Ace scout Monk alerted me to the coming April 25 publication of Peter Cozzens’ A Brutal Reckoning, an account of the Creek War of 1813. Cozzens knows the period — he wrote a highly regarded dual biography of Tecumseh and his brother Tenskwatawa aka the Shawnee Prophet.
The Creek War was a seismic event. The powerful confederacy of the Muskogee people was broken, and the rich lands of western Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi were opened up for settlement. Within decades — and with the removal of the tribes on the Trail of Tears — the region conquered in the war would become the heartland of the 19th Century cotton empire. In that sense, you could argue that the conquest of the Deep South put the U.S. on the road to Civil War.
Here’s the caper:
The Creek War is one of the most tragic episodes in American history, leading to the greatest loss of Native American life on what is now U.S. soil. What began as a vicious internal conflict among the Creek Indians metastasized like a cancer. The ensuing Creek War of 1813-1814 shattered Native American control of the Deep South and led to the infamous Trail of Tears, in which the government forcibly removed the southeastern Indians from their homeland. The war also gave Andrew Jackson his first combat leadership role, and his newfound popularity after defeating the Creeks would set him on the path to the White House.
In A Brutal Reckoning, Peter Cozzens vividly captures the young Jackson, describing a brilliant but harsh military commander with unbridled ambition, a taste for cruelty, and a fraught sense of honor and duty. Jackson would not have won the war without the help of Native American allies, yet he denied their role and even insisted on their displacement, together with all the Indians of the American South in the Trail of Tears.
A conflict involving not only white Americans and Native Americans, but also the British and the Spanish, the Creek War opened the Deep South to the Cotton Kingdom, setting the stage for the American Civil War yet to come. No other single Indian conflict had such significant impact on the fate of America—and A Brutal Reckoning is the definitive book on this forgotten chapter in our history.
It’s true. Tremendously important, and mostly forgotten. Overlooked even by people who are deeply enmeshed in frontier history.
I’m guilty: The Creek War is one of the most significant Frontier Partisan conflicts in history — and I’ve largely left it unexplored. Don’t know why. I’ve just concentrated my studies farther to the north, along the Ohio River. I reckon I ought to fix that, and I can do so in the context of The Ranger Project. Men like Sam Dale were certainly the equal of Captain Sam Brady or Simon Kenton.
Most of the limited exploring I have done in the southern theater was as a youth when I traced the trail of David Crockett, who fought in the Creek War.
In 1813, the Creeks uprose
Adding redskin arrows to the country’s woes
Now Indian fighting is something he knows
So he shoulders his rifle and off he goes
He fought single-handed through the Indian war
’Til the Creeks was whipped and the peace was in store
And while he was handling this risky chore
He made himself a legend forever more
“Davy Crockett” might’ve been an intrepid scout who won a war practically single-handed, but the actual David Crockett wasn’t much of a warrior, and his depiction of Frontier Partisan warfare is about as grim as it gets. Here’s the recollection of the 27-year-old Tennessee militiaman in the assault on the Creek town of Tallushatchee:
When we got near the town we divided; one of our pilots going with each division. And so we passed on each side of the town, keeping near to it, until our lines met on the far side. We then closed up on each end so as to surround it completely; and then we sent Captain Hammond’s company of rangers to bring on the affray. He had advanced near the town, when the Indians saw him, and they raised the yell, and came running at him like so many red devils. The main army was now formed in a square around the town, and they pursued Hammond till they came in reach of us. We then gave them a fire, and they returned it, and then ran back into their town.
We began to close on the town by making our files closed and closer, and the Indians soon saw they were our property. So most of them wanted us to take them prisoners; and their squaws and all would run and take hold of any of us they could, and give themselves up.
I saw seven squaws have hold of one man, which made me think of the Scriptures. So I hollered out that the Scriptures was fulfilling; that there was seven women holding to one man’s coat tail. But I believe it was a hunting shirt all the time.
We took them all prisoners that came out to us in this way; but I saw some warriors run into a house until I counted fourty six of them. We pursued them until we got near the house, when we saw a squaw sitting in the door, and she placed her feet against the bow she had in her hand, and then took an arrow, and, raising her feet, she drew with all her might, and let fly at us, and she killed a man, whose name, I believe was Moore. He was a lieutenant and his death so enraged us all, that she was fired on, and had at least twenty balls blown through her. This was the first man I ever saw killed with a bow and arrow.
We now shot them like dogs; and then set the house on fire, and burned it up with the fourty six warriors in it.
I recollect seeing a boy who was shot down near the house. His arm and thigh was broken, and he was so near the burning house that the grease was stewing out of him. In this situation he was still trying to crawl along; but not a murmur escaped him, though he was only about twelve years old. So sullen is the Indian, when his dander is up, that he would sooner die than make a noise, or ask for quarters.
The number that we took prisoners, being added to the number we killed, amounted to one hundred and eighty-six; though I don’t remember the exact number of either. We had five of our men killed…
Lest one fall into the trap of thinking of the Creek militants as hapless victims of American aggression, it is well to remember that the Creek Nation’s conflict with the U.S. was touched off when militant Red Sticks stormed Fort Mims, Alabama, and slaughtered most of its garrison — plus a whole bunch of civilians, including mixed-race Creeks.
The Battle of Horseshoe Bend, which ended the war hard-style, was one of the most sanguinary events in Frontier Partisan warfare — a pitched battle that turned into a rout that saw 800 Creek warriors slain. Forty-nine American militiamen and a few allied Creek and Cherokee were killed outright; more died of wounds later.
A brutal reckoning indeed.
Thanks… I did not know about Cozzens’ new book…
I have read many of his books, including his several books on the Civil War in the west and “The Earth is Weeping” and the Tecumseh book… He always has been an excellent researcher and his narratives have gotten better and better over time… GAH
PS: placed order for this new book before I returned to write this note…
Yeah, I put it on order, too. Book budget? What book budget?
“When I get a little money, I buy books – and if I have any left,
I buy food and clothes.” – Erasmus
David Wrolson says
March got a little ugly as I went a wee bit overboard as I had time before we hit spring farm work.
The longer winter dragged on-the more tempting Amazon became.
Still dragging here. Expecting snow showers this week.
lane batot says
Yeah, history lessons often leave out A LOT of what occurred in the South’s early settlement–maybe it’s a post Civil War Southern Repression kinda thing, that is still going on to some degree. There is an incredible lot that happened between early European settlers and Southern Native American tribes that had a HUGE influence on the development of America, that seems to take a back seat to the more Northern U. S. and Canada. The info is out there, but you gotta dig a bit more for it. Almost no one knows anything about the Tuscarora War, followed quickly by the Yamassee War, the latter almost eliminating the colony of South Carolina! And the later Seminole Wars are notable for many reasons–one in that some of the Seminoles NEVER SURRENDERED, and the U. S. guvmint finally just gave up chasing them through the Florida swamps! There was one scenario that occurred again and again throughout the Southeast, that led to the downfall of various tribes. They did well against the European colonists when they fought in a traditional manner–strike and run guerrilla tactics. But over and over, at some point, Indians in various uprisings tried to entrench themselves in fortifications of various sorts, or fight pitched battles on open ground, and failed miserably. The Creeks, Yamasees, and Tuscaroras all met their demise doing this…..
Yep. And, as I noted, I have to plead guilty. Remedying that, though…
Interesting point re: fixed fortifications. Would seem you’re right — forting up played to the Americans’ strength rather than the native’.
lane batot says
Yeah, I always wished(wish still?) someone like Allen W. Eckert had written a series of historical novels about the settling of the Southeast, in the same readable, popular fashion. There is certainly PLENTY of material for such! From the “Lost Colony” to Jackson’s infamous “Indian Removal” policy! As Chief Junaluska of the Cherokees said about Jackson later in life(long after the Cherokees had joined in with the whites against the Creeks)–paraphrased–“Had I known what Jackson was going to do to my people, I would have shot him myself, that day at Horseshoe Bend!”
Further to some of the comments above… One of the books I am currently reading on Native American History and touches upon many of the various conflicts/wars in North America is the following… “Indigenous Continent: The Epic Contest for North America’, author Pekka Hamalainen (2022)…
It is a good sweeping review, similar to Cozzens’ “The Earth is Weeping”, but starts much earlier in time and covers conflict across entire North American continent – But that said each of these early conflicts needs a stand-alone, book-length history… GAH
The Pekka H. book you are referring to pales in comparison to the 2 books
he wrote previously to that one, hard to believe I know, but find out for
your self and get back to me. You might be interested in Ned Blackhawk’s
new book as well.
Thanks for the book recommendations, all three are now in “my Cart”
Jean Nave says
Thanks for this reminder of that time in history. As always, great job.
Thank you Jean.
John E. Boyle says
I haven’t seen a bad book from Cozzens yet. I need to take a look at this one.
I’m about a third into it now. It’s worthy.