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The Creek War (1813–1814), also known as the Red Stick War and the Creek Civil War, began as a civil war within the Creek (Muscogee) nation. United States forces became involved by attacking a Creek party in present-day southern Alabama at the Battle of Burnt Corn. The war ended after Andrew Jackson in command of a force of combined state militias, Lower Creek and Cherokee defeated the Red Sticks at Horseshoe Bend. This led to the Treaty of Fort Jackson (August 1814) where the general insisted on the Creek ceding more than 20 million acres of land from southern Georgia and central Alabama. These lands were taken from the allied Lower Creek as well as the defeated Upper Creek. Since tribal tensions tended to be exacerbated when the War of 1812 broke out between the United States and Great Britain and because prominent figures such as Andrew Jackson participated in both, historians sometimes include this regional conflict as part of that wider war.
From December 11, 1811, four major episodes of the New Madrid Earthquake, estimated at about 7 in intensity, shook the Creek lands and the Midwest. The shocks were felt over an area of 50,000 square miles. While the interpretation of this event varied from tribe to tribe, one consensus was universally accepted: the powerful earthquake had to have meant something. It came at a time when Southeast American Indians were under pressure from European-American encroachment and internal tribal divisions were becoming more important.
A faction of younger men from the Upper Creek Towns, known as “Red Sticks“, sought aggressively to return their society to a traditional way of life in culture and religion. Red Stick leaders such as William Weatherford (Red Eagle), Peter McQueen, and Menawa, who were allies of the British, clashed violently with other chiefs within the Creek Nation over European-American encroachment on Creek lands. Before the Creek Civil War began, the Red Sticks, generally younger men, had attempted to keep their revival activities secret from the older traditional chiefs.
Before the Creek Civil War, in February 1813, the Shawnee leader Tecumseh came to the Southeast to encourage the peoples to join his movement to throw the Americans out of Native American territories. He had united tribes in the Northwest (Ohio and related territories) to fight against US settlers after the American Revolutionary War. Many of the Upper Creek were influenced by his brother Tenskwatawa’s prophecies, echoed by their own spiritual leaders, which foresaw extermination of the European Americans. Peter McQueen of Talisi (now Tallassee, Alabama); Josiah Francis (Hilis Hadjo) of Autaga, a Koasati town; and High-head Jim (Cusseta Tustunnuggee) and Paddy Walsh, both Alabamas, were among the spiritual leaders responding to Upper Creek concerns. The Red Sticks particularly resisted the civilization programs administered by the U.S. Indian Agent Benjamin Hawkins, who had stronger alliances among the towns of the Lower Creek. The latter had been under more pressure from European-American settlers in present-day Georgia. The Lower Creek had been convinced to make land cessions of hunting grounds in 1790, 1802 and 1805, because the settlers ruined the hunting. The Creek began to adopt American farming practices as their game disappeared. Leaders of the Lower Creek towns in present-day Georgia included Bird Tail King (Fushatchie Mico) of Cussetta; Little Prince (Tustunnuggee Hopoi) of Broken Arrow, and William McIntosh (Tunstunuggee Hutkee, White Warrior) of Coweta.
In February 1813, a small war party of Red Sticks, led by Little Warrior, were returning from Detroit when they killed two families of settlers along the Ohio River. Hawkins demanded that the Creek turn over Little Warrior and his six companions. The old chiefs, specifically Big Warrior, decided to execute the war party themselves. This decision was the spark which ignited the civil war among the Creeks. That spring warriors of the prophets’ party began to attack the property of their enemies, burning plantations and destroying livestock. The first clashes between the Red Sticks and United States forces occurred later that year on July 21, 1813. A group of territorial militia intercepted a party of Red Sticks returning from Spanish Florida, where they had acquired arms from the Spanish governor at Pensacola. The Red Sticks escaped and the soldiers looted what they found. Seeing the Americans looting, the Creek regrouped and attacked and defeated the Americans. The Battle of Burnt Corn, as the exchange became known, broadened the Creek Civil War to include American forces.
The Upper Creek chiefs Peter McQueen and William Weatherford led an attack on Fort Mims, north of Mobile, Alabama, on August 30, 1813. The Red Sticks’ goal was to strike at mixed-blood Creek of the Tensaw settlement who had taken refuge at the fort. The warriors attacked the fort, and killed a total of 400 to 500 people, including women and children and numerous white settlers. The attack became known as the Fort Mims Massacre. As a prominent chief, Weatherford was held responsible by the US, although some reports suggest he had tried to stop the killing. The Red Sticks subsequently attacked other forts in the area, including Fort Sinquefield. Panic spread among settlers throughout the Southeastern frontier, and they demanded US government intervention. Federal forces were busy fighting the British and Northern Woodland tribes, led by the Shawnee chief Tecumseh in the Northwest. Southeastern states called up militias to deal with the threat.
After Burnt Corn, the U.S. Secretary of War John Armstrong notified General Thomas Pinckney, Commander of the 6th Military District, that the US was prepared to take action against the Creek Nation. Further, if Spain were found to be supporting the Creeks, a strike against Pensacola would occur. Georgia began its preparations by establishing a line of forts along the Chattahoochee River—the modern border between Alabama and Georgia. These could protect the frontier while their forces prepared an offensive.
Brigadier General Ferdinand Claiborne, a militia commander in the Mississippi Territory, was concerned about the weakness of his sector on the western border of the Creek territory, and advocated preemptive strikes. But, Major General Thomas Flournoy, Commander of 7th Military District, refused his requests. He intended to carry out a defensive American strategy. Meanwhile, settlers in that region sought refuge in blockhouses.
The Tennessee legislature authorized Governor Willie Blount to raise 5,000 militia for a three-month tour of duty. Blount called out a force of 2,500 West Tennessee men under Colonel Andrew Jackson to “repel an approaching invasion … and to afford aid and relief to … Mississippi Territory”. He also summoned a force of 2,500 from East Tennessee under Major General William Cocke. Jackson and Cocke were not ready to move until early October.
In addition to the state actions, the US Indian Agent Benjamin Hawkins organized the friendly (Lower Town) Creek under Major William McIntosh, an Indian chief, to aid the Georgia and Tennessee militias in actions against the Red Sticks. At the request of Chief Federal Agent Return J. Meigs (called White Eagle by the Indians for the color of his hair), the Cherokee Nation voted to join the Americans in their fight against the Red Sticks. Under the command of the chief Major Ridge, 200 Cherokee fought with the Tennessee Militia under Colonel Andrew Jackson.
By count of towns, the Upper Creek constituted about two thirds of the Creek Nation. Their towns were along the Alabama, Coosa, and Tallapoosa rivers in the heart of Alabama. The Lower Creek were settled along the Chattahoochee River. Many Creek tried to remain friendly to the United States; but, after Fort Mims, few European Americans in the southeast distinguished between friendly and unfriendly Creeks.
At most, the Red Stick force consisted of 4,000 warriors, possessing perhaps 1,000 muskets. They had never been involved in a large-scale war, not even against neighboring American Indians. Early in the war, General Cocke observed that arrows “form a very principal part of the enemy’s arms for warfare, every man having a bow with a bundle of arrows, which is used after the first fire with the gun until a leisure time for loading offers.”
The Holy Ground (Econochaca), located near the junction of the Alabama and Coosa Rivers, was the heart of the Red Stick Confederation. It was about 150 miles (240 km) from the nearest supply point available to any of the three American armies. The easiest attack route was from Georgia through the line of forts on the frontier and then along a good road that led to the Upper Creek towns near the Holy Ground, including nearby Hickory Ground. Another route was north from Mobile along the Alabama River. The most difficult, Jackson’s route of advance, was south from Tennessee through a mountainous and pathless terrain.
Although Jackson’s mission was to defeat the Creek, his larger objective was to move on Pensacola. Jackson’s plan was to move south, build roads, destroy Upper Creek towns and then later proceed to Mobile to stage an attack on Spanish held Pensacola. He had two problems: logistics and short enlistments. When Jackson began his advance, the Tennessee River was low, making it difficult to move supplies, and there was little forage for his horses.
Jackson departed Fayetteville, Tennessee on October 7, 1813. He joined his cavalry in Huntsville and crossed the Tennessee, establishing Fort Deposit. He then marched to the Coosa and built his advanced base at Fort Strother. Jackson’s first successful actions, the battles of Tallushatchee and Talladega, occurred in November.
However, after Talladega, Jackson was plagued by supply shortages and discipline problems arising from his men’s short term enlistments. Cocke, with 2,500 East Tennessee Militia, took the field on October 12. His route of march was from Knoxville to Chattanooga and then along the Coosa toward Fort Strother. Because of jealousy between the East and West Tennessee militia, Cocke was in no hurry to join Jackson, particularly after he angered Jackson by mistakenly attacking a friendly village on November 17. When he finally reached Fort Strother on December 12, the East Tennessee men only had 10 days remaining on their enlistments. Jackson had no choice but to dismiss them. Further, General Coffee, who had returned to Tennessee for remounts, wrote Jackson that the cavalry had deserted. By the end of 1813, Jackson was down to a single regiment whose enlistments were due to expire in mid January.
Although Governor Blount had ordered a new levee of 2,500 troops, Jackson would not be up to full strength until the end of February. When a draft of 900 raw recruits arrived unexpectedly on January 14, Jackson was down to a cadre of 103 and Coffee, who had been “abandoned by his men”.
Since new men had enlistment contracts of only sixty days, Jackson decided to get the most out of his untried force. He departed Fort Strother on January 17 and marched toward the village of Emuckfaw to cooperate with the Georgia Militia. However, this was a risky decision. It was a long march through difficult terrain against a numerically superior force, the men were inexperienced, undisciplined and insubordinate, and a defeat would have prolonged the war. After two indecisive battles at Emuckfaw and Enotachopo Creek, Jackson returned to Fort Strother and did not resume the offensive until mid March.
The arrival of the 39th United States Infantry on February 6, 1814, provided Jackson a disciplined core for his force, which ultimately grew to about 5,000 men. After Governor Blount ordered the second draft of Tennessee militia, Cocke, with a force of 2,000 six-month men, once again marched from Knoxville to Fort Strother. Cocke’s men mutinied when they learned that Jackson’s men only had three-month enlistments. Cocke tried to pacify his men, but Jackson misunderstood the situation and ordered Cocke’s arrest as an instigator. The East Tennessee militia reported to Fort Strother without further comment on their term of service. Cocke was later cleared.
Jackson spent the next month building roads and training his force. In mid March, he moved against the Red Stick force concentrated on the Tallapoosa at Tohopeka (Horseshoe Bend). He first moved south along the Coosa, about half the distance to the Creek position, and established a new outpost at Fort Williams. Leaving another garrison there, he then moved on Tohopeka with a force of about 3,000 effectives augmented by 600 Cherokee and Lower Creek allies. The Battle of Horseshoe Bend, which occurred on March 27, was a decisive victory for Jackson, effectively ending the Red Stick resistance.
The state of Georgia had a militia of perhaps 30,000 men. The U.S. Army 6th Military District, consisting of both Carolinas as well as Georgia, had perhaps as many as 2,000 regulars. In principle, General Pinckney, the district commander, could have mounted an offensive that would have ended the Creek war in 1813. However, efforts in this sector were neither as prompt nor as effective as they could have been.
In late November, General John Floyd, with a force of 950 militia and 300–400 friendly Creek, crossed the Chattahoochee and moved toward the Holy Ground. On November 29 he attacked the village of Auttose and drove the Creek from a strong position. After the battle, General Floyd, who was severely wounded, withdrew to the Chattahoochee. Floyd’s losses were 11 killed and 54 wounded. Floyd estimated that 200 Creek were killed.
In mid January, Floyd departed Fort Mitchell with a force of 1,300 militia and 400 friendly Creek, advancing toward the village of Tuckaubatchee to await a link-up Jackson. On January 29, 7 days after Emuckfaw, the Creek attacked his fortified camp on the Calibee Creek. Although the Georgian’s repulsed the attack, Floyd and his militia considered this battle a defeat and retreated to Fort Mitchell, abandoning the line of fortified positions that they had created during their advance. Casualty figures vary for Floyd’s force—17 to 22 killed, 132 to 147 wounded. Floyd estimated Red Stick casualties as 37 killed. This was Georgia’s last offensive operation of the war.
In October, General Thomas Flourney organized a force of about 1,000—consisting of the Third United States Infantry, militia, volunteers, and Choctaw Indians—at Fort Stoddert. General Claiborne, ordered to lay waste Creek property near junction of Alabama and Tombigbee, advanced from Fort St. Stephen. He achieved some destruction but no military engagement.
Continuing to a point about 85 miles (140 km) north of Fort Stoddert, Claiborne established Fort Claiborne. On December 23, he encountered a small force at the Holy Ground and burned 260 houses. William Weatherford was nearly captured during this engagement but was able to escape. Casualties for the Mississippian’s were 1 killed and 6 wounded. 30 Creek soldiers were killed in the engagement.
Because of supply shortages, Claiborne withdrew to Fort St. Stephens.
Brigadier General Joseph Graham’s Brigade of troops from North Carolina and South Carolina (included Colonel Nash’s South Carolina militia) deployed along the Georgia frontier to deal with the Red Sticks. Colonel Reuben Nash’s South Carolina volunteer militia regiment traveled from South Carolina at the end of January 1814. The militia marched to the start of the Federal Road in Augusta, Georgia walking to Fort Benjamin Hawkins (in modern Macon, Georgia) in route to reinforce the various forts including Fort Mitchell, Alabama (in modern Phenix City, Alabama). Company muster rolls of Captain John Wallace (one of Nash’s companies) list the company near Fort Hawkins on Feb. 9, near Fort Jackson (Alabama) on May 13, and near Fort Hawkins on July 13. Other companies in the Nash’s regiment were at Fort Mitchell in July 1814. Graham’s brigade participates in only a few skirmishes before returning home.
On August 9, 1814, Andrew Jackson forced headmen of both the Upper and Lower Towns of Creek to sign the Treaty of Fort Jackson. Despite protest of the Creek chiefs who had fought alongside Jackson, the Creek Nation ceded 23 million acres (93,000 km²) of land—half of Alabama and part of southern Georgia—to the United States government. Even though the Creek War was largely a civil war among the Creek, Andrew Jackson recognized no difference between his Lower Creek allies and the Red Sticks who fought against him. He took the lands of both for what he considered the security needs of the United States. Jackson forced the Creek to cede 1.9 million acres (7,700 km²) that was claimed as territory of the Cherokee Nation, who had also fought as U.S. allies during the Creek War. With the Red Sticks subdued, Jackson turned his focus on the Gulf Coast region in the War of 1812. On his own initiative, he invaded Spanish Florida and drove a British force out of Pensacola. He defeated the British at the Battle of New Orleans on January 8, 1815. In 1818, Jackson again invaded Florida, where some of the Red Stick leaders had fled, an event known as the First Seminole War.
As a result of these victories, Jackson became a national figure and eventually rose to become the seventh President of the United States in 1829. As President, Andrew Jackson advocated the Indian Removal Act, passed by Congress in 1830, which authorized negotiation of treaties for exchange of land and payment of annuities, and removal of the Southeastern tribes to Indian Territory in the West, across the Mississippi River.