Thursday, March 27, 2014

Bicentennial of the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, Alabama

Horseshoe Bend National Military Park
The Battle of Horseshoe Bend was fought 200 years ago today in the Creek Nation of Alabama. The outcome forever changed the history of the United States.

The Creek War of 1813-1814 had been underway for more than nine months when Major General Andrew Jackson left Fort Williams near present-day Sylacauga with an army of 3,300 men. The general and his men arrived within six miles of the Horseshoe Bend of the Tallapoosa River on the evening of March 26, 1814.

Tallapoosa River at Horseshoe Bend
The next morning Jackson sent Brigadier General John Coffee with a force of 1,300 men to cross the Tallapoosa and surround the bend from its opposite shore. He then moved forward with the rest of his army and sealed off the neck of the peninsula. Receiving word that Coffee was in place to cut off any attempt at retreat by the Red Stick Creek army, Jackson began his attack at 10:30 in the morning, 200 years ago today.

U.S. artillerymen manhandled two cannon - a 3-pounder and a 6-pounder - to the top of a hill overlooking the massive fortification that the Creeks had built to defend their town of Tohopeka ("Horse's Flat Foot"), a village that took its name from the unusual shape of the Horseshoe Bend. As Jackson's troops formed into lines of battle facing the barricades, the gun crews opened fire.

Site of the Creek fortification
For two hours the guns blasted away at the Red Stick defenses, but the solid iron cannonballs either ricocheted off the solid wall or flew over it. At noon, however, General Coffee's blocking force changed the course of the battle.

Among the 1,300 men assigned to Coffee were 600 Cherokee and Creek warriors who had allied themselves with the United States. With the battle in doubt, the Cherokee soldiers swam the river and launched an attack on the rear of the Red Stick line. The famed scholar Sequoyah was part of this attacking force.

Grave of Major Lemuel Montgomery
Facing attack from both directions, the Red Sticks had no choice but to divide their army. The main body of their warriors remained behind the wall to oppose Jackson while a smaller force rushed to the rear to battle Coffee's oncoming warriors. Seizing the moment, General Jackson ordered his infantry to attack.

Surging forward, the 39th U.S. Infantry struck the Creek fortifications. Major Lemuel Montgomery was killed and Ensign Sam Houston (later President of Texas) was severely wounded, but the 39th went up and over the wall. Jackson's Tennessee militia troops followed.

Led by the war chief Menawa, the Red Sticks continued to fight. For hours the sounds of gunfire, screams and war cries echoed through the smoke that covered the Horseshoe Bend. A couple of hundred Red Sticks tried to escape by swimming the Tallapoosa, but Coffee and his riflemen shot them in the water. So many were slain that the river ran red with blood. Almost all of Menawa's other warriors fought to the death.

When night fell, the severely wounded war chief crawled out from under a pile of bodies and slipped away. He was disfigured for life. A few of his warriors also managed to swim away, but the Creek Nation would never recover from the devastating defeat.

Andrew Jackson
Jackson and his men counted the dead the following day by cutting off the noses of Menawa's slain warriors and then doing a "nose count." The bodies of 557 Red Stick warriors were found on the battlefield and Coffee estimated that another 200-300 were slain in the river. The bones of the dead littered the scene for years to come.

U.S. losses in the battle were 49 killed and 157 wounded. Many of the latter died in the days, weeks and months that followed.

The Battle of Horseshoe Bend did not end the Creek War of 1813-1814, but its outcome was never in doubt after March 27, 1814. The engagement started Andrew Jackson on his road to the White House and the Creek Nation on its journey to the Trail of Tears.

Five months later, the United States forced the Creeks to sign the Treaty of Fort Jackson. The document exacted severe terms on Red Stick and U.S. allied chiefs alike, forcing the cession of 23 million acres of Creek land to the United States.

To learn more about the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, please visit

To learn more about the Creek War of 1813-1814, please visit

To learn more about the Creek Trail of Tears, please visit

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