Battle of Fort Mims
Fort Mims is the site of a historic battle that occurred on August 30, 1813 between the Red Sticks, a faction of the Creek Indians, and American forces and their Creek Indian allies.
The Creek Indians were the native inhabitants of what is today eastern and southern Alabama and southwestern Georgia. The Creeks were proficient farmers, growing corn and beans on fertile creek and river bottoms. Hunting, primarily deer hunting, played major role as a food source and connected the Creeks to the Atlantic economy – deer skins were a valuable commodity in Europe where they were used to make gloves and book covers.
Creek towns were as large or larger than most towns in the Southern US at that time. But they were not monolithic. Creeks in some areas, including the Tensaw area had intermarried with Americans and Europeans settlers and were close allies.
By about 1800, a division emerged among the Creeks; the modernizers versus the traditionalists. Modernizers built plantations, bought slaves, grew cotton and raised cattle on a commercial scale. Most Creeks of mixed ancestry also called metis (pronounced may-tees) were modernizers; they took advantage of their ability to operate in both worlds – Indian and American. The traditionalists resisted. They wanted to maintain the old ways; they didn’t engage in the market economy very much, especially as the demand for deer skins began to collapse.
All Creeks were powerfully aware of the growing tide of American immigrants entering their lands – The United States called it the Mississippi Territory - bringing what would soon become an overpowering new culture and new economy, a frightening prospect to most Creeks.
This was exacerbated by the proposed expansion of a trail from Georgia to New Orleans known as the Federal Road. A charismatic and dynamic Indian leader named Tecumseh gave a rousing speech calling on the Creeks to abandon the American’s culture, crops and technology. He called the Creeks back to their ancient faith; most importantly, Tecumseh called for war against the Americans, all along the frontier, to push them out of Indian homelands and keep them out. Tecumseh called on all Indians to work together to accomplish this.
This caused a civil war among the Creeks. Creeks who favored Tecumseh and his plan called themselves “Redsticks” after their traditional, red-painted war clubs. Most of the modernizing mixed Creeks were against the Redsticks and allied with the Americans. In this atmosphere of fear and violence, the Americans and modernizing Creeks who lived in the Tensaw Settlement, on the eastern side of the Mobile/Tensaw Delta, built small forts for refuge and protection. Fort Mims was the largest.
Samuel Mims had grown rich operating ferries across the rivers to the Mobile County side. Mims owned a fine home of sawn planks, rare in an age of log houses and cabins, with a detached kitchen, loom house, blacksmith shop, three slave cabins and three stables. All this supported a prosperous plantation worked by at least a dozen slaves.
In the summer of 1813 increasing numbers of American and mixed Creek refugees concentrated at Mims’ plantation and constructed a crude and hastily constructed fort made of split pine logs enclosing about 1 and ¼ acres. Loopholes (so you could fire your musket through the walls) were cut, every four feet, about three and a half feet high. There were two gates, which were large, heavy and difficult to close.
Within this small space were crammed about 300 men, women, children, including babies – 100 Americans and 100 modernizing Creeks, including about 45 local Tensaw militia plus slaves and Mississippi Territory Militia. Tensaw militia – a mixture of Americans and metis led by one of the most prominent modernizing metis, Dixon Bailey, plus 100 slaves and 100 Mississippi Territory Militia. The commander was Major Daniel Beasley, a lawyer and sheriff in civilian life. No one in the fort was a trained soldier and no one wore uniforms. Militia were mostly young men who had recently volunteered to help defend against the Redsticks.
Throughout the second half of August there were steady warnings of Redstick attack; these were ignored by Major Beasley. Even on the day of the attack, an American scout and a black slave boy warned Beasley about Redsticks in the swamp. Major Beasley had a drum roll to announce that the boy was about to be publicly whipped for spreading false alarms. The east gate was wide open. An
Seven hundred Redstick warriors were led by Paddy Walsh and the legendary William Weatherford – a modernizing mixed Creek whose family owned plantations and slaves. Why he chose to side with the Redsticks and become one of their principal leaders remains a mystery.
Weatherford assumed that the drum roll meant that his warriors had been discovered and immediately ordered an attack. The Redsticks were divided into two columns sheltered in the woods about 400 yards from the fort. One column attacked the open east gate while the other, attacking from the north, charged the west gate.
The militia sentry at the east gate looked up to see the charging Redsticks about 20 yards from the open gate. Screaming “Indians,” he fired one shot and ran inside the fort. The Redsticks, who had maintained silence up to this point, bellowed an ear-splitting war cry and followed the sentry in.
Around the open east gate, a huge melee took place; about half of the militia died here, including Major Beasley, who was trying to close the gate. The surviving militia, including Dixon Bailey’s Tensaw fighting men, retreated to the interior buildings, especially the Mims house in the center of the fort and the log loom house against the north wall. Women and children were packed into every
building inside the fort.
Other Redsticks took possession from outside of all the walls except the northern wall and using the loopholes in the walls began firing into the packed fort. They also took the unfinished bastion in the southwestern corner. The militia managed to hold the west gate. A lull descended about 2:00 p.m. The Americans and Creek allies checked their weapons and ammunition, cared for the wounded they could reach and prayed the attackers had done their worst. The Redsticks left men to hold the walls, bastion and east gate, while they regrouped.
Scores of Redsticks were dead and scores more were wounded. More warriors were bound to be killed in a final assault. The Redstick leaders encouraged their warriors to fight on and finally convinced them to launch another attack.
At 3:00 p.m. the Redsticks opened the final attack with volleys of flaming arrows. As each structure became engulfed in flames, the Redsticks cut down the inhabitants as they fled to next, closest, intact building; most were beaten to death with red-painted warclubs.
Finally, Dixon Bailey and a group of Americans and Creeks made their last stand in the sturdy, loom house that butted up against the north wall. Then the house caught on fire. The trapped defenders chopped a small gap in the log wall. Taking advantage of the billowing smoke and general pandemonium, they slipped through the gap and ran for their lives towards the woods 100 yards away. Bailey died before he made it to the shelter of the forest. By 5:00 p.m. it was over.
Fort Mims burned all night. Twenty-eight people who were in the fort on August 30, survived, most by crawling through the gap in the north wall: 25 men, two young women (one white, one slave) and one child – a slave girl. Perhaps as many as 20 more survived because they were outside the fort when the attack began.
250 Americans, metis and slaves died on August 30 at Fort Mims. Approximately 100 Creek Redsticks died. The Redsticks carried off approximately 100 captives – most were slaves.
Fort Mims marked the high point of the Redstick offensive to drive the Americans and modernizing Creeks away. Eight months later, at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend on the Tallapoosa River in Eastern Alabama, Redstick resistance was broken and almost 1,000 Redsticks were killed or wounded.