Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Georgia's Forgotten Conflict - The First Seminole War of 1817-1818

On this date (November 20th), 195 years ago, the last men of the  primary force of the 4th and 7th U.S. Infantry regiments arrived at Fort Scott, Georgia. It was the signal event that led to the first encounter of the long and bloody Seminole Wars.

While the Seminole Wars are most often associated with Florida, they actually began in Georgia as a result of a confrontation between the army officers at Fort Scott on the Flint River and the powerful chief Neamathla (Eneah Emathla, "Fat Warrior") of the nearby Creek Indian village of Fowltown. Both the fort and the village were located near Bainbridge in what is now Decatur County, Georgia.

Over coming days I will trace the history of the First Seminole War in Southwest Georgia and North Florida, but it was 195 years ago today that Major General Edmund P. Gaines gave the fateful order that would open a series of wars that would continue for forty years, claim thousands of lives and cost the treasure of the United States hundreds of millions of dollars.

Major General Edmund P. Gaines
The battle of wills between General Gaines and Neamathla had developed over the attempted enforcement by the United States of the terms of the Treaty of Fort Jackson. Signed primarily by the Upper Creeks in 1814, the treaty brought an end to the Creek War of 1813-1814. In exchange for peace, the Creeks agreed to surrender large swaths of territory to the United States. Among the lands ceded was all of Southwest Georgia below Fort Gaines. Under orders from their superiors, General Gaines and his subordinates tried to enforce the treaty by requesting a conference with Neamathla to arrange for the removal of his people from their town site on the ceded lands.

Neamathla, however, had not signed the Treaty of Fort Jackson and did not consider himself bound by it. He informed first Major David E. Twiggs and later General Gaines himself that the land in Georgia below the Flint River was his and that he was "directed by the powers above to defend it" and would do so. After sending his message of refusal, he declined to meet with the army officers at Fort Scott indicating that he had nothing more to say on the matter.

With the arrival of the 4th and 7th Infantries at Fort Scott on November 19-20, 1817, Gaines found himself with a sufficient force to arrest the defiant chief and bring him to the post by force for a conference. His original orders are preserved today at the National Archives:

Fort Scott 20th November 1817


The hostile character & conduct of the Indians of the Fowl Town, settled within our own limits, rendering it absolutely necessary that they should be removed, you will proceed to the town with the detachment assigned you, and remove them. You will arrend and bring the chiefs and warriors to this place, but should they oppose you, or attempt to escape, you will in that event treat them as enemies. Your men are to be strictly prohibited, in any event, from firing upon, or otherwise injuring women and children.

You will return to this place with your command as soon as practicable.

Major David E. Twiggs
Wishing you an agreeable command,
I am with great esteem
your obdt. servt.
E.P. Gaines
Major Genl. Comng.

To Major Twiggs
Commanding detachment
of U.S. troops.

P.S. Should you receive satisfactory information that any considerable number of the neighboring Indians have joined those of Fowltown, you will in that event immediately return to this place without making any further attempt to execute the first above written order.

The orders were issued to Major David E. Twiggs, who had commanded Fort Scott from July 1817 until the arrival of General Gaines in November. He was assigned a force of 250 men from the 4th and 7th Regiments and on the night of November 20, 1817, marched out from the walls of the fort and started up the west or north side of the Flint River for the old crossing point at present-day Bainbridge.

The Seminole Wars would begin the following morning.

To learn more about Fort Scott, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/fortscott1.

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