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Andrew Jackson Horseshoe Bend Battle, Creek War, 27 March 1814

Creek War

The Creek War was part of the War of 1812, because the Americans believed, with good reason, that the British and Spanish were coaxing the Red Stick (anti-US) Creeks along with supplies and guidance. The fact that the Tohopeka (Horseshoe Bend) stronghold on the Tallapoosa River in Alabama was fortified with European style battlements re-enforced this belief.

After the tactically brutal and ugly fights at Emuckfaw and Enitachopco in January 1814, Andrew Jackson gathered his new forces and had another go at the Red Stick Creeks led by the Prophet Monahell and Chief Menawa with the possible inclusion of the famed William Weatherford (Red Eagle), a half Scottish, half Creek warrior. Jackson was determined to make this campaign the last major one in the area by destroying the Red Stick Creek force at its very stronghold and defended by its best warriors and leaders.

Jackson took off from Fort Strother in mid March with new Tennessee volunteers from the eastern part of that state, the 39th U.S. Infantry, Cherokees and White Stick (pro-US) Creeks. Jackson’s target was to be the stronghold at the horseshoe shaped bend on the Tallapoosa River that the Creeks called Tohopeka. The new forces were important, because Jackson’s previous foray into this wilderness was with Tennnessee volunteers who had many complaints about their pay and enlistment periods. This new force was more motivated and professional. The plan was to form an envelopement and was designed to trap the Red Sticks in the confines of the river bow (see a map of the arrayed forces).

Jackson sent his trusty number two, John Coffee, the White Stick Creeks, some Cherokees and the dragoons to the far side (southern) of the river to feint a river crossing. Jackson took the main force to attack the breastworks head on from the north. Jackson opened up with his limited artillery, but his small guns just bounced shot off the timbered works. However, the sound of the guns excited some of Coffee’s force and they managed to swim the Tallapoosa and steal some canoes. This allowed a landing and cut off the Red Sticks’ main retreat option. Whilst Coffee was harrying the Red Sticks near the river, Jackson ordered a charge on the works. Jackson’s force was then able to use the timber for protection themselves as they fired through the portals from the outside. Finally, a courageous push over the top that included Sam Houston (who was seriously wounded) succeeded in breaching the Creek perimeter with substantial forces. The Red Stick forces fought a determined, but doomed defense inside the stronghold with Jackson even leveling his artillery at point blank range into the huts used as a last stand.

The battle resulted in the largest death toll of Native Americans (557 +) in a single battle throughout all of the Indian wars. Monahell was killed (possibly by Menawa who was fed up with Prophetic devices rather than fighting), Menawa was severely wounded, but escaped and William Weatherford escaped only to walk into Fort Jackson (formerly Fort Toulouse) a few months later to surrender. Weatherford was to play a key role in encouraging many other Red Sticks to give up to the Americans.

Andrew Jackson Horseshoe Bend

Horsehoe Bend is seen as the last of the Creek nation living independently in their ancestral grounds, but this particular Indian War will forever be associated with the War of 1812, because of the winning General. Clearing out the Creeks would allow Jackson to focus on New Orleans nearly a year later with glorious results for Old Hickory.

Image Information: Mcewen, Robert Houston. [Sketch map of the Battle of Horseshoe Bend of Tallapoosa River, 27th March 1814]. 1814. Map. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2012588005/. (Accessed January 14, 2018.)

Motorcycle Ride Recommendation

Try this “figure 8” ride starting and ending at Fort Toulouse / Jackson State Historic Site. This takes in the scenic Alabama State Routes 9 and 22 as well as the Horseshoe Bend National Military Park.

Battle for the Southern Frontier Book Review – Creek War

Battle for the Southern Frontier: The Creek War and the War of 1812

On Tuesday this week, I received the Battle for the Southern Frontier: The Creek War and the War of 1812, by Mike Bunn and Clay Williams in the mail. It is published by The History Press.

I absolutely devoured this book. This is my kind of popular history. Bunn and Williams have written a book of a great history, but also backed it up with lots of detail on the historical ground where the war was fought. Their bibliographic essay is a dream for those of us who like to dig a little deeper. They even include some of the source documents and illustrations in the book itself. Finally, they include lots of maps, location descriptions and images of historical markers that help us saddled adventurers find the pertinent locations on our travels.

Bunn and Williams break the story up into 5 parts…the origins of the war, war from the south northwards, from Georgia westwards, from Tennessee southwards and finally the Gulf campaign against the British. Each section has the basic history told, but also the key locations described in detail, so you can find them even if they are long lost and/or unmarked. So much of this era is only told when discussing Andrew Jackson. It is refreshing to see a book that gives a little room to the important operations around Mobile and west Georgia/east Alabama.

Timelines and Dramatis Personae of the Creek War

The book also has two things that I love in any history book which is a good timeline to start the book and a list of short biographies of all the main players. In fact, I like to read the timeline and biographies first to give me good mental hooks to hang the story on as I read. These are both tight, stand-alone references for anyone who wants to start a deeper study of the conflict.

I’ve already mentioned the detailed and helpful bibliographic essay, but the selection of original documents are also a great read. Of special note are the accounts of the Canoe fight and Tecumseh’s speech to the Creek, which I have blogged about previously here. There is also a website to support the book that can be found here.

This book, by the author’s own admission, is not meant to add a lot of new scholarship to the history, but in my mind it does what it is meant to do admirably. In some ways, I think the authors do not give themselves enough credit when it comes to their photo documentation of the historical sites as original research. I have read many accounts of this war, but have yet been able to visualize several of the important geographic features. An example is Emuckfau Creek. There are creeks that can be crossed with a leap, or barely getting your feet wet, or wade-able or only swimmable. When imagining the battle, it is hard to determine whether it was hard or easy to cross in the midst of a battle. However, Bunn and Williams answer that for me by giving me a photo on Emuckfau on page 89. No other factual account has done that for me. There are far too few military histories with adequate maps, good directions to the key points for travelers, concise biographies of key players, original images and solid bibliographies written in a way that does not intimidate new readers nor insult those who already come to the subject with some knowledge. This one does all of these things and does them well.

Great book. Bunn and Williams get a coveted Battlefield Biker helmet nod.

Mike Bunn and Clay Williams Interview on Creek War

I’m happy to welcome Mike Bunn and Clay Williams to Battlefield Biker to talk about their new book titled, The Battle for the Southern Frontier: The Creek War and the War of 1812. It is published by The History Press. You can see my review of the book here.

Battlefield Biker (BB) – Why did you write this book about the Creek War?

Clay Williams (CW) – Mike and I have a love for this time period in Gulf South History. We had previously worked together at the Old Capitol Museum of Mississippi History and had done lots of research on the Mississippi Territorial Period (1798-1817), which included the Creek War and the War of 1812, for a future exhibit. Mike eventually left to take another job in Georgia and the exhibit never took place due to Hurricane Katrina closing the Old Capitol. Mike and I have stayed in touch over the years and wanted to do a large project again together and the Creek War and its related Gulf Coast campaigns of the War of 1812 looked like a perfect fit. We had already done some research, and it is a topic that is basically unknown to many. Mike and I love to visit historic sites and so visiting and documenting these areas where these key events took place would be a key portion of our book and we so we decided to take the project on.

Mike Bunn (MB) – We certainly didn’t set out to write a book at first, though. It’s a project that just grew once we got into it and realized the possibilities and discovered how much info we had to share.

BB – Will you tell us a little about the format of the book ( I love it). i.e. timeline, biographies, geographic points of interest, some original documents and the essay. How did you work out what you wanted to do with the book?

CW – Mike and I initially referred to the book as a sourcebook-a one-stop shop for gathering information on the conflict. We knew it was not going to be a long narrative and didn’t want it to be one. We targeted it for the general public and wanted it to be easily accessible and this was what we came up with. Again, Mike and I have stated this was not to be a new definitive study of the conflict, but a book that hopefully introduced the topic to the many that have no idea about it and that its format would make it easy to peruse and enjoy without getting bogged down with long narratives and too many footnotes. There were components that we wanted in it that we thought be helpful, a time line, a great bibliographical essay, original documents, as well as site locations. Again, I will say the book grew out of the idea to visit these sites, many marked and many unmarked, and document them for the public-the whole historic preservation and interpretation idea.

BB – How did you work as a team? Did you split duties?

CW – Yes, we split duties. By splitting the wars into 4 campaigns, meant we were both responsible for two-that meant doing research, locating historic sites, writing the narrative text as well as the text for the historic sites and the bios for those participants in our respective campaigns, locating graphics, etc. We also split the various other portions as well such as Mike wrote the Origins of War and I wrote the Conclusion. Each of us would write a first draft, then submit to the other for editing and suggestions. Mike and I work very well together in that regard. We don’t have large egos and we can each tell the other that something he wrote was garbage. It was a great pleasure to work with Mike. We both have such a love for the study history and are eager to do projects of this nature.

MB – We started working like that when we worked together at the Old Capitol. We have written so much together that it was easy to critique each other’s writing. Editing can be a touchy process for many, but fortunately not for us. We didn’t edit so much as fine tune what we knew we were each trying to say. We were truly on the same page and as I look back on the work, I don’t think readers will be able to tell which section was written by who; it comes off as one voice.

BB – The bibliographic essay was great. Who inspires you in this field? i.e. clear source display.

MB – Their are a lot of authors we like and we both have ridiculous personal libraries. As far as this topic specifically, though, I’d have to say that Robert Remini, Frank Owsley, Jr., and Henry S. Halbert and T.H. Ball stand as the foremost inspirations. Remini is a master storyteller, Owsley wrote what we consider to be the definitive study of the conflicts we cover and was the only one to rely exclusively on primary sources, while Halbert and Ball produced one of the first serious studies of the wars. The fact that they co-authored their work made them an especially significant inspiration for us.

CW – Not sure I have an answer for that. I know Mike and I both enjoy books that are well documented and have great bibliographies so we can find other books, articles etc. that touch on a topic we like and can search ourselves. I know our wives would agree that we both spend waaaay too much money purchasing books.

Editor’s note… Don’t ever let the Mrs. Bunn, Mrs. Williams and the Battlefield Bikette meet in the same room. The pressure to eBay the libraries may get too strong.

BB – What role did technology play in the writing of the book? i.e. online research, collaboration software, Skype, IM, etc?

CW – Not too much-Some small online research, but mostly through books and articles. E-mail is a wonderful thing-cheap for Mike and I to contact each other as well as for us to contact historians located across our theater of war. Mike and I met many local historians who had done great research on their particular area and we were able to combine alot of their research into this book.

MB – As Clay says, this was not a tech-heavy project. We of course have the website and relied on a digital camera and photoshop, but email was about as advanced as most of it got.

BB – Other than Andrew Jackson, which historical figure(s) jumped out at you and made you wish you had more space for biographical detail?

MB – William Weatherford was a complex individual. He was as white as Creek, yet became one of the foremost Redstick leaders. During the war he was a fearless and intelligent leader. After the war, he returned to life as a planter in south Alabama and was apparently an accepted member of the community. He must have been fascinating.

CW – Agreed. William Weatherford is a great figure-We wish there was more information out there on him.

BB – In your opinion, how much of the Creek Indian war strategy, tactics and supply were informed or provided by the British directly?

CW – Hmmm, another good question…..I will say not much. Of course, the Creek War had basically ended before the British could become directly involved. However, please be aware that many of the Creek leaders, such as Weatherford, had as much European ancestry as they had Creek ancestry, so many had read or were familiar with “white tactics” of war.

MB – Yes, this was a war planned and fought by the Redsticks. Everything might have been different had the British managed to get involved earlier, but that is just conjecture.

BB – What was your favourite map of the book and/or research?

MB – For me, it was learning about Floyd’s campaign with the GA militia. Two of the largest battles of the war were fought by troops under his command, but they remain among the most unknown battles of the war. There are no markers commemorating either of them, sadly. As far as maps, I am proud that we were able to create a series of them that detailed the battles of each campaign fairly accurately. So many of the ones we have seen are wildly inaccurate.

CW – Another tough question…..I enjoyed so much of the research. The War of 1812 sections concerning Mobile, Pensacola and Lake Borgne were so fascinating to me. Many have heard of Jackson’s win at New Orleans, but the events leading up to it are really unknown and I liked delving into it. The contemporary maps created by Latour were awesome and I really liked all the maps we have created to help others understand the conflict. Maps are so essential when reading any type of military history. Nothing is worse than reading a detailed account of a battle or campaign and not having a reference map to chart the movements of armies.

BB – What use was GPS and geo tagging in your research?

CW – Not much, Our favorite map was produced by Delorme. They were awesome and got us out of many fixes.

MB – Yeah, topo maps got us back to civilization a few times when we thought we’d never see another paved road!

Editor’s note; Delorme is a Battlefield Biker favourite as well. See Battlefield Biker’s Ride Recommendations for specific Delorme maps for battlefield touring.

BB – What support did your employer’s give to the book?

CW – I did work on the book independently of my regular job with the Mississippi department of Archives and History.

MB – This was totally independent of our jobs.

BB – Did you have any great road trips together or separately in the research?

CW – Yes, the best part of the book were the trips Mike and I took together. We would meet in a central location in Alabama, drop off one car, and with maps and notes in hand, take off on a circular route to locate various areas. We took several long weekend trips. They were great, but exhausting. We would both leave our respective homes at like 6am, meet up 3 hours later, then drive around til dark, stopping at historic sites, then stay at a some hotel, then get up the next morning and repeat the process. It was always a great thrill to find a historic marker or monument off the beaten path after following some vague directions or such. Plus, those moments at Fort Mims, Horseshoe Bend, and Chalmette, overlooking the battlefield while we take photos still fills me with awe-to be on the actual ground where these momentous events took place. It is this feeling that Mike and I hope we can convey to our readers with our book.

MB – Clay and I have made many trips together, but as a group the ones for this trip were certainly the most rewarding.

BB – What was your favourite driving/riding road in your travels?

MB – Well although they were a little hazardous and difficult, I’d have to say all the unpaved roads we ventured onto were my favorite. When we did find old markers (placed in their location as much as 90 years ago when these dirt paths were thoroughfares) it was very rewarding. It gave us a sense we had truly discovered something people zipping by on the highways are missing.

BB – What’s next for Bunn and Williams as a team or individually?

CW – Well, in the pipeline, Mike and I want to do a similar formatted book on the entire Mississippi Territorial period-early 1800s to 1820-tracing locations where events took place that eventually transformed this frontier area of the Gulf South into the states of Mississippi and Alabama. Again, this is such an unknown part of history that we are eager to inform the public about it and its importance.Not sure when we will be able to get into it. We are both still a little exhausted having completed this one book while both working full-time jobs. We both wish we could win the lottery or something and do this type of work full-time.

Thanks Gentlemen for a little insight to your work. It has been a pleasure reading the book and interviewing you. Please support practical scholarship like this by buying their book at the link below.

Shawnee Chief Tecumseh Delivers War Speech to Creek Indians at Tuckabatchee Alabama in October 1811

Background

Prior to the War of 1812, the British and the Spaniards had been forging alliances with Indians on the American frontier to try to slow American expansionism, and therefore power. One significant Indian Chief, the Shawnee Chief Tecumseh, used this time and support to try to build an Indian Confederacy along the western edge of the American frontier. Tecumseh’s Shawnees were based predominantly in current day Indiana, Illinois and western Kentucky, but were historically linked to the Creek people of current day Alabama and Georgia. Tecumseh traveled to Alabama to rally the Creeks to war against the whites in the region.

Below is Tecumseh’s speech to the Creeks at Tuckabathcee in October 1811 as told by Sam Dale to JFH Claiborne;

“In defiance of the white warriors of Ohio and Kentucky, I have traveled through their settlements, once our favorite hunting grounds. No war-whoop was sounded, but there is blood on our knives. The Pale-faces felt the blow, but knew not whence it came. Accursed be the race that has seized on our country and made women of our warriors. Our fathers, from their tombs, reproach us as slaves and cowards. I hear them now in the wailing winds. The Muscogee was once a mighty people. The Georgians trembled at your war-whoop, and the maidens of my tribe, on the distant lakes, sung the prowess of your warriors and sighed for their embraces. Now your very blood is white; your tomahawks have no edge; your bows and arrows were buried with your fathers. Oh ! Muscogees, brethren of my mother, brush from your eyelids the sleep of slavery; once more strike for vengeance; once more for your country. The spirits of the mighty dead complain. Their tears drop from the weeping skies. Let the white race perish. They seize your land; they corrupt your women; they trample on the ashes of your dead! Back, whence they came, upon a trail of blood, they must be driven. Back! back, ay, into the great water whose accursed waves brought them to our shores ! Burn their dwellings! Destroy their stock! Slay their wives and children! The Red Man owns the country, and the Pale-faces must never enjoy it. War now! War forever! War upon the living! War upon the dead! Dig their very corpses from the grave. Our country must give no rest to a white man’s bones. This is the will of the Great Spirit, revealed to my brother, his familiar, the Prophet of the Lakes. He sends me to you. All the tribes of the north are dancing the war-dance. Two mighty warriors across the seas will send us arms. Tecumseh will soon return to his country. My prophets shall tarry with you. They will stand between you and the bullets of your enemies. When the white men approach you the yawning earth shall swallow them up. Soon shall you see my arm of fire stretched athwart the sky. I will stamp my foot at Tippecanoe, and the very earth shall shake.'”*

* At the battle of the Holy Ground, which occurred some time after, the prophets left by Tecumseh predicted that the earth would yawn and swallow up General Claiborne and his troops. Tecumseh refers to the Kings of England and Spain, who supplied the Indians with arms at Detroit and at Pensacola. The British officers had informed him that a comet would soon appear [ed. The Great Comet of 1811], and the earthquakes of 1811[ed. the New Madrid Earthquakes of 1811-1812] had commenced as he came through Kentucky. Like a consummate orator, he refers to them in his speech. When the comet soon after appeared, and the earth began to tremble, they attributed to him supernatural powers, and immediately took up arms.

Source, pages 59-61
Life and times of Gen. Sam Dale, the Mississippi partisan (1860)
Author: Claiborne, J. F. H. (John Francis Hamtramck), 1809-1884

Unbeknownst to Tecumseh, his brother, Tenskwatawa or “The Prophet,” was busy picking a fight with William Henry Harrison at Tippecanoe, Indiana shortly thereafter which would severely hamper his plans for an Indian Confederacy on the western borders to stop the ever expanding American frontier.

Ride Suggestion

Ride from Montgomery, Alabama to Tallassee, Alabama.  Near Tallassee, on the banks of the Tallapoosa River, is the historic meeting place of the Creeks called Tuckabatchee (many different spellings) where Tecumseh gave his speech to the Creeks. Try AL-229 north and AL-9 south to get feel for the traditional homeland of the Creeks.

Jackson Defeats British at Battle of New Orleans 8 January 1815

The Battle of New Orleans

Fifteen days after the Treaty of Ghent was signed on Christmas Eve 1814, but before it had taken effect, General Andrew Jackson decisively defeated the British at New Orleans. Neither the British, nor the Americans had received news of the peace treaty which had the provision that it would take effect as soon as news was received in the field. Although the final engagement happened on 8 January, 1815, the fighting around New Orleans had been going on since 14 December 1814, starting with a Royal Marine victory over US gunboats guarding the entrance to New Orleans on Lake Borgne. Also, throughout this period, Creek and Seminole Indian forces led by British Royal Marine Major Edward Nicolls had been patrolling the West Florida and Alabama gulf region. Jackson dispatched Major Uriah Blue to keep the Nicolls / Indian flank secure while he focused on where the British would land. On 23 December, Jackson failed to dislodge the British at their quarters on the Villeré Plantation. Jackson fell back and occupied the approach to New Orleans at the Rodriguez Canal. On 28 December, the British probed the line in force, but were repelled. On 1 January 1815, the British attempted to dislodge Jackson with artillery, but the duel ended with the American artillery victorious, probably because they had more ammunition. The Americans had more ammunition due to Jackson’s temporary alliance with the Baratarian pirates, including Jean Lafitte, who hated the British more than the Americans. Knowing where the British were likely to strike now, Jackson heavily fortified the Rodriquez canal and tied it into the adjacent swamp to block the British advance on New Orleans. Jackson also had allied Indians, namely the Choctaw, who picked off British sentries mercilously.

Finally, on 8 January, the British executed a frontal assault on the American positions which failed miserably, including the loss of the British commander, Pakenham, the brother-in-law to the Duke of Wellington. The British courage could not have been questioned, but their judgement in conducting a full frontal assault against a hevily prepared position could have been. Even though Jackson’s force was pieced together from militia, regulars, pirates, and Indians, it was a formidable force on such a ground. Jackson had delivered the heaviest defeat of the Brits in the War of 1812. The British and the Americans continued the fight in the gulf coast area, not hearing of the peace until 12 February 1815.

Motorcycle Ride

Start at Chalmette, near the site of the 8 January battle and make your way to Louisiana State Route 23, running southeast to the tip of the delta, following the Mississippi River. New Orleans is a bit rougher these days, so be prepared for detours and some deserted areas. As always, be aware of your surroundings when riding through this area.

And the obligatory Johnny Horton reference

Lake Erie Loop

I had not seen this before, so mind the April 2008 date of this, but Motorcycle Classics has an article about the Lake Erie Loop. I did a Lake Erie loop as part of a bigger ride from Chicago to Vermont and back. The shores of Lake Erie are a treasure trove for the War of 1812 sites from Michigan to Ohio to Pennsylvania to New York and Ontario. Well worth a read and the loop tour is well worth it too, although I wouldn’t want to speed through it. I like stopping and looking at stuff too much.
Here’s a Google map of War of 1812 battle sites around Lakes Erie, Ontario, and Champlain.

Canadian Guide Dog Motorcycle Ride 11 September 2016

This sounds fun, but watch out before you drop the kickstand.

The Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind are hosting the Canadian Guide Dog Motorcycle Ride on Sunday, Sept. 11, 2016 from the Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind, 4120 Rideau Valley Drive North, Manotick, ON K4M 1B2, Canada to Iroquois, Ontario (that’s Canada, eh?)

The 28th annual event is organized in conjunction with the Ottawa River Riders and the Canadian Motorcycle Cruisers.

If you’re riding up that way, why not stop by for a spell? You could always tie it in with a Battlefield Biker ride to the War of 1812’s Crysler’s Farm Battlefield just up Highway 2.

Image Credit: By Benson Lossing (The Pictorial Field Book of the War of 1812) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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