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Seminole Wars: First Lieutenant George A. McCall, 4th US Infantry
Camp on the Sabine River, 1 May 1836My Dear Father: When the news of Dade's massacre reached me at Memphis, I stepped on board the first downward bound steamer on my way to New Orleans, as already remarked, and reached there in time to sail with the troops. On our arrival at Fort Brooke, Tampa Bay, it was ascertained that the garrison, consisting of two companies of United States artillery, had had no communication with General Clinch, commanding at Fort King, the old Indian Agency, since the 25th December, 1835, the day on which Major Dade's command had marched from Fort Brooke. This detachment consisted of one company of the 2d Regiment United States Artillery, and one company of the 3d Regiment. The officers were Captain G. W. Gardiner and Lieutenants W. E. Bassinger and R. Henderson of the 2d Regiment; and Captain U. S. Frazer and Lieuts. R. R. Mudge and J. L. Keais of the 2d Regiment,-in all numbering one hundred and eight men; and were to have been commanded by Captain Gardiner. The wife of this officer, however, was quite ill at the time; and Bt. Major Dade, whose company formed part of the garrison, generously volunteered to take command of the detachment, and insisted on Captain Gardiner's remaining to take care of his wife. It was, indeed, so arranged; Captain Gardiner, after much resistance, yielding to the solicitations of his friends. In the meantime, the master of a small vessel lying at the dock had agreed with a gentleman at the Fort to take himself and wife to Key West; and Mrs. Gardiner having expressed great desire to accompany this lady, it was at last decided by her husband that she should accompany her friends to Key West, and thence sail for New York or some other Northern port. Although very low, she was carried on board, and departed with her friends the same day. Nothing now remained to detain Captain Gardiner, and he made known his determination to accompany his command; but as Dade had volunteered to go in his stead, he offered to serve under the Major, if the latter still proposed to accompany them. It was thus that Dade fell into association and command of this most unfortunate but truly gallant little party, of whom "the whole command, save three, fell without an attempt to retreat:" as stated in the official notice of the affair, by the Adjutant-General of the Army at Washington. As already stated, this devoted little band marched on Christmas day, and moved forward about ten miles to the Little Hillsborough, where they made their bivouac. Some hours after nightfall, a party of Indians, some forty or fifty apparently in numbers, were heard shouting their war-whoop, and singing war-songs. This was unmistakable evidence of their determination to fight, if an attempt to remove them by force, which had been threatened by the Agent, Mr. Thompson, should be made; and they correctly construed the advance of this force in the direction of the Agency at Fort King, to reinforce that garrison, as the first move towards carrying that threat into effect. And now, par parenthese, let me say, what I cannot refrain from, namely, that this outbreak of the Seminoles, which I predict will prove to be a seven years' war, and cost us fifty millions of dollars, has been brought about either by huge blundering, or by unfair dealings on the part of Government agents. The Treaty of Payne's Landing (on the Saint John's River, made with these Indians by Colonel Gadsden, Special Agent of the Government some two years ago) was an agreement to this effect: that the Seminoles should send a delegation of seven chiefs to the west of Arkansas, and beyond the Cherokee Reserve, to examine the counry with respect to the character of the soil, the water, the salubrity of the climate, the game, and so forth; that, upon the return of the delegates, the Seminole nation should be called together in council to hear their report, and take into consideration the proposition laid before them by Colonel Gadsden, to give up their Florida possessions, and remove to the West, in consideration of certain inducements offered by the United States. In furtherance of this agreement, the chiefs designated set out to visit the country referred to. On their arrival at Fort Gibson, General Arbuckle, commanding that post, sent guides with them, and they passed some weeks in a thorough exploration of the country. On their return, General Arbuckle by some means, but under what instructions I know not, induced these chiefs to sign a treaty accepting the lands shown them, and ceding their Florida lands. In due time the delegation reached home, and a council was called: the report was made; but it was not unanimous, some of the chiefs pronouncing the country they had visited, in every respect less desirable than their native land. In fine, it was decided in council, by a large majority, to decline the offer made by the United States. Soon after this, Thompson, the Agent, sent for Micanopy who had succeeded to the chieftainship on the death of Tuko-see-mathla, or John Hicks, and told him he must prepare his people to be moved by a certain day, as ships had been ordered to be at Tampa at the time stated to transport the Indians to New Orleans. Micanopy then for the first time made known to the Agent the decision of the nation in council assembled. This news was received by Thompson with great surprise and amazement. He told the chief that he must go home and sleep upon what he had been told, and that he must return in the morning and bring a better talk. Micanopy quietly retired;-he returned the next morning, when Thompson directed Abraham,-a negro, once a slave of Dr. Sierra of Pensacola, but for many years past claiming to belong to Micanopy, and now his interpreter,-to ask the chief what he had to say in reply to the Agent's order to prepare his people to embark at an early day at Tampa Bay.
The question was put, and the answer returned by Abraham in these words: "The old man says to-day the same he said yesterday, 'that the nation had decided in council to decline the offer of the United States Government.'" These are the very words as reported to me by Major William A. Graham, who was present at the interview. This negro, Abraham, exercised a wonderful influence over his master; he was a very shrewd fellow, quick and intelligent, but crafty and artful in the extreme. For a negro, he had a remarkably high and broad forehead; but an awful cast in his right eye, which gave to his gentle, insinuating manner a very sinister effect. I doubt not that he had on this occasion, as usual, much to do in keeping the chief, who was of a vacillating character, steady in his purpose.
Thompson repeated his threat, that, if the Indians were not ready to embark at the time appointed, the troops would be called out. It was in compliance with his requisition made soon afterwards, that the detachment, the command of which had accidentally devolved upon Major Dade, marched to reinforce the garrison of Fort King. Such was the state of affairs on the 25th of December. The following are the facts I have been enabled to collect from the most reliable sources. On that night, as I have stated, and on the two nights following, the Indians hung about the bivouac of the troops, whooping and occasionally firing their rifles, evincing in every way a highly exasperated state of feeling. At daybreak on the morning of the 28th, a very large proportion of the warriors of the nation had assembled at the point where the trail from Okahumpy, Micanopy's town, intersects the military road; and here it was proposed to attack the troops before they united with those at Fort King. Micanopy was undecided, until he was plainly told, as the troops appeared in sight, he must declare whether he was with them or against them. This he clearly understood was the question of life or death to himself, and he replied, "I will show you;" and with that he took his position behind a pine-tree about thirty yards from the road. The rest of the Indians laid down in the high savannah grass with which the spot was covered, although the ground at this time was dry. The troops had an advance-guard of an officer and eight men, who were full two hundred yards in advance of the main body. Dade was the only officer who was mounted, and he was riding at the time by the side of Captain Frazer, who was in command of the advance-guard. Unsuspecting and too confident, notwithstanding the warning they had received, the party moved on. When the Major arrived opposite to where Micanopy had taken his stand, the chief raised his rifle, took deliberate aim at him and fired. Dade fell dead from his horse, shot probably through the heart, as I should judge from the bullet-hole in his side, which I saw when General Gaines and his little band reached the battle-ground about two months afterwards. The body was stripped of coat and shirt, and although the flesh had shrunk, the skin was sound and as hard as parchment; this was the case with all. But to resume my narrative, as received from private Clark (now with us), one of the three wounded men who escaped, and after incredible toil and suffering succeeded in reaching Fort Brooke. When Dade fell, the Indians who lay concealed in the tall grass rose, and with one volley laid low Captain Frazer and his eight men. They had, evidently, all been shot dead,-not a man had moved from the place where he fell, as they lay just in rear of the Major, each man occupying the position in which he had marched. The first intimation that Captain Gardiner and his command received of the extent of the disaster was the sight of Dade's horse running back riderless. The gallant Gardiner had scarcely time to put his command into line and unlimber his six-pounder gun, before he received the fire of the enemy, who advancing rapidly, was still concealed. The fire of the Indians was returned with effect, although the latter were widely extended, covering a semi-circle whose radius was the range of their rifles, and were concentrating their fire upon our troops; the discharges of canister-shot from the fieldpiece were directed to different quarters, as found necessary. After about an hour's fighting, the Indians withdrew. They held a council at a short distance from the position occupied by our devoted band, as their voices could be distinctly heard as the chiefs addressed their warriors; and an hour passed before they came to the decision to renew the attack. This enabled Gardiner to throw up a log breastwork of the pine-trees growing on the ground where his men fell. Meantime a small party was sent forward to the advance to bring in the wounded, or to render such assistance as might be required; but the sad tale was soon told: the two gallant and valuable officers and the eight men had fallen in the service of their country, to rise no more till time should cease to roll on. The Indians now advanced to the second attack more fiercely than before; the woods rang with their war-whoops; and the crack of their rifles was as one incessant peal of sharp ringing bells, to which the loud reports of musketry and the booming of the artillery formed a fitting though fearful accompaniment. The Seminoles constantly closed in upon our brave fellows, who were as one to twenty of their enemies (the Indians being, as since ascertained, about two thousand strong). The proof how well our men fought, was seen by us in the dozens of musket-balls crowded into single trees on the sides that faced the little breastwork not over three to four feet high. These shot had been fired at particular Indians who fought from behind these trees. On the other hand, the logs composing the breastwork, none of which were over eight inches at the butt, were filled on every side of the exterior with rifle-bullets of small size. I carefully examined our poor dear fellows, both officers and men, as they lay within the little fort, in posture either kneeling or extended on their breasts, the head in very many instances lying upon the upper log of their breastwork; and I invariably found the bullet-mark in the forehead or the front of the neck. The picture of those brave men lying thus in their "sky-blue" clothing, which had scarcely faded, was such as can never be effaced from my memory. As I have said in the case of Major Dade, the flesh had shrunk, but the skin remained whole, dried, smooth, and hard; the hair and beard remained; and the officers were all, I believe, recognized by those who knew them well. I readily recognized those with whom I had been personally acquainted,-they were only two, Dade and Gardiner. The former was one of the senior captains of my regiment when I joined it; the latter had command of the company of bombardiers, sappers and miners at West Point, when I was admitted to the Military Academy as a cadet. Gardiner himself was a graduate of that institution. There were but three or four of the men that had fallen backwards into the interior of the little work; the rest lay as regularly at right angles to one or other of the three faces of their little fort, the head lying on the top log, as I have said, or immediately below it, as if they had been toy-soldiers arranged by a child in his sport. Gardiner lay near the centre of the enclosure, where he had doubtless stood to overlook the scene and direct what should be done. In the beginning, or rather when the Indians retired from the first attack, he could not retreat without leaving his wounded to the tender mercy of the savages, which must be interpreted into being left to be tortured by the fiendlike foe. His noble spirit could not entertain such a thought, and his men catching enthusiasm from his gallant bearing, fought till their ammunition was exhausted, or until not a man was left to fire the last charge of powder and lead that remained to them. A nobler instance of self-devotion is not on record in the history of wars, ancient or modern.
This narration I received from Clark, who was with General Gaines on this occasion. He had received three wounds, when the fire of the troops ceased entirely, and the Indians entered the little fort and dispatched with their knives some few in whom a ray of life still glimmered, he (Clark) feigning death, lay still until the savages had exhausted their diabolical spirit in wreaking vengeance on all in whom life still lingered; then, as darkness cast its pall over the scene of cruel, unequal conflict, he ventured out; and with bleeding and unstanched wounds he crawled onward, with one knee on the ground, from which he was unable to raise it, and following the military road, in this condition at last reached Fort Brooke on the third day after the battle. His sufferings from hunger and thirst, as well as from his wounds compelled him to adopt, are almost incredible. But he related them to me in a quiet, simple way that would have carried conviction of his truthfulness to the most skeptical listener.
In addition to this, on our arrival at Fort King, I found, among a few Indians and negroes that had come in to that post, and given themselves up as loyal subjects of the United States Government, an old acquaintance in a negro, named August, whom I had known well in former days. He had always proved himself an honest, truthful fellow.
I had several conversations with him, and he corroborated Clark's account in every particular. He told me that he was present on the battle-ground, but did not enter into the fight. He said, moreover, that when the fire of the soldiers ceased entirely, the Indians advanced to the breast-work and entered it; he went forward with them. As they entered the little fort, a young officer, the only man of the whole command who was not killed or desperately wounded, came forward to meet them; he was a very handsome young man, dressed in a blue frock-coat. As the Indians came in, he advanced towards them and offered his sword; but the man he offered it to was the very worst Indian in the nation, and he drew up his rifle and shot the young officer dead. As August said this, his voice grew a little husky, and he continued, "When I saw that handsome young officer fall, the tears came into my eyes, and I cried like a child."
From August's description of the personal appearance of this officer, the officers present with us at Fort King, who knew the younger officers of Dade's command, were satisfied that it was Bassinger, who had thus early terminated a career which promised to be one of distinction as a military man, and of usefulness as a citizen of our common country.
I must now go back to bring up another branch of the sad narrative, which is necessary to the right understanding of this eventful war.
The Governor of Louisiana having, in compliance with the requisition of General Gaines, called out a regiment of volunteers, under the command of Colonel Persifer F. Smith, for service in Florida, they embarked at once with part of the 4th Infantry, in a Brig; and two companies of artillery armed as infantry, (the garrisons of Fort Pike and Fort Wood,) and the remainder of the 4th Infantry, were put on board the little steamer Florida. On my arrival in New Orleans, on reporting to the General, he informed me that he had taken into his military family Captain Ethan Allen Hitchcock, who happened to be in the city, and who was acting as Assistant Adjutant-General; but, added he, "You will now resume your duties in that office, and I will appoint Hitchcock to the duties of Inspector-General."
All things now being in readiness, the General and his staff went on board the Florida, and we, in company, sailed for Pensacola, where it would be necessary to replenish our supply of wood and water, and fresh provisions. On our arrival at this port, the General found in the newspaper a copy of a General Order, assigning General Scott to the command of the troops in Florida who were to operate against the Seminole Indians. This was, as may well be supposed, a matter of surprise to the General; for the Territory of Florida was divided by a north and south line, the western portion being comprised within the district commanded by General Gaines; the eastern in that of General Scott. As the war broke out in General Gaines' district, and no orders from Washington had reached him, he, with the spirit and promptness of a true soldier, at once took command in person of his available forces, and proceeded to the scene of action. General Scott had not yet left New York; the troops with Gaines, and especially the senior officers, were desirous that he should accompany them; and the condition of affairs in Florida being unknown, altogether decided him to proceed with his command at least to Tampa Bay, where he could learn something further. With this view we put to sea again as soon as the necessary supplies were on board. As we entered the mouth of Tampa Bay, he directed me to address, in his name, a letter to General Scott, offering to him three distinct propositions: first, stating his willingness to turn over to Scott the troops, consisting of eleven hundred men, which he had brought from New Orleans, and to leave the conduct of the war entirely to Scott; second, if Scott preferred to leave the country, that he (Gaines) would take upon himself the prosecution of the campaign; and third, that they should at the same time commence operations on opposite sides of the peninsula, move simultaneously towards the centre, and let the only strife be, who should render the better service to the country. This letter I wrote and handed to the General for his signature, which was duly affixed; and the letter was left in my possession, with instructions to have it forwarded by the earliest opportunity after we had landed. The next day we landed, and learned from the commanding officer at Fort Brooke, that no intelligence of any nature or from any source had been received of the state of affairs at Fort King, where General Clinch was with a small force; it being doubtful whether he had been attacked by the Indians or not.
Under these circumstances, Gaines felt it incumbent on him to proceed to Fort King, as Clinch might be beleaguered, in want, and unable to send for supplies and support. It was decided to move the next morning at daylight. Meantime the troops were organized into a "Light Brigade," the 4th Regulars, Br. Lieut.-Colonel W. S. Foster commanding; the Louisiana Volunteers, Colonel P. F. Smith commanding; and a battalion of 3d Artillery armed as infantry, Brevet-Major F. S. Belton commanding. The brigade was under command of Lieutenant-Colonel D. E. Twiggs, 4th Infantry; 1st Lieutenant I. F. Izard, 1st Dragoons, Acting Assistant Adjutant-General; Captain S. Shannon, Brigade Quartermaster. Twelve horses only were brought from New Orleans with the brigade; these I was directed by the General, after consultation with Captain Shannon, to distribute as equally as possible to the officers commanding regiments, &c., as pack-horses for the transportation of their baggage and subsistence. In the discharge of this delicate duty, I was obliged, in regard to strict and impartial justice, to assign a single horse for the service of the General and his staff. This important piece of information I communicated to the General as we sat at dinner, and I was complimented for having so strictly discharged my duty. At the same time the General read us a small lecture on the stern necessity of always, at the commencement of a campaign, reducing the impedementa to the lowest mark practicable. Hitchcock and myself at once expressed our readiness to march with one shirt, one pair of drawers, and one pair of stockings, besides those we had upon our precious persons. This refinement of self-denial on the part of his staff so delighted the General, who is always ready to share the hardships, dangers, and privations of a march with the private soldier, that he smiled blandly and benevolently, as he sipped a glass of champaign, with a bottle of which he had treated the mess on this occasion, and said, "Gentlemen, you have acted so entirely in accordance with my own approved views, that I think we may indulge ourselves with a little luxury, say one bottle apiece for the campaign!"
Now you must be informed, if you do not already know it, that the General is a strictly temperance man, (I do not mean a teetotaler,) not only from principle but by nature; and this indulgence of his was an unmistakable proof of his approval of our decision just expressed. As he had appointed myself to carry the purse from which all expenditures of this kind should be made, for, with the generosity which marked his life, he insisted on bearing all the expenses of his mess, I said, "Well, General, what shall your bottle be?"
He replied, in a slightly suppressed voice,-"A bottle of porter."
To stand this announcement unmoved was a painful trial of forbearance, although I knew the General's penchant for a glass of porter, when he felt unwell. I made a note, however, in my memorandum-book; and turning to Hitchcock said, "Now, Captain what will you take?" It evidently cost him an effort of resolution to go one step beyond the General, and he replied, "I think I'll say a bottle of wine."
Having made a note of this also, it now came to my turn to declare the dictates of my judgment as to what was fitting for the march, and I said, "General, we may meet with wild and unwholesome waters in the imperfect limestone country, and I think it will be but prudent to have with us a little corrective; therefore I will take a bottle of brandy."
To this no remark was made. And it is a positive fact that we marched the next morning with a bottle of porter, a bottle of wine, and a bottle of brandy as our "canteen," on an arduous march through the Seminole country, where they might dispute our advance at any point on a line of one hundred miles of road. I should, however, mention here, that I had succeeded in purchasing an excellent pony for the General, at a very fair cost, from a person claiming to enjoy the benefit of a residence under "the flag." Our little army had their bivouac under the wide-spreading live-oaks; and at daylight in the morning, every company was quickly formed by its captain; the brigade was soon in line, and filed off in high spirits upon the military road leading to Fort King. The General took his place at the head of the column on his steed, Hitchcock and myself by his side on foot; and with an advance guard and about one dozen friendly Indians in front, we commenced the march to Fort King, to release General Clinch, should he have been surrounded by a heavy force of Indians. We marched about twelve miles without the occurrence of any incident of a military character; yet I must not pass over a piece of good luck that befell myself. As the troops made a brief halt at the Big Spring, about three miles from Fort Brooke, a sub-chief joined his companions mounted on a handsome horse; as he joined his party, all of whom were on foot, I walked up to him, attracted I must confess by the appearance of his steed; and much to my surprise and pleasure recognized in his rider an old acquaintance and friend, Tustenuggee Hajo. On recognizing me, he exclaimed, "Hie la! ay-it-liepts-e-chez?" "Ah! how is your health?"
I replied, "Hin-cla," "good," and we shook hands. Then pointing to his horse, I said, "Echo-thlock hin-cla;" "A good horse." "Chato kanawa nacho-ma echo-thlocko oepa-taka che-malis chez?" "How many dollars do you want for the horse, saddle, and bridle?"
He replied, "Chato kanawa palin-chakebin." "Fifty dollars."
Without further parley, I took out pen, ink, and paper, and wrote an order on the sutler at Fort Brooke to pay Tustenuggee Hajo, on demand, fifty dollars, and charge the same to my account. I then told him to hand the paper to the sutler (sneezer), and get his money; he took the order, which he placed in his tobacco-pouch, and handed me the bridle of the horse. This was a mark of confidence at which the Louisiana Volunteers, many of whom were standing around, expressed their astonishment, and their incredulity, in fact, until they saw me mount the horse and ride off. He was a spirited fellow and in good plight; the saddle was a common American saddle, and not much the worse for wear. I may as well conclude the account of this transaction by stating that the chief accompanied us on our march, and did not present the note till several months afterwards, when he received his money. As I have mentioned, we marched about twelve miles to a branch of Fish Creek, an old hunting-ground of mine; and after we halted, I recollected that not far from the place where we sat with the General, I had four years agone, while on a hunting-party with two or three officers, lunched at this creek, and as we rose again to mount our horses, I took up the black bottle from which we had taken our noon-er, still half full of whisky, and placed it in a concealed cleft in the rocky bank, saying, "We'll find this the next time we lunch here." I related the occurrence to the General, and said, "I know the exact spot so well, that if it is still where I put it, I can easily find it." The General expressed a desire to know whether the bottle was still there, and furthermore whether I would be able to find it. I therefore rose and went down the creek to the rock, which I recognized as if I had been there but yesterday; I examined the ledge on which I had placed "Brown Bess," but she was there no more: some unusually high freshet had probably carried her down the stream, and into the world of waters that ebbed and flowed not a mile distant. The place where I had placed the bottle was one strongly marked, and I could not have mistaken it; for the locality was one that had long been familiar to me; and I only mention it because the General, who has himself the "organ of locality" largely developed, evidently wanted to test mine. At this moment the General's orderly arrived at the tent with the pack-horse or sumpter, (for Captain Shannon had brought a tent for the General without saying anything about it). This orderly, as he termed himself, had been a sergeant in the army, and in New Orleans had induced the General to hire him at high wages as factotum. He now led the horse up in front of the General, and with a bold assurance of manner, reported that he had arrived with every thing safe except the bottle of brandy, which the horse had broken by running up against a tree. The bottles had been hung on top of the pack, on the outside, but resting on a soft substance that would yield, a thick, heavy bottle would not be likely to break.
I looked at the General: he was perfectly calm and unmoved, and the man escaped even reproof. For a moment I felt disposed to break the fellow's neck, as he had broken that of the bottle, after he had sold the brandy to the volunteers, and left the neck dangling from the pack; but fortunately I had self-control enough to say nothing. The next day was passed like the first, as the Spaniard says, "sin novedad," until we arrived at our camp-ground. I had selected a very pretty knoll in the pine wood, near the water, when Colonel Twiggs came up and entered into conversation with the General. While this was going on, the orderly and the pack-horse came up. He adressed the General with imperturbable impudence, and reported that the horse to-day had broken the wine-bottle. At this I laughed heartily, for it was the most transparent piece of rascality that my eyes ever looked upon; yet the General did not show the slightest suspicion, nor did he apparently entertain any. I walked up to the horse and untied the remaining bottle.
"General," said I, "let me recommend to you to take your porter to-day, for if left till to-morrow, I apprehend it will meet the fate of the brandy and the wine." To this the General assented, or rather made no objection; so I managed with my knife to cut the wire and extract the cork. I then poured out a full bumper, knowing that Twiggs was a teetotaler, and handed it to the General; he with inimitable politeness begged Twiggs to take it. He of course declined; the General then smiled and finished the bumper at a draught. I offered to refill for him, but he begged me to help Hitchcock, who helped himself very moderately, and again I presented the cup to the General, but he excused himself and said, "Will you not finish it,-I beg you to do so." There was a full bumper left, which I without further entreaty dispatched. And thus ended the history of the three bottles, on the second day of our march. On the eighth day we reached Dade's battle-ground, of which I have given you an all-sufficient description. After throwing out a strong guard around the field of battle, a portion of the men at a time were permitted to walk round the ground to examine the position our men had so nobly defended, and to ponder on the sad sights there presented to their view. At the same time a spot was selected for the burial-place of the officers, and another near by for the men. Both officers and men were with great care interred, side by side. Then the troops were formed in column of companies; and while the full band of the 4th Regiment at the head of the column played with much solemnity and expression a funeral dirge, the men, with arms reversed and with sad but stern countenances, at a slow pace, marched round the entire ground, and the funeral-rites of their brethren-in-arms were concluded. Nothing further of general interest occurred until we arrived at Fort King, at the time commanded by Colonel Ichabod B. Crane, of the 4th Artillery. Here we learned that General Clinch was at Fort Drane, twenty-two miles northward, whither a messenger was sent to announce General Gaines' arrival. Adieu.
Camp Sabine, near the Sabine River, 18 May 1836To General Thomas Cadwalader,
My Dear Sir: A rapid change of position and almost constant occupation during the last four months have prevented, until now, my making "the Florida War" the subject of a letter. The first intelligence of "actual hostilities" in that section of his military department, was received by General Gaines at New Orleans, whilst on a tour of inspection to the Gulf posts. The news of the massacre of Dade's detachment had burst like a thunderclap upon the inhabitants of the great Southern emporium. On receiving the official report of the sad disaster, General Gaines immediately addressed to the Adjutant-General, at Washington, a letter, in which he urged that no time should be lost in applying to the savages on that frontier the last and obvious means of correction; at the same time declaring, from his knowledge of the Seminole Indians and the country they inhabited, his conviction, that the only sure means of speedily and effectually terminating the difficulties in that quarter would be to bring into the field an army of at least four thousand men, aided and supported by a strong naval force. Under this impression he recommended that the cavalry and parts of the 1st and 7th Regiments of Infantry be ordered to Florida, to reinforce the United States troops on the Gulf, and such volunteers from the adjoining States as the emergency may call forth. On the same day he made a requisition on the Governor of Louisiana for a regiment of riflemen or infantry; and soon after requested of Commodore Bolton, at Pensacola, the co-operation of such naval force as he might feel authorized to order on that service.
Some days subsequent to this, the receipt of intelligence that Fort Brooke (Tampa Bay) was invested or hemmed in by the Indians and negroes, and the garrison in danger of being cut off, determined General Gaines to proceed at once to their relief with what force he might be able to collect at New Orleans. He accordingly wrote by express to General Clinch, who commanded in Florida, and was at that time at Fort King, one hundred miles north of Fort Brooke, that he (General Gaines) would be at the latter fort, on the 8th of February, with seven hundred men. General Clinch, it was understood, would have by that time a respectable force (volunteers) from Georgia and the upper counties of Florida. He was accordingly ordered, if strong enough to take the field, to march to the southward in time to effect a junction with General Gaines at or near Fort Brooke. Under these circumstances, General Gaines embarked at New Orleans on the night of the 3d of February with a brigade of about eleven hundred men-to which number his force had fortunately increased-consisting of six companies of the 4th Infantry under Lieutenant-Colonel Twiggs, and a regiment of Louisiana volunteers under command of General P. F. Smith, Adjutant-General of the State. The transports, being steamboats, were obliged to touch at Pensacola for wood; and here it was that General Gaines met the Adjutant-General's letter of the 22d of January, which purported to cover the "Order, No. 7," directing "General Scott to repair to Florida, and take command of the troops operating against the Indians in that quarter." This order, No. 7, was not enclosed, nor did General Gaines see it until his arrival at Fort King sixteen days afterwards. This fact may be a matter of no great import; but, as the continuance of the movement, (from Pensacola to Tampa,) after his being notified that such an order had been issued, is one of the two prominent features of the campaign that have been very unhesitatingly criticised and condemned in some of the public prints, it may be well to examine what might have been the consequences, had he abandoned the expedition at that advanced stage of its progress.
In command of a military department, he had received, at a point far distant from the seat of Federal Government, (whence alone special or new instructions should be sent him,) the intelligence of a great and unlooked-for disaster having occurred on the extreme southern frontier of the country, occupied by the left wing of his division. He learned the melancholy news that a large white settlement had been overrun, sacked, and burned, and many of the inhabitants killed; the United States Agent of Indian Affairs murdered; eight valuable officers and ninety-eight brave soldiers of his division cut to pieces by an overwhelming savage foe!-and he was aware that the military forts on the borders of the Indian country, viz., Forts Brooke, King, and Drane, with the station at Key West, (all within his military department,) were without any other works of defence than such as a daring leader with five hundred men might, at the risk of little loss, take and destroy in a few hours-the garrisons of three of those posts being insufficient for their defence. What, then, was the duty of the commander of the department? Had he hesitated one single moment, he would, indeed, have merited the stern opprobrium of his fellow-citizens. He did not hesitate-he collected what force he could and marched immediately for the theatre of the war. On the route, and within two days' march (by steam) of the Indian border, he received a notification that General Scott had been ordered to repair from the city of Washington to Florida, "and take command of the troops operating against the Indians in that quarter." At the same time, he was informed that "the state of affairs west of the Mississippi might soon require his attention, if not his presence in that quarter," and he was directed to await further orders in the city of New Orleans. Had hostilities actually existed on the Louisiana frontier, and General Gaines received an order to repair thither immediately, it is difficult to say whether the historian would have approved or condemned his conduct at that stage of the game, had he obeyed the order, and, by so doing, left General Clinch, in expectation of a promised co-operation, to extricate himself as he could from any difficulty into which failure on the part of General Gaines in preconcerted movements might peradventure throw him. And without General Gaines, the volunteers, his principal force, were unwilling to proceed. Moreover, he was firmly persuaded that the instructions from the War Department, requiring him to await further orders in the city of New Orleans, were forwarded before that Department could possibly have received a detail of the circumstances which rendered the immediate movement to Florida not only proper but imperative. A little reflection determined him to continue the movement until the President should be apprised of all the particular circumstances attending it,-or until the officer authorized to operate in his Department should make his appearance in person in that part of the country which constituted the principal theatre of the war, or the Indians be subdued and the security of the frontier re-established.
This view of the subject is based upon a sound principle of military law, and is supported by the ablest writers of all enlightened nations whose arms have been crowned with success. Had General Gaines disregarded this principle, he well knew that he might expose to difficulty, or perhaps destruction, a body of troops expecting his co-operation, and consequently leave the citizens dwelling within that quarter of his command to the tomahawk and scalping-knife.
Was it his duty, under such circumstances, to abandon an expedition on the prosecution of which the safety of the border people possibly hung; or was it his duty to strike promptly at the enemy, if possible subdue him, or, at all events, endeavor to check his devastations, until the President should have notice of his strength, and the determined spirit with which he seemed prepared to carry on the war?
General Gaines proceeded to Tampa Bay. On his arrival at Fort Brooke, he learned that the day previous a party of about one hundred of the friendly Indians had been attacked near the Fort, and driven in by a superior force. The country occupied by the hostile tribes lying between Forts Brooke and King, no communication had been kept up between those posts since the massacre of Major Dade's command; and consequently General Gaines, on arriving at the first-named station, was unable to gather any information from which he could form even a tolerable conjecture of General Clinch's strength or movements. But relying on the co-operation of that officer, he determined, as soon as his horses could be landed, to place a sufficient garrison in the pickets, and with the remainder of his force march out to meet him.
Owing to the expense and difficulties attending the transportation of horses from New Orleans by sea, the baggage-train brought with the brigade was necessarily small; and the expectation that the requisite number to complete the train might be procured at Tampa was not realized, the horses and cattle in that vicinity having been stolen or lost during the alarm which broke up the settlement, and drove the families for protection to the Fort. Some half dozen Indian ponies were, I believe, all that the Quartermaster could procure to add to the number brought from New Orleans. The question, then, among both officers and soldiers was, not "what they might get along with?" but "what they could do without on the march?" Ten days' rations were issued to the troops, (five of which were to be carried in the haversacks,) and on the morning of the 13th the brigade took the field.
The friendly Indians, who, to the number of seventy-seven, accompanied the brigade, having reported their belief that the war-party which attacked them a few days before was not only formidable, but was probably still encamped on the Alafia River, at a point some fifteen miles from Fort Brooke, and seven from the main road to Fort King, General Gaines made a detour to the right, for the purpose of breaking up and driving before him this band of marauders. On the second day's march, however, it was ascertained that the enemy had not been on the Alafia in any strength; and the troops having received two additional rations, which had been directed to meet them by water at Warren's, proceeded on their route. On approaching the Withlacoochee, on Dade's line of march, and some thirty miles above Clinch's battle-ground, the friendly Indians expressed their firm belief that a vigorous attack would be made the following day, and urged strenuously that they might be permitted to return home, i.e. to Fort Brooke. This faltering on the approach of battle created some surprise, not unmingled with distrust of their fidelity. A half hour's talk, however, reassured them, and they moved on without evincing any further timidity. The expected attack, however, was not made; and the brigade arrived, without annoyance, at Dade's battleground, when funeral honors were paid to the gallant band, who had left on the trees around abundant proof of a field nobly contested against an overwhelming foe. The sad scene can never be erased from the memory of those who witnessed it; but its images, still vivid in the mind, recall feelings too painful to permit me to dwell longer upon a scene which has already been described by many.
Up to this time, the eighth day since he marched from Fort Brooke, General Gaines had been in hourly expectation of meeting General Clinch. Knowing the promptness of that officer, General Gaines could not now but apprehend that some serious obstacle had arisen to prevent the desired junction. Being only about forty miles from Fort King, the General felt bound to proceed thither to ascertain the situation of Clinch's command, and if possible to gain some information with regard to the movements of the enemy. His only doubt with regard to the expediency of proceeding thither was on the score of provisions; the men had with them enough to carry them back to Tampa if he returned immediately, and there, we knew, were abundant supplies. But if he proceeded to Fort King, he might not find a sufficient provision to make that position the basis of his operations, without embarrassing General Clinch with whom he desired to co-operate;-or General Scott, should he have arrived. An officer then mentioned to the General, that the Quartermaster had received, before we left Fort Brooke, a letter from the Quartermaster-General, notifying him that one hundred and twenty thousand rations had been ordered to Fort King in January preceding. This letter was immediately called for. It was from the Quartermaster-General's office, and dated the 19th of January. The passage that had been referred to was as follows: "Large supplies of provisions have been ordered from New York for Fort King; and thirty thousand rations to St. Augustine from the same place." This was the first time General Gaines saw the letter in question, or knew that a large additional supply had been ordered from New York to Fort King. He had brought a large supply of subsistence and forage to Tampa Bay, and had written to General Clinch to that effect from New Orleans, intending to make Tampa the basis of his operations. But now unable to gain the least information of General Clinch's strength or movements, or those of the enemy, in any other way than by proceeding to Fort King, the acquisition of the information above detailed, removed the only doubt he had entertained with regard to the expediency of the measure.
He decided to push on without delay, and the order to march was given the moment the simple but solemn funeral-rites of the band of heroes was concluded. I have been thus precise in this part of my narrative, because a want of knowledge of the circumstances attending this measure has caused the whole movement to be so misconstrued, as to lay General Gaines liable to the charge of dashing, heedlessly, into the wilderness without any plan of operations, suffering himself to be separated by a wide district of the enemy's country from the depot of his supplies; and thus exposing his men to hardships and privations as unnecessary as profitless. But this is the second principal feature of the campaign that has been most unhesitatingly criticised.
The troops reached Fort King on the 22d of February, without meeting with any incident worthy of remark. A single company of the 3d Artillery constituted the garrison of this station. General Clinch with his principal force was at Fort Drane, twenty-two miles to the northwest. With great regret General Gaines now learned that Clinch had not received the expected reinforcement from the northern border of the territory-but two volunteer companies having joined him from that quarter. His force was four companies of artillery, one of infantry, and the two companies of volunteers I have mentioned. General Gaines was not less disappointed when he was told that the supply of provisions at these two posts (King and Drane) was little more than sufficient for their support. Whether this disappointment was consequent to a reasonable expectation or not, I shall not pretend to determine. The simple facts from which must be determined the reasonableness or unreasonableness of the conclusion drawn from the information received by General Gaines on Dade's battle-ground, are these: the troops had marched from Fort Brooke on the 13th, with ten days' rations; at the Alafia they received two days' rations, brought thither by water, making in all twelve; that is, they were provisioned to include the 24th of February. On the 20th of February, General Gaines saw the letter of the 19th of January, already alluded to. From the date of the letter to the day he saw it inclusive, was thirty-two days; and to the 24th of February, the day to which his troops had been provisioned, is thirty-six days. The supplies had been ordered on the 19th,-how long before that, he knew not. The facilities of water-transportation from New York to the mouth of the St. John's River, and up that river by steam to Picolata, whence it is about seventy miles to Fort Drane, and ninety-two to Fort King, led to the conclusion, that in thirty-six days the supply would have reached its destination. The roads the troops had travelled were in fine order, the season having been remarkably dry; we were told no rain had fallen from some time in September till the day before we reached Dade's battleground, when there was a light rain.
At Fort King it was learned that preparations were making for the campaign, at Picolata, under the direction of General Scott. It was not thought, however, that he would be enabled to take the field with any considerable force for some time.
Finding he could expect no immediate co-operation from a quarter where he had expected to meet a considerable force,-Clinch's command being barely sufficient to supply the necessary escorts to the provision-wagons between Picolata and Fort Drane,-and unwilling to draw upon the nucleus of supplies here collecting, General Gaines decided on returning immediately to Tampa Bay, and make that the basis of his operations. He informed General Clinch of this, and requested barely a sufficient supply to last him on the march. He had marched from Fort Brooke to Fort King, by the main route, the common wagon-road. This road is longer, by a day's march, than the route by Chocochatee; he, therefore, determined to return by the latter. It was, indeed, the opinion at Fort King, that the Indians had established themselves near the point at which this trace crosses the Withlacoochee, viz., Clinch's battle-ground. If so, so much the better; he might beat them by the way. At any rate, the movement of one thousand men through the country occupied by the Indians, would have the effect of keeping them concentrated, and consequently relieve the frontier from petty depredations. Of the seventy-seven friendly Indians, who accompanied the brigade from Fort Brooke, ten returned with it, the balance remaining with General Clinch.
These men, who acted as guides, promised to find a ford somewhere near the point at which General Clinch had crossed. On the 27th, General Gaines reached the Withlacoochee at this point,-and a half hour or more had been passed in searching for the ford, when the enemy opened a fire from the opposite bank. The stream is about forty yards wide, but deep and rapid. A few companies were immediately brought into action, and very soon the fire became general from the left to the centre. This skirmish, the first bush-fighting the men had seen, lasted half an hour. The loss of the troops was one killed and seven wounded. The troops encamped near the river, and the guides declared the ford must be about three miles below, where a trail leading to the right struck the river.
The next morning by sunrise the three columns marched for the point indicated, on reaching which, a spirited fire was immediately opened from the opposite bank, which was quickly returned, and continued with occasional intermissions till one o'clock. In the early part of this action, the gallant Lieutenant Izard was mortally wounded. The loss this day was one killed and three wounded. The stream at this point also proved to be too deep to be forded. And the guides who had been accustomed to hunt in the lower country, and had not been in this section for many years, were totally at fault. The banks of the stream however, at this point were less thickly clad with the customary undergrowth, and the General determined to cross. A detail was accordingly made to prepare canoes and the flooring for a pontoon bridge; and the cheerful sound of the axe was soon mingled with the crack of the rifle and the animating war-cry. At four o'clock P.M. a distant but very loud whooping was heard, which indicated the approach of a large reinforcement to the enemy on the opposite side. The friendly Indians immediately declared it to be Micanopy, whose force they estimated at eight hundred warriors.
General Gaines, then satisfied that the whole force of the enemy was in the field, considered the opportunity of bringing the war to a close too favorable to be lost. Under this impression he sent an express to General Clinch, recommending an immediate movement of the force under his command, with an additional supply of ammunition and provisions. Clinch was desired to cross the river some ten miles above and move down on the left bank. General Gaines added that he would endeavor in the mean time to amuse the enemy, prepare his boats, &c. for crossing, but would not cross till he heard from Fort Drane, where General Clinch expected by that time some accession to his force.
By this movement it was believed that the two brigades would be enabled to attack the enemy in front and rear at the same time, and probably terminate the war in a few days.
The customary log breastwork was thrown up, about three feet high, and the troops left undisturbed that night. The following morning an attack was thought not improbable from some quarter; and one third of the men were kept on duty at the breastwork. At ten o'clock A.M., the working-parties were fired upon, and immediately afterwards a dashing attack was made on three sides of the camp. The Indians advanced boldly and fired with great rapidity, but not with precision. At one time they set fire to the high grass and palmetto on the windward side of the camp, and made a bold dash under cover of the smoke, which, mingled with flame, came rolling towards the breastwork like a heavy sea. The fire was coolly extinguished, and the audacity of the assailants punished by the Louisiana riflemen. The fight lasted till a few minutes past twelve o'clock M., when the enemy withdrew. Their numbers were estimated by those considered the best judges at fifteen hundred. The troops, having the advantage of the slight breastwork before mentioned, lost this day only one sergeant killed, and thirty-four officers and men wounded,-among the latter was General Gaines himself. The loss of the enemy was considerable, the troops firing with a coolness and precision which would do honor to veterans. Nor should the 29th of February be passed without bestowing a word of praise on the marked gallantry of their red assailants, who fought-many an old Indian-fighter present said-"as Indians never fought before." As the Indians had crossed the river, a runner was sent that night to General Clinch, informing him of the occurrences of the morning. In concluding this letter, General Gaines said: "I have abstained, and shall abstain from a sortie until I hear from you, in expectation that this course will tend to keep them together, while a sortie might contribute to disperse them. I am now satisfied that a direct movement to this place is more desirable than to cross the river higher up, as I suggested in my letter of yesterday. I am, moreover, of opinion that, if mounted men can be obtained in a few days, your force should not move from Fort Drane without that description of troops. The Indians move with too much celerity to be pursued with any chance of success by any other than mounted men." The following day, March 1st, there was light skirmishing, and occasional shots were fired at those who passed out of camp. On the morning of the 2d of March an attack was made nearly as vigorous as that of the 29th, and was kept up for one hour; but the troops having raised the breastwork, sustained little loss.
It was possible that General Clinch might arrive this afternoon; and many of the men, who were somewhat hungry, began to look eagerly for his appearance; though when they were told that if he should be detained by the non-arrival of the mounted men, it might yet be some days before they received a supply of provisions - in which case they must be content to dine on horse-meat until they could do better,-I do not think there was a man who did not declare his willingness to do so, as long as there was a prospect of bringing the war to a successful termination by so doing. All the corn in camp was turned in as common stock, and afforded about a pint per man; and afterwards some horses were killed and the meat regularly issued. The 3d, 4th, and 5th of March did not produce any incidents greatly differing from those of the preceding days. The Indians were frequently firing into the camp by night as well as day, generally selecting the hour of guard-mounting or parade, when the men were most exposed. Our sharp-shooters, however, kept them at long shots, and their bullets whistled through the camp without doing much execution. On these occasions, as usual, the woods rung with the exciting war-cry. During this time we lost but one man killed and two wounded. At ten o'clock P.M. on the 5th, some one was heard hailing the camp. It was at first supposed to be a return express from Fort Drane, who was thus giving notice of his approach lest he should be fired on by the sentinels. He was told to advance. In a few moments a negro called out at the top of his voice:- "The Indians are tired of fighting, and wish to come in to-morrow, and shake hands."
He was told that, if they had anything to say, they might come in the morning, with a white flag, and they would be heard. Whereupon he retired, bidding us a hearty "good-night." At ten o'clock A.M. on the 6th, three hundred warriors, or thereabout, drew up in line facing the rear of the camp, at the distance of four hundred and fifty or five hundred yards. After some delay and apparent hesitation on their part, two or three advanced about half-way with a white flag. Here they were met by Adjutant Barrow, to whom they communicated their desire to have a talk with General Gaines. They said they had lost a great many warriors, and were unwilling to lose any more except in the course of nature, or perchance by the fall of a forest-tree. Captain Hitchcock, Acting Inspector-General, was then sent to hear what they had to say. He returned and reported that the Indians did not wish to fight any more; but that they were desirous that the troops should withdraw from the Withlacoochee. The celebrated Oceola was much dejected, and apparently subdued in spirit. Captain Hitchcock was directed to return and tell them that a large force would soon be in the field; and the inevitable consequence of their refusing to come to terms would be the destruction of a great portion of the nation. They expressed a desire to treat with General Gaines; and said they would hold a council on the subject, and give their answer in the afternoon. They returned at the appointed time, and again expressed their desire to make peace with General Gaines, but said their act could not be binding without the sanction of Micanopy, the principal chief, who had gone to his town. They said they would send for him, and then sign a treaty. Captain Hitchcock communicated to them what he had been instructed to say, viz., that General Gaines had no authority to treat with them; but that if they would return to the south side of the Withlacoochee, and remain there without molesting the inhabitants of the country until the United States Commissioners should appoint a time and place to meet them, they should not for the present be disturbed. The chiefs present gave their promise to do so. At this moment General Clinch's advance came in sight of the party that had accompanied the chiefs, and not knowing what was passing at the camp, wheeled into line, and poured a volley upon the Indians, who immediately fled and crossed the river, as did the chiefs who were with Captain Hitchcock, fearing no doubt they would be shot down. This broke up the conference.
The brigade with Clinch was received with heart-felt greetings. He brought the greater part of the garrison from Fort Drane, and a squadron of mounted men, raised in the counties immediately north of Fort Drane, and with them all the supplies his slender means of transportation would allow, together with forty head of beef-cattle. From this time up to the 9th of March, the Indians remained true to their promise to abstain from hostilities, our men having frequently during these days fished and bathed in the river without molestation. Micanopy, however, did not arrive, and General Gaines decided this day to place the troops under the command of General Clinch, whose gallantry and decision had proved him so worthy of the trust; and prepared to return immediately to New Orleans, in pursuance of the instructions he had received at Pensacola.
On the 10th, General Clinch took up the line of march for Fort Drane. That night a negro, who had a wife among the hostile Indians, and among whom he had been sent on the 8th, returned, and reported that they assured him of their intention to adhere to their promises, and told him they would meet the whites on the Withlacoochee in five days, when all the principal chiefs would be present.
They said they had seen the soldiers fishing on the banks of the Withlacoochee, but, desiring to be at peace, they had not fired on them.
On the 11th, the brigade encamped about three miles south of Fort Drane. At parting with General Gaines, they addressed him a most complimentary and affectionate letter.
The General proceeded to Fort Drane, and soon after set out for New Orleans, by the way of Tallahassee and Pensacola. At New Orleans he received the instructions from the War Department relative to this frontier, and immediately proceeded to Fort Jesup.
This is a rough sketch, but you may rely on the facts, and you are at liberty to make use of the letter, if you think proper, for the information of the public.
P.S.-I mentioned in the foregoing that General Gaines was among the wounded. I must tell you how it occurred. A few minutes previously he had sent me with an order to Colonel Foster, commanding my old regiment, the 4th Infantry; for I was still a First Lieutenant in that regiment, although detached on special service, as chief of General Gaines' staff. Foster was on the north front, where there was a small patch of woodland; and the Indians had occupied this wood in force, and were pouring in a heavy fire upon Foster. Of course I had to run the gantlet; but I found the Colonel, delivered the message, and returned unscathed. The General, as I returned to his side, addressing me, said in his quaint, old-fashioned style: "I'm glad to see, sir, that you have a very good stomach for war."
He had scarcely uttered these words, when a small rifle-ball struck a tree a little to the left and front, glanced and passed through his lower lip, breaking the two lower front teeth; the shock threw his head back, and he uttered a low exclamation, then at once leaned forward, and a stream of blood fell from his mouth. I bent towards him and asked, "General, are you badly hurt?"
"No," he replied; "there is the ball;" and he put his hand to his mouth, took the ball between his fingers and handed it to me. This little bullet is deeply indented with the impression of the two teeth; it is in my possession still. The old hero did not leave the ground.
George A. McCall. Letters From the Frontiers. (1868), pp. 299-332.
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