As part of the American History Celebration this Saturday at the site of the Battle of Hartsville, we have been writing about local men who served in the different wars our nation has fought … since the celebration honors all soldiers and all wars.
Now, we look at the Seminole Indian Wars. There were three … and we’ll look at the contributions of one local soldier in particular.
Not surprisingly, the conflict between white settlers wanting Native American lands was nothing new. Also, not surprisingly, local members of the Tennessee Militia were involved, as was Gen. Andrew Jackson.
As we recall from last week’s article on the War of 1812, Jackson was not happy with the fact that Spain laid claim to what is now the state of Florida. He also wasn’t happy with the British seeking to take over Louisiana and the city of New Orleans.
We know how that ended up … Jackson defeated the British at the 1815 Battle of New Orleans.
In 1817, problems arose when Southern plantation owners were upset that slaves were running away and taking refuge in Spanish Florida and living among the Seminole Indians who lived there.
Because it wasn’t American soil, they couldn’t enter the area to try and get their slaves back.
Complaints to Washington led to the War Department sending Jackson to the area to try and correct the situation.
To Jackson, there was only one solution … make Florida a part of the United States.
And, that is exactly what he did.
Spain handed Florida to the United States, and many of the Seminole Indians were forced to new homes beyond the Mississippi in the Oklahoma territory. However, not all of the tribes surrendered.
Then, in 1835, as more and more white settlers entered Florida, they realized that the land still owned by the Seminoles was good land … and they wanted it.
So, what did the United States do? It broke the treaty it had signed with the Seminoles and tried to take all their land and force them to join the others in Oklahoma.
The Seminoles fought back, which led to the government calling for volunteers to fight … and men from Hartsville were in the thick of it all. The governor of Tennessee asked for members of the state’s local militias, a forerunner of today’s National Guard, to sign up for a six-month tour of duty.
It would take more than six months.
One of the men involved was William Lauderdale of Hartsville.
Lauderdale was a veteran of the Creek Indian War, the War of 1812 and the Battle of New Orleans. His brother, James Lauderdale, had been killed in the fighting at New Orleans.
Jackson, retired from the presidency and living at the Hermitage, wrote a letter to the Secretary of War recommending William Lauderdale specifically as a man to raise volunteers and to lead them into the fight.
Lauderdale did just that.
The war, as we pointed out, was not an easy one as the Seminole Indians rarely engaged the soldiers in battle but preferred to use what we now call guerilla war tactics.
The men from Tennessee constantly found themselves marching through tough saw grass and swamps, fighting off mosquitoes and short on supplies.
Nevertheless, Major William Lauderdale performed his job well and managed to make his way down the coast of Florida in search of the renegade Indians.
There, in 1857, at the site where the New River empties into the Atlantic Ocean, he directed his men in the construction of a small fort. You may have heard of it ... Fort Lauderdale.
With their time up, Lauderdale led his men back to Tennessee.
Yet, the climate and strain of the fighting had not been kind to William Lauderdale, and he died of a pulmonary embolism on the way home. He was buried, with honors, close to Baton Rouge. Today, his gravesite is lost to history.