Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Archibald Henderson,
Brevet Major
Fifth Commandant U.S. Marine Corps

The Battle of Twelve Mile Swamp

Commandant Henderson and the Florida Indian Wars
Battle of Twelve Mile Swamp (Florida) 1812
93 Officers, 2,622 enlisted
USMC Causalities: Dead-1, Wounded-8
Weapons Used: .69 Cal. Charleville Musket

A little known Marine action occurred during the War of 1812 which reflected America's desire for additional territory. On March 17, 1812, sailors and Marines assisted an irregular unit of Georgia militia in the seizing of Amelia Island at the mouth of St. Mary's River. Ostensibly, the raid was an effort to reduce smuggling.

The Army and a detachment of Marines garrisoned the island. The Georgians and an army unit began the advance on St. Augustine FL. Part of the Marine Corps mission was to provide security for the wagon train convoys which supplied the front line of the American advance.

During the summer, the American forces drew back to the line of St. John's River in East Florida and the position at Davis Creek became the "forward" position. On Sept. 2 a group of 20 Marines and volunteers departed with a re-supply train of wagons. Outside of St. John's the party was ambushed by Indians and escaped Negro slaves. The action went poorly for the wagon train and required a return to Davis Creek for reinforcements while several troops remained behind with the wagons and wounded. Soon there after, Marines located and destroyed the village which had initiated the attack.
October 17th, 1820 saw a new chapter in Marine Corps history for on that date the “Grand Old Man” of the Marine Corps; as he was to become known, was appointed the fifth Commandant of the Corps. Archibald Henderson then a Brevet Major. He had been born in Colchester, Virginia in 1783 and entered the Marine Corps in 1806 at the age of 23. The leadership and ambition for which he was to become known was demonstrated while in command of the Marine Detachment aboard “Old Ironsides” during the War of 1812.

He attempted to recruit officers from the U.S. Military Academy but permission was denied. He then required all new officers to report to Washington Barracks for orientation, creating a consistent regiment of officer training. Officers he deemed unsuitable were dismissed. Enlisted Marines also benefited from his command with better pay and allowances for food and clothing. Sunday was made a day of rest and flogging was abolished 20 years before the Navy was to abolish it. Henderson was very aware of public relations and during a time when many sought to disband or transfer the Marine Corps into the Army or Navy (President Jackson was among those who sought to transfer the Marine Corps, but it’s said that when Jackson left the hearings Jackson left limping) he encouraged ongoing performances by the Marine Corps Band and as it’s popularity grew so did the influence of the Marine Corps in Congress. In 1845 he appointed Francis Marie Scala, the Neapolitan clarinetist as bandleader. Not until John Phillip Souse was appointed was the band to be more popular.

However it was not the performance of the Band that mattered most to the continued existence of the Corps as was their performance in battle. Under Henderson the Marines participated in two wars and 40 additional landing.

In 1830 Congress passed the Indian Removal Act, and eager for land, emigrants started moving into Florida from near by states, after it came under American control in the Transcontinental Treaty with Spain. The Seminoles whose land this was retaliated by attacking these new settlements. The Army was called in; but when Army General Wiley Thompson arrested Seminole Indian Chief Osceola in 1834, the Native Americans became so enraged that a war started that was to last for the next seven years . The Army was no match for these brave and resourceful fighters. On December 28th 1835 Seminole warriors attacked 2 army companies under the command of Army Major Francis Dade during a 100 mile march from Fort Brook to Fort King, slaughtering both companies.

The Seminoles were superb tacticians and fighters and assisted by escaped slaves and the difficult terrain (The Everglades) turned this seven year war into the deadliest of all the Indian Wars fought by the United States.

Marines attached to the West India Squadron supported Army operations and helped protect settlers. After the attack on Dade’s unit Marines went ashore (from the “Constellation” and the “St. Louis”) to reinforce Fort Brooke under the command of Lt. Nathaniel Waldron who also supported Army General Winfield Scott along the Withlacoochie River. In 1836 the Creek Indians of Alabama and Georgia rebelled and Commandant Henderson offered President Jackson a regiment of Marines to serve with the Army against the Indians.

The Regiment of 400 Marines left Washington for Georgia on June 1. Henderson pinned a note to his door that read “Have gone to fight the Indians. Be back when the war is over.” Henderson’s first outpost was at Columbus, Georgia, a second Marine Battalion of 160 Marines went to Fort Mitchell in Alabama but by August these two battalions combined into a single 6-company regiment and went to Fort Brooke where the were attached to Army Major General Thomas Jessup’s Army of the South. In January 1837 Henderson was placed in command by Jessup of an Army Brigade and marched into central Florida. In that brigade was a mounted company of Marines, the so-called Horse Marines. Henderson’s first engagement was near Hatchelustee Creek. The warriors caught by surprise fled into the Big Cypress Swamp where at Hatchelustee Creek the Seminoles made their stand.

Henderson divided his troops into three units, two of which were deployed to set up a crossfire on the opposite bank of the creek. The creek was deep and about 25 yards across. There were two felled trees across it for “bridges” Captain John Harris commanded the Horse Marines and he led the third unit across the trees at which point the Seminoles fled deeper into the swamp. Three firefights between the Indians and the Marines followed with the Seminoles falling still farther back and out of the swamp onto a stand of pines. Few Seminoles and fewer slaves were killed by Henderson but 6 Marines were killed, two outright and four later dieing of their wounds. Only a few Seminoles were captured; but this seemed to have a strong impact on the Seminoles and Seminole Chief Abraham offered to negotiate with the Americans. On 6 March 1837 the Seminoles signed a treaty and agreed to move onto reservations. Jessup and Henderson believe the war over and Henderson requested his leave to return to Washington. He left on May first with four companies of Marines, leaving two companies of Marines at Fort Brooke under Samual Miller. Henderson became the only serving Commandant to exercise tactical command in the field.

But; Henderson and Army Commander Jessup were mistaken about the Seminoles as on 2 June Osceola, leading a war party, raided the detention camp at Tampa, where 700 Seminoles were awaiting transport to reservations, and freed them. In September Chief Osceola requested a truce to meet Jessup. Jessup agreed to the meeting but ignored the truce and arrested Osceola sending him off to Fort Moultrie in South Carolina, there Osceola died in January 1838. By 1839, many Seminoles warriors had been killed or captured but there were still more that continued to raid the settlements using the Everglades as cover. [a vast many miles wide shallow river consisting of swamps, pine stands, and sawgrass that runs from north Florida to south of Miami.] The Navy began using a system of small boats and other craft, dubbed the “Mosquito Fleet”, to ferret out the Seminoles in an attempt to stop the raids. The fleet included two companies of Marines under Lt. George Terrett and later by Lt. Thomas Sloan. The Mosquito Fleet under the command of Navy Lt. John McLaughlin invaded the Everglades in January 1840 making several forays. On December 31, 1840 McLaughlin leading 150 sailors and Marines entered the Everglades from the Atlantic side and emerged on January 19th, 1841 out onto the Gulf Coast of Florida becoming the first Caucasians to cross the Everglades. In November and December 1841, and again in March of 1842, expedition’s entered the Everglades but few Indians were discovered. Each time villages, crops and canoes, when found, were destroyed. While the Marines suffered few casualties from fighting, disease and heat took their toll.

The Seminoles never surrendered, but by 1842 few warriors were left to fight and the Marines simply stopped chasing them. Henderson was promoted to Brigadier General and served 39 Years as the "Grand Old Man of the Marine Corps" dying in his sleep January 6, 1859.