By John Alden Reid 1999 ©
"The bend of the Tallapoosa. . .resembles in its curature that of a horse shoe. . . .Nature furnishes few situations so eligible for defence [sic]; and barbarians have never rendered one more secure by art. Across the neck of land which leads into it. . .they had erected a breast-work, of greatest compactness and strength from five to eight feet high, and prepared with double rows of port-holes very artfully arranged.
The skill which they manifested in their breast-work, was really astonishing."
So did General Andrew Jackson of the Tennessee Militia describe the log and dirt barricade of the Red Stick Creeks of Chief Menawa and the Prophet Monahee. Jackson's Tennessee army of regulars of the Thirty-Ninth U.S. Infantry and militia brigades took the barricade by storm, at the point of the bayonet, in the bloodiest battle of the Creek War in the wilderness of Alabama. On March 27, 1814, Jackson's army utterly crushed the Red Sticks despite their conspicuous and stubborn bravery; some 800-900 Creeks were killed of the 1,000 arrayed for battle behind the barricade. In a battle earmarked by its savagery, Jackson's army suffered 49 killed and 154 wounded, many mortally. The Battle of the Horseshoe was one of the most sanguinary battles of the War of 1812, and is perhaps the bloodiest slaughter ever suffered by natives at the hands of an American army. The power of the Creeks or Muskogee was forever broken by the carnage on the banks of the Tallapoosa; the hopes of the Red Sticks were immolated in the fires of the warís desolation. Andrew Jackson won the first laurels of martial fame by his victory, which catapulted him into the public limelight of the nation. Nine months later, on January 8, 1815, Jackson vanquished the British Redcoats at Chalmette in the Battle of New Orleans, the last battle of the War of 1812, and the worst defeat the British suffered on American soil. From the spoils of Jackson's victory at the Horseshoe, Alabama was carved in 1819 as the twenty-second state admitted to the Union, a state born from the embers of war. Jackson's martial fame from victories over Red Sticks and Redcoats led to the White House in 1829, when he was inaugurated as the seventh president.
Cutting a road through the wilderness with axes, Jackson's Tennessee army marched from Fort Williams on the Coosa dragging two cannon, and encamped at Emuckfaw Creek on March 26, 1814, the eve of the battle. On the morning of Sunday, March 27th, Jackson detached General John Coffee's brigade of 700 mounted militia infantry and Colonel Gideon Morgan's regiment of 500 Cherokees with Major William McIntosh's 100 "White" or Lower Creeks to ford the Tallapoosa and surround the bend, forestalling reinforcements and retreat for the Red Sticks who were "penned for the slaughter," according to Jackson. Jackson and the troops of the Thirty-Ninth U.S. Infantry and the Tennessee Militia Infantry, about 2,000 soldiers, marched into the peninsula of the Horseshoe to confront the 1,000 Red Sticks behind their log and dirt barricade. Jackson ordered his cannon, a three-pounder and a six-pounder of Captain Joel Parrish's Militia Artillery Company, to bombard the log wall from a knoll some 80 yards distant from the barricade. Jackson's hope was to breach the barricade with the withering fire of artillery, and rout the "savages" behind, for he "endeavored to levell [sic] the works with. . .cannon, but in vain." For two hours "a brisk. . .galling fire" of cannon and musketry, a hail of iron shot and lead balls splintered the bark of the logs, but the "balls passed thro [sic] the works without shaking the wall." "Notwithstanding every shot penetrated. . .and carried with it death. . .still such was the strength of the wall that it never shook," according to Jackson.
Some 70 three- and six-pound solid iron shot were fired in the cannonade, but the roundshot was embedded in the logs and dirt of the rampart, the wall impervious to a breach. Jackson contemplated a bayonet assault upon the barricade, with the spine of his army, the regulars of the Thirty-Ninth, as the vanguard. Meanwhile, Cherokees and White Creeks swam the Tallapoosa despite its frigid depth and swift current, stole canoes from the bank, and ferried militia soldiers across the river. These troops attacked the Red Sticks from the rear, burning the crude log huts of Tohopeka, and capturing the 300 women and children who cowered there. However, "notwithstanding the dtermined [sic] bravery" of these soldiers, they were "wholly insufficient to dislodge the enemy," as their force was too few to overwhelm the Red Sticks. Jackson ordered a charge of infantry with fixed bayonets. The combat raged "muzzle to muzzle, through the port-holes," where the lead "balls were welded to the bayonets of. . .musquets [sic]," as the field was shrouded in sulphurous smoke. Major Lemuel Montgomery of the Thirty-Ninth was killed in the assault, shot through the skull, while Ensign Samuel Houston was grievously wounded by a barbed arrow in the thigh. The Red Sticks were driven from the barricade by the musketry and bayonets, and fled to the thickets around the banks of the Tallapoosa. The cannon were dragged to the barricade after it fell to the infantryís bayonets, for Monahee was ìshot in the mouth by a grape shotî and so slain in the carnage. Grape- and canister shot was fired from the cannon, along with volleys of musketry firing lead balls and buckshot, which shuddered the Red Sticks in their timber refuge.
The event could no longer be doubtful. The enemy altho [sic] many of them fought to the last with that kind of bravery which desperation inspires, were at length entirely routed and cut to pieces. The whole margin of the river which surrounded the peninsular [sic] was strewed with the slain. Five hundred and fifty seven were found by officers of great respectability whom I had ordered to count them; besides a very great number who were thrown into the river by their surviving friends, and killed. . . .
Both officers and men who had the best opportunities of judging, believe the loss of the enemy in killed not to fall short of eight hundred. . . .
The battle may have been said to have continued with severity for about five hours; but the firing and slaughter continued until it was suspended by the darkness of the night. Thus, according to General Jackson, was the battle after the fall of the barricade, or, as he wrote to his wife, Rachel, "the carnage was dreadfull [sic]." Menawa, who suffered seven wounds in the battle, escaped the slaughter, as did Tulwa Tustunuggee, who was wounded nine times, and was carried from the butchery by his brother, Emathlahutky.
The Horseshoe Bend of the Tallapoosa after the battle would have appeared a wilderness which wither[ed] in sterility and seem[ed] to mourn the desolation which overspread it. With the charred timbers of the barricade yet smoking, with the reeking fog of musket and cannon smoke yet creeping over the peninsula, with the soot of the burned huts of Tohopeka begriming the rank grass of a field studded with axe-scarred stumps, a field littered with the flotsam of combat and watered with the lifeblood of the slain, the Horseís Hoofî ñ Cholocco Litabixee, would indeed have been desolate. The corpses of the 557 Red Sticks killed were apparently left to rot, their bones to bleach, so a noisome stench would have pervaded the air, while the wings of carrion fowl would have beaten a funereal dirge. The Tallapoosa, too, was a cemetery for the slain of the battle, as Jackson's killed (except for Major Montgomery buried on the field) were sunk in the river to prevent mutilation of their corpses, like scalping. Also, some 300-400 Red Sticks were shot or drowned in the river, so it became their tomb. The Horseshoe Bend of the Tallapoosa is a field of solemnity because of the sacrifice of those who "fell gloriously." The ground at Horseshoe Bend was hallowed by the bravery of those who struggled in the combat, and the national military park is itself a monument to those who fell.
Quotations from Andrew Jackson, The Correpondence of Andrew Jackson, Ed. John S. Bassett, Vol. I (To April 30, 1814), (Kraus Reprint Co.: New York), 1969, pp. 486-495, passim.
Note: John Alden Reid is the Park Ranger -- interpreter-historian at Horseshoe Bend National Military Park.
Horseshoe Bend National Military Park is located in Tallapoosa Co., Alabama on Highway 49; it is operated by the National Park Service. You can visit the Park today and walk the battlegrounds and hiking trails. There is a museum and you may view dioramas of the battle.