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

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