Seminole Wars

The Seminole Wars (also known as the Florida Wars) were three related military conflicts in Florida between the United States and the Seminole, citizens of a Native American nation which formed in the region during the early 1700s. Hostilities commenced about 1816 and continued through 1858, with two periods of uneasy truce between active conflict. The Seminole Wars were the longest and most expensive, in both human and financial cost to the United States, of the American Indian Wars.

  • The First Seminole War (1817-1818)[8]-"Beginning in the 1730's, the Spaniards had given refuge to runaway slaves from the Carolinas, but as late as 1774 Negroes [did] not appear to have been living among the Florida Indians."[9] After that latter date more runaway slaves began arriving from American plantations, especially congregating around "Negro Fort on the Apalachicola River."[10] Free or runaways, "the Negroes among the Seminoles constituted a threat to the institution of slavery north of the Spanish border."[11] The plantation owners, mostly from Mississippi and Georgia "knew this and constantly accused the Indians of stealing their Negroes."[11] However, the situation was "frequently reversed"[11] the whites were raiding into Florida and stealing black slaves belonging to the Seminoles.[12] On December 26, 1817 "the War Department...wrote the order directing Andrew Jackson to take command in person and bring the Seminoles under control."[13] Spain expressed outrage over General Andrew Jackson's "punitive expeditions"[14] into Spanish Florida against the Seminoles. However, as was made clear by several local uprisings, and other forms of "border anarchy",[14] Spain was no longer able to defend nor control the territory and eventually agreed to cede Florida to the United States per the Adams–Onís Treaty of 1819, with the official transfer taking place in 1821.[15] According to the terms of the Treaty of Moultrie Creek (1823) between the United States and Seminole Nation, the Seminoles were removed from Northern Florida to a reservation in the center of the Florida peninsula, and the United States constructed a series of forts and trading posts along the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts to enforce the treaty.[2]
  • The Second Seminole War (1835–1842) began as a result of the United States unilaterally voiding the Treaty of Moultrie Creek and demanding that all Seminoles relocate to Indian Territory in present-day Oklahoma pursuant to the Indian Removal Act (1830). After several ultimatums and the departure of a few Seminole clans per the Treaty of Payne's Landing (1832), hostilities commenced in December 1835 with the Dade Battle and continued for the next several years with a series of engagements throughout the peninsula and extending to the Florida Keys. Though the Seminole fighters were at a tactical and numerical disadvantage, Seminole military leaders effectively used guerrilla warfare to frustrate United States military forces, which eventually numbered over 30,000 Regulars, militiamen and volunteers.[16] General Thomas Sidney Jesup was sent to Florida to take command of the campaign in 1836. Instead of futilely pursuing parties of Seminole fighters through the territory as previous commanders had done, Jesup changed tactics and engaged in finding, capturing or destroying Seminole homes, livestock, farms, and related supplies, thus starving them out; a strategy which would be duplicated by General W. T. Sherman in his march to the sea during the American Civil War, which helped to shorten that war, and which would eventually contribute to shortening the Second Seminole War. Jesup also authorized the controversial abduction of Seminole leaders Osceola and Micanopy by luring them under a false flag of truce.[17] General Jesup clearly violated the rules of war, and spent 21 years defending himself over it, "Viewed from the distance of more than a century, it hardly seems worthwhile to try to grace the capture with any other label than treachery."[18] By the early 1840s, many Seminoles had been killed, and many more were forced by impending starvation to surrender and be removed to Indian Territory. Though there was no official peace treaty, several hundred Seminoles remained in Southwest Florida after active conflict wound down.[2]
  • The Third Seminole War (1855–1858) was precipitated as an increasing number of settlers in Southwest Florida led to increasing tension with Seminoles living in the area. In December 1855, US Army personnel located and destroyed a large Seminole plantation west of the Everglades, perhaps to deliberately provoke a violent response that would result in the removal of the remaining Seminole citizens from the region. Holata Micco, a Seminole leader known as Billy Bowlegs by whites, responded with a raid near Fort Myers, leading to a series of retaliatory raids and small skirmishes with no large battles fought. Once again, the United States military strategy was to target Seminole civilians by destroying their food supply. By 1858, most of the remaining Seminoles, war weary and facing starvation, acquiesced to being removed to the Indian Territory in exchange for promises of safe passage and cash payments. An estimated 200 to 500 Seminoles in small family bands still refused to leave and retreated deep into the Everglades and the Big Cypress Swamp to live on land considered unsuitable by American settlers.[2]
Seminole Wars
Part of the American Indian Wars

A U.S. Marine boat expedition searching the Everglades during the Second Seminole War

American victory[3]

  • American incursions into Spanish Florida (c. 1816 – 1819) result in the First Seminole War
  • Spain cedes Florida to the U.S. via Adams–Onís Treaty (1819)[4]
  • Seminoles moved to central Florida per Treaty of Moultrie Creek (1823)[5]
  • Seminole resistance to the Indian Removal Act flares into major conflict across the Florida peninsula during the Second Seminole War (1835–1842)
  • By early 1840s, most Seminoles forced to move to Indian Territory.
  • Renewed conflict with last group of Seminoles in southwest Florida during the Third Seminole War (1855–1858)
  • By late 1850s, most remaining Seminoles forced to leave; a few hundred move deep in the Everglades to land unwanted by American settlers[2]
 United States Seminole
Commanders and leaders
Andrew Jackson (1816–19, 1835–37)
Martin Van Buren (1837–41)
William Henry Harrison (1841)
John Tyler (1841–42)
Duncan Clinch
Edmund Gaines
Winfield Scott (1836)
Thomas Jesup (1836-38)
Richard Gentry   (1837)
David Moniac   (1836)
Francis Dade   (1835)
Zachary Taylor (1838–40)
Walker Armistead (1840–41)
William Worth (1841–42)
Franklin Pierce (1856–57)
James Buchanan (1857–1858)
William Harney
John Horse
Holata Micco
Josiah Francis
Peak: 40,000 Expeditionary: 8,000[1] 1,500[1]
Casualties and losses
1,500[6]-2,000[7] heavy

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