This article is the fourth in a week-long series marking the 205th anniversary of the Battle for Fort Mims. The fort’s annual reenactment and living history event will take place this Saturday and Sunday at the site near Tensaw, Alabama.
If you missed the first three parts of the series, you can read them by following these links before starting today’s article:
by Dale Cox
The faulty design of Fort Mims favored the Red Sticks during the first phase of their attack, allowing them to fire into the stockade through many of its loopholes while a large force of warriors stormed through the open main gate. Within about one hour, however, the situation turned to favor the fort’s defenders due to an unexpected advantage provided by a section of its design.
The rectangular bastion that projected from the north wall proved to be an unexpected citadel for survivors of the initial attack. Capt. Dixon Bailey’s men reached the bastion loopholes before the Red Sticks. This allowed them to use the stockade wall as intended for defense instead of the warriors using it to trap them. Bailey’s men swept the approaches on the north, east and west sides of the bastion with rifle and musket fire, driving back repeated attacks.
The south side of the bastion was not enclosed but the location of the Mims house and a second structure, both of which remained in the hands of the defenders, provided some protection for Capt. Bailey and his men. A few men from Capt. William Jack’s company made it into the unfinished blockhouse and held that position for several hours. The fire of their flintlock rifles prevented Red Stick warriors from breaking through the south wall and closing in on the Mims house and bastion.
Another group of men, women and children made it into Samuel Mims’ large house, which stood near the center of the fort. Their fire kept back the warriors who stormed the east gate.
The Red Sticks on the north side of the fort tried again to storm the bastion but were driven back by heavy fire from Bailey and his men. Dr. Thomas G. Holmes, one of those fighting there, told historian Andrew J. Pickett three decades later later that the warriors came with “horrible contorsions & painted faces.” [i]
Their defenses thus reestablished in the west end of the fort, the survivors of the garrison continued to hold out. At the Mims house, in fact, they worked to improve their situation:
…About this time Mr. James Baily, Mr. Daniel Baily and some several others got up on the roof of Mimms’ large house placed in the center, knocked off some shingles which they used as port holes, where by the by from time to time kept up a deadly fire upon the Indians on the outside of the fort shooting over the pickets. After several rounds from this position, the Indians again made a violent attack upon the Bastion commanded by Capt. Baily and were again repulsed with much loss. [ii]
The battle raged for four hours as the men, women and children in the bastion, Mims house and blockhouse continued to fight. Dr. Holmes described how Mrs. Daniel Bailey and other women encouraged the men and helped by reloading weapons. They “acted with great heroism & bravery,” he told A.J. Pickett, “from 12 o’clock until 5 not a scream was heard.”
The determined resistance took a heavy toll on the attacking warriors and their enthusiasm diminished as as the day went on:
…The blood was shoe deep in the Bastion about 3 o’clock it was thought the Indians were whipped. They took a great deal of the baggage out of the additional part of the fort were were encamped the officers and suddenly retreated and went to the home of Mrs. O’Neal about 300 yards distant and for a short time appeared to be packing up with a disposition to be off. Suddenly a conspicuous Indian warrior supposed to be William Weatherford dashed up on a horse and appeared to be haranguing them for about 30 minutes, when their baggage was suddenly laid down, and they returned with a rush yelling & screaming like perfect demons. When they again charged the Bastion such was the horrible appearance that it required all the nerve of the soldiers to meet them, but the inmates of the bastion poured upon them a deadly fire – again & again they charged untill about 4 o’clock they quit all further assaults upon the Bastion. [iii]
From his position in the bastion, Dr. Holmes could see some of the vivid scenes taking place western end of the fort. He recalled how a man from Capt. Jack’s company climbed to the top of the half-finished blockhouse and fired time after time at the surrounding warriors. He was not the only soldier holding the blockhouse, but his position made him visible to those in the bastion.
A carefully aimed Red Stick shot finally brought the man down and the blockhouse fell not long after. Located at the southwest corner of the fort, it proved to be the key to the battle:
……After his death the Indians succeeded in cutting the pickets on the south side of the fort covered by two large houses represented in the drawing as a kitchen and smoke house, & succeeded in communicating fire to both of these houses when the conflagration raged in the houses the wind sprang up and communicated the fire to the large building of Saml. Mimms in the centre – then it was that horror and dismay was to be seen in every face within the fort – even that brave & worthy soldier Capt. Dixon Baily was heard to give up – that his large family was all to be butchered by the savages. There was no alternative left. [iii]
Many bodies were burned to death in the Mims house, but at least a few survivors made it out and fled into the bastion. The destruction of the house and other interior structures, however, exposed Capt. Bailey and those with him to a galling fire from the Red Sticks who now had control of the rest of the fort. All of the defenders still alive realized that unless they could escape, their deaths were at hand.
Dr. Holmes used an ax to chop nearly through two of the upright logs of the bastion stockade and, when he knew that all hope was gone, Capt. Bailey approved a desperate attempt to get out of the fort and make for the surrounding wood:
…The pickets previously cut by Dr. Holmes were thrown down, when the hon. Dixon Baily ordered his negro man Tom to take up his favorite son, Ralph 14 years old who had long been sick, and carry him on his back. The negro in obedience to the order of his master forthwith went out of the fort through the pickets followed by his master with his unceasing rifle in hand and followed by his intimate friend Dr. Holmes & the most rapid flight took place. Soon after passing the northwest corner of the fort 150 attempted to cut off their retreat where by the by as they ran Capt. B. gave them a fire from his rifle and Dr. Holmes from both barrels of his gun. Baily had boiled his bullets in oil with the buck skin patch sewed over them to make them go down easy. So far this informant Dr. Holmes knows not how the others escaped after he left but presumes by the same breach in the wall. [iv]
Dr. Holmes helped an African-American woman named Hester get through the wall. She was shot in the arm but with his help reached the woods. She then swam both the Alabama and Tombigbee Rivers to reach the military post at Fort Stoddert and Mount Vernon and deliver the first news that Fort Mims had fallen.
The doctor escaped with his life but Capt. Bailey was not so fortunate. The captain made it to the woods but was so badly wounded that he died there a short time later. His wife and two children also died. Tom helped little Ralph Bailey get out alive but later in the day decided went back to the fort in the hope that the Creeks would grant him freedom. They spared man’s life but killed Ralph with a blow from a war club.
Others escaped from the fort at about the same time. Some of these individuals survived. Others were found and killed or soon died from their wounds. The Red Sticks also took a number of prisoners alive, among them women, children and slaves of both sexes. Although he did not mention them in his account, several African-Americans claimed by Dr. Holmes survived in this manner.
The Battle for Fort Mims was over and news of its death toll would soon shock the nation. The fight lasted roughly six hours but its outcome would change the future of the United States for centuries to come.
This series will conclude tomorrow with a closer look at the casualties and survivors of the fort.
The annual living history event and reenactment at Fort Mims will take place on Saturday and Sunday (August 25-26). Please visit www.fortmims.org for more information. The historic site is at 1813 Fort Mims Rd., Tensaw, Alabama. The map at the bottom of this page will help you find it.
To learn more, please watch Two Egg TV ‘s free documentary Battle for Fort Mims on Amazon Prime Video using either your smart tv or streaming device. Or just watch it here by clicking the image below. You do not have to be an Amazon Prime member to watch: