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The Battle on the Shore of Lake Okeechobee

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I am a day late, but I wanted to proofread this first before I posted it.

The Battle Okeechobee happened 174 years ago on Christmas Day. Although it was a significant battle, apparently some folks are confused about it. I saw a video on youtube that was a school project on the Seminole War. Like most youtube school project videos, it was full of mistakes. They even said that Taylor was trying to cross Lake Okeechobee--what?!

But let me enlighten you about this battle.

The Battle of Okeechobee was a result of General Jesup's campaign to drive the Seminole down into south Florida and either convince them to go to Arkansas territory or inflict such a decisive military movement against them that the war would end. He failed because the war went on for almost five more years, and skirmishes continued to happen all over Florida.

Colonel Zachary Taylor was the middle column of General Thomas Jesup's campaign that was going down the Kissimmee River, and made up of the First, Fourth, and Sixth Infantry, the Missouri Volunteers, "Morgan's Spies" (similar to what we would call Army Rangers), and an artillery company that was left with the sick at Fort Basinger. This campaign was the largest attempted in the war, and almost half the regular army was in Florida at the time.

Plenty could be said about the affair. Bill Steele covers it well in his book written 25 years ago, "The Battle of Okeechobee."

By the time Taylor's forces engaged the Seminoles on Christmas Day, Taylor had 803 men with him. About 230 had been left behind at Fort Basinger, due to a high sickness rate. So this was not the largest battle of the war, like some have said. It was one of the largest, but even a smaller force than Clinch or Gaines' battles on the Withlacoochee. From what I have been researching, the battle in the war that involved the largest number of men was the Battle of Loxahatchee one month later, involving forces under General Thomas Jesup.

Unfortunately, the Okeechobee battle reenactment the past few years does not even closely resemble what actually happened, because there was no artillery involved and no Seminoles riding out in front on horseback. Sorry folks. That is why I have stayed away from the event because I do not believe there is an accurate portrayal of the battle, which gives it the appearance of playing cowboys and Indians. I would love to see it done with a more accurate portrayal.

And since Loxahatchee was the following month, it was obvious that Okeechobee was not the last large battle of the war, which is sometimes claimed as well.

Other than the size of Taylor's force at Okeechobee, another misunderstanding is that Taylor lost the battle. Since Taylor's forces eventually entered the hammock and the Seminoles disappeared into the swamp, then Taylor gained the ground and position of the Seminoles. So you could say that Taylor achieved his objective. It is debatable what he did win other than swampland on the shore of Lake O. But the battle did promote Taylor's career, and not long after he was promoted to Brigadier and given the command of the forces in Florida after Jesup's resignation from that post. Pretty good for an officer who depicted the rugged frontier of Kentucky as opposed to the West Point officers who held the same command before and after.

Below: Taylor 10 years later during the Mexican War. I was looking for a black and white litho I had of the same image, and was happy to find a color version.

As far as gaining the ground, the Seminoles were not concerned with the same objectives. They wanted to delay and injure the Army as their people retreated further to safety. From that point of view, the Seminoles also succeeded with their objective. They laid a classic ambush for the Army, and Taylor took it hook, line and sinker. The Seminoles inflicted large casualties upon Taylor's force with few among themselves. Ten to one casualty rate between the Army and the Seminoles shows better planning among the Seminoles than what they are usually given credit for.

There are no winners in war, but at the Battle of Okeechobee, it seems like either side could have been the winner or loser depending on who you asked the day after the battle.

Part of the site of the battle has been preserved to become a state park. Hopefully I will see that happen one day. But since all park construction was frozen three years ago due to budget constraints, nothing has been built yet. The park does have a unit management plan, but it is a long ways until it opens as a park.
Current Location:
the hammock
Current Mood:
hungry hungry
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