1812: "A terrible vengeance"

Cropped view of an engraving recolored in light greyscale tones shows General Jackson on a horse with American soldiers fighting the British in the background.

As the United States headed toward a declaration of war against Britain in the War of 1812, other conflicts unfolded in eastern North America. A Native American chief, Tecumseh, had been forming a confederacy of tribes for mutual defense against American expansion. In 1811, the Red Stick Creeks joined the confederacy as Tecumseh expanded his organizing into the southern states/territories. In the spring of 1812, a group of Red Stick warriors attacked settlements along the Duck River in Tennessee—going against Tecumseh's desires for peace first and war as a last resort.

Andrew Jackson, a Tennessee militia general, wrote this angry letter to Tennessee governor, Willie Blount, asking to lead a retaliation. Blount replied later, urging caution and restraint and telling Jackson he was requesting guidance from the U.S. War Department. 


Hermitage June 5th. 1812 

Dear sir, 

I have this moment returned from the State of Georgia. My heart bleeds within me at hearing of the wanton massacre of our women and children by a party of Creeks since I left home. 

With infinite regret I learned that Genl. Johnson at the head of 500 men was in the neighborhood of this massacre, at the time of its perpetration, and yet omitted to send a detachment against these marauders or to follow them himself, with his whole force. Thus far they have escaped with impunity carrying off an unfortunate woman along with them. But this cruel outrage must not go unrevengd. The assassins of Women and Children must be punished.  

Now Sir the object of Tecumpsies visit to the creek nations is unfolding to us. That incendiary, the emissary of the Prophet, who is himself the tool of England, has caused our frontier to be stained with blood, and our peaceful citizens to fly in terror from their once happy abodes.  

The sooner we strike, the less resistance we shall have to overcome; and a terrible vengeance inflicted at once upon one tribe may have its effect upon all others.  

Even the wretches upon the Wabash might take some warning from such a lesson. We must therefore march to the heart of the Creek Nation: a competent force can be raised at the shortest notice; for the spirit of the whole people is on fire. They burn to carry fire and sword to the heart of the Creek Nation, and to learn these wretches in their own Towns and villages what it is to massacre Women and Children at a moment of profound peace. I wait therefore for your Orders! Give me permission to procure provisions and munitions of war, and I pledge myself for the balance. Twenty five hundred brave men from the 2nd Division will be ready on the first signal to visit the Creek towns, and bring them to terms without the aid of presents and annuities.  

In the mean time I have issued an order to prepare the Militia for this Event: and I only wait your order or those of the general government to carry it into effect. Other orders shall be issued for placing an immediate force upon the frontier, under cover of which the citizens may resume the labours of their fields. I wait with impatience for your answer. I have the honour to be with great consideration your Respectfully 

Andrew Jackson