Securing the American South: The Creek War and the War of 1812

Developed by Dr. William Belko of the Department of History and co-taught with Dr. Angela Calcaterra of the Department of English and World Languages, Securing the American South: The Creek War and the War of 1812 was an innovative course offered summer 2014 that expanded the learning process by taking students beyond the traditional, lecture-style classroom and introducing them to history first-hand. In recognition of the bicentennials of the Creek War, the War of 1812, and the First Seminole War, the course highlighted the larger cultural, social, economic, and political ramifications of Indian, African, European, and American interaction on the Southern frontier from the later 1600s to the mid-1800s.

Students met on campus during the first half of the course to discuss readings that provided them a larger understanding of the import of the conflict and the various people involved. During the second half of the course, students visited seven prominent sites in Alabama, Louisiana, and Florida. Each site included a guided tour from a leading scholar noted in their field and well published on subjects concerning the Southern frontier. This format allowed students to interact directly with the guides further enhancing the learning experience.

For more details about the course, see the Creek War & War of 1812 Syllabus. If you are interested in enrolling in a course like this in the future, please contact Dr. William S. Belko. 

Students began at Fort Mims in Stockton, AL, where Dr. Gregory Waselkov, an anthropologist at the University of South Alabama, discussed the battle that took place there on August 30, 1813. Dr. Waselkov not only discussed the context of the Redstick War and the Creek struggle to defend their lands and traditions from U.S. encroachment, but he also emphasized the complexity of Creek culture and their varied relationships with southern Americans. On the battle itself, Dr. Waselkov explained the roles weak leadership and poorly designed fortifications played in the defeat of the fort’s inhabitants—Anglo-Americans, mestizos, and Creeks sympathetic to the American plan for native acculturation—which led to the deaths of more than 250 soldiers and refugees inside the fort. He also highlighted that one of the most significant results of the battle was the increased determination to avenge the deaths of the Fort Mims fallen by destroying the hostile Redsticks. For more information, see Dr. Waselkov’s book A Conquering Spirit: Fort Mims and the Redstick War of 1813-1814.

Supposed site of Weatherford's Leap

After the attack on Fort Mims, many Redstick Creek led by William Weatherford (popularly known today as Red Eagle) moved northeast to the swamps around Bear Creek to an area they called Encunchate, or the Holy Ground, for protection. This is the second site students visited on a tour led by Dr. Craig Sheldon, an archaeologist from Auburn University at Montgomery. Though the state of Alabama has set up a park to remember the site of the Holy Ground, Dr. Sheldon explained that it is not exactly in the right place, and he led the class to the site that he and his team of archaeologists have identified as the authentic site. Students also had the opportunity to visit the supposed location of “Weatherford’s Leap.” Records state that Red Eagle leapt off of a bluff into the Alabama River while escaping the U.S. assault led by General Ferdinand Claiborne on the Holy Ground on December 23, 1813. Historians contest the height of the bluff with estimates ranging from a few feet to upwards of fifty.

Dr. Kathryn Braund, professor of history at Auburn University, led the tour at Horseshoe Bend National Military Park. Students overlooked the field of battle in the bend of the Tallapoosa River where Chief Menawa’s Redstick Creek clashed with American forces and their Indian allies commanded by General Andrew Jackson on March 27, 1814. Dr. Braund explained the preparations made by American forces as well as the hostile Creek, and how after an artillery bombardment failed against the Redsticks, General Jackson ordered a charge in which soldiers scaled a log barricade and engaged the Creek in combat. Though the original barricade is gone, the National Park Service has approximated its location and marked it with white stakes. Students also visited the site of the Creek village of Tohopeka, where Americans captured 350 Creek as prisoners after the battle. Jackson’s victory at Horseshoe Bend finally crushed the Creek resistance and led to the signing of the Treaty of Fort Jackson, which officially ended the Creek War. Dr. Braund addresses the Battle of Horseshoe Bend and the wider conflict of the War of 1812 in Tohopeka: Rethinking the Creek War and the War of 1812.

Dr. Craig Sheldon joined students again to lead the tour at Fort Jackson in Wetumpka, AL. After the defeat of the Redsticks at Horseshoe Bend, Jackson moved his forces to Fort Toulouse where he ordered it rebuilt and renamed as Fort Jackson. Here, chiefs of hostile tribes arrived regularly to admit their surrender to General Jackson. Even William Weatherford made the journey to Fort Jackson to speak directly with Old Hickory, who was impressed by the chief’s boldness. Fort Jackson is also the site where representatives from the U.S. and the Creek Nation met to sign the treaty that officially ended the Creek War and secured 23 million acres of Creek lands for the United States. Dr. Sheldon explained to students the significance of the fort’s unique construction, then afforded them the opportunity to view several artifacts from Fort Mims housed at the Fort Jackson State Historic Site, including a well recovered by archaeologists.  

At Chalmette Battlefield just outside of New Orleans, LA, students discussed the incredible defeat of British forces by a so-called “rag-tag” force of Americans on January 8, 1815. Dr. Samuel Watson, professor of history from West Point Military Academy, led students on a tour around the whole of the battlefield, discussing the specific movements of both the British and American forces. As with Horseshoe Bend, students walked the battlefield in the footsteps of British soldiers toward the Rodriguez Canal, where in 1815 American soldiers and their allies, again led by General Andrew Jackson, had built up a mud fortification from behind which they repelled the British advance and issued a crushing defeat. Once across the battlefield, Dr. Watson discussed the ramifications of the American victory at New Orleans and the effect it had on the national consciousness.

Along the Apalachicola River near modern-day Sumatra, FL, sits Negro Fort, also known as Fort Gadsden, which was a haven for escaped slaves as well as hostile Choctaws after the War of 1812. Located at Prospect Bluff, it was the largest maroon community ever to exist in North America. With the river as his backdrop, Dr. Nate Millett of Saint Louis University explained how on July 27, 1816, a squadron of U.S. Navy gunboats under the command of General Edmund P. Gaines sent a round of hot shot into the fort causing an explosion that destroyed the structure and killed 270 of the 334-man garrison inside. Though the fort itself no longer stands, students had the opportunity to view the location of the “lucky shot” and discuss with Dr. Millett the influence anti-slavery advocate Edward Nicolls of the Royal Marines had in convincing the inhabitants of the fort of their right to freedom. Dr. Millett wrote extensively on this subject in his book The Maroons of Prospect Bluff and Their Quest for Freedom in the Atlantic World.  

Students met for the last trip at Fort Barrancas in Pensacola. Dr. Gene Smith, a professor of history at Texas Christian University, led the tour and discussed Andrew Jackson’s attack on Spanish-held, British-occupied Pensacola on November 7, 1814. After an unsuccessful attack on Fort Bowyer in Mobile Bay, British troops and Redstick allies under the command of Major Edward Nicolls reorganized at Pensacola in anticipation of an attack. Expecting Jackson to attack from the west side of the city, Governor Don Mateo Gonzalez Manrique ordered his troops to defend the west. However, Jackson moved his troops through the woods under the cover of night and attacked from the east. After a short battle in which troops were surprised and ships in harbor were out of firing range, Jackson forced the British out of Pensacola, but not before they destroyed the forts guarding the harbor. The Barrancas that now stands was rebuilt later and utilized during the Civil War. Though, as Dr. Smith explained, it was already obsolete due to its inability to withstand the weapons of modern warfare. Dr. Smith touches on the November 1814 attack in his book co-written with Frank L. Owsley, Jr. Filibusterers and Expansionists: Jeffersonian Manifest Destiny, 1800-1821.