By: Dale Cox
Lake Seminole – On the Georgia side of Lake Seminole, an overgrown historic site attracts little attention these days, but 190 years ago it was the headquarters for the Southern Army of the United States and the command post of General Andrew Jackson.
Now covered by a dense growth of trees and vines, Fort Scott was once a twelve-acre military post, complete with barracks, officer’s quarters, a hospital, gunpowder magazine and log stockade walls designed to protect the fort from attack by Seminole and Creek warriors. It was for a time, perhaps, the most important military installation in the United States and played a major role in the history of not only Jackson County, but Florida and the nation as a whole.
Established by Lieutenant Colonel Duncan Lamont Clinch and a battalion from the 4th U.S. Infantry during the late spring of 1816, the fort served as a stepping off point for the American campaign against the so-called "Negro Fort" on the Apalachicola. Now known as Fort Gadsden, the "Negro Fort" had been built by the British during the War of 1812 as a rallying point for a large organized force of Native Americans and escaped slaves from the plantations of the Southeast.
When the British left the area in 1815, they turned the fort and its artillery and other armaments over to their former allies. When U.S. troops attacked the post in July of 1816, its inhabitants still flew the British flag and considered themselves subjects of the King of England.
An American gunboat lobbed a heated cannonball over the walls of the "Negro Fort," striking the gunpowder magazine of the establishment and blowing the fort to bits. An estimated 270 of the 320 men, women and children in the fort were killed in the blast and most of the survivors were carried back upstream to Fort Scott.
By 1817, Fort Scott had become the command post for the 4th and 7th Infantry Regiments and on November 21, 1817, served as the base for military operations against the Lower Creek village of Fowltown in what is now Decatur County, Georgia. The Fowltown raid ignited the First Seminole War and for more than three months Fort Scott was kept under siege by Native American forces.
Andrew Jackson broke the siege in March of 1818 when he arrived at Fort Scott with an army of nearly 2,000 men. Using the fort as a base of operations, he invaded Florida to battle Seminole and Creek forces and ultimately captured the Spanish towns of St. Marks and Pensacola. The campaign brought him through Jackson County and many of his soldiers later returned to become the first settlers of the area.
Fort Scott remained an active military post until 1821, when Florida was transferred from Spain to the United States. Its usefulness then ended, the post was closed and its garrison relocated to Fort Smith, Arkansas.
Although the site is now on Federal property, the location of the old fort remains neglected and overgrown. More than 100 U.S. soldiers are buried there in unmarked graves, their ultimate sacrifices to their country forgotten by modern generations.
Editor’s Note: You can read more writings from historian Dale Cox at www.jacksoncountytimes.net. Just click the "Local History" button.