Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Carnage Was Dreadful

It began with the largest massacre of non-combatants by Native Americans in United States history, and ended with the greatest number of Native Americans killed in one day by the United States military.  The Creek Indian War raged through 1813 and 1814, but is now largely forgotten outside of Alabama.

In early 1813, war broke out between  two factions of the Creek Nation in eastern Mississippi Territory, what would eventually become the State of Alabama.  One faction was made up of mixed and full blood Creeks who had began to adopt a more European way of living, trading and farming.  The other faction, known as the "Red Sticks" wanted a full return to the ways of their forefathers before the coming of the white men.  This disagreement boiled into civil war among the Creeks, with both sides winning and losing skirmishes in lower Alabama.

On August 30, 1813 a large band of Red Sticks attacked a ramshackle stockade post called Fort Mims.  By the end of the day, approximately 500 men, women and children; whites, mixed bloods, full bloods and black slaves, lay dead with the fort reduced to ashes. 
Massacre at Fort Mims

Panic ensued through the white settlements in northern Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee.  For the first time, the United States became involved in a Native American civil war.  The Tennessee militia marched into Alabama to subjugate the Red Sticks.  The column under General Andrew Jackson was the most active and successful of the American forces who marched against the Red Sticks.  Several defeats, and inadequate supply lines plagued Jackson and his men.  In the Spring of 1814 he was reinforced with a regiment of United States Regulars and marched again towards the Red Stick strong hold on the Tallapoosa River.   199 years ago today, Jackson and his mixed force of Tennessee Militia, US Regulars, friendly Creek Indians and Cherokee allies attacked the Red Sticks at Horseshoe Bend. 
Andrew Jackson
By the end of the day, as many as 1,000 Red Stick warriors lay dead. 350 Red Stick women and children were handed over to the Cherokee allies as slaves.   Red Stick resistance ceased and the "Creek War" was over.    One of Jackson's biographers described Horseshoe Bend as "slow, laborious slaughter." Jackson, in a letter to a fellow officer reported, "The carnage was dreadful."  In contrast, Jackson's army suffered only 50 killed and 154 wounded. 

The victory at the Horseshoe won promotion of Jackson to Major General of Volunteers in the United States Army.  He later commanded US troops at the Battle of New Orleans in a stunning one-sided defeat of a British invasion force.  Jackson was catapulted to national Fame and was elected President in 1828.  His rise as a national leader had its beginnings at Horseshoe Bend,  Alabama.
The 39th US Infantry scales the palisades.  From a diorama at the  Horseshoe Bend NPS visitor's center.
The sword of Major Lemuel Montgomery, 39th US Infantry. Montgomery was the highest ranking American officer killed at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. He had been an attorney in Nashville before the War of 1812.  The city of Montgomery, Alabama was named for him.  Courtesy Myers Brown, Tennessee State Museum
Twenty Five years after the victory at Horseshoe Bend, President Andrew Jackson would betray those Creek and Cherokee allies who helped him win the Red Stick War, when he evicted them from their homes in Alabama and Georgia and sent them on the Trail of Tears to the Indian Territory west of the Mississippi River.
For more on Horseshoe Bend, I suggest this National Park Service video.  This is shown at the NPS visitor center at the battlefield.  I had the honor to help make this video (that's my cannon you will see in some scenes.)  The film is narrated by Native American Hollywood actor, Wes Studie. 
A three minute video on the battle produced by PBS.


  1. Thanks for this most interesting post Mike. The Natïve Americans is a subject close to my heart.

  2. Thanks Rita. When most folks think of the "Indian Wars" the image of the western conflicts of the late 1800s come to mind. Hollywood had shaped most of this public idea for us. The wars with Native Americans in the East, when our country was just beginning, were much larger and violent. Niether side held monopoly on atrocities and mis-deeds. In fact, most of the various tribes and groups had been waring with one another, long before Europeans intruded. Still, the change among the native peoples and loss of traditional ways, was swift and permanent in during those early years of Euro-American expansion.

  3. Great post. There is not enough on this period. My son and I got into 28mm wargaming the Texian Revolution. Since he already had Col Crockett and his Tennesseans, we started wrgaming the Creek War as well. An interesting topic, both the Creeks (and how intricate and advanced their society was) and the politics surrounding the campaigns.

  4. Hey Mark,

    Not sure you remember me, Steve Andrews, former commander of the 19th Alabama in early 90s. I was between Bill Smart and Rick Somer. Enjoyed your post about Horseshoe Bend. Ironic that I had no idea you are an archaeologist. I studied archaeology @ Auburn. I worked on the phase four dig @ Ft. Toulouse / Jackson in early 80s. With Jackson's ruthlessness @ Horseshoe Bend, I find it interesting that he had great compassion on one of the children and carried him home to Rachel for them to adopt and raise as their own.

    Also, many great leaders fought there. Not just Jackson, Crocket, and Coffee,but the great Cherokees Junaluska, Drowning Bear, and Tsali. And even more famous was an adopted white the Cherokee called: Ka-la-nu, the Raven. We know him as Sam Houston! Thanks Mark for taking me down "memory lane.".

    Would like touch base again. My emai is: forward to hearing from you.