Though little known today, the Creek War of the early nineteenth century in Georgia affected the westward expansion of the United States. The courage of Georgia's little militia army and Indian allies who broke the back of warring "Red Sticks" shattered the resistance of Indian tribes east of the Mississippi and paved the way for their later removal. Vast lands in central and west Georgia, as well as in Alabama, were opened to white settlement. Yet, before this migration could occur, Georgia troops and Indian allies endured some of the most gruesome fighting to ever take place in the new state. One of these battles was the night attack at Calabee Creek.
The Creek War began on August 30, 1813, when the Red Sticks, the "war faction" of the Creek nation, attacked Fort Mims, about thirty miles north of Mobile. Five hundred white settlers and soldiers were massacred at Fort Mims, one of the grisliest episodes in frontier history. In Tennessee, Georgia and the Mississippi territory, military forces were mustered to strike into the Creek country, to retaliate against the Red Sticks and to prevent them from joining with their British allies, already engaged with U. S. troops in the War of 1812.
The Georgia army that trudged into the Creek country in the late summer of 1813 was commanded by General John Floyd, for whom Floyd County is named. Floyd had between 2,000 and 3,000 militia troops under his command. His plan was to link up with Andrew Jackson's Tennessee troops at the junction of the Coosa and Tallapoosa Rivers, in what is now eastern Alabama. But first he had to establish a base of operations at Fort Hawkins on the Occmulgee River, in central Georgia. He then built a series of forts along his line of march into the Alabama country.
Floyd's troops were handicapped by a lack of food and by sickness. State bureaucrats hadn't foreseen supplies to feed the Georgia troops in the field. So Floyd's army languished at Fort Hawkins waiting for enough rations to be collected to allow him to begin a campaign. While this gave Floyd additional time to train his troops, both soldiers and civilians soon grew impatient at the delay.
By November 1813, Floyd's army was reduced to 950 militiamen, plus three or four hundred allied Creeks. The friendly Creeks, though welcomed by the Georgians, created an additional burden for Floyd, since he had managed to collect only twenty days' rations of flour and a small supply of beef all of which he had earmarked for his own troops.
Still, Floyd felt he could risk an advance into hostile territory. Hence, the General marched his army from Fort Hawkins westward to the Chattahoochee River, near present-day Columbus, where Floyd built Fort Mitchell as a forward supply base.
Considering the shortage of rations, Floyd's next move was a bold one. He struck out with his entire command on a raid about sixty miles into the heart of Red Stick country. His objective was a major Red Stick town, Autosse, on the eastern bank of the Tallapoosa River at the mouth of Calabee Creek.
The Georgia troops made their attack on Autosse on November 29, 1813. Floyd had planned to divide his army into two columns which would encircle the town and secure his right flank on Calabee Creek and his left at a point on the Tallapoosa River below Autosse. Allied Creeks were to cross the river and occupy a position on the opposite bank, to prevent Red Stick retreat.
Things did not go as planned. The allied Creeks discovered that the river was too cold and too deep to cross; so Floyd detailed them to cross Calabee Creek instead and block the hostiles' escape route in that direction. Floyd's scouts also discovered there was a second town about five hundred yards below Autosse. Since he wanted to destroy both towns, Floyd had to overextend his left flank to encircle the lower town as well. Finally, the Georgians were spotted by a Creek out hunting turkey; and he alerted the hostiles in Autosse, allowing them to evacuate their women, old men, and children.
Floyd ordered his troops to attack shortly before daybreak. The morning was bitterly cold; and soon the frost-covered fields were littered with the bodies of Creek warriors. The Red Sticks resisted with fierce determination. The Georgians' artillery company, armed with two cannon, fired a barrage at the town; and this was followed with a bayonet charge. By 9 a. m., the Red Sticks had been driven off; and both towns were in flames. Two hundred hostiles were dead, including two important chiefs, the Tallassee King and Autosse King; but most of the Red Stick warriors escaped. Floyd himself was seriously wounded in the knee. Eleven of his men were killed and 53 wounded. There were casualties among the friendly Creeks as well.1
Floyd's army, now seriously short of food, was compelled to withdraw to his base at Fort Mitchell on the Chattahoochee. Ailing from his knee wound, Floyd was disheartened to find no rations waiting for his army at Fort Mitchell. Food did not reach Floyd's starving troops until December 29; and morale was low. Floyd's army had only two more months before its term of enlistment expired; and the General wondered if he would be able to launch another campaign against the Red Sticks.
By the middle of January 1814, Floyd was ready to make a second foray into Creek Territory. He had recovered from his wound; and sufficient rations had arrived at Fort Mitchell. Floyd had about 1,100 militia and 600 Indians. He decided to advance into the field again. The Georgians built another post, Fort Hull, about forty miles west of Fort Mitchell. From there, they struck out to the northwest and began constructing a fortified camp, called Camp Defiance, on Calabee Creek.
Floyd's troops were unaware that the Red Sticks already were planning a counterattack to wipe out Camp Defiance. About 1,300 warriors surprised Floyd's men in the morning darkness of January 27, 1814, in the best planned Creek attack of the war.
Red Stick leader Paddy Welsh directed the attack. He knew that the whites had the advantage in firearms and artillery. Though the Red Sticks received some muskets and gunpowder from the British, they generally were poorly armed throughout the Creek War. Their tactical advantage lay in surprise attacks, when they could use tomahawks and war clubs to the utmost.
Welsh's plan was to creep upon the Georgia camp in the morning darkness, overcome the sentries, and attack the soldiers, killing as many of them as they could, then withdraw at daylight. Also, the Creeks would try to capture the Georgians' two pieces of artillery. Chief William Weatherford suggested that a force of warriors first rush upon the white officers' tents and kill them before the general attack; but this was ruled out as too risky.
The Creek strategy almost worked. Floyd described the surprise attack in his report of the battle:
They stole upon the Centinels [sic], fired on them, and with great impetuosity rushed upon our line.2
Within minutes the camp was in confusion and panic, as soldiers, half-asleep and disoriented, stumbled to their feet uncertain of the source of the enemy attack. The abruptness of the attack in the morning darkness came close to routing Floyd's army. Part of the camp was overrun, enabling the Red Sticks to get close to the two fieldpieces.
Floyd quickly regained his composure. "Cheer up boys," he yelled, "we will give them hell when daylight comes."3
Fortunately, some of the veteran companies already were rallying. Especially, the Baldwin Volunteer Artillery, a company from Milledgeville led by Captain Jett Thomas, held steady and kept up a consistent fire against the enemy. Captain William E. Adams' rifle company also remained steadfast.
Captain John Broadnax's small picket guard had a close call when they were cut off by the Red Stick attackers. With the help of friendly Yuchi Indians under Timpoochy [Timothy] Barnard, they fought their way back to their own lines.
A desperate struggle ensued for control of the cannon. A large number of Creek warriors were spotted by Thomas' artillerists within mere yards of the two fieldpieces. Ezekiel M. Attaway, one of only three men left at one of the guns, enjoined his comrades to hold fast. "We must not give up the gun, boys," he said, "seize the first weapon you can lay your hands upon, and stick to your posts until the last."4
The cannoneers quickly depressed the guns and discharged several rounds of grapeshot directly into the attacking Indians at close range. The resulting carnage broke the spirit of the attackers. who began to fall back.
Fortunately for the whites, it was now becoming light enough to see the enemy and to make out objects in the dawn. Floyd ordered his men to counterattack with the bayonet; and the Red Stick attack was broken. Captain Duke Hamilton's Cavalry troop joined in the pursuit. The hostiles retreated, leaving 49 dead, including High Head Jim, one of their major chiefs. Paddy Welsh was seriously wounded. The Georgians lost 17 killed and 132 wounded.5
The Calabee Creek fight lasted nearly an hour. It had been a near disaster for the little Georgia army; but determination and quick reflexes had saved the day. The actions of the cannoneers in saving the two pieces of artillery may have been the most critical phase of the battle. The Red Sticks had come close to destroying Floyd's entire army.
Allied Creeks, who lost five killed and fifteen wounded, took a gruesome revenge, mutilating and dismembering Red Stick corpses. After lifting one body onto a dead horse, they laughed and yelled "Whiskey too much," as the corpse fell off."6
The Georgia troops remained at Camp Defiance for six days. The Red Sticks did not attack again; and there were to be no more battles for the Georgia militia in Alabama. Floyd withdrew to Fort Hull, where he was thankful to find rations for his exhausted troops. He was able to hold the fort until relief arrived. Leaving Fort Hull in the hands of U. S. regulars, he marched his troops back to Georgia.
The Red Sticks now began to concentrate their forces into a heavily fortified area in the bend of the Tallapoosa River, some forty miles upriver from Autosse. The stage was set for the decisive battle at Horseshoe Bend on March 27, 1814, when Andrew Jackson's U. S. regulars and Tennessee Militia dealt the final defeat to the Creeks and brought the war to a close.
1. Frank L. Owsley, Jr., Struggle for the Gulf Borderlands: The Creek War and the Battle of New Orleans, 1812-1815 (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1981), 55.
2. Ibid., 58.
3. Benjamin W. Griffith, Jr., McIntosh and Weatherford, Creek Indian Leaders (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1988), 135.
4. William J. Northern, ed., "Jett Thomas" in Men of Mark in Georgia (Atlanta: Ab. Caldwell, 1910) III, 379.
5. Owsley, Struggle for the Gulf Borderlands, 58.
6. Peter A. Brannon, "Journal of James A. Tait for the Year 1813," Georgia Historical Quarterly, 8:3, 237-238.
References and Further Reading
Brannon, Peter A., "Journal of James A. Tait for the Year 1813." Georgia Historical Quarterly, 8:3, (1924).
Barnard, Timothy, Unpublished Letters of Timothy Barnard.-1784-1820. Compiled by Louise Frederick Hays. Atlanta: Department of Archives and History, 1939.
Coleman, Kenneth, and Gurr, Charles S. eds. "John Floyd." Dictionary of Georgia Biography. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1983. Vol. I.
Griffith, Benjamin W. McIntosh and Weatherford, Creek Indian Leaders. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1988.
Lossing, Benson J. Pictorial Fieldbook of the War of 1812. Somersworth, NH: New Hampshire Publication Co., 1976.
Lynn, Elizabeth. Timothy Barnard, Georgia's Skilled Indian Agent. Unpublished M. A. thesis, Georgia State University, 1978.
Northern, William J., ed. "Jett Thomas." Men of Mark in Georgia. Atlanta: Ab. Caldwell, 1910. Vol. 11.
Owsley, Frank L. Jr. Struggle for the Gulf Borderlands: the Creek War and the Battle of New Orleans, 1812-1815. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1981.
|Thomas G. Rodgers is a former member of the Georgia Army National Guard. He has published a number of articles dealing with American military history.|