Gone to Fight the Indians —Part II

At the outbreak of the Second Seminole War, the Commanding General of the U. S. Army was Major General Alexander Macomb. There were only four other flag officers serving at the time: Brigadier Generals Edmund P. Gaines, Winfield Scott, Thomas Jesup, and Zachary Taylor.

The first American commander of the Seminole War was Winfield Scott. Scott initiated a conventional military strategy against the Seminoles; Napoleonic style maneuvers typical of Army doctrine at the time. With three converging columns, Scott marched on the main Seminole camp near present-day Lake Apopka. The Seminoles responded by scattering into the Florida swamps and resolved themselves never again to mass in one place.

Scott’s ineffectiveness early in the war was likely the result of public quarreling with General Gaines over Macomb’s appointment; Scott simply could not focus. Neither could Scott negotiate with the Seminoles. Not bargaining from a position of strength, the Seminoles saw no basis to relinquish their hit and run resistance strategy.

BrigGen Thomas S. Jesup
BrigGen Thomas S. Jesup

Brigadier General Jesup, however, proved to be a more effective field commander. Having successfully suppressed a Creek uprising in western Georgia, Jesup realized that the only way the Americans could defeat the Indians was to employ unconventional tactics. He mustered a force of 9,000 men (half of whom were regular army) and a battalion of Marines consisting of 38 officers, 400 enlisted men. Jesup organized the Army of the South into two brigades. On January 8, 1837, Jesup gave Colonel Henderson command of the Second Brigade. To Lieutenant Colonel Samuel Miller he gave responsibility to guard convoys moving between Tampa Bay and the Army depot at Fort King (near present-day Ocala, Florida).

General Jesup directed his commanders to begin a series of search and destroy operations that soon produced a positive result. Over time, Jesup was able to wear the Indians down with small attacks that threatened their families and their sources of supply. It was an effective counter to Osceola’s hit and run strategy.

On January 23, 1837 near Lake Apopka, a detachment of Captain John Harris’ company of horse Marines engaged a large body of Seminoles; the Indians quickly disengaged into the thick underbrush. Five days later, Colonel Henderson led a force into the Swamp to locate and engage the main body of Indians. When allied Indians made contact with the Seminoles, Henderson set in a line of Marine and Army marksmen along the Hatchee-Lustee River. Allied Indians and Seminole engaged in a lively exchange of fire, and when the fire slackened among the Seminoles, Henderson knew the enemy had begun their withdrawal. Captain Harris aggressively attacked across the 20-yard wide river. Mounted Marines captured some women and children; also taken were one hundred packhorses, and 1,400 head of cattle. The warriors escaped, taking their dead and wounded with them.

Having lost their families and food supply, Seminole warriors sued for a parley in March 1838. Several chiefs consented to a truce and relocation to the Arkansas Territory; they signed an armistice on March 6, 1838 agreeing to assemble at Fort Brooke for removal. Every indication was that the war was over, except that Osceola and Arpiucki (a.k.a. Sam Jones) did not come in. Henderson received promotion to Brevet Brigadier General, the first Marine Corps officer to hold general officer rank; Captain Harris received advancement to Brevet Major. Henderson returned to Washington in May leaving the command of 189 Marines at Tampa Bay to Brevet Lieutenant colonel Miller. According to the agreement, Seminoles began to assemble at Tampa Bay; everyone was convinced the war was over. It was not.

Late at night on June 2, 1838, Osceola led warriors into a poorly guarded encampment outside Fort Brooke, captured the compliant chiefs and their followers (numbering around 700 Seminole), and forced them to un-surrender. The war began anew —and continued for another five years. Osceola’s refusal to surrender led General Jesup to employ unconventional negotiations. In October 1838, Osceola and Coeehajo agreed to parley with General Jesup under a flag of truce. During the meeting, Jesup seized both men and took them into captivity. Osceola died of Malaria at Fort Moultrie, South Carolina three months later; he was just 33-years-old. Some sectors criticized Jesup for his un-gentlemanly tactics, but it did result in removing Billy Powell from his position as a revered Seminole leader.

Meanwhile, the Americans continued to use unconventional tactics against the hostiles. Brigadier General Walter Armistead destroyed 500 acres of Seminole crops. In another instance, Colonel Harvey had his men dress as Seminole warriors as a means of entrapping hostiles. Harvey also received $55,000 from the US Congress to bribe Seminole chiefs to bring in their bands. Braves were paid $500.00 to surrender; their wives $100.00.

In the summer of 1838, the Navy put together a special landing force consisting of small ships and dugout canoes. They called it a Mosquito Fleet. It gradually increased it strength to 652 men, which included 130 Marines. The fleet based at Tea Table Key; its mission to interdict gun smugglers from Cuba in their attempt to funnel arms and ammunition to the hostile Seminoles. Schooners patrolled off shore, barges ranged close in to shore, and canoes patrolled estuaries.

BrigGen William J. Worth
BrigGen William J. Worth

In 1841, the Seminole War was costing the US government $1.1 million annually. By this time, Brigadier General William Jenkins Worth led the war effort in South Florida. He viewed the cost of continuing the war irresponsible and convinced the Congress to leave remaining Seminoles in peace if they stayed in the southwest part of south Florida. Those left in Florida included bands led by Holata Mico (Billy Bowlegs), Arpicochi, Chipco, and the black Seminole leader Kunta Kinte [1]. The black Seminoles were especially determined to keep fighting; their point of view being that dying was better than enslavement. Well, the United States of America had had enough of the Seminole War but now that the American Army had caught the tiger, the tiger was not letting go. The Seminole Wars continued for another 40 years and the last Native Americans living in the Everglades never surrendered. Between 1835 and 1842, the US lost 1,466 men to combat or disease. Sixty-one Marines died in the conflict.

Sources

  1. Harper Encyclopedia of Military History, 1933
  2. American Military History, Army Historical Series, 2013
  3. Dictionary of Wars, Anchor books, 1987
  4. D. Burzynski, The First Leathernecks: A Combat History of the US Marines, 2013
  5. D. Ekardt, U. S. Marines in the Second Creek and Second Seminole Wars, 2013

[1] Just kidding; his name was Thlochlo Tusternuggee (Tiger Tail)

Gone to Fight the Indians —Part I

Trail of Tears
Trail of Tears

It all began innocently enough, as most things do that come out of our nation’s capital. The words even sound reasonable and benevolent: An Act to provide for an exchange of land with the Indians residing in any of the states or territories, and for their removal west of the river Mississippi. The construction of nice sounding words is what lawyers and lawmakers do for a living.

Early in the Nineteenth Century, the Mississippi Territory mostly belonged to the Creek Indian Confederacy. This native population lived in towns, which became significant political and tribal cultural centers were equally important to the personal identity of the people who lived in those towns. The Creek Nation consisted of two primary divisions: those known as the Upper Creek, who occupied territories along the Coosa, Alabama, and Tallapoosa Rivers in central Alabama, and the Lower Creek who lived in the areas along the lower Chattahoochee, Ocmulgee, and Flint Rivers in Southwestern Georgia. These areas generally corresponded to the upper and lower trade routes that connected the Creeks with South Carolina. Although confederated, it was a loose alliance with each tribal town governing itself. The alliance was more important during time of war or during political negotiations with encroaching colonial settlements.

The Removal Act of 1830 came almost as a second shoe to drop following the Red Stick War, fought between 1813 and 1814. Also known as the Creek Indian War, the essence of this conflict was a civil war that occurred mostly in Alabama and along the Gulf Coast. The Red Stick faction deeply resented the federal government’s meddling in Indian affairs, while the Lower Creek factions benefitted from trade with the Americans and sided with them against the traditionalists. A third group of Muscogee existed: the Creeks who ran away. In the Creek language, the word for runaway is simanooli. Today we call these Muscogee Indians, Seminoles.

What makes the Creek Indian War complex is the number of factions and agents involved. An abbreviated version of this was:

• Upper Creek militancy resisting American territorial and cultural encroachments;
• Obstinacy among the Lower Creek, who favored white civilization;
• Foolishness among federal bureaucrats meddling in matters that did not concern them; and
• British and Spanish agents who kept the Indians agitated.

In 1830, the Indian Removal Act had the support of non-Native people in the south who were eager to gain access to lands inhabited by the civilized tribes. Georgia, the largest state at that time, was engaged in a very contentious jurisdictional dispute with the Cherokee people. President Jackson sought to resolve this dispute by removing the Indians from their ancestral lands. There was also significant opposition to the Indian Removal Act: Christian missionaries protested the legislation—notably Jeremiah Evarts, and joining him was New Jersey Senator Theodore Frelinghuysen and Tennessee Congressman David Crockett.

The wording of the act strongly suggested that Indian removal was a voluntary process: an exchange of land carries with it the connotation that there would be some discussion, negotiation, and a fair swap. It was none of these things. The federal government put great pressure on Native leaders to sign removal treaties, but nearly everyone associated with the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, Seminole, Wyandot, Kickapoo, Potawatomi, Shawnee, and Lenape tribes understood that eventually, whites would send them to a new location. Jackson’s landslide victory in 1832 was the “go” signal.

The first removal treaty was the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek on September 27, 1830; Choctaw Indians in Mississippi ceded land east of the river in exchange for payment and land in the west. In 1835, the Treaty of New Echota resulted in the removal of the Cherokee. The remaining tribes decided they would not leave without a fight; the Seminoles were no longer running away. To assist the Seminole in their resistance were the Black Seminole, or fugitive slaves living among the Seminole people.

Brevet Brigadier General Archibald Henderson, Commandant of the Marine Corps
Brevet BrigGen Archibald Henderson Commandant of the Marine Corps

During the summer of 1835, Archibald Henderson marched a battalion of United States Marines south to confront Native Americans who decided they would rather fight than switch. It was a long walk; by the time the Marines arrived in southern Alabama, the Creek refusal to relocate to western lands was already resolved. Rather than locating, closing with, and destroying highly agitated Indians, the Marines patrolled the border of Georgia and Alabama on foot and by steamboat. In October, Henderson’s battalion joined with that of Lieutenant Colonel William H. Freeman at Fort Brooke, Florida. Henderson reorganized his force into a regiment of six companies, the strength of which was more than half that of the entire Marine Corps in 1835. Augmenting the Marines were 750 Creek Indian Volunteers. Henderson detailed Marine Corps officers to command some of the Native forces.

Colonel Henderson could not know that he and his Marines would participate in the longest and most costly of all Indian conflicts in the history of the United States. For seven years (1835-1942), eight different generals fought a frustrating war against an elusive adversary, aided by inhospitable terrain, hot, humid weather, and insect borne disease. Concentrating superior modern firepower and discipline against an enemy with no flanks, no lines of communication, no political or industrial bases proved an impossible task for such notable men as Winfield Scott and Zachary Taylor.

Opposing America’s finest generals was Billy Powell (1804-1838), a man of mixed Creek-Scotch-Irish-English parentage. Billy’s mother raised him as a Creek Indian. Following their defeat in 1814, Billy’s mother took him south into Florida along with other Red Stick refugees. We know him today as Osceola, the influential leader of the Florida Seminole and one of the southern Creek who decided not to abide by the terms of a treaty negotiated with the United States government.

The Seminole’s first demonstration against forcible relocation was the massacre of a column of 110 soldiers led by Brevet Major Francis Dade on December 28, 1835. There were three survivors to the attack, but Seminoles killed one of those the next day. Of the two remaining survivors, one had no clear memory or understanding of what had transpired. What we know of the event we learned from one solitary survivor. The Second Seminole War was the result of this massacre along with an order to round up and kill every hostile.

Not everyone agreed with this policy: Major Ethan Allen Hitchcock participated in the search for and discovery of the remains of Major Dade’s company. In his journal he wrote about that discovery and his opposition to US policy: “The government is in the wrong, and this is the chief cause of the persevering opposition of the Indians, who have nobly defended their country against our attempt to enforce a fraudulent treaty. The natives used every means to avoid war, but were forced into it by the tyranny of our government.”

Continued Next Week

This Month in History

4 July 1801: President Thomas Jefferson reviewed the Marines, led by the Commandant of the Marine Corps, LtCol William W. Burrows and the Marine Band, on the White House grounds. The smartly uniformed Marines performed drills and fired various salutes in observance of the new nation’s 25th anniversary.

McDonnell Douglas A-4 0016 July 1990: One of the oldest and most versatile attack aircraft in Marine Corps history, the A-4 Skyhawk, retired from the Corps’ active aviation structure after over 30 years of service. The last two Skyhawks from MAG-32 flew their initial flight from Cherry Point to NAS Patuxent River on this date.

7 July 1941: The 1st Marine Aircraft Wing was activated at Quantico, Virginia. Within a year of activation, the Wing would participate in the Marine Corps offensive at Guadalcanal. That bitter campaign would be the first in a series of legendary battles in which the Wing would add luster to its reputation. The 1stMAW would earn five Presidential Unit Citations for gallantry in campaigns spanning World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.

11 July 1798: President John Adams approved “An Act for Establishing and Organizing a Marine Corps”, and it became law. The following day, the President appointed William Ward Burrows as Major Commandant, United States Marine Corps.  In August, Major Burrows opened his headquarters in Philadelphia, at that time still the capital of the new nation.

14 July 1993: The USS IWO JIMA was decommissioned after over 30 years of service in a ceremony at Norfolk Naval Base, Virginia. The ship was named for the World War II battle during which three Marine divisions ousted 20,000 entrenched Japanese troops. The Iwo Jima was commissioned 26 August 1961, and it was the first ship specifically designed as an amphibious assault ship from the keel up.

18 July 1918: The 4th Brigade of Marines began an attack near Soissons, France, as part of a three-division counterattack against the Germans. In the first two days of battle, the brigade sustained 1,972 casualties.

Fighting Marines 00224 July 1944: The V Amphibious Corps, commanded by Major General Harry Schmidt, landed on Tinian, in the Mariana Islands. The following morning, the 2d and 4th Marine Divisions began a shoulder-to-shoulder southward sweep of the island. Organized enemy resistance faded within a week, and on 1 August, MajGen Schmidt declared the island secure.

26 July 1947: The National Security Act of 1947 became effective, reaffirming the status of the Marine Corps as a separate military service within the Department of the Navy. The Act Provided for Fleet Marine Forces, and confirmed the Corps’ mission of seizing and defending advanced bases, as well as land operation incident to naval campaigns.

28 July 1918: Brigadier General John A. Lejeune assumed command of the 2d Division, U.S. Army in France, and remained in that capacity until August 1919 when the unit was demobilized. He was the first Marine officer to hold an Army divisional command, and following the Armistice, he led his division in the march into Germany.

Hat tip: Historical Division, HQMC

This Month in History

2 June 1918: At dawn on this date, the crack German 28th Division attacked along the axis of the Paris-Metz road hitting the American 2d Division, including the 4th Marine Brigade. The Marines opened with deadly rifle fire and helped hand the German troops a setback which set the stage for Marine victory at Belleau Wood which would soon follow, although at great cost.

8 June 1995: A Marine tactical recovery team from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit stationed on board the USS Kearsarge rescued a downed U.S. pilot, Captain Scott O’Grady, USAF, from Bosnian-Serb territory in Bosnia.

Fighting Marines 00610 June 1898: The First Marine Battalion, commanded by LtCol Robert W. Huntington, landed on the eastern side of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The next day, Lt Herbert L. Draper hoisted the American flag over Camp McCalla where it flew during the next eleven days. LtCol Huntington later sent the flag with an accompanying letter to Colonel Commandant Charles Heywood noting that “when bullets were flying, …the sight of the flag upon the midnight sky has thrilled our hearts.”

12 June 1961: President John F. Kennedy signed a Presidential Proclamation calling for the American flag to be flown at the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Virginia, “at all times during the day and night.” Discussions between the Attorney General’s office and Marine Corps officials earlier in 1961 on improving the visibility and appearance of the monument led to the proposal to fly the Flag continuously, which by law could only be done by Congressional legislation or by Presidential proclamation.

Fighting Marines 00115 June 1944: Preceded by naval gunfire and carrier air strikes, the V Amphibious Corps assaulted the west coast of Saipan, Marianas Islands. By nightfall, the 2d and 4th Marine Divisions, moving against heavy opposition, had established a beachhead 10,000 yards wide and 1,500 yards deep.

20 June 1993: The 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit returned to Mogadishu, Somalia, to stand ready to assist United Nations forces in maintaining peace in the war-torn country. Earlier that month, the 24th MEU had been ordered to cut short Exercise Eager Mace 93-2 in Kuwait to respond to possible contingency operations in Somalia.

25 June 1950: Shortly before dawn, eight divisions of the North Korean People’s Army crossed the 38th Parallel and invaded the Republic of Korea. Within three days, the South Korean capital city of Seoul had been captured. On 30 June, President Harry S. Truman ordered a naval blockade of the Korean coast and authorized the sending of U.S. ground troops to Korea. Two days later, General Douglas MacArthur, the Commander in Chief Far East, formally requested that a Marine regimental combat team be deployed to the Far East.

25 June 1966: In Vietnam, Operation Jay began about 30 kilometers northwest of Hue, and lasted nine days. The 2d Battalion, 4th Marines landed north of the North Vietnamese 812th Main Force Battalion, and the 2d Battalion, 1st Marines landed south of the enemy’s position. Caught in between the two Marine units, the enemy suffered over 80 dead in nine days of fighting.

Fighting Marines 00726 June 1918: BGen James G. Harbord, the Commanding General of the 4th Marine Brigade, notified American Expeditionary Force Headquarters that Belleau Wood was “now U.S. Marine Corps entirely.” After 20 days of combat, and at a cost of over 4,000 casualties, the 4th Brigade of Marines had proven its fighting heart. The grateful Commander of the French Sixth Army would soon decree that in all official correspondence, Belleau Wood would henceforth bear the name, “Bois de la Brigade de Marine.”

Hat tip: Historical Division, HQMC

General Order No. 1

EGA 2014-002Marine sentries are governed by 11 General Orders and such special orders and directives as may be required for a particular guard post or location. A Marine’s first general order is, “Take charge of this post and all government property in view.” That is precisely what the Marines did in 1921 (and again in 1926) when gangsters began robbing the United States Postal Service of its mail and packages. Secretary of the Navy Edwin Denby, himself a veteran of Marine Corps service, instructed the Marines as follows:

“You must, when on guard duty, keep your weapons in hand, if attacked, shoot, and shoot to kill. There is no compromise in this battle with bandits. If two Marines guarding a mail car, for example, are suddenly covered by a robber, neither must hold up his hands, but both must begin shooting at once. One may be killed, but the other will get the robbers and save the mail. When our Marine Corps men go as guards over the mail, that mail must be delivered or there must be a dead Marine at the post of duty.”

Mr. Denby was not a joking man.

Mail robbery had become a very lucrative business between 1919 and 1921. According to an article by Postal Historian George Corney, about $6 million was lost to mail robbery during these years. In terms of today’s dollars, that would be about $80 million. Train/postal robbery was a worthwhile endeavor back then because registered mail is how most businesses and persons transferred money from one location to another. The worst robbery of all took place in New York City —the loss of $2.4 million in five sacks of registered mail. Today, that would be about $31 million.

The Postmaster General of the United States asked the President for help (on two separate occasions). In 1921, President Harding sent a terse letter to the Secretary of the Navy, Mr. Denby:

My Dear Mr. Secretary:

You will detail as guards for the United States Mails a sufficient number of officers and men of the United States Marine Corps to protect the mails from depredations by robbers and bandits.

You will confer with the Postmaster General as to the details, and will issue the necessary instructions in regard to the performance of this duty.

Very truly yours,

Warren G. Harding

It was not very long before the Commandant of the Marine Corps temporarily reassigned 53 officers and 2,200 Marines to duty protecting the United States Mail. These Marines came from the bases at Quantico, Virginia and San Diego, California. Marine commanding officers passed down terse instructions to their Marines, including a training manual formatted as a series of questions and answers. Here are two examples:

Question: Suppose he (the robber) is using a gun or making threats with a gun in trying to escape?

Answer: Shoot him.

Question: Is it possible to make a successful mail robbery?

Answer: Only over the body of a dead Marine.

Of course, so few Marines could not guard every bit of mail and so the Post Office Department decided that Marines would only guard registered mail consisting of a considerable value, particularly mail involving cash and negotiable bonds. The post office consolidated these shipments as much as possible in order to reduce the number of Marines required for such duties.

USMC Mail Guards 001Marines assigned to these duties may have imagined that it was a plum assignment, but it actually involved long, tedious, lonely hours. Not one time during the initial period of guard duty did anyone attempt to rob the U. S. Postal Service. Marines were withdrawn on 15 March 1922.

The break in robberies continued until in April 1923 when a mail messenger in St. Louis was relieved of $2.4 million of registered mail, and a general reescalation of robberies in 1926. In October, a group of gunmen murdered a postal truck driver and made off with $150,000. Once again, the Postmaster requested Marines to guard the mail while the postal service developed its own force of guards and armored trucks. Once again, the Commandant of the Marine Corps detailed 2,500 Marines to postal security duties, this time under the command of two-time Medal of Honor recipient Major General Smedley D. Butler (West Coast Operations), and Major General Logan Feland (East Coast Operations). All 2,500 Marines served on Mail Guard Duty.

By 1926, gangsters had upgraded their firearm capability. Now they were using automatic rifles and machineguns. Marines responded in kind, adding Thompson sub-machineguns to their arsenal of .45 pistols and shotguns. This time, a Marine did fire his weapon. On the night of 26 October 1926, while detailed to a Seattle bound train, Private Fred Jackson discovered an intruder standing on the mail car platform. In spite of the fact that the train was traveling at about 25 miles per hour, Private Jackson ordered the man off the train. The man told Jackson he wasn’t going to do it. Jackson fired a shot above the man’s head, which caused the interloper to rethink his position. As the man jumped from the train, Jackson fired a second shot for good measure. Today this would result in a White House investigation.

Marines were withdrawn from Postal Security Duty in February 1927; they were needed elsewhere. The Banana Wars were once more heating up.