Through a military allegiance with the great Shawnee chief Tecumseh (b.1768-1813) a large struggle between the native peoples of North America (Great Britain’s 1812 Allies) and the young American inhabitants (settlers and military men) who now controlled the territorial destiny of the expanding United States of America began in 1811. By the conclusion of the War of 1812 with the Treaty of Ghent in 1814-1815, US army and state militias had engaged Native American warriors from Canada to Ohio, Tennessee, and into the Mississippi territory of what became the states of Alabama & Georgia.
The Battle of Tippecanoe, Indiana, November of 1811
One of the most significant campaigns of this period to American military history today was the Creek War or Red Stick War fought between the Red Stick Creeks and the United States and its Creek (Muscogee), Cherokee, and Choctaw allies primarily in what is today the US state of Alabama from February 1813 to August 1814. Although originally a civil war between warring Creek factions who were either pro-British or pro-American, American military intervention in the Creek civil conflict altered the course and eventual outcome of this bitter inter-tribal war. The final decisive battle of Red Stick Creek War (1813-1814) was fought at the Horseshoe Bend on the Tallapoosa River near what is today Dadeville, Alabama. It was a crushing defeat of the Red Stick Creeks led by chief Menawa (b.1766-1843) against an allied US-Native American army commanded Major-General and the future President of the United States, Andrew Jackson (b.1767-1845).
The Native American peoples of North America fought several intermittent wars against the encroaching American and European settlers moving west following the end of the American Revolutionary War in 1783. Most notable amongst these conflict were the Chickamauga Wars of c.1776-1794 (Cherokees in Tennessee), the Northwest Indian War (Ohio) 1785-1795, and Tecumseh's War of 1811-1813. It was Tecumseh, a Shawnee chief and his allies who had inspired the Red Stick Creeks, named so for their dyed red war clubs and medicine sticks, to go to war against their fellow tribesmen and then against the United States as well.
Tecumseh’s rebellions origins were seeded in both the Treaty of Greenville in 1795 and the Treaty of Fort Wayne in 1809 in which the once powerful Northwestern tribes had ceded their tribal territories in Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois to the white man. In the year 1811, the Battle of Tippecanoe was fought in the Indiana territory between a Shawnee army led by the religious leader and prophet Tenskwatawa (b.1768-1836), Tecumseh's brother and co-ruler of the pan-Native American Tecumseh confederacy which was emerging during this period. A highly influential spiritual man and prophet, Tenskwatawa used the New Madrid earthquake of 1811 and the Great Comet sightings of the same year to add a spiritual forbearance to his prophetical teachings. He believed that the white people of the region must be purged to please the gods and secure the Creeks future in their ancestral lands.
Tenskwatawa, prophet, spiritual leader, and warrior
Tenskwatawa was no strategist or commander and his Shawnee warband were defeated in the battle by the Governor of the Indiana territory and future president of the United States (1841), William Henry Harrison (b.1773-1841) but the Shawnee and their allies would continue to fight on. Eventually prophet Tenskwatawa’s militant preachings gained him and his brother a large following amongst many different tribes west of the Mississippi. Along with Tecumseh’s able military leadership, an alliance was soon brokered with the British during the War of 1812 which made Tecumseh's Confederacy a strong political entity in North America during the early stages of the conflict. The Confederacy became arguably the most influential and powerful inter-tribal political and military entity of the 17th or 18th centuries.
The Red Stick War 1813-1814
Tecumseh's Native American warriors and other allied tribes from Canada fought with the British throughout the Detroit Frontier Campaign of 1812-1813 in Canada, Michigan, and Illinois. Most notably Tecumseh and his warriors fought alongside Major General Sir Isaac Brock (b.1769-1812) in the siege and capture of Detroit from the Americans in August of 1812. Tecumseh might have been successful in eventually spreading the Confederacy's influence into the southeastern American territories had he not be killed at the Battle of Thames (allegedly shot by Richard M. Johnson, future Vice President 1837-1841 to President Martin van Buren) in October of 1813.
Chief Tecumseh had been slain whilst leading his warriors against the US volunteers and the militia under General William Henry Harrison in what is today Chatham, Ontario, Canada. Tenskwatawa would spend the rest of the war in Canada until the Shawnees of Ohio & Indiana were relocated to the Kansas territory in 1826. He attempted until his death to consolidate power and to lead the Shawnees as their spiritual & political headman.
Battle of the Thames or the Battle of Moraviantown
American settlers and territorial militias had clashed with Red Sticks in the winter and spring of 1813 before official hostilities began at the Battle of Burnt Corn in late July 1813. Settlers had been killed in Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama causing a uproar amongst military men and Federal Indian agents who were powerless to stop the bloodshed. Tribal in-fighting had intensified as the younger chiefs and warriors went against established Creek tribal laws and called for war. The Red Stick War would officially begin at a place called Burnt Corn Creek at a ford in a river sitting south of a town now known as Burnt Corn in what is today Escambia County, Florida.
The Skirmish at Burnt Corn Creek, July 1813
Fort Mims Massacre of 30 August 1813
This fateful skirmish would lead to the Fort Mims Massacre in which 250 or more American defenders and civilians were slain by a warband of 700 Red Sticks led by chiefs Weatherford 'Red Eagle' and Mcqueen. They collected 250 scalps that day and over 100 captives, sparing only the slaves of the garrisons inhabitants following their lopsided defeat of the Fort Mims garrison which sat about 40 miles north of Mobile, Alabama.
Many other notable battles and skirmishes were fought before the final tilt at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, including US victories at the Battles of Tallushatchee and Talladega, won by Tennessee militia generals John Coffee, an able cavalry commander, and Andrew Jackson, respectively, in November of 1813. Jackson used the services of Tennessee scouts and huntsman including David Crockett during this time. Known to posterity as the legendary frontier adventurer and ranger, Davy Crockett, he was killed defending the Alamo in the Texas War of Independence in 1836.
Breaking the Red Sticks, December 1813-January 1814
The US army and its “friendly” native allies won a major victory over chief Red Eagle Weatherford at the Battle of Econochaca in December 1813 which is known also as the Battle of the Holy Ground because the battlefield was a sacred holy site where Creek prophets would worship. It was also the location where much of the Red Stick winter food stores were kept. It was thought an impenetrable fortress until Brigadier-General Ferdinand L. Claiborne attacked the Holy Ground on the Alabama River with some success despite reassurances from Red Stick prophets that spiritual divination had made it so that no white man would ever enter the "beloved and sacred [Holy] ground".
Econochaca was located on a bluff on near the riverbank which had been a highly defensible position theoretically. Approximately 325 warriors though less than half probably had firearms defended the camp during the battle. There were also some slaves present who fought for the Red Sticks or who were Creek camp followers following the Fort Mims Massacre months before. With 850 US army volunteer infantry and Mississippi & Louisiana territorial militia and 150 Choctaw allies led by Lt. Col. Pushmataham, Gen. Claiborne found and attacked the Econochaca camp but perhaps weary of an ambush despite his superior numbers, Caliborne did not press the attack nor did he surround the fort.
American attack on a Creek village during the Red Stick War
30 Red Sticks and perhaps a dozen or more slaves were counted amongst the slain at Econochaca whilst Claiborne's column lost only 1 killed and about 20 wounded. Some of the slaves held by the Creeks were executed or re-enslaved. Chief Red Eagle would remain a hunted man until he personally surrendered to Gen. Jackson before the Treaty of Fort Jackson was signed in August of 1814, formally ending the Red Stick Creek War.
Chief Red Eagle escapes Econochaca
General John Floyd also led the Georgia militia in several victories over Red Stick war parties in Alabama. In November 1813 Floyd and his Upper Creeks allies won a major victory at the settlement of Autossee killing 200 Red Stick warriors and then burning the Creeks town to the ground though many escaped harm. His Georgians won another notable victory over the Red Sticks at the Battle of Calabee Creek in January 1814 but they soon retreated back to Georgia following the battle leaving only Major-Gen. Jackson and Gen. Coffee’s armies to fight the remaining Red Stick chiefs in the Mississippi Territory.
Creek (Red Stick) Theater of War, Mississippi Territory (Alabama), 1813-1814
Battle on the Horseshoe bend of the Tallapoosa River
The Creek war-camp of chief Menawa on the Horseshoe Bend peninsula was home to some 800-1000 warriors in January-March of 1814. Known as Tohopeka to the Creeks, it was the final and the greatest Creek settlement and fortress in the Mississippi Territory, as both the Holy Ground and Autosee had been captured and destroyed. To the Red Stick Creeks this heavily fortified sanctuary was a last redoubt, protected by a near-fort with six to seven foot high walls. Around 300 women and children lived there under the protection of this Red Stick band led by the venerable chief Menawa. These warriors and non-combatants were from the nearby villages of Newyaucau, Oakfuskee, Oakchaya, Eufaula, Fishponds, and Hillabee. Chief Menawa, from Okfuskee, was a widely respected and well known warrior on the borders with Tennessee and Georgia in his youth and was known as Hothlepoya, the Crazy War Hunter.
General Jackson split his forces in two for the battle at the Horseshoe Bend. General Coffee commanded 700 mounted infantry and along with 600 "friendly" Indians, 500 Cherokee and 100 Creeks, was ordered to ford and hold the river. He secured the river bank behind the fort and made sure that few Creeks could escape or attempt to outflank Jackson’s guns. Under Jackson's command was around 2000 men, regular army and Tennessee & Georgia militia. In the battle they enfiladed the Red Stick defense’s with musket fire whilst his cannons bombarded the Red Sticks wooden breastworks to little notable effect.
The American 39th Infantry Regiment attempts to take the wooden log defenses of Tohopeka
For more than two hours his cannons pounded away at the breastworks until it was breached. Some of Jackson and Coffee’s scouts attempted to set fire to several Creek buildings after fording the river on canoes but were quickly beaten back under a hail of enemy musket fire. Eventually the regular army’s 39th Infantry Regiment, Jackson's most experienced men, led by Colonel John Williams and Major Lemuel P. Montgomery, attacked the Horseshoe Bend. They were followed by the Tennessee and Georgia militiamen and their "friendly indian" allies who attacked with vigor helping to successfully breach the defenses of Tohopeka, forcing the Red Stick warriors into the interior of their fort for a last stand. A desperate fight turned into a slaughter as hundreds upon hundreds of Creek warriors were shot down or bayoneted by the American infantrymen and militiamen. The Upper Creeks and the allied bands most certainly joined in on the prodigious slaughter.
In a letter to his wife not long after the battle, Gen. Jackson wrote that the carnage of the nearly five hour battle was “dreadfull (sic)” but that his men displayed “Roman courage” in taking the well built fortifications at Tohopeka. In another letter to a fellow officer he wrote lamenting the death of several women and children due to cannon fire whilst also celebrating the ironic death of a lesser known Red Stick prophet who was shot through the mouth with grapeshot.
The Bloody Battle of Horseshoe Bend, 27 March 1814
In a letter dated 31 May 1814, Gen. Jackson described the end of the battle as such, "Having maintained for a few minutes a very obstinate contest, muzzle to muzzle, through the port-holes, in which many of the enemy’s balls were welded to the bayonets of our muskets, our troops succeeded in gaining possession of the opposite side of the [breastworks]. The event could no longer be doubtful. The enemy although many of them fought to the last with that kind of bravery [that desperation] inspires, were at length entirely routed and cut to pieces. The whole margin of the river which surrounded the peninsular was strewed with the slain." None could indeed doubt that Jackson had won a decisive and bloody victory over the Red Sticks at the battle on the Tallapoosa.
Between 550-800 Red Stick warriors were killed in the battle, perhaps a hundred or more were shot down by Gen. Coffee’s men as they attempted to swim down the Tallapoosa following their defeat. About 250 women and children we taken into custody by Jackson's army as well. Although grievously hurt after suffering numerous wounds in the defense of Tohopeka, Menawa escaped capture and/or death and fled severely wounded downriver on a canoe. Jackson lost 49 men killed and 154 wounded in the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. His Cherokee and Creek allies lost about 75 killed or wounded in the battle. Major Lemuel Montgomery was killed during the assault and subsequently praised by Jackson for his gallantry in eulogy.
Among those Americans wounded attacking the Creek defenses in the battle was Samuel Houston (b.1793-1863) who received a serious arrow vaulting over the Creek breastworks in the assault on Horseshoe Bend. He later became the Governor of Tennessee, twice President of the Republic of Texas, and then the Governor and serving United States senator for the US state of Texas following the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848.
Sam Houston is wounded in the assault on Horseshoe Bend
In August of 1814 the Creek chiefs signed the Treaty of Fort Jackson ending the Red Stick War and ceding approximately 23 million acres of land in the Mississippi territory (Alabama and Georgia). Jackson would save American honor following the disastrous US defeat at the Battle of Bladensburg and the burning of Washington D.C. on 24 August 1814 with his defeat of the British at the Battle of New Orleans in January of 1815, despite winning his victory after the Treaty of Ghent had been signed. He served as a senator for the state of Tennessee and invaded Florida in the year 1818 during the early stages of the Seminole Wars 1816-1858.
In the year 1819 Alabama would become a state. For nearly the next ten years after many Creek chieftains would be fractured and divided, some selling their tribes lands to the whites even though they had no legal right to sell land claims in Alabama or Georgia.
Andrew Jackson meets Chief Red Eagle Weatherford in a 19th century etching
Former allies of the US during the Creek War and War of 1812, the so-called "friendly indians" were treated the same as the hostile tribes who had fought alongside the British and were all exiled from their hunting grounds and ancestral homes. Thousands, including chief Menawa died during or in the immediate aftermath of these forced marches on what came to be called the “Trail of Tears” west into the eastern Oklahoma territory from 1830-1835.
Major-General Andrew Jackson c.1820
Suggested Further Reading
The Creek War of 1813 and 1814 by H. S. Halbert and T. H. Ball (White, Woodruff & Fowler, Montgomery, Alabama 1895-1969)
History of the United States of America During the Administrations of James Madison by Henry Adams (b.1838-1918) (Library Classics of the United States, c.1986)
Horseshoe Bend National Military Parks Historical files
Horseshoe Bend National Military Parks Historical files
Struggle for the Gulf Borderlands: The Creek War and the Battle of New Orleans, 1812-1815 by Frank L. Owsley Jr. (University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa, 1981.)