The news of the massacre at Fort Mims2 was thirty-one days in reaching New York. It is a proof how occupied were the minds of the people in the Northern States with great events, that the dread narrative appeared in the New York papers only as an item of war news of comparatively small importance. The last prodigious acts in the drama of Napoleon's decline and fall3 were watched with absorbing interest. The news of Perry's victory on Lake Erie had just thrilled the nation with delight and pride, and all minds were still eager for every new particular. Harrison's victory on the Thames over Proctor and Tecumseh soon followed. The lamentable condition of the Southern country was therefore little felt at the time beyond the States immediately concerned. Perry and Harrison were the heroes of the hour. Their return from the scene of their exploits was a continuous triumphal fête.
In a room at Nashville, a thousand miles from these splendid scenes, lay a gaunt, yellow-visaged man, sick, defeated, prostrate, with his arm bound up and his shoulders bandaged, waiting impatiently for his wounds to heal and his strength to return. Who then thought of him in connection with victory and glory? Who supposed that he, of all men, was the one destined to cast into the shade those favorites of the nation, and shine out as the prime hero of the war?
The news of the massacre produced everywhere in Tennessee the most profound impression. Pity for the distrest Alabamans, fears for the safety of their own borders, rage against the Creeks, so long the recipients of governmental bounty, united to inflame the minds of the people. But one feeling pervaded the State. With one voice it was decreed that the entire resources and the whole available force of Tennessee should be hurled upon the savage foe, to avenge the massacre and deliver the Southern country.
The day named for the rendezvous at Fayetteville was exactly one month from that on which the commanding general received his wounds in the affray with the Bentons. He could not mount his horse without assistance when the time came for him to move toward the rendezvous. His left arm was bound and in a sling. He could not wear his coat-sleeve; nor, during any part of his military career, could he long endure on his left shoulder the weight of an epaulet. Often, in the crisis of a maneuver, some unguarded movement would send such a thrill of agony through his attenuated frame as almost to deprive him of consciousness. It could not have been a pleasant thought that he had squandered in a paltry, puerile, private contest, the strength he needed for the defense of his country. Grievous was his fault, bitter the penalty, noble the atonement. Traveling as fast as his healing wounds permitted, General Jackson reached Fayetteville on the 7th of October.
Twenty-five hundred men and thirteen hundred horses were on a bluff of the Tennessee, on the borders of civilization, about to plunge into pathless woods, and march, no one knew how far, into the fastnesses and secret retreats of a savage enemy! Such a body will consume ten wagon-loads of provisions every day. For a week's subsistence they require a thousand bushels of grain, twenty tons of flesh, a thousand gallons of whisky, and many hundredweight of miscellaneous stores. . . .
Talluschatches was thirteen miles from General Jackson's camp. On the 2d of November came the welcome order to General Coffee (he had just been promoted) to march with a thousand mounted men to destroy this town. Late in the same day the detachment were on the trail, accompanied by a body of friendly Creeks wearing white feathers and white deers' tails, to distinguish them from their hostile brethren. The next morning's sun shone upon Coffee and his men preparing to assault the town.
On the evening of the same day, General Coffee, having destroyed the town, killed two hundred of the enemy, and buried five of his own men, led his victorious troops back to Jackson's camp, where he received from his general and the rest of the army the welcome that brave men give to brave men returning from triumph. Along with the returning horsemen, joyful with their victory, came into camp a sorrowful procession of prisoners, all women or children, all widows or fatherless, all helpless and destitute. They were humanely cared for by the troops, and soon after sent to the settlements for maintenance during the war.
On the bloody field of Talluschatches was found a slain mother still embracing her living infant. The child was brought into camp with the other prisoners, and Jackson, anxious to save it, endeavored to induce some of the Indian women to give it nourishment. "No," said they, "all his relations are dead; kill him, too." This reply appealed to the heart of the general. He caused the child to be taken to his own tent, where, among the few remaining stores, was found a little brown sugar. This, mingled with water, served to keep the child alive until it could be sent to Huntsville, where it was nursed at Jackson's expense until the end of the campaign, and then taken to the Hermitage. Mrs. Jackson received it cordially; and the boy grew up in the family, treated by the general and his kind wife as a son and favorite. . . .
At one o'clock in the morning of November 8th, eight hundred horsemen and twelve hundred foot, under command of General Jackson, stood on the bank of the Coosa, one mile above Fort Strother, ready to cross. The river was wide, but fordable for horsemen. Each of the mounted men, taking behind him one of the infantry, rode across the river and then returned for another. This operation consumed so long a time that it was nearly four o'clock in the morning before the whole force was drawn up on the opposite bank prepared to move. A long and weary march through a country wild and uninhabited brought them about sunset within six miles of Talladega. There the general thought it best to halt and give repose to the troops, taking precautions to conceal his presence from the enemy.
There was no repose for the general that night. Till late in the evening he remained awake, receiving reports from the spies sent out to reconnoiter the enemy's position, and making arrangements for the morrow's work. At midnight an Indian came into the camp with a dispatch from General White, announcing, to Jackson's inexpressible astonishment and dismay, that, in consequence of positive orders from General Cocke, he would not be able to protect Fort Strother, but must return and rejoin his general immediately. No other explanation was given. Jackson was in sore perplexity. To go forward, was to leave the sick and wounded at Fort Strother to the mercy of any strolling party of savages. To retreat, would bring certain destruction upon the friendly Creeks, and probably the whole besieging force upon his own rear. In this painful dilemma he resolved upon the boldest measures and the wisestto strike the foe in his front at the dawn of day, and, having delivered the inmates of the fort, hasten from the battle-field to the protection of Fort Strother.
Before four in the morning the army was in full march toward the enemy. A sudden and vigorous attack soon put to flight the besieging host, and set free the loyal Creeks, whose delight at their escape is described to have been affecting in the extreme. Besides being nearly dead from thirst, they were anticipating an assault that very day, and had no knowledge of Jackson's approach until they heard the noise of the battle. Fifteen minutes after the action became general the savages were flying headlong in every direction and falling fast under the swords of the pursuing troops. The delivered Creeks ran out of the fort, and, having appeased their raging thirst, thronged around their deliverer, testifying their delight and gratitude. . . .
Jackson soon saw the effect of his brilliant success at Talladega. The Hillabee warriors, who had been defeated in that battle, at once sent a messenger to Fort Strother to sue for peace. Jackson's reply was prompt and characteristic. His Government, he said, had taken up arms to avenge the most gross depredations, and to bring back to a sense of duty a people to whom it had shown the utmost kindness. When those objects were attained the war would cease, but not till then. "Upon those," he continued, "who are disposed to become friendly, I neither wish nor intend to make war, but they must afford evidences of the sincerity of their professions; the prisoners and property they have taken from us and the friendly Creeks must be restored; the instigators of the war, and the murderers of our citizens, must be surrendered; the latter must and will be made to feel the force of our resentment. Long shall they remember Fort Mims in bitterness and tears."
The Hillabee messenger, who was an old Scotchman, long domesticated among the Indians, departed with Jackson's reply. It was never delivered. Before the message reached the Hillabees an event occurred which banished from their minds all thought of peace, changing them from suppliants for pardon into enemies the most resolute and deadly of all the Indians in the Southern country. General White, of East Tennessee, totally unaware of the state of feeling among the Hillabees, nay, supposing them to be inveterately hostile, marched rapidly into their country, burning and destroying. On his way he burned one village of thirty houses, and another of ninety-three. The principal Hillabee town, whence had proceeded the messenger to Jackson asking peace, and whither that messenger was to return that day, General White surprized at daybreak, killed sixty warriors, and captured two hundred and fifty women and children. Having burned the town, he returned to General Cocke, supposing that he had done the State some service.
The feelings of the Hillabee tribe may be imagined. This, then, is General Jackson's answer to our humble suit? Thus does he respond to friendly overtures! They never knew General Jackson's innocence of this deed. From that time to the end of the war it was observed that the Indians fought with greater fury and persistence than before, for they fought with the blended energy of hatred and despair. There was no suing for peace, no asking for quarter. To fight as long as they could stand, and as much longer as they could sit or kneel, and then as long as they had strength to shoot an arrow or pull a trigger, were all that they supposed remained to them after the destruction of the Hillabees. . . .
We left General Jackson at Fort Strother, giving out his last biscuit to his hungry troops and appeasing his own appetite with unseasoned tripe. Then followed ten long weeks of agonizing perplexity, during which, tho the enemy was unmolested by the Tennessee troops, their general appeared in a light more truly heroic than at any other part of his military life. His fortitude, his will, alone saved the campaign. His burning letters kept the cause alive in the State; his example, resolution, activity, and courage preserved the conquests already achieved, and prepared the way for others that threw them into the shade. The spectacle of a brave man contending with difficulties is one in which the gods were said to take delight. Such a spectacle was exhibited by Andrew Jackson during these weeks of enforced inaction.
In circumstances like these revolt ripens apace. Ten days of gnawing hunger and inaction at Fort Strother brought all the militia regiments to the resolution of marching back in a body to the settlements, with or without the consent of the commanding general, and a day was fixt upon for their departure. Jackson heard of it in time. On the designated morning the militia began the homeward movement: but they found a lion in the path. The general was up before them, and had drawn up on the road leading to the settlements the whole body of volunteers, with orders to prevent the departure of the militia, peaceably if they could, forcibly if they must. The militia, in this unexpected posture of affairs, renounced their intention, and, obeying the orders of the general, returned to their position and their duty. . . .
The manner, appearance, and language of General Jackson on occasions like this were literally terrific. Few common men could stand before the ferocity of his aspect and the violence of his words. On the present occasion, I presume that the mutineers were put to flight as much by the terrible aspect of the general as by the armed men who were with him. We can fancy the sceneJackson in advance of Coffee's men, his grizzled hair bristling up from his forehead, his face as red as fire, his eyes sparkling and flashing; roaring out with the voice of a Stentor and the energy of Andrew Jackson, "By the immaculate God! I'll blow the damned villains to eternity if they advance another step!"
The excursion over, and the new levies from Tennessee approaching, Jackson dismissed his victorious troops, whose term of service was about to expire. He bade them farewell in an address abounding in kind and flattering expressions; and they left him feeling all that soldiers usually feel toward the general who has led them to victory.
Six weeks of intense labor on the part of the general and his army were required to complete the preparations for the decisive movement. The middle of March had arrived. The various divisions of the army were assembled at Fort Strother, and the requisite quantity of provisions had been accumulated. A system of expresses had been established for the conveyance of information to General Pinckney and Governor Blount. With much difficulty, one man had been found competent to beat the ordinary calls on the drum, and this one drum was the sole music of the army. Deducting the strong guards to be left at the posts already established, the force about to march against the enemy amounted to about three thousand men.
Jackson was eleven days in marching his army the fifty-five miles of untrodden wilderness that lay between Fort Strother and the Horseshoe Bend of the Tallapoosa. Roads had to be cut, the Coosa explored, boats waited for and rescued from the shoals, high ridges crossed, Fort Williams built and garrisoned to keep open the line of communication, and numerous other difficulties overcome, before he could penetrate to the vicinity of the bend. It was early in the morning of March 27th that, with an army diminished by garrisoning the posts to two thousand men, he reached the scene and prepared to commence operations.
Perceiving at one glance that the Indians had simply penned themselves up for slaughter, his first measure was to send General Coffee with all the mounted men and friendly Indians to cross the river two miles below, where it was fordable, to take a position on the bank opposite the line of canoes, and so cut off the retreat. This was promptly executed by General Coffee, who soon announced by a preconcerted signal that he had reached the station assigned him. Jackson then planted his two pieces of cannonone a three- the other a six-pounderupon an eminence eighty yards from the nearest point of the breastwork, whence, at half-past ten in the morning, he opened fire upon it. His sharpshooters also were drawn up near enough to get an occasional shot at an Indian within the bend. . . .
Not an Indian asked for quarter, nor would accept it when offered. From behind trees and logs, from clefts in the river's banks, from among the burning huts, from chance log-piles, from temporary fortifications, the desperate red men fired upon the troops. A large number plunged into the river and attempted to escape by swimming, but from Coffee's men on one bank and Jackson's on the other a hailstorm of bullets flew over the stream, and the painted heads dipt beneath its blood-stained ripples. The battle became at length a slow, laborious massacre. From all parts of the peninsula resounded the yells of the savages, the shouts of the assailants, and the reports of the firearms, while the gleam of the uplifted tomahawk was seen among the branches. . . .
The carnage lasted as long as there was light enough to see a skulking or a flying enemy. It was impossible to spare. The Indians fought after they were wounded, and gave wounds to men who sought to save their lives, for they thought that if spared they would be reserved only for a more painful death. Night fell at last, and recalled the troops from their bloody work to gather wounded comrades and minister to their necessities. It was a night of horror. Along the banks of the river, all around the bend, Indiansthe wounded and the unhurtwere crouching in the clefts, under the brushwood, and in some instances under the heaps of slain, watching for an opportunity to escape. Many did escape, and some lay until the morning, fearing to attempt it. One noted chief, covered with wounds, took to the water in the evening and lay beneath the surface, drawing his breath through a hollow cane until it was dark enough to swim across. He escaped, and lived to tell his story and show his scars many years after to the historian of Alabama, from whom we have derived the incident. In the morning, parties of the troops again scoured the peninsula and ferreted from their hiding-places sixteen more warriors, who, refusing still to surrender, were added to the number of the slain.
Upon counting the dead, five hundred and fifty-seven was found to be the number of the fallen enemy within the peninsula. Two hundred more, it was computed, had found a grave at the bottom of the river. Many more died in the woods attempting to escape. Jackson's loss was fifty-five killed and one hundred and forty-six wounded, of whom more than half were friendly Indians. The three prophets of the Creeks, fantastically drest and decorated, were found among the dead. One of them, while engaged in his incantations, had received a grape-shot in his mouth, which killed him instantly.
The war was over. The power of the Creeks was broken; half their warriors were dead, the rest were scattered and subdued in spirit. Fort Mims was indeed avenged. Jackson's amazing celerity of movement, and particularly his last daring plunge into the wilderness, and his trumph over obstacles that would have deterred even an Indian force, quite baffled and confounded the unhappy Creeks.
1 From Parton's "Life of Jackson." By permission of the publishers, D. Appleton & Company. Copyright, 1892. The Creeks were a confederation of Indians occupying Alabama and Georgia. At the time of their defeat by Jackson they were already an old confederation, having been found by the Spaniards organized for unity of action in 1540. The result of Jackson's campaign was the eventual transfer to the United States of the greater part of the territory over which the Creeks had ruled. The two Seminole wars of a later period were waged against Indians who originally formed part of the Creek Confederacy, but early in the nineteenth century left the main body and settled in Florida.
2 Fort Mims (or Mimms) lay on the Alabama River, just above its junction with the Tombigbee. While serving as a refuge for about 400 persons, Witherford, a half-breed chief, surprized and burned it, all except some twenty being killed.
3 That is, the last among the events that led to his abdication at Fontainebleau. The return from Elba and the Hundred Days followed in the next year.