Published on February 10, 2013 by Carol
This conflict began with the massacre of about 50 Americans near an army post in Georgia — climax to a series of raids against American settlements by Seminole based in Spanish Florida. Brigadier General Edmund P. Gaines, Indian commissioner of the area, attempted countermeasures but soon found himself and his force of 600 Regulars confined to Fort Scott, Alabama by the Seminole. War Department instructions to Gaines had permitted the pursuit of Indians into Florida but, had forbidden interference if the Indians took refuge in Spanish posts.
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Major General Andrew Jackson, who was ordered to take over the operation, chose to interpret Gaines’ instructions as sanctioning a full-scale invasion of the Spanish colony. He organized a force of about 7,500 volunteers, militia, subsidized Creek Indians, and Regulars, and invaded Florida with part of thin force in the spring of 1818.
Jackson destroyed Seminole camps, captured Pensacola (capital of Spanish Florida) and other Spanish strongholds, and executed two British subjects, Alexander Arbuthnot and Robert Ambrister, accused of inciting and arming the Indians. These activities threatened American relations with Great Britain and jeopardized negotiations with Spain pertinent to cession of Florida (Adams-Onis Treaty, 1819). Eventually the British were mollified and a compromise agreement was reached with the Spanish under which American forces were withdrawn from Florida without repudiating the politically popular Jackson. As for the Seminole problem, it was temporarily allayed but by no means solved.
In the Treaties of Payne’s Landing in 1832 and Fort Gibson in 1833, the Seminole had agreed to give up their lands, but they refused to move out. Following the arrest and release of Osceola, their leader, in 1835 Seminole depredations rapidly increased. These culminated on December 28th in the massacre of Captain Francis L. Dade’s detachment of 330 Regulars enroute from Fort Brooke in Tampa to Fort King in Ocala – a disastrous loss for the small, Regular force of 600 men in Florida. Brigadier General Duncan L. Clinch, commanding Fort King, took the offensive immediately with 200 men and on December 31, 1835 defeated the Indians on the Withlacoochee River.
The War Department, meanwhile, had ordered Brigadier General Winfield Scott, commander of the Eastern Department, to Florida to direct operations against the Seminole. Most of the hostilities had occurred in General Gaines’ Western Department, but the War Department expected impending troubles in Texas to keep Gaines occupied. Nevertheless, Gaines had quickly raised about 1,000 men in New Orleans and, acting on his own authority, embarked for Florida in February 1836. Even after learning of Scott’s appointment, Gaines seized supplies collected by Scott at Fort Drane and pressed forward until heavily attacked by Seminole. He succeeded in extricating his force only with help from Scott’s troops. Shortly thereafter Gaines returned to New Orleans.
Completion of preparations for Scott’s proposed three-pronged offensive converging on the Withlacoochee River were delayed by Gaines’ use of Scott’s supplies, expiration of volunteer enlistments, and temporary diversion of troops to deal with the Creeks who were then on the warpath in Georgia and Alabama. Before the campaign could get underway, Scott was recalled to Washington to face charges of dilatoriness and of casting slurs on the fighting qualities of volunteers. Beginning in December,1836, Major General Thomas S. Jesup carried out a series of small actions against the Seminole, and in September, 1837 Osceola was captured. Colonel Zachary Taylor decisively defeated a sizeable Indian force near Lake Okeechobee in December, 1837.
After Taylor’s expedition no more large forces were assembled on either side. Numerous small expeditions were carried out chiefly by Regular troops commanded successively by Jesup, Taylor, and Brigadier General Walker A. Armistead, and many posts and roads were constructed.
Colonel William J. Worth finally conceived a plan which consisted of campaigning during the enervating summer seasons with the object of destroying the Indian’s crops. This plan was successful in driving a sufficient number of Seminole from their swampy retreats to permit official termination of the war on May 10, 1842.
During the long and difficult campaign some 5,000 Regulars had been employed (including elements of the 1st, 2d, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th Infantry) with a loss of nearly 1,500 killed. Nearly 20,000 volunteers also participated in the war which cost some thirty-five million dollars and resulted in the removal of some 3,500 Seminole to the Indian Territory.
The final campaign against the remnants of the Seminole in Florida consisted mainly of a series of skirmishes between small, roving Indian bands and the 4th Artillery which was stationed at Fort Brooke.