This article concludes our special series marking the 205th anniversary of the Battle for Fort Mims. The annual living history event and reenactment takes place this Saturday and Sunday at the fort site in Tensaw, Alabama.
If you missed the first four posts in the series, read them here before continuing to today’s article:
by Dale Cox
The stories of the survivors of Fort Mims are told by families of the Tensaw area to this day.
Vicey McGirth, her niece Polly Jones and eight of their children were taken prisoner and carried to the Upper Creek town of Wewocau. They spent the war in captivity but survived. Susan Hatterway was taken prisoner after taking two children by the hand and telling them, “Let us go out and be killed together.” They were captured by Efau Tustenuggee of Atasi and also survived the war. Another woman, Betsy Hoven, spotted a loose horse wandering outside of the fort, leaped onto its back and galloped away. An African-American woman named Hester survived despite being shot in the arm as she fled. She swam the Alabama and Tombigbee Rivers to carry first news of the disaster to Fort Stoddert and Mount Vernon. There were others.
A number of men also escaped from the fort or nearby points: James Beale, Elemuel Bradford, Aaron Bradley, William R. Chambliss, Joseph Cook, Fletcher Cox, Abner Daniels, Peter Durant, Josiah Fletcher, Dr. Thomas G. Holmes, John Hoven, Richard Inman, William Jones, Samuel Mathews, Alexander Mims, David Mims, Joseph Mims, John Montjoy, A.J. Morris, Nehemiah Page, Joseph Perry, Peter Randon, Martin Rigdon, Samuel Smith, Socca, Edward Steadham, Jesse Steadham,William Stubblefield and others among them. Many were wounded and almost all lost family members.
How many of those inside the fort at the time of the attack actually survived will never be known, but the number is much higher than historical accounts sometimes indicate. Just as many of the defenders and their families died in moments of battlefield cruelty, others survived due to the mercy shown them by Red Stick chiefs and warriors. Efau Tustenuggee’s rescue of Susan Hatterway and the two children with her is a good example.
Nine days passed before anyone came to Fort Mims to bury the dead. That somber task finally fell to Capt. Uriah Blue of the 7th U.S. Infantry and Capt. Joseph P. Kennedy of the 1st Mississippi Regiment. Kennedy also served as his regiment’s major.
…Our little band marched from the landing in gloomy solitude to the Fort. The place presented an awful spectacle, and the tragical fate of our friends increased the horror of the scene. Our business was to find our friends and number the Dead. An awful and melancholy duty. At the East gate of the Stockade lay Indians, Negroes, men, women and children in one promiscuous ruin; within the Gate lay the Brave unfortunate Beasley, he was behind the same, and was killed, as was said, in attempting to shut it. On the left within the Stockade we found forty five men, women and children in one heap, they were stripped of their clothes without distinction of Age or sex, all were scalped, and the females of every age were most barbarously and Savage like butchered, in a manner which neither decency nor language can convey. Women pregnant were cut open and their childrens heads Tomahawked. This was supposed to be the fatal Spot where the few, who escaped the general Massacre, made their last efforts and perished in the attempt. [i]
The two officers and their small detachment disentangled the bodies and buried those that they could. In total they found “twenty Indians and two Chiefs, nine negroes, thirty children, ten infants, seventy one men and twenty nine women.” Although other sources report that the soldiers found 247 bodies of white and metis (or mixed race) men, women and children, the total number given in the initial report by Blue and Kennedy is 140. The nine African Americans they found were either slaves killed during the attack or maroons who joined the Red Stick force. The 22 Native Americans were probably Red Sticks, although some Muscogee joined the fort’s defenders. [ii]
The number of dead was much higher than the 140-149 located by burial party. The officers acknowledged that the ashes of the Mims’ house were “covered with human bones. the number and the persons who there perished could not be ascertained.” They also reported the “plains and woods around were covered with dead bodies, in some places thinly scattered, in others lying in heaps as the men happened to fall in flight, or in a body resisted to the last.” Undoubtedly many bodies were lost in the woods and never recovered. The total of 247 usually credited to Blue and Kennedy is probably more accurate than not.[iii]
A seldom used account written on behalf of the Prophet Francis, the “Old [Alabama] King” and a prophet named Mougceweiheche gives information on battle losses from the Red Stick perspective. The elderly trader James Walsh, a white man who joined the attack, interpreted a statement from the three Native American leaders before including an addendum of his own. Francis and the others reported that “499 of the enemies was slain, 243 negroes taken prisoner, 330 horses taken. 30 men was kill[ed] by the enemies, seven out of the 30 was killed by our own people by bad [conduct].” The number 499 given by the Red Sticks was remarkably close to the 550 given by white writers in many early accounts. [iv]
Not all of the 243 African-Americans were taken prisoner at Fort Mims. Red Sticks raided throughout the Tensaw area, burning many homes and carrying away any slaves that they found. Some were set free to become Red Sticks themselves, but many were killed at Holy Ground and other Upper Creek towns. A number of African-American men, women and children taken at or near Fort Mims were surrendered to Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson at Fort Jackson the following year.
The burial trenches prepared by the detachment under Captain Blue and Major Kennedy have not been found. Dr. Holmes recalled three decades after the battle that one of them was in front of the bastion, but how far in front of the bastion or whether by “front” he meant inside or outside of the fort is not known. Appropriate monuments at the fort site, however, include the names of the known participants of each side.
The Creek War of 1813-1814 grew from a civil war between the Red Sticks and the white faction of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. The fall of Fort Mims was a direct result of the unprovoked attack made on a Red Stick supply part by Mississippi Territory forces at the Battle of Burnt Corn Creek. Outraged Red Sticks stormed the fort in retaliation. Officials in the United States did not recognize the complicated nature of the conflict or the role their own troops had played in causing the disaster. Stunned by the loss of life, they ordered three American armies to invade Creek territory. The battles at Tallushatchee, Talladega, Holy Ground, Atasi, Calabee Creek, Emuckfau, Enotichopco and Horseshoe Bend followed. Thousands of people lost their lives and the surviving Red Sticks fled into Florida. The two sides continued to fight for decades to come as the Creek War merged with the War of 1812 which was followed by the three Seminole wars, the Creek War of 1836 and the tragic Muscogee and Seminole Trails of Tears.
Fort Mims is a state historic site today. Extensive archaeology has revealed the outline of much of the stockade as well as the locations of key structures. Tens of thousands of artifacts have been saved and preserved. The members of the Fort Mims Restoration Association have restored three sides of the stockade as well as the blockhouse. The restoration is offset slightly to protect archaeological remains of the original fort. The site is open to the public during daylight hours, 365 days per year.
The annual living history event and reenactments are this weekend (August 25-26) at the park. The address is 1813 Fort Mims Rd., Tensaw, Alabama. There will be reenactments of the Battles of Burnt Corn Creek and Fort Mims each day. Visitors can explore the fort, see a new short film about the battle, visit the living history encampments, explore the museum and other exhibits and enjoy lectures, music, a memorial service and more. See the map at the bottom of this page for directions.
To learn more, please visit www.fortmims.org.
For Two Egg TV‘s free documentary Battle for Fort Mims, visit Amazon Prime Video on your smart tv or streaming device. You do not need to be an Amazon Prime member to watch. If you prefer, you can watch it online for free by clicking this ad:
[i] Capt. Uriah Blue and Capt. Joseph P. Kennedy to Brig. Gen. Ferdinand L. Claiborne, September 9, 1813. Pickett Papers, Alabama Department of Archives and History.
[iv] Josiah Francis, the Old King and Mougceweiheche (translated by James Walsh) to Gov. Mateo Gonzales Manrique, August 1813, Papales de Cuba, University of Florida (edited for clarity).