Eyewitnesses to Disaster
by Dale Cox
British military commanders expected their Gulf Coast Campaign to be a crowning achievement of the War of 1812. The objective, pure and simple, was conquest.
Treaty negotiations with the Americans were underway in Ghent, Belgium, and the King’s diplomats expected the anticipated peace would include an agreement that each side should maintain the lands it possessed on ratification. Having defended Canada and burned Washington, D.C., the British now concentrated on seizing and holding as much territory as possible.
The three-pronged plan was simple:
- The primary British army under Maj. Gen. Sir Edward Pakenham, the brother-in-law of the Duke of Wellington, was to land in Louisiana, take New Orleans and drive up the Mississippi River.
- A second force under Admiral Sir George Cockburn would seize Cumberland Island and St. Marys on the Georgia coast and then turn up the seaboard to Savannah.
- A third army led by Lt. Col. Edward Nicolls would include British troops, Maroons (escaped slaves) organized and trained as a battalion of Colonial Marines and thousands of Seminole and Creek warriors. They were to advance from the Apalachicola River in Florida and strike against the George frontier, helping Cockburn to overwhelm the entire state.
Believing that Pakenham and his “heroes of Waterloo” would easily sweep aside American resistance and take New Orleans, the British decided to achieve a maximum diplomatic effect by inviting a group of important Seminole, Miccosukee and Red Stick Creek chiefs to witness the victory. Seeing the power of the Red Coat army on the move would inspire them to bring even more warriors into the coming campaign against Georgia.
The importance of this initiative was demonstrated in early December 1814 when Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane arrived in person at the mouth of the Apalachicola River.
His flagship, HMS Tonnant, was so big that it could not enter Apalachicola Bay. An 80-gun ship of the line, she was captured from the French at the Battle of the Nile in 1798. The ship dropped anchor in deep water well off East Pass and smaller vessels were sent into the bay to invite a group of important Native American leaders to come out and dine with the Admiral.
Among these were the Prophet Josiah Francis, leader of the Red Stick movement that shook the Creek Nation in 1812-1814; Peter McQueen, another important Red Stick; Thomas Perryman, principal chief of the Seminoles, and Cappachimico (sometimes called Kenhajo or Kinhache), principal chief of the Miccosukees. [I]
The Seminoles, Miccosukees and Red Sticks were important allies of the British, but not all of Cochrane’s officers were impressed. Fleet Captain and executive officer Edward Codrington, for example, took a distinctly superior attitude to their Native American guests:
…We had the
Its obvious racism aside, Codrington’s account does provide a fascinating description of an individual who likely was the Prophet Francis. U.S. reports from the Creek War of 1813-1814 mentioned that Red Stick prophets often wore the skins of dead birds on their heads. The British captain confirmed this:
…Some of them appeared in their own picturesque dresses at first, with the skin of a handsome plumed bird on the head and arms; the bird’s beak pointing down the forehead, the wings over the ears, and the tail down the poll. But they are now all in hats (some cocked, gold laced ones), and in jackets suck as are worn by the sergeants in the Guards, and they have the appearance of dressed-up apes. [III]
The chiefs agreed to accompany the British to New Orleans. Admiral Cochrane and others likely believed that the sight of Red Coat troops smashing the army of the American “hero of Horseshoe Bend” – Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson – would prove so impressive that all of the Southeastern nations would flock to their standard.
The chiefs were escorted by Lt. Col. Edward Nicolls of the Royal Marines on the voyage to the Louisiana coast. He brought them ashore to the British army camps and entertained them at his expense. [IV]
They were on hand as observers during the initial fighting between the British and Americans below New Orleans and witnessed Jackson’s stunning victory on January 8, 1815. One of those present – his name never given – later described the scene to Col. Benjamin Hawkins, the U.S. Agent for Indian Affairs:
An Indian I know a “Red Stick” Chief sent me word he was with the British in their battles against Jackson. “They were beaten in every battle by night and by day. Their large vessels could not come near the land. They sent their troops in barges who were attacked as they were landing, and at night after landing. He saw the decisive battle of the 8th. The Americans had double ditches which were not discovered till they got up to the first, the first who attempted to storm the works were driven back with great loss. A second attempt was made, which met a similar fate, when the Commander in Chief went forward with his best troops, who met a greater loss, he was killed and the next in command. The ground appeared to him covered with dead wounded and the British had many wounded who retreated in action or were carried off.” [V]
The chiefs and their interpreter, William Hambly, remained ashore in Louisiana until January 16 when they were taken aboard HMS Erebus for the trip back to the Apalachicola.
They reached Apalachicola Bay on January 25 and were sent up to the British Post at Prospect Bluff – later the “Negro Fort” – 20 miles above present-day Apalachicola:
I have the
The British did what they could to encourage the chiefs, but Jackson’s victory at New Orleans weighed heavily on their minds. William Hambly soon made his own peace with the Americans, as did William Perryman, the son of Seminole principal chief Thomas Perryman. Cappachimico verbally expressed his continued support of Great Britain, but kept most of his warriors close to their homes at Miccosukee in present-day Leon County, Florida.
To learn more about the Prophet Francis, Peter McQueen, the Red Stick movement and the Creek War of 1813-1814, please watch this free documentary:
To learn more about British efforts on the Apalachicola River, please see Dale Cox’s book Nicolls’ Outpost: A War of 1812 Fort at Chattahoochee, Florida and watch this documentary from TwoEgg.TV:
[I] Certificate of Lt. Col. Edward Nicolls, enclosed in D.E. Bartholomew to Sir Alexander Cochrane, February 6, 1815, Cochrane Papers, University of West Florida.
[II] Capt. Edward Codrington, letter dated Dec. 14, 1814, in Memoir of the Life of Admiral Sir Edward Codrington (Abridged Edition), page 239.
[IV] Certificate of Lt. Col. Edward Nicolls.
[V] Col. Benjamin Hawkins to Gov. Peter Early, February 12, 1815, Hargrett Rare Book & Manuscript Collection, University of Georgia Libraries.
[VI] D.E. Bartholomew to Sir Alexander Cochrane, February 6, 1815, Cochrane Papers, University of West Florida.