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Nature Coast was epicenter of Second Seminole War

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Hernando Sun Writer

The Second Seminole War was very important to the United States as it opened up a large part of Florida for settlement. The U.S. Army recorded 1,466 deaths in the Second Seminole War, mostly from disease. It was the costliest American Indian War in United States history costing more than $30 million. 

The first part of the Second Seminole War was largely fought in the area around Hernando County. This was because the spoil islands of the Withlacoochee known as the Cove of the Withlacoochee and the surrounding area was the home to thousands of Seminoles. It was thought that river, swamps, islands, and forbidding terrain would protect the tribes from the soldiers. The area where the Seminoles lived was known as the Cove of the Withlacoochee which is now called Tsala Apopka Lake. It is actually a chain of lakes located within a bend in the Withlacoochee River in Citrus County. 

The Second Seminole started with a bang. On December 28, 1835 the Seminoles attacked on two fronts: a band of Seminoles led by Osceola killed the Indian agent General Wiley Thompson and several others as they stepped outside Fort King in present day Ocala. Then another group of Seminoles ambushed and massacred Major Francis L. Dade and 107 US soldiers marching from Fort Brooke (present day Tampa) to Fort King (present day Ocala).

Just three members of Dade’s party survived the attack, the soldier’s guide Louis Pacheco and two soldiers: Private Ransom Clark and Private Joseph Sprague. This ambush became known as the Dade Massacre.

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Three days after the Dade massacre on December 31, 1835, Territorial Governor Richard Keith Call and his force of less than 800 regulars and volunteer militiamen from north Florida sought to attack the Seminole stronghold. They were unaware of the fate of Francis Dade and the soldiers. While attempting to cross the Withlacoochee they came under heavy fire from the Seminoles. The soldiers were able to drive them back and recross the river. The battle became known as the Battle of Withlacoochee and was seen as a loss for the army. Many of the volunteers’ service expired at the end of the year and a new campaign had to be organized.

It took time for the military to raise the necessary troops. There were only around 550 regular soldiers in Florida at the time of the Dade Massacre. General Gaines led a force of 1100 US Soldiers who sailed from New Orleans and arrived in Tampa on February 10, 1836. They went to recover the bodies from the massacre reaching Dade Battlefield on February 20 and burying the soldiers.

After burying the soldiers, General Gaines’ force continued on to Fort King for supplies, but Fort King was low on supplies, so the force headed to Fort Drane near Williston where they received seven days worth of rations. They decided to return to Fort Brooke via a different trail, so they could engage the Seminoles in their stronghold: the Cove of the Withlacoochee. General Gaines was unable to cross the Withlacoochee due to the Seminoles rifle fire.

General Gaines requested reinforcements while his forces battled with the Seminoles for over a week. General Gaines’ force ran out of provisions and they were forced to eat their horses, mules and dogs. The reinforcements arrived on March 6, and together they were able to drive off the Seminoles.

After the ability of the Seminoles to hold off a force of a thousand soldiers, General Scott came up with grand plan. Five thousand troops in three columns would attack the Seminoles from three directions. The columns were all delayed, so they arrived at different times. Two of the columns arrived on March 28 and the third arrived on March 30. On March 29 the soldiers had crossed the Withlacoochee and found the villages in the Cove of the Withlacoochee deserted.

It was decided that they could move quicker without the sick and wounded. They left Major Mark Anthony Cooper with five companies and a small artillery company along with the sick and wounded on the west shore of Lake Holathlikaha on the Western edge of the Cove. All together Major Cooper had almost 400 soldiers. The soldiers under Major Cooper built a stockade fort on a rise overlooking the lake as protection against Indian attack. It was quickly tested as they were attacked by Osceola and a large group of warriors (more than 500 warriors). There were several battles between the Seminoles and the soldiers, but soldiers were able to fight off the attacks.

Just as supplies were running out at Fort Cooper, General Scott returned on April 18 with more soldiers and supplies. Major Cooper, the five companies, the sick and wounded were evacuated. Fort Cooper was named after Major Cooper. It was manned from 1836 until 1842.
The proximate of a Fort Cooper and other Forts and the ability of the soldiers to enter the Cove of the Withlacoochee convinced the Seminole leaders that the cove was no long a safe haven. 

In November, General Call returned with a large force of volunteers, regular soldiers, and Creek Indians. They approached the Seminole stronghold and found a large Indian trail. On November 21, 1836, General Call and his soldiers engaged the Seminoles at the Wahoo Swamp. The soldiers attempted to pursue the Seminoles into the swamp, but it was difficult to determine a good route through the swamp. Major David Moniac who was the first Native American to graduate from West Point was killed in this battle trying to determine the depth of the water. 

The constant pressure applied by the army led to the Seminoles to sign the “Fort Dade Capitulation” on March 18, 1837. Seminole Chiefs Jumper and Alligator along with US General Thomas S. Jesup signed the agreement. The Seminoles were to be moved to western lands, but after signing the agreement and collecting compensation they slipped away. This was the end of the large Seminole settlements in the area. After this the major battles with the Seminoles were in other areas of the state.

U.S. Army officially recorded 1,466 deaths in the Second Seminole War, mostly from disease. It was was the costliest American Indian War in United States history costing more than $30 million. 

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