CMH Remembers: The Creek War
The Battle of Horseshoe Bend, 27 March 1814
The Battle of
27 March 1814
March 2015, by John Maass, CMH
During the War of 1812, American forces under the command of Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson of Tennessee engaged in a difficult campaign against a rebellious segment of Creek Indian warriors in what became known as the Creek War. This conflict, which took place in what is now the state of Alabama, centered on Jackson's efforts to defeat those Creeks hostile to the United States with U.S. Army troops and militia forces primarily from Tennessee. After fighting a number of battles with the "Red Stick" faction of the Creeks beginning in late 1813, General Jackson began to prepare for what would be the culminating campaign in March 1814.
Col. John Coffee
At Fort Strother on the upper Coosa River in the Mississippi Territory, Jackson busied himself with preparations for the new offensive. In addition to collecting supplies, the general received most welcome reinforcements on 6 February when Maj. Lemuel P. Montgomery arrived in camp at the head of the 39th U.S. Infantry. About twenty-five hundred volunteers from Tennessee also arrived that week. After having gathered a sufficient quantity of supplies, Jackson marched out of Fort Strother on 14 March with twenty-two hundred infantry, Col. John Coffee's seven hundred mounted Tennessee troops, and six hundred American Indian allies (five hundred Cherokees and one hundred National Creeks, friendly to the U.S.) The army also had two cannon, a 6-pounder and a 3-pounder. The troops moved south along the Coosa River with the 39th Infantry following the bank of the river guarding the supply barges. About sixty miles from Fort Strother, Jackson halted his army and built a supply post named Fort Williams.
"Menewa, "the Great Warrior"
On 24 March, Jackson's column left Fort Williams and approached the enemy Creek town of Tohopeka after a three-day march. What Jackson found impressed him. "It is difficult to conceive a situation more eligible for defense than the one they had chosen," he observed. At the large arc of the Tallapoosa River called the Horseshoe Bend, the Red Sticks had built across the peninsula a zigzag log fortification, five to eight feet high, which could allow them to enfilade attackers as they got close to the wall. The Red Sticks had constructed the barricade so that their fire could be delivered through loopholes, minimizing their exposure to enemy musket fire. Menewa, "the Great Warrior," acted as overall Red Stick commander at Horseshoe Bend.
Jackson, "determining to extinguish them," wanted to encircle the Red Sticks so none could flee the area and continue the war if defeated. Accordingly, he sent Coffee with his mounted volunteers and Indian allies to line the southern bank of the Tallapoosa River to cut off the enemy's line of retreat. He deployed his main force with the 39th Infantry in the center and the two regiments of Tennessee volunteers on either flank. At 1030, he "planted" his two artillery pieces on an eminence about eighty yards from the barricade and had his chief engineer direct a point-blank artillery barrage on the center of the barricade. The Red Sticks attempted to shoot down the artillery crews, but the American troops laid down such a suppressing fire that the Red Sticks could not aim effectively. After a two-hour bombardment, the artillery had caused only a few casualties among the Red Sticks and only minimal damage to the barricade itself.
To the south of Horseshoe Bend, the allied Cherokee warriors became impatient listening to the artillery fire. Many swam the waters of the Tallapoosa River under a covering fire from their comrades. Once on the south bank, they captured the canoes the Red Sticks had left at the riverbank. Soon, one hundred fifty to two hundred friendly Creeks under William McIntosh and many of Coffee's volunteers crossed the river as well, capturing the town and setting it on fire. They then advanced into the wooded hills that lay between the town and the rear of the barricade. With the barricade's defenders now surrounded, Jackson ordered his infantry to storm the defenses.
At about 1230, the drums of the 39th Infantry began to beat the long roll to arms. Major Montgomery took the lead with his regiment in the center and the Tennessee volunteers on either flank, the whole looking like a large wedge of troops. Montgomery reached the barricade first, but fell dead with a bullet to the head. In an instant, the entire 39th had mounted the barricade and became embroiled in savage hand-to-hand combat with the Red Sticks, "in the midst of a most tremendous fire." One of the first to make it over the barricade was Ens. (3d Lt.) Sam Houston. Moments after entering the Creek position, Houston received an arrow in his upper thigh, piercing the groin and taking him out of the action.
The Red Sticks fought fiercely, but they were soon overwhelmed. They fled the breastwork and scattered throughout the peninsula. Many made their way to the Tallapoosa and attempted to cross it, but Coffee's volunteers and Indian allies ensured that few Red Sticks made it to the opposite bank alive. It took five hours for the volunteers and regulars to hunt down the surviving enemy warriors, with Jackson writing to his wife that "it was dark before we finished killing them." The next day, his men counted 557 enemy warriors "left dead upon the peninsula," not counting the several hundred casualties inflicted by Coffee's command. Only about 200 of the 1,000 defenders escaped. Jackson and his Indian allies suffered about 260 casualties. The victors also rounded up some 350 women and children as prisoners. Jackson later boasted that "the history of warfare furnishes few instances of a more brilliant attack."v
After securing the prisoners and tending to the wounded, Jackson turned his army toward Fort Williams. Subsequently, his troops and militia reinforcements advancing from Georgia destroyed many remaining Red Stick towns and strongholds as the proceeded to the Hickory Ground on the Coosa by 17 April, and here Jackson had his troops build another fortification, which they named Fort Jackson in his honor.
The absence of further resistance signaled an end to the Creek War. Jackson received a brevet major general's commission in the U.S. Army and command of the 7th Military District. The government also made him its representative at the treaty conference at Fort Jackson on 1 August 1814.
The federal government dictated to Jackson what the terms of the peace treaty would be. The Creeks would have to cede enough land to pay for the expenses of the war. Since the Spanish had supplied the Red Sticks, the Creeks could have no further interaction with them and trade only with the United States. Furthermore, the Creeks had to grant the United States the right to build roads, forts, and trading posts, and to have free navigation of all waterways through their remaining territory. Last, the Creeks had to turn over all the surviving Red Stick leaders, including the religious prophets whom the United States held responsible for inciting the war.
At the treaty negotiations, Jackson stunned the Creek headmen by adding to the list of concessions a requirement of his own—the cession of 23 million acres of land, fully one-half of the Creek territory. He made no distinction between those Creeks who had been his allies and those who had fought against the United States. The Creek headmen rejected the demand, but Jackson was adamant. After delaying for a week, the Creek headmen realized that they could not resist him further, especially with his army still in the field. On 9 August 1814, the thirty-six Creek headmen present signed the treaty. Because of his unyielding manner in obtaining the harsh terms, the Creeks dubbed Jackson "Sharp Knife."
The treaty signing occurred just in time. Several days later, a British expedition arrived in the Gulf of Mexico at the
Apalachicola River and in Pensacola. With the Creek War at an end, Jackson could turn his full attention to the new adversary. He marched his army to Mobile where he repelled a British attack in mid-September 1814. He then marched to Pensacola and forced the British to withdraw completely from the Gulf Coast. Anticipating a British attack on New Orleans, he then marched to Louisiana, giving Pensacola back to the Spanish.
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