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Battle of Horseshoe Bend Part I

This is an excerpt from ALABAMA FOOTPRINTS: Confrontation (Story continued below)


The last and decisive engagement between the Creek Indians and the United States forces under General Andrew Jackson was fought at Horseshoe Bend in what is now Tallapoosa County on March 27, 1814.

For two months General Jackson had been increasing his forces and assembling supplies. The Red Sticks throughout the Nation rallied to a strong native defensive situation on the Tallapoosa River, known as Horseshoe Bend for a final stand. The Native Americans called it Cholocco Litabixee meaning a “horse’s flat foot.” The place had still another name, Tohope-ka, meaning a “wooden fence,” that is, “a fenced off place, a fort.”


Horseshoe Bend Marker (Alabama Department of Archives and History)

At Fort Strother on March 1, 1814 General Jackson had an effective force of 4,000 men. This force consisted of the Thirty-Ninth United States Infantry, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel John Williams, General Johnston’s brigade of West Tennesseans, General Dougherty’s brigade of East Tennesseans, and General Coffee’s mounted rifles with an indefinite number of Cherokees and friendly Creeks. A wagon road had been opened over the divide between the Tennessee River and the headwaters of the Coosa, so that now supplies came to the army in such quantities that full rations were issued regularly to the troops with a surplus of ten days or more ahead.

About two weeks prior to this time, General Jackson was informed by the Kailaidshl chiefs that the Yufaules, the Niuyakas, the Okfuskis, and the remnant of the Hillabees with many hostiles from other quarters, numbering 900 to 1,000, were concentrating in Horseshoe Bend, which they were fortifying and were resolved to defend it to the last. Menawa was their head chief.

With this information General Jackson decided to go down the Coosa River to some eligible point, and establish a new depot. Then he planned to march across the country and strike the Indian stronghold. The mouth of Cedar Creek was selected. Flat boats were constructed on which the supplies were placed, and on March 14, the boats in charge of the Thirty-Ninth Regiment, proceeded down the river. On the same day, after leaving 480 men under Colonel Steele to hold Fort Strother and keep open the communication with Tennessee, General Jackson crossed the river with his army, proceeded down the country, and on the 21st reached the mouth of Cedar Creek. He had to wait a day for the arrival of the boats.

In the meantime a depot was built near the mouth of the creek to which was given the name of Fort Williams in honor of the commander of the Thirty-Ninth Regiment. General Jackson garrisoned the place with a detachment of 400 men under Brigadier General Thomas Johnston, which was to serve as a reserve and to keep open the line of communication with Fort Strother.

The detachments at Fort Strother and Fort Williams, together with various other causes, had by this time reduced the army to about 2,400, in which were included General Coffee’s 900 mounted rifiemen. His artillery now consisted of two cannon, a new three-pounder, and his old six-pounder of Emuckfau and Enitachopco.

On the morning of March 24th , with eight days’ rations, General Jackson left Fort Williams and at nightfall on the 26th camped within five miles of Horseshoe Bend. Early the next morning, agreeably to General Jackson’s order, General Coffee, with 700 mounted men, and 600 Indian footmen, 500 Cherokees and 100 Creeks, all the Indians commanded by Colonel Gideon Morgan, crossed the Tallapoosa River at the Little Island ford three miles below the bend, and took possession of the river bank.

Meanwhile, General Jackson moved his army forward, and by 10 o’clock it was drawn up in line of battle in front of the Creek breastwork.


Horseshoe Bend (National Park Service)

No place on the Tallapoosa River was better adapted for the construction of an Indian stronghold than the Horseshoe, a name well descriptive of the locality. It was a peninsula formed by a bend of the river, about 100 acres in area.

Across the isthmus or neck of the peninsula, about 350 yards in extent, the Creeks had erected a rampart from 5 to 8 feet high, curving towards the center, composed of large logs laid upon each other. Two ranges of portholes were made in the rampart, which was so constructed that an army approaching it would be exposed to a double and cross fire from the enemy, who would be well protected on the inner side.

During the long time in which General Jackson was detained at Fort Strother, the Creeks were busy in constructing this massive stronghold, and from its peculiar structure, some historians have hinted that they must have had the assistance of some English engineer. There were but few trees on the high grounds within the enclosure. But along the declivity and along the flat bordering the river, extending from the terminus of the bend above to the terminus below, the large trees had been felled and so arranged that every fallen tree formed a breastwork, which connected with another fallen tree, thus making a continuous breastwork encircling the entire inner bend. At places in the bank of the river artificial caverns were made, from which concealed warriors could fire.

On the low grounds adjacent to the river and in the extreme southern part of the bend, or point of the Horseshoe, was the Creek village, known as Tohopeka, in which were several hundred women and children, and not far off, many canoes lined the river bank.


Horseshoe Bend National Park (National Park Service)

Largely ignorant of the overwhelming resources of the white man, encouraged and emboldened by their partial successes at Emuckfau and Enitachopco at driving General Jackson back to the Coosa River, and the day and night continual religious frenzy by the Red Stick prophets, it can well be seen that the Red Sticks did not believe that this stronghold could be taken. As the Native Americans were always provident and careful of their families in time of war, another evidence of the belief of the Creeks in the impregnability of the place is the fact that when they knew of the coming of the army, yet they did not remove their women and children to some other place where they would be beyond the reach of danger.

About half-past 10 o’clock General Jackson planted his cannon on a low hill about 80 yards from the nearest point of the breastwork and about 250 from the farthest and promptly opened fire upon its center. For two hours, in which 70 rounds were fired, the balls of the two cannon were hurled against the rampart, but they remained unshaken. The cannonading was accompanied at times with the firing of muskets and rifles whenever the Creeks were to be seen behind their breastwork.

During all this time, unaffected by the fire of the cannon and the small arms, the Creeks gave vent to derisive yells, and were assured of the victory by the prophets. The warriors with their faces painted black, their heads and shoulders decorated with feathers, waved their cow tails, jingled their bells, and danced.

In the meantime Gen. Coffee moved up the river, but bearing off for some distance. When about half a mile below, he heard the yells of the Creeks and supposed they were crossing from the village to attack him. He at once formed his men in line of battle and moved forward. When within a quarter of a mile of the village, the firing of Jackson’s cannon was heard. Acting according to a previous order, the Cherokees and friendly Creeks immediately rushed forward in good order, took possession of the river bank, and shot some fugitives in the river.

General Coffee now formed his men in line of battle against an attack from the Okfuskee village, some miles below, not knowing at the time that the Okfuskees were in the Bend. About 100 warriors with many women and children could now be seen. This sight, with the continual fire of Jackson’s cannon and small arms so aroused the Cherokees and friendly Creeks that some of them plunged into the river, swam across, and brought back a number of canoes. These were at once filled with warriors, rowed across, and landed under cover of the bank, and sent back for reinforcements. In this manner the Cherokees and the friendly Creeks crossed over. Captain Russell’s company of spies likewise crossed over.

The river bank was thus left unguarded, and General Coffee placed one-third of his men along around the bend, while two-thirds remained in line in the rear to protect against a possible attack from the Okfuskees.

The attack of the Cherokees and the friendly Creeks upon the rear of the Red Sticks was sufficient to announce to General Jackson that General Coffee had complete possession of the river bank, precluding all hope of escape in that quarter. It was now half past 12 o’clock, and he determined to carry the breastworks by storm, the entire length of which was lined with warriors. The soldiers, regulars, and militia were eager for the assault.

The word was given and the entire line sprang forward. For a few minutes a deadly struggle took place. The muzzles of the opposing guns often met in the same porthole. So close was the fire that afterwards many of the Creek bullets were found lodged and welded fast between the bayonets and barrels of the American muskets.

Major Lemuel Purnell Montgomery of the Thirty-Ninth Regiment was one of the first Americans to fall. He had just shot an Indian with his pistol through a porthole, when an instant after, he fell dead, his head pierced by a bullet coming from the same place.

The breastwork was at last in American possession and the battle now assumed a more deadly aspect.

Everywhere over the peninsula, from behind trees, logs, the tops of fallen timber, and caves in the river bank, from every place that could furnish protection or concealment, assailed by the Americans in front and by the friendly allies in the rear, the Creeks, now hopeless of victory, fought with all the fury of despair. They asked for no quarter and rejected it when offered. It was no longer a battle but a butchery.

Everyone that sought escape by swimming the river became a target for the deadly rifles of Coffee’s men. The few that reached the other shore were killed the instant they set foot on land. Bean’s company killed every man that approached the island, while Captain Hammond’s company was equally destructive at the extremity of the bend above. Many of the Creeks sought the heaps of brush on the west angle of their line of defense, where from their concealment they kept up a constant fire upon the Americans.

General Jackson wishing to save them from utter, destruction and to convince them of the hopelessness of a further struggle, now ordered his interpreter to advance with a flag under the protection of some trees within forty yards of the concealed Indians, and there deliver his talk. The interpreter acted according to instructions. He elevated his voice and spoke in the Native American tongue. He told them of the folly of further resistance, and that he was commanded by General Jackson to say that if they would surrender, they should be duly treated as prisoners of war.

The Creeks listened patiently to the talk of the interpreter, but they remained resolved, and it may be that in that same moment, they bitterly thought of the massacre of the Hillabees, and had no confidence in General Jackson’s word. After a few moments pause at the close of the talk, they responded by opening fire upon the flag, by which, whether intentional or otherwise, the interpreter was wounded.

After this, there was no alternative but utter annihilation. After some ineffectual efforts to dislodge them, fire was applied to the brush and thickets, which spreading in every direction drove the Creeks forth and the work of carnage went on.

The Creeks fought everywhere and were slain everywhere, on the high ground, in the caves and along the margin of the river. Night at last put an end to the day’s slaughter. The next morning saw the last of the butchery in the killing of sixteen Creeks who had been concealed under the river bank. Of these may be included a small party discovered in a cave in the river bank, and who refused to surrender. The soldiers finding it impossible to dislodge them, finally drove a series of long sharpened stakes deep in the earth along the bluff overlooking the cave. Exerting all their united strength they then pried off the immense mass of earth, which fell and buried the Creeks alive.

The American loss at the Horseshoe was 26 white men killed and 107 wounded. The Cherokees had 18 killed and 36 wounded; the friendly Creeks 5 killed and 11 wounded. The loss of the Red Sticks was fearful, 557 were found and counted on the field. General Coffee estimated that from 250 to 300 were killed in the river. Combining these figures will give at least 800 Creeks killed.

Three prophets were slain, one of these, Monohoe, was shot in the mouth by a cannonball. General Jackson in writing to Governor Blount four days after the battle, supposed it quite certain that not more than 30 Creeks escaped. Pickett, the Alabama historian, thought it safe to state that about 200 may have survived. Of the survivors was the great chief Menawa, who managed to escape in the darkness of the night. Of the women and children 370 were captured, and according to Buell, about 60 warriors, who were so badly wounded that they could neither fight nor run.

(Continued in Part II)

ALABAMA FOOTPRINTS Confrontation: Lost & Forgotten Stories (Volume 4

is a collection of lost and forgotten stories that reveals why and how the confrontation between the Native American population and settlers developed into the Creek-Indian War as well as stories of the bravery and heroism of participants from both sides.

Some stores include:

  • Tecumseh Causes Earthquake
  • Terrified Settlers Abandon Farms
  • Survivor Stories From Fort Mims Massacre
  • Hillabee Massacre
  • Threat of Starvation Men Turn To Mutiny
  • Red Eagle After The War

ALABAMA FOOTPRINTS Confrontation: Lost & Forgotten Stories (Volume 4) (Paperback)

List Price: $15.97
New From: $5.49 In Stock
Used from: Out of Stock
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ALABAMA FOOTPRINTS Confrontation: Lost & Forgotten Stories (Volume 4) (Paperback)

By (author):  Causey, Donna R
List Price: $15.97
New From: $5.49 In Stock
buy now

About Donna R Causey

Donna R. Causey, resident of Alabama, was a teacher in the public school system for twenty years. When she retired, Donna found time to focus on her lifetime passion for historical writing. She developed the websites www.alabamapioneers and www.daysgoneby.me All her books can be purchased at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. She has authored numerous genealogy books. RIBBON OF LOVE: A Novel Of Colonial America (TAPESTRY OF LOVE) is her first novel in the Tapestry of Love about her family where she uses actual characters, facts, dates and places to create a story about life as it might have happened in colonial Virginia. Faith and Courage: Tapestry of Love (Volume 2) is the second book and the third FreeHearts: A Novel of Colonial America (Book 3 in the Tapestry of Love Series) Discordance: The Cottinghams (Volume 1) is the continuation of the story. . For a complete list of books, visit Donna R Causey

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3 comments

  1. Great place to canoe!

  2. Haven’t been there in years

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