Battle of Horseshoe Bend - In Depth
ExploreSouthernHistory.com - Battle of Horseshoe Bend, Alabama
by Dale Cox
On March 27, 1814, U.S. troops under the command of Major General Andrew Jackson of Tennessee stormed the
fortifications of the Creek Indian village of Tohopeka in Alabama. When the bloody Battle of Horseshoe Bend was
over, more than 900 Creek warriors lay dead and the first step had been taken on a journey that would culminate in
the "Trail of Tears" for the Creek or Muscogee Nation.
Events leading up to Horseshoe Bend began the previous summer. Irate over an attack on one of their supply trains at
Burnt Corn Creek by militiamen from the Mississippi Territory, a large force of "Red Stick" Creek warriors attacked and
destroyed Fort Mims north of Mobile, Alabama. When the attack ended, at least 250 men, women and children lay
dead. Fort Mims resulted in an uproar across the white settlements of the American South and armies soon closed in
on the Creeks from three directions.
The primary of these, marching south from Tennessee under a hard-fighting general named Andrew Jackson,
suffered severely from food shortages and other hardships while fighting four severe battles with the Creeks and
establishing a chain of forts. Once before, Jackson had approached the Horseshoe Bend, only to fall back in the face
of devastating attacks from Creek Warriors.
Reinforced by the U.S. 39th Infantry, he marched southeast from Fort Williams (near today's Childersburg, Alabama)
and arrived near Horseshoe Bend for a second time on the evening of March 26, 1814.
Sending a large portion of his army across the Tallapoosa River to take up positions on the opposite bank
surrounding the large bend which gave the battlefield its name, Jackson moved against the fortifications or
"barricade" of the Tohopeka village early on the morning of the 27th.
Placing two pieces of artillery on a small hill overlooking the fortification, Jackson opened a bombardment of the
works hoping to create a breach through which his troops could pass. The wall, however, was so strongly constructed
that his field guns had little impact on either it or the army of Creek warriors who used it as a defense. Motivated by the
exhortations of their prophets, the Creeks - led by the famed chief Menawa - challenged the soldiers and prepared for
an intense battle.
As this impasse developed along the main lines, a portion of the troops sent to the opposite bank of the Tallapoosa
took action that ultimately decided the battle. Commanded by General John Coffee, several hundred U.S.-allied
Cherokee warriors, along with some Tennessee riflemen, swam the river to the Creek village and secured a number
of canoes. Using them to ferry men across the river, they set fire to the village at the foot of the bend and opened fire
on the Creek army from the rear.
Taking advantage of the diversion, Jackson ordered the 39th Infantry to storm the barricade. The fighting was intense.
Major Lemuel Montgomery (for whom the city of Montgomery was later named) was killed, but his soldiers stormed
the works and poured into the Creek warriors beyond. Among the soldiers wounded in the act was Ensign Sam
Houston, later destined to become famed for his role in securing the independence of Texas from Mexico.
The battle now turned into a bloodbath. Realizing that they were fighting for the independence and future of their
people, the Creek warriors refused to surrender and literally fought to the last man. Although a few managed to
escape during the next night, including Menewa who swam the river and slipped away despite his severe wounds,
virtually the entire Creek force was killed in the fighting. More than 800 warriors died in the Battle of Horseshoe Bend.
U.S. casualties were heavy as well. Jackson later reported that his command suffered 49 killed and 154 wounded,
many of whom later died. The results, however, were stunning. The Battle of Horseshoe Bend broke the back of the
Muscogee Nation, forcing an end to the Creek War of 1813-1814. Jackson's army swept on into the very heart of the
nation, accepting the surrender of many of the principal Creek leaders. He forced upon them the Treaty of Fort
Jackson, by which he agreed to end the war in exchange for the transfer of 20,000,000 acres of land. Most of the
modern state of Alabama and part of Georgia were included in the cession.
After Horseshoe Bend, the Creeks were surrounded by white settlers and twenty years later were forced to give up the
rest of their lands in Alabama and relocate to new homes west of the Mississippi in what is now Oklahoma. The long
and deadly journey became known as the "Trail of Tears." Jackson went on to defeat the British ten months later at the
Battle of New Orleans, becoming a legendary American hero and ultimately President of the United States.
At Horseshoe Bend, the armies of two nations fought with courage and determination, knowing that the future was
being decided. Their sacrifices are remembered today at Horseshoe Bend National Military Park in Daviston,
|Copyright 2011 by Dale Cox
All rights reserved.