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General Gaines and the Alamo

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March 1836. 175 years ago. We think that things are going bad around the world during March 2011, but things were not very calm for the United States 175 years ago.

One of the nice things about the tour the other day of the archives at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum was seeing a newspaper on the table from exactly 175 years ago. It told about General Gaines and his campaign on the Withlacoochee.

The officers with Gaines wrote a lot of letters and journals, so it is probably the event of the war that is most written about. So I will not get too specific about it here. There are at least half a dozen accounts that I have read that detail the campaign along the Withlacoochee and Gaines held under siege by the Seminoles for about a week.

But given the anniversary, a brief look at it is appropriate.

You must understand that the Army during that time did not operate like it does today. Communication was slow. Sometimes it would take weeks to get a response. So commanding generals in the field were allowed much more discretion and latitude to take the actions they felt appropriate.

Gaines' campaign was one of the more significant events during the war. He started out by burying Major Dade's command, and seeing the Seminole determination to fight. He kept a long siege with a large number of forces on either side. And he found out the hard way, about the poor logistical support and almost nonexistent supply system. These same problems would haunt the army until enough roads and forts to hold supplies would be built over the next two years.

General Edmund P. Gaines

Gaines also negotiated a cease fire with the Seminoles, and almost an end to the war. Unfortunately we will never know the effects of the ceasefire, due to General Scott deploying forces in the field almost immediately after, with several large skirmishes. We are left to wonder that if the Seminoles were left alone, things may have become more peaceful.

Gaines' expedition was no secret. Updates were in the newspapers and the Army Navy Chronicles. Many officers of the command would write correspondence that would be published in these papers. Of course news was spotty, because the lines of communication were almost nonexistent.

At the same time, the Alamo was overrun by forces under Santa Ana in the new struggling independent country of Texas. Interesting is that the Army Navy Chronicle has almost nothing to say of the Texas war for independence until the capture of Santa Ana which ended the war. Military talk was on the Withlacoochee, while the eyes of the people and the newspapers were looking towards Texas.

General Gaines has orders to go to Louisiana and guard the boundary with the new republic of Texas, and to prevent parties from either side crossing the border. If he had gone to Louisiana and guarded the boarder instead of going to Florida, would it have made any difference? Probably not. By the time Gaines arrived in Florida, the Alamo was being surrounded by the Mexican forces. The dice had already rolled, and it was too late to change what we now know as history. I believe that Gaines' campaign in Florida had more significance than what he could have done in Louisiana.

But Gaines and his Siege under the Seminoles at Camp Izard on the Withlacoochee are remembered by almost nobody. It was the Alamo and Texas that is remembered today. Several movies have been made on the Alamo, and a remake of John Wayne's Alamo is ever in the works. But no movies have been made about Gaines on the Withlacoochee.

The Alamo
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