Fort Mims

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After civil war began between the hostile and peace parties in the Creek nation in the summer of 1813, the settlers between the Tombigbee and Alabama built stockades, which were called forts and in which they placed their families for safety. Another stockade, most important of all, because it was the only one east of the Alabama and nearest Pensacola, was particularly the refuge of wealthy half-bloods from Little river, who had sought safety from their hostile kin, in the swamp about Lake Tensas. It enclosed the residence of Samuel Mims, an old and wealthy Indian countryman, near the Tensas boatyard. Mims was the first treasurer of Washington county, in 1800. The stockade enclosed an acre of ground, and for entrances had two ponderous gates. It was very badly situated for military defense, as it was closely approached by woods and canebrakes. Many had taken refuge here when Col. Carson, of the First regiment Mississippi volunteers, reaching Mount Vernon from Baton Rouge, late in July, sent Lieut. A. L. Osborn with 16 men. to assist in its defense. When Gen. Claiborne arrived he detailed Maj. Daniel Beasley, of the same regiment, to Fort Mims, with the companies of Capts. William Jack and Hutton Middleton. Seventy armed men found in the stockade were organized in a company under Capt. Dixon Bailey, an educated Creek half-breed. An advanced post was established at Pierce's sawmill, where Lieut. Andrew Montgomery was stationed with 35 men. Claiborne visited the stockade August 7 and ordered the building of two additional blockhouses, which, it seems, was not done. There were 105 soldiers in the stockade, and altogether the population, white. Indian and negro, male and female, was about five hundred and fifty, says Pickett. "Crowded together, in an Alabama swamp, in the month of August, much sickness prevailed." The hostile Creeks, under McQueen, and Weatherford, a half-breed nephew of the famous Gen. McGillivray, having received supplies from Pensacola, organized a war party at Tallapoosa, and marched to McGirt's plantation, where they halted to obtain information. The affair was a sequel of the attempt of Col. Caller, with a party that included some half-breed Creeks, to cut off the party that brought supplies from Pensacola. In the stockade were a brother and half-brother and several sisters of Weatherford, but the nation was embittered by civil war, over the proposition to make war on the United States.

The leaders of the hostiles sent out parties to threaten other posts, and deceived Claiborne by a report that they proposed to attack the Easely stockade, a place far north on the Tombigbee. Before marching to that distant place, however, the general sent a message of warning to Maj. Beasley, who responded, writing on August 30, that he had improved the fort, and that his men, in the face of alarms, manifested a desire to meet the enemy. Some of McGirt's negroes had brought in news of the approach of a war party, and James Cornells, a half-breed, came in and reported the discovery of a fresh trail to McGirt's. The day before Beasley wrote, two negro boys, sent out as cattle herd, had run in breathless, to tell of a large party of Indians. Capt. Middleton went out with some horsemen and finding nothing, one of the boys, was tied up and flogged. Though apparently incredible, there is strong confirmation of the story, that when the Indians attacked, the inmates of the fort were collected about the whipping post where Beasley was about to punish the other negro boy for warning him of danger. (See letters of Hawkins).

Judge Toulmin's account of the attack is as follows : "The gate was open. The Indians had to come through an open field 150 yards wide, before they could reach the fort, and yet they were within 50 steps, at eleven in the morning, before they were noticed. The sentry then gave the cry of Indians, and they immediately set up a most terrible war whoop and rushed into the gate with inconceivable rapidity, and got within it before the people of the fort had any opportunity of shutting it. This decided their fate. . . . The fort was originally square. Maj. Beasley had it enlarged, by extending the lines of two sides about 50 feet, and putting up a new side into which the gate was removed. The old line of pickets stood, and the Indians, on rushing into the gate, obtained possession of this additional part, and through the port holes of the old line of pickets fired on the people who held the interior. On the opposite side of the fort, an offset or bastion was made round the back gate, which being opened on the outside was also taken possession of by the Indians, who, with the axes which lay scattered about, immediately began to cut down the gate. There was a large body of Indians, though they probably did not exceed 400. Our people seemed to sustain the attack with undaunted spirit. They took possession of the portholes in the other lines of the fort and fired on the Indians who remained in the field. Some of the Indians got on the blockhouse, at one of the corners; but after firing a good deal down upon the people they were dislodged. They succeeded, however, in setting fire to a house near the pickets, from which it was communicated to the kitchen and thence to the main dwelling house. They had attempted to do it by burning arrows, but failed. When the people in the fort saw that the Indians retained full possession of the outer court, that the gate continued open, that their men fell very fast, and that their houses were in flames, they began to despond. Some determined to cut their way through the pickets and escape. Of the whole number of white men and half breeds in the fort, it is supposed that not more than 25 or 30 escaped, and of these many were wounded. The rest, and almost all the women and children, fell a sacrifice to the arms of the Indians or to the flames. The battle terminated about an hour or an hour and a half before sunset. . . . Our loss is seven commissioned officers and about 100 non-commissioned officers and privates, of the First regiment of Mississippi territory volunteers. There were about 24 families of men, women and children in the fort, of whom almost all have perished, amounting to about 160 souls. I reckon, however, among them about six families of half breeds and seven Indians. There were also about 100 negroes, of whom a large proportion were killed." (Toulmin's letter to the Raleigh Register, his information being derived from "a person of character and credibility, who was present during the whole scene, and who escaped through the opening made in the pickets." See Niles Weekly Register, Oct. 16, 1813).

Among those who escaped, according to Pickett's Alabama, were Surgeon Thomas G. Holmes, Capt. Bailey, Ensign W. R. Chambless, all wounded. Hester, a negro woman, shot in the breast, managed to paddle a canoe to Fort Stoddert, and give the news to the garrison there. Chambless, after wandering about for some time, with two arrow heads and a bullet in his body, reached Mount Vernon, and lived ten years afterward. Joseph Perry and one Mourrice are the only other soldiers of the Mississippi volunteers mentioned among the 14 who escaped. The rest of the soldiers and inhabitants, except a few half-bloods who were made prisoners and some negroes taken for slaves, lost their lives, and those who were killed by bullets were fortunate. Among those spared -were the wife and seven children of Zachariah McGirth, son of a famous Georgia Tory, who had fled into the Creek nation and married one of the maidens. Sept. 9, Capt. Joseph P. Kennedy, brigade-major, arrived at the ruins, with a detachment to bury the dead. According to Pickett he reported that all the bodies were scalped, "and the females, of every age, were butchered in a manner in which neither decency nor language will permit me to describe. The main building was burned to ashes, which were filled with bones. The plains and the woods around were covered with dead bodies." This may have been true, but the language is not in Kennedy's report. He did say that his detachment collected and buried the bodies' of 247 men, women and children, of the inmates of the stockade. While searching the adjacent woods for bodies they " discovered at least 100 slaughtered Indians, covered with earth, rails, brush, etc. We could not be mistaken as to their being Indians." (Miss. Archives). This indicates that the battle was a fiercely contested one, and that the number of the inmates of the stockade is greatly exaggerated in the histories.

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Source: Encyclopedia of Mississippi History, by Dunbar Rowland.

 

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