General John Coffee
Transcribed and Contributed by Patricia Hartley, January 8, 2017
Source: Northern Alabama Historical and Biographical, 1888 (Sketch was written by Col. James E. Saunders)
(Continued from Page 1)
"Talladega was the next battle fought by General Jackson in person. Here was a small fort, in which a number of friendly Indians had taken refuge, and were closely surrounded by the hostiles. They were out of food and water in the garrison, where a noted chief enveloped himself in a hog-skin, and went rooting and grunting around, until he made his way through the lines, and as fleet as the wind, reached the camp of General Jackson. He implored the General to march immediately to the rescue of his friends, which, midnight as it was, he ded. He forded the Coosa, here 600 yards wide, with a rcky, uneven bottom. Each horseman carried behind him a foot-man until the whole army was over. He encamped in the evening within six miles of the fort. At four o'clock next morning he surrounded the enemy, numbering 1,100 warriors. After a sharp but decisive action, he defeated them. They left 295 warriors dead on the field. This brilliant victory exerted a powerful influence on the enemy as well the country. General Coffee, with his force of 1,000 mounted volunteers, participated in this battle, and contributed largely to the victory achieved on that hotly contested field. He was a giant in stature, finely proportioned, taciturn, with nothing of the braggart or pretender about him. While he was determined to do his duty, he was wholly unconcerned as to who should reap the glory. He was the first in the field, and had been in the saddle for a month, leading his brave soldiers up and down the country, keeping the enemy from the frontiers, which they were watching like a wolf redy to pounce on the flock. His presence on the frontier dispelled the alarm of the citizens, while his swift movements indicated that he meant business, and made him a terror to the Indians. He and Gen. William Carroll were the right arm of General Jackson, and faithfully they performed the duties entrusted to them.
"After this battle General Jackson marched his small army, which was out of provisions, back as rapidly as possible to Fort Strother. Arriving there, he was deeply mortified to find that no provisions had arrived at that point. The men were hungry, and there was great dissatisfaction in the camp. Bonaparte was asked once, what were the two things most essential to a soldier, and his reply was, 'A full belly and a strong pair of shoes.' The men who had behaved so well in battle were impatient of hunger, and took up their line of march for Tennessee. He threw himself ahead of the men who were moving off, and with General Coffee, Carroll, and a few brave fellows, he formed a line in front of them, seized a musket from one of his men and declared that he would shoot the first man who dared to march. They only saw his flashing eyes and determined look, and the power of numbers quailed before the iron will--the moral greatness of one man. He, however, promised the men, that if in a reasonable time provisions did not arrive, they might go, as their time of service was about to expire.
"He kept his word, and in a few days he was left in a savage land, with only one hunderd men. But they were choice spirits, with gallantry enough to leven a small army, as will be seen in the two following battles, in which there were feats of valor, not excelled in the pages of romance.
"At length two regiments arrived, numbering about 850 men, which had only been enlisted for sixty days. As their time was short be employed no drill-master; determined to drill them in actual battle. He marched them across the Coosa, was joined by 200 Cherokees and friendly Creeks, and sought the enemy at Emuckfaw. Besides these there was a company composed of officers enterely, whose command had returned home, forty-five in number, amongst them General Coffee, Inspector-General Carroll, and Adjutant-General Sitter.
"When the alarm was given the whole line was led to the charge by General Coffee, and the Indians were forced to abandon the ground in a rapid manner. Shortly afterward a body of the enemy boldly advanced and attacked the right wing of Jackson's encampment. Coffee again charged, but, through some mistake, only forty-five men followed, composing his own company of volunteer officers; but the friendly Indians were sent by Jackson to his support. Dismounting his men he soon pursued the 'Red Sticks' to the swamp of a creek. Jackson had ordered his left flank to remain firm, and now the Indians came rusing with yells against it: but they were repelled by a charge made by the impetuous Carroll. In the meantime, Coffee kept the enemy at bay, who had now returned upon him from te swamp, until General Jackson strengthened him with a re-enforcement of one hundred friendly warriors. Coffee again charged, when the Indians once more gave way; and the pursuit was continued for three miles, with the loss of 45 savages. The brave Creeks had now been repulsed on every attempt, but they exhibited a ferocity and daring which commanded the serious consideration of General Jackson. He had no forage for his horses, and very few rations for his men, and his force was weaker than he desired. He determined to return to Fort Strother, with all possible dispatch. In this battle Alexander Donelson, aide-de-camp of General Coffee, and eldest brother of his wife, was killed. Next morning the army commenced its retrograde movement, bearing the wounded in litters, constructed of the hides of the slain horses. In one of those lay General Coffee, who, at the conclusion of the third charge, was wounded, as it was thought, mortally.
"Before night Jackson encamped near the ford of the Enotochopco, which they had crossed in marching down, and fortified himself. The Indians were prowling around, but refrained from an attack. Dreading an onset at the ford of the creek, which had great facilities for ambuscades, he selected another crossing six hundred yards lower down.
"Next morning the march was begun. The front-guard with the wounded had passed the creek, and the artillery was in the creek, when an alarm gun was heard which was succeeded by a fierce attack of the savages on the rear-guard. The new regiments, siezed by a sudden panic, fled without firing a gun. A scene of wonderful confusion prevailed for awhile. The six pounder was brought on the hill, but in the confusion the ramrod was lost and constantine Perkins rammed down the charge with his musket, and Craven Jackson picked the touch-hole with his ram-rod. While Carroll was scarcely holding the rear with a few brave men, Gen. Coffee leaped from his litter, mounted his horse and dashed forward to assist in rallying the men; and when Jackson with surprise saw his tall form, pale from the loss of blood and swathed in white bandages, the apparition was so unearthly, that he exclaimed, "We'll whip 'em, boys, we'll whip 'em--even the dead have risen from their graves, to help us."
"Tohopek (or the Horse Shoe) was the closing scene of the Creek War. About five miles from the battle ground of Emuckfau is the great bend of the Tallapoosa, where the warriors of the nation, nearly 1,000 strong, had concentrated their forces for a last desperate struggle. Across a narrow neck of land, or isthmus, the Indians had erected a breast-work of logs, from five to eight feet high, with double port-holes, arranged with no little skill and ingenuity. This was the entrance to the great bend of about one hundred acres of land. The center was high ground, and on the river bottom at the lower extremity of the peninsula was the Indian village.
"Early on the morning of this battle, General Coffee with his brigade of cavalry, the friendly Indians under command of Col. Gideon Morgan, and Captain Russell's company of spies, was detached by General Jackson, with instructions to cross the river two miles below the bend, and take possession of the high grounds on the opposite bank, so as to cut off all chance of escape in that quarter. General Jackson then marched the remainder of his forces to a position in front of the breast-work, where he halted his men until the pre-arranged signal announced that General Coffee had drawn a cordon of soldiers around the elevated ground overlooking the river and the hostile town and fortifications. The main column immediately moved forward. The two pieces of artillery, a six and a three pounder, were planted on a hill, and about 10 o'clock in the forenoon the action commenced. The firing on the American side was mostly confined to the artillery.
"For two hours the fire of the artillery was kept up without doing any material damage to the strong log wall. Meanwhile, General Coffee sent some of his expert swimmers among the friendly Indians across the river, who cut loose and brought away the canoes of the beleagured Creeks, in which he transported a portion of his force, under command of Colonel Morgan, to the side of the river occupied by the Indians, landing in the rear of where the fight was going on. They reached the town and wrapped it in flames.