The Dade Battle of 1835 is of great historical importance. The victory by a combined Seminole and Black force shaped Florida history and is the origin of the name “Miami-Dade County.” Three surviving testimonials provide important differing perspectives.
Dade Battle Testimonial by Halpatter-Tustenuggee (Alligator), Seminole
Dade Battle Testimonial by Pacheco, slave and guide
Dade Battle Testimonial by Ransom Clark, Private, Company C, 2nd U.S. Artillere
THE DADE MASSACRE
by Albert Hubbard Roberts
Society, Florida Historical (1926) “Florida Historical Quarterly, Vol. 5, Issue 3,” Florida Historical Quarterly: Vol. 5 : No. 3 , Article 1.
One who would write again of the Dade massacre, ninety-one years after its occurrence, must forego the expectation of discovering any great wealth of original data, and content himself in the main with the assembling of facts already published, and the elimination of more or less doubtful detail that has crept into former narratives, in an effort to bring into stronger relief a more or less neglected story of the American soldier’s courage and fidelity unto death. Every school-child has been taught the story of the Alamo, a tragedy enacted a scarce two months after the massacre of the Dade command, and of the slaughter of Custer’s cavalrymen forty years later. But even Florida histories have not given full prominence to this disaster of territorial days, histories of the United States scarcely mention it, and the story is not to be found in any encyclopedia. Yet while the loss of life was less, because the number engaged were fewer, the men who fought and fell on the Dade battlefield, in the first daylight annihilation of American soldiers by Indians, are deserving of as high honor in the hearts of their countrymen, as the soldiers of Custer or those of Travis.
Resistance on the part of Seminole Indians to their prospective removal from Florida to a western reservation, under the treaties of Payne’s Landing and Fort Gibson, having made it evident that a show of military strength on the part of the Federal government would be necessary to enforcement as construed by the administration of Andrew Jackson, and the military forces in the peninsular of Florida during 1835 being limited to seven companies with perhaps two hundred and fifty men in all available for service, six additional companies were ordered to Fort Brooke, on Tampa Bay; the first detachment, Company B, 4th Infantry, thirty nine strong, under Brevet Major Francis L. Dade, arriving on the government transport Motto from Key West December 21st, 1835.
On December 23rd a strong detachment consisting of parts of four companies under command of Major Dade and numbering eight officers and one hundred and two non-commissioned officers and men (including several musicians and artificers),1 began their march to Fort King (near the present city of Ocala), something more than one hundred miles northward, where the Superintendent of Indian Relations, General Wiley Thompson, had his headquarters, and whose small garrison was recognized to be insufficient even for defensive purposes. The detachment made slow progress over the primitive road, and was delayed by the burning of the bridge •twenty miles from Fort Brooke over the Hillsborough river. Major Dade, a veteran of the War of 1812, apparently had little conception of the actual perils of the expedition, though being a prudent and cautious officer by nature, he sent out an advanced guard and flankers on the march until the forks of the Withlacoochee River had been crossed and took all necessary precautions for the protection of his nightly encampments from a surprise attack.
It was not until the morning of Monday, December 28th, 1835, when the expedition had traversed two-thirds of the distance to Fort King, that Dade relaxed his vigilance and, as results proved, at the fatal time. Though he sent forward an advanced guard as usual, he had no reason to apprehend a daylight attack from Indians in the open pine woods, and omitted the flankers, thereby exposing his column to an enfilade fire from their Indian foes secreted behind the pine trees 2 and in the tall grass and clusters of palmettoes to the left (west) of the Fort Brooke-Fort King trail along which the detachment was advancing in double file. Major Dade, on horseback, followed the advanced guard. The morning being chilly 3 the men had their overcoats buttoned over their ammunition boxes, and were entirely unprepared to meet the unheralded attack which burst upon them about eight o’clock. The most detailed and authentic account of the battle is from Ransome Clark, a private of Company B, 2nd Artillery, who escaped from the breastworks about nine o’clock in the evening of the massacre. He was the only survivor who witnessed the entire battle, 4 though two others, John Thomas of Clark’s company, and Joseph Sprague, Company B, 3rd Artillery, escaped during the fighting and returned to Fort Brooke ahead of Clark, all horribly wounded. 5
In his narrative of the battle and the subsequent massacre of the survivors, 6 Clark states that he heard a rifle shot in the direction of the advanced guard, followed by a musket shot from that quarter, and before he had time to think of their meaning a volley was poured upon the column from the front and all along the left flank. Half the command went down at the first fire and several other volleys had been fired before he could see an enemy, then only their heads and arms from out the long grass and from behind the pine trees. Major Dade and Captain Frazer were killed by the first volley, and Lieutenant Mudge mortally wounded; b Lieutenant Henderson had one arm broken, while both of Lieutenant Keais’s arms were broken. Only Captain Gardiner, Lieutenant Basinger, and Dr. Gatlin were untouched. Lieutenant Henderson, though wounded, managed to load and fire his gun repeatedly, cheering the men until he was shot down toward the close of the second attack; but Lieutenant Keais, with his arms bound up and in a sling, was too severely wounded to take any part in the ensuing battle, unconscious or nearly so, he reclined against the breastworks constructed during the lull in the fighting, until he died.
The men threw themselves behind trees and opened a sharp fire of musketry and Lieutenant Basinger fired five or six rounds from the six-pounder, which apparently did little damage but frightened the Indians into withdrawing over a hill half a mile or more from the battlefield, after they had fired some twelve to fifteen rounds. While some of the men went about the field gathering ammunition and assisting the wounded, others began to fell the larger pine trees, from the logs of which they constructed the rude breastworks, three logs deep with the main wall on the west, the direction from which the attack had come, and the northern and southern walls converging toward the trail and the pond in a triangular form. They had barely raised the fortification knee-high, when the enemy returned to the attack, spreading themselves from tree to tree to surround the soldiers when within a long musket shot. The latter immediately extended themselves as Light Infantry, opening a brisk fire from cannon and musketry. By two o’clock in the afternoon, after five hours of steady fighting, allowing three-quarters of an hour’s interval between the first and second attacks, all had been cut down. Captain Gardiner, after being severely wounded toward the end of the battle, cried out, “I can give you no more orders my lads, do your best!” Dr. Gatlin, kneeling behind the breast-works with two double-barrel guns beside him, took satisfaction in the fact that he had four barrels for the enemy. Lieutenant Basinger, severely wounded, told Clark to lie down and pretend himself dead. With none left to resist, the Indians then charged into the works and, either believing all to be dead or unwilling to crown their victory with a cold blooded butchery, stepped about carefully, quietly removing the arms and accoutrements and without offering indignity retired in the direction from which they came, leaving the bodies of some thirty men lying side by side along the north and west walls of the breastworks, their arms extended in the directions they had fired their last shots.
The slaughter of the wounded, which justifies the appellation “massacre” to what up to this time had been a legitimate ambuscade, skillfully planned and daringly executed, was committed, not by the Seminoles, whose better nature was manifested in their hour of victory, but by forty or fifty negroes who galloped up on horseback, and with vile derision began to despatch the wounded with axes and knives. 7 Lieutenant Basinger, hearing them butchering the wounded, at length sprang up and asked them to spare his life.8 “They met him with the blows of their axes, and their fiendish laughter,” is Clark’s statement. Clark himself, wounded in five places and with two bloody scratches on the head which gave him the appearance of having been shot through the brain, owed his life to the stupidity of a negro who caught him by the heels and then threw him down again, saying, “d–––––mº him, he’s dead enough!” Joseph Wilson, a private of Gardiner’s company, crept from under the dead bodies after the negroes left, apparently unhurt and, having asked Clark to return with him to Fort Brooke, jumped over the breastwork, only to be shot down by an Indian who sprang from behind a tree.9 Clark then lay quiet until nine o’clock that night when he and Edward Decourcey,10 a private of Company B, 2nd Artillery, slipped from the breastworks and, having seen the enemy retreat northwest, decided to attempt the long journey back to Fort Brooke rather than the shorter one, over an unknown route, to Fort King.
“My comrade and myself got along quite well until the next day,” says Clark, in concluding his narrative, “when we met an Indian on horseback, and with a rifle, coming up the road. — Our only chance was to separate — we did so. I took the right, and he the left of the road. The Indian pursued him. Shortly afterwards I heard a rifle shot, and a little after another. I concealed myself among some scrub and saw palmetto, and after awhile saw the Indian pass, looking for me. Suddenly, however, he put spurs to his horse, and went off at a gallop towards the road.11
“I made something of a circuit before I struck the beaten track again. That night I was a good deal annoyed by the wolves,12 who had scented my blood, and came very close to me; the next day, the 30th, I reached the Fort.”
The other narrative of the battle by an eye-witness, is that of the Indian chief, Halpatter-Tustenuggee, or Alligator, given to Captain John T. Sprague of the United States Army and recorded in The Florida War of which Capt. Sprague was the author.c Its tendency is to corroborate rather than to discredit Clark’s story in any material way. Alligator gives the number of Indians and negroes engaged in the battle as one hundred and eighty, and their losses as three killed and five wounded. They had been planning the attack for a year, he said. When all was ready, the chief Jumper gave the war whoop,13 and Micanopy fired the first shot,14 followed by the volley that laid low half of the Dade command. The men shouted and whooped, the officers shook their swords and swore, especially one officer, a little man, and a very brave man, who shook his sword at the soldiers and said “God-dam!” and whom no rifle ball could hit.
It is to be regretted that the identity of the officer whose bravery won the admiration of his Indian foe is lost, perhaps forever, to history. Logical deduction leads to the conclusion that it was Captain Gardiner,15 the ranking officer of those who escaped the first volley unharmed, and upon whom, Major Dade and Captain Fraser having fallen, the command of the shattered detachment devolved, and who directed the hopeless defense until mortally wounded near the end of the second battle — his dead body, found outside the breastworks whose construction he had ordered, and at it most exposed angle, bearing silent but indisputable testimony to a courage that did not falter in the face of death itself.16 It has been generally assumed that Major Dade was ordered from Key West to Tampa Bay for the purpose of leading this particular expedition, but there is credible evidence that Captain Gardiner had been first chosen for the command, which he yielded to Major Dade under circumstances highly creditable to them both.17 It was Gardiner’s company which formed the principal unit of the small battalion,18 and it was Gardiner upon whom the responsibility fell of conducting the desperate defense through five long hours. Dade’s name has been deservedly preserved in more than one memorial, while the one honor given Gardiner was to name for him a small military post on the banks of the Kissimmee river, (Fort Gardiner) which has long since been obliterated. Perhaps the future may make some amends for this neglect of the past.19
On Saturday, February 20th, 1836, the command of General Edmund P. Gaines, en route from Tampa Bay to Fort King, halted at the Dade battlefield and, the officers having each been identified by some article of clothing or valuables about his person, (the Indians had not robbed them of their personal property) were buried in a trench beyond the eastern end of the breastworks, and the soldiers in two trenches inside, all with military honors; the six-pounder, recovered from the pond where it had been thrown by the Indians, being placed at the head.20
There the remains rested through the long war which followed. As it drew to a close, officers and men of the army were invited to contribute each a day’s pay for the purpose of removing the remains of the Dade command, together with other officers who were killed or died of wounds or disease in the service, and of a number of non-commissioned officers and privates who had met death under circumstances of unusual gallantry, for permanent burial in St. Augustine.21 This was accomplished Monday, August, 1842, nine days before the cessation of hostilities had been declared — six and a half years after they began.
With great solemnity and all the honors that the army and the citizens could render, the remains were brought into the city in wagons — “each covered by the American flag as a pall and drawn by five elegant mules,” say the contemporaneous accounts — to the wail of music and the booming of guns they were carried to the garden of St. Francis Barracks — now the St. Augustine National Cemetery — and there interred in three vaults under the “Dade Pyramids.” Catholic, Protestant, and Anglican services were held over the graves, with a Masonic address in the Presbyterian church.22 A list of the officers and men buried in the vaults was read to the assembled throng, and deposited with the garrison for permanent keeping.23
“The whole was a grand and imposing spectacle. We had the opportunity of viewing from an elevation, the procession as it moved across the causeway of St. Sebastian River towards the city and to our eye nothing could be more grand than the military phalanx as it stood out in bold relief from the surrounding objects. The fine bands of the 4th and 8th Infantry playing soft and plaintive airs and the slow tread of the soldiery with their colors shrouded in mourning told the spectators that this was no ordinary occasion and that their visit here was one of funereal solemnity, and that they were engaged in paying the last tribute of honor to their deceased compatriots who had fallen in the battle field in their country’s cause.
“It must be a gratification to the relatives and friends of these honored remains to know that a permanent resting place has been prepared for them and they deposited in it no more to be disturbed until that day when earth and sea shall be called upon to yield their dead.
“The monuments are simple mounds of earth surmounted by pyramids in the Egyptian style, very plain and neat. The remains are deposited in vaults beneath.”24
Albert Hubbard Roberts.
The Author’s Notes:
1 The early accounts vary as to the exact number of men in the command. Captain Ethan Allen Hitchcock, Inspector General of the Gaines command, which came upon the battlefield February 20, 1836, reports that they found the bodies of eight officers and ninety eight non-commissioned officers and men; four are known to have left the battlefield, three reaching Fort Brooke and one being slain en route; not including the guide. These figures are accepted as correct, and there is no question as to the identity of the eight officers. The published list of officers and men who were killed or died of wounds or disease as a result of their service in Florida contains only ninety four non-commissioned officers and men of the Dade command, though the documents deposited in the Dade monument at West Point account for two more. Such discrepancies, even in the earliest and official records, increase the difficulties in the way of absolute accuracy in a narrative of the Massacre. For location of the forts and route see frontispiece map.
2 At the present time there are a number of beautiful oaks in the Dade Memorial Park. They must have attained their growth since the battle, as neither the map of the battlefield nor a single contemporary account makes reference to any trees excepting the pines, and the battlefield is uniformly spoken of as a “pine barren.”
3 Although thousands of southern volunteers enlisted in the war which followed the Dade Massacre, very few of the regulars who participated in that battle were of southern birth, many, in fact, were of foreign birth, the Irish predominating. The sensibility of northern people to their first touch of Florida cold is proverbial, and the troops who had recently come from Key West, on the border of the tropics, must have felt the need of overcoats, even while on the march.
4 Clark, who apparently was the last surviving soldier of this battle, was honorably discharged from the service and granted a pension of eight dollars a month by the government, dying in York, N. Y., in November, 1840.
So far as is known, the man, regardless of race, who longest survived this massacre, was Luis Pacheco, the mulatto guide employed at Fort Brooke to conduct the expedition to Fort King. It can hardly be doubted, though he denied it in his last years, that he revealed the line of march to the enemy and perhaps furnished other information that made the ambuscade possible.d Feigning death during the battle, he was taken by the Indians, and was eventually sent west with Wild Cat whom he followed into Mexico. A bill to compensate his former owner, Antonio Pacheco, for his loss, which was defeated by one vote, furnished the first instance in which a minority report was made by a Congressional committee adverse to slavery. (House Document No. 187, Thirtieth Congress, First Session.) This is discussed at length in The Exiles of Florida, by Joshua R. Giddings, of Ohio, a strong anti-slavery representative in Congress at the time.
Although a slave, Luis Pacheco was a hard student and it has been said that while members of Congress were discussing the monetary value of his bones and sinews, he could probably read and write more languages with ease and facility than could any member of the house. He returned to Florida fifty-seven years after the Dade Massacre, longing for the scenes of his youth and the hospitable home of his “Old Missus”, dying in Jacksonville at the age of 95 years, in January, 1895. (The Seminoles of Florida: Minnie Moore-Willson.)
5 One account has it that Thomas fell into the hands of a friendly Indian, who permitted him to escape in consideration of his friendship and six dollars which the soldier had about his person. To Reverend John Chipman, a former Floridian, now of Pascagoula, Mississippi, the writer is indebted for the entirely credible tradition that one of the survivors concealed himself amongst the lily-pads in the pond on the battle-field, until his escape into the woods. No record available to the writer at this time throws any light on the subsequent career of Thomas and Sprague, and it seems most likely that they must have succumbed to their wounds and privations after reaching Fort Brooke, although their names do not appear in the published lists of the dead. One of the three survivors, presumably Clark, accompanied the army of General Gaines to the battlefield two months later.
6 This narrative of Clark’s is given in considerable detail in Notices of Florida and the Campaigns, by M. M. Cohen, an officer of the Left Wing, published in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1836, a copy of which is to be found in the library of the Florida Historical Society.
7 Though many of the negroes were nominally the “slaves” of the Seminoles, they were in fact rather the retainers and allies of the Indians, with whom they had intermarried, and over whom they exercised a remarkable influence. These negroes were either fugitives themselves or descendants of escaped slaves, and it was their violent opposition to being sent West, where climatic conditions were less favorable to an easy livelihood, with the danger of being reclaimed by former masters amongst the whites en route or amongst the Creek Indians who had already emigrated, which caused the Seven Years War with the Seminoles, rather than the devotion of the Indians to their native Florida, however strong that affection may have been.
8 This plea of Lieutenant Basinger’s loses the stigma of weakness when it is recalled that he was now the only surviving officer and that as such it was his duty, if possible, to save the lives of his men. Basinger had directed the fire of the six-pounder throughout the two engagements and his last words, (attributed to an eye-witness, who must necessarily have been Ransome Clark, by a correspondent writing to the Darien Telegraph from Fort Drane, February 27th, 1836, reproduced in the Courier, Charleston, of March 11th, 1836,) were, “Come boys, let us sell our lives as dearly as possible!” His conduct throughout the battle, so far as we have any reason to believe, had been conspicuously and uniformly courageous, the cannoneers being especially marked by the Indian sharpshooters.
Thayer’s Note: A somewhat different account of Basinger’s death is found in a letter of George A. McCall:
[. . .] on our arrival at Fort King, I found, among a few Indians and negroes that had come in to that post, and given themselves up as loyal subjects of the United States Government, an old acquaintance in a negro, named August, whom I had known well in former days. He had always proved himself an honest, truthful fellow.
I had several conversations with him, and he corroborated Clark’s account in every particular. He told me that he was present on the battle-ground, but did not enter into the fight. He said, moreover, that when the fire of the soldiers ceased entirely, the Indians advanced to the breast-work and entered it; he went forward with them. As they entered the little fort, a young officer, the only man of the whole command who was not killed or desperately wounded, came forward to meet them; he was a very handsome young man, dressed in a blue frock-coat. As the Indians came in, he advanced towards them and offered his sword; but the man he offered it to was the very worst Indian in the nation, and he drew up his rifle and shot the young officer dead. As August said this, his voice grew a little husky, and he continued, “When I saw that handsome young officer fall, the tears came into my eyes, and I cried like a child.”
From August’s description of the personal appearance of this officer, the officers present with us at Fort King, who knew the younger officers of Dade’s command, were satisfied that it was Basinger, who had thus early terminated a career which promised to be one of distinction as a military man, and of usefulness as a citizen of our common country.
9 This may have been the soldier referred to in Alligator’s narrative, who refused to surrender, seized a gun from an Indian, Jumper’s cousin, and dashed out his brains; to be pursued at a safe distance by Indians on horseback after jumping over the breastworks, and shot to death. Clark, feigning death under the bodies of his comrades, could not have seen or heard all that happened.
10 Incorrectly given as “D. Cony” in Clark’s narrative as published.
11 Thus Providence intervened to save for history the sole survivor of Dade’s command who could tell the story of the entire battle. It was not the intention of the Indians that this Thermopylae should have its messenger of defeat. The plan of battle which was contrary to the usual Indian methods of warfare, reveals a three-fold purpose: a fire from ambuscade that would either destroy the enemy at one volley or reduce their number to the point of hopeless resistance; a fight in the open woods that would prevent the escape of the survivors; and a safe retreat for the Indians themselves, into the Wahoo Swamp, if for any unexpected reason the battle should go against them. The plan must have owed much to the military genius of Osceola, though the latter was not a participant in the fight, being engaged in a smaller and somewhat private massacre at Fort King the same day, in which the principal victims were the Indian Agent, General Wiley Thompson, whom Osceola hated above all men, and Lieutenant Constantine Smyth. Osceola and his followers joined the other Indians that night after their return to the Wahoo Swamp, where they jointly celebrated the day’s slaughters.
12 Lest this reference to wolves in Florida should tend to discredit Clark’s narrative, it may be mentioned that in 1832 the territorial Legislature authorized a bounty for the killing of these animals, and they are represented as being found in all unsettled parts of the territory, by John Lee Williams in his The Territory of Florida, published in 1837.
13 This statement may be accepted with reservations. Clark says nothing about hearing the war whoop, an indescribable yell that would have been too terrifying for a young soldier hearing it for the first time to have forgotten. It may have followed the opening shot and have been drowned out in the roar of the accompanying volley.
14 Micanopy, the head chief, was reluctant to begin the battle, and was practically forced into action by Jumper, Alligator and the negro interpreter, Abraham. In some accounts Micanopy is credited with having fired the shot that killed Major Dade, when that officer passed in front of the tree behind which he was hidden. Although not certain, this is not improbable. Alligator in his narrative states that Micanopy recognized the officer at the head of the column as “the Captain,” saying that he had known him and had been his friend at Tampa Bay. Major Dade was unquestionably at the head of his troops, excepting for the advanced guard, but as Dade had reached Tampa Bay from Key West only two days before beginning the march to Fort King, it would seem more probable that the officer recognized by Micanopy was Captain Frazer, who according to Ransome Clark, had just ridden forward when the firing was heard in the vicinity of the advanced guard.
15 George Washington Gardiner, born in the District of Columbia, was appointed from the District to the United States Military Academy at West Point September 2, 1812, during the second war with England; commissioned 3rd Lieutenant 1st Artillery March 11, 1814; 2nd Lieutenant May 1, 1814; transferred to corps artillery May 12, 1814; commissioned 1st Lieutenant April 20, 1818; transferred to 1st Artillery June 1, 1821; transferred to 2d Artillery August 16, 1821; brevet Captain April 20, 1828 for ten years faithful service in one grade; commissioned Captain November 3, 1832. Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army, from its Organization, September 29, 1789, to March 2, 1903, by Francis B. Heitman. For this record the writer is indebted to Dr. James A. Robertson, corresponding secretary of the Florida State Historical Society, Takoma Park, Maryland.
16 The map of the battlefield in the Dade Monument at West Point, shows that Captain Gardiner fell outside the breastworks, at the northwest corner. This map, accompanied by a brief narrative of the battle with other drawings and the roll of Major Dade’s command is published in connection with Frederick Cubberly’s The Dade Massacre, Senate Document No. 33, 67th Congress, first session, under resolution introduced by Senator Duncan U. Fletcher, of Florida. See frontispiece map for location of the battlefield. See also illustrated pamphlets descriptive of Dade Memorial Park, two and one half miles west of Bushnell, the county seat of Sumter county. These pamphlets were prepared respectively by A. D. Powers, of St. Petersburg, and J. C. B. Koonce, now of Tavares, who, as a representative in the Legislature in 1921 introduced the bill whose passage made possible the purchase of the •eighty acres of land including and surrounding the Dade battlefield, its dedication as a park, and the erection of the monuments and buildings therein.
17 Cohen’s Notices of Florida, published in 1836 and to which reference has already been made, quotes the following from a letter written by Lieutenant B. Alvord, of Major Dade’s company, from Fort Brooke, to Lieutenant R. C. Buchanan, the Adjutant of his Regiment, (the 4th Infantry,) at New Orleans.
Major Dade took command of the detachment under circumstances which reflect upon him the highest honor. Capt. F. S. Belton, of the 2nd Artillery, commands here. Gen. Clinch had ordered the commanding officer at the post to detach these two companies on their arrival. They arrived several weeks since, but being very weak, and the other companies ordered not having arrived, the accounts received at this time, of the hostile intentions of the Indians, was such as to induce Capt. B. to postpone the march. On the arrival of our company from Key West, the two companies were strengthened from the whole command, so as to make them 100 strong. Mrs. Gardiner was exceedingly ill, and it was supposed that if her husband left, she would not live. Nevertheless, Capt. Gardiner (who was to command the detachment) prepared to go, and at reveille on the morning of the 23rd, he mounted his horse in front of the detachment which was about to start. Major Dade made a proposition to the commanding officer to take Capt. G’s place, on account of the situation of Mrs. G. The proposition was accepted, and the command commenced its march. Before they had proceeded many miles, Capt. G. ascertained that the U. S. schooner Motto was about to sail for Key West, for the purpose of bringing two twelve pounders from that post, ammunition, &c. His children, with their grandfather, were already there, and he concluded to send Mrs. G. to Key West in the Motto, and thus gratify his earnest desire to go with his company; (and on joining his company, the relation in which he stood to Major Dade, of course induced him not to demur to his continuing in command, and proceeding to Fort King) — they took along a six pounder, from the belief that it would produce a panic among the savages. But they seem to have assembled in such numbers, as to render the stout defense of the unfortunate troops quite unavailing. One hundred of the Indians are said to have been mounted.” See also A Late Staff Officer (Woodbourn Potter), The War in Florida, Baltimore 1836 p102.
Jefferson B. Browne, in his Key West, The Past and the Present, says that both Major Dade and Captain Gardiner were well liked there, and that Gardiner’s wife and children were the recipients of great sympathy from the people of Key West.
18 The “two companies” referred to by Lieutenant Alvord were evidently Gardiner’s and Fraser’s, which made up nearly two thirds of the Dade command. The officers of the detachment were, Brevet Major Francis L. Dade, 4th Regiment Infantry; Captain U. S. Fraser, B Company 3rd Artillery; Captain G. W. Gardiner, C Company 2nd Artillery; First Lieutenant W. E. Basinger, 2nd Regiment Artillery; Second Lieutenant R. R. Mudge, 3rd Regiment Artillery; Brevet Second Lieutenants R. Henderson, 2nd Regiment Artillery and J. L. Keais, 3rd Regiment Artillery; and Assistant Surgeon J. S. Gatlin, of the Medical Staff. Of the non-commissioned officers and men, including several artificers and musicians, 34 were from Gardiner’s company and 32 from Fraser’s; 11 from B Company, 2nd Artillery; 11 from B Company 3rd Artillery and 11 from Dade’s own 4th Infantry (Company B:) a total of 107 officers and men, leaving three of the entire detachment whose names do not appear on the Roll before referred to. All were from artillery units excepting Major Dade himself and his eleven infantrymen, who probably constituted his advance guard at the time of the attack. With only one six-pounder, however, practically the entire command marched and fought as Light Infantry.
Ransome Clark, on his return to Fort Brooke, brought in a cleft stick left in a stream, a message from Captain Fraser for Major J. Mountford, urging him to press forward. Major Mountford and his company arrived at Fort Brooke about noon Christmas day, and hearing that Major Dade had been delayed on the road •twenty miles distant on account of the bridges having been burnt, prepared to march the following morning. During the night, however, news arrived that Dade had proceeded on his way, and (not knowing of Fraser’s message,) it was determined to adhere to the original plan and await the arrival of A Company, 2nd Artillery, under command of Lieutenant Grayson; a decision that saved Mountford’s company from sharing the fate of Dade’s. A letter from Major Mountford to Putnam P. Rea, dated January 1st, 1836, and published in the Florida Herald (St. Augustine,) February 6th, 1836, though brief, was the first narrative of the events surrounding the Dade massacre reduced to writing, and confirms the return of three soldiers from the battlefield, all “horribly wounded.” Major Mountford states in this letter that the whole force at Fort Brooke was intrenched within the pickets and block house, the men hard at work day and night strengthening their fortifications; fatigued but in good spirits, their whole soul seemingly wrapped up in the desire to revenge the blood of their comrades. The force consisted of about 200 officers and fighting men, with a party of “Citizen Rangers” about 30 strong, and about 100 friendly Indians headed by their Chief, Black Dirt.
19 The battlefield now most appropriately bears the name “Dade Memorial Park.” The monument erected at West Point in 1845 by the officers and men of the 2nd and 3rd Regiments of Artillery and the 4th Regiment of Infantry and by the Medical Staff, in memory of their comrades of the Dade command, is also known as the Dade Monument. Dade county, of which Miami is the county site — the county as originally created in 1836 contained practically all of the mainland of Florida south of a line drawn from Lake Myakka to the Potomac, or Hillsborough River, on the Atlantic side — Dade City, not many miles from the battlefield, Fort Dade, for many years an important fortification commanding the entrance to Tampa Bay; all pay deserved honor to the gallant leader who died at the head of his troops at the first fire; but only the tribute of silence to the one who directed the long fight to its foreordained conclusion.
20 A letter from Jacksonville, published in the Courier, Charleston, S. C., April 13, 1836, says:
During the course of the funeral honor paid to the companions of Major Dade a most affecting scene was witnessed. Having deposited the bodies in their lone graves, as the men marched around the simple mausoleum, the proudest, hardest heart was melted to tears. No eye was found which could refuse this sincere tribute to their memories. There was no earthly pomp, no vain pageant to detract them from the solemn realities before them. In the wide wilderness the scene of their heroic valor, their gallant, tragic death, they were paying those last sad rites to their slaughtered brethren. The canopy of heaven above, the forest stillness around — imagination cannot well picture a scene more sublimely solemn. The inspiration of a Sigourney or a Lee might here find a theme, might here pluck the flowers of the wilderness to deck the grave of that Spartan band who though ‘unknelled’ should not be ‘unhonored and unsung.’ “
The official report of Captain Ethan Allen Hitchcock, Inspector General of the Gaines expedition, who observed the battlefield and made a written report at the direction of General Gaines, appears in Sprague’s The Florida War and is a most valuable contribution to the meager records of the day.
21 Circular dated Cedar Keys, June 13th, 1842, signed S. Cooper, Assistant Adjutant General, and Orders No. 25 (Colonel Worth) dated Cedar Keys, July 25th, 1842.
22 Through the courtesy of Miss Marie B. Waties and Mrs. J. H. Cook, daughter and niece of the late Mrs. Mary Christina Waties, (daughter of Major John Beard, Jr.,) the writer has been permitted to copy the following from a letter from young Mary Beard to her sister, Elizabeth, then in Salisbury, North Carolina, written from St. Augustine September 3rd, 1842:
“The remains of the officers and soldiers were brought in the 15th of last month, and we all went up to the Barracks to see the procession, and from there we went through the Barracks garden to the graves. An address was delivered by the Rev. Mr. Watters of the Catholic Church, and Papa read our service as there was no Episcopal clergyman here. They had two bands, Capt. Gwinn’s and Colonel Worth’s. Major Graham, who belongs to Colonel Worth’s regiment, brought the band to play for us twice and I do not think I ever heard such delightful music.”
Mrs. Waties, who died in Tallahassee on September 6th, 1926, at the age of 98 years, was the last survivor of this ceremony which took place 84 years before, and she frequently referred to the event which made a strong impression upon her youthful mind.
Full accounts of the burial, published in the St. Augustine papers of the time (Florida Herald, Monday, August 15th, 1842, and The News, August 20th, 1842,) and incorporated in Sprague’s The Florida War and Sergeant G. M. Brown’s Ponce deLeon Land and Florida War Record, mention also Rev. Henry Axtell as one of the clergymen taking part in the obsequies, and D. W. Whitehurst as pronouncing a monody on the dead, at the Masonic services. The procession was under orders of Major Belknap, Captain Gwynne, 8th Infantry, commanding the escort and Lieutenant A. T. Lee, Acting Adjutant.
Though accounts published at the time state that the remains were conveyed to the Barracks in eight wagons, it was the recollection of Mrs. Waties that there were twenty four such wagons in the procession.
23 To Miss Emma Rochelle Williams, of Jacksonville, assistant secretary of Florida Historical Society, the writer is under deep obligations for her patient research in the United States War Department and the Library of Congress, without which this article would have been impossible; as well as for locating the original list of United States soldiers who died at Fort King between October 9th, 1835 and June 29th, 1842, and who are interred under the Dade Pyramids in the National Cemetery at St. Augustine. This list includes the name of First Lieutenant Constantine Smith, Company F, 2nd United States Artillery, who was killed, with General Wiley Thompson, the Indian Agent, in the attack headed by Osceola on the same day as the Dade Massacre, and the names and other data concerning 33 non-commissioned officers and privates, including one Musician, whose remains were similarly interred.
24 The Florida Herald, St. Augustine, Monday, August 15th, 1842.
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John William Bailly 16 February 2021
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