History of Fort Cooper and the Cove of the Withlacoochee

The Second Seminole War fought from 1835 to 1842 included several battles in the area surrounding the Withlacoochee between the Seminoles and the United States Military. The most well known of these battles was at Dade Massacre in Sumter County, where on December 23, 1835 the Seminoles wiped out 110 US troops. The troops were on a resupply mission from Fort Brooke in Tampa to Fort King in Ocala.

The site of Dade's massacre is about 10 miles southeast of the Cove of the Withlacoochee. A large group of Seminoles lived in the Cove of the Withlacoochee which is now known as the Tsala Apopka Lake and is actually a chain of lakes located within a bend in the Withlacoochee River in Citrus County.

After the Dade massacre many farms and homesteads were burned around the state. It took time for the military to raise the necessary troops. There were only around 550 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 the ability of the soldiers to enter the Cove of the Withlacoochee convinced Osceola and other Seminole leaders that the cove was no long a safe haven. The large population of Seminoles living in the Cove of the Withlacoochee moved south during the Second Seminole War.

Archaeologists in the 20th Century rediscovered where Ft. Cooper had been located. Fort Cooper was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.

A reenactment known as ‘Fort Cooper Days’ will be held on March 17-18, 2018, at Fort Cooper State Park in Inverness, Florida. This reenactment is held each year on the third weekend in March. "Fort Cooper Days is a two-day event, complete with two battle reenactments daily, Living History demonstrations, Period Arts and Crafts, live music, food and refreshments."

3100 S. Old Floral City Rd.

Admission for the reenactment
$5.00 General admission Adult
$1.00 Children 6 to 17
Free – Children under 6

Daily 9:00 am to 4:00 pm March 17-18, 2018
Battle reenactments twice daily at 11:00 am and 2:00 pm

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