Volume 26, No. 7 – July 2013
Volume 26, No. 7
If you have a computer and some spare time, the Round Table needs a program chairperson or a committee. If you are interested, please contact me at the July meeting or by e-mail: email@example.com.
July 10, 2013 Program:
The July program will be "inQUIZative about the Civil War." The members will be divided into regiments and may the best regiment win.
June 12, 2013 Program: "Seminole Wars – Training Ground for Civil War Leaders."
Guy Bachman, a member of the Loxahatchee Battleground Preservationists and a member of the Sons of Union Veterans, gave a spirited talk about the background and consequences of the three Seminole Wars.
Bachman started by noting that many of the guys who fought the Second and Third Seminole Wars as lieutenants went on to become generals in the Civil War. In Mr. Bachman’s opinion, the Seminole Wars were the first wars in U. S. history over slavery. The Declaration of Independence may have stated that "All men are created equal," just not Indians (or blacks or women)!
Creeks from Alabama and Georgia moved down into Florida to escape civil wars and were called istisemole ("runaways, separatists") by the Spanish, which in time was corrupted into Seminole. The Seminoles farmed, traded with Europeans, lived in adobe huts. Black slaves, seeking freedom, used the first Underground Railroad from Georgia to St. Augustine, where the Spanish declared them to be free. The Spanish welcomed both red and black runaways to form a buffer between their holdings in South Florida and the British (later Americans) greedy for land. However, when Spain sold Florida to the U. S. in 1821, the blacks were forced to join up with the Seminoles, who held them in a light servitude – sharecropping for 30% of the produce, in return for which the Seminoles protected them against the Southern slave catchers. Indian removal would also end the semi-freedom of the escaped slaves. The first effort at Indian removal came in 1817-1818, under President Andrew Jackson, in partial retaliation for the fact that red and black Seminoles had sided with the British in both the American Revolution and the War of 1812 and had shielded escaped slaves from the planters’ slave catchers. This effort was partially successful leading to a treaty in 1832 in which some Seminoles agreed to move to the Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). At that time perhaps 4,000 to 5,000 Seminoles resisted a nation of 13 millions which at the start had a standing army of only 7,000. The US army supplemented its force with volunteers from Tennessee, Alabama and Missouri. The regulars always looked down on the volunteers, with some reason, for they were undisciplined and unused to taking orders from strangers. In 1835, when Maj. Dade led a force from Tampa to enforce the treaty, he was ambushed and all but 2 of his 108 men were killed. (One survivor named Ransome went on a nation-wide talk tour charging 12.5 cents per talk.) In December 1835, two separate attacks blunted the American campaign. Despite setbacks, the Americans wore down Seminole resistance and removed most of them to the Indian Territory. By 1842, the American government declared victory, although no peace treaty was ever signed and sporadic raids and counter-raids continued.
Bachman told us that the wars cost the American taxpayers $30 million over 7 years and were both unnecessary and unpopular. The Democrats (Jackson, Van Buren) were for removal; the Whigs opposed the wars as they subsequently opposed the Mexican War because they threatened to expand slavery’s power permanently. He noted an 1841 letter written by Lt. William T. Sherman, fresh out of West Point, regretting Indian removal:
". . . Florida was the Indian’s paradise, was of little value to us, and it was a great pity to remove the Seminoles at all, for we could have collected there all the Choctaws, Creeks, Cherokees, Chickasaws, in addition to the Seminoles. They would have thrived in the Peninsula, whereas they now occupy lands that are very valuable, which are coveted by their white neighbors on all sides, while the Peninsula of Florida still remains with a population less than should made a good State."
(Richard J. Procyk, "Guns Across the Loxahatchee," ©1999, pages 91-95).
He then noted that Harvey Oyer’s story about Maj. William Lauderdale stashing his rifle in a tree was untrue – "It’s a children’s book, so he has a right to embellish facts a little." He then turned to the battle to preserve the Loxahatchee Battlefield: "Mr. Procyk literally stood in front of a bulldozer to stop the development!"
The Seminoles had rifles, accurate up to 300 yards, which they obtained from Spanish traders. The US Army used muzzle loaded muskets. In the heat of battle, many soldiers never even fired their guns. Bachman said that Seminole women never slept with US soldiers. Their children were trained to be quiet from earliest age. At age 12, a boy was left for a day in mud up to his neck. Lower Creeks served as scouts for the US Army. The Seminoles were never conquered. They never signed a peace treaty, although there were occasional truces. Osceola, the great Seminole chief, made friends with a Lt. John Graham and ordered his men not to shoot at Grant in any of the battles. During truces, the Seminoles played games with the soldiers.
In the Second Seminole War, Gen. Winfield Scott failed miserably because he ignored the advice of his scouts and employed European tactics. He felt it was "not fair" for the Seminoles to shoot at his officers. Finally, Maj. Gen. Thomas S. Jesup, the Army’s Quartermaster, was drafted to remove the Seminoles. Jesup was given 30,000 troops and a small navy and developed a pincer movement to shove the red and black Seminoles into the sea. Jesup also resorted to some "unfair" tactics of his own. For example, in October 1837, Osceola and his band were waiting under a white flag to parley with Gen. Jesup, who, instead sent 250 dragoons who captured Osceola and 95 Seminoles and marched them under guard into to the Spanish dungeons of Fort Marion in St. Augustine. Osceola was already in poor health and he died on January 30, 1838. His attending physician, Dr. Frederick Weeden, cut off Osceola’s head and removed his personal belongs, all violating Seminole tradition. Bachman says Dr. Weeden sold the head to a museum, which later burned down. Osceola’s last wishes were that he be buried in Florida, but instead his body was buried somewhere in South Carolina and his head vanished. Procyk’s book recites the continuing efforts to return Osceola’s body to Florida as he requested.
Bachman then turned to the three "coastal" battles: On December 25, 1837, 300 Indian warriors made a stand on a hammock facing a swamp just North of Lake Okeechobee. Col. Zachary Taylor, in charge of 800 soldiers and volunteers, placed Col. Richard Gentry’s Missouri volunteers in front of his regulars and ordered them to make a frontal assault, with predictable results. The Americans suffered 26 dead and 112 wounded against only 11 killed and 14 wounded Seminoles. Taylor claimed a great victory and rode the fame from his "victory" into promotion as a General and eventually the White House. The Missourians never forgot and never forgave Taylor. [Editor’s note: at a recent event in Riverbend Park, Gentry’s descendants, members of the Florida DAR who helped save the battlefield, were still bitter toward Taylor.]
The second battle involved 55 sailors and 25 soldiers on board coastal vessels under the command of Lt. Levin M. Powell, USN, sailed into Jupiter Inlet on January 15, 1838, only to break ranks under withering fire from the entrenched Seminoles. The day was saved by Joseph E. Johnston, the future Rebel general, who led a skillful rearguard withdrawal despite 2 bullet holes in his hat and 7 bullet holes in his coat. Powell’s force suffered 4 killed and 22 wounded (32.5% casualty ratio). Lt. Henry W. Fowler, USA artillery, and some black sailors, stood their ground. Fowler killed three Seminoles and a dog with his Bowie knife before being killed. A black sailor carried Fowler’s body 5 miles back to the waiting vessels.
Jesup, smarting from these setbacks, marched south to the Loxahatchee River and 1,600 Americans attacked 300 Seminole warriors on the south bank. Jesup placed the volunteers (this time from Tennessee) on the left side, where they came under heavy Seminole fire. Jesup ordered the them to attack, but Indian crossfire stopped the movement in its tracks. Jesup then drew his pistol (allegedly holding it to the head of Maj. William Lauderdale, commander of the Tennessee volunteers and threatening to blow his head off if he didn’t lead the attack), then marched forward, ordering the volunteers to follow, but soon found himself all alone. He was struck in his left cheek by a musket ball that shattered his glasses. Some Dragoons under Col. William S. Harney swam across the river and threatened to flank the Seminole position. The Seminoles were simply fighting a rear guard action to permit their families to escape, and once this was accomplished, simply disappeared into the murky waters of the Everglades.
The Americans were in no shape to pursue the Seminoles immediately. They had just marched 200 miles through swamps and palmetto grass. Lt. Robert Anderson (of Fort Sumter fame) was out in front marking the trail all the way. By the time of the third battle, one-third of the army was barefoot and nearly naked because of the saw palmetto, and exhausted because sleep was nearly impossible due to the mosquitoes. Jesup instead built Fort Jupiter and awaited supplies, which arrived a week later. The reenergized Americans chased the Seminoles south to a truce site near today’s Boynton Beach, employing "scorched earth" tactics, burning their fields and their huts. Jesup took pity on the starving Indians who appeared ready to give up the fight. In a letter to Secretary of War Joel Poinsett (the man who brought the "Christmas" flower renamed after him from Mexico), Jesup questioned the removal policy. President Van Buren sternly reminds Jesup that an army officer does not make policy but must obey his orders. Jesup had been holding 500 Indians at Fort Jupiter and shipped them to the Indian Territory rather than killing them.
As an aside, Bachman pointed out that Sam Colt brought his repeating carbine to Fort Jupiter for a test, but was rejected out of hand. Lt. Harney did buy 50 carbines for his dragoons but found that they jammed easily because the heat of the gunpowder used softened the barrels. Other men who became famous in the Civil War included Stephen Mallory (future Senator from Florida and CSA Secretary of the Navy), who participated in the Third Seminole War. A. P. Hill, supervised the building of the Second Ft. Jupiter in 1855, unfortunately also contracted syphilis that dogged his career in the Civil War. Abner Doubleday also helped build the trail from Ft. Lauderdale that is now Military Trail.
The Americans may have declared "victory" in 1842, but friction continued. In July 1849, "renegades" killed several American settlers. Trying to avoid renewed conflict, the Seminole leaders, Billy Bowlegs and Sam Jones caught and delivered the renegades to the authorities. Despite their efforts, the Americans renewed their effort to remove all Indians from Florida, dead or alive. In 1850, acting under Federal authority, the State of Florida undertook to drain the swamps and sell off building sites. Sound familiar? The few hundred remaining Seminoles did not take kindly to federal surveyors crossing their land. In December 1855, American soldiers invaded Billy Bowlegs’ town, seized his banana inventory and burned his crops. Billy Bowlegs took revenge, killing 4 and wounding 4 soldiers. The Seminoles conducted raids, including attacks on the new Jupiter Lighthouse. On March 15, 1858, Billy Bowlegs signed an agreement purporting to reimburse him for the damages inflicted upon his property, and along with 165 Seminoles were sent West. Sam Jones, however, never surrendered and died peacefully at age 94 somewhere in Big Cypress Swamp. From a handful of Seminoles who refused to leave, Florida today has a population of over 3,800 Seminoles (like their relatives living in Oklahoma who struck oil) who have the final revenge on the white man by operating a number of gambling casinos at great profit!
Mr. Bachman received a well-deserved round of applause at the end of a spirited Q&A session.
[Editor’s note: in A Short History of the Seminole Wars, by John and Mary Lou Missall (Seminole Wars Foundation, Inc., Pamphlet Series, Vol. 1, No. 2 (2006), the authors state: "The [7 year] Second Seminole War cost the government approximately $30 million, at a time when the entire annual federal budget was only $25 million. Thousands of soldiers from all over the nation [died or] returned home ravaged by fevers, other debilitating diseases, and wounds that never healed. Florida itself suffered, with its major industries destroyed and thousands of settlers forced to look elsewhere for a place to live. No one won the Second Seminole War; they only survived it."]
Last changed: 07/03/13