to go down the river--that is, down the banks of the river--but found that the soldiers would intercept his passage, and he turned up [the stream] keeping on the bluff near the river until he reached the ravine or little branch that makes into the river above where the town used to be. There was a small foot path that crossed the ravine near the river; he carried his horse down that path, and instead of going out of the ravine at the usual crossing, he kept up it towards its head until he passed the line of the whites. So, now you have the bluff-jumping story."
General Woodward was evidently unfamiliar with the topography of the Holy Ground. There are only two ravines at the Holy Ground--the two already described--both of which are only two hundred yards long and quite shallow towards their heads. Weatherford could not have gone to the rear of the American lines by riding up the bottom of either of these ravines. And as to "the ravine or little branch that makes into the river above where the town used to be,"--this was Holy Ground Creek, which was certainly full of water on the day of the battle, as it was a rainy season. Weatherford could not have made his escape by riding or leading his horse up the channel of this creek. In addition to this, Carson's men already had possession of the mouth of Holy Ground Creek at the time when Weatherford was making his escape. These facts should be sufficient to show the absurdity of General Woodward's position.
As a rejoinder to General Woodward's unwarrantable skepticism and as evidence corroborating Major Dreisback's narrative, we quote from the manuscript notes of the Rev. John Brown of Mississippi: "In early life, I was well acquainted with James Bankston, who was a member of Cassel's cavalry. I have often heard Bankston say that he was of the party that pursued Weatherford at the Holy Ground, when he made his horseback leap into the Alabama River. And that when he was crossing the river, his pursuers fired their guns at him. On reaching the other shore, and thus being beyond the range of gunshot, Bankston said that Weatherford dismounted, unsaddled his horse, wrung the water out of his blanket and other articles, then again resaddling, he mounted and rode off This was Bankston's statement of Weatherford's exploit, of which he was an eyewitness, and I believe that his statement is true in every particular."
The whole army was now in the Holy Ground, and the battle was over. It had been fought almost exclusively by Carson's men, the remaining troops only reaching the field of battle in time to participate in the closing scenes. If Major Cassels could have reached at the proper time, the place assigned him, on the lower side of the town, there is little doubt but large numbers of the Creek warriors would have been forced to surrender, or else as was the case at Tallasseehatchee, to accept the alternative of fighting until the last warrior was slain.
General Claiborne forbade his white soldier's pillaging the Holy Ground, but gave all the spoils of the place to Pushmataha's warriors. The Choctaws made a complete sack of the town, loading themselves with provisions, clothing, blankets, and many silver ornaments. Much of this booty--the clothing and blankets--is said once to have been the property of the ill fated inmates of Fort Mims. From twelve to fifteen hundred bushels of corn were found, a sufficient part of which was appropriated for the use of the army, and the remainder destroyed. The most interesting trophy of the Holy Ground was a letter found in Weatherford's house, written by Governor Manique to the Creek chiefs, congratulating them on the victory of Fort Mims.
During the general search which engaged the attention of many of the soldiers, John Brown, one of Carson's men, entered a cabin, after it had been plundered, and a Creek woman, who had strangely escaped the notice of the Choctaw pillagers, came forth from her hiding place, and by signs, appealed to him for mercy and protection. The soldier conducted her to General Claiborne, who ordered that she should be well cared for, and that whenever practicable she should be restored to her friends.
In the middle of the Public Square of the Holy Ground, the soldiers took down a tall pine pole, standing at an angle of about sixty degrees, on which were hung three hundred scalps which the Creeks had taken at Fort Mims. They were of every description, from the infant to the gray head. This ghastly sight, as we may well imagine, filled the spectators with emotions of horror and revenge.
When the Choctaws had secured all their booty, Claiborne ordered the place to be burned. As a group of soldiers were standing idly gazing on the burning town, they saw a cabin door suddenly fly open, and a large mulatto negro bounded forth. He had scarcely cleared the threshold when a dozen rifles and muskets blazed forth and the negro fell dead. He was supposed to be a runaway slave, who had taken refuge among the Creeks, and wishing to avoid being captured, had secreted himself, as he supposed, safely in this cabin; but the fire drove him from his lair and he sprang forth only to meet the quick doom of death.
The American loss at the Holy Ground was one man killed, Ensign Luckett, and twenty wounded. This extremely slight loss, considering the bravery with which the enemy fought, must doubtless be ascribed to the scarcity of ammunition among the Creeks, which compelled many of them to have recourse to bows and arrows, the primitive weapons of their race. The Creeks had thirty-three killed, of whom twenty-one were Indians and twelve negroes, for on this occasion the Creeks forced their negro slaves to help bear the brunt of battle. The number of their wounded is not known, as they succeeded in bearing them all off the field. "Among the slain of the Indians," writes Dr. Neal Smith, "was found one of the Shawnee prophets, who was said to have first raised the disturbance with the whites, a singer in the Creek nation; and the leading prophet of the Creeks is said to have been mortally wounded and dropped a noted gun, which was well known." The Shawnee prophet was probably the man that was killed by Gatlin.
The Choctaws scalped all the Creek warriors slain at the Holy Ground. But with that contempt for the negro, which has always been a noted Choctaw characteristic, they scorned to appropriate the scalps of the dead negroes. They simply stripped off their wooly scalps and then instantly and disdainfully cast them aside, considering them trophies unfit for Indian warriors.
It may be well here to state that the Holy Ground was the only battle in the terrible Creek war in which negroes bore arms in behalf of their red owners. In all other engagements, Muscogee valor alone sustained the tug of war. Kinnie Hadjo, a Creek warrior at the Holy Ground, speaking of this battle in after years, censured his countrymen severely for making use of negroes in this engagement. He said that the proud and warlike Muscogees on this occasion had compromised the dignity of their nation in stooping so low as to call to their aid the services of such a servile and degraded race as negroes to assist them in fighting the battles of their country; that this act, too, was especially exasperating to the whites and tended to increase the bitterness of their prejudices against the Creeks.
The army camped, the night following the battle, near the ruins of the Holy Ground. The next day was devoted to the destruction of the enemies' towns, farms, and boats. General Woodward states that after the massacre of Fort Mims, many of the Creeks returned to a village, situated on a place afterwards embraced in Townsend Robinson's plantation. This and every other settlement in the Holy Ground territory was that day destroyed. A. B. Meek relates an incident which must have been a part of this day's work: In writing of Major Austill, he says that "he, in particular, distinguished himself [at the Holy Ground] by crossing the river in a canoe, with Pushmataha, the great Choctaw chief and six warriors in front of the enemy's fire, putting a large party to flight, and capturing a considerable quantity of baggage and provisions."
There is a tradition current among some of the aged Choctaws of Mississippi, that the day after the battle of the Holy Ground, in some manner, a Creek camp was discovered on the west side of the river. Pushmataha took some of his warriors in the afternoon, crossed over in a boat and approached this camp, without being seen. Pushmataha then gave the signal to his men by shouting, "Husa! husa! moma abi! moma abi!" "Shoot! shoot! kill all! kill all!"--whereupon his warriors opened fire and killed two or three of the enemy. The remainder fled. The Choctaws secured the booty of the camp and then returned across the river to the army. This tradition, no doubt, commemorates the same exploit recorded by Judge Meek, but perhaps embellished with some aboriginal exaggeration.
The same afternoon of this Choctaw exploit while the cavalry were on their way up the river to destroy the town at the mouth of the Pintlala Creek, they encountered, not far from the town, three Shawnees, who retreated into a reed-brake. The troopers surrounded the brake, and, through an interpreter, called upon them to surrender, offering to spare their lives. But the Shawnees resolutely rejected every overture. Both sides then opened fire and a fight of two hours ensued. The Shawnees would load their guns, come to the edge of the brake, deliver their fire, then return to their covert, and there reloading, would again return to the post of danger. The soldiers at last prevailed, and the Shawnees were slain.
The firing of this slight engagement being heard in Claiborne's camp, he marched in that direction during the early part of the night and then camped on Weatherford's plantation, where the troops passed the remainder of the night, exposed to a cold drenching rain. A part of the next day, which was Christmas, was passed in still further laying waste the country, after which, there being nothing further to be done, the army marched back to Fort Deposite, and thence in three or four days to Fort Claiborne.
Tradition relates that while the army was on its returns the artillery men, on several occasions, fired off their cannon, supposing that this would strike terror into any revengeful party of Creeks, that might be dogging their march.
"On General Claiborne's arrival at Fort Claiborne," writes J. F. H. Claiborne, "Carson's Mississippi Volunteers and the calvary were mustered out of service, and there were only sixty men left, whose term would expire in a month. These troops, the General complains, had been permitted to serve without clothing or shoes, and had been disbanded with eight months' pay due them! What a commentary on the War Department of that day! What an illustration of the patience and patriotism of the volunteers of Mississippi !
The volunteers had served over and above their time; had remained from attachment to their General, and started on their weary journey for their distant homes on the Pearl, the Amite, and the Mississippi, without a cent of their pay. Their General soon followed, as poor as themselves, and, with a constitution broken by exposure, soon died."
In chronicling the disappearance of Claiborne's army from history, it may be but just to add that his red allies, under Pushmataha, were likewise mustered out of service at Fort Claiborne, and at once began their march to their homes beyond the Tombigbee. They bore upon their scalp poles the tokens of Muscogee defeat and disaster, and in every Choctaw village they entered they sang their savage war song and danced their exulting scalp-dance over the ghastly trophies of the Holy Ground.
The joy and enthusiasm with which the news of the defeat of the Creeks at the Holy Ground was received by the people of the Alabama frontier may be realized from the following extracts from a letter, dated December 31, 1813, written from St. Stephens by Thomas Vaughn and addressed to General Claiborne:
"Sir:--Ensign Burton arrived here last night about ten o'clock with the pleasing intelligence that you gained a complete victory at the Holy Ground. I made the communication to Captain Davis, and we had the fort illuminated, and gave you three cheers at the front gate, and the rear gate, and on grand parade, with appropriate music--an air named by Captain Davis, 'Claiborne's Victory.' The citizens by this time, had discovered the cause of our rejoicing, and illuminated generally. We then marched through the town with music, amid the joyful acclamations of the citizens. On every countenance the gleam of joy appeared to beam, and the name of Claiborne, his gallant officers and men, resounded from one end of the town to the other; and the night was passed with a general rejoicing, such as was never before experienced at St. Stephens."
The defeat of the Creeks at the Holy Ground practically closed their military career in South Alabama. Elsewhere, on other fields, against the armies of Floyd and Jackson, and in the Swamps of Florida, the struggle was still continued by this heroic race of red men with a courage, patience, and patriotism that have elicited the wonder and admiration of the historians of Mississippi and Alabama. "The achievements of the Creeks," writes Claiborne, "rival the prodigies of antiquity." Only a brief outline of the story of the remainder of this unparalleled struggle against the boundless military resources of the white man will be recorded in the subsequent pages. And now we flatter ourselves that we have fully redeemed our promise to our readers in giving them a full and exhaustive history of the Creek War in South Alabama.
The authorities used in writing the chapter on the Holy Ground campaign are the histories of Meek, Pickett, and Claiborne; a letter published in Alabama Historical Reporter, July, 1880, written January 8th, 1813, to Rev. James Smiley by Dr. Neal Smith, giving a short sketch of the battle; and manuscript notes on the Holy Ground by the Rev. John Brown, of Lauderdale County, Mississippi; giving facts derived from his father, who was a soldier in that battle. In addition to these sources of information must be mentioned some Choctaw traditions received from aged sons of two of Pushmataha's warriors.
In 1894 the writer visited the battle-field of the Holy Ground and thoroughly familiarized himself with its topography.
It may not be amiss in these notes to refer to a statement in Pickett's History of Alabama, that the Creek prophets had caused many white persons and friendly Indians to be burned to death at the Holy Ground, and that when General Claiborne's army was "almost in sight of the town, Mrs. Sophia Durant and several other friendly half-breeds were mustered in the square and surrounded by lightwood fires designed to consume them." We have no desire to cast discredit upon this statement, yet it is singular that no contemporary records make mention of this matter. No reference is made to it in General Claiborne's official report of the battle of the Holy Ground, nor in N. H. Claiborne's Notes on the War in the South, published in 1819, nor in the letter referred to above, of Dr. Neal Smith, who was a participant in the battle. We will also add that no reference is made to it in the manuscript notes of the Rev. John Brown, which are, in reality, the recollections of another participant in the battle.
Some years ago this statement of Pickett's was brought to the notice of General Pleasant Porter, of the Creek nation, who is well informed on the ancient usages of his people. The General utterly disbelieved the statement. He said that he never heard a hint as to the Creeks' burning prisoners at the stake. He said that, on the contrary, such a practice would be a direct violation of their superstitious or religious beliefs; that dead bodies were shunned, as among the Jews, and that when a person was killed, there was a special detail of men to bury the corpse as soon as possible, as the spirits of the dead were regarded as disquieting or dangerous agents around them as long as their bodies remained unburied. And they would fear to torture the dying, lest their spirits should take revenge on them before their bodies could be buried. H. S. H.
The following letter was received from Mr. W. A. De Bardelaban after this chapter was completed. This letter shows how utterly untenable is General Woodward's statement in regard to Weatherford's escape at the Holy Ground. H. S. H.
"White Hall, Jan. 24th, 1895.
"MR. H. S. HALBERT: Dear Sir:--Yours of 21st at hand. Will state in regard to the Holy Ground Creek, that it is now about twenty or thirty feet deep in water for at least half a mile up, taking in the crooks in the creek. In my best judgment it would have been utterly impossible for Weatherford to have made his escape that way, as the bluffs of the creels do not seem to be any deeper now than when I first knew the creek thirty years ago. Yours very respectfully,
"W. A. DE BARDELABAN."