Creek War: Fort Mims Massacre

Fort Mims Massacre
Fort Mims Massacre. Pubilc Domain

Fort Mims Massacre - Conflict & Date:

The Fort Mims Massacre took place on August 30, 1813, during the Creek War (1813-1814).

Armies & Commander

United States

  • Major Daniel Beasley
  • Captain Dixon Bailey
  • 265 men


  • Peter McQueen
  • William Weatherford
  • 750-1,000 men

Fort Mims Massacre - Background:

With the United States and Britain engaged in the War of 1812, the Upper Creek elected to join with the British in 1813 and began attacks on American settlements in the southeast. This decision was based on the actions of the Shawnee leader Tecumseh who had visited the area in 1811 calling for a Native American confederacy, intrigues from the Spanish in Florida, as well as resentment about encroaching American settlers. Known as the Red Sticks, mostly likely due to the their red-painted war clubs, the Upper Creeks were led by notable chiefs such as Peter McQueen and William Weatherford (Red Eagle).

Fort Mims Massacre - Defeat at Burnt Corn:

In July 1813, McQueen led a band of Red Sticks to Pensacola, FL where they obtained arms from the Spanish. Learning of this, Colonel James Caller and Captain Dixon Bailey departed Fort Mims, AL with the goal of intercepting McQueen's force. On July 27, Caller successfully ambushed the Creek warriors at the Battle of Burnt Corn. As the Red Sticks fled into the swamps around Burnt Corn Creek, the Americans paused to loot the enemy's camp. Seeing this, McQueen rallied his warriors and counterattacked. Overwhelmed, Caller's men were forced to retreat.

Fort Mims Massacre - The American Defenses:

Angered by the attack at Burnt Corn Creek, McQueen began planning an operation against Fort Mims. Constructed on high ground near Lake Tensaw, Fort Mims was situated on the east bank of the Alabama River north of Mobile. Consisting of a stockade, blockhouse, and sixteen other buildings, Fort Mims provided protection for over 500 people including a militia force numbering approximately 265 men. Commanded by Major Daniel Beasley, a lawyer by trade, many of the fort's inhabitants, including Dixon Bailey, were mixed-race and part Creek.

Fort Mims Massacre - Warnings Ignored:

Though encouraged to improve Fort Mims' defenses by Brigadier General Ferdinand L. Claiborne, Beasley was slow to act. Advancing west, McQueen was joined by the noted chief William Weatherford (Red Eagle). Possessing around 750-1,000 warriors, they moved towards the American outpost and reached a point six miles away on August 29. Taking cover in tall grass, the Creek force was spotted by two slaves who were tending cattle. Racing back to the fort, they informed Beasley of the enemy's approach. Though Beasley dispatched mounted scouts, they failed to find any trace of the Red Sticks.

Angered, Beasley ordered the slaves punished for providing "false" information. Moving closer through the afternoon, the Creek force was nearly in place by nightfall. After dark, Weatherford and two warriors approached the fort's walls and scouted the interior by looking through the loopholes in the stockade. Finding that the guard was lax, they also noticed that the main gate was open as it was blocked from completely closing by a bank of sand. Returning to the main Red Stick force, Weatherford planned the attack for the next day.

Fort Mims Massacre - Blood in the Stockade:

The next morning, Beasley was again alerted to the approach of a Creek force by local scout James Cornells. Disregarding this report, he attempted to have Cornells arrested, but the scout rapidly departed the fort. Around noon, the fort's drummer summoned the garrison for the midday meal. This was used as the attack signal by the Creek. Surging forward, they rapidly advanced on the fort with many of the warriors taking control of the loopholes in the stockade and opening fire. This provided cover for others who successfully breached the open gate.

The first Creeks to enter the fort were four warriors who had been blessed to become invincible to bullets. Though they were struck down, they briefly delayed the garrison while their comrades poured into the fort. Though some later claimed he had been drinking, Beasley attempted to rally a defense at the gate and was struck down early in the fighting. Taking command, Bailey and the fort's garrison occupied its inner defenses and buildings. Mounting a stubborn defense, they slowed the Red Stick onslaught. Unable to force the Red Sticks out of the fort, Bailey found his men gradually being pushed back.

As the militia fought for control of the fort, many of the settlers were struck down by the Red Sticks including women and children. Using flaming arrows, the Red Sticks were able to force the defenders from fort's buildings. Sometime after 3:00 PM, Bailey and his remaining men were driven from two buildings along the fort's north wall and killed. Elsewhere, some of the garrison was able to break through the stockade and escape. With the collapse of organized resistance, the Red Sticks began a wholesale massacre of the surviving settlers and militia.

Fort Mims Massacre: Aftermath:

Some reports indicate that Weatherford attempted to halt the killing but was unable to bring the warriors under control. The Red Sticks' blood lust may have been partially fueled by a false rumor which stated that the British would pay five dollars for each white scalp delivered to Pensacola. When the killing ended, as many as 517 settlers and soldiers had been struck down. Red Stick losses are not known with any precision and estimates vary from as low as 50 killed to as high as 400. While the whites at Fort Mims were largely killed, the Red Sticks spared the fort's slaves and took them as their own.

The Fort Mims Massacre stunned the American public and Claiborne was criticized for his handling of the frontier defenses. Beginning that fall, an organized campaign to defeat the Red Sticks commenced using a mix of US regulars and militia. These efforts culminated in March 1814 when Major General Andrew Jackson decisively defeated the Red Sticks at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. In the wake of the defeat, Weatherford approached Jackson seeking peace. After brief negotiations, the two concluded the Treaty of Fort Jackson which ended the war in August 1814.

Selected Sources