REMARKABLE CANOE FIGHT–BATTLE OF HOLY GROUND– MARCH TO CAHABA OLD TOWNS.
Returning again to the seat of war, in the fork of the Tombigby and Alabama, it will be seen that Colonel William McGrew advanced in pursuit of a party of the enemy, with twenty-five mounted militia.
Oct. 4 1813: Coming upon them at Tallahatta, or Barshi Creek, a spirited action ensued. Colonel McGrew was killed, together with three of his company–the two Griffins and Edmund Miles–which put the remainder of the Americans to flight.
Oct. 12: General Flournoy, who had restricted the operations of Claiborne to those of a defensive character, now ordered the latter to advance with his army, for the purpose of defending the citizens while employed in gathering their crops; to drive the enemy from the frontiers, to follow them up to their contiguous towns, and to “kill, burn and destroy all their negroes, horses, cattle, and other property that cannot conveniently be brought to the depots.” General Flournoy, admitted, in the same order, that such usage was contrary to that of civilized nations, but stated that the conduct of Great Britain and the acts of her Indian allies fully justified it. On the same day that these instructions were received, Claiborne, at the head of Major Hind’s Mississippi dragoons, a part of the twelve month’s volunteers, and some companies of militia, marched from St. Stephens, crossed the Tombigby, and proceeded, by an indirect route, to the northern boundary, where Colonel McGrew had fallen.
Oct. 16 1813: He found the body of that officer, and those of the privates, and interred them with military honors. On the march small bodies of the enemy hovered around, but could not be brought into action. A picket of infantry was attacked from an ambuscade, and three of them wounded; but before Major Hinds, who was a little in the rear, could come up the assailants leaped down a precipice, and escaped the pursuit of Captain Foster’s detachment. Remaining two days at Fort Easley, upon Baker’s Bluff, Claiborne scoured the whole country with detachments. In these expeditions he had five of his men severely wounded, among whom was Capt. William Bradberry, who had acted so bravely at Burnt Corn. He was carried back to St. Stephens, and there died in great agony. Failing to bring the Indians to action, being convinced that they were in very inconsiderable force, and becoming destitute of subsistence, Claiborne marched to “Pine Levels,” in the neighborhood of some good farms, a mile east of the Tombigby.
Oct 20: From this point he sent spies to the Alabama. He also sent a despatch to Flournoy, requesting him to suffer all the disposable force to march immediately to the Creek country.*
* Claiborne’s MS. papers.
The Indians were everywhere committing depredations, in small parties, and occasionally some of the settlers were killed. Tandy Walker, Benjamin Foster and Evans, a colored man, had been despatched by the citizens of Fort Madison across the Alabama, in an eastern direction, as spies. Approaching the late battle ground at Burnt Corn they came upon a small camp of the enemy, upon whom they fired from a concealed position. The Indians fled with great precipitancy, while the spies seized some horses, plundered the camp, and retreated to Sisemore’s Ferry.
Nov. 5 1813: Here, late at night, while reposing in the cane, guns were fired upon them, and Evans was instantly killed. Walker escaped with a wound in the side and a broken arm, but the next day crossed the Alabama upon a cane raft and reached Fort Madison, where Foster, having already arrived, had reported his death.*
* Conversations with old settlers.
Captain Samuel Dale, having now sufficiently recovered from his wounds, obtained the consent of Colonel Carson, who had returned to Fort Madison, to drive these small parties of the enemy from the frontiers. Dale was joined by a detachment of thirty of Captain Jones ‘ Mississippi volunteers, under Lieutenant Montgomery, and forty Clarke county militia. Girard W. Creagh, the same who was attached to his company at Burnt Corn, was his lieutenant upon this occasion. This expedition marched in a northern direction, visiting the abandoned plantations, and frequently discovering old traces of Indians.
Nov. 11: Dale returned to the fort, and the next day marched southeastwardly towards Brazier’s Landing, now French’s, where an Indian negro, named Cesar, who was in company, had two canoes concealed in the cane. In these they crossed the Alabama at the close of the day, and bivouacked on the eastern bank. They were thinly clad, and the frost was severe.
Nov. 12: When the sun first made its appearance over the tall canes, Captain Dale put his command in motion and marched up the eastern bank, after having placed the canoes in charge of Jeremiah Austill, with six men, with orders to keep the boats parallel with those who marched on foot. Arriving opposite the farm of the late Dixon Bailey, who had heroically fallen at Fort Mims, as we have seen, Dale entered the boats, went over to the place, and discovered fresh signs of the mysterious foe, with whose habits he was so well acquainted. No sooner had he returned to his command on the eastern side than Austill discovered a canoe, occupied by Indians, descending the river, whom he immediately approached. They tacked about, paddled up the river, and disappeared in the thick cane, near the mouth of Randon’s Creek. A few minutes only elapsed before a heavy firing ensued, up the creek, where the expedition had encountered some savages on horseback– Captain Dale’s rifle, which unhorsed one of these Indians, having given the alarm. The yell was raised, and they made an attempt to charge; but the hot fire of the Americans compelled them to make a precipitate retreat, with one of their number killed and several severely wounded.
In the meantime, Austill had reached Randon’s plantation, with the canoes, a quarter of an hour in advance of the main party.* When they came up Dale ordered them to cross to the western side, as it was found impracticable to continue the route on the eastern, on account of the cane and thick vines. While the company of Captain Jones or Lieutenant Montgomery was being ferried over, Captain Dale, Jere Austill, Lieutenant Creagh, James Smith, John Elliott, a half-breed, Brady and six others occupied a position in a small field, between a sand bluff and the river, where, kindling a fire, they began to boil some beef and roast a few potatoes for their morning repast. When all the command had passed the river except these men, and immediately after the negro, Cesar, had returned, with the smaller canoe, the men from the western side gave the alarm that the Indians were rapidly descending upon those who occupied the little field. They sprang up from their hasty meal, retreated to the river side, and were partially screened from the enemy’s fire by a small bank. While in this perilous situation, hemmed in by the Indians and the river, their attention was directed to a large flat-bottomed canoe, containing eleven warriors. Naked, and painted in a variety of fantastic colors, while a panther-skin encircled the head of the Chief, and extended down his back, these Indians presented a picturesque and imposing appearance.
Nov. 12 1813: For some reason, those in the rear now retired, leaving Dale and his little party free to attack those in the canoe. The red voyagers, apparently unapprised of their danger, glided gently down the river, sitting erect, with their guns before them. Dale and his party immediately opened a fire upon them, which they promptly returned. Several rounds were afterwards exchanged, resulting, however, in but little injury, as the Indians now lay flat in the canoe, exposing nothing but their heads. At length, two of the latter, cautiously getting into the water, swam for the shore, above the field, holding their guns dry above their heads. They swam near the land, above the mouth of a stream, over whose muddy bottom Austill and Smith crossed with difficulty to pursue them. When near the Indians, the buckskin leggins of Austill, suspended by a band around his waist, fell about his feet from the weight of water in them, causing him to slip and be precipitated down the bluff. At that moment, a ball from Smith’s unerring rifle perforated the head of one of the Indians, who immediately turned over upon his back and then sunk. The other gained the bank and ascended it, keeping Smith off with his gun, which he pretended was charged. Austill, who had now gained the top of the bluff, pursued the Indian up the stream, when a gun was fired, the contents of which passed just over his head. Imagining himself among the enemy, and hesitating for a moment, the savage escaped. The fire proved to be from Lieutenant Creagh’s gun, who, in the thick cane, supposed Austill to be the warrior, in whose pursuit he was likewise engaged. While these things were rapidly transpiring, Dale ordered the large canoe to be manned on the opposite shore, and to be brought over to capture the Indians who were still in their canoe. Eight men sprang into it, but having approached near enough to see the number of fierce warriors still alive and ready to defend themselves to desperation, this cautious party rapidly paddled back to the western side. The exasperated Dale now proposed that some of his men should follow him in the small canoe, which was immediately acquiesced in. Dale leaped down the bank into the boat, and was followed by Smith and Austill. All the others were anxious to go, but it afforded room for no more. The noble Cesar paddled towards the Indians’ canoe, and, when within twenty yards of it, the three resolute Americans rose to give them a broadside; but only the gun of Smith fired, for the other two had unfortunately wet their priming. Caesar was ordered to paddle up, and to place his boat side by side with that of the warriors. Approaching within ten feet, the Chief, recognizing Dale, exclaimed, “Now for it Big Sam!” ** At the same instant, he presented his gun at Austill’s breast. That brave youth struck at him with an oar, which he dodged, and in return he brought down his rifle upon Austill’s head, just as the canoes came together. At that moment, the powerful arms of Smith and Dale raised their long rifles, which came down with deadly force, and felled the Chief to the bottom of the canoe–his blood and brains bespattering its sides. Such was the force of the blow inflicted by Dale, that his gun was broken near the lock. Seizing the heavy barrel, still left, he did great execution with it to the end of the combat. Austill, in a moment, engaged with the second warrior, and then with a third, both of whom he despatched with his clubbed rifle. Smith, too, was equally active, having knocked down two Indians. Cesar had by this time got the canoes close together, and held them with a mighty grasp, which enabled Dale, who was in the advance, and the others to maintain a firm footing by keeping their feet in both canoes. These brave men now mowed down the savages, amid the encouraging shouts of the men on both sides of the river, who had a full view of the deadly conflict. In the midst of this unparalleled strife, a lusty Indian struck Austill with a war-club, which felled him across the sides of the two boats, and, while prostrate, another had raised his club to dash out his brains, when Dale, by a timely blow, buried his heavy rifle barrel deep in the warrior’s skull. In the meantime, Austill recovered his feet, and, in a desperate scuffle with another savage, knocked him into the river with the club which he had wrested from him. The only word spoken during the fight was the exclamation of the Chief upon recognizing Dale, and the request of Caesar for Dale to make use of his bayonet and musket, which he handed to him. Having laid all the warriors low, these undaunted Americans began to cast them into the bright waters of the Alabama, their native stream, now to be their grave. Every time a savage was raised up from the bottom of the canoe by the head and heels and slung into the water, the Americans upon the banks sent up shouts, loud and long, as some slight revenge for the tragedy of Fort Mims. Just as the last body found its watery grave, a ball, shot by the Indians from the eastern side, struck one of the canoes, and was followed by other discharges, but without effect. After the fight had ended, eight athletic Indians were thrown out of the canoe. It will be recollected that there were eleven in the boat when first seen, and that two of them had swum ashore, and the other one Austill had knocked out before the conflict ended.him into the river with the club which he had wrested from him. The only word spoken during the fight was the exclamation of the Chief upon recognizing Dale, and the request of Caesar for Dale to make use of his bayonet and musket, which he handed to him. Having laid all the warriors low, these undaunted Americans began to cast them into the bright waters of the Alabama, their native stream, now to be their grave. Every time a savage was raised up from the bottom of the canoe by the head and heels and slung into the water, the Americans upon the banks sent up shouts, loud and long, as some slight revenge for the tragedy of Fort Mims. Just as the last body found its watery grave, a ball, shot by the Indians from the eastern side, struck one of the canoes, and was followed by other discharges, but without effect. After the fight had ended, eight athletic Indians were thrown out of the canoe. It will be recollected that there were eleven in the boat when first seen, and that two of them had swum ashore, and the other one Austill had knocked out before the conflict ended.
* Randon was a wealthy Indian countryman, who was massacred at Fort Mims. ** Dale had long been a trader among the Indians, and, on account of his prowess and large frame, was familiarly called by them “Big Sam.”
The Indian canoe presented a sight unusually revolting– several inches deep in savage blood, thickened with clods of brains and bunches of hair. In this sanguinary bark, and the one paddled by Caesar, the nine Americans who had been left on the eastern side were now conveyed across to the opposite bank, where the heroes received the warm congratulations of their companions, who exultingly surrounded them.
The expedition then marched up to Curnell’s Ferry, two miles distant, and, seeing no more of the enemy, and being out of provisions, returned that night to Fort Madison. It is remarkable that no one received the least injury, except Austill, whose head and arms were severely bruised.*
* Conversations with Colonel Girard W. Creagh, who witnessed the canoe fight, while standing in full view upon the eastern bank of the Alabama, and Colonel Jeremiah Austill, of Mobile, one of the heroes. Among the MS. papers of General Claiborne I also found the report of Captain R. Jones of the first regiment of Mississippi Volunteers, “canoe fight,” which fixes the date of that affair.
A short biographical sketch of these heroes may not be uninteresting, after a recital of their unsurpassed “hand-to-hand” fight, in the unsteady canoes, on the deep Alabama.
Jeremiah Austill was born near the Oconee Station, in Pendleton District, South Carolina, on the 10th August, 1794. His father, Captain Evan Austill, has already been mentioned, as one of those who boldly remained to defend Fort Madison, after it had been evacuated by Colonel Carson. His mother was the only sister of Colonel David Files, who died in this State in 1820. At the time of the canoe expedition Jere Austill was nineteen years of age, and weighed one hundred and seventy-five pounds, without any surplus flesh. He was bold, active and strong, and had been raised upon the Indian frontiers, having lived some time at the Agency, in the Cherokee nation. He is still a resident of Mobile, and is regarded as a respectable gentleman. Since the canoe fight, he has filled several important offices, and represented the people of Mobile in the legislature. His countenance is open and manly, his eyes keen and piercing, of a dark brown color, his form is erect, and his step elastic. Even now, at the age of fifty-six Colonel Austill is capable of being a very troublesome adversary in a desperate encounter, although one of the most peaceable and amiable men in the country, in the ordinary pursuits of life.
James Smith was a native of Georgia, of low stature, well set, weighed one hundred and sixty-five pounds, and was twentyfive years of age at the period of the canoe fight. He was a brave, daring, frontier man, and died in East Mississippi several years ago. He was a man of great prowess, and had killed several Indians in frontier expeditions. He was admired by every one for his courage, honesty, and willingness to defend his country, at all times and under all circumstances.
Captain Samuel Dale, of Irish extraction, was born in Rockbridge county, Virginia, in 1772. In 1775, his father moved to Glade Hollow, on the Clinch river, in the county of Washington, Virginia, and was actively engaged in the border warfare of that day. In 1784, he removed, with his family, to the vicinity of Greensborough, Georgia, where he purchased a farm, but, in a short time was compelled to take refuge in Carmichael’s Station, in consequence of the inroads of the Indians. Several desperate attempts were made to burn this fort, in one of which Captain Autcry was slain. About this time Mr. Dale and his wife died, leaving eight children. Samuel, the subject of this memoir, who was the oldest, placed the children upon the farm, and joined a company of troopers, raised by Captain Fosh, to watch the movements of the Creeks, which was soon after mustered into the federal service, and quartered on the Oconee, at a place called Fort Mathews. Towards the close of 1794, this troop had several engagements with the savages, in which Dale displayed those traits which so distinguished his subsequent career–vigilance, perseverance, energy, and dauntless courage. At Ocfuske, on the Chattahoochie, he slew two Indians. Soon after, having been elected colonel, and stationed at the head of a separate command at Fort Republic on the Apalache river in Georgia, he rendered efficient services, until the troops were disbanded. Then he became a trader among the Creeks and Cherokees, purchasing his goods in Savannah and exchanging them for cattle and ponies. He also acted in the capacity of guide to many parties emigrating to the Mississippi Territory. He finally established a trading-house in copartnership with a half-breed in what is now known as Jones county, Georgia, where he remained for some time. He was at Tookabatcha when Tecumseh appeared there, and assured Colonel Hawkins that the mission of that man would result in great evil unless his efforts were immediately counteracted; but the agent did not concur with him in that opinion. His bravery has been seen at Burnt Corn, and in the canoe fight. At the time of the latter Captain Dale weighed one hundred and ninety pounds, was over six feet high, possessed a large muscular frame, without any surplus flesh, and was in the prime of life.
June 15 1841: Although he will be mentioned hereafter, in connection with the Indian wars, we deem it proper, in further illustration of his character, to insert the following well-written obituary, published in the “Natchez Free Trader,” from the pen of John H. F. Claiborne, formerly a member of Congress from Mississippi, and the son of the general of that name, whose military services are now under review:
“I have not observed in your paper any notice of the death of our veteran friend, General Samuel Dale. He died at his residence, Daleville, Lauderdale county, on the 23d ult., with the fortitude of a soldier and the resignation of a Christian. On his dying bed he repeated, as I am informed, a request which he made last summer, that I should make a memoir of his life, most of the particulars of which I wrote down from his lips. I design visiting Lauderdale in a few weeks to obtain all the materials that remain. Few men have run a career so full of benevolent actions and of romantic adventure, and no man was ever better adapted to the country and the period in which he lived–that country the frontiers of Georgia, Florida and the (then) Mississippi Territory, embracing all the present State of Alabama — the period including nearly all that bloody interval between the close of the revolution and the termination of the last war. With the story of these times, the dreadful massacre at Fort Mims, the battle of the Holy Ground, General Jackson’s Seminole campaigns, and the earlier events of the Georgia frontier, General Dale was closely connected. The most affecting of those scenes of murder and conflagration are as yet unwritten, and live only in the fading memorials of border tradition. In preparing the life of General Dale, I shall seek to put many of them on record. As a scout, a pilot to the emigrants who blazed the first path through the Creek nation, from Georgia to the Tombigby, with arms in their hands, and subsequently as a spy among the Spaniards, at Pensacola, and as a partisan officer during the most sanguinary epochs of the late war, present at every butchery, remarkable for “hairbreadth ‘scapes,” for caution and coolness in desperate emergencies, for exhibitions of gigantic personal strength and great moral courage, his story is studded over with spirit-stirring incidents, unsurpassed by anything in legend or history. His celebrated ‘canoe fight,’ where, in the Alabama river, he, with Smith and Austill, fought nine warriors with clubbed rifles, killed them all, and rowed to shore, would be thought fabulous if it had not been witnessed by many soldiers standing upon the banks, who could render them no assistance. Some years before, he was attacked by two warriors, who shouted their war-whoop as he was kneeling down to drink and rushed upon him with their tomahawks. He knifed them both, and, though bleeding from five wounds, he retraced their trail nine miles, crept stealthily to their camp, brained three sleeping warriors and cut the thongs of a female prisoner who lay by their side. While in this act, however, a fourth sprang upon him from behind a log. Taken at such a disadvantage and exhausted by the loss of blood, he sank under the serpent-grasp of the savage, who, with a yell of triumph, drew his knife and in a few moments would have closed the contest. At that instant, however, the woman drove a tomahawk deep into the head of the Indian, and thus preserved the life of her deliverer.
“Shortly after the treaty of Dancing Rabbit, our deceased friend settled in what is now known as Lauderdale county; and it is worthy of remark, that at the first election, (1836, I believe) when he was chosen to the Legislature, but ten votes were cast. Now the county could probably poll 750, and in every direction its fleecy fields, its fine flourmills, its school-houses and churches indicate a thriving, enlightened and moral population.
“One anecdote of the old general is so similar to an event in Roman history that I cannot forbear relating it. The Consul Acquilius, returning from a campaign, was allowed a triumph, but shortly afterwards was arraigned for some misdemeanor committed during his foreign service. He called no exculpatory evidence, nor deigned to court the favor of his judges, but when about to receive sentence he tore open his vest and displayed the wounds he had received in the service of his country. A sudden emotion of pity seized the court, and unfixed the resolution which a few moments before they had taken to condemn the accused. Some time ago General Dale, being in Mobile, was held to bail as endorser upon a note. The debt was in the hands of a stranger. Accompanied by an officer, he sought the creditor, and found him in the saloon of Cullum’s far-famed hotel. ‘Sir,’ said the general, ‘I have no money to pay this debt. The principal has property– make him pay it, or let me go home and work it out.’ The Shylock hesitated. ‘Very well,’ said the veteran, in tones that rang indignantly through the apartment, ‘Very well, sir! Look at my scars! I will march to jail down Main Street, and all Mobile shall witness the treatment of an old soldier!’ These simple words fell like electricity upon that high-toned people. In half an hour, a dozen of the brightest names of the city were on the bond, and before morning the debt was paid, and a full discharge handed to the general. I have seen the manly tears chasing down his cheek, as the aged warrior dwelt on these recollections of the generous citizens. In person, General Dale was tall, erect, raw-boned and muscular. In many respects, physical and moral, he resembled his antagonists of the woods. He had the square forehead, the high cheek-bones, the compressed lips, and, in fact, the physiognomy of an Indian, relieved, however, by a fine, benevolent Saxon eye. Like the red man, too, his foot fell lightly upon the ground, and turned neither to the right or left; he was habitually taciturn; his face grave; he spoke slowly and in low tones, and seldom laughed. I observed of him what I have often noted as peculiar to border men of high attributes: he entertained the strongest attachment for the Indians, extolled their courage, their love of country, and many of their domestic qualities, and I have often seen the wretched remnant of the Choctaws camped around his plantation and subsisting on his crops. In peace, they felt for him the strongest veneration– he had been the friend both of Tecumseh and Weatherford — and in war the name of ‘Big Sam’ fell on the ear of the Seminole like that of Marius on the hordes of the Cimbri.”
Nov. 10 1813: Captain Dale, with a scouting party, had effectually scoured the swamps of Bassett’s Creek, and Major Hinds’ horse had routed a small body of the enemy near Weatherford’s Bluff, killig ten of their number, when an order from Flournoy permitted Claiborne to advance with the Southern army to the Alabama. His instructions confined him still to defensive operations, requiring him to establish a depot at Weatherford’s Bluff, and not to advance further into the Creek nation until he was joined by the Georgia and Tennessee troops. Claiborne accordingly broke up his camp at Pine Levels, marched across Clarke county with three hundred volunteers, the dragoons and some militia, flanked by detachments under Captains Kennedy and Bates and Lieutenant Osborne, and party of Choctaws, under Pushmatahaw and Mushullatubba.
Nov. 17 1818: Arriving at the Alabama, the army encamped for the night upon the western bank, and the next day at 12 o’clock had gained the other side by means of rafts. Colonel Gilbert C. Russell, an accomplished and gallant commander in the regular army, marched the third regiment of federal troops from Mount Vernon, through Nannahubba Island, by Mims’ Ferry, to the head of Little river, and thence to the encampment of Claiborne, with whom he had been instructed by General Flournoy to co-operate.
Nov. 28: In the meantime, Claiborne had made rapid progress in the construction of a strong stockade, two hundred feet square, defended by three block-houses and a half-moon battery, which commanded the river. Before the close of November it was completed, and received the name of Fort Claiborne, in honor of the commander. The town where it stood still bears his name. The general wrote to Jackson congratulating him upon his victories, and giving him an account of the operations in the southern seat of war, and acquainting him with the fact that an abundance of corn and other provisions were to be obtained in the neighborhood of Fort Claiborne.
Dec. 5: He also wrote to Governor Blount, apprising him of the arrival of more English vessels in Pensacola, and added that he wished “to God that he was authorized to take that sink of iniquity, the depot of tories and instigators of disturbances on the southern frontier.” He had a few days before despatched Major Kennedy and others to Mobile, to learn from Colonel Bowyer the particulars of the arrival of the British at Pensacola. They reported, giving satisfactory assurances that a large quantity of Indian supplies and many soldiers had arrived there; and, in addition, that the Indians were committing depredations in Baldwin county, having recently burned down Kennedy’s and Byrne’s mills.
Lieutenant-Colonel George Henry Nixon had succeeded Russell in the command at Mount Vernon.
Dec. 13 1812: At his request, Claiborne permitted him, also, to man Fort Pierce, in the neighborhood of the disturbances.*
* Colonel Nixon was born in Virginia, and, living some years in South Carolina, removed from thence in 1809, to the Mississippi Territory. He was among the first to offer his services in defence of his country. During the Creek war, Colonel Nixon, at the head of a considerable force, scoured the swamps of the Perdido and other streams, and frequently killed and captured Indians. After he had accomplished all he could, he marched to the head of the Perdido, where he divided his command. sending Major William Peacock, with the troops of the 39th, to the Boat Yard, on Lake Tensaw, while he marched the remainder of his command to Fort Claiborne. He was an excellent officer, and served in the war until its final conclusion. He was a member of the convention that formed the constitution of the State of Mississippi, and was, Afterwards, frequently a State Senator. He died in Perlington, Mississippi, in 1824. He was a large and fine-looking man, with fair complexion, and was very popular.
Dec. 13: Claiborne, having determined to advance to the enemy’s stronghold, the line of march was taken up by an army consisting of Colonel Russell’s third regiment, Major Cassels’ battalion of horse, a battalion of militia, under Major Benjamin Smoot — Patrick May being adjutant, Dale and Heard captains, and Girard W. Creagh one of the lieutenants — the twelve months’ Mississippi Volunteers, under Colonel Carson, and one hundred and fifty Choctaws, under Pushmatahaw numbering, in the aggregate, near one thousand men. A few days before, nine captains, eight lieutenants, and five ensigns, signed a remonstrance, in respectful language, against the march to the nation, and presented it to the general. They set forth that the time of service of many would soon expire, that the weather was cold, that they were too scantily supplied with clothing and food for such a campaign, and that the route to the enemy?s towns was entirely a pathless one; but they stated their willingness to obey, if Claiborne should resolve to proceed.
Dec. 1813: Claiborne moved in a northeastern direction, until he reached the high lands south of Double Swamp, at the distance of eighty miles, where he built a depot, called Fort Deposite, situated in the present county of Butler, and where he left the wagons, cannon, baggage and the sick, with one hundred men, as a guard. Thirty miles further brought him into the immediate neighborhood of the Holy Ground, which had been reached without the aid of a single path. The pork being exhausted, the troops were in a suffering condition, for they had only drawn, when leaving Fort Deposite, three days’ allowance of flour. Econachaca (Holy Ground) had recently been erected by Weatherford, the prophets having assured the Indians that here no white man could approach without instant destruction. It was strongly fortified in the Indian manner, and had for some months formed a point to which those who had been routed in battle retreated, and where a great amount of plunder had been stored. It was situated upon a bluff, on the eastern side of the Alabama river, just below the present Powell’s Ferry, in the county of Lowndes. Here many of the white prisoners and friendly Indians were burned to death, by order of the prophets, and when Claiborne was almost within sight of the town with his advancing army, Mrs. Sophia Durant and many other friendly half-breeds were mustered in the square and surrounded by lightwood fires, designed to consume them.
Dec. 23 1813: The troops advanced toward the town in three columns, the centre commanded by Colonel Russell, at the head of which was Claiborne himself, Lester’s guards and Wells’ dragoons acting as a corps of reserve.
At noon Carson’s right column came in view of the town, and was vigorously attacked by the enemy, who had chosen their field of action. The town was nearly surrounded with swamps and deep ravines, so that the enemy, who afterwards retreated, could not be successfully pursued. Major Cassels, who had been directed to form his battalion of horse on the river bank, west of the town, failing to effect such a movement, fell back on the head of Carson’s regiment, who, however, advanced and took his position. The third regiment, coming up in gallant style, did its duty. Major Smoot assumed his position in a proper manner, and all would have been right if Cassels’ cavalry had not failed to obey orders, thereby permitting hundreds of the enemy to escape along the Alabama river, by the western border of the town. The Indians, headed by Weatherford, for a short time fought with considerable fury, but afterwards fled with great rapidity. The short engagement resulted in the death of thirty Indians and negroes, whose bodies were afterwards counted upon the field. Many must have been severely wounded. Lucket, an American ensign, was killed, and twenty men were wounded.
Several hours before the battle began the Indian women and children had been conveyed across the river, and were securely lodged in the thick forests of the region now familiarly known as the Dutch Bend of Autauga county. Here the retreating warriors, some of whom came over in boats, while others swam, joined them.
Dec. 23 1813: Weatherford, seeing that his forces had deserted him, now pushed hard for his own safety. Coursing with great rapidity along the banks of the Alabama, below the town, on a gray steed of unsurpassed strength and fleetness — which he had purchased a short time before the commencement of hostilities of Benjamin Baldwin, late of Macon county — came at length to the termination of a kind of ravine, where there was a perpendicular bluff ten or fifteen feet above the surface of the river. Over this, with a mighty bound, the horse pitched with the gallant Chief, and both went out of sight beneath the waves. Presently they rose again, the rider having hold of the mane with one hand and his rifle firmly grasped in the other. Regaining his saddle the noble animal swam with him to the Autauga side.*
* Extravagant tales have often been told of Weatherford’s leap, and a bluff at or near the site of the Holy Ground town, which is probably eighty or a hundred feet high, is often pointed out as the one over which he charged. The account I have given is Weatherford’s own statement of the affair.
Dec. 24 1813: Claiborne reduced the town of the Holy Ground to ashes. He then despatched the cavalry to Ward’s place up the river, who, before reaching there, fell in with three Shawnees of distinction, retreating from the battle, whom they killed. The firing being heard at the camp, Claiborne struck his tents and marched in that direction during the night. Encamping at Weatherford’s place in an open field, the cold rains descended in torrents upon the troops, and Christmas morning found them engaged in parching corn for breakfast, which was the only thing left to eat.
Dec. 26: After destroying some houses and farms, the army marched back to Fort Deposite, and from thence to Fort Clalborne, where, the term of service of Carson’s Mississippi volunteers and cavalry having expired, they were mustered out of service.
Jan. 1 1814: Colonel Russell, now left in sole command of Fort Claiborne, preferred charges against Major Cassels for disobedience of orders at the Holy Ground, and a court of inquiry, composed of Captain Woodruff, president, Captain J. E.Denkins and Lieutenant H. Chotard, decided that Sam McNac, the guide, was chiefly to blame for the failure of Cassels to occupy the position which had been assigned him. Another court of inquiry, composed of Colonel Carson and Lieutenant Wilcox, decided that the contractor of the army was solely to blame for the perishing condition of the expedition, as General Claiborne had given him ample instructions to furnish abundant supplies. The command had been entirely without meat for nine days.
Jan. 24: General Claiborne wrote to the Secretary of War, from Mount Vernon, that he had been left with but sixty men, whose time lacked only a month of expiring; that his other volunteers, who had been disbanded, had gone home naked and without shoes, with eight months pay due them; and that his army, being thus broken up, he intended to return home as soon as he received permission from General Flournoy.*
* Claiborne’s MS. papers. Conversations with the late Colonel Creagh, General Patrick May of Greene, and others.
Feb. 1: Having planned an expedition against the enemy, Colonel Russell despatched Captain Denkins up the Alabama from Fort Claiborne in command of a barge, laden with provisions, and defended by a piece of artillery, with instructions to enter the Cahawba river, and to ascend it to the “Old Towns,” where his army would shortly join him. Afterwards, marching the larger portion of his regiment to the cross-roads, in Clarke county, four miles north of the present Sugsville, he was there joined by a company commanded by Captain Evan Austill and Lieutenant G. W. Creagh, and Captain Foster’s horse company, both under the command of Major Samuel Dale. Leaving this place, with six days rations, Colonel Russell reached the Cahawba Old Towns, where he was mortified to find that Captain Denkins had not arrived — nor had he encountered, on the way, a solitary Indian. Despatching Lieutenant Wilcox in a canoe, with five men, with directions to find Denkins and hasten him on, that officer proceeded down the Cahawba, upset his boat the first night, wet his ammunition, and lost two of his guns. Recovering the canoe, however, and proceeding down the river, lying by in the cane in the day time, he was, in the evening of the second day, fired upon by a party of Indians. The two Wilsons, who belonged to this expedition, made their escape, and reached the lower settlements many days after, in a starving condition. One of them, Mathew, was found by Hais Rodgers, on the ridge road of Clarke. Lieutenant Wilcox and the other three were made prisoners by the Indians, who proceeded with them down the Cahawba, into the Alabama. In the meantime, Denkins, unfortunately passing the mouth of the Cahawba by mistake, had ascended some distance up the Alabama, and was now returning to Fort Claiborne, knowing that the army could not wait for him, but would return to that place likewise. The Indians, going down the river also, descried the barge, and fearing to lose their prisoners, tomahawked and scalped Wilcox and his three companions, leaving them in their canoe. When the canoe and the barge came together Wilcox was still alive, but too far gone to give any account of the particulars of his capture, or of Russell’s expedition. The body of this gallant young officer, being found upon the Alabama, where it meanders through the region between Canton and Prairie Bluff, the legislature appropriately preserved his memory, by giving the county his name.
Feb. 1814: Colonel Russell remained two days at the Cahawba Old Towns, in which time one of his men was killed by some skulking savages. Despairing of the arrival of the barge, he began the return march, without any provisions; and setting the example himself, in having his best horse killed for subsistence, twelve animals of that kind were devoured by the perishing troops. At Bradford’s Pond they were timely relieved by wagons, laden with abundant provisions, and arriving again at the cross-roads, were disbanded, the regulars marching to Fort Claiborne.*
* Conversations with Colonel Girard W. Creagh, late of Clarke county. _________________________________________________________________