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The Battle of Horseshoe Bend
Battle of Horseshoe Bend map

Map of the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, March 31, 1814
Tennessee Historical Society
T-100 Collection

March 27, 1814, was the day in which more Native Americans lost their lives than in any other single battle in recorded North American history. After his near-disaster at Enitochopco, Jackson reformed his army for a final assault on the Red Sticks. Jackson amassed a force of approximately 5,000 men and ensured they were well supplied by appealing to Nashville merchants. He ordered the execution of Private John Woods for insubordination in mid-March, which encouraged greater discipline among the citizen soldiers. His army included Tennessee militia and volunteers, the 39th U.S. Infantry (composed mostly of Tennesseans), two pieces of artillery, and contingents of Cherokee and "friendly" Creeks.

Jackson's report

Andrew Jackson's official report on the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, March 31, 1814
Tennessee Historical Society
T-100 Collection

On March 27, Jackson's attacking force of 3,000 came to a Red Stick stronghold in a bend of the Tallapoosa River known as Tohopeka (meaning "wooden fort"). Outnumbered three-to-one, the Red Sticks fought with ferocity, asking for no quarter and giving none. By nightfall, approximately 900 warriors lay dead on the battlefield or submerged in the Tallapoosa. U.S. dead and wounded, including allied Cherokees and Creeks, numbered around 250. Throughout the coming months, the remaining Red Sticks, straggling and near-starved, surrendered. The subsequent Treaty of Fort Jackson on August 9, 1814, forced the Creeks to relinquish 23,000,000 acres of land to the United States. Although the belligerent Red Sticks were only a faction of the Creek Nation, the entire tribe suffered the repercussions.

John Coffee Describes the Battle
John Coffee letter

Letter from John Coffee to his wife, Mary, Fort Williams, Alabama, April 1, 1814
Dyas Collection of John Coffee Papers

On April 1, 1814, John Coffee wrote a letter to his wife, Mary, describing the Battle of Horseshoe Bend:

"I crossed the river with 700 mounted men and 600 Indians and took possession of the other bank to prevent them swiming over the river and escaping – all was executed well, the enemy faught with their usual desperation, but we overpowered them, and after Cannonading them about two hours, we charged their works by storm, and put the whole to death but a few that hid under the banks of the river, the slaughter was great we counted 557 dead bodies on the ground besides about 300 that was shot and sunk in the river, making in the whole that we killed from 850 to 900 – and took about 500 prisoners squaws and children – we lost on our part of white men 26 killed and 106 wounded besides 23 friendly Indians killed and 47 wounded . . ."

John Coffee letter to Sam Houston

Letter from John Coffee to Sam Houston, Florence, Alabama, April 25, 1828
Dyas Collection of John Coffee Papers

John Coffee refutes the accusation by the anti-Jacksonians that the Battle of Horseshoe Bend was a "cold blooded Massacre."

The Battle of Horseshoe Bend as a Campaign Issue

The presidential election of 1828, which pitted Andrew Jackson against John Quincy Adams, is often called one of the dirtiest campaigns in U.S. history. Both candidates were subjected to vicious, personal attacks during the campaign. In Jackson's case, his conduct during the War of 1812 was used as campaign fodder by the anti-Jacksonians. They attacked him by calling his victory at Horseshoe Bend a "cold blooded Massacre." They also produced booklets, commonly known as "coffin handbills," that were intended to smear Jackson's character. The Tennessee State Library and Archives houses one of these booklets, and it "commemorates" the soldiers executed for desertion or insubordination during the War of 1812. As the booklet states:

The preceding Monumental Inscriptions, compiled from OFFICIAL DOCUMENTS, communicated by the Department of War to CONGRESS, on the 25th January, 1828, are now offered to the
Under a firm conviction that they ought, and must produce, a deliberate and just examination of the qualifications of
For the exalted Civil station to which he now aspires. Shall the HAPPINESS, the GLORY, and the PERPETUITY of this Republic, be entrusted to one who has yet to learn how to govern his own vehement passions?
Pronounce the emphatic word

Sam Houston

"Ensign Houston at
To-Ho-Pe-Ka," ca. 1929

Tennessee Historical Society Picture Collection

This engraving was first printed in Sam Houston and His Republic (1846) and was reprinted in The Raven: A Biography of Sam Houston (1929).

Sam Houston

Sam Houston joined the U.S. Regular Army in 1813 and rose to the rank of ensign in 1814. An ensign was a junior officer who carried one of the regiment's two flags. Houston was wounded three times at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. He became a protégé of Andrew Jackson and was Governor of Tennessee from 1827-1829. After leading Texas to independence from Mexico, he twice served as the President of the Republic of Texas. Once Texas became a state, he served as its U.S. Senator (1846-1859) and Governor (1859-1861), becoming the only American to be elected governor of two different states.


Aerial photo of Horseshoe Bend

Aerial photograph of Horseshoe Bend, Tallapoosa County, Alabama, ca. 1920s
Penelope Johnson Allen Cherokee Collection

Horseshoe Bend casualties

List of casualties from Andrew Jackson's official report on the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, March 31, 1814
Tennessee Historical Society
T-100 Collection

Coffin handbill
Coffin handbill
Coffin handbill
Coffin handbill
Coffin handbill

"Monumental Inscriptions" handbills, ca. 1828
Sir Emil Hurja Collection

These "coffin handbills" were distributed in a booklet by the anti-Jacksonians during the presidential campaign of 1828 and were intended to smear the general's character. They commemorate militia members who were shot for insubordination or desertion during the War of 1812.