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General Clinch's Sword Stolen

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This weekend is the battle reenactment at Fort Cooper State Park. During General Winfield Scott's campaign in 1836, he ordered the Georgia volunteer soldiers establish Fort Cooper and observe the Seminoles around the Cove of the Withlacoochee. It turned into a two-week siege at the fort, where the Seminoles would attack and taunt the soldiers daily.

General Duncan Clinch, who had one of his plantations at Fort Drane, provided the Georgia volunteers with oxen & beef to feed the men while at the fort. After just a few days, the Indians captured the cattle when they went to graze along the shore of the lake. They knew it was Clinch's, and supposed him to be in the fort. They called out for the general, but the soldiers responded only by firing back.

Below: General Duncan Clinch

Thus, the soldiers were short on beef and provisions for the next ten days, and starving. Part of the taunts from the Seminoles, was that they were cooking not far off, and the starving soldiers could smell it inside their pickets. No doubt it was the general's beef that the Indians were cooking.

After a couple weeks, General Scott ordered Clinch to return to Fort Drane from Tampa, and along the way evacuate the soldiers at Ft Cooper. They relieved the soldiers after a short skirmish. Leaving the fort, they took a short detour and camped along the Withlacoochee to check on the situation there. During the night, the general's cattle got loose. This war was obviously very expensive on the general, using up all his plantation stocks. The soldiers went to round them up. Clinch told them to take no more than an hour to do that, and wanted to get hastily back to Drane. An hour passed and they were still not back, as the general's impatience grew. Finally they returned, and Clinch took off immediately, forgetting that he had left his sword against a tree where they had stopped.

Now a sword is not mere decoration of office. For an office back then, it was an embodiment of his authority. A commanding officer did not carry muskets or pistols. His weapon was his men. He would command his men to fire where he ordered. Often during battle, you could not hear voices above the firing, so gestures and actions of the sword directed the troops. If you lost a battle and turned your sword over to the opposing commander, you were giving him your total authority over yourself, your soldiers, and your army. You were putting the fate of your men in the hands and mercy of your opponent. Yes, it was a big deal.

Major Holmes was ordered to take a detachment to return and gather up the sword. When they return to the spot, they found that the Indians are already there, one of whom was wearing the general's sword on the wrong side. They fire on the Indians, but the Seminoles got away with the general's sword. So you could say that the Seminoles won that round and made off with the grand prize.

In less than six months, General Clinch resigns his commission and soon follows the rest of the Georgia battalion back to Georgia. I wonder if losing his sword was part of his decision to call it quits?

Do you think that a song about the general's sword would be in the works here?
Current Location:
the hammock
Current Mood:
awake awake
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