Forty years ago in 1977 Fort Gadsden became a national landmark at the request of the US Department of the Interior. The Times printed the following account of what is sometimes referred as “history’s shortest battle."
The bloodshed that was once commonplace at Fort Gadsden 34 miles north of Apalachicola hardly seems possible in the state park that became a national historic landmark last week. The fort became a landmark at the request of the US Department of Interiors.
The 78-acre fort on the Apalachicola River was built in 1819 by the British but later abandoned to the Indians and Negroes who hijacked river traffic and aided runaway slaves from upriver plantations. Uncle Sam, although his boundary was 50 miles to the north, took a dim view of these actions and word passed to smash the fort.
What ensued is called history’s shortest battle, but what it lacked in duration was made up in horror. Alerted to the impending attack, women and children from Indian villages along the river had taken refuge in the fort when Col. Duncan L. Clinch left Fort Scott on July 17, 1816. He descended the river from Fort Scott, just north of Chattahoochee, with 16 men in boats. Major McIntosh joined him with 150 Indians. Two gunboats from Apalachicola rendezvoused with Col. Clinch on the 23dr with news that the Indians had killed four of the mates. They sent five men to the river for water and the Indians from the fort had killed four of them, burning one alive.
The Negro chief at the fort took the position that he had been left in command by the British and that any American vessel attempting to pass would be sunk. Col. Clinch ordered the gunboats to move up about 5 a.m. on the 27th. Their welcome was a shot from a 32-pounder. Several discharges from the gunboats – hotshots – landed on the magazine of the fort which was literally blown apart.
“The explosion was awful and the scene horrible beyond description,” wrote Col. Clinch in his report. Of the 300 people in the fort at the time of the attack, about 30 survived the blast. There were no US casualties among these. Major McIntosh sentenced the Indian chief and Negro commandant to death for the murder of the four Americans and their sentence was promptly carried out.
In 1818 Andrew Jackson led a land force down the Apalachicola and impressed by the strategic location of the old fort, directed Lt. James Gadsden of the Engineer Corps, who later made the famed Gadsden Purchase in 1853, to build a fortification there as a provision base. Pleased with the lieutenant’s zeal he named it Fort Gadsden.
History bypassed the old fort until 1862 when the Confederate Army took note of Apalachicola. This town of approximately 3,000 was the largest exporting and importing port in Florida.
In 1961, the Florida Park Board obtained jurisdiction over 78 acres for development as a state park.
How to shoot a rifle
The following is an excerpt from the memoirs of Neel S. Yent, born Oct. 7, 1896 near Whiskey George. Yent recorded his life memories in 1994 at the request of his children and grandchildren. This particular segment recounts two occasions on which the Yent family welcomed homeless children into their family circle in the days before social support agencies.
At the age of 14 Buddy Core was orphaned and homeless. Papa and Mama adopted him and provided him an education. From that day he came as one of the family. He was always extended the love, kindness and amenities such as were given to the rest of the children and all the children clearly loved him throughout his life. He possessed a propensity for love, kindness, patience and empathy. He was ever so tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and the wrong. I know he was one person who had not one enemy. He was highly respected by all who knew him both whites and colored.
Buddy and I spent many days together from my childhood through adulthood hunting and fishing and I must say that he instilled in me a philosophy for rightness that has followed me through my many years. In addition to having served as superintendent of schools in Franklin County for almost 30 years, he possessed a trait that I’ve never seen equaled. He was the most expert rifle shot in that part of the county. He always owned a 30-30 Winchester rifle.
I must tell you of two shots I saw him make that could seem unbelievable. The first one was when I was a child of about 7. We were standing in the yard one morning and a chicken hawk darted down and picked up a young chicken, flew away with it and lit in a gallberry patch about 300 yards away.
Buddy said, “I’ll get that old hawk.
He went to the house and came out with his rifle.
I said, “Buddy why don’t you use a shotgun?”
He said, “I don’t need a shotgun. Come along and I’ll show you how to shoot a rifle.”
I tagged along behind him and as we approached the gallberry patch the hawk flew up about 200 feet in front of us. Buddy raised his rifle and fired and split that hawk wide open. I stood spellbound.
The other incident happened some years later. People in those days hunted deer, not only for sport, but to put meat on the table. There was a large buck that ranged along the west border of Tate’s Hell Swamp that had eluded everyone who had tried to kill him. He was given the name “Old Slick.”
When the dogs jumped him he held fast to the same pattern: circling, he’d head west, swim across East River into the swamp where he’d stay a few days, then return to his old haunts.
One Sunday in October after the preachi8ng was over the men folks, as was the custom in those days, were in a group talking about everyday happenings when the subject of “Old Slick” came up.
One of the men said, “I don’t believe there’s a hunter in this part of the country who can bring him in.”
Buddy spoke and said, “Well fellows, I’ve given all of you a whack at him; now first cold morning we have I’ll take old June and go up there and get him.”
Old June was a black and white slow-trail hound Buddy had raised from a puppy.
It wasn’t long before a cold spell moved in and late one afternoon Buddy said to me, “Son, do you want to go with me in the morning and watch me bring Old Slick down?”
Of course I was eager, as always to go with him anywhere. We were up early next morning, horses saddled and on our way. Soon after we forded Graham Creek old June began to range back and forth sniffing the air.
Buddy said, “She’s on to him,”
Up ahead was a small gallberry patch and beyond that a large palmetto patch. Buddy, who was riding a fiery horse named Maude, said, “I believe he’s bedded down in those palmettos and you ride behind me.”
Just as we approached the gallberry patch, surprisingly, Old Slick jumped up scaring Maude. She reared up and wheeled around throwing Buddy off. He landed on his shoulders holding his rifle high in one hand. I yelled at Buddy that the deer was coming fast to the left. He scrambled to his knees and simultaneously injected a cartridge in the rifle’s chamber (still on his knees), jerked the gun to his shoulder and fired. I’ll never forget the sight of Old Slicks’ hind end going straight up into the air into a complete somersault.
Buddy got to his feet, picked up his old black hat and said, “Well, old boy, we got him didn’t we?”
I realized that I had seen the greatest and most unusual rifle shot made. We walked to where the deer lay, a beautiful 10 point buck; old June was sitting on her haunches beside him. It’s absolutely amazing that with all the sudden action and confusion the bullet that Buddy fired hit the deer just back of his head and broke his neck. The news incident was soon talked about all over Franklin County.
I was privileged to see Buddy make his last rifle shot. In July of 1937, my friend, Mark Edwards, founder of Pasco Packing Company in Dade City and I went to Apalachicola for a few days of fishing. Buddy was getting up in years with failing vision but he went up the river with us on Jim Lewis’ boat. One day we were sitting in the stern of the boat and I corked a soft drink bottle and threw it in the river about 50 feet out. I handed the 22 rifle to Buddy and asked him to show his marksmanship skill. Just the top of the bottle was visible.
Buddy said, “I can’t see the rifle’s sights. I can only faintly see a small speck on the water.”
He raised the rifle and fired clipping off the top of the bottle.
One more addition to the family
Late on afternoon we were all down at the cow pen when Buddy drove up in the buggy, hitched his horse to the fence and came walking over with a little colored girl by his side. He told Papa and Mama the little girl’s parents had deserted her, she had no place to live and asked if they could give her a home. The only name she knew was Mymie, she didn’t know how old she was – we guessed about 12. Well, Papa and Mama never turned anyone away. They took her in and Papa built a separate room for her. Mama made some clothes for her and she virtually, from then on, was a member of the family. She worked hard in the house and field, was always polite and piled into the wagon with the rest of us to go to church on Sunday where she sat by herself in the back corner of the church. She lived with us until she was grown, got married and moved to Jacksonville.
People were certainly more trustworthy in those days than in the present era. Late one afternoon a man – a total stranger – drove up to our gate in a buggy, being greeted by the raucous barking of the dogs. Papa went out to greet him and after an introduction the man said he was selling lightning rods and asked Papa if he would “put him up for the night.” Papa told Rufus and me to unhitch the gentleman’s horse, put him in the stable and feed him. The stranger sat at the table with us for supper, was furnished a bed and ate breakfast the next morning with the family. His horse was fed also. The man asked Papa if he would accept some pay and the reply was, “Not a dime, we were glad to accommodate you.” I wonder what the reaction would be if a total stranger came today to one’s home and asked to be “put up for the night.” It’s probable the police would be called.