Battle of Horseshoe Bend
Horseshoe Bend National Military Park
​Daviston, Alabama

"The Tallapoosa might truly be called a river of blood"

The Battle of Horseshoe Bend was the culminating event of the Creek War of 1813-1814, a nativist revolt that began as a civil war in the Muscogee (Creek) Nation but spread to engulf the southern United States.

The outcome made a national hero of Andrew Jackson and started men like Sam Houston on the road to power. For the Creeks, however, the loss of so many of their promising young men was the first step on a long and terrible path called the Trail of Tears.

The Creek War started in the winter of 1812-1813 as a clash of cultures. The Big Warrior, Little Prince and other members of the Creek Council - allies to U.S. Agent for Indian Affairs Benjamin Hawkins - ordered the execution of Little Warrior, a follower of the Prophet Josiah Francis (Hillis Hadjo). Francis was a holy man who encouraged the Creeks to return to their traditional way of life as the only means of staving off the culture and land hunger of the whites. 

Little Warrior and a handful of followers, however, killed several families on the Duck River in Tennessee after being falsely told that war had erupted between Native Americans and the whites. Hawkins demanded blood atonement for the murders and the Creek Council sent an execution squad under the Coweta war chief William McIntosh to exact punishment. Francis and his followers were outraged and retaliated by killing members of the McIntosh party.

A cannon similar to those used by Jackson's army sits outside the Visitor Center at Horseshoe Bend National Military Park in Alabama. The carriages of U.S. guns were light blue in 1814, like those of the French.
Dragging their two cannon to the top of a rise - today's Gun Hill - overlooking the barricade, the U.S. artillerymen opened fire at 10:30 a.m. Many of their iron cannonballs flew over the wall, but others impacted the heavy logs without doing any real damage. The firing continued for two hours, but the guns failed to breach the fortification.

The critical moment of the battle came at around 11:30 a.m. when three of the Cherokee warriors fighting under Gen. Coffee crossed the river and brought back canoes from the village of Tohopeka. Cherokee and Creek warriors used them to flood across and set fire to the town. Women and children fled in panic as smoke rose above the trees.

The attack on their families led some of the Red Stick warriors to leave their positions at the barricade and rush back to the village to battle Coffee's warriors. Their absence weakened Menawa's main force, making the breastworks more vulnerable to Jackson's main attack which came at 12:30 p.m. 

The general saw the smoke of the burning Creek homes and realized that Coffee had carried out a rear attack on the Red Sticks. He immediately ordered forward his main army. The long roll of drums sounded, and the U.S. soldiers pushed forward to storm the barricade.

The fight for control of the wall was bloody and fierce. Two-thirds of Menawa's warriors did not have firearms but fought instead with war clubs, tomahawks, knives, arrows, and their hands. The soldiers of the 39th Infantry, led by Maj. Lemuel P. Montgomery, pushed against the wall with bayonets fixed.

Montgomery fell dead at the head of his regiment, but other officers - among them Ensign Sam Houston - led the men up to the barricade where they fired back and forth with Menawa's men through the portholes in the wall. Gen. Jackson later wrote that the fighting was so intense and at such close range that bullets from the Creek rifles and muskets welded themselves to the bayonets of the U.S. soldiers.

The men of the 39th finally climbed the wall and crossed over into the swirling mass of resisting warriors behind it. Houston, who later became Governor of Tennessee and President of the Republic of Texas, was wounded with an arrow as he topped the wall but continued to fight until he fell with a second wound.

It became a battle of numbers and weapons. Jackson's men expanded their breakthrough at the barricade, driving the Red Sticks back to higher ground between the wall and the burning village. The warriors had prepared this as a citadel of last resort, felling trees along its slopes and interlacing the trucks in a way that they could move from position to position.

Blood flowed as Menawa, and his fighters refused to surrender. The army's cannon were pushed forward to blast the Red Stick positions with canister loads that sprayed small iron balls from the muzzles of the guns much as shotgun shells work today. 

The Red Sticks continued to fight, hour upon hour, even after darkness fell across the scene. The handful of survivors slipped away in the night, using the dark to help them evade the soldiers who were hunting down and killing them, one by one. 

Menawa was among those who escaped in this way. Wounded seven times, he lay in a pile of dead warriors until he could slide down the bank into the river and swim away. 

Andrew Jackson reported that his men found the bodies of 557 Red Stick warriors on the field at Horseshoe Bend. Gen. Coffee estimated that his riflemen killed another 200-300 as they tried to swim the Tallapoosa to the other shore. Subsequent events suggest that perhaps 150-200 of Menawa's men escaped the scene, along with a few women and children. U.S. soldiers captured another 350 women and children.

Jackson's army lost 72 killed and 201 wounded. Many sources give the total as 49 killed and 154 wounded, but these writers include only white casualties while excluding the allied Cherokee and Creek warriors who fought under Coffee.

Horseshoe Bend was not the last battle of the Creek War. Fighting continued as the Prophet Josiah Francis, Peter McQueen, and other leaders took their followers south to Spanish Florida. It did, however, break the back of the Red Stick movement in Creek Nation. 

The magnitude of the victory became apparent on August 9, 1814. Meeting with an array of Muscogee (Creek) leaders at a fort named in his honor, Jackson imposed upon them the Treaty of Fort Jackson. It forced the transfer of nearly 23 million acres of Native American land to the United States. The treaty lands included vast areas of Alabama and Georgia.

Horseshoe Bend National Military Park preserves the battlefield today. Visitors can see exhibits in an interpretive center before touring the park either by driving the tour road or hiking a battlefield trail.

The park is at 11288 Horseshoe Bend Road, Daviston, Alabama. It is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Visitor Center hours are 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) and is free to visit. A picnic area is available, and there is a boat ramp on the Tallapoosa River, but there are no camping facilities at the park.

Please click here to visit the official website for more information.
The battlefield takes its name from the Horseshoe Bend of the Tallapoosa River, a notable landmark just upriver from Lake Martin.
Followers of the Prophet were called "Red Clubs" or "Red Sticks" because they raised the "Red Stick" of war in their towns and carried curved warclubs that were painted or dyed red. Only the club part was left uncolored as the warriors expected to stain it with blood.

The war intensified due to the "eye for an eye" culture of the Creeks, which was not unlike the personal code of the Scots-Irish Europeans who settled on the frontier. Francis and his followers soon gained the upper hand as town after town joined them. The Big Warrior fled his capital of Tukabatchee for safety at Coweta on the Chattahoochee River, from where he pleaded with Benjamin Hawkins for arms and support.

The Red Sticks sent Peter McQueen, the war chief of Tallassee, to Pensacola in Spanish Florida for a new supply of ammunition preparatory for a drive against Coweta that would target the white faction leaders and ultimately Hawkins himself. As McQueen's party was returning to the Nation, however, it was attacked at Burnt Corn Creek by a force of men from the Mississippi Territory (which then included western Alabama).

The Muscogee won the battle, but blood spilled on both sides. The families of the slain Red Sticks demanded the punishment of those responsible and Creek War now spread to include the U.S. frontier. 

The retaliatory strike for Burnt Corn Creek came at Fort Mims, a log fort built by Samuel Mims and his neighbors as tensions had risen. Red Stick warriors led by Paddy Walsh, High Head Jim, William Weatherford, and others struck the fort at the noon lunch hour, their attack helped by the fact that over-confident defenders had not closed the main gate. Over 250 men, women, and children died when Fort Mims fell and shock reverberated across the southern United States.

The U.S. responded by sending three armies against the Muscogee or Creek Nation. Brig. Gen. Ferdinand L. Claiborne pushed up the Alabama River to the Prophet's headquarters at a town called the Holy Ground. The battle there was a victory for the whites, but Claiborne was forced to withdraw due to supply shortages and the expiring terms of enlistment for many of his soldiers.

Maj. Gen. John Floyd led an army from Georgia to the Chattahoochee River where he built Fort Mitchell before pushing west into Creek territory. He won a victory at Atasi (Autossee) but was badly handled by Red Stick forces at the Battle of Calabee Creek and also forced to withdraw.

Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson of Tennessee led the third army, which pushed south through the mountains of North Alabama to the Ten Islands of the Coosa River where the soldiers built Fort Strother as a base of operations. Creek warriors and their families - who may or may not have been Red Sticks - were massacred at nearby Tallushatchee on November 3, 1813. 

Jackson then defeated and slaughtered a Red Stick army at the Battle of Talladega on November 9, before attempting to drive into the very heart of the Nation with a strike against the large town of Tohopeka at the Horseshoe Bend. He was driven back in bloody fighting at the battles of Emuckfaw and Enitachopo Creek but marched for the Tallapoosa again in March 1814.

His earlier failure to reach Horseshoe Bend weighing heavily in his mind, Jackson came this time with a much larger force. The regulars of the 39th U.S. Infantry and two field cannon - a three-pounder and a six-pounder - provided added firepower for his thousands of Tennessee militiamen and U.S.-allied Creek and Cherokee warriors. His army numbered around 3,300 men.

Waiting to oppose the U.S. juggernaut were perhaps 1,000 Red Stick warriors led by the hard-fighting chief Menawa. The combined fighting strength of the towns of Newyaucau, Oakfuskee, Oakchaya, Eufaula, Fishponds, and Hillabee was present.

A massive fortification or barricade added strength to the Red Stick position. Built using heavy logs and pierced with double rows of portholes, this wall stretched across the narrowest point of the Horseshoe Bend. It was so well-designed that Jackson's men could not approach without walking into a crossfire.

The U.S. army reached Horseshoe Bend on the morning of March 27, 1813, after camping the previous night at the old Emuckfaw Battlefield. Brig. Gen. John Coffee led 700 mounted Tennesseeans and 600 allied Creek and Cherokee warriors across the Tallapoosa River, carrying out his orders to surround the Horseshoe Bend from the heights on the opposite shore.

Jackson then led the main army of around 2,000 men forward to within sight of the Red Stick barricade, where he was greeted by the war cries and rifle fire of Menawa's fighters. Red Stick prophets danced on open ground behind the wall to encourage the warriors and seek assistance from the Master of Life.
A cannon and monument mark the top of Gun Hill at Horseshoe Bend National Military Park. The U.S. guns bombarded the Creek barricade from this spot.
The reconstructed walls of Fort Mims march the site where Red Stick warriors stormed the frontier stockade on August 27, 1813.
The site of Tohopeka village is seen here from the heights on which the Red Stick warriors made their desperate last stand.
The battlefield at Horseshoe Bend is seen here from the position of the U.S. troops. The line of white posts marks the site of the Red Stick barricade.