The "Creek War," as waged by the whites against the Indians, has been very fully treated in those works that give an account of the life of General Andrew Jackson. Of these, twelve or more are in the Chicago City Library, written by Snelling, Eaton, Goodwin, Parton, Stoddard, Jenkins, Irelan, Waldo, Frost, and others, and some of them are very reliable in regard to the battles in the Indian country, now North and Central Alabama.
As on this part of the war such full accounts are accessible to general readers, but little more than a summary of the principal battles will here be given.
After the fall of Fort Mims, and that massacre was not then regarded as a "philosophic historian," (quoting Gibbon), would regard it now--for the real facts concerning it were not then made known--the feeling among the whites was, Fort Mims must be avenged. The tidings went up into Tennessee and Andrew Jackson, with Middle and West Tennessee volunteers and militia, soon started for the Creek country. General Jackson is reported to have said in regard to the Creek warriors, "Long shall they remember Fort Mims in bitterness and in tears."
The following is the Creek War paragraph in Venable's School History of the United States, one of the best of the school histories which I have examined. T. H. B. "In the year 1813, the South became the scene of Indian war. The Creeks of Alabama and Georgia had in August, attacked Fort Mims, situated on the left bank of the Alabama River, and massacred nearly four hundred persons of both sexes, who had flocked to that stockade for safety. The vengeance which followed was swift and bloody. General Andrew Jackson, the commander of the expedition against the Creeks, expressed himself as resolved to exterminate them. A large force of Southern militia, aided by Choctaw and Cherokee allies, carried havoc from village to village, and finally, having cooped up about one thousand of the Creeks at Horseshoe Bend, on the Tallapoosa River, charged upon them with such effect as to kill or drown six hundred and capture the rest. Nothing was left for the remnant of the broken nation but to sue for peace." Paragraph 189, page 153.
It was considered needful also by those in the Mississippi Territory and in Georgia that active measures should be taken against the Creeks for their own self-protection.
That the facts really warranted the action taken may be fairly questioned. It is to be feared that the American people, in their treatment of Indians, will have not a little for which to answer at the bar of the enlightened public sentiment of future generations.
It is a historian's duty to give facts and not to make pleas; but it may be added here that Colonel Hawkins, the Government Agent, residing among the Creeks, did not think it certain that the counsels of the war party would finally prevail. His views probably influenced General Flournoy, who, under date of August 10, 1813, wrote to General Claiborne, "Your wish to penetrate into the Indian country, with a view of commencing the war, does not meet my approbation, and I again repeat, our operations must be confined to defensive measures." Had General Flournoy's policy been strictly carried out, had there been no Burnt Corn and a different officer at Fort Mims, the probability is great that there would have been very little Creek war. Pickett speaks of Colonel Hawkins as being "strangely benighted," but it is by no means certain that he was not correct in his forecast of events, for neither Colonel Hawkins nor the Indians could have anticipated the Burnt Corn engagement (which seems to have precipitated rather than checked the war upon the whites), nor the attack on Fort Mims terminating so unexpectedly as it did to both Indians and whites, which led to the destructive campaign now before us. Brewer says, and his language seems to be that of a candid, truthful historian, "The savages highly incensed at the attack made on them at Burnt Corn, July 27, 1813, resolved to avenge themselves on the Tensaw and Tombigbee settlers." Thus he accounts for the attack on Fort Mims. And so it was one vengeance after another vengeance.
But whatever "might have been," the white settlers bordering on the Creek nation thought it was time to strike a heavy blow. They saw strong reasons for action. Three bodies of troops therefore, it may be said four, marched as speedily as possible in the circumstances, into the Creek country. One was from the river settlements, Mississippi volunteers; one from Georgia; and two from Tennessee. The Middle Tennessee troops met at their place of rendezvous October 4th, and on October 7th General Jackson joined them at Fayetteville.
Associated with Jackson was General Coffey, and leading the East Tennessee troops was General Cocke, and with him General White. General John Floyd commanded the Georgians, and General Claiborne the Mississippians.
1. Tallussahatchee or Talluschatchie town.
This battle was fought November 3, 1813, General Coffee, with nine hundred Tennessee troops, conducting the attack. From General Jackson's official report.
"November 4, 1813.
"GOVERNOR BLOUNT.--Sir: We have retaliated for the destruction of Fort Mims." He reports "186 dead on the field," and about "80 prisoners," women and children. General Coffee says in his report made the same day, that "not one of the warriors escaped to carry the news, a circumstance unknown heretofore."
2. Battle of Talladega, Nov. 9, 1813.
In this Indian town were friendly Indians besieged by a force of hostile warriors, the strongest fact found to indicate any real war among the Creeks themselves. A noted chief had made his way out through the besiegers in the disguise of a hog skin and requested aid from the Tennessee troops. General Jackson was now at Ten Islands, on the Coosa. which was about thirteen miles above Tallussahatchee Creek. Talladega was about thirty miles below. At Ten Islands was built Fort Strother. Jackson himself, with some twelve hundred infantry and eight hundred cavalry, marched to the relief of the friendly Creeks. The siege was raised. Perhaps four hundred of the besiegers were slain.
Under date of December 18, 1813, at Ten Islands, General Jackson wrote to General Claiborne a long letter, given in full in Claiborne's "Mississippi," from which the following extracts are taken: "Before this reaches you, you will have heard of our battle at Talladega. It was fought on the 9th of November, and was indeed a severe blow to the enemy."
"It is impossible to tell, with any precision, the loss they sustained. We counted, however, two hundred and ninety-nine dead on the field; but this is known to fall considerably short of the number really killed. Could I have followed up that victory immediately, the Creek war, before this, had been terminated. But I was compelled by a double cause,--the want of supplies and the want of cooperation from the East Tennessee troops, to return to this place." Near the close of the letter is this suggestive statement: "It is not understood by the Government that this war is to be confined to mere temporary incursions into the enemy's country--such movements might distress them, but would produce none of those lasting and beneficial effects which are designed to be produced. Perhaps, too, there are ulterior objects, not yet avowed, which may be within the contemplation of Government."
Before leaving Talladega it may be stated that within were one hundred and fifty-four warriors with their families and a thousand hostile Creeks without, around them. But it was no Fort Mims. In all, it is said the Creeks had in the field, in the war party, three thousand warriors; and in every engagement they fought with what the narrators call a "religious frenzy." Perhaps it might as appropriately have been called "Spartan valor." Weatherford had told the war chiefs, if we accept General Woodward's statements, that going to war with the whites would prove their ruin; the Cherokee interpreter had warned them that they would lose their lands: and now, that the Americans were actually at war with them, perhaps they felt that the time had come for them to dare, to do, or to die.* [*Some of the remarks made by writers on Indian affairs seem singular, as though Indians were not expected to share in ordinary human rights, as though they should tamely submit to whatever the white man exacted. The following is one of these remarks. It is needless to name the writer. After saying that some of the Creeks were friendly to the whites he adds: "but the main body of the nation fought as if their salvation depended on defeating the Americans." One would hardly expect a man to use the word salvation, here, in a religious sense, and if it means their self-preservation, how else could they be expected to fight? They did not wish, as a people, to be wiped off from the earth because they were found to be in the way of the white settlers, because the whites wanted their hunting grounds. With what is called "religious frenzy," with determined resolution, was the only way for them to fight. T. H. B.]
3. The Hillabee Massacre.
This deplorable action took place Nov. 18, 1813.
A body of volunteers from East Tennessee had marched to the seat of war under Major General John Cocke. General White, with a thousand men of General Cocke's division, marched to Turkey Town and there reported to General Jackson that he would receive his orders. General Jackson sent him to Fort Strother at Ten Islands. The Hillabee Indians had opened negotiations with General Jackson for terms of peace, offering to surrender. While these negotiations were pending and the Indians were waiting for a favorable answer from Jackson, and General White was on his march to Fort Strother, he received orders from General Cocke, which orders he chose to obey, to attack these Hillabee towns. He fell upon and destroyed the very town that had already proposed to surrender to General Jackson, the inhabitants of which were waiting for the return of their messenger and had no thought that they would be attacked by Tennessee troops. It was a massacre and not a battle. "We lost not a drop of blood," General White reported to General Cocke, and Brewer adds "and Fort Mims was again avenged." It was a fearful mistake made by General Cocke or General White or by both--it is putting it too mildly to apply Tennyson's expression, "somebody blundered;" and it illustrates the danger of having in the same field two commanders, one not co-operating, as Jackson wrote, with the other. Pickett says that "Jackson was generally considered the commander-in-chief of all the troops from Tennessee," and the trusting Hillabees could look to no other. The surviving Hillabees could not learn that the attack was not made by his order; and, as one result, in the succeeding engagements, they fought with a vindictive fierceness They considered that the attack made on their town; in the circumstances, was an outrage, and when they fought afterwards BLOOD WAS SHED.
4. The Battle of Autossee, Nov. 29, 1813.
Autosse was on the south bank of the Tallapoosa, near the mouth of the Calabee Creek, eighteen miles from the Hickory Ground, and twenty miles above the junction with the Coosa.
(The Hickory Ground, named above, was a large Indian town, one of the residence places of General McGillivray. The noted Tookabatchee was east from the Hickory Ground on the Tallapoosa.) General Floyd, with nine hundred and fifty Georgia militia, and four hundred friendly Indians, among them the chief Mad Dog, and the friendly Tookabatchees, made the attack on Autossee. The Indians were driven out, about two hundred were killed, the town was set on fire, and some four hundred houses burned, some of them being fine specimens of Indian architecture.* [*McKenney and Hall in their large work, call this also a massacre rather than a battle, for the Indians, they say, were "surprised in their lodges, and killed before they could rally in their defense."] At the same time, or about the same time, Tallassee was also destroyed. Little Tallassee, called the "Apple Grove," was on the east bank of the Coosa, five miles above the Hickory Ground. It was the birth place of McGillivray. After destroying these towns the Georgia troops returned to Fort Mitchell.
5. Battle of the Holy Ground, Dec. 23, 1813.
This action, as belonging especially to the Mississippi Territory conflicts, has already been fully described.
6. January 22, 1814, about six in the morning, near Emuckfau Creek, General Jackson with nine hundred men and two hundred Cherokees and Creeks, marching southward, was attacked by five hundred Indians. "The fight lasted all day, both sides suffering severely; but the assailants were driven off." Jackson determined to return to Fort Strother.
7. January 24, 1814, having reached a Hillabee village, Enitachopco, "he was suddenly assailed with great vigor by the pursuing red men. After an obstinate combat they were repelled, though the invading army was at one time in great peril."* [* Brewer's "Alabama."] The Indians said, as their report of these engagements, "we whipped Captain Jackson and ran him to the Coosa River." He certainly fell back; and the Americans acknowledged that it was a severe engagement.
8. The Calabee Valley Fight, Jan. 27, 1814.
We return to the Georgia troops. Having his force increased to about seventeen hundred men and with his four hundred Indians, General Floyd moved into the Calabee Valley and when about seven miles from the present Tuskegee, "the savages suddenly sprang, from their lair in the undergrowth of the creek and made a furious assault about daylight." "A charge soon drove them into the recesses of the swamp, with severe loss. But the cautious Floyd was effectually checked, and his campaign brought to a premature close." Says Brewer, from whom these statements are taken, "The practical results of the fight were wholly with the brave natives."
9. Tohopeka or the Battle of the Horse Shoe, March 27, 1814.
This was the great decisive battle. The place was a noted bend in the Tallapoosa River, which from its shape took the name of Horse Shoe. Here a thousand warriors made their final stand. It was fortified in the Indian style. If the breastworks were taken it is supposed the warriors expected to cross the river and escape. When Jackson looked upon this chosen spot with its Muscogee defences, he is reported to have said, they have "penned themselves up for slaughter." A flag of truce sent by him was fired upon, whether through ignorance or design is not known. The Hillabee warriors might have been expected to fire upon it. The slaughter here, when the action began, was fearful. Not many of the thousand escaped. This battle may well be placed along side of that destruction that came upon the Pequods in New England. Of that, Martyn says, "it was not a battle--it was a massacre." The well informed reader will note more than one point of similarity between the old Pequod war and the Creek war. Perhaps the one was as needful as the other. The one blotted out a small tribe; the other subdued a great people. And Brewer says, "And the combined power of the whites, the Cherokees, Chickasaws, and Choctaws, assisted by a large portion of their own people, was required to subjugate them; and only then when the superior weapons of modern warfare had almost annihilated the fighting population."
The following extracts from General Jackson's report are dated March 28, 1814.
"Battle Ground, bend of Tallapoosa." Referring to the warriors, "Expecting our approach they had gathered in from Oakfuskie, Oakahoga, New Yorcau, Hillabees, The Fish Pond, and Eufaulu towns, to the number, it is said, of 1,000."
"Determining to exterminate them I detached General Coffee * * * to cross the river," which was to cut off retreat.
After describing the action and the little effect produced for some time upon the Indian defences, having determined at last to take the place "by storm," for which order the men were impatient, the report proceeds: "The history of warfare, I think, furnishes few instances of a more brilliant attack "
"The enemy were completely routed." "It is believed that not more than twenty have escaped."
Before leaving Tohopeka perhaps truth and justice require that another, a very unpleasant record should be made. It concerns the barbarity of some of Jackson's troops.
Jackson himself, although determining to exterminate the thousand warriors, made in this war, a good record for humanity in caring for the women and children and in saving the life of a motherless Indian infant, when even the Indian mothers would give it no nourishment; but the same cannot be said of all of his men.
Mr. Warren Wilbanks of Noxubee county, Mississippi, who died in 1882, ninety years of age, is authority for the statement that many of the Tennessee soldiers cut long strips of skin from the bodies of the dead Indians and with these made bridle reins. Also that when the Horse Shoe village was set on fire some of the soldiers noticed a very old Indian, a non-combatant, sitting on the ground, pounding corn in a mortar, as though unaware of the tumult and danger around him, and that a Tennessee barbarian, though called a soldier, deliberately shot him dead, assigning as his reason for so doing that he might be able to report when he went home that he had killed an Indian.
Mr. Archibald McArthur, an aged man of Winston county, Mississippi, is authority for this statement, that in the heat of the fight a lost, bewildered, little Indian boy, five or six years of age, came among the soldiers, when one of them struck him on the head and killed him with the butt of his musket. When reproached by an officer for barbarity in killing so young a child, he replied, that the boy would have become an Indian some day. An aged man, Mr. Evans, of Neshoba county, Mississippi, is authority for the statement that the party detailed to count the dead warriors found on the battle field of Tohopeka, so as to make no mistake in the count, cut off the tip of each dead Indian's nose so soon as the count was made. They counted up, says Pickett, five hundred and fifty-seven warrior bodies found on the field. The Indians take off the scalps. These soldiers took off the nose.
Surely it was not needful, in avenging Fort Mims, as it was called, that the whites should imitate the barbarity of the Creeks.
It is claimed that the truly brave are nearly always humane, but many a sacked city and many a war-ravaged region can show that white soldiers may equal in atrocity and barbarity and far exceed in licentiousness the North American Indians
War at the best is ever terrible, and too many whites despise more or less what they call the inferior races of mankind. "Only an Indian" is a poor excuse for justifying a barbarity.