TENNESSEE HISTORY Classroom
FULL HISTORY STORIES
The Battle of Horseshoe Bend
In the years following the American Revolution, colonial expansion
continued westward across the State of Tennessee and the northern
territories. American claims to territory west of the Appalachian
Mountains was still questioned by Britain and Spain, who saw
an opportunity to topple the young government and restore "Old
World" boundaries. On the oceans, the British Navy had
been losing sailors to desertions because of the wretched conditions
and was boarding American Merchant Ships to "look"
for the men. On occasion, the British even kidnapped and pressed
some American sailors into service. The act furiously angered
the American Congress, who began calling for war with Britain.
While Britain and Spain could not publicly do something for fear
it might attract a united opposition from their European enemies,
they continued to harass America and formed alliances with the
numerous Native American tribes. They pointed out that the tribes
were losing land to the colonists and they could "help"
the tribes stop the flow of immigration. By doing so, they hoped
it would create an entirely new war front in the west that would
put America in a diplomatic crisis.
The eastern Tribes had developed complex trading relations with
many European companies. They sold the natives weapons and ammunition
and were successful in finding a voice among the Native Americans
in the Shawnee Chief Tecumseh and his brother known as "The
Prophet". The British promised to return the land taken by
the colonists if he would help them.
In 1811, the rousing speaker addressed the Upper Creek tribes
in Alabama. The Creeks were a confederation of different southeastern
tribes, who often battled the Cherokee for control of the region.
The prophets of the Upper Creeks quickly believed the persuasive
Tecumseh and preached the doctrine of war to the warriors of the
Tecumsehs brother prophesied the earth would rumble as a
sign of the impending war that would destroy the colonists. Tecumsehs
power increased ten-fold among the Upper Creek tribes in the South
when the New Madrid fault exploded in 1811 rolling the Mississippi
River backwards, shaking windows in the White House, and creating
the massive Reelfoot Lake in northwest Tennessee.
With the new support, the British immediately commissioned Tecumseh
a General and gave him command of the "Indian Confederacy"
of North America.
The Upper Creeks took the message to the second largest nation
and their old enemy the Cherokee. At first, the Cherokee priests
were excited by the brotherly message and preached against the
Cherokees acceptance of the white mans ways. Their
possession of books, clothing, and wealth, they preached, were
an abomination of Cherokee culture.
Cherokee Principal Chief Major Ridge, however, voiced his opposition
to the prophets message and was attacked by his followers
on the spot. His friends came to his rescue and Ridge escaped,
but one of his friends was stabbed in the process. Like most eastern
tribes, the Cherokee regarded the village as sacred ground and
safe houses. The attack was seen by many as an unforgivable atrocity.
The Cherokee as well as many Creeks were repulsed by the "united
tribal message" that didnt allow other opinion. The
disagreements and the attack on Major Ridge suddenly pushed the
Creeks into a civil war and gave cause for the "Red Stick"
tribe to launch attacks on southern colonists.
President James Madison constantly tried to negotiate an end to
the British harassment, but witnessed the efforts breaking down.
During his campaign for office in 1811, however, Madison had promised
action on the British incidents.
On June 18, 1812, Congress declared War on Britain. The entire
Tennessee delegation, who were known as "War Hawks"
immediately cast their votes in favor of the declaration. British
and Spanish agents started fanning the flames of war among the
Creeks in the South.
In Aug. 1813, news reached Nashville that the Creeks under the
command of Chief Weatherford had attacked Fort Mims, Ala. and
massacred 250 colonists. Tennessee Governor Willie Blount, nephew
of William Blount, called Andrew Jackson out of retirement and
put out a call for 2,500 volunteers to deal with the "Red
Stick" Creeks. As President Theodore Roosevelt would later
point out in his book "The Winning of the West", the
volunteers who responded to Blounts call were, in many cases,
the sons of the men who had followed General Sevier to battle
the British at Kings Mountain. What many Tennesseans saw as an
"Indian problem", however, unknowingly turned into the
Southern front of the War of 1812.
As the first Tennesseans started towards the Southern territories,
other volunteers were continuously raised to relieve those whose
terms of enlistment expired or were out of action. Militias were
also raised in Georgia and Alabama to join the Tennesseans.
The British-backed "Red Stick" tribe soon turned on
their own and began attacking opposing Cherokee and Creek villages.
Chief Major Ridge and other tribal leaders put out a call for
warriors in the villages and joined the Tennesseans in tracking
Chief Weatherfords warriors.
As Jackson and the Tennessee Militia marched towards Alabama from
the north, the Creeks attacked the village of Turkeytown. Cherokee
Chief Pathkiller sent runners to ask for the armys help.
Jackson dispatched newly arrived General White and his troops
to relieve the village. General Whites force consisted of
1,000 men, including 400 Cherokee and Creek warriors. They relieved
the town after a brutal engagement.
As Jackson continued South, the Creeks began concentrating their
forces to protect their villages. On Nov. 3, 1813, General Coffee
and his men attacked the Creek at Tallaseehatchee in upper Alabama
and took it after meeting stiff resistance.
With or without the British, the Creeks were a formidable force
and fought brilliantly, General Coffee would later write of the
Creeks in that battle:
"They made all the resistance that an overpowered soldier
could do," wrote General Coffee. "The enemy fought with
savage fury and met death with all of its horrors, without shrinking
or complaining-not one asked to be spared, but fought as long
as they could stand or sit."
The significance of the message was overlooked as Tennesseans
and the Creeks slugged it out for months. Frustrated by a shortage
of supplies and little support from the Department of War, Jackson
had a hard time keeping his command together.
Throughout the early months of 1814, however, Jackson learned
to overcome the frustrations and continued to march against the
Creek Villages in Alabama. Jacksons improvisational tactics
and leadership skills proved themselves many times on the frontier
battlefields, but the Creek resistance became harder to overcome.
In January, Jackson and his command escaped destruction near Emukfaw
Creek when the Creeks viciously launched a surprise attack against
him at Emukfaw Creek. Jackson was forced to lurch his army into
retreat toward Fort Strother. The wounded, including General Coffee,
were being carried on slow moving horse-litters while the Creeks
led a running attack on the retreating army. A unit of Cherokee
had worked themselves around the Creeks, however, and sprung an
attack from the rear scattering the warriors away from Jacksons
forces and saving them from being destroyed.
As spring approached, Jacksons scouts brought him intelligence
that the main body of the Creeks were camped on the Talapoosa
River in a place known as Horseshoe Bend. They were in the perfect
defensive position and had built earthworks across the neck of
the 90-acre peninsula to strengthen their ability to withstand
attacks. In addition, they had pulled all of the available canoes
against the other bank to offer escape down the river.
In mid-March and with large reinforcements from Tennessee, Jackson
left a small force to protect Fort Strother and marched towards
the Talapoosa River. Jacksons force numbered around 2,000
men, including 500 Cherokee and two small cannon. Upon arriving
within two miles of Horseshoe Bend, Jackson began dispersing his
forces into position around the peninsula.
Jackson ordered General Coffee and the Cherokee forces to a point
three miles below his force where they could surround the bend
and cut off escape. He advanced his force to the breastworks and
set his cannons on a rise eighty yards from the Creek village.
Once in position, Jackson ordered his men and the cannons to open
The heavy fire did nothing to dislodge the Creeks from Horseshoe
Bend. Their earthworks stood from five to eight feet high in places
and successfully withstood the heavy bombardment.
From his position on the banks of the river, General Coffee and
his men were seeing what was going on in the Creek encampment.
The fire was keeping the Creeks pinned down and the Cherokee warriors
saw an opportunity to work themselves past the earthworks. With
the battle raging so close to him, Coffee was having a hard time
keeping his men under control and in position.
During the early part of the battle, a group of Creeks were taken
prisoner and brought to Jackson for interrogation. One of the
Creeks suddenly recognized Jackson and, when he was within an
arms distance of the General, lunged towards him with a
knife. Cherokee Chief Junaluska caught the movement out of the
corner of his eye and tripped the warrior, preventing him from
reaching Jackson. The move saved the unprotected Jackson from
Whatever Jackson would have learned, however, would have proven
little. General Coffees Cherokee unit couldnt take
the inaction anymore. Some dove into the river and began swimming
towards the canoes anchored on the peninsula. With covering fire,
they crawled under the bank of Horseshoe Bend while the others
started swimming the canoes back to the opposite bank for reinforcements.
The Cherokee began crossing the river in numbers and mustered
on the bank.
With battle cries, they lunged over the breastworks and into the
face of the battling Creeks. With attacks coming from the front
and a new assault from the river, the Creeks dug in and began
the bloodiest fighting of the war. A former Blount County School
teacher, Lieutenant Sam Houston, courageously led a Cherokee charge
over the breastworks with an arrow penetrating his upper thigh.
A young David Crockett and William Carroll were also in the battle
fighting furiously in hand-to-hand combat with the Creek warriors.
Within five hours, the battle was over and the village blazing
with fires. General Coffee and his men cut off the retreat in
every direction of those trying to escape and estimated that close
to 300 warriors were killed trying to reach the banks of the Tallapoosa
River. With close to a thousand Creek Warriors dead or dying on
the peninsula, the backbone of the British-backed Creeks was broken.
General Jacksons victory was hard-won and his report of
the battle showed that no quarters were given to the tribe.
"The enemy, although many of them fought to the last with
that kind of bravery which desperation inspires, were at last
entirely routed and cut to pieces," wrote Jackson. "The
battle may be said to have continued with severity for about five
hours, but the firing and slaughter continued until it was suspended
by the darkness of night. The next morning it was resumed and
sixteen of the enemy slain who had concealed themselves under
The American forces had not escaped unscathed. There were 52 killed
and 153 wounded, including Cherokee and friendly Creeks. The numbers
of the Cherokee were out of proportion to their numbers, but only
because the bulk of their fighting in the battle was hand-to-hand
with the Creeks and without protective fire.
The victory at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend proved to be Americas
second turning point. Jacksons Army pursued the remaining
Creeks and eventually forced Chief Weatherford and his warriors
to surrender at Fort Jackson in August 1814.
President Madison gave General Jackson command of American operations
in the Southwest and he began ridding the countryside of the British
- a controversial task that would take him to the ports of Pensacola
and New Orleans and to international prominence as an American
The volunteers who fought in the Creek Wars would also set new
standards of leadership. Sam Houston and William Carroll were
two of four veterans of the war that would go on to become Governor
of Tennessee. Houston would later resign the Governors office
mid-term in disgust over the Cherokee removal and move with them
to Oklahoma. After becoming involved with the fight for Texas
Independence, he was elected President of the Texas Republic.
Jackson would also rise through the political ranks and become
President of The United States.
Crockett would become a leading member of the Tennessee legislature
and eventually be elected to Congress. He would, ironically, be
killed while fighting with and under the command of the men he
had served with at Horseshoe Bend.
The veterans of the battle began a movement that would shape American
politics for a generation. It launched the "frontier statesman"
era and, for the first time in history, establish America as a
While numerous books are written about the War of 1812, very little
is mentioned about the Creek Wars in the South or the impact it
had on American politics. When the Creeks surrendered to Jackson
in Aug. 1814, the War of 1812 was going poorly for America. That
same month British troops sacked Washington, D.C. putting the
White House, the Capitol Building, the Treasury, and the War Department
to the torch. That next month while in Chesapeake Bay negotiating
the release of British prisoners, Attorney Francis Scott Key wrote
the "Star Spangled Banner". Following the naval battle
in Baltimore Harbor, the poetic tribute to the lone flag flying
over the Maryland fort was printed on handbills and put to the
tune of an old English drinking song. It wasnt until 1931
that it would become the national anthem.
The War of 1812 ended with the Treaty of Ghent signed on Dec.
24, 1815 in Belgium. Because of the poor communications of the
day, word of the Treaty did not reach America in time to end the
hostilities. Fifteen days later, on Jan. 8, 1815, General Andrew
Jackson and his Tennesseans would stun the world with their victory
over the British at the Battle of New Orleans.
The influence of the Creeks in the South is undeniable. Many landmarks
in East Tennessee and Northern Georgia still carry Creek names
that are often confused for Cherokee. Their influence stretched
even to Louisiana, where the French named the City of Baton Rouge
("Red Stick") after the tribe.
Jacksons reliance on the Cherokees in his Creek campaigns
seemed to be quickly forgotten when he became President. When
the Cherokee were removed down the "Trail of Tears"
by Jackson and Gen. Winfield Scott, many of the aged warriors,
who were veterans of Horseshoe Bend, stopped off at the Hermitage
near Nashville to shake hands and visit with the General who had
led them against the "Red Stick" Creeks.
A little known fact about Sam Houston was that, as a youth, he
had lived among the Cherokee for three years and was adopted by
the chief of the tribe. His Cherokee name "the Raven"
was the one given to him by his adoptive father. The wound Houston
received from a Creek arrow in the Battle of Horseshoe Bend never
completely healed and plagued him throughout his life and was
even rumored to have cost him a marriage. Houston always maintained
close ties with the Cherokee and represented them on numerous
occasions in Washington, D.C.
Among the Cherokee warriors at the battle, was one named George
Gist, whom the entire world would later come to know him as Sequoyah.
Chief Junaluska, who saved Jacksons life at the Battle of
Horseshoe Bend, was among the veterans of Horseshoe Bend removed
to Oklahoma. At the time of the removal he reportedly made the
"If I had known Jackson would remove the Cherokee from our
ancestral lands, I would have never saved him that day on the
When Junaluska reached the Oklahoma territory, however, he looked
at it, turned around, and marched back to his beloved Smoky Mountains.
His return to North Carolina angered some military leaders, but
the state stepped in and made Junaluska a citizen to honor him
for his service to America during the War of 1812. He was given
a farm near present-day Robbbinsville, N.C. When the Cherokee
Chief died, he was buried on a ridge near the old Mother Church
in the City.
In 1912, the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution
erected a concrete monument to mark his final resting place and
honor Junaluska for his service to America at The Battle of Horseshoe
Following the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, the Creek tribes were
finally driven into Florida where they joined the Seminole Nation.
The Seminoles were the only tribe to never sign a treaty with
the United States and operated as an independent nation. In fact,
following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, the Seminole
Nation officially declared war on the Asian State - before passage
of the bill was secured through the U.S. Congress.