Five hundred men, women and children were massacred at Fort Mims, Alabama, just north of Mobile, on Aug. 30, 1813, by the Red Stick Creek Indians. The Alabama historical marker reads: “Fort Mims – Here in the Creek Indian War 1813-14 took place the most brutal massacre in American history. Indians took fort with heavy loss, then killed all but about 36 of some 550 in the fort. Creeks had been armed by British at Pensacola in this phase of War of 1812.”
Indians had been incited to riot and attack by a foreign power. Rumors circulated that the British would pay cash for American scalps.
The killing of the inhabitants of Fort Mims demanded a response. Colonel Andrew Jackson was sent to fight the Red Stick Creek Indians. He defeated them in the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, March 27, 1814. Sam Houston, the future leader of Texas, fought as one of Jackson’s lieutenants. He was shot in the thigh with an arrow, yet kept fighting. The defeated Creeks ceded nearly half of Alabama to the U.S. government.
Promoted to General, Andrew Jackson was sent 150 miles further west to defend New Orleans from the British. Though the War of 1812 officially ended two weeks earlier with the signing of the Treaty of Ghent, Dec. 24, 1814, news of it had not yet reached New Orleans.
On Jan. 8, 1815, in the last battle of the War of 1812, nearly 10,000 battle-hardened British soldiers advanced under cover of dark, heavy fog. They were intending to execute a surprise attack on General Andrew Jackson’s Tennessee and Kentucky sharpshooters. Jackson was also aided by French pirate Jean Lafitte and his men. The Battle of New Orleans was portrayed in the 1958 movie “The Buccaneer,” starring Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner.
As the British neared Jackson’s line, the fog providentially lifted. Suddenly, the British were exposed in the open field. The Americans opened fire. Immediately, the British commanding officers were shot and the British forces fell into confusion. In the next thirty minutes, 2,042 British were killed or wounded. Only 13 Americans were killed.
Considered the greatest American land victory of the war, General Andrew Jackson wrote to Robert Hays, Jan. 26, 1815, regarding the Battle of New Orleans: “It appears that the unerring hand of Providence shielded my men from the shower of balls, bombs, and rockets, when every ball and bomb from our guns carried with them a mission of death.”
General Jackson told his aide-de-camp Major Davezac of his confidence before the battle: “I was sure of success, for I knew that God would not give me previsions of disaster, but signs of victory. He said this ditch can never be passed. It cannot be done.”
Andrew Jackson wrote to Secretary of War James Monroe, Feb. 17, 1815: “Heaven, to be sure, has interposed most wonderfully in our behalf, and I am filled with gratitude, when I look back to what we have escaped.”
The Treaty of Ghent was finally ratified by the U.S. Senate on Feb. 16, 1815. After leaving the Battle of New Orleans, the remaining British forces considered capturing Mobile, Alabama, but news arrived that on Feb. 26, 1815, Napoleon escaped. For nearly a year, Napoleon had been banished to the Mediterranean Island of Elba, situated less than 10 miles from Italy.
Napoleon’s escape from Elba was the background of the adventure novel “The Count of Monte Cristo,” written by French author Alexandre Dumas in 1844. Jim Caviezel, Guy Pearce, and Dagmara Dominczyk starred in the 2002 film.
Once back in Europe, Napoleon quickly reassembled his vast French army of 300,000 soldiers. This unexpected European crisis required that British troops be urgently recalled from America to join the 68,000 strong force under Britain’s Duke of Wellington. They were accompanied by 50,000 troops under Prussian commander Gebhard von Blücher.
For the next 100 days, events in Europe cascaded toward the massive Battle of Waterloo, where Napoleon was defeated, June 18, 1815. Napoleon was banished again, this time to the isolated Island of St. Helena in the South Atlantic – located over a thousand miles from the nearest land. Napoleon died there in 1821 at the age of 51.
Thankful that Americans were able to maintained their independence during this time of global crisis, President James Madison proclaimed, March 4, 1815: “A day may be recommended to be observed by the people of the United States with religious solemnity as a Day of Thanksgiving and of Devout Acknowledgments to Almighty God for His great goodness manifested in restoring to them the blessing of peace. No people ought to feel greater obligations to celebrate the goodness of the Great Disposer of Events and of the Destiny of Nations than the people of the United States. His kind providence originally conducted them to one of the best portions of the dwelling place allotted for the great family of the human race. He protected and cherished them under all the difficulties and trials to which they were exposed in their early days. Under His fostering care their habits, their sentiments, and their pursuits prepared them for a transition in due time to a state of independence and self-government. In the arduous struggle by which it was attained they were distinguished by multiplied tokens of His benign interposition. …”
Madison continued: “During the interval which succeeded He reared them into the strength and endowed them with the resources which have enabled them to assert their national rights and to enhance their national character in another arduous conflict, which is now so happily terminated by a peace and reconciliation with those who have been our enemies. And to the same Divine Author of Every Good and Perfect Gift we are indebted for all those privileges and advantages, religious as well as civil, which are so richly enjoyed in this favored land. …”
Madison ended: “It is for blessings such as these, and more especially for the restoration of the blessing of peace, that I now recommend that the second Thursday in April next be set apart as a day on which the people of every religious denomination may in their solemn assemblies unite their hearts and their voices in a freewill offering to their Heavenly Benefactor of their homage of thanksgiving and of their songs of praise. Given at the city of Washington on the fourth of March, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and fifteen, and of the independence of the United States the thirty-ninth. James Madison.”
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