In last week’s installment, we made the statement that “For most Tennesseans who fought in the war, the Creek War was the War of 1812.” This was because troops from Tennessee, Georgia and The Mississippi Territory (today’s Alabama and Mississippi) were retained in The South specifically to defend against possible landings by the British Army, coastal operations by the British Navy or land attacks by their allies, the Lower Creek “Red Stick” Indians/Native Americans. The extraordinary number of Tennesseans responding to Governor Blount’s call for volunteers was the source for our state’s nickname of today and those that enlisted were, in many cases, the sons of men who had marched up Gap Creek and over The Roan to battle the British at Kings Mountain. What many of those Tennesseans saw as an “Indian problem” — unwittingly turned into the Southern Theater of the War of 1812.
In one of our earliest columns, we recounted the “opening shots” of this war by the great Shawnee leader Tecumseh at the Tippecanoe battlefield in Indiana during November 1811 — not long before that conflict he had visited Southern tribes trying to recruit partners in a confederacy of various Native American groups that opposed white expansion into traditional tribal lands. He didn’t have much success among the so-called “civilized tribes,” i.e.: Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Seminole or Creek, except for the radical “Red Stick” faction among the Creeks.
They were led by younger men, such as Red Eagle (William Weatherford) who initially tried to keep their true feelings secret from their own tribal elders, but their opposing views resulted in an outbreak of civil war among the Creeks and, on Aug. 13, 1813 an attack was led by Weatherford and Peter McQueen on Fort Mims (in today’s Alabama, above Mobile) where hundreds of mixed blood Creeks, white settlers and local militiamen were slaughtered. It became known as the “Fort Mims Massacre” and caused immediate mobilization of white troops throughout the region.
In November, General Andrew Jackson led his Tennesseans southward to a victory at Tallushatchee in retaliation over the “Red Sticks” (in today’s Northeastern Alabama). In that engagement, John Coffee — an American planter, sometime business associate of, and Tennessee militia general under, Jackson — led about a thousand mounted men into the town and destroyed it in about thirty minutes. David Crockett from Limestone fought in this encounter and reported that “We shot them like dogs.” Jackson’s forces then moved on farther south to support pro-American Creeks at Talladega on Nov. 9, winning the battle and killing about 300 “Red Sticks.”
General Jackson was resolved to keep the pressure on his foe and, when he was reinforced a few later with two new regiments, he planned to resume his inexorable march southward. Commenting on the fighting prowess of the Creeks, General Coffee said, “The enemy fought with savage fury and met death with all of its horrors, without shrinking or complaining — not one asked to be spared, but fought as long as they could stand or sit.” Frustrated by a shortage of supplies and with little support from the War Department, Jackson had difficulty in keeping his command together.
However, on Jan. 22, the Creeks attacked near Emuckfau Creek and after an American counterattack, battling back and forth during the day, the U.S. forces lurched in retreat to Enotochopco Creek. On the 24, Jackson fought a rear guard action back toward Fort Strother until he could get his army turned around, whereupon he drove off the enemy. At the fort, Jackson claimed additional Creek losses of nearly 200, dismissed most of his soldiers and awaited the arrival of some 5,000 newly recruited replacements and supplies, mostly from Tennessee.
As spring approached, Jackson’s scouts brought him intelligence that the main body of the Creeks were camped on the Talapoosa River in a place known to the Americans as Horseshoe Bend. On March 14, with the reinforcements from Tennessee, Old Hickory left a small force to protect Fort Strother and marched towards Tohopeka on the Talapoosa. Jackson’s main force numbered around 2,000 men, including 500 Cherokee and two small cannons.
Over the next several days, the General and his men hacked their way southward through the wilderness some 60 miles to an advantageous point on the Coosa River, where they established Fort Williams. Despite the rigors of their just concluded march, Jackson’s Tennesseans resumed their southward advance — the objective was another 50 miles away — the Creek stronghold of Red Eagle’s fortified “Tohopeka” town.
NEXT: THE CLIMACTIC BATTLE OF THE CREEK WAR.
By: Earl Hendry