The Creek War was a part of the larger War of 1812 fought between a faction of the Creek tribe and US forces in 1813–14. It resulted in the defeat of the Creek nation and paved the way for the division of the Mississippi Territory into the states of Mississippi and Alabama. The war originated in Creek uneasiness regarding increasing Anglo influence in tribal life. The Creek, a loose confederation of Indians who lived in areas that are now part of Alabama and Georgia, were especially concerned about the construction of a federal road that ran through much of their homeland and facilitated an influx of white migration. Many Creek reluctantly accepted the changes as inevitable and attempted to adopt Anglo-American ways for economic survival. A minority, however, determined to resist white settlement and maintain the traditional Creek way of life at any cost.
In the fall of 1811 Tecumseh, a Native American leader from the Great Lakes region who claimed Creek ancestry, seized on this instability during a prolonged visit to the Southeast. In impassioned speeches to several Indian nations, he appealed to his kinfolk to rise up and cast out the white intruders and resist assimilation into their culture. Although other tribes in the region, including the Choctaw and Chickasaw, rejected his message, Tecumseh found a receptive audience among the Upper Creek, who lived along the Coosa and Tallapoosa Rivers in what is now Alabama. His fiery oratory sparked a civil war between Creek who sought peace and cooperation with Anglo-Americans and those openly hostile to them, who became known as the Red Sticks because of the color of their war clubs. The Creek civil war eventually grew to involve conflict with US troops.
Fighting between Anglo-Americans and Red Sticks first broke out in July 1813 at the Battle of Burnt Corn Creek. A Red Stick victory, the battle revealed the complicated international nature of the conflict and its relationship to the larger War of 1812. The battle was actually a surprise attack by Mississippi territorial militia on a group of Red Sticks returning from Spanish-held Pensacola, where they had gone to obtain arms and ammunition for use in the fight against the Anglo-Americans. Anglo-American settlers had long believed that the Spanish intended to instigate the Creek to violence against them, and this chain of events seemed to confirm such suspicions. Complicating matters, the United States and Great Britain were already at war. The powerful British, allied with the Spanish, were rumored to be planning to solicit the Creek to assist in a campaign against the United States along the Gulf Coast. However, the British did not begin serious recruitment of Red Sticks in the region until after US forces had defeated British soldiers. Had the British moved earlier, they might have prolonged or even altered the outcome of the Creek War.
The event most responsible for the escalation of the conflict was the Red Stick attack on Fort Mims in Alabama. One of several hastily constructed fortifications north of Mobile, Fort Mims housed dozens of frontier families and a small garrison of troops who had gathered there in anticipation of a confrontation. In a bold, surprise attack on 30 August 1813, Red Stick Creek killed more than 250 residents of the fort before burning it to the ground. Reports of the “massacre” shocked the nation and persuaded thousands of men to volunteer to avenge those killed.
Within weeks, militia from the Mississippi Territory, Tennessee, and Georgia were organized to restore order in the region. A large number of Creek, Choctaw, and Cherokee friendly to United States volunteered for service against the Red Sticks. These troops, eventually accompanied by reinforcements from the US Army, converged on hostile Creek territory from multiple directions. By burning villages and destroying crops as well as defeating warriors in battle, US forces sought to weaken the Red Sticks’ resistance and bring about their surrender.
Almost all of the fighting occurred within the Mississippi Territory. Lasting from July 1813 to March 1814, the war featured several loosely coordinated offenses facilitated by the construction of a series of forts. US forces won several significant victories at such Red Stick strongholds as Autossee and the Holy Ground but generally failed to follow up with sustained campaigns as a consequence of severe shortages in supplies, inadequate transportation and communication, and the short-term enlistments of many of the troops.
The campaigning of Andrew Jackson and his Tennessee troops ultimately broke the power of the Red Sticks as a military force and simultaneously brought Old Hickory to national prominence. By holding together his army under adverse conditions and winning sweeping victories at Tallushatchee, Talladega, and elsewhere, Jackson became a national hero. His efforts culminated in victory at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, the largest and last major engagement of the war. Jackson led his men in defeating one of the Red Sticks’ largest fighting forces, killing more Native Americans than died in any other battle in American history. Shortly after this defeat, the devastated Creek nation was forced to sign the Treaty of Fort Jackson, surrendering more than twenty-three million acres of land to the United States, including territory that belonged to portions of the tribe that had fought alongside the US forces. A few months later, Jackson captured Pensacola and prevented the British from using the town as a base for their Gulf Coast campaign. On 8 January 1815 he won one of the new nation’s most important military victories in the final battle of the War of 1812 by defeating the British at New Orleans.
The Creek War had far-reaching effects on both the region and the nation. Thousands of white settlers and their slaves soon moved onto former Creek lands. This rise in population led in part to Mississippi’s 1817 statehood and to Alabama statehood two years later. Just as significantly, the war set the precedent for the eventual removal of all southeastern tribes from their native lands and helped propel Jackson to the presidency.
- Mike Bunn and Clay Williams, Battle for the Southern Frontier: The Creek War and the War of 1812 (2008)
- Sean Michael O’Brien, In Bitterness and in Tears: Andrew Jackson’s Destruction of the Creeks and Seminoles (2003)
- Frank L. Owsley Jr., Struggle for the Gulf Borderlands: The Creek War and the Battle of New Orleans, 1812–1815 (1981)
- Robert V. Remini, Andrew Jackson and His Indian Wars (2001)
- George Stiggins, Creek Indian History: A Historical Narrative of the Geneaology, Traditions, and Downfall of the Ispacoga of Creek Tribe of Indians (1989)
- Gregory A. Waselkov, A Conquering Spirit: Fort Mims and the Redstick War of 1813–1814 (2006).