THE DADE MASSACRE IN FLORIDA DEC. 28, 1835
One hundred years ago, December 28, 1935, there occurred a tragedy in Florida somewhat similar to that which occurred on the banks of the Little Big Horn in Montana 40 years later.
Major Francis L. Dade, in command of detachments of the 4th U.S. Infantry and the 1st and 2nd U.S. Artillery, started under orders to move from Key West, via Tampa Bay, to Fort King. From Fort Brooke on Tampa Bay to Fort King, a distance of about 100 miles, there was a trail through the forest known as the Fort King Road.
Late in December, 1835, Major Dade and his troops began their March from Fort Brooke and for several days nothing was heard from the command. Early in January there came to Fort Brooke a private soldier named Daniel F. Clarke, bearing seven wounds, weak from loss of blood and hunger, and the great hardships he had endured and barely alive, as he had crawled almost the entire distance from the scene of one of the most bloody massacres in the history of the American Army.
Clarke was one of the survivors of Major Dade's Command consisting of 102 privates and non-commissioned officers, and 8 officers, that had left Fort Brooke on December 24, 1835.
The news of the Massacre brought by Clark created great consternation in the small garrison at Fort Brooke and steps were taken to protect the post against an attack by the savages.
A sailing vessel was about to depart for Mobile, and news of the destruction of Dades Command was sent to Washington and to the larger cities and towns along the Gulf Coast.
The news of this astounding attack roused the authorities at Washington to the seriousness of the situation. For the first time in the history of our Army almost an entire Command of trained soldiers had been exterminated in a daylight attack by the Indians.
Later came news that on the day of the Dade attack Osceola and a small band had at Fort King ambushed General Thompson and his aid, Lieut. Smith, near the Agency buildings. The savages then looted the sutler's store for ammunition, liquor and stores and departed south along the trail to join Micanopy, Alligator, and the band that had earlier in the day wiped out the Command of Major Dade.
Major Dade, the Commanding Officer of the ill-fated detachment, was a Veteran of the War of 1812, a brave and cautious soldier, and was to some extent aware of the unsettled condition of the country through which he had to pass.
His detachment traveled with oxen as the principal means of transport of stores, supplies and ammunition and necessarily the progress of the Command was slow. He was provided with one piece of artillery, a six pounder, and this was drawn by oxen.
From the account of the battle given by Clarke it appears that Major Dade moved slowly and with caution along the Military trail, traces of which may be seen to this day, and until he had crossed the Forks of the Withiscoochee River he had sent scouts ahead and at night had made an entrenched Camp by cutting trees for breastworks and had used all possible precaution against a night attack.
The evening before the attack he crossed his last river and had encamped for the night near a small pond about 4 miles below, or south, of the point of attack. On the morning of the 28th he assembled his command near the pond which is now known as Dades Breakfast Pond, and addressed them, stating that the most dangerous part of the journey had been passed and that they were nearing their destination and by night fall they would probably reach Fort King.
On previous days he had advanced with flankers and an advance guard, but on the morning of the 28th, having passed the thick swamps and the morning being somewhat chilly his vigilance was somewhat relaxed, and the Command proceeded with a small advance guard, the men wearing their overcoats buttoned, and their ammunition boxes under their outer garments. Major Dade and Captain Fraser closely followed the advance guard and the men in double file followed.
About 4 miles from their last camp, and while in the open pine woods and at a point where the grass was tall and there were many clumps of palmetto, the Indians, 180 in number, besides a large number of their negro slaves and retainers, had concealed themselves in the grass and palmettoes. The Command was slowly progressing along the trail at this point where the attack according to methods of Indian Warfare was least expected. The cold, quiet morning was suddenly startled by a shrill war hoop, uttered by the chief, Jumper, followed by a single shot fired by Micanopy, and then immediately a sheet of fire from the concealed Indians poured into the startled soldiers. More than half of the entire Command went down at the first volley. The aim of the Indians was well-nigh perfect and the attack had been carefully planned and discussed by the Chiefs.
Halpatter-Tustenuggee, or Alligator, in his narrative of the battle says that after the first volley the soldiers were rallied by the few remaining officers and the field piece was loaded and fired several times, but the Indians soon shot down the artillerymen and the gun was silenced. He says that one officer, a little man, was very brave, that he drew his sword and swore great oaths and made every effort to rally the soldiers. From all accounts this officer was Capt. Fraser as it appears that Major Dade was killed during the first volley by the Indians.
The soldiers took refuge behind trees and fought to the last. The firing continued for some time and then the Indians retired a short distance to replenish their ammunition. An Indian coming up said there were a few soldiers left that had thrown up a breastwork of logs. The savages returned to the ground and placed the survivors under a severe fire and the soldiers fire was soon silenced for want of ammunition. The Indians sent their negroes into the inclosure and found three white men alive who after a conversation with them in English were put to death, but not until one soldier who Alligator says was very brave and who refused to surrender, seized an Indian, took away his rifle, and then ran up the road. He was pursued by Indians on horseback and soon shot down. Clarke, who had received seven wounds, corroberates this account, and said that he pretended to be dead when the Indians came into the inclosure. A negro slave gave him a push with his foot and said, "He is dead enough." Clark lay, feigning death among his dead Comrades until night-fall and then crawled out of the bloody pen and started on his long and painful journey to Tampa Bay.
The Indians had taken all the guns and ammunition, so he was unarmed. He shortly fell in with another soldier and they travelled together always at night, hiding in the day time. They soon discovered that Indians were on their trail and separated. Clarke said that soon thereafter he heard a volley of shots that told of his companion's death.
That the Indians themselves were astounded and awed by the fearful slaughter is evident from their actions after the battle. But few of the dead were scalped or their clothing taken, two things that were invariably done after a successful battle. The officers were not robbed of articles of jewelry or personal adornment. Alligator says that they hastily left the battle ground and returned northward into the swamp, where late that night they were joined by the chief, Osceola, and his band, fresh from the murder of Gen. Thompson and Lieut. Smith, at Fort King. Osceola and his band were loaded with loot from the sutler's store at Fort King, and the two bands celebrated their bloody work until far into the night, many of them drunk on the liquor they had taken from the sutler's store. It is said that Osceola placed the scalp of Gen. Thompson on a pole, and many of the Indians made speeches to the departed spirit of the general.
For weeks the bodies of the slain remained exposed to the vultures and the elements. Gen. Edmund P. Gaines, who had landed at Tampa Bay with a considerable force of men, marched against the hostiles, and reaching the Fort King trail advanced to the scene of the massacre, arriving there February 20, 1836.
Capt. Ethan Allan Hitchcock, a graduate of West Point and serving as inspector general of the Gaines command, reports that it was indeed a melancholy scene that greeted the advance of the command. The bodies of the slain were scattered along the trail, the oxen, their yokes still upon them, were lying as though they had fallen asleep. The horses of the officers lying dead, and the ground littered with the remains of boxes and packages that had contained the ammunition and supplies of the detachment. Then they came up on the small inclosure where the last stand was made and there found the skeletons of 30 or more men who were lying in the position they must have occupied during their last fight, their heads to the log breastworks, bodies parallel with each other and arms extended, showing to the last they had held their weapons directed upon the enemy. They had evidently died fighting to the last. Passing the enclosure other bodies were found and then they came to the place where the advance guard and most of the officers fell. The bodies of all the officers were identified, as many of the officers with Gen. Gaines were friends and associates of those who had fallen. The little army of Gen. Gaines was halted, the bodies of the men gathered and buried in a long trench, the officers in another, and the proper and usual military honors paid to the dead. To this day the outlines of the trenches may be seen, the remains having been removed therefrom many years ago, and taken to the national cemetary at St. Augustine, where they rest under a monument erected by the men and officers of the Florida Indian War. The 6-pound gun was found in the pond nearby (where it had been thrown by the Indians), and placed in an upright position at the head of the trenches.
The officers of the command who perished on that fateful December morning were Major Francis L. Dade, Captain Fraser, Captain Gardiner, Lieutenants Bassenger, Henderson, Mudge, and Keals; and Dr. J. S. Gatlin, Surgeon. The bodies of 98 privates and noncommissioned officers and 8 officers were found and interred. Two men of the command, in addition to Clarke, reached Tampa Bay after suffering great hardships on their perilous journey.
One hundred years have passed since this event, but there is nothing on this historic spot to indicate to the public that here died as American soldiers a body of brave men while nobly fighting a savage foe. The battle ground is located about 8 ½ miles southwest from the town of Bushnell the county seat of Sumter County, Florida, and not far from the main line of the Seaboard A Line, which runs from Jacksonville to Tampa. With the aid of a sketch copied from a small map made by Lieut. Joseph E. Johnson, afterwards a famous general of the Confederate States Army, and the field notes of the public lands surveys, it is possible to accurately locate the battle ground, and identify the Fort King Trail, which may be traced through the woods at this place. There has been little change in the spot in the 100 years, the same open pine woods with the clump of palmettos similar to the ones behind the Indians laid in wait. The little pond to the east of the trail is still there, and the tall pond grass and the clumps of undergrowth bring to mind the hiding places of the savages. A few oak trees have grown to considerable size, and one large oak with many trunks grows from what is pointed out as the officers' trench, nature's monument to those who were slain.
For some years the citizens of the locality have been endeavoring to arouse interest in the erection of a suitable monument to mark this incident in the history of our country. It has been proposed that a few acres of the land there abouts be set aside as a public park, and a suitable monument with an appropriate tablet be erected at the scene of the battle. Near by may be found a quantity of native stone, which could be erected into a substantial foundation and shaft, on which could be placed a suitable tablet reciting the fact of the heroic death of those who fell on that chilly December morning, 100 years ago.
The Legislature of the Territory of Florida was in session when the news of the massacre reached Tallahassee, the capital, and suitable resolutions were passed, the flag placed at half-mast for a period of time. Many years later the Legislature of the State of Florida, by proper memorial to the Congress of the United States, requested a small appropriation for the purpose of making this historical spot a national park but Congress, busily engaged with the problems of a recent war, has not acted upon the request.
The Monument erected by the Government in the Military Cemetary at Saint Augustine, has inscribed upon it the names of every officer and every soldier who was killed in the Dade Massacre.
It is interesting to note that the American Army of that early day even as now, was composed of men from foreign lands. Fully one half of them were thus accredited, natives of England, Ireland, Scotland, Prussia, and Germany predominating.
By Frederick Cubberly
Extracts from Senate Document No. 33