« ForrigeFortsæt »
General Gaines' faults, or misfortunes, or by whatever gentle term they may be called, were not greater than those displayed by other persons who had the planning and execution of the Florida campaigns. In the first place, the President was determined that the Florida contest should not be looked upon as a war to be provided against in the customary way, and his ministers were very ignorant of the state of things, or if they knew better, were yet afraid to thwart him : in the second place, there was manifested a shameful want of knowledge of the localities, after an occupation of fifteen years; thirdly, a great want of provisions, although near a fertile region, with a water communication open at all seasons on both sides the peninsula ; fourthly, a culpable deficiency of means of transportation. In one instance alone twenty thousand rations were carried off by the Indians in consequence of this signal fault.
These capital errors together are quite enough to render any contest disastrous; their existence would hardly obtain credit, if they were not known to the world by the published documents. They reveal the cause why a handful of half-naked, undisciplined savages were able to contend more than three years against a powerful nation, full of people, and abounding in resources of every description. To these evils were superadded the misfortune that the different divisions of the army did not coöperate as they should do; beside which, a great want of harmony was exhibited among the general officers. General Gaines was not the only commander who went out of his way to seek private adventures,' as is well proved by General Scott's rebuke of General Jessup in a public despatch.
As I am not writing a history, it is not necessary to discuss the events of the war; a few of the incidents of it are introduced whenever they are connected with the subject of this memoir. The contest continued, with various turns of fortune. Wherever our troops could fairly get at the Seminoles, they repulsed or drove them off; but as yet no sensible impression was made upon them, and the hope of final conquest was not so bright as it was two years before. At last, in August of 1836, a regular battle took place, the first that might be called a ranged action, where both parties were brought in face of each other. Our little force was commanded by Colonel Pierce, and was on the advance toward a large field on General Clinch's plantation, at which they arrived about sun-rise, where they found the Indians in considerable force, not however in order, as if expecting an attack, but scattered over the field, and occupied in collecting sugar-cane. As soon as their alarm-gun was fired, they hastened to a rising ground, where they formed into line with a degree of precision entirely unusual, and greatly to the astonishment of the officers of the army. The action commenced with a good deal of regularity, and was maintained nearly an hour and a half with great spirit on the part of the enemy. The Indians were commanded by Osceola, whose shrill and well-known war cry was distinctly heard above the din of battle.
Toward the close of the engagement a manœuvre was attempted which showed a knowledge of military art very uncommon among Indians, and which excited the surprise and even admiration of the army,
as being one which would have reflected credit on any skilful civilized military commander. The morning air was heavy and damp, and the clouds of smoke caused by the firing rested low over the field, and concealed the motions of the Indians. Osceola, with great military tact, saw at once the advantage that could be derived from this circumstance. Keeping the front warmly engaged, he ordered two flank movements, with a view of separating the army, and cutting off its retreat; most fortunately, just as these flank parties were changing their direction in extended order, so as to occupy the rear of the position of the troops, a breeze sprang up which dispelled the smoke, exposed the movement, and gave time to the troops to frustrate the plan. This was not however accomplished without much hard fighting, and it was mainly by the aid of a field-piece well served that the Indians were driven from the field into the hammock, where they were lost sight of.
The Indians, although greatly superior in numbers, were completely routed, as they almost invariably are when placed in open battle before disciplined troops ; yet Colonel Pierce in his report gives them the merit of having fought long and with most determined bravery, and all the officers were loud in praise of the sound judgment and great military skill displayed by Osceola. I am indebted to a friend, an officer who distinguished himself in this action, for these particulars, which do not appear in the public despatches.
The detachment returned to Micanopy, a stockade ; and a few days afterward Osceola drew off his men toward the Ouithlacoochee, with the intention, as was afterward discovered, of making this river a line of demarkation, beyond which the whites should not pass; thus leaving the southern and largest portion of the Territory under the power of the Seminoles. The army followed the trail with an augmented force under General Call, which was farther increased by the arrival of the Alabama and Tennessee volunteers. In a skirmish just before reaching the river a few prisoners were taken, who reported that their people had crossed a few days before; that they were commanded by Osceola, accompanied by Micanopy, Jumper, and Cloud, and that a council was then about to assemble to deliberate on future operations. This was a moment to strike a decisive blow; accordingly arrangements were made to ford the river and make a vigorous and sudden attack on the whole body assembled. The volunteers were ordered to make an assault on the hammock which borders the north bank of the river, so as to cover the approach of the crossing party of regular troops. In the advance they were met by a sharp firing, which so disconcerted them as to force them to retire; nor were they more successful in a second attempt a little higher up the river, from which they retreated in confusion, notwithstanding the gallant behaviour of several of the officers.
The regular troops, made angry by the sight of this failure, were urgent for permission to cross and at once make a dash at the enemy; but this was not granted, and the only satisfaction allowed them was the empty triumph of firing a few shells across the stream, probably the first that were ever heard in that lonely region. Osceola's plan succeeded for a time, and this western Rubicon was for a period the boun. dary of the contending forces: it became a point designated to mark the
relative position of each foe, and was farther celebrated in Floridian annals as being the scene of many a hard-fought battle.
In one of the engagements on this memorable stream, an incident oc. curred which places Osceola's character in a most favorable point of view, and which, being well authenticated, is worthy of a notice which traces the events of his life. After the battle was over, an accidental meeting took place between Osceola and some of the officers of the army, when he inquired with earnestness if Lieutenant Graham, whom he knew had been engaged, had escaped injury, and was well. On being told that he was wounded, he expressed surprise and displeasure, saying that he had given positive orders to spare him, and added with sternness :
The man who has disobeyed my orders, and fired upon him, shall not live! He was told the wound came from a random shot and was slight, at which he appeared much pleased, adding that the Lieutenant was one of his friends, who often had been “good to the poor Indians,' and he was determined he should not die by their hands.
This was very noble; but a motive more delicate and touching opera. ted still more powerfully to arrest his arm in the midst of deadly strife. The Lieutenant and Osceola had become friends by frequently meeting each other; and when stationed in his vicinity the Lieutenant was often a visiter at his tent, where, beside acquiring an intimacy with the chief, he was able to ingratiate himself into the favor of the other tenants within. Osceola had a little daughter, whom the Lieutenant took much notice of, and who, as soon as her fear of the white man could be over. come, would play with him, call for him when absent, and run toward him whenever he approached. Among other small gifts, he presented her with a frock of gaudy colors, which, after some difficulty, by reason of her unwillingness to bear the least restraint, she was prevailed upon to put on.
She became at last accustomed to the garment, and whenever the Lieutenant came, was sure to array herself in the gay attire, enjoy his laugh, although made at her expense, and amuse him by her childish prattle. Osceola would on these occasions lay aside Indian stoicism so far as to join in the mirth, and by degrees transferred to the young officer a portion of the affection he bore to his child. This was sufficient to make him forget that he was a foe, and induce him to issue orders that the Lieutenant should be treated as one of his kin, to whom he wished to give a signal mark of his attachment.
It is pleasant to see a rough warrior bury all private animosity and give rest to his hostile passions, even in the midst of the excitement of battle ; and it is delightful to know that even an untutored savage yet possesses some of the tenderest feelings of our nature, and is ready to seize an occasion when they may be developed. It is a bright spot in Osceola's character, which, while it is cheering to our common nature, shows that he could elevate himself above the cold temperament that distinguishes his race; and this mark alone of a gentle spirit serves greatly to enhance our sympathy for his personal misfortunes.
The war continued, if it could be called a war, for neither party showed much activity. The warriors sallied out occasionally'; no one knew whence they came, nor whither they went, so secret were their movements, and so well did they conceal their hiding places. General Jessup
complained that it was difficult to get at them; whenever he did, he gained small advantage, killing a few and taking a few prisoners; yet this was far from bringing the contest to an end. On the whole, how. ever, the strife was a losing one to the natives. They had no means of increasing their numbers, nor any way of repairing their losses, while the regular forces were continually receiving recruits, and the Generals were acquiring experience. The Seminoles, aware of the chances being against them, showed more willingness to have talks' with the whites, at which meetings they confessed they were tired of the war, and disposed to treat. As yet, however, Osceola was unyielding, and without him they could not make terms: one reason for which was, that his influence was so great they could not obtain the assent of all the tribes without his concurrence ; moreover the Generals were not inclined to make a treaty to which he was opposed, lest the Indians would not ultimately hold themselves bound by it. Osceola's reply to all proposals was, Never ! — the country is ours, and we will die in it !!
Nevertheless, in the early part of the year 1837, several of the leading chiefs came to General Jessup's head-quarters; and in March of the same year a treaty was made between the General and Jumper, Alligator, Abraham and Cloud, as delegates from Micanopy the king. When this last was afterward called upon to confirm what had been done by his authority, he showed the same indecision that had always marked his character. He wanted the support he was accustomed to lean upon in emergency, and urged General Jessup, in a pressing manner, to send for Osceola, saying he would be governed by him, as he had a straight tongue’ and a “white heart,' and that what he should say would be true. This was not done; yet Micanopy, after farther reflection, signed the treaty, and engaged himself and followers to abide by its provisions.
General Jessup seems to have felt as if some uncertainty hung over the transaction, for in his despatches he doubts the power of the chiefs to restrain the young men, and recommends to the inhabitants not to be in haste to return to their plantations. This treaty greatly weakened Osceola's strength, for it not only deprived him of the services of many fighting men, but took from him the more essential means of resistance in the person of several of the head chiefs of the nation. In short, little was left to him save his firmness and indomitable spirit, which even under these discouragements yet bore him up.
In this state he sent word to General Hernander, who was stationed in his neighborhood, that he wished to hold with him a friendly talk. To this the General readily assented, and directed that he should be admitted under a white flag. Accordingly under this safe-guard, acknow. ledged as such by all civilized people, Osceola appeared, accompanied by about seventy of his followers.' Immediately after the usual salutations of meeting were passed, he gave him to understand that the sole object of his visit was to negotiate for the exchange or surrender of Phillip, a chief to whom he was much attached. While in conversation on the subject, by a preconcerted signal, two hundred of Hernander's men suddenly made their appearance, surrounded Osceola and his party, and made them all prisoners! Osceola appealed to the white flag, but
was told by General Hernander that he was authorized by the commander-in-chief to do what he had done. In effect, the secret order given by General Jessup is on record, wherein he gave special directions how to proceed during the talk, and to seize the person of Osceola at all hazards.
When Osceola saw that resistance was useless, and that he was completely in the power of a superior force of his enemies, by means of a dishonorable act, he did not utter a word, but suffered himself quietly to be led away into confinement. Many of the officers who witnessed the scene were much displeased at this act of treachery, and the army in general, in louder tones, expressed indignation at so discreditable a breach of faith; the more reprehensible, as it might have been spared. Hostilities could not have been continued much longer. Osceola was left almost alone in the war; could rally but a small number of warriors, and must soon have submitted, had he been left to himself, with such slender resources. His power of doing injury was very limited, being surrounded, as he was, by a greatly superior force, who had found out his haunts and could always keep him in check, if not totally defeat and take him prisoner in fair battle.
He was taken to St. Augustine, put into the dungeon of Fort Marion, and chained. Several others were imprisoned with him, who a few weeks afterward effected their escape. This he might also have done, had he been willing, but his pride prevented. He said he had done nothing to be ashamed of; it was for those to feel shame who had entrapped him; and he would never have it believed that he fled from danger. After a short stay, he was removed to Fort Moultrie on Sullivan's Island, in South Carolina.
The citizens of Charleston, proverbial for their generous feelings, readily gave their sympathy to a
Brave man struggling with the storms of Fate;' nor were they behind the people of the other States in loud condemnation of the means that had been used to ensnare him. No sooner was his arrival known, than he was visited by many persons, ladies and gentlemen, who manifested their good feelings by many acts of attention and kindness. It does not appear that he was rigidly confined. The chance of effecting his escape being very small, he was at liberty within the walls, and he roamed about at pleasure, or received visitors in his room. Several other Seminoles were prisoners in the Fort at the same time, all under charge of Capt. Morrison of the United States Army. They were well provided with clothing and food, and with whatever else could render them comfortable ; and several were so contented as to be willing to amuse themselves by playing at ball with the officers. Osceola was more reserved than the rest, although he was not sullen. He had been ill some time previous to his confinement, which with his present misfortune had evidently an effect on his spirits. One circumstance was remarked, that while the others were constantly asking either for money, tobacco, or whiskey, he never made a request for either; and whatever may have been his previous habits, was not seen to use tobacco or whiskey during his stay at the Fort.