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Chapter 1:

  • Introductory
  • -- the First Spanish occupation of Alabama -- battles fought by De Soto -- settlement at Mobile -- French and Spanish wars -- English control -- Indian wars -- war of 1812 -- Seminole and Florida wars -- Alabamians in the war with Mexico.


It was Easter Sunday, March 27, 1513. The Southern sun was shining brightly over the placid bay of St. Augustine. Blooming flowers in the rich profusion characteristic of that soil and climate delighted the eye with their beauty and filled the air with their fragrance. The natives gathering on the beach gazed out upon the waters with awe and wonder at the white-winged ships slowly but surely approaching their shores. It was the fleet of Spain, commanded by John Ponce de Leon, who had been one of the companions of Columbus in his second voyage. He came now furnished with a royal charter to explore and conquer.

This expedition and others, dispatched in rapid succession during the century following the first voyage of Columbus, resulted in confirming the dominion of Spain in all of South and Central America, Mexico, and much of what is now the southern portion of the United States. In 1535, a French expedition under Cartier sailed up the St. Lawrence and gave the name of New France to the territory along its shores. As early as 1497 the Cabots received patents from the English crown to set up the royal standard in any of the newly-discovered lands, but with the exception of the expedition under the ill-starred Lord Raleigh, the first attempt to plant an English colony in America was that at Jamestown in 1607. So the [4] Saxon or English-speaking people were nearly a century behind the Latin race in their attempt to assert jurisdiction over, take possession of and occupy territory upon the new continent. But, with the exception of Napoleon's momentary control in Louisiana, the rule of France in this country was effectually terminated by the treaty of Paris on February 7, 1763; and the Spanish crown, which once exercised dominion over all explored parts of America, and claimed the right to all by virtue of discovery, is now left without sovereignty in the Western hemisphere.

In April, 1528, Pamfilo de Narvaez landed with 300 men on the shore of Tampa bay. He marched northward, believing that in the interior he would find a wealthy empire similar to those of Mexico and Peru. The greater number of this expedition perished, but Alvar Nuflez and four companions made their way westward, passed through south Alabama, and finally reached the Spanish settlement of Mexico. These were the first white men who ever trod the soil of Alabama. In May, 1539, Hernando de Soto, with 1,000 chosen cavaliers, most of them from the best blood of Spain and Portugal, sailed into Tampa bay and disembarked at about the same spot where Narvaez landed eleven years before. Many months were spent in exploring eastern Florida, and then he turned northwardly into Georgia, at every turn confronted by a trackless wilderness and often surrounded by hostile tribes of Indians. In one of his earliest conflicts with natives he rescued Jean Ortiz, one of the Spanish followers of Narvaez, who for eleven years had been held as a prisoner by the Indians. The knowledge of the Indian customs and language acquired by Ortiz during captivity was of invaluable use to De Soto.

On July 2, 1540, the army passed from Georgia into Alabama at the site of the Indian village of Costa, which was situated near where the city of Rome, Ga., now stands. De Soto was received kindly by the Indian [5] chieftain, but depredations committed by some of the soldiers precipitated a conflict, which, however, was quelled by the courage and presence of mind of De Soto, and the wrath of the natives appeased. The wily Spaniard then enticed the chief within his lines and held him as hostage until he was ransomed with provisions and slaves. On July 26th, De Soto approached the town of Coosa. The chieftain with 1,000 tall, sprightly and active warriors came out to meet him with the most friendly greetings, but, like the chieftain of Costa, he, too, was held as a prisoner and hostage to enable De Soto to extort ransom and to prevent any hostility on the part of the Indian warriors. De Soto then turned southward to Maubila, the principal city of the Maubilians, which was situated at what is now Choctaw Bluff, Clarke county. Tuskaloosa, the chieftain of that tribe, was a very handsome man about forty years old and of most extraordinary stature; he was entirely undemonstrative, but it soon became evident that he regarded the Spaniards with grave suspicion. Nevertheless, upon entering the city they were received with music, the most graceful dancing of beautiful Indian girls, and other outward signs of hospitality.

The Spaniards soon found that they were in the midst of an armed force of Indians fully ten times their number. A dispute between a native and a Spanish officer was the beginning of a most terrible battle; De Soto succeeded in getting outside of the gates, and deployed his soldiers so as to meet the swarm of Indians that were sweeping down upon them, a large body of which were directing their attack upon the horses of the Spaniards. The Indians used missiles of all kinds. Bows and arrows were used with great skill, while in hand-to-hand conflict the savages fought with wooden cleavers and enormous clubs. After three hours of battle, the Spanish were reinforced by the arrival of their rear guard under Muscoso. Encouraged by this addition of fresh troops, the heavily-armored Spaniards, with their superior weapons, [6] rushed upon their opponents, indiscriminately slaughtering them without regard to age or sex. The Spanish accounts tell us this battle lasted nine hours; that 11,000 Indians were slain, while the Spaniards lost 81 killed and nearly every Spanish warrior was wounded. The killed included Rodriguez, a noble Portuguese of high rank, and two nephews of De SotoDiego De Soto and Don Carlos Enriquez. Many of the Spanish horses were killed and much of their provisions, clothing and stores of various description were destroyed. The desperate condition of the Spaniards in a hostile wilderness, many of them seriously wounded and with scanty supplies, was more than counterbalanced by the terror which their prodigies of valor had aroused in the savages.

This conflict, one of the most severe in the history of that character of warfare, was very near the site of Fort Mims, where, on August 30, 1813, 273 years afterward, the Creek warrior, Weatherford, with 1000 savage followers, attacked, and during a five hours conflict slaughtered 531 men, women and children, including white soldiers, friendly Indians and negroes.

The original plan of De Soto was to rejoin his ships in Pensacola bay, but fearing that many of his followers would refuse to remain with him for further exploration he turned toward the northwest, passing through the country that now forms the counties of Clarke, Marengo, Greene and Pickens. During the journey he had many conflicts with the Indians, encountering a large force on the Black Warrior with which he had a very serious engagement. He then turned into the Indian village of Chickasaw, near the site of the modern city of Columbus, Miss. De Soto and his followers had occupied five months in passing through what is now the State of Alabama. They were met on the eastern border with the most hospitable and kindly treatment, which they returned with treachery, cruelty, injustice and destruction, leaving ruin and desolation in their path. The story of these five [7] months of bloodshed by De Soto furnishes the first authentic account of warfare within the boundaries of Alabama.

Although after this for a century and a half the foot of white man never pressed the soil of this territory, still the inhabitants did not enjoy it in peaceful possession. After the death of Montezuma and the conquest of Mexico by Cortez, the Muscogees, a powerful tribe of Indians from the northwestern part of that country, being unwilling to submit to the control of the Spaniards, sought new homes to the eastward, and we have vague accounts of the battles fought, by which they despoiled weaker and more peaceful tribes and occupied the territory, where they were found by French explorers toward the end of the seventeenth century.

In April, 1682, La Salle took possession of the mouth of the Mississippi river, and the French Canadians were active about this time in founding settlements along that river and upon the Gulf coast. In 1699 the Spaniards made a settlement at Pensacola and also laid claim to Mobile bay. Lords Bienville and Iberville founded the town of Natchez, and in 1702 they built Fort Louis (de la Louisiana) at the mouth of Dog river. The French found large numbers of human bones on Dauphin island and for many years it was called the Island of Massacre. Treaties of peace were made with the Muscogees and Alabama Indians, but these treaties did not secure to the settlers any long-continued freedom from strife; and the early occupancy by the French of South Alabama was constantly disturbed by conflicts with the Indians of greater or less severity. The hostility of the Indians to the French was intensified by the intrigues of the English.

In 1707, France and Spain having united against England, Lord Bienville, with 150 French Canadians, went to the relief of Pensacola; but the English and their Indian allies evacuated the place before the arrival of the French. In 1711 the site of Mobile was permanently [8] settled and three years later Lord Bienville, having succeeded in making treaties with the Indians, sailed up the Alabama river, passed the present location of Montgomery and established Fort Toulouse, at the site of the present town of Wetumpka. Later, a settlement was made at Montgomery, and Fort Tombecbee was established at what is now called Jones' Bluff. Fort Toulouse contained four bastions, mounted with eight cannon, and was garrisoned by the French till 1763, except for a short period in 1722 when the troops mutinied, killed their commander and deserted the garrison.

In 1719, France was at war with Spain, and on May 4th Lord Bienville attacked Pensacola, captured the garrison and sent the captives to Havana. Later, during the summer, Matamora, the Spanish governor of Cuba, retook Pensacola. The Spaniards landed on Dauphin island and bombarded Fort Filippe, but were repulsed by Sevigny, whose command consisted of 260 soldiers and 200 Indians. The French fleet arrived, Pensacola was again retaken by the French and held by them until 1723, when it was restored to Spain by treaty. It was during this year that the seat of government was transferred from Mobile to New Orleans, which materially lessened the importance of the former city. Ten years later the French, under Bienville and D'Artaguette, returned and established themselves at Mobile. The control of the French over the Indians was now seriously disturbed by the intrigues of the English, who had established strong and permanent settlements in the Carolinas. They sought every opportunity to incite the natives against the French, and in 1736 the irritation and disturbances ripened into warlike outbreaks. The French and their allies, the Choctaws, marched against the Chickasaws, who had joined the English. The principal battle was fought at Ackia, May 26, 1736, in which the French were defeated. Bienville retreated to Mobile with most of his army, but D'Artaguette and a part of the troops [9] were cut off, taken prisoners, cruelly held as hostages for quite a period, and finally they were all murdered. Sixteen years later, in 1752, the French and Choctaws, under De Vaudreuil, again attacked the Chickasaws, only to meet another disaster. The Chickasaws are described as the bravest and most warlike of all the Indian inhabitants of Alabama They finally dwindled away before the advance of civilization, but were never conquered by armed forces.

The aggressive English finally, in 1765, established themselves in Alabama, an agreement being made by which the territory then included under the name of Illinois was extended as far south as 32° 28′, about the latitude of Demopolis. The claim of the Spaniards to Florida was based upon their treaty with England of 783, and for many years there was incessant border warfare between the Spaniards and their Indian allies on one side and the colonists (mostly from Georgia) and their native allies on the other. This subjected our early settlers to almost constant Indian incursions for booty and massacre.

During this period the French were carrying on trade near the site of the present cities of Tuscumbia and Florence, and, mainly due to their influence, the Creeks and Cherokees were active in their hostilities upon the American settlers.

The war for independence between the colonists and Great Britain, which lasted from 1775 to 1781, was confined to the lakes, the Atlantic coast and adjacent territory, and the country now known as Alabama can hardly be said to have been affected thereby. The colonial government having been firmly established, Col. James Robinson in 1787 marched from the Cumberland region into Alabama against the depredating Indians. They were subdued for a time, but again renewed hostilities, until finally quelled by a band of brave Americans under Captain Shannon. [10]

In 1806, the arrest of Aaron Burr near Fort Stoddard by Captain (afterward Major-General) Gaines, U. S. Army, added a feature to the military history of the State. Burr's Southwestern enterprise had proven a failure. In Mississippi he had been arrested and released, but his expedition had become a menace to our government and Captain Gaines therefore arrested and sent him under guard to Richmond, where in August, 1807, he was tried and finally acquitted.

One of the ablest and most sagacious enemies of the earlier settlers of Alabama was the great Shawnee Indian chief, Tecumseh. He was commanding in appearance and exercised a powerful influence among many of the native tribes of America. Upon the breaking out of war between the United States and Great Britain in 1812, Tecumseh and his followers became allies of the British, and during the summer of 1812 he was of great service to them in their operations around Detroit and upon the lakes. In October the British dispatched him to the South to incite the Seminoles, Creeks, Chickasaws and other tribes against the United States. Frequent outrages were perpetrated by the savages, and all the frontier settlements were in constant danger of attack.

In July, 1813, a battle was fought between the Creeks and the troops under Col. James Kellar. In August Gen. F. L. Claiborne reached Mobile from Baton Rouge. He constructed a series of forts and adopted other measures to secure the safety of the people. On August 30th the massacre of Fort Mims, before mentioned, took place. This was followed by many other atrocities on the people of Alabama, and under orders from the general government, Gen. Andrew Jackson at the head of a large force marched to these scenes of warfare. His advance, under General Coffee at the head of 900 men, crossed the Coosa, and with a loss of 5 killed and 41 wounded defeated the Indians, 200 strong, at Tallashatchee, destroying their villages and disabling 84 savages. [11]

On November 9th, Gen. Andrew Jackson, commanding 2,200 men, defeated 1,000 Indians, with a loss of 15 killed and 86 wounded, inflicting on them a loss of 2900. On November 18th, Gen. James White, with 260 men, defeated 360 Indians at Hillabee; 62 Indians were killed and 256 were made prisoners. On November 29th, Gen. John Floyd with a force 950 strong successfully attacked a large body of Indians at Autossee; 200 of the savages were killed, his loss being 1 killed and 54 wounded.

December 23d, Gen. F. L. Claiborne with a loss of 1 killed and 6 wounded dispersed a body of Indians at Eccanachaca, killing 30 of their number. On January 22d General Jackson, commanding a force of 1, 150 strong, defeated 900 Indians at Emuckfa, killing 189 of the savages. January 27th, the Creeks attacked General Floyd at Camp Defiance, losing 37 of their warriors and inflicting a loss of 20 killed and 125 wounded.

March 27th, General Jackson fought the battle of Horse Shoe Bend; his force was 2,400 and his loss 26 killed and 111 wounded. These victories and minor successes in other parts of the State by Major Blue, commanding regular troops, and Colonel Pearson, of the North Carolina militia, effectually ended the Indian disturbances in Alabama, the savages gladly entering into a treaty of peace. General Jackson was placed in command of the Southern army and proceeded to Mobile to protect the Gulf coast, which was now menaced by the British fleet. He strengthened Fort Bowyer, situated on a tongue of land about thirty miles from Mobile, defending it with 20 guns and 160 men under Major Lawrence. This fort was on the present site of Fort Morgan.

On September 12th the fort was attacked by a party of 712 British and Indians under Colonel Nichols, assisted by two sloops and two brigs. They were beaten off with the loss of 200 men and one of the ships. The British ships also made an attack on Mobile, but retired without [12] doing any material damage. General Jackson then marched with 4,000 men to Pensacola, drove the British from Fort Barrancas, and then proceeded to New Orleans, where, on January 8th, he won his great victory over the British General Pakenham. A month later a fleet of 38 British war vessels and 5,000 soldiers captured Fort Bowyer, but as peace had been declared, they only held it a few weeks. The withdrawal of the British troops enabled the government to make very satisfactory treaties with the Indians.

On March 1817, the present territorial limits of Alabama were defined by Congress, and on December 14, 1819, it became one of the States of the Union. In 1830 the Choctaws ceded their lands to the government. In 1832 the Creeks made their cession, as did the Cherokees in 1835. Many of the Indians were opposed to the sale of their lands and considerable friction followed, making it necessary to assemble a large body of troops to suppress indications of outbreaks by both Creeks and Cherokees, but finally, in 1838, their removal to the West was peaceably accomplished.

From this time until the war of 1861 Alabama enjoyed a condition of peace, but its people held themselves ready to assist their brethren in neighboring States. Several companies of Alabamians volunteered and fought in the Seminole and Florida wars and a still greater number gave their services to assist in Texan independence. Many of these perished, a considerable number being victims of the Goliad massacre, where 330 persons were murdered in the most atrocious manner. Milton Irish and Bennet Butler, from Huntsville, were among the few who escaped, and Captain Shackleford, of Courtland, was spared because he was a physician and the Mexicans needed his services to attend their wounded. When war was declared against Mexico, thousands upon thousands of patriotic citizens of this State tendered their services to the government, but only one regiment composed [13] entirely of Alabamians could be accepted. It was organized at Mobile in June, 1846, and designated as the First Alabama volunteers. Its officers were as follows: Col. John R. Coffee, Lieut.-Col. Richard G. Earle, Maj. Goode Bryan, Adjt. Hugh M. Watson, Capts. Sydenham Moore, Andrew P. Pickens, Hugh Cunningham, E. T. Smith, Zach Thomason, William G. Coleman, R. M. Jones, William H. Ketchum, D. P. Baldwin and J. D. Shelley. The regiment proceeded to Mexico, first served under General Pillow and afterward under General Shields. In 1847 Colonel Seibels, of Montgomery, organized a battalion; it reached Vera Cruz too late to join Scott's column, but performed garrison duty at Orizaba until the termination of hostilities. Its captains were: John G. Burr, T. E. Irby, Tennent Lomax, Blanton McAlpine and Gibbs. The Thirteenth regiment of regulars included a large number of Alabamians. Jones M. Withers, of Mobile, who graduated at West Point in 1835, was its lieutenant-colonel, and Egbert I. Jones, Hugh L. Clay and Nicholas Davis were among its officers. A small battalion commanded by Col. Phillip H. Raiford, composed of the companies of Captains Curtis, Downman and Ligon and independent companies commanded by Captains Desha, Elmore, Platt and James McGee, also volunteered and served in the war with Mexico. Of these the only cavalry company was that of Captain McGee; all the others were infantry.

Many of the Alabamians who served in Mexico became quite distinguished in civil life and in the war of 1861-65. Jones M. Withers was distinguished as a major-general in the army under General Bragg. Hugh L. Clay served with great credit in the department of the adjutant-general and was tendered the appointment of brigadier-general. Egbert I. Jones became quite prominent as a lawyer, was made colonel of the Fourth Alabama in 1861, and was mortally wounded at the battle of Manassas, leaving a glorious record for courage and bravery. Nicholas [14] Davis was a member of the Confederate Provisional Congress, and was appointed lieutenant-colonel of the Nineteenth infantry, which position he declined in order to accept the command of an Alabama battalion. Hon. Jeremiah Clemens, who served as colonel of the Ninth regulars, won great reputation as a member of the United States House of Representatives and also as United States senator. Early in the war he was appointed major-general of the Alabama State troops, but did not enter the regular Confederate service.

Maj. Goode Bryan became a distinguished Confederate general. Col. Sydenham Moore practiced law and was elected to the United States Congress. He took part in the war as colonel of the Eleventh Alabama infantry and died of wounds received at the battle of Seven Pines. William H. Forney served during the entire four years of the war, beeame a brigadier-general and made a fine reputation as an officer and a soldier. He afterward was Alabama State senator for two years and a prominent representative in the United States Congress for eighteen years. Richard Gordon Earle became a Confederate cavalry general and was killed in battle at Kingston, Ga.

After returning from Mexico, Colonel Coffee lived for fifty years a respected and highly-esteemed citizen, and acquired great wealth. Colonel Seibels, like Colonel Coffee, declined to accept public office, preferring to devote himself to private business, in which he was very successful. Tennent Lomax was a splendid specimen of manhood, both physically and intellectually. Though quite young while in Mexico, he was appointed military governor of Orizaba After the Mexican war he engaged in journalism. In 1861 he successfully performed the delicate duty of taking possession of Forts Barrancas and McRee at Pensacola. In April, 1861, he was appointed colonel of the Third Alabama infantry; was highly esteemed as a soldier; was promoted to a brigadier-gen- [15] eralship, but before receiving his commission was killed while gallantly leading his regiment at the battle of Seven Pines. Lieuts. John L. May and William R. King were among the officers from Alabama who were killed in battle during the Mexican war. [16]

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