In last week’s article, we saw that Major William Lauderdale was an important fellow in the Seminole Indian Wars. The town of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, is named for him.
But, he wasn’t the only local man to join in the fray.
In 1836, close to the end of his eight years as president, Andrew Jackson was keenly aware of the problems in Florida, and when hostilities broke out between the Seminole Indians and white settlers, Jackson issued a call for volunteers to go fight. Tennessee responded.
Several companies of men were organized in Sumner County. At that time, what is now Hartsville, was a part of that county.
One soldier, James Bryson of Castalian Springs, was in one of those Sumner County companies. Bryson was an observant young man and noticed what was going on around him and was quick to make a comment on the war that he was a part of.
We know this because his descendants have all of the letters he wrote home.
The family have shared them with us, and they have been reprinted in historian Walter Durham’s 1972 book, “Old Sumner”.
On their way to Florida, his company spent some time in Fayetteville. From there, he wrote to his father, Peter Bryson, writing, “As for myself I find the camp of a soldier more agreeable than I expected. I have become so used to the noise and confusion incident to camp that it interrupts me but little. I can sleep just as sound and well in the camp on my blanket as though I were at home in my bed.”
In another letter, Bryson mentions William Lauderdale’s company, writing, “In passing through one corner of the creek Nation last week, Lauderdale’s spy company has gotten the old Indian Chief Shields who goes with them as a spy.”
On July 29, 1836, war became reality when bad news arrived while they are camped in Tuskegee, Alabama.
He wrote, “There arrived an express at our camp by which we learned that the Georgians and Indians had had an engagement in which the former were defeated. Four of our companies were ordered on immediately.”
By now, the heat of summer and poor sanitary conditions in their camps has left many of the men sick, including young Bryson. He wrote, “”I am now at this place by the blessing of God alive and well although I have since I wrote home last been very unwell for about five days with Diarhea…When we returned from the swamps our Doctor found 50 men sick…one man out of the fifty has died.”
Although full of bravado for their country, the rough terrain and heat combine against the company. On Sept. 27, Bryson wrote, “We marched from San Pedro to the Suwannee a span of 24 miles then 76 miles down the river to this place through the most wretched country I ever saw. Swamps and Hammocks and ponds and through the saw palmetto. Our horses look very much worsted indeed. I look for a great many of them to give out in the next two weeks.”
The governor of Florida has promised supplies to the volunteers but fails repeatedly to do so, causing hard feelings among the Tennesseans.
Bryson does eventually see action. His Nov. 10 letter reads, “We marched directly for the Indians on the 13th. We reached there and found them. They seemed to be in two bodies. We attacked them at each place though we never could see them hid as they were in the thickest kind of hammocks. The skirmish was on this side of the river. It would seem that there was some on both sides of the river. We had in all 3 killed and 6 wounded. Among the killed was a young Mr. West of Capt. Henry’s company of Sumner County. A young man from Smith County of Capt. Campbell’s company and a friendly Indian who was acting as guide for us…our provisions were giving out and we were compelled to a retrograde movement in order to get something to eat.”
The men had only volunteered for a six-month term of service, and when their time is up, they return home, a much wiser group of men than when they left.
The war does eventually wear out the Seminole tribe, and most of them surrendered and endured removal to the Indian territory of Oklahoma.
However, several hundred simply disappeared deeper into the swamps, and it is only in 1942 that their band of the Seminole tribe signed a peace treaty with the U.S. government, a treaty that let them continue to live in Florida.