Friday, August 30, 2013

200th Anniversary of the Fall of Fort Mims

Fort Mims State Historic Site
200 years ago today, Red Stick warriors stormed Fort Mims, a log stockade in the Tensaw settlement north of Mobile, Alabama. It was one of the most overwhelming victories ever achieved by American Indian warriors in battle with white soldiers and civilians.

To read about the events leading up to the attack, please see yesterday's post Fort Mims 200th Anniversary - The Night before the Attack.

The morning of August 30, 1813, found the inhabitants of Fort Mims gathered inside their stockade near Boatyard Lake in what is now Baldwin County, Alabama. It was a hot day and conditions inside the fort were overcrowded, filthy and unpleasant. Security was so lax that the main gate of the fort stood wide open and one of its occupants even went to a building outside the walls and fell asleep in the hay.

Diagram of Fort Mims
Click to Enlarge
The exact time of the attack has been given as 10 a.m., 11 a.m. and 12 noon (people in those days set their watches to the clocks in their hometowns). The sentry was watching some other men play cards when the Red Stick prophets, chiefs and warriors came up from their hiding places in shallow ravines near the fort and began to silently run at full speed for the open gate. When finally noticed, they were only 30 steps away.

The sentry fired a shot and ran into the stockade, his alarm igniting war cries from the throats of hundreds of Creek warriors. Major Daniel Beasley, the Mississippi Territorial Militia officer in command of the fort, rushed forward to try to close the gate but was shot in the stomach before he could do so. The Red Sticks poured through the opening and quickly overwhelmed the militia soldiers encamped just inside to seize control of an interior wall that still divided the fort. It had been expanded to make more room but the old wall had never been taken down.

Meanwhile, other warriors stormed the just finished blockhouse at the other end of the fort and columns attacked from other directions to seize control of the loopholes of the walls. In short, the walls of Fort Mims suddenly benefited the attackers more than they did the defenders. Because the loopholes had been made so close to the ground, the attacking force was able to use them just as effectively - if not more so - than the men inside the fort.

A desperate fight now took place for control of the stockade. As William Weatherford and other Red Stick chiefs and warriors seized control of the walls, the lesser Red Stick prophet Paddy Walsh began to run around the walls of the stockade three times to encourage the men in the attacking force by showing them that he could not be killed by the American bullets. He survived his run, but was struck by a bullet and injured on his third loop around the fort.

Artist's Rendering of Fort Mims Massacre
One group of the defenders attacked the Red Sticks who had occupied the blockhouse and finally drove them back, but it was too little too late. The open gate had given the Red Sticks the advantage they needed and as the afternoon wore on, they exploited it. One by one the defenders of the fort fell.

As the Red Sticks expanded their control of the walls, the defenders were driven back into an area they called the "bastion" (a projection on the north side of the fort). Some used axes to chop almost completely through the logs of the wall so they could break free and try to escape when it appeared that all was lost. Many women and children took shelter in the home of Samuel Mims, which stood in the center of the fort, and Captain Dixon Bailey and the survivors of his company of mestizo Creeks (mestizo means they were of both Creek and white ancestry) knocked out some sections of the roof of the house so they could fire down into the mass of warriors pouring into the fort.

The kitchen of the fort caught fire and the flames soon roared upwards and began to spread to other buildings. Seeing that all was lost, a small group of people broke out through the wall where they had cut away the logs and tried to run for it. Only a handful made it, several of them wounded.

It was later reported that as the home of Samuel Mims burned to the ground - the women, children and wounded trapped inside - blood-covered warriors danced in celebration around to the sounds of their screams.

Monument at Fort Mims
To this day, no one knows how many people died at Fort Mims. Estimates of the total loss to the defenders in men, women and children range from 250 to more than 550. A burial party that came to the ruins of the fort after the battle found the bodies of around 250 men, women and children, but also reported finding the bodies of 100 "Indians."  It is unclear from the report, whether the "Indians" found by the burial detail were Red Sticks or the mestizos who had come to the fort with Captain Bailey. The latter seems probable and if so, then the total loss was probably somewhere around 350 people killed.

Red Stick losses are impossible to estimate. Some accounts suggested that 100 or fewer were killed. Others placed the total loss they suffered at 300 or more.  In truth, no one knew for sure then nor do they know for sure now.

I will post on the magnitude of the disaster and what happened next as we continue to mark the 200th anniversary of the fall of the fort this weekend. If you are interested in attending the reenactments and other commemorative events planned at Fort Mims State Historic Site, they will continue throughout the weekend. Please click here for a detailed schedule and directions to the park: Fort Mims 200th Anniversary Schedule of Events.

To read more about Fort Mims State Historic Site, please visit

Friday marks 200th Anniversary of Fort Mims attack

Today (August 30, 2013) marks the 200th anniversary of the attack on Fort Mims, Alabama, by Red Stick warriors during the Creek War of 1813-1814.

To learn more about the attack, please visit

A full weekend of commemorative events is planned at Fort Mims State Historic Site.

Here is the full schedule for the weekend, including times of the reenactments that are scheduled for today, Saturday and Sunday.


200th Anniversary of Fort Mims

Friday, August 30th

8:00 a.m.     Gates Open
8:30 a.m.     Mules and wagons begin shuttle services.
9:00 a.m.     Music, demonstrations and crafts begin.
10:00 a.m.   Flag raising, memorial and dedication services.
1:00 p.m.     Activities, craftsmen, food, music and more.
3:00 p.m.     Events close for the day.

Saturday, August 31st

9:00 a.m.     Gates open, wagons rolling, demonstrations and more.
10:00 a.m.    Flag Raising and Pledge of Allegiance
12 noon     Speakers discuss the Tensaw Country and Fort Mims
3:00 p.m.     Events close fot he day.

Sunday, September 1st

9:00 a.m.     Gates open, crafts and demonstrations begin.
9:30 a.m.     Flag Raising and Pledge of Allegiance
10:00 a.m.    Pioneer Church and old time singing.
12 noon       Speakers discuss the Tensaw Country and Fort Mims

To reach Fort Mims from I-65, take Exit #34 (Bay Minette/Stockton) and turn north on AL 59 towards Stockton. Follow AL 59 for 47.2 miles to the community of Tensaw. When you reach Tensaw, turn left on Boatyard Road (CR 80) and follow it for 7 miles to Fort Mims Road and turn right. The fort site will be just ahead, but watch for signs for off-site parking as you arrive on location.

To read more about the history of Fort Mims, please visit

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Fort Mims 200th Anniversary - The night before the attack

Monument  at Fort Mims
 200 years ago tonight, a force 700-1,000 Red Stick warriors moved to within range of Fort Mims, a roughly built log stockade in the Tensaw settlement north of Mobile, Alabama.

The evening of August 29, 1813, would be the last night on earth for more than 250 of the inhabitants of the fort. They had come there seeking safety, but on the next day Fort Mims would prove to be a trap from which few would escape.

19th Century Artist's Impression of the Big Warrior
The attack was part of the Creek War of 1813-1814, a conflict that had started as a civil war among the Upper Creeks who lived along the Alabama, Coosa and Tallapoosa Rivers. A large segment of the nation had broken away from its traditional leadership - the Big Warrior, Little Prince, William McIntosh and others - and taken up the war club under the leadership of Josiah Francis, a man remembered today as the Alabama Prophet.

Francis grew up in the Alabama towns which were clustered near present-day Montgomery, Alabama. The Alabama (or Alibamo) were an ancient tribe with different traditions and a different language those those of the Muskogee or Upper Creeks. Even so, the Alabamas and the associated Coushatta (or Coosada) had allied themselves with the Muskogees as part of the loosely organized Creek Confederacy.

Tenskwatawa, the Shawnee Prophet
In 1811-1812, however, Josiah Francis converted to the religion of the Shawnee Prophet, Tenskwatawa. A brother of Tecumseh, the Prophet taught that the American Indians should separate themselves from and give up the ways of the whites. Contrary to much 19th century and modern writing, he did not urge war on the whites but instead told his followers they should remain at peace with everyone and should steal nothing from the whites, "not even a bell." He did advocate a strong union of the various Indian nations, but as a defensive measure to halt any further westward expansion by settlers from the United States.

Francis had seen the impact of the "plan of civilization" introduced in the Creek Nation by the United States through the guidance of its Agent for Indian Affairs, Colonel Benjamin Hawkins. Traditional ways were disappearing from the Creeks and the evil influence of alcohol had spread through the Nation. Even though he was the son of a white trader, Francis grew concerned over these influences and listened carefully to Tecumseh when he came to Alabama in the fall of 1811 to spread the word of his brother's religion and prophesies.

Alabama River
Francis did not immediately convert, however, but thought over Tecumseh's message and learned more from the lesser Shawnee prophet Seekaboo, who had remained among the Creeks after the Prophet's brother returned to the Midwest. Josiah Francis became a true believer.

In the late summer of 1812, he announced that he had become a prophet himself. As the warriors in the Alabama towns listened to his preachings, they became convinced that the conversion was real and began calling Francis a "Hillis Hadjo" ("Warrior of Mad Medicine"). From an early group of 60 followers, the Alabama Prophet's following grew dramatically until by early 1813 his converts numbered in the thousands.

19th Century Sketch of a Human Scalp
The U.S. unwittingly ignited the civil war among the Creeks when it demanded the punishment of Little Warrior and a party of the Alabama Prophet's followers who had killed white settlers on the Duck River in Tennessee. The Big Warrior - traditional leader of the Creek Nation - ordered out execution squads to kill the murderers. Francis ordered his own warriors to retaliate and war exploded among the Creeks.

Francis and his followers became known as Red Sticks because they displayed red war clubs in their villages in a traditional sign of war.

As the conflict escalated, a force of 300 Red Sticks went to Pensacola in Spanish Florida to obtain arms and ammunition. The Spanish governor provided them with 1,000 pounds of gunpowder, along with gun flints, other supplies and a corresponding amount of lead shot. As they were making their way back to Holy Ground, the town that the Prophet Francis had established on the upper Alabama River, these warriors were attacked by a force of Mississippi Territorial Militia. The resulting engagement is remembered today as the Battle of Burnt Corn Creek and ended in victory for the Red Sticks.

Reconstructed Stockade at Fort Mims
Blood had been shed between the Red Sticks and the whites, however, and the families of those slain and wounded demanded a retaliatory strike. Since many of their enemies - including a group of mestizos (Creeks of mixed ancestry who sided with the whites) - were sheltered at Fort Mims, it was selected as the target.

The fort was not a true military structure, but instead was a rough stockade with a blockhouse that had been erected around the house of Samuel Mims. Hundreds of white and mestizo settlers had crowded inside, where they were protected by a small force of territorial militia. Because there were so many of them, the occupants of Fort Mims did not really think the Red Sticks would dare attack them. They were wrong.

Artist's Impression of William Weatherford
200 years ago tonight, a force of 700-1,000 Red Stick warriors led by William Weatherford and the lesser prophet Paddy Walsh took up positions in shallow ravines within view of Fort Mims. Weatherford and others even crawled up to the walls of the fort and peered through the loopholes to study the arrangement of the stockade. The fort was so poorly designed that the loopholes were not elevated. This meant that an attacking enemy could use them to fire into the fort just as easily as its defenders could use them to fire out.

Even though slaves had reported the presence of a large Red Stick force in the area and even though hundreds of warriors spent the night within sight of the stockade, Major Daniel Beasley and the officers commanding Fort Mims never saw them coming.

The next day - August 30, 1813 - would end in one of the greatest defeats ever administered by whites by an American Indian force in the entire history of North America.

Please click here to read more about the attack itself:

You can learn more about Fort Mims State Historic Site at

This weekend marks the 200th anniversary of the attack on Fort Mims and special events are planned. To see the schedule of events and obtain directions, please visit

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Oakley Park and the end of Carpetbag Rule in South Carolina

Oakley Park Museum in Edgefield, South Carolina
By 1876, the four year long War Between the States (or Civil War) had been over for 11 years, yet South Carolina - like most of the South - remained under the control of "radical Republican" carpetbaggers and their scalawag allies.

For those not familiar with the terminology of the day, the "radical Republicans" - a name they gave themselves - referred to a wing of the Republican party that favored punishment of Southerners for their role in the War Between the States as opposed to the peaceful reunion favored by Abraham Lincoln. Carpetbaggers were called such by Southerners because they were Northerners who came South after the war to seek their fortunes, often carrying their possessions in luggage made of carpet. Scalawags, also a term coined by Southerners, were Southern individuals who joined with and supported the Carpetbaggers.
Oakley Park, Home of Gen. Martin W. Gary

While some of the individuals who came South after the war were well-intentioned, many were not and graft, corruption and brutal tactics were common during their decade of rule.

In South Carolina, as the election of 1876 approached, a movement grew among the state's Democrats to support former Confederate general Wade Hampton in the race for Governor. A victory by Hampton would break the backs of the radical Republicans and clear the way for a return of local rule to the Palmetto State.

Gary spoke from the balcony in 1876
Maj. Gen. Martin W. Gary, who lived at Oakley Park Mansion in Edgefield, was a key supporter of Hampton in that campaign. A general in the Hampton Legion during the war, Gary had refused to surrender at Appomattox Court House with Gen. Robert E. Lee. At the head of 200 horsemen from South Carolina, he broke through the encircling Union army and road south, eventually escorting President Jefferson Davis as far as South Carolina.

A fierce opponent of Reconstruction rule, Gary organized what became known as the "Red Shirt Campaign" to garner support for Hampton's gubernatorial campaign.

The "Red Shirts" were Democrats who donned red shirts and spread through the countryside to drum up support for Hampton. By election day, his movement had grown to include as many as 85,000 men and he spoke that day to 1,500 of them from the balcony at Oakley Park.

Thanks to the efforts of Gary and his Red Shirts, Hampton won the election and Reconstruction rule came to an end in South Carolina.

The general's home, Oakley Park, is now a museum that displays a rich collection of artifacts from both the War Between the States and Reconstruction.  To learn more, please visit