Chief Miniwa heard the roar of the muskets as the shot grazed his face, tearing away the skin; it was the last of seven wounds he would take in the battle. He fell to the ground, unable to fight any more. He had fallen among slain squaws, and he used their skirts to cover his body. At nightfall he cautiously made his way to the nearby Tallapoosa River, slipped in, and silently floated away.
Miniwa's defeat and the resulting victory of General Andrew Jackson at Horeshoe Bend (March 12, 1814) marked the end of the Creek War of 1813-14. This war in effect was a diversionary tactic fought at the same time that the War of 1812 was going on between the US and England. As cost of fighting the war, General Jackson demanded 20 million acres of land from the Creeks. One boundary point of the demanded territory was at the junction of Cemocheechobee Creek and the Chattachoochee River; the definition of this point is FORT GAINES.
General Jackson dispatched a man named Sgt. Blue, who commanded a company of 100 Choctaw Indians, to hold this point until relieved. This relief did not come until 1816 when General Edmund P. Gaines along with Lt. Col. D.L. Clinch and a battalion of the 4th Infantry built seven rafts at Fort Mitchell and floated downstream with supplies and livestock.They were accompanied by surveyors who were to mark the boundaries and survey roads in the newly acquired territory.
On April 2, 1816 they landed on a sandbar in a curve of the Chattahoochee River just below the mouth of Cemocheechobee Creek, and climbed a bluff 130 feet high which boasted a commanding view of the river and the western lowlands. Here they built a log stockade with two block houses at diagonal corners. The 4th Infantry honored General Gaines by giving his name to this small frontier installation.
The surveyors completed their work and mapped the boundaries of a new territory they dubbed the "Tallassee Territory," and offered this area to the State of Georgia. The legislature initially refused it, calling it "a sterile and unprofitable land." In the meantime Native Americans in this territory were required to swear allegiance to the United States in order to remain in the area. Otis Micco, a Hitchita Chief whose village was practically under the guns of Fort Gaines, refused to do so and General Gaines demanded that he leave.
Otis moved his small tribe below the Spanish Line and became Seminoles, as did many others. Many Native Americans remained, with the expectation that the British would assist them in regaining their lands. The Treaty of Ghent which ended the War of 1812 required that all land lines remain as they were in 1811, and the British led the Native Americans to believe that this would nullify Jackson's Treaty. But this was not to be.
The Native Americans continually raided area settlers, scalping and stealing until 1817, when a US vessel, the Appalachicola , with 40 soldiers, 7 women and 4 children on board, was ambushed. Two men escaped, one woman was taken hostage, and the rest were killed or scalped.
This action precipitated the First Seminole War and Generals Jackson and Gaines again were called on to quell the hostile natives. Jackson, without direct authority, marched deep into Spanish Territory in search of the captured woman and in futile pursuit of Billy Bowlegs, erstwhile leader of the hostiles. His troops did succeed in rescuing the captured woman and brought her to Fort Gaines. She reportedly had retrieved money thrown away by the natives after their raids, and pinned it to her petticoats. General Dill, Commander of Fort Gaines, married the young lady and they used her money to build a stagecoach tavern. This building still stands in the middle of town.
At the end of the war, the Tallassee Territory was again offered to the state of Georgia and the state reluctantly agreed to accept it. Still, a minority report was filed stating that it would be unwise to spend the people's money trying to develop a country which God Almighty Himself had left in such an unfinished condition. Then, under an act of the Georgia legislature on December 15, 1818, the Tallassee territory was divided into the original counties of Early, Irwin, and Appling, thus making Fort Gaines a part of Georgia. While opening up this territory Georgia legislators felt that all eyes were on them because of the disgrace of the recent Yazoo Land Frauds. To prevent a similar occurance, all the numbers of the various land lots were placed on separate pices of paper in a large container in the state capitol (then located in Milledgeville). Beginning in 1819 random drawings for the land lots were then sold. The cost of a drawing varied from time-to-time but was approximately $12.
In 1818 Green Beauchamp crossed the Chattachoochee in a flat boat and set up a store to trade with the natives. He was the first of thousands who passed through Fort Gaines on their way to the new frontier. Steamboat traffic began in July of 1827 when the steamboat Fanny arrived from Pensacola after literally cutting a twenty foot path through dam-like structures of fallen trees, snags, etc. By 1834 there were six steamboats plying the river. Saloons and hotels abounded in Fort Gaines - it became a temporary boomtown, and was dubbed the Queen City of the Chattahoochee.
1836 marked the beginning of the Second Seminole War. The Seminoles of Florida had been ordered to emigrate west of the Mississippi, and their unwillingness to do so led to a war that was to last eight years. This also led to the Creek Uprising of 1836 in the area of Fort Gaines. The town of Roanoke, some 40 miles upstream from Fort Gaines, was raided and burned to the ground. The drivers of the steamboat Georgian, which was laden with Roanoke escapees, managed to escape while under attack by stoking the furnaces with bacon and lard. They arrived at Fort Gaines looking for protection, and the Fort was rapidly rebuilt by General Dill, along with two full companies of infantry and the local Volunteer Guard. The uprising was short-lived, and resulted in the removal of the Creeks to Oklahoma. In the decades following, the citizens of Fort Gaines concerned themselves chiefly with the clearing of land, bringing in more settlers, and the building of railroads. Then the 1860s brought the War Between the States, and for the third time a fort was erected on the bluff, with a strategic view of the river. Vital shipworks were located upstream at Columbus, and three large cannons were installed at Fort Gaines to insure that no Union vessel could safely come up from the Gulf of Mexico to threaten the Columbus installation. Ultimately, no fighting occured in the area, but Clay County furnished four companies of infantry. One of the first to go was the Fort Gaines Guard. Of the 134 men in the unit, 74 were killed in battle, 26 died in hospitals, 15 surrendered at Appomattox, and 4 were discharged in Macon, Georgia in 1865.
After the war came a time of rebuilding. A large brick factory was established, and most wooden buildings in the commercial district were rebuilt with brick masonry. The entire facade of one block in the middle of town was made of brick, with no alleyways - it seemed as if the builders were trying to build a fourth fort in the heart of the city.
In the years that followed, from the turn of the century until the end of World War II, Fort Gaines languished and declined, leaving old homes and old buildings empty and neglected
The geology of the area practically destined Fort Gaines to become a time capsule. Hills and deep ravines surrounded the town, so that when the first paved roads were developed, they were built on the flat lands away from Fort Gaines. Over time the arteries of commerce moved away from the rivers and became superhighways. The nearby railroads were used less and less. People moved away.
Then, in the early 1960s, a dam was built within the city limits. The dam spanned the Chattahoochee River from Georgia to Alabama, and created a Lake Walter F. George, 48,000 acres of potential power and powerful potential. The dam provides for continuing, although much diminished, river traffic from the Gulf of Mexico to points northward of our area.
We are living in changing times. We believe that the commercial potential of the Internet will be as important as the ubiquitous four lane highways of noxious gases that cross Georgia, but don't come anywhere near Fort Gaines. Here, we wish to celebrate the assets of unstressed living as a necessary requisite of successful commerce. And we hope our celebration will continue, as will this history of Fort Gaines....
About the Author:
James Edgar Coleman has devoted his life to the City of Fort Gaines. He is the premier historian of our area and he has authored several books and articles. Should you be intrested in obtaining more of his works, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.