Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Fort Mitchell: A Site Critical to Florida History

Fort Mitchell is located in Russell County, Alabama, but it is a site that holds great significance in Florida history.

Established in 1813 by Gen. John Floyd and the Georgia Militia, the fort was a key base for operations during the Creek War of 1813-1814. Floyd and his army marched from Fort Mitchell en route to the critical battles of Autossee and Calabee Creek during that war.

After the collapse of Creek forces at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, Fort Mitchell continued to be occupied by U.S. troops to both guard against Indian raids and to serve as an outpost against rumored British activities in Florida. In addition to its war against the Creeks, the United States was then engaged in the War of 1812 against the British and within weeks of Horseshoe Bend, Great Britain began to open a Southern front in the war by landing troops along the Gulf Coast.

U.S. and militia troops passed through Fort Mitchell while on their way to join Andrew Jackson at New Orleans and in early 1815, Col. Benjamin Hawkins (U.S. Indian Agent and veteran of the American Revolution) led a large force of whites and allied Creek Indians down the Chattahoochee River from Fort Mitchell. Hawkins planned to attack two British forts on the Apalachicola River in Florida. On the verge of his first attack, however, word arrived of the end of the War of 1812 and the campaign was ended within site of the enemy.

In 1816, troops would again leave Fort Mitchell bound for the Apalachicola River. Led by Lt. Col. Duncan L. Clinch, a battalion from the 4th U.S. Infantry dropped down the Chattahoochee River from Fort Mitchell on a campaign that would ultimately lead to the destruction of what U.S. officials called the "Negro Fort" on the Apalachicola.

One of the former British outposts on the Apalachicola, the fort had been left in the hands of a large force of African American and Indian allies when the British departed the region. These individuals had been part of a Colonial Marine force raised during the War of 1812 and had extensive military training. They flew the Union Jack over their works and pledged to defend the fort to the last man. They literally did so. The fort withstood a siege by U.S. and Creek forces until a cannonball sailed into its gunpowder magazine. The resulting blast killed 270 of the 320 men, women and children in the fort.

Fort Mitchell also served as an important base of operations during the First Seminole War of 1817-1818. An expedition launched from the post in early 1818 resulted in the destruction of a major Seminole village in Jackson County, Florida.

The fort remained a significant military post into the 1830s and was a key base during the Creek War of 1836. It was from here that Neamathla, a Creek chief famed in the early history of Florida, was sent on the Trail of Tears. According to eyewitnesses, the old chief who had once opposed Andrew Jackson in Florida, was sent away in irons.

The site of Fort Mitchell is now a historic site near Phenix City, Alabama. For more information, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/fortmitchell1.

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