The Death of Capt. George Peters at Fort Gadsden, Florida
by Dale Cox
Few people stop to read the name George Peters on a cemetery monument at Historic Blakeley State Park in Spanish Fort, Alabama. No one is even really sure if he is buried there. His remains might still rest in the sandy soil of the Apalachicola National Forest, where he died just days after arriving at Fort Gadsden, Florida.
Peters died in obscurity, but he lived as a hero. An 1807 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, he stood alone in the face of a determined Native American attack at the Battle of Tippecanoe after every other soldier around him ran for safety.
The young officer was then a lieutenant in the 4th U.S. Infantry and commanded the front guard of William Henry Harrison’s army as it pitched camp near the town of the Shawnee Prophet Tenskwatawa at Tippecanoe Creek in Indiana on the night of November 6, 1811. Peters was forming his men at 4 a.m. the next morning when a sentry suddenly fired a single warning shot. Hundreds of warriors responded with a barrage of bullets and arrows:
…My Guard ran (in spite of my exertions to detain them) some even leaving their Arms behind. Thus finding myself alone I seized a Rifle & Slipping behind a Tree waited the approach of the terrible enemy. I had Scarcely taken my post when an Indian flash’d his piece at me within the distance of a rod –his rifle missing fire perhaps saved my life. I then thought it time to discharge my Rifle at my antagonist & make Tracks for my own Safety. The balls & arrows were whistling past me as I ran to the Camp. [I]
The warriors of Prophet’s Town, infuriated that Harrison had marched an army to their town in a time of peace, stormed into the center of the camp and came close to overwhelming the future U.S. President’s entire army.
It was then that Lt. Peters turned the tide of the battle by leading forward his company of the 4th Infantry. The unit marched from the rear through a mass of panicked and fleeing militia troops and charged in a desperate counterattack. Two other companies of the regiment were ordered forward to join the 22 year old lieutenant’s attack.
A rifle ball passed through his thigh but Peters wrapped the wound with his handkerchief and continued to lead his men forward. The counterattack drove the warriors back from the center of the camp and reestablished Harrison’s front line. The battle then settled into a bloody stalemate that continued until morning. [II]
The courage of Lt. Peters on the battlefield at Tippecanoe changed the course of American history. By moving his company forward at a critical moment of the action, he created the opportunity for Harrison to order more troops forward and save the army. Had Peters not been on the field that morning, the Battle of Tippecanoe would likely have been remembered as “Harrison’s defeat.” The Prophet’s movement would have spread and the Midwest might still be Native American land today. And finally, William Henry Harrison almost certainly would never have become President of the United States.
Peters went on to serve in the War of 1812. He was captured at the fall of Detroit and spent several months as a prisoner of war before returning to service and fighting again at the Battle of Plattsburgh.
He was appointed captain in the 4th Battalion of the Corps of Artillery in the military reorganization that followed the War of 1812 and served with his battery in the First Seminole War. He was at Fort Gadsden on the Apalachicola River in April 1818 and took part in Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson’s capture of Pensacola and bombardment of Fort San Carlos de Barrancas near the end of the war.
Capt. Peters returned to command Fort Gadsden on October 29, 1819. One of his final reports dealt with the condition of the post:
…I have to make an unfavorable report of the state of the Fort and Garrison, the pickets enclosing the bastions are rotten, as are also the storehouses which compose the curtains of the Fort. The gun carriages are in a state of decay and consequently in our present situation we could make but a weak defense against an enemy assaulting by land with Artillery. [III]
Less than one month later, Capt Peters was dead. He lost his life not to the bullets or arrows of an enemy, but to the deadly fevers that ravaged the frontier posts of Fort Gadsden, Fort St. Marks and Fort Scott in 1819-1821:
I have to announce to you the death of Captain Geo. Peters of the Corps of Artillery. He died at Fort Gadsden on the 29th ult. [i.e. November] after a short and severe attack of inflammatory fever, which terminated in Typhus. [IV]
Maj. John Nicks, who commanded the three posts from his headquarters at Fort Scott, was himself suffering from such a bad fever that he could barely write the death announcement. [V]
Capt. George Peters was buried, at least initially, in the U.S. Army cemetery at Fort Gadsden. He was the highest ranking officer to lose his life at the post and there is speculation that the sole remaining brick crypt in the cemetery might mark his grave.
A monument to Peters was placed in later years at the cemetery of the now-vanished town of Blakeley, Alabama. It is unclear if his remains were actually moved there or if they still rest in the sandy soil at Fort Gadsden.
The cemetery at the site of Blakeley is now part of Historic Blakeley State Park just north of Spanish Fort, Alabama. This wonderful park area preserves the ruins of the lost town, important Native American sites and the earthworks and trenches left behind from one of the last major battles of the Civil War. Please click here to learn more.
The Fort Gadsden Cemetery – once incorrectly labeled the “renegade cemetery” by the State of Florida – is preserved by the U.S. Forest Service which protects the site of Fort Gadsden and the earlier British Post or “Negro Fort.” The park is 20 miles upriver from Apalachicola, Florida, but is temporarily closed while damage from Hurricane Michael is repaired, but will reopen in 2019. Please click here to learn more about the history of the site.
To learn more about Prospect Bluff, site of Fort Gadsden and the British Post/”Negro Fort,” just click the play buttons below to watch these free videos from TwoEgg.TV:
[I] Lt. George Peters, Account of Battle of Tippecanoe, included in
[III] Capt. George Peters to Maj Gen. Edmund P. Gaines, November 5, 1819, Adjutant General, Letters Received.
[IV] Maj. John Nicks to Maj. Gen. Edmund P. Gaines, December 4, 1819, Adjutant General, Letters Received.