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Court Martials in the Creek War

Proceedings of Courts-Martial in the Creek War

One of the most interesting manuscripts owned by the Tennessee Historical Society is a collection of proceedings of courts martial held in his army during Genl. Jackson's campaign against the Creek Indians, and covering a period from October 15, 1813, to January 30, 1814.

The minutes of the courts are, for the most part, in the handwriting of General Wm. White, Judge Advocate of Division, a resident of Nashville, who later was with Jackson at New Orleans. The papers were presented to the Society by his son, the late C. Henry White, of Giles County.

It will be remembered that Jackson, still suffering from wounds received in his affray with the Bentons, was unable, until October 7, to join his army at Fayetteville, the place of rendezvous, and it is evident from the date of the first court-martial that he lost no time in trying to quell the feeling of discontent and insubordination among his men, which grew largely from want of supplies and a misapprehension as to the expiration of their term of service.

In view of the daily difficulty encountered by Jackson in retaining and controlling his starving soldiers the power of the court-martial does not seem to have been abused either in the frequency of its sessions or the severity of its judgments. The punishment was, in some instances, unique, but sentence of death was passed in two aggravated cases only, and was remitted in both. As an example of many similar sessions the proceedings of the first court are given entire:

Camp Coffee October 15th 1813

A General Court Martial to consist of thirteen members will convene at 4 o'clock on this day at the Major General's quarters for the trial of Allen Moore and such prisoners as may be brought before it.

Brigadier General Hall is hereby appointed President of the Court Martial and Robert Searcy aide-de-camp Judge Advocate. The other members to be detailed by the Adjutant General,
Andrew Jackson,
Major General.

The court met pursuant to the above order, present, Brigadier
General William Hall President
Captain Martin
Captain Douglass
Captain _____ ______
Captain Nash
Captain Smith
Captain Dooley
Captain _____ _____
Captain Patten
Lieutenant Bradley
Lieutenant Lauderdale
Lieutenant Murdoch
Robt. Searcy Judge Advocate pro tem

The court being duly sworn in the presence of the prisoner proceeded to the trial of Allen Moore a private in Capt. William Moore's company of volunteers in the Second Regiment who being previously asked if he had any objections to the members named in the General Order and replying in the negative was arraigned on the following charges preferred against him by Lieutenant John A Chapman of the 2nd regiment of Volunteer Infantry viz:

Mutiny. Specification: For resisting the execution of orders given him by his superior officer to wit: in refusing to march from Camp Blount near Fayetteville in Lincoln County on the 12th instant to join the troops under Genl. Jackson at Camp Coffee, when thereto ordered by Wm. Moore his Captain, he the said Allen Moore having substituted himself in the place of James _____ a volunteer soldier in the said Capt. William Moores company, and threatening to take vengeance on his said superior officer for compelling him to join said army.

2nd For disobedience of orders.
Specification: For refusing to march with his officer from Fayetteville in Lincoln County to join the army under Genl. Jackson at Camp Coffee when thereto ordered by his superior officers.
Jno. A. Chapman,
1st Lieutenant 2nd Regiment. T. V.

to which the prisoner pleaded not guilty.

Wm. C. Bird, Sergeant being sworn says he was ordered by Lieutenant Chapman to take the prisoner under guard and bring him to join the army at Camp Coffee; that the prisoner said he would not march under Lieutenant Chapman and attempted to strike him the witness when about to arrest him.

Lieutenant Chapman sworn says prisoner said he would not go and when spoken mildly to by witness and advised to march peacefully said he be damned if he would go.

Wm Stewart sworn says prisoner told him he intended to go on the campaign but would not serve under Lieutenant Chapman; that they could not compel him to go against his will and that they meaning the balance of said company were fools for going unless they were willing; that he had a discharge and expected to get clear himself and clear as many as wished it when he got to camp.

Peter Tipps sworn says prisoner said he would not march under Lieutenant Chapman.

The testimony on the part of the prosecution being closed the prisoner produced a discharge.

The Court adjourned to meet tomorrow morning at nine o'clock.

Oct. 16 1813
The Court met present the same members as yesterday. The Court being ordered to be cleared and the proceedings read over to the Court by the Judge Advocate the following sentence was pronounced:

The Court after mature deliberation on the testimony adduced find the prisoner guilty of both the charges and specifications exhibited against him and sentence him to ride a wooden horse twenty minutes on two succeeding days between the hours of ten and one o'clock with ten pounds weight attached to each of his feet; that he be confined in the stocks until the punishment is inflicted and that it be inflicted in the presence of the whole of the division. Lieutenant Chapman is charged with the execution of this order.
Wm Hall President of the Court Martial

Robt. Searcy
Judge Adv. pro. tem.

The Commanding General approves the sentence of the Court-Martial whereof General Wm Hall is president and orders that the sentence of said court be immediately carried into due execution,
Andrew Jackson
Major General

The same day a general order was issued convening a Court for the trial of Captain Anthony Metcalf, who was charged with disobedience of orders under the specification "for willfully fire of a gun within the limits of the camp"; ''to which he pleaded guilty and offered in extenuation of his offence the following reason: that he had applied to draw his rations but could not get any; he was suffering for provisions and shot a hog to procure himself something to eat. He introduced Lieutenant Cheek and Ensign Webster as witnesses who proved that Captain Metcalf had applied for ration and could not get any; that he was out of provisions and know prospect of getting any." Whereupon the Court sentenced the said Metcalf, it being the first offence and extenuated by particular circumstances to be reprimanded by the Commander in Chief at the head of the division, which sentence was approved, and the next day the Major General in the presence of the army carried out the sentence with the following address:

"Captain Anthony Metcalf:
You have been charged with a disobedience of general orders and the Court Martial who tried you have found you guilty. In pronouncing their sentence they have paid a great regard to the fact of this having been the first offence and to the circumstances of mitigation which are supposed to have accompanied it. They have sentenced you to be reprimanded by the Commander in Chief at the head of the division.

In doing this they have imposed a very painful duty upon your General. While he views as his children those men who have so willingly united their destinies with his and who at his call have run to their arms with so much eagerness to avenge the injured rights of their country it must ever be with the utmost pain that he can pronounce a public censure against any of them.

To mark a soldier with disgrace is to attack him at a point where all his sensibilities are most alive. To him if he possess those feelings which properly belong to his profession, a sentence of public rebuke must be more keen than the pointed steel of the enemy.

How then shall a General who stands in the relation of a father to his children be made the instrument of inflicting this wound without himself feeling a portion of its pain? But it may become his duty and from that duty he must not shrink whatever sacrifice of feeling the performance of it may occasion him.

You, Captain Metcalf, have been found guilty of an offence which if it prevailed extensively would render utterly abortive the whole object of this expedition. Instead of obtaining victory over that audacious enemy whose numberless depredations have compelled us to leave our families and our homes we should experience only defeat and shame.

Instead of punishing those inhuman savages who in cold blood have murdered our unoffending fellow citizens and whose atrocities have kept even pace with our forbearance we ourselves should be discomfited and beaten, dispersed and driven home, covered with confusion and disgrace; subject to the scorn and indignation of every honest man even of our fathers and brothers; of our wives and children.

Vain is it to talk of the honorable feelings by which any man is animated, or of the personal bravery which distinguishes him, if when he joins the army he will not pay the strictest attention to discipline and obey the lawful orders of his superiors. It is not by individual prowess or courage (if a man can be supposed to have courage who is guilty of a violation of duty) that victory is to be obtained. An army to conquer must act in concert, and to make a number of men act in concert there must be a regular gradation of officers from corporal to commander in chief whose commands must be undeviatingly obeyed. To interrupt this harmony is to oppose the weightiest obstacle to the successful operation of an army.

You perceive then. Captain Metcalf, the nature and enormity of the offence of which you have been guilty. You who as Captain have the power of giving orders to those below you have yourself been guilty of violating the orders of your superiors. You to whom your men look up for a specimen of that conduct which it becomes them to pursue have furnished them an example of disorder and confusion. How shall it be expected that those men who have manifested the trust they have in you by choosing you to command them will act with that strict obedience to subordination and discipline which is so becoming in soldiers, when they see in you such an example of disobedience? It is not to be expected; and that offence which in a private would be highly reprehensible, in you a Captain bound by every motive that can influence a man of honor deserves the severest animadversions. If you feel as a man ought to feel in your situation you must feel at this moment the deepest mortification at a review of your conduct. Let me remind you. Captain, that notwithstanding the mildness of the language I have now used there must be no repetition of this offence. Nor do I wish that the remarks I have addressed to you should be heard and felt by you alone. I wish them to be remembered by the whole, division.

We have set out upon an expedition all important in its objects and consequences; an expedition which can only be successful by a faithful observance of order. Let us by such an observance obtain that object and secure those consequences and when we return to our families and to our homes: to the embraces of those whose approbation must constitute the highest happiness of our lives let us not return with blushes upon our faces, but crowned with laurels which can be gathered even in the barren wilderness.

The Commander in Chief orders that Captain Metcalf's sword be returned to him and that he return to his command."

On the 20th a corporal was tried for using reproachful and disrespectful language derogatory to the character of his captain; of which he was adjudged guilty and was reduced to the ranks.

Five privates in the cavalry were tried on the 24th for desertion and were sentenced "to be suspended by one arm one minute at a time a day for three days without anything to rest either foot upon except one pin sharpened at the end to a point; and do also sentence the said prisoners to be reduced to stations in the infantry and their horses given up to other mounted men; and they compelled to work with all fatigue parties during the campagne; and that each of them wear his coat or hunting shirt or whatever outside dress they may wear with the wrong side out for two weeks with Desertion written on the back as a mark of Disgrace."

The president of the Court Cornel John Coffee recommended that two of the five be exempted from the execution of the sentence except the turning of their courts because they were of tender years and had been influenced in their conduct by the example of others; which the Major General approved.

"Sleeping on their posts while on duty as sentinels in an enemies' country" was the offence of which two privates were convicted on the 27th and sentenced "to be picketed twice a day for three successive days" with a recommendation to the mercy of the Commander in Chief in consideration of the deep and unaffected contrition manifested by the prisoners." One of these offenders proved by his company officers that he had been too ill for some days to carry his knapsack; and the other proved that he had left a sick bed to join the expedition and had had no rest for twenty four hours previous to his being detailed as sentinel.

Another deserter was on the 28th sentenced to suffer death by shooting "but the Court though fully satisfied of the justice of the sentence they have reluctantly been compelled to pronounce against the prisoner beg leave to recommend to the Commander in Chief that after causing every preparatory step to be taken for the execution of our sentence that it may be suspended, or substituted by a solemn admonition." Genl. Jackson adopted the latter suggestion and the solemn admonition was accordingly administered.

There was now a lull in judicial proceedings due no doubt to the battle of Talluchatchee on the 3rd of November and Talladega on the 9th but on the 13th a private was sentenced "to be picketed" for "using insolent seditious and mutinous expressions in the presence and hearing of the Commander in Chief." And on the 14th Cornel. John Allcorn of the Cavalry who had commanded Coffee's right in the battle of the 3rd was tried on a charge of mutiny. The Court acquitted him with honor and took ''the opportunity of expressing the high sense the entertain of Cornel Allcorn's merits as an officer who, as appears to this Court is so far from having been guilty of the crimes of mutiny and sedition has done all in his power to suppress everything like either in his regiment, or whatever might tend to weaken or retard the progress of the campaign."

On the same day three privates in the Tennessee militia after pleading guilty to the charge of desertion were discharged, as "the Court was composed of a number of officers of the first and second regiment of Tennessee volunteers and a question arose before the Court whether it is agreeable to the rules and articles of war that officers and soldiers belonging to the militia can be tried by any other than a court composed entirely of militia officers, which after full discussion was decided in the negative.'

A party of nine were tried for desertion December 4 and pleading guilty were sentenced to have one half their faces blacked, with their coats turned and labeled Desertion and their hands tied behind, to ride a wooden horse fifteen minutes each day for three days, ''and afterward be drummed around the camp drawn up for the purpose of witnessing the scene.' A Lieutenant and Ensign who were condemned the same day to death had their sentences changed and were instead cashiered and dismissed from the service with infamy; and the sentence was ''ordered published in all the newspapers published in the State of Tennessee for three months.'

No courts were held from Dec 16 to January 27. It was during this period that Jackson's militia, according to Parton, in spite of warning and entreaty, marched homeward; and Cocke's division of eight hundred more followed a few days later.

The remainder of the manuscript is devoted to and ends with the trial for cowardice of a Colonel and Lieutenant Colonel who had 'been ordered to protect the rear at Enotichopco, and had failed to do so.

The former proved that he had made every effort to hold his men and did not retreat until deserted by all his troops. The latter was less fortunate and was sentenced "to be cashiered and be compelled to wear a wooden sword from the hour of 10 o'clock a. m. till 1 o'clock p. m. of this day, and then be marched and drummed a half mile from the old line of encampment, towards Fort Deposit, at the head of the Artillery Company, with their bayonets charged and that he be not permitted to wear any insignia of an officer or soldier in the service of the United States."

It is further the unanimous opinion of the Court 'that the prisoner be not permitted to hold any post of honor or profit either civil or military within the gift of the Government of the United States."

This sentence was at first approved by General Jackson but the following rather ambiguous order follows:

"Upon consideration the commanding General orders that the foregoing sentence so far as relates to drumming be dispensed with and is hereby pardoned."

Some of the names which appear in the manuscript are General William Hall, General Isaac Roberts.

Colonels, John Coffee, Nicholas T. Perkins, Wm. Pillow, John K. Wynne, Wm. Carroll,

Inspector General, John Allcorn, Edward Bradley, Wm. Y. Higgin, Doak.

Lieutenant Colonels, William Martin, John Stump

Majors, Boyd, Murry, Shilton, James Lauderdale, Jas. Terrell, Taylor, Shaw, Charles Sevier, Anthony, Barksdale, Dixon, Josephus H. Conn.

Captains, Brice. Martin McCall. Reynolds, Shannon, Cole, H. L. Douglas, Dooley, Patton, John Spinks, Braden, Anthony Metcalf, John Gordon, Jas. McFerran, Williams, Thos. Williamson, Geo. Caperton, William J. Smith, John Moore, David Deaderick, John Bradley, Harpool, McEwen, Wm. Lauderdale, Hamilton, Kennedy, Wallis, Willis, Locke, Abram Bledsoe, Elliott, Russell, Patterson, Louis Winston, Cheatham, Doak, Mitchell, Pipkins, Vincent Winfrey, Johnson, McMahan, Dale, Crain

Adjutant, Alfred Cantrell
Quartermaster, Henry Bledsoe
Aides-de-camp, John Reid, Robt. Searcy

 AHGP Tennessee

Source: The American Historical Magazine, Volume VI, Editor W. R. Garrett and John M. Bass, Peabody Normal College, 1901


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