Battle of Thames - Battle of Tohopeka

The Battle of the Thames
 By Henry William Harrison

The Battle of the Thames. by Bennett H. Young, Circa 1903
The Battle of Moraviantown, better known as the The Battle of the Thames,  was a decisive United States victory in the War of 1812 against Great Britain. The battle  took place on October 5, 1813, near present-day Chatham, Ontario, Canada and resulted in the death of the Shawnee chief Tecumseh along with his Native American coalition.

The victory gained by Commodore Perry on Lake Erie gave many advantages to the army of General Harrison. The pursuit of the enemy was instantly resolved upon. On the 27th of September the army crossed the lake. Maiden was found wasted and deserted by Proctor, who had retreated by the valley of the Thames towards the heart of Canada. On the 2d of October Harrison started in pursuit of the enemy, and, on the 5th, overtook them. Proctor's position was strong. The Indians, under Tecumseh, were upon the left, between the river and a small marsh; the British regulars, between two marshes on the right. Harrison's order of battle had been determined when he became aware that the British regulars were drawn up in open order, which made them liable to a fatal attack by cavalry. He instantly resolved upon a novel manoeuvre.

The death of Tecumseh, by the Kentucky mounted volunteers led by Colonel Richard M. Johnson at Battle of the Thames,  October 5th, 1813. Lithograph, hand colored, Circa 1833

Colonel James Johnson, with one battalion of mounted men, was ordered to charge and break the line of regulars and then form in their rear. This was executed with precision. The British were broken, and the whole body, panic-stricken by the unexpected character of the attack, surrendered at once. Tecumseh and his Indians fought more obstinately. The Kentuckians. commanded by Colonel Richard M. Johnson, were forced to dismount in the contest. But the fall of the valiant Tecumseh, the soul of his people, led to the complete overthrow of the Indians. Within half an hour the battle was won, and a detachment was in pursuit of General Proctor, who had fled at the onset. Though 5000 men were engaged in this battle, only about 40 were killed, most of whom were Indians. This was a splendid and decisive victory. The British army was nearly all captured, and the Indians never recovered from the blow.

Occasion.—By resolution of Congress of April 4, 1818, a gold medal was directed to be struck for General W. H. Harrison, for his victory over the combined English and Indian forces at the battle of the Thames, on the 5th of October, 1813.

Obverse. Device. Bust of General Harrison. Legend. Major General William H. Harrison Furst. F.

Reverse.—Device. A female is represented placing a wreath of laurel upon a stack of arms; a drum, cannon, bow, and quiver of arrows are near her feet. With her right hand she holds a halbert, and rests upon an American shield. From the point of the stacked muskets and staff hangs a badge bearing the inscription, Fort Meigs, Battle Of The Thames. Legend. 

Resolution Of Congress, April 4, 1818. Exergue. Battle Of The Thames, October 10, 1813. Size 40. Furst. F.

Occasion.—A second gold medal commemorative of the battle of the Thames was voted by Congress, by resolution of April 4, 1818, to Governor Isaac Shelby.

Obverse.—Device. Bust of Governor Shelby. Legend. Governor Isaac Shelby. Furst. F.

Reverse.—Device. The battle of the Thames. The Indian force is drawn up upon the edge of the wood in the right background. On the left background the American troops have broken the Indian line, and on the left foreground a body of American infantry are seen advancing to the attack. In the foreground, on the right, Governor Shelby is charging upon the enemy at the head of his mounted rangers; and in the centre, on the open space between the opposing columns, the principal event of the battle is represented—the death of the Indian chief Tecumseh, at the hands of Colonel Johnson. Legend. 

Battle Of The Thames, October 5, 1813. Exergue. 

Resolution Of Congress, April 4, 1818. Furst. F. Sizeio.

Battle of Tohopeka
By Samuel Putnam Waldo

Sketch map of the Battle of Horseshoe Bend of Tallapoosa River, 27th March 1814 by Robert Houston McEwen -- Handwritten annotation on recto: "I drew this description of the battle ground & made the memorandums on my hat the morning after the battle, the battle commenced about 10 o'clock A.M. & ended about sundown. I was regimental quarter master, to a regiment of six months volunteers from East Tennessee commanded by Col. John Brown. We left Kinston, E. Ten. the 23rd Jany 1814 for the Creek nation & returned to Kingston the 9 May 1814, the war with the Indians being at an end. My Col. being sick I had a high command on the day of battle [signed] R.H. McEwen - Image courtesy of the National Archives 
The Battle of Tohopeka or Horseshoe Bend, was fought during the War of 1812 in central Alabama. On March 27, 1814, United States forces and Indian allies under Major General Andrew Jackson defeated a Creek Indian tribe called  Red Sticks, who opposed American expansion, effectively ending the Creek War.

The Creeks had assembled in very great force at the bend of the Tallapoosa, at a place called by the savages, Tohopeka by the Americans, The Horse Shoe. At this place, the most desperate resistance was expected ; and every measure, within the limited means of Gen. Jackson, was resorted to, to meet it.

The 39th Regiment U. S. infantry, under the command of" the intrepid and skilfut Col. Williams,'' had been ordered to join the army under Gen. Jackson. It did not exceed 600 men. By the middle of March, his whole force amounted to between 3 and 4000. He then commenced his march. Upon the 21st, he established a fort at the mouth of Cedar Creek, and named it Fort Williams. Leaving a sufficient force to protect it, he renewed hi9 march upon the 24th. Upon the 27th, a day which will be remembered in the traditional annals of the iirave, the infatuated, the blood-thirsty Creeks, until they become extinct, Gen. Jackson and his army reached Tohopeka. The events of that day, are thus briefly detailed by the commander.

Battle Ground, bend of Tallapoosa, 28th March, 1814, to Major General Pinckney:


I feel particularly happy in being able to communicate to you, the fortunate eventuation of my expedition to the Tallapoosa.  

I reached the head, near the Emuckfau, called by the whites the Horse Shoe, about ten o'clock, on the forenoon of yesterday, where I found the strength of the neighboring towns collected. Expecting our approach, they had gathered in from Oakfuskie, Oakehoga, New/Yorcau, Hillabees, the Fish Pond, and Eufaulee towns, to the number, it is said, of 1000. It is difficult to conceive a situation more eligible for defense than the one they had chosen,,or one rendered more secure by the skill with which they had erected their breast work. It was from 5 to 8 feet high, and extended across the point in such a direction, as that a force approaching it would be exposed to a double fire, while they lay in perfect security behind. A cannon planted at one extremity could have raked it to no advantage. 

Determining to exterminate them, I detached Gen. Coffee with the mounted men, and nearly the whole of the Indian force, early on the morning of yesterday, to cross the river about two miles below their encampment, and to surround the bend in such a manner, as that none of them should escape by attempting to cross the river. With the infantry, I proceeded slowly, and in order, along the point of land which led to the front of their breast work; having planted my cannon, one 6 and one three pounder, on an eminence at the distance of 150 to 200 yards from it, I opened a very brisk fire, playing upon the enemy with muskets and rifles whenever they shewed themselves beyond it. This was kept up with short interruptions for about 2 hours, when a part of the Indian force, and Capt. Russell's and Lieut. Bean's company of spies, who had accompanied Gen. Coffee, crossed over in canoes to the extremity of the bend, and set fire to a few of the buildings which were there situated; they then advanced with great gallantry towards the breastwork, and commenced a spirited fire upon the enemy behind it.

Finding that this force, notwithstanding the bravery they displayed, was wholly insufficient to dislodge them, and that Gen. Coffee had entirely secured the opposite bank of the river, I now determined to take it by storm. The men. by whom this was to be effected, had been waiting with impatience to receive the order, and hailed it with acclamation. 

The spirit which animated them, was a sure augury of the success which was to follow. The history of warfare, I think furnishes few instance of a more brilliant attack. The regulars led on by their intrepid and skillful commander, Col. Williams, and by the gallant Maj. Montgomery, soon gained possession of the works, in the midst of a most tremendous fire from behind them; and the militia of the venerable General Doherty's brigade, accompanied them in the charge with a vivacity and firmness which would have done honor to regulars. The enemy were completely routed. Five hundred and fifty-seven were left dead on the peninsula. and a great number were killed by the horsemen in attempting to cross the river : it is believed that not more than 20 have escaped. 

The fighting continued with some severity about 5 hours, but we continued to destroy many of them who had concealed themselves under the banks of the river, until we were prevented by the night. This morning we killed 16 who had been concealed. We took about 250 prisoners, all women and children, except two or three. Our loss is 160 wounded, and 25 killed; Maj. M'Intosh, (the Cowetau,) who joined my army with a part of his tribe, greatly distinguished himself. When I get an hour's leisure, I will send you a more detailed account. 

According to my original purpose, I commenced my return march to Fort Williams to-day, and shall, if I find sufficient supplies there, hasten to the Hickory Ground. The power of the Creeks is, l think, forever broken. 

I send you a hasty sketch, taken by the eye, of the situation on which the enemy were encamped, and of the manner in which I approached them. I have the honor to be, &c. 

Andrew Jackson,  

 The loss of the Americans, added to the whole loss of the friendly Indians, was 54 killed and 156 wounded.

In communicating the result of this victory, without a parallel, to the War Department, Gen. Pinckney elegantly and impressively observes:
"While the sigh of humanity will escape, for this profuse effusion of human blood, which results from the savage principle of our enemy, neither to give nor . accept quarter; and while every American will deeply lament the loss of onr meritorious fellow soldiers who have fallen in this contest, we have ample cause of gratitude to the giver of all victory, for thus continuing his protection to our women, and children, who would otherwise be exposed to the indiscriminate havock of the tomahawk, and all the horrors of savage warfare."

In the fighting, 557 Red Sticks were killed defending the encampment, while approximately 300 more were killed by Coffee's men while attempting to escape across the Tallapoosa. The 350 women and children in Tohopeka became prisoners of the Lower Creek and Cherokees. American losses numbered 47 killed and 159 wounded, while Jackson's Native American allies incurred 23 killed and 47 wounded. Having broken the back of the Red Sticks, Jackson moved south and built Fort Jackson at the confluence of the Coosa and Tallapoosa in the heart of the Red Stick's holy ground.

From this position he sent out word to the remaining Red Stick forces that they were to sever their ties to the British and Spanish or risk being wiped out. Understanding his people to be defeated, noted Red Stick leader William Weatherford (Red Eagle) came to Fort Jackson and asked for peace. This was concluded by the Treaty of Fort Jackson on August 9, 1814, by which the Creek ceded 23 million acres of land in present-day Alabama and Georgia to the United States. For his success against the Red Sticks, Jackson was made a major general in the US Army.

The Battle of Horseshoe Bend and Its Consequences

The Battle of Horseshoe Bend was fought on March 27, 1814. Red Eagle was not present that day, but more than 1,000 Creek warriors were assembled behind a barricade that crossed the neck of the peninsula. In the toe of the peninsula, in Tohopeka Village, were another 500 women and children. Led by a chief named Menawa and the prophet Monahee, the Red Sticks hoped for a decisive victory over Andrew Jackson’s force of 2,600 European American soldiers, 500 Cherokee, and 100 Lower Creek.

Jackson, at this time a Major General in the Tennessee Militia, led forces who arrived at Horseshoe Bend at 10:30 a.m. The U.S. Army’s 39th Regiment and the East Tennessee Militia formed a line facing the barricade. To their rear, the West (Middle Tennessee) Militia formed a second parallel line. Well forward and to the right of both lines, on a rise about 250 yards from the breastwork, Jackson placed two artillery pieces aimed at the center of the barricade. Other troops surrounded the toe of the peninsula on the opposite side of the river to prevent a Creek retreat and to keep reinforcements from reaching the Red Sticks. The barricade impressed Jackson, who described it in a letter he wrote the next day:

It is impossible to conceive a situation more eligible for defence than the one they had chosen and the skill which they manifested in their breastwork was really astonishing. It extended across the point in such a direction as that a force approaching would be exposed to a double fire, while they lay entirely safe behind it. It would have been impossible to have raked it with cannon to any advantage even if we had had possession of one extremity.¹
For the first two hours of the battle, cannon shot plunged into the barrier, injuring the men behind it. The fortification remained strong enough, however, to prevent the attackers from marching through it.

Meanwhile, some of Jackson’s American Indian allies who were guarding the south side of the Tallapoosa decided to swim 120 yards across the river. There they stole Red Stick canoes, which they used to transport a mixed force of Cherokee, Creek, and Tennessee Militia back to the peninsula. These men attacked the Red Sticks from the rear, burning the village of Tohopeka and taking the women and children prisoner.

The main army, however, was still blocked by the breastwork. Jackson saw the smoke rising from Tohopeka Village and heard continuing small arms fire from the peninsula. He decided to assault the barricade directly while the Creek were diverted to their rear. Though a failed charge could destroy his army, Jackson concluded that the futility of the artillery bombardment left him no alternative.

At 12:30 p.m. a roll of the drums signaled the beginning of the attack. The fighting was ferocious, with great bravery displayed by both sides. Jackson reported that the action was maintained "muzzle to muzzle through the port holes, in which many of the enemy’s balls were welded to the bayonets of our musquets...." Once the breastwork was surmounted, hand-to-hand fighting ensued. Slowly, the superior numbers of Jackson’s infantry overwhelmed the Red Stick warriors, who also found themselves harassed from behind by the Indians and other militia units who had crossed the river.

What followed is best described as a slaughter. European American soldiers and their Creek allies killed as many Red Sticks as possible. For example, they set fire to a heap of timber the peninsula’s defenders had hidden behind; when the Red Sticks emerged, they were immediately shot down. The bloodshed continued until dark; the next morning another 16 Creek, found hidden under the banks, were killed. In the end, 557 warriors died on the battlefield and an estimated 250 to 300 more drowned or were shot trying to cross the river. Only 49 Tennessee militia men died that day, and another 154 were wounded, many mortally. Fewer than a dozen "friendly" Creek also died.

Among the militia was 21-year-old ensign Sam Houston, later governor of Tennessee and president of the Republic of Texas. Years later he described the results of the battle:

The sun was going down, and it set on the ruin of the Creek nation. Where, but a few hours before a thousand brave...[warriors] had scowled on death and their assailants, there was nothing to be seen but volumes of dense smoke, rising heavily over the corpses of painted warriors, and the burning ruins of their fortifications.²

The Battle of Horseshoe Bend effectively ended the Creek War. In August Jackson went against orders from Washington and single­handedly negotiated the Treaty of Fort Jackson, which forced the Creek to cede almost 20 million acres—nearly half their territory—to the U.S. Although most of the land the U.S. government took had been held by Red Sticks, the territory also included many villages and a great deal of hunting land held by friendly Creek. (In the 1960s the Creek won a judicial decision that provided compensation to the heirs of those whose land was taken unfairly.)

Surprisingly, Red Eagle, who was not at Horseshoe Bend, was one of the Creek who made out well after the war. When he surrendered to Jackson, he received a promise of safe passage for Red Stick women and children, most of whom were now ill and hungry. It appears this deal with Jackson also allowed Red Eagle to retain his farm in southern Alabama.

Horseshoe Bend was not the last conflict between Jackson and the Creek. Rather than surrender, some Upper Creek fled to northern Florida where they allied themselves with the Seminole. For a brief time they received weapons from the British, but in 1814 England decided to concentrate on defeating Napoleon and stopped sending supplies. The Seminole continued to fight European American settlement anyway, first as part of the War of 1812, then in what became known as the First Seminole War (1818-1819). In 1818 Jackson led an army into Florida, then claimed by Spain, to stop the Seminole from attacking border settlements and providing refuge for slaves. This campaign increased Jackson’s popularity among American citizens, because he won victories that forced the Spanish to cede Florida to the United States. Many of the remaining American Indians then moved into the Florida swamps.

After Horseshoe Bend, the European American population of Georgia and Alabama continued to skyrocket. In the latter state, for example, the non­Indian population rose from 9,000 in 1810 to 310,000 in 1830. Despite increasing pressure from European American settlers, however, the Creek resisted attempts to force them to sell their lands. When William McIntosh, a mestizo chief, attempted to sell the U.S. virtually all the remaining Creek territory, the Creek council voted to execute him. Leading the party that carried out this sentence was Menawa, who had survived terrible injuries from Horseshoe Bend to regain a position of leadership among both Lower and Upper Creek.

Yet ultimately the Creek could not hold back the flood of European Americans into their homeland. In 1829 Jackson became president, in part because of the popularity he had acquired from his victories over American Indians. He decided to adopt the Indian policy favored by most Southerners who wanted more land: move the remaining tribes west of the Mississippi to "Indian Territory," what today is Oklahoma. The Cherokee, the Chickasaw, the Choctaw, the Creek and the Seminole—the "Five Civilized Tribes"—each had treaties signed by the U.S. giving them control of their lands, and in 1831 the Supreme Court upheld the Cherokee land titles. But the Jackson Administration ignored these facts and forced the five tribes to move.

Responses to federal policy varied. The relocation of the five tribes became known collectively as the "Trail of Tears," because it separated the tribes from their homelands and caused many deaths during the trip. Perhaps as many as 25,000 Creek (including Menawa) reluctantly took part. Other Creek decided to move south and continue fighting the U.S. government. In Florida, these Indians joined those Seminole who also refused to move; together they fought the Second Seminole War (1835-42). Finally, some Red Sticks slipped quietly into southwestern Alabama, joining other Creek who had moved there both before and after Horseshoe Bend. Today members of the dominant group in the area are known as "Poarch" Creek, a name whose origin is unclear.

Questions for Reading 3

(*Refer to Map 3 as needed for the following questions.)

1. Why did Red Stick leaders, even with 2,000 fewer soldiers, believe they could score a victory over U.S. troops?

2. What was Jackson's reaction to the Creek barricade?

3. What two events turned the battle to Jackson's advantage?

4. Why do you think the militia and its Indian allies were so brutal toward the peninsula's defenders?

5. What were the terms of the Treaty of Fort Jackson? Were the Lower Creek rewarded for assisting the U.S.?

6. What did Jackson's popularity reveal about European American attitudes toward American Indians during the early 19th century? Do you think someone with experiences and beliefs like his could become president today? Why or why not?

Reading 3 was compiled from George C. Mackenzie, "The Indian Breastwork in the Battle of Horseshoe Bend: Its Size, Location, and Construction," National Park Service, 1969; the National Park Service’s visitor’s guide for Horseshoe Bend National Military Park; Donald Hickey, The War of 1812, A Forgotten Conflict (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1989); J. Leitch Wright, Creeks & Seminoles: The Destruction and Regeneration of the Muscogulge People (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1992); J. Anthony Paredes, "Federal Recognition and the Poarch Creek Indians," in Paredes, ed., Indians of the Southeastern United States in the Late 20th Century (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1989), 120-22.

¹Jackson Papers, first series, vol. XVIII, doc. 1586, Library of Congress.
²Donald Day and Harry Herbert Ullom, eds., The Autobiography of Sam Houston (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1954), 12.


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