C.T. Trowell

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February 26, 2003.

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The Second Seminole War in Florida was one of the longest wars in American history.  It lasted from 1835 until 1842.  Periodically, it spilled over into the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia.

Fuel for the conflict had been accumulating for several years.  Freezes and droughts deprived the Indians of food and game.  A national economic depression created government budget shortfalls and pushed more farmers and speculators into the rich cotton lands of middle Florida, lands occupied by the Seminoles.  Inept governments at the national and territorial level failed to provide aid they had promised to the displaced Indians.  Local fears and hatreds enhanced an environment of hopelessness and despair.  Tempers became heated.   War erupted in December 1835 when a Seminole band massacred an army patrol commanded by Major Francis Dade.

During the following two years Georgia sent several militia companies to assist the Federal troops and other states' militia troops in their efforts to contain the conflict and to remove the Indians to the territory west of the Mississippi.

General Thomas Jesup's "dishonorable" tactics, capturing the Seminoles under a flag of truce, seemed to be bringing the bloody affair to a conclusion by the end of 1837.  Osceola, his lieutenants, and most of the Seminoles were captured.  But the conflict flared up again early in 1838 following the escape of Wildcat, Tigertail, and other young Seminole leaders.  The war continued.

One Seminole band was reported to have made its way into the Okefenokee Swamp during the early months of 1838.  Federal troops under the command of Major Greenleaf Dearborn were dispatched to investigate the reports.  Governor George Gilmer mobilized several small Georgia militia companies.

General Zachary Taylor rode to the site of Fort Gilmer [near Fargo] in July 1838.  He inspected the site and approved plans for construction of a system of forts and supply roads around the Okefenokee.  In July 1838 evidence of the presence of a small Indian band was detected, but by this time the Georgia militia troops were being demobilized.  General Taylor had promised a few days earlier to take responsibility for the defense of the Okefenokee frontier.  At this critical moment, the Seminole band in the Swamp launched a series of terrorist attacks.

Members of the Wildes family near Waresboro were massacred on July 22, 1838.  In August, several members of families living near the St. Mary's River were murdered and a wagon train near Carter's [Race Pond] was attacked.  Georgia militia troops near the Okefenokee were mobilized and the Federal troops were reinforced.  Meanwhile, the settlers, widely scattered throughout the piney woods around the Swamp, fled to Waresboro, Centre Village, Trader's Hill, or the new Fort Gilmer.  The refugees left their houses, livestock, and crops to the ravages of beasts and thieves as well as Seminole warriors.

During the summer of 1838 Federal troops and militia troops under the command of Major Thomas Hilliard and Major Edward Hopkins attempted to allay the fears of the refugees and to locate the band that had attacked the settlements.  They were unsuccessful.  The reinforced Federal troops constructed forts and roads during the summer and patrolled around the swamp.  The refugees remained apprehensive.

In October 1838, Governor Gilmer placed General Charles R. Floyd, recently returned from Cherokee country, in command of all the Georgia militia troops.  The Federal troops were placed under his command in the field.

With sufficient supplies now available, and the dry season in the swamp, General Floyd launched a vigorous campaign in November 1838 to kill, capture, or drive out the Seminole band.  He rode and marched at the head of some of the search and destroy operations and gave his enemy no rest.  Floyd found no Seminoles.  In a brief encounter in the center of the swamp, a small band of Indians was engaged by one of his patrols led by Col. Randolph Revil.  One Seminole warrior was killed, another wounded.  Others in the band fled.  General Floyd reported to the Governor in January 1839 that no further evidence of Indians could be found in the swamp.  They were believed to have returned to Florida.  When the tour of duty of the militia troops expired in March 1839, and with the Indian threat removed, General Floyd resigned his command.  He returned to his home near St. Mary's.

In March 1839, Major Charles Nelson was placed in command of several militia companies to assist the Federal troops in patrolling the southern and western rim of the swamp.  Major Nelson was recalled to duty in 1840 and 1841 when settlers living on the frontier were murdered, but these operations were very limited, isolated incidents in the Florida flatwoods south of the Okefenokee.  By late 1840, the Federal government refused to provide funds for militia troops called out for local alarms.

In 1842, even the Georgia legislature refused to pay militia companies that were mobilized to investigate "Indian sign."  Without funds, the war in the Okefenokee came to an end.

Unquestionably, the height of the Okefenokee War occurred in late 1838 and early 1839.  Life in the area was totally disrupted by fear during this period.  The Seminole band found, however, that the vigorous and intensive search and destroy patrols led by General Floyd created an environment in the Okefenokee that was much more dangerous than that in the flatwoods and swamps of Florida from whence they had come.  The Seminoles fled.  Floyd and his troops were exhausted by March 1839.  His troops refused to re-enlist when their tours of duty ended.  Many needed to return home to plant crops or round up and brand cattle, but most also refused to continue to accept the discipline imposed by the General.  Floyd's active military career was over.

Without doubt, the success of the Okefenokee campaign can be attributed to the military skill, experience and character of General Floyd.  Born in 1797, Floyd served as a military aide with his father, General John Floyd, in the Creek War in Alabama in 1813.  He participated in the attacks on the Creeks at Autossee and Tallassee.  He attended West Point for two years, but was dismissed for disobedience on what young Floyd considered "a point of honor."  He received a commission in the U.S. Marine Corps as a lieutenant in 1817 and spent much of his time dueling.  While on an extended leave of absence, Floyd visited England and the Napoleonic battlefields of Europe in 1821 and returned to serve as officer-in-charge of the honor guard when Lafayette arrived for his visit to the United States in 1824.  Floyd resigned his commission and returned to the family plantation, Bellevue, near St. Mary's in 1824.

Floyd was elected to the Georgia Legislature in 1829.  The same year, he was elected Brigadier General of the First Brigade, First Division Georgia Militia.

When the Second Seminole War broke out in Florida in December 1835, Floyd immediately organized a small force of volunteers to fight in Florida.  They remained an independent unit of less than 20 men, prepared to take "active operations" if and when occasion presented itself.  They did not muster into U.S. service.  When the U.S. Army failed to take decisive action, Floyd and his force returned to St. Mary's.

He spent the next two years managing the plantation, sailing, shooting, quarreling with his neighbors, dueling, writing, painting, boat building, and entertaining.  His long wait to serve as a soldier finally ended in 1838.

In May 1838, Governor George Gilmer, ordered General Floyd to take command of some thirty companies of Georgia militia troops to assist the Federal troops in their efforts to remove the Cherokee Indians from the lands of northern Georgia.  Floyd responded immediately, traveled to New Echota, and took operational command of all troops in Georgia removing the Cherokees.  He wrote to the troops under his command:  "A truly good soldier is known chiefly by his ready compliance with the orders of his superior---his valor in battle, and his humanity to the vanquished."  During the following weeks his troops searched the countryside for Cherokee families and moved them to rendezvous points to begin their march to the west.  He was ordered to discharge the Georgia militia troops on 23 June 1838.  According to General Winfield Scott, General Floyd "exhibited a degree of intelligence, decision and method, which would do credit to any service."  Floyd and his troops were thanked for their "promptitude, zeal, and humanity they almost universally displayed in the discharge of their duties."  In July General Floyd and his staff made a triumphant march from New Echota to Savannah, via Stone Mountain and Milledgeville.  They were honored with parades and dinners.

The Governor and the Secretary of War spent the following months in an effort to find a way to organize a brigade-size command for General Floyd in the Okefenokee area.  In October they finally created an "Okefenokee Military District" and placed Floyd in command.

He launched his campaign in November to totally envelop any bands that might be in the Okefenokee.  By January the campaign was over and in March 1839 he retired to Fairfield, his plantation in Camden County.

He was crushed emotionally later in the year when members of the Georgia Legislature elected Peter Cone as Major General of the First Division Georgia Militia.  This was the command held for years by Floyd's father, General John FloydFloyd died at his plantation home on 22 March 1845.  His wife, Julia Floyd, wrote in his diary:  "Thus died Gen'l Charles R. Floyd --- the noble, & the brave --- beloved by many, admired by thousands --- gifted by his Creator with every quality to excite the enthusiastic admiration of mankind --- yet by unfortunate circumstances deprived of a field for his ambition.  He was rightly appreciated only by a few."

Soldiers who served under Floyd raised funds and erected a large marble monument at the family cemetery near St. Mary's. Officers and men of the Macon Volunteers renamed their unit the Floyd Rifles in his honor and served in the Floyd tradition at battles during the Civil War and with the Rainbow Division in World War I.  Men who served under him wrote respectfully of this "eccentric but brave" officer.  The flamboyant Floyd was a romantic figure, truly a renaissance man of the nineteenth century.  Unfortunately, most of the books and other materials in his library, and those of his father, were stolen or destroyed by soldiers of the 54th Massachusetts that sacked St. Mary's during the Civil War.

[The Diary of Charles R. Floyd and other personal papers are included in the M.H. & D.B. Floyd Collection, housed in the Georgia Historical Society in Savannah.  Some of his public correspondence may be found in the Georgia Governor's Letters and the volumes of Georgia Military Affairs, housed in the Georgia Department of Archives and History in Atlanta.]

Autossee, 3

Bellevue, 4
boat building, 4
Brigadier General, 4

Camden County, 5
Carter's, 2
Centre Village, 2
Cherokee, 5
Cherokee Indians, 4
Civil War, 5
Cone, 5

Dade, 1
Dearborn, 1
died, 5
dueling, 4

England, 4
entertaining, 4

Fairfield, 5
Fargo, 2
Florida, 4
Floyd, 2, 3, 4, 5
Floyd Rifles, 5
Fort Gilmer, 2

Georgia Legislature, 4
Georgia militia troops, 4
Gilmer, 1, 4

Hilliard, 2
Hopkins, 2

Jesup, 1

Lafayette, 4

Macon Volunteers, 5
Milledgeville, 5

Napoleonic battlefields, 4
Nelson, 3
New Echota,, 4

Okefenokee Military District, 5
Osceola, 1

painting, 4
plantation, 4, 5

quarreling with his neighbors, 4

Race Pond, 2
Rainbow Division, 5
Revil, 3

sailing, 4
Savannah, 5
Scott,, 5
Secretary of War, 5
shooting, 4
St. Mary's, 4, 5
St. Mary's River, 2
Stone Mountain, 5

Tallassee, 3
Taylor, 2
Tigertail, 1
Trader's Hill, 2
triumphant march, 5

U.S. Army, 4
U.S. Marine Corps, 4

Waresboro, 2
West Point, 3
Wildcat, 1
Wildes, 2
writing, 4

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