A faction of Creeks known as Red Sticks sought aggressively to return their society to a traditional way of life. Red Stick leaders such as William Weatherford (Red Eagle), Peter McQueen, and Menawa, who were allies of the British, violently clashed with other chiefs within the Creek Nation over white encroachment on Creek lands and the programs administered by U.S. Indian Agent Benjamin Hawkins. Before the Creek Civil War began, the Red Sticks attempted to keep their activities secret from the old chiefs.
In February 1813, a small party of Red Sticks, led by Little Warrior, was returning from Detroit when they killed two families of settlers along the Ohio River. Hawkins demanded that the Creek turn over Little Warrior and his six companions. Instead of handing the marauders over to the federal agents, the old Chiefs decided to execute the war party themselves. This decision was the spark which ignited the civil war between the Creeks.
The first clashes between Red Sticks and the American whites took place when a group of American soldiers stopped a party of Red Sticks who were returning from Florida on July 21, 1813. The Red Sticks had received munitions from the Spanish governor at Pensacola. The Red Sticks fled the scene, and the soldiers looted what they found. The Creeks, who saw the Americans looting, retaliated with a surprise attack. The Battle of Burnt Corn, as the exchange became known, broadened the Creek Civil War to include American forces.
Peter McQueen along with William Weatherford led an attack on Fort Mims, north of Mobile, Alabama, on August 30, 1813. The Red Sticks' goal was to strike at mixed blood Creeks that had taken refuge at the fort. The fighters successfully attacked the fort leaving 400 to 500 dead. Panic spread throughout the American Southeastern frontier which demanded government intervention. Federal forces were busy fighting the British and the Northern Woodland tribes, led by the Shawnee, so Southern states called up their militias to deal with the threat.
Brigadier General Ferdinand Clairborne, a militia commander in the Mississippi Territory, recognized the weakness of his sector on the western border of the Creek territory and advocated a series of preemptive strikes. However, Major General Thomas Flourney, Commander of 7th Military District, continually refused these requests and holding that the American strategy was defensive. Meanwhile, settlers in that region sought refuge in blockhouses.
The Tennessee legislature authorized Governor William (Willie) Blount to raise 5,000 militia for a three-month tour of duty. Blount called out a force of 2,500 West Tennessee men under Colonel Andrew Jackson to "repel an approaching invasion ... and to afford aid and relief to ... Mississippi Territory". He also summoned a force of 2,500 from East Tennessee under Major General William Cocke. Jackson and Cocke were not ready to move until early October.
In addition to the actions of Tennessee, Georgia, and Mississippi, Indian Agent Benjamin Hawkins organized the friendly (Lower Town) Creeks under Major William McIntosh to aid the Georgia and Tennessee militias during their actions against the Red Sticks.
At the request of Chief Federal Agent Return J. Meigs, known as White Eagle for the color of his hair, the Cherokee Nation voted to join the Americans in their fight against the Red Sticks. 200 Cherokee under the command of Major Ridge fought with the Tennessee Militia under Andrew Jackson.
By count of towns, the Upper Creek constituted about two thirds of the Creek Nation. Their towns were along the Alabama, Coosa, and Tallapoosa Rivers in the heart of Alabama. In contrast, the Lower Creek were settled along the Chattahoochee River. Many Creek tried to remain friendly to the United States; but, after Fort Mims, few Americans in the southeast made any distinction between friendly and unfriendly Creeks.
At most, the Red Stick force consisted of 4,000 soldiers, possessing perhaps 1,000 guns. They had never been involved in a large scale war, even with their neighbors. Early in the war, General Cocke observed that arrows "form a very principal part of the enemy's arms for warfare, every man having a bow with a bundle of arrows, which is used after the first fire with the gun until a leisure time for loading offers".
The Holy Ground (Hickory Ground), located at the junction of the Tallapoosa and Coosa Rivers, was the heart of the Red Stick Confederation. It was about 150 miles (240 km) from the nearest supply point available to any of the three American armies. The easiest attack route was from Georgia through the line of forts on the frontier and then along a good road that led to the Upper Creek towns near the Holy Ground. Another route was north from Mobile along the Alabama River. The most difficult, Jackson's route of advance, was south from Tennessee through a mountainous and pathless terrain.
Jackson departed Fayetteville, Tennessee on October 7 1813. He joined his cavalry in Huntsville and crossed the Tennessee, establishing Fort Deposit. He then marched to the Coosa and built his advanced base at Fort Strother. Jackson's first successful actions, the battles of Tallushatchee and Talladega, occurred in November.
However, after Talladega, Jackson was plagued by supply shortages and discipline problems arising from his men's short term enlistments. Cocke, with 2,500 East Tennessee Militia, took the field on October 12. His route of march was from Knoxville to Chattanooga and then along the Coosa toward Fort Strother. Because of jealousy between the East and West Tennessee militia, Cocke was in no hurry to join Jackson, particularly after he angered Jackson by mistakenly attacking a friendly village on November 17. When he finally reached Fort Strother on December 12, the East Tennessee men only had 10 days remaining on their enlistments. Jackson had no choice but to dismiss them. Further, General Coffee, who had returned to Tennessee for remounts, wrote Jackson that the cavalry had deserted. By the end of 1813, Jackson was down to a single regiment whose enlistments were due to expire in mid January.
Although Governor Blount had ordered a new levee of 2,500 troops, Jackson would not be up to full strength until the end of February. When a draft of 900 raw recruits arrived unexpectedly on January 14, Jackson was down to a cadre of 103 and Coffee, who had been "abandoned by his men".
Since new men had enlistment contracts of only sixty days, Jackson decided to get the most out of his untried force. He departed Fort Strother on January 17 and marched toward the village of Emuckfaw to cooperate with the Georgia Militia. However, this was a risky decision. It was a long march through difficult terrain against a numerically superior force, the men were inexperienced, undisciplined and insubordinate, and a defeat would have prolonged the war. After two indecisive battles at Emuckfaw and Enotachopo Creek, Jackson returned to Fort Strother and did not resume the offensive until mid March.
The arrival of the 39th United States Infantry on February 6, 1814, provided Jackson a disciplined core for his force, which ultimately grew to about 5,000 men. After Governor Blount ordered the second draft of Tennessee militia, Cocke, with a force of 2,000 six-month men, once again marched from Knoxville to Fort Strother. Cocke's men mutinied when they learned that Jackson's men only had three month enlistments. Cocke tried to pacify his men, but Jackson misunderstood the situation and ordered Cocke's arrest as an instigator. The East Tennessee militia reported to Fort Strother without further comment on their term of service. Cocke was later cleared.
Jackson spent the next month building roads and training his force. In mid March, he moved against the Red Stick force concentrated on the Tallapoosa at Tohopeka (Horseshoe Bend). He first moved south along the Coosa, about half the distance to the Creek position, and established a new outpost at Fort Williams. Leaving another garrison there, he then moved on Tohopeka with a force of about 3,000 effectives augmented by 600 Cherokee and Lower Creek allies. The Battle of Horseshoe Bend, which occurred on March 27, was a decisive victory for Jackson, effectively ending the Red Stick resistance.
In late November, General John Floyd, with a force of 950 militia and 300–400 friendly Creek, crossed the Chattahoochee and moved toward the Holy Ground. On November 29 he attacked the village of Auttose and drove the Creek from a strong position. After the battle, General Floyd, who was severely wounded, withdrew to the Chattahoochee. Floyd's losses were 11 killed and 54 wounded. Floyd estimated that 200 Creek were killed.
In mid January, Floyd departed Fort Mitchell with a force of 1,300 militia and 400 friendly Creek, advancing toward the village of Tuckaubatchee to await a link-up Jackson. On January 29, 7 days after Emuckfaw, the Creek attacked his fortified camp on the Calibee Creek. Although the Georgian's repulsed the attack, Floyd and his militia considered this battle a defeat and retreated to Fort Mitchell, abandoning the line of fortified positions that they had created during their advance. Casualty figures vary for Floyd's force—17 to 22 killed, 132 to 147 wounded. Floyd estimated Red Stick casualties as 37 killed. This was Georgia's last offensive operation of the war.
Continuing to a point about 85 miles (140 km) north of Fort Stoddert, Clairborne established Fort Clairborne. On December 23, he encountered a small force at the Holy Ground and burned 260 houses. William Weatherford was nearly captured during this engagement but was able to escape. Casualties for the Mississippian's were 1 killed and 6 wounded. 30 Creek soldiers were killed in the engagement.
Because of supply shortages, Clairborne withdrew to Fort St. Stephens
On August 9, 1814, Andrew Jackson forced the Creeks to sign the Treaty of Fort Jackson. Despite protest of the Creek chiefs who had fought alongside Jackson, the Creek Nation ceded 23 million acres (93,000 km²)—half of Alabama and part of southern Georgia—to the United States government. Even though the Creek War was largely a civil war among the Creeks, Andrew Jackson recognized no difference between the Creeks that had fought with him and the Red Sticks that fought against him, taking the lands of both. 1.9 million acres (7,700 km²) of the 23 million acres (93,000 km²) Jackson forced the Creeks to cede was claimed by the Cherokee Nation, who had also allied with the United States during the war.
With the Red Stick menace subdued, Andrew Jackson was able to focus on the Gulf coast region in the War of 1812. On his own initiative, he invaded Spanish Florida and drove a British force out of Pensacola. He next defeated the British at the Battle of New Orleans on January 8, 1815. In 1818, Jackson again invaded Florida, where some of the Red Stick leaders had fled, an event known as the First Seminole War.
As a result of these victories, Jackson became a national figure and eventually rose to become the seventh President of the United States in 1829. As President, Andrew Jackson advocated the Indian Removal Act which relocated the Southeastern tribes to the West, across the Mississippi River.