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Lauderdale County History

 

Early Lauderdale County History 1830 - 1860

A Lauderdale County Web Exclusive
by Bill White

James Lauderdale

Born in Botetourt County in Virginia about 1780, James Lauderdale was a descendant of one of the oldest and most respected families of that state.  Lauderdale (the younger) was the son of James Lauderdale and Sara Mills.  A surveyor by trade, he moved with his father's family to Sumner County in West Tennessee in the late 1790s. [Biographical, 378]  The elder James Lauderdale was credited as being the founder of Sumner County.

The Louisiana Purchase

In 1803 the Louisiana Purchase gave the United States control of all the land from the southern Mississippi to the Rockies. However, because of treaty disputes among the European nations, legal ownership of the land was under contest by the Spanish and British. By order of the Secretary of War of the United States, a militia group was organized from West Tennessee and the Mississippi Territory to enforce the transfer of the land to the United States commissioners. Lauderdale immediately joined and marched with his company to Natchez. The threat of military action, it turned out, was sufficient deterrent and the territory was promptly delivered to the appointed commissioners without hostilities. The unit was discharged and returned home.  [Biographical, 378]

General John Coffee
General John Coffee

The Natchez Expedition

On 10 December 1812, General Andrew Jackson was ordered to move down the Mississippi River with volunteers from Tennessee, to defend the territories. Once again Lauderdale immediately joined Colonel John Coffee's regiment of Calvary and was appointed Major. With General Jackson the troops proceeded, on what would be called the "Natchez Expedition", to the general vicinity of Natchez, Mississippi where they encamped and began training for the expected hostilities.

After several weeks, a notice arrived from the Secretary of War informing the command that they were discharged and could return home (the Spanish having apparently mediated a settlement between combatants.) The Secretary ordered that the men be discharged at Natchez, perhaps a money saving measure since the troops would be required to return home to their families at their own expense. Although Lauderdale remained healthy, the extended period in the field and poor rations left many of the troops sick or injured. These men would likely have died, unable to make the difficult trip home if left on their own at such a distance from their families.

Jackson was so frustrated by the seemingly useless deployment of his troops, and the insanity of releasing his soldiers to find their own way home, that he marched his men back up the Natchez Trace purchasing rations and supplies needed for the overland return at his own expense. It was during this journey, Jackson walking alongside his men so that the sick in the companies could ride, that he received his nickname from his stalwart and determine stride. It is said that he seemed unyielding, almost rigid and was promptly dubbed "Old Hickory."   [Rimini, 53]

The Creek Wars

Earlier, in 1811 a faction of the Creek Indians were once again ready for war against the Americans. However, not all Creeks were in agreement on the issues and two distinct groups eventually emerged. One group felt that further hostilities against the Americans would only result in disaster for the tribes but a second group, that came to be known as the Red Sticks, believed that the Americans could be defeated and driven from the Indian lands. After this victory it was believed that they could return to the old ways.  [Mooney, 106]

General Andrew "Old Hickory" Jackson
General Andrew "Old Hickory"  Jackson

The two sides in opposition began fighting among themselves. This fight eventually spilled over to the Americans when a group of Red Sticks attacked and destroyed Fort Mims near Mobile, Alabama. The fall of Mims was accompanied by the slaughter of more that 250 American and Indian men, women and children. It was in response to this tragedy that the Tennessee Militia was once again activated to defend the population from the uprising.

The Tennesseans assembled early in October of 1813 and true to form James Lauderdale was once again in the ranks beside the recently promoted Brigadier General John Coffee. Lauderdale, himself, was now a Lieutenant Colonel. The companies moved south where they were joined by General Jackson and began the offensive.  [Monette, 394]

The Battle of Tallushatchee

On 3 November 1811 at the Creek village of Tallushatchee, Lauderdale saw his first real fight. Unfortunately, however, the battle turned out to be a slaughter. General Coffee divided his troops into two columns, completely surrounding the Red Stick village. With the element of surprise on their side, they opened fire on the village and killed 180 Red Stick warriors. But the firing did not stop there. On General Jackson's orders the camp was to be destroyed entirely and the firing continued until many women and children lay dead and 80 captive. [Eaton,48]  One soldier, the famed Davy Crockett said "We shot them down like dogs."  [Remini, 57]  General Coffee's official report to his command was:

"They made all the resistance that an overpowered soldier could do... The enemy fought with savage fury and met death with all its horrors... No one asked to be spared but fought as long as they could stand or sit."  [Mooney, 80]

The Battle of Talladega

A few days later, General Jackson, at his encampment at Fort Strother received an urgent request for help from a group of Creeks who were located at a fortified location nearby and had been surrounded by a contingent of the Red Sticks. Jackson set out with 1100 infantry and 800 cavalry troops on a forced march closing to within 6 miles of the location by 8 pm that evening. Employing tactics similar to those used at Tallushatchee, he enclosed the enemy in a two prong movement and killed more than 300 of the Red Sticks routing approximately 800 others. Jackson's troops received 100 causalities, 15 dead and 85 wounded.  [Monette, 417]  Among the wounded was LTC Lauderdale having received the first wounds of his short, but gallant military career.  [Alden, 607]  His wound, while not mortal, was quite debilitating and he had to withdrew from the field and return home to convalesce.  [Biographical, 480]

The Battle of New Orleans

The war of 1812 in Louisiana, was not simply a single fight but in reality a series of battles for New Orleans, lasting from December 1814 through January 1815. January 8, the day commemorated today as the victory day in the Battle of New Orleans, was "Old Hickory's" final crushing blow and full defeat of the British.

However, earlier in December of 1814 the British were still probing the area attempting to find a weakness in the American defenses from which to begin a campaign. Based on planted false intelligence, they began to put troops ashore on the morning of 22 December across the shallow Lake Borgne. They had to ferry their troops ashore on barges and could only move about 1800 men at a time across the lake and into Bayou Bienvenu landing near the Villeré Plantation, actually about 6 miles south of the city.  [Biographical, 483]

Even though still not fully recovered from his wounds of the previous year's campaign, Lauderdale was among the first to report, and, with General Coffee was present for duty with the regiment on the morning of 23 December 1814. Jackson had decided to use a three prong offense to repel the British and Coffee's regiment with Lauderdale on the left, near the edge of the offensive, advanced. In the fog of warfare, the British troops were somehow able to sweep to the right of the lines, flanking LTC Lauderdale's unit. He fell and died shortly after the hostilities began on December 23, 1814 at the Battle of Bienvenu.  [Remini, 69]

LTC James Lauderdale had so distinguished himself through his courage and valor that even after seeing their commander fall from a bullet wound to the head, his regiment nonetheless rallied and drove the enemy away.

Lauderdale was found on the field of battle, his feet toward the enemy positions, with his sword grasped firmly in his hand, still pointed toward the invaders as if to engage his foe even in death.

However, many things may happen in the fog of war and a somewhat different account of the final minutes of LTC Lauderdale's life is noted by M. W. Trimble, of Claiborn County, Mississippi, a member of a troop of the Mississippi dragoons commanded by Major Thomas Hinds.

Private Trimble reports that in the heat of the battle (that occurred during hours of darkness on 24 December 1814) a company of their own (Major Hinds) regulars was ordered to change position to make room for a battery emplacement. While in the process they encountered the Tennessee riflemen of LTC Lauderdale. Since it was too dark to identify the contact, both units opened fire on each other at close range. Within moments the fighting became hand to hand and LTC Lauderdale, "...recognizing from the familiar yell on both sides [and making a] fatal mistake, rushed in between them and commenced knocking down their guns with his sword..." in an effort to stop the engagement.  Lauderdale fell, in this account, not before the enemy, but to friendly fire. [Lowry, 228]

In any event, Lauderdale was so beloved by his Commanders and brothers at arms that his body, after having been buried in the field was disinterred and reburied in the Protestant burying ground, in the city of New Orleans. [Biographical, 384]

LTC Lauderdale was the consummate soldier, even though it was not his chosen profession. He was a capable administrator and leader, trusted and respected by his superiors and well liked by his men. It was not so much his final act of sacrifice that distinguishes him among his peers as much as it was the whole picture, an officer and gentleman, honorable, loyal and dedicated to his duty and his country.

Mississippi's second constitution, ratified in 1832 was modified the following year to include the 18 new counties formed after the signing of the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek. In this document, Lauderdale county was established "...in memory of Col. James Lauderdale, who fell in battle at New Orleans." In addition to Mississippi, several counties in the southeastern United States, including Alabama and his adopted home state of Tennessee,  are named for him.

 

Works Cited:

Alden, Henry Mills, Thomas Bucklin Wells, Lee Foster Hartman and Frederick Lewis Allen "War with the Creek Indians" Harper's New Monthly Magazine Volume 28 December 1863 to May 1864 Harper's Magazine Foundation: New York, N.Y., Pages 598 - 616

"Biographical Sketch of the Late Lieutenant Colonel James Lauderdale of Tennessee" The Analectic Magazine Containing Selections from Foreign Reviews and Magazines Together with Original Miscellaneous Compositions Volume 5 January, 1815: 378-384

Eaton, John Henry and John Reid, Memoirs of Andrew Jackson: Late Major-general and Commander in Chief of the Army of the United States Boston: Charles Ewber, 1828

Monette, John Wessley  History of the Discovery and Settlement of the Valley of the Mississippi. Volume 2 New York: Harper and Brothers Publishers, 1848

Mooney, James Historical Sketch of the Cherokee. New Brunswick: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1973

Remini, Robert Vincent Andrew Jackson. Philadelphia: HarperCollins, 1969

"War With Creek Indians." Harper's New Monthly Magazine Volume 28: December 1863 to May 1864

 

Page Last Updated:   Monday, 22 May 2017

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