Saturday, November 17, 2018

Hero of Withlacoochee

Duncan Lamon Clinch

Nash County, NC Native

Seminole Indians Prevail in Western Florida

            It was a moment of indecision for the 27-year army veteran, Gen. Duncan Lamon Clinch, as he sat on his horse watching the Withlacoochee River, in western Florida, swirl before him—deep and 150 feet wide. He had expected to find a place where his men could ford the river, but torrential rains had made that impossible. The Seminole Indians, led by Osceola, were somewhere on the south side of the river, while he, with his 750 soldiers, was on the north side with no boats or rafts. What led to this dilemma?
Seminole Chief Osceola
[Taken from Legends of America ]
            In 1834, Clinch was assigned to oversee the "peaceful and harmonious removal of the Indians [from Florida], according to their treaty with the U. States." He soon became convinced that "… they have not the least intention [of leaving] … unless compelled to do so by a stronger force than mere words." At a conference in March 1835, Clinch met with individual Seminole chiefs, hoping to persuade them to agree to move the following spring. He tried to convince them "of the utter folly of attempting to resist …; as it would bring misery and ruin upon their wives and children and on their Nation."
            At a council on April 22 the Indian chiefs all expressed opposition to the proposed move. However, Gen. Clinch declared that "he had been sent here to enforce the treaty; he had warriors enough to do it, and he would do it." The next day, 8 chiefs agreed to abide by the treaty, while 6 refused. The Indian agent, Wiley Thompson, declared the 6 resisters were no longer chiefs, and scratched their names from the roll of council members.
            During the summer of 1835, as plans were made for the Indian removal, it became evident that many of the Indians would not go peacefully. By October, Cinch was convinced there would be war. The settlers felt threatened and were demanding protection. There were not enough troops to fight the Indians and patrol the settled areas. The government, underestimating the number of Indians in the area, thought a "show of force would cow the Indians into submission; they utterly failed to comprehend what a determined band—even a band of poor fighters—could accomplish. …"

            In November, in preparation for war with the Indians, General Clinch began to move his men to his plantation, Auld Lang Syne, where he built Fort Drane. There were six companies of regular army troops, totaling about 250 men. On Dec. 24, Gen. Richard K. Call arrived with 560 mounted militia. Clinch was confident of his ability to defeat the Seminoles. However, the optimistic General was unaware that the militia under Call had only agreed to serve until Jan. 1, 1836—only a few days more.
            An Indian scout informed Clinch that the Indians were gathering at a town about 35 miles south of the Withlacoochee River and plans were made for an immediate attack. Unknown to Clinch and Call, however, the Seminoles had attacked first. On December 25, the Second Seminole War began with furious Indian attacks on plantations across Florida.
            Gen. Francis Dade had been ordered to march his troops along the military road from Fort Brook in southern Florida to Fort King in the north to assist Clinch. When Gen. Call learned of this, he told Clinch that the only thing that would save Dade was to have disobeyed the order to march. "Disturbed as the country is through which he must pass, he can never reach you."
            Call was right. On Dec. 28, the Indians ambushed and massacred the troops on their march, leaving only 2 survivors to tell the story. On the same day, Osceola killed Indian Agent Wiley Thompson. Gen. Clinch was unaware of those developments as he prepared to leave Fort Drane.
            On Dec. 29, Gen. Clinch, Gen. Call and their force of about 750 men left Fort Drane, marching south toward the Withlacoochee River. Gen. Call advised Clinch to move speedily to reach the Indian town, but Clinch did not agree. Call later declared that Clinch "… set out with every cart and wagon, mule and horse, he could raise on his plantation, or among his troops." With the noise of "horses pulling wagons out of the mud, and men struggling to carry supplies through the swamps," along with dogs running back and forth, flushing birds and barking fiercely, the army's arrival at the river would be no surprise to the enemy. It took three days to reach the Withlacoochee River instead of the expected one day.
Clinch Makes a Decision
            As Clinch surveyed the raging river, trying to decide whether to continue his march or to retreat to Fort Drane, he was certain he had the superior force, and that the destruction of the Indian village would make the Indians agree to the migration. However, the one thing he had not included in his supply train was boats or rafts. The only vessel available to the army was one abandoned, leaky canoe. With two men paddling, no more than 5 men and their equipment could be carried across on each trip. The transfer would take hours. Unaware that war had already begun and that the Indians were waiting in ambush, he decided to move his men across the river. After all, this was the only day he would have the volunteers as they would be free to leave the next day.
            The canoe made trip after trip, moving the regular troops to the south side of the Withlacoochee River. With no Indians in sight, the men who had been transported marched about 500 yards and stacked their guns and rested. Scouts pointed to signs that a large band of Indians had been there recently, but the transportation continued.
            It was 12:30 by the time the regular army was safely on the south side of the river. They made their way to a clearing surrounded on three sides by hammocks [elevated areas covered in trees] thick enough to conceal enemy warriors. The open terrain presented a perfect killing zone, and the Indians took full advantage of it. The regular force, resting in the middle of the open field, was ambushed by an army of 250 Seminoles led by Osceola. "… [T]he woods seemed to belch shot and sound. … Soldiers grabbed their guns and quickly formed a two-man-deep line of battle. … The regulars returned a devastating fire that drove the attackers back among the protecting trees."
            When Clinch reached the scene, he ordered the men to spread out and charge the Indians. At one point, the general shouted, "Men, I am ready to die on the spot if necessary, but not to retreat."
            The Seminoles fell back to regroup. During this time, about 50 volunteers managed to cross the river to aid the regulars. The volunteers quickly formed two companies and anchored themselves on the flanks of the regulars to prevent them from being cut off from the river. Clinch led his men in two more fierce charges, walking back and forth along the line after his horse was wounded. Finally the Indians retreated into the trees and swamp. The soldiers had held their line.
            The battle lasted about an hour. Clinch reported that he had 4 men killed and that over 100 Indians had died. The number of Indian casualties was never verified. One soldier, Lt. Chubb, displayed 2 scalps. His wife was not the most "credulous of wimen" and he needed evidence to convince her and his neighbors of his bravery.
Fierce Warriers

Dade Massacre, Florida
[Taken from Legends of America ]

            In his book, Aristocrat in Uniform, Rembert Patrick described the Indian warriors: "The savages … made a most terrifying picture; their almost naked bodies painted in brilliant colors of war, their heads shaved except for a tuft of hair on top (which seemed to indicate both their willingness to be scalped and their desire to take souvenirs from the heads of the soldiers), and their bloodcurdling yells that echoed through the forests." Later, those who took part in the battle were to recall the "continual screeching and yelling of the Indians. … Their war cries began with a low growling noise and rose to a final crescendo that burst into a fiendish, nerve-shattering yell. After each shot the Indian uttered his frightful whoop, threw himself leftward to the ground (to confuse the soldiers who often fired directly at the flash of the Indians musket), and in his prone position hastily reloaded his gun."
Return to Fort Drane
            Clinch decided not to continue his march. Their supplies were inadequate to continue, the term of enlistment was over for the militia, and there were many injured soldiers that would hinder any movement of the command. Cypress logs had collected at a bend in the river and these were lashed together, along with the canoe, to form a crude bridge across the river. By evening, all the men were safely back on the north side of the river. Some horses and many guns were left behind and retrieved by the Indians. On Jan. 1, 1836, the army retreated back to Fort Drane. The Seminoles now believed that they could hold off any invader in their homeland.
            This was Gen. Clinch's largest battle during nearly 28 years of army service. He had underestimated the enemy and had suffered what many deemed a defeat. However, he could be proud of his performance under fire and the fact that he brought his troops home with only 4 casualties.
            Later, Osceola sent Clinch the following message: "You have guns and so have we; you have powder and lead and so have we; you have men and so have we; your men will fight, and so will ours until the last drop of Seminoles' blood has moistened the dust of his hunting grounds."
            A private who served under Clinch wrote the following to a New Hampshire Paper: "General Clinch received several balls in his clothes, and one through his cap, passing not an inch above his head. … when the balls pored like hail around him, not a muscle of his face moved …; a majority of the Indians present, probably knew him personally; … their fire was directed particularly at him—but he quailed not, calmly giving his orders and attending to their execution. … " In later years, he became known as the "Hero of Withlacoochee" and "Old Withlacoochee."
            This marked the beginning of what would be 7 years of savage war with the Seminoles that finally ended in 1842. The army captured many Indians, especially women and children, and moved them to the Indian Territory. About 500 Seminoles managed to hide in the Everglades and swamps of southern Florida where the white men were afraid to venture. The price of the war was the lives of over 1,500 solders and $20 million. It is unknown how many Seminoles died.
Life of Duncan L. Clinch
            Duncan Lamon Clinch was born in Nash County, NC on 6 April 1787. His parents were Mary Lamon and Joseph John Clinch. Mary was the daughter of Duncan Lamon who was well known in Nash and Edgecombe Counties. He received a grant in 1761. He served in the provisional congresses of NC and was a justice of the peace in Nash Co. after its establishment in 1777.
Portrait of U.S. General Duncan Lamont Clinch - New Smyrna, Florida
Portrait of U. S. General Duncan L. Clinch - New Smyrna, Fl. 18--
Black & white photoprint, 8x10 in. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory.,accessed 17 November 2018.
            Duncan's father, Joseph Clinch, moved, as a child, with his family to Edgecombe County, NC from Isle of Wight Co., VA. The family settled near Tarboro, NC. Joseph joined the Continental forces on April 22, 1776 and family records indicate he was briefly an aide to Gen. George Washington. He returned to Edgecombe Co. and raised and equipped a militia regiment. After the Revolution, Joseph acquired land in Nash Co. and built a house on Swift Creek near the present-day Rocky Mount, NC. A bridge across the creek is still known as Clinch's Bridge. Joseph's wife, Mary, died in 1792, and Joseph died in 1795. Thus, Duncan Lamon Clinch was left an orphan at the age of eight. He received 378 acres of land from his father's estate, which he sold to William Bellamy in 1809 for $1200. No other records of his childhood have been found.

[Taken from Faith and Heritage: A compilation of Nash County historical notes]
            In 1808, US Congressman Thomas Blount recommended Duncan for a commission as a First Lieutenant in the Third Infantry of the U.S. Army. He was promoted to Captain in 1810, Lt. Col. of the 43rd Regiment in 1813, Col. of the 8th Regiment in 1819, and Brigadier General in 1829.
            After the Battle of Withlacoochee, he continued to fight the Indians as part of Maj. Gen. Edmund P. Gaines' force until he retired September 21, 1836. He settled on a plantation near St. Marys, GA and was elected as a Whig to the Twenty-eighth Congress to fill the vacancy caused by the death of John Millen.
            In 1847, Georgia Whigs selected the "Hero of the Battle of Withlacoochee" to be their candidate for governor. He was defeated.
            Duncan Clinch was married first to Eliza Bayard McIntosh. Theirs was a love match and they had 8 children: 1) Eliza Bayard Clinch, who married Robert Anderson, who defended Fort Sumter in 1861; 2) John Houstoun Clinch, married Elizabeth Higbee Waldburg, of Georgia; 3) Mary L. Clinch; 4) Duncan L. Clinch, married Susan Hopkins, of Georgia; 5) Catherine M. Clinch, married Barnwell Heyward, of SC; 6) Henry A. Clinch, married Ella Ford; 7) Nicholas Bayard Clinch; and 8) George W. Clinch, married Catharine Ferris, of Florida.
            In 1834, when Clinch was transferred to Florida, Eliza remained in Mobile, AL with the children. In March, 1835, their son, Duncan, 9 years old, contracted scarlet fever. Eliza sent the other children away and nursed little Duncan until he began to recover. On April 10, she joined her other children for a shopping trip. The next morning, she was stricken with fever, and, tired and worn from her son's illness, she died on April 15.
            After his retirement in 1836, Clinch married Elizabeth Bayard Houstoun, who had helped to care for Clinch's children after the death of Eliza. Elizabeth was in her mid-thirties and had never married. She was a good mother to the children and helped Duncan refurbish his home. She died in August, 1838.
            Duncan Clinch married a third time, to Sophia Hermes Gibbs Couper, an attractive 33-year-old widow, in February 1846. His third marriage, like his first, was a love match. Sophia lived until 1903.
            In 1849, Damon Clinch and his family stayed later than usual at their summer home in Habersham County, GA. They left by stagecoach in November, taking a train from Athens, GA to Atlanta. From Atlanta, they went on to Macon where Clinch was forced to rest. He died there on Nov. 27, 1849. He was buried in Bonaventure Cemetery, in Savannah, GA. The Southern  Whig reported, "The distinguished patriot and soldier is no more."
            In 1851, Clinch County, GA was established on the Florida border in honor of Duncan L. Clinch.

            (The Seminoles were Creek Indians who fled to Florida, controlled by Spain, to escape being enslaved by the British. They adopted many ways of the white man. Many blacks that had escaped slavery in Georgia and the Carolinas came to Florida and lived near the Seminoles. A union was formed between them because they had a mutual fear—slavery. The bond was so strong that the U.S. could not break them apart. The blacks became known as the black Seminoles.)
Much of the Seminole Wars were fought in the swamps of Florida
[Taken from Legends of America ]

[Primary Sources: Aristocrat in Uniform; General Duncan L. Clinch, by Rembert W. Patrick; American Military Strategy During the Second Seminole War, by John C. White, Jr.]

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