As our special week-long series continues today, we focus on the beginning of the Red Stick Creek attack on Fort Mims. This year’s living history event and reenactment will take place on Saturday and Sunday at the site near Tensaw, Alabama.
If you missed the previous two parts in this series, you can read them by following these links before continuing to today’s article:
by Dale Cox
The Red Stick army moved south during the last week of August 1813, destined for Fort Mims.
The militia force posted to guard the stockade was far from prepared.
Perhaps the best account of what happened at Fort Mims was given by Dr. Thomas G. Holmes to historian Andrew J. Pickett on June 3, 1846. Thirty-three years had passed since the events of 1813 and Holmes’ memories were undoubtedly colored by the passage of time. Still, he was a survivor of the attack and his version of what happened in the fort is the best that is available to us today.
According to Dr. Holmes, Maj. Daniel Beasley regularly sent out scouting parties to look for signs of Red Stick warriors. Each of these detachments, however, returned during the weeks after Burnt Corn Creek to report that that they had seen nothing. Gradually the officers and soldiers became convinced that no attack was coming.
So lax did security become that the blockhouse, which might have added considerable strength to the fort, was still half-complete one full month after the Burnt Corn battle. The newly placed east or main gate had sagged to the point that it was difficult to close. No one bothered to repair it and by late August the summer rains washed so much dirt up against it that the gate was stuck in an open position.
Dr. Holmes related that there was only mild alarm, in fact, when two slaves came into the fort on the afternoon of August 29 and reported that they had seen 24 Creek warriors within 2 miles of Fort Mims. Maj. Beasley sent Capt. Middleton with a detachment to look for signs but he soon returned and announced that he had seen nothing. Accusing the African-Americans of spreading a false alarm, Beasley ordered them punished.
The first of these men was claimed by John Randon, who gave his approval for the ordered punishment. The unfortunate man was tied to a post and given a severe whipping. The other was claimed by Josiah Fletcher, who refused to allow him to suffer such abuse. Maj. Beasley was infuriated and ordered Fletcher and his family to leave the fort by 10 a.m. the next day. Mr. Fletcher had many friends in Fort Mims, however, and they pleaded with him to remain. He reluctantly agreed and accepted the major’s demand that the slave be given 100 lashes.
The night passed without further incident, as did the following morning. Shortly before midday the African-American man was tied to a whipping post but the planned beating had not commenced when a drum roll announced that it was time for the noon meal. All present moved for the cook fires. At this moment, according to Dr. Holmes, “the yell of the Indians was announced at the eastern gate and to the great astonishment of the officers, soldiers & citizens.” [i]
The two enslaved men were right. The entire Red Stick army had been within sight of Fort Mims for more than twelve hours:
…The Indians came within 400 yds of the fort where there was a thick ravine in which they secreted themselves by laying flat on the ground until the 12 o’c drum beat. Having received information by a very intelligent negro named Joe, belonging to Capt. Zachariah McGirt, that if they would wait until that hour, that the officers, soldiers & citizens would all be engaged at dinner, which was the fact, and at that awful moment, they made a general rush and undiscovered until they surrounded the fort, and were in possession of three fourths of the port holes before the men assigned to defend them could get to them. The work of death now commenced with all its horrors. [ii]
In a major design flaw, Fort Mims had no firing step and the port holes that pierced its walls on all four sides were not elevated. By seizing possession of most of them, the Red Sticks were able to use them to fire into the fort. Had the loopholes been raised and the men inside provided with an elevated firing step, this would have been impossible for an attacking force to do.
Making matters worse, the main gate of the fort was standing wide open. Maj. Beasley courageously ran forward to try to close it, but it was too late:
…[H]e rushed sword in hand to the gate and attempted to shut it, but owing its being made of very heavy materials it had much swagged again the gate was placed on the declivity of the slope & from several heavy rains the earth had washed considerably against said gate and rendered it impossible for Major Beasly with all his physical powers to shut it. Five of the principle profits [sic.] rushed with all their infuriated fanaticism to the centre of the fort over the body of Beasly who had been dispatched with a war club. [iii]
Lt. Col. Edward Nicolls of the British Royal Marines arrived in Florida the following year and met several chiefs who had taken part in the attack. They told him that black men in their ranks – former slaves of citizens in the fort – were among the first who charged through the gate. It is certainly possible that Beasley, who at that very hour intended to severely whip a slave, met his fate at their hands.
The garrison of Fort Mims was completely unprepared. The attacking warriors gained so many of the loopholes that many of the men inside were shot down almost instantly. “The unerring rifles” of the Red Sticks, recalled Dr. Holmes, “almost destroyed the inmates of the unfortunate fort at the first fire.” The occupants of the stockade were caught in the open, sitting around the fires while they ate their noon meal.
The survivors of these initial volleys fell back to the Samuel Mims house, which stood near the center of the fort, and a nearby bastion that projected from the north wall. Capt. Dixon Bailey’s militia company made it into the bastion in time to seize its loopholes before the Red Sticks could reach them:
…The brave Capt. Dixon Baily got with his command to the Bastion on the north side of the fort as will appear by reference to the plan of the fort. Scarcely arrived before the Bastion was charged by 150 of these inhuman monsters, using all the convulsions that their fanaticism could stimulate them to little expecting to meet the fate they received from the unerring rifles of the whites. Capt. Baily very judiciously had supplied himself with rifles and extra guns most of them double barrels, soon as the first discharge from Baily’s troops was made, the guns was withdrawn from the port holes and the extras put into put in their place which inflicted such a deadly fire that they past around without being able to occupy the port holes of which Dixon B. had command. [iv]
Dr. Holmes was a close friend of Capt. Bailey and witnessed the scene at the bastion in person. He recalled how Mrs. Daniel Bailey and other women were heroic in their efforts, reloading weapons as fast as the men could fire them. Mrs. Bailey, he said, even bayoneted one soldier in the rear after he refused to fight. The man was severely ill with chills and fever, but every life in the fort was now at stake.
Holmes either saw or later heard that five Red Stick prophets charged to the very center of the fort and began to dance the “Dance of the Indians of the Lakes.” They had promised their followers that the bullets of the whites would do them no harm as they had been blessed with powers that would cause the lead balls to split open in mid-air. All five were shot down.
The initial phase of the Red Stick assault was incredibly successful. Warriors possessed most of the loopholes in three of the fort’s four walls and occupied much of the interior. Resistance by the defenders stiffened, however, as they got better organized and began to fight from the protection of the Mims’ house and the nearby bastion. The battle now turned into a bloody stalemate that continued for much of the afternoon.
This series will continue tomorrow.
Reenactments, living history and more will take place at Fort Mims this weekend (August 25-26). The park is located at 1813 Fort Mims Rd., Tensaw, Alabama. Please visit www.fortmims.org for more information on this great annual event.
To see the free documentary Battle for Fort Mims from Two Egg TV, just click the listing below or watch on Amazon Prime Video using your smart tv or streaming device. You do not need to be an Amazon Prime member to watch:
[i] A.J. Pickett, “Notes of Doctor Thomas G. Holmes of Baldwin County, Ala. In relation to the “Burnt Corn expedition” “the Massacre of 553 Men, Women & children at Fort Mims” and other things which happened in the trying times of 1813.1814,” recorded on June 3, 1846, Alabama Department of Archives and History.