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DID MILITARY HONOUR HINDER THE ROYAL NAVY’S EFFECTIVE USE OF NORTH AMERICAN INDIANS IN THE GULF OF MEXICO CAMPAIGN IN THE WAR OF 1812?
T J Linzy Dissertation
History of Warfare M.A. Department of War Studies King’s College London 28 August 2009
Supervisor Professor Andrew Lambert
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Table of Contents
Section Introduction Historiography Military Honour in the Era British Operations Involving the Indians in the Gulf of Mexico Campaign Analysis Personalities Preparation and Deployment Strategy, Weapons and Tactics Conclusion Bibliography Map of the Gulf of Mexico and British/Indian Operations 1814-1815 4 5 9 19 38 38 43 44 46 51 55 Page
Word Count - 14,545
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I thank Professor Andrew Lambert for his supervision in this task and Dr. Alan James for his guidance and advice in the M.A. course. I especially thank Pamela, Annabelle, Michaela, and Nicolette for their welcome diversions when early 19th Century warfare engrossed me too much.
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‘Every age had its own kind of war, its own limiting conditions, and its own peculiar preconceptions.’ - Carl von Clausewitz, On War 1
It is difficult to read about the War of 1812 without encountering the word ‘honour’. From the very beginning, Great Britain’s (Britain) maritime supremacy and the United States of America’s (USA) inability to resist, short of war, impressment and neutral trading rights made honour one of the key motives for the USA to declare war.2 Although the concept of honour was undergoing significant changes in this era, it continued to be a critical part of the military mind. The long Napoleonic Wars had forged a new generation of military men whose experience had revived military honour once the ideological extremes of the early revolutionary times proved incapable of building effective forces.3 However, as a concession to ideology, the components of military honour began to embrace more than just the glory of the monarch and country. To the traditional virtues that composed military honour of courage, prowess, truthfulness, and loyalty were added the broader concepts of individual conscience, merit, liberty, and justice. With these additional virtues came the increased possibility that individual combatants’ views of military honour could come into conflict with the objectives of a military campaign. The British Gulf of Mexico amphibious campaign in the War of 1812 was susceptible to this possibility due to the distinctive personalities involved. The purpose of this inquiry is to determine whether the Royal Navy’s and Royal Marines’ concept of military honour hindered their effective use of Indians in this campaign. The author will attempt to persuade the reader that
1 2 3
Clausewitz (1976), p.593 Horsman (1962) pp. 228-229 Rothenberg (1994) pp. 88-89 4
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although military honour did hinder the effective use of Indian forces, it was not the decisive issue in the campaign. The question is important as it removes the issue as a primary cause and helps establish the proximate cause for the British failure to fully meet its objectives in the Gulf of Mexico campaign.
The War of 1812 has enjoyed new attention in recent years. However, the Gulf of Mexico campaign, characterised by the Battle of New Orleans, still gets relatively light coverage, especially on the British use of the Indians in the campaign. The idea that the gulf campaign, especially the Battle of New Orleans, was inconsequential still persists. It is true that the final stages of the campaign occurred after the Treaty of Ghent was signed by the negotiators. However, influence over the gulf region was not, and probably was never going to be, settled by an international peace treaty. The expansion of the contiguous American empire into the ‘old southwest’ or the ‘western waters’ as the area was called at the time was determined by this campaign, even if the technical conclusion of the war demanded a status quo ante. Furthermore, the pitiful fate of the Indians of the American south and Spanish Florida was largely decided by the outcome of this campaign.4 Additionally, the weakness of Spain in the Floridas was exposed to the eyes of Andrew Jackson and the settlers pouring into the Mississippi territory and Louisiana. Florida would be ceded to the USA within the decade due to a chain of events with a direct connection to this campaign. Due to these factors, there is a growing tendency to view the British gulf
Mahon (1966), pp. 299-302 5
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campaign as a sound strategic move that could have changed the history of the area, if it had been carried out successfully.5
The majority of scholarly publications on the campaign are in the form of journal articles with most being published by the Florida Historical Quarterly which has taken a special interest in the topic since the 1930s. Mark F. Boyd tells how Prospect Bluff became the hotbed of British activity in the gulf in ‘Events at Prospect Bluff on the Apalachicola River, 1808-1818: An Introduction to Twelve Letters of Edmund Doyle, Trader’. Ruth Anna Fisher gives the details of the Pensacola battle from the British perspective in ‘The Surrender of Pensacola as Told by the British’. John K. Mahon provides a good overview in ‘British Strategy and Southern Indians: War of 1812’ as does Frank Owsley, Jr. in ‘British and Indian Activities in Spanish West Florida During the War of 1812’ and John Sugden in ‘The Southern Indians in the War of 1812: The Closing Phase’. Nathaniel Millett’s ‘Britain's 1814 Occupation of Pensacola and America's Response: An Episode of the War of 1812 in the Southeastern Borderlands’, explores the characters of Major Edward Nicolls and Captain George Woodbine in their dealings with the Indians. Richard Murdoch details one of the earliest reports, by Captain James Stirling, on the feasibility of using the Indians in ‘A British Report on West Florida and Louisiana, November, 1812’. In a shortened version of his book on the same topic, J. Leitch Wright details British geopolitical goals in the gulf with ‘British Designs on the Old Southwest: Foreign Intrigue on the Florida Frontier, 1783-1803’. Brian R. Rucker details Major Uriah Blue’s campaign to neutralise the British allied Indians in ‘In the Shadow of Jackson: Uriah Blue’s Expedition into West Florida’. Finally, C.J. Bartlett adds key insights into the mind of Cochrane, the
Bartlett (1994), pp. 141-142 6
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Royal Navy leadership, and the British leadership in general with his article ‘Gentlemen versus Democrats: Cultural Prejudice and Military Strategy in Britain in the War of 1812’.
The books that put special emphasis on the Gulf of Mexico campaign are small in number and largely consistent in their treatment. Struggle for the Gulf Borderlands: The Creek War and the Battle for New Orleans 1812-1815 by Frank Lawrence Owsley Jr. is the most referenced text and does an admirable job at examining the archives of Britain and Spain to provide a balanced view of all the main players’ motives and circumstances. Owsley covers both the gulf campaign and the preceding Creek War in 1813 and early 1814 which gives Creek involvement far more context than most books on the war of 1812. Owsley is a particularly good source for discussions about the roles played by Royal Marine Major Edward Nicolls and Captain George Woodbine in the recruitment, training and deployment of the Indians in the campaign. Retired USA Marine Major General Wilburt S. Brown’s The Amphibious Campaign for West Florida & Louisiana, 1814-1815: A Critical Review of Strategy and Tactics at New Orleans examines the tactics and the strategy in far more depth, but does not give the depth of coverage to the Indian involvement that Owsley provides. Robert Remini is the foremost scholar on the life of Andrew Jackson and, therefore, covers the campaign from ‘Old Hickory’s’ viewpoint in great detail in both his biography’s first volume, Andrew Jackson: Volume One, The Course of American Empire 1767-1821 and Andrew Jackson and His Indian Wars. Remini later published a volume dedicated completely to the campaign entitled, The Battle of New Orleans: Andrew Jackson and America's First Military Victory. British writer Robin Reilly takes a slightly different tack in The British at the Gates: The New Orleans Campaign in the War of 1812 by placing the campaign into the larger British strategic picture. One of
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the few books about the whole War of 1812 that gives a credible and detailed accounting of the gulf campaign is John K. Mahon’s The War of 1812. First hand accounts are also available with Arsène Latour’s Historical Memoir of the War in West Florida and Louisiana in 1814-15, with an Atlas: Expanded Edition being the foremost account of the American side by Jackson’s chief engineer. Latour’s account is especially good for the appendix of collected correspondence from the campaign. George Gleig’s The Campaigns of the British Army at Washington and New Orleans, in the Years 1814-1815 describes the campaign from the point of view of a British junior officer that fought with Wellington in the Peninsular War, the Chesapeake Bay, and then on to New Orleans. Gleig’s account are especially useful in providing a soldier’s view of what the British Army thought of the USA’s forces. C.J. Bartlett also co-authors a chapter with Gene A. Smith entitled, ‘A Species of Milito-Nautico-Guerilla-Plundering Warfare: Admiral Cochrane’s Naval Campaign Against the United States, 1814-1815’ in Julie Flavell and Stephen Conway, eds. Britain and America Go to War: The Impact of War and Warfare in Anglo-America, 1754-1815.
For a view of the southern Indians and their relationship to the Americans in the area, Florette Henri’s The Southern Indians and Benjamin Hawkins, 1796-1816 details how the southern Indians came to look to the British to help them regain their lands after the Creek War. Henri’s book is also good for a exposition of how the Creeks came to civil war when so many of them had accepted Hawkins’ leadership and his Americanisation program. For a broader discussion about Britain’s strategic goals and interests and the source of American paranoia over Britain’s relations with the Indians in the region, J. Leitch Wright, Jr.’s Britain and the American Frontier is invaluable. Wright also details the
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culture of both the Creeks and the Seminoles in Creeks and Seminoles. Finally, Sean Michael O’Brien tells the story of the Creek War, the Creek and Seminole involvement with the British, and Andrew Jackson’s influence on the destiny of the Creeks and Seminoles in In Bitterness and Tears: Andrew Jackson’s Destruction of the Creeks and Seminoles.
As with so much North American Indian history, the written historiography is woefully inadequate in explaining Indian culture, motives, and actions in warfare. A significant exception is Wayne E. Lee’s ‘Peace Chiefs and Blood Revenge: Patterns of Restraint in Native American Warfare, 1500–1800’ This paper will attempt to add to the historiography by portraying a more rounded analysis of Indian intentions and views of military honour.
Military Honour in the Era
In his book, Military Honour and the Conduct of War: From Ancient Greece to Iraq, Paul Robinson lists two common definitions of honour, external and internal. External honour is ‘similar to words such as reputation, prestige, face, and name’. Internal honour is ‘closer to conscience or integrity’. Since the two necessarily co-exist and feed each other, it is difficult to separate them in war. If a society values prowess, courage, loyalty, and truthfulness as attributes of successful warriors, then these attributes become attractive to those who seek external honour. Aspiring warriors, and the communities they live in, internalise these attributes as honourable. Eventually, they turn them into character traits to be valued in and of themselves. Paradoxically, these internalised traits can take precedence over success and external honour when warriors have been deeply inculcated
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by the ‘code of honour’. Similarly, the quest for external honour has led more than a few warriors to conduct themselves in ways that few would recognise as internally honourable.6
Honour traditionally needs one crucial component to animate it and keep it alive. In order for the holders of honourable virtues to be valued, they need a group of like minded individuals to behold their virtues and understand that they are striving to keep them sacred. This cohort is known as an honour group. Virtues within the honour group are not necessarily moral, nor ethical, but are consistent with the values of the group. 7 Honour within modern day gangs, terrorist groups, and the mafia underline the neutrality of the term. Honour groups often form around existing organisations such as families, corporate entities, churches, and, of course, military units. However, honour groups can form around ideological concepts as well, such as liberty, solidarity, etc. These honour groups have been one of the greatest strengths and greatest weaknesses of military units. Individuals have been known to go to super human lengths to uphold military honour within their group, but also to have committed great depravities when trying to live up to the group’s expectations. The military honour group often has several hierarchies as well. A Royal Marine officer could have belonged to honour groups of Britain, the British armed forces, the Royal Navy, the Royal Marines, fellow officers, and a ship, amongst others. These simultaneous, sometimes complementary and sometimes competing groups, could form quite complex permutations. If an officer had been told of an indiscretion of a fellow officer in confidence, did he owe his honour to the fellow officer or the good of the officer corps in general? The answer was almost always personal. No matter how hard a nation or an
Robinson (2006) pp. 2-3 Bowman (2006) pp. 4-5 10
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armed service might try to imbue a sense of duty to their own organisation above all others, the individual was left to sort out the consequences of their own actions.
Prior to the French Revolution in Europe, these concepts, in the military sense at least, were largely aristocratic notions. The military officers of the pre-Napoleonic era were generally men of standing in monarchical societies. This relatively small group shared an idea of honour that cut across national boundaries and appealed to an elite that was not skilled in the military science of large armies, but in personal prowess and courage on horseback. The individual soldiers were expected to be of low moral standing. The best that could be expected was that appeals to the higher authorities of God and King would keep the rabble from committing too many atrocities. However, after the French Revolution and the advent of the levèe en masse, ideological issues increasingly substituted for mere dedication to a Monarch. The powers of Europe lined up on either side of the Napoleonic Wars to promote their own version of liberty and duty. These concepts of universal liberty and justice were added to courage, duty, and prowess to form a new kind of internal honour that was justified in and of itself. No longer were the nobles the only ones required to display honour.8 As N.A.M. Rodger has put it when writing about the rising status of British naval officers, ‘[t]his implied a new underlying ideal, one in which duty was beginning to infiltrate the concept of honour’.9 The Royal Navy officer needed to be a gentleman, but also a professional seamen which required years of training that quite resembled an apprenticeship. What developed was a service elite that had the working values of the rising middle class.10
Rothenburg (1994) p. 81 Rodger (2004) p. 513 Rodger (2002), p. 428 & p. 447 11
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Lest one fall into the trap that all issues military were either pre or postrevolutionary France, other considerations of honour must also be consulted. Europe was also experiencing the end of the Enlightenment and the beginning of the Romantic movement at this same time. Philosophers such as Immanuel Kant and Rousseau were providing the intellectual basis for individuals to act with honour with and without the external impetus. In Britain, poets, such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth, were teasing out the elements of honour in verse that sought a ‘natural’ and personal honour. Writers, such Walter Scott and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, were making clear that the individual could enjoy the higher pleasures of honour through their own merit. By the time of the War of 1812, these concepts were in wide circulation in Europe.
Kant promoted honor to his students in lectures where he discussed that it was better to die than live in servitude. This concept of inner worth of all human beings began to spread to other intellectuals around Europe. 11 Rousseau promoted the idea that, through proper education and cultivation, all men, even men in a state of nature, could know honour and it was not confined to wealthy or privileged groups. 12 Whether these ideas of internal honour caused the French Revolution or were more readily accepted because of it is not important to this discussion. What applies is that in the two decades of wars following the revolution and the mass participation in military service, the ideas spread into the military conception of honour.
Welsh (2008) pp. 139-140 Welsh (2008) pp. 131-132 12
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Coleridge deserves special attention in this discussion as he worked as a personal secretary for Admiral Alexander Ball, Governor of Malta, at the height of Admiral Horatio Nelson’s fame. Ball had been one of Nelson’s Captains at Aboukir Bay. In Ball, Coleridge was getting a first hand look at one of the ‘band of brothers’. Coleridge would have corresponded with Nelson and certainly had talked with Ball about Nelson and the ideas that made Nelson. Coleridge addressed honour in many of his writings as did his friend and co-writer, William Wordsworth. Wordsworth’s poem of 1809, ‘Say What is Honour?’, begins with ‘Say what is Honour -- Tis the finest sense Of justice which the human mind can frame’. 13 These literary expressions of honour were popular at the time of the Napoleonic wars and were gaining wide acceptance. By the time of the War of 1812, in Britain especially, honour had attained a status that was separable from nobility of birth or social status. Through Nelson’s personal influence and his legacy, Britain’s naval and marine officers were very close to the source of the fire. Linda Colley claims these romantic notions led to an ‘ostentatious cult of heroism’ where the blue bloods now sought the association of red-blooded heroes.14
Sir Walter Scott wrote best-selling novels that were popular all over Europe. Scott stressed a sincere and authentic form of honour that was based on upright character. His heroes were not aristocrats, but not lower class either. They were independent men who knew their place in life and carried themselves with virtue whatever their work. This work was often military. This non-aristocratic, but often materially wealthy man was not a figment of Scott’s imagination either. Many a naval officer would have identified with Scott’s heroes after several years of prize money under his belt. With religious overtones,
Nicolson (2005) p. 115 Colley (1992) p. 177-178 13
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but without religiosity, Scott also foreshadowed what would later be termed ‘muscular Christianity’. This development walked hand in hand with another early 19th century movement, the slave trade and abolitionism that was famously championed by William Wilberforce. Scott, somewhat controversially at the time, included racial tolerance as a virtue that men of honour could attain. Ironically, this issue was overlooked by Scott’s legions of followers in the American South for the next century and a half.15
One need not prove that Royal Navy and Royal Marine officers were reading Rousseau or Kant to suggest that they held a Romantic notion of military honour. Scott was a best selling novelist in this era, so the ideas were in wide circulation as were Wordsworth’s and Coleridge’s poems. Coleridge’s proximity to Ball and the Nelson legend as well as the immediate and sustained public adulation of Nelson’s honourable virtues makes the connection between the ‘new’ military honour and the Royal Navy and Royal Marines very strong. Indeed, Admiral Lord St. Vincent had the following to say on the event of the marines gaining the title, ‘Royal Marines’;
In obtaining for them the title of ‘Royal’ I but indifferently did my duty. I never knew an appeal made to them for honour, courage or loyalty, that they did not more than realize[sic] my highest expectations. If ever the hour of real danger should come to England, they will be found the ‘Country’s Sheet Anchor’.16
Bowman ( 2006) pp. 75-80 Smith (1974) pp. 40 14
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Along with the honourable virtues characteristic of the age, the two aforementioned ideas of racial tolerance and the potential nobility of savages were growing in popularity in the Royal Navy. Sailors and marines were more likely to have served in places where indigenous peoples were encountered than the average British soldier who was fighting in Europe. There was scarcely a place on earth that sailors or marines had not seen people living in the state of nature. Additionally, the men of the British fleet had seen the horrors of the slave trade first hand when encountering slave ships in the Atlantic. That does not mean that all in the Royal Navy saw this issue in the same light. Lord St. Vincent was on record ridiculing the Slave Abolition Bill in Parliament and Admiral Alexander Cochrane was also a slave owner in the West Indies.17 18 However, on the whole the issues were more current and pressing in the Royal Navy than in the average segment of British society. These sensitivities were certainly present in the form of Royal Marine Major Edward Nicolls at Prospect Bluff on the Apalachicola River in late 1814.
Although this paper is designed to answer whether the British were hindered by military honour, it is useful to consider the Creek view of military honour to examine its fit with the British views of the time. The Creeks took honour in warfare very seriously as it formed the basis for male rank in their society. 19 As with most natives of North America, taking the scalp of a defeated foe was a way to prove the virtues of military honour like bravery, stealth, and a disregard for one’s own safety in combat. Contrary to popular history, however, scalping was not generally the highest goal of an Indian warrior. It was normally the second best outcome and only valued when a prisoner could not be taken
17 18 19
Brenton (1838) pp. 207-208 Bartlett (2004) p. 187 Ethridge (2003) pp. 103-104 15
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alive. Prisoners were much more highly valued, so the warrior could show the home village that he had been successful. A prisoner also allowed the villagers, including women and children, to partake in the ritualised torture that displayed a village’s outpouring of violent grief.20 This was obviously at odds with European ideas of prisoner treatment, but the Indians had become adept at keeping their traditions around white men without flaunting the issue when they wanted to do so. The issue of abolition was well known in the southern Indian communities as well, largely through British traders, such as Thomas Brown in the Revolutionary era and William Augustus Bowles in the Anglo-American inter-war years. Free blacks inter-married with the Creek and the Seminoles, but other blacks were also held as slaves as the onset of white farming practices took root in Indian culture.21 Sobriety was also valued in times of war and alcohol was prohibited at highly formalised war councils. The purification ceremony performed at the beginning of such councils involved drinking cassena, a plant high in caffeine and black in colour. This often induced vomiting which was considered to cleanse the body. The concept was that warriors would be clear-headed when discussing war and in combat. Finally, lest one believes only westerners could use lofty ideals to appeal to a population, at least one traveler through Creek country witnessed a national leader encourage their warriors to exhibit courage and ‘to sacrifice, everything for the love of nation and liberty’.22 Other than refraining from scalping, at least in their presence, it seems the British had a receptive audience when attempting to inculcate the virtues they carried as military honour.
20 21 22
Lee (2007), p.730 Wright (1990) p. 251 Ethridge (2003) pp. 105-106 16
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A brief review of military honour from the American viewpoint is instructive to see where the differences did lie. In the sense of ideology, personal merit, and the idea of the individual holding honour outside of social status, Americans were stereotypically antielite in their nature. However, some aspects of external honour remained, specifically acts such as dueling. Anti-dueling tracts were almost de rigueur for the Romantics like Walter Scott. In the USA, however, the practice still was widely practiced. Alexander Hamilton was famously killed by sitting vice-President Aaron Burr in 1804. Andrew Jackson started the Creek War with a grievous wound due to dueling in 1813 and was said to have participated in many during his lifetime.23 Once again, the situation was not clear cut between the USA and Britain. Dueling was not unknown at this time in Britain. George Canning and Lord Castlereagh dueled in 1809 and Wellington in 1829. However, the exceptions were so well publicised and condemned that they proved the generality that it was more prevalent in the USA, especially in the south, and most famously in the opening of the American West throughout the nineteenth century.24 Of course, Romanticism was known in the USA, but America, and the southern part especially, were still pre-romantic in the literary sense. Romantic authors Washington Irving, James Fenimore Cooper, and Nathaniel Hawthorne had yet to write their masterpieces. As for honour in the tactics of warfare, John Grenier has argued forcefully that Americans of the time, especially on the frontier with the Indians, practiced a form of warfare that was far closer to the Indian way of war than the European one. 25 If the British were squeamish about using Indians in ways that the Indians preferred, the southern Americans were not. For the American combatants in the War of 1812, which were overwhelmingly militiamen, the honour group often
23 24 25
Remini (1998), pp. 181-185 Owsley (2000), pp. 186 Grenier (2005), pp. 221-225 17
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resided in the frontier communities rather than in professional military units. 26 Protecting their communities from the Indians allowed for virtually any tactic available, if the situation warranted it.
Finally, military honour did not, and still does not, equate to the law of war. There are no positive martial virtues in the law of war, only negative ones. The law of war does not dictate courage, prowess, or prohibit cowardice, only constraints on the way war is conducted. However, many of the constraints on war, in the western world at least, were developed from the chivalric code and Christian ethics which hold many of the traditional virtues of military honour as well. Therefore, in military circles, the law of war was quite often the equivalent of what was ‘done’ or ‘not done’. The ‘Law of War’ as a formal concept was the attempt to internationalise various codes in practice to limit the worst and least productive violence amongst cultures that valued the same things.27 As with so many issues, most notably property rights, western values did not, and often did not try to, reconcile themselves with the culture of the Indian. Hence, most of the positive martial values were shared by the Indians, Americans, and British, but the constraints often were incomprehensible to each other. Their worlds were just too different. Thus, the warring parties of the War of 1812 consisted of a British culture of legalistic constraints, an Indian culture of elemental constraints and an American culture of frontier constraints. Of course, in developing the international law of war, maritime law often led the way. Therefore, it is not difficult to assert that Royal Navy officers who worked internationally would have been far more sensitive to the constraints of the law of war, and those honour groups, than either an Indian or a militiaman on the North American frontier.
Grenier (2005) pp. 204-220 Howard (1994), pp. 1-5 18
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British Operations Involving the Indians in the Gulf of Mexico Campaign
In the Spring of 1814, Britain was fighting two wars on two continents. The wars against France were entering their third decade. In North America, Britain was failing to decisively defeat the USA in the War of 1812. The difficulty in North America was that Britain had very few land resources left to improve the situation. The Royal Navy had some resources, but not enough to wage coordinated campaigns on multiple fronts. The actions around the Chesapeake Bay demanded most of the Royal Marine forces available in North America. The British Army had secured Canada from invasion, but was still struggling to move decisively against the USA along the Lake Champlain and Niagara River regions. A battalion of Royal Marines had to be diverted from the USA southeastern coast to Canada.28 To alter the balance substantially, the British needed to force the American leadership to divert a large segment of the USA’s fighting power away from the north. A report from Captain James Stirling in late 1812 outlined a plan to attack the Gulf of Mexico coast with Indians, namely Creeks and Seminoles, as auxiliaries. This report and others had been discussed and contemplated by the senior leadership in London, the Bahamas, and the Royal Navy since the beginning of the war.29
Britain relied on Indians heavily in the War of 1812. In Canada, Britain built a combat capability largely reliant on an Indian coalition led by Tecumseh, the charismatic
Bartlett and Smith (2004) p. 179 Murdoch (1964), pp. 42-51, CO 23/60 (28 Oct 1813), p. 109 19
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Shawnee chief. Britain had cultivated the northern Indian relationship for decades following the American Revolutionary War, which was one of the contributing factors to the American mistrust over British intentions in the Great Lakes region.30 When the War of 1812 broke out, the British tried to integrate their Indian allies into their formations with some success. The Americans used friendly Indians in the north as well, but in a far more limited and traditionally North American manner, such as scouting, guiding and raiding.31 The British heavy reliance on the northern Indians in the early part of the war was to cause some significant controversy in Canada, the USA, and back in Britain. The northern Indians joined the British alliance without significant change to their known ways of fighting for centuries. The British knew of these habits, as did the Americans, but the lack of manpower led the British to overlook the risks of releasing Indians to fight traditionally whilst Britain was trying to fight to European conventions on the law of war. 32 It was a case of needs dictating the approach, because the fight in Europe was for survival. Unfortunately this decision was to cost them in the battle of honour. After a devastatingly successful battle on the River Raisin, near modern day Detroit, in January 1813 British officers left the area and trusted their Indian allies with the many prisoners taken, mainly Kentucky militiamen. The Indians killed some of the prisoners, including wounded, who had been left in their care by the British commander, Colonel Henry Procter. Procter later condemned the massacre, but it was widely felt on the British as well as the American side that Procter precipitated the atrocity by his hasty withdrawal and casual dismissal of the concerns of the Americans. 33 There were other lesser atrocities, but no epidemic of them.
30 31 32 33
Willig (2008), pp. 1-9 Starkey (1998) pp. 164-165 Fabel (1980), pp. 206-207 Mahon (1972), pp. 130-131 20
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However, the fear of them vexed many in the British establishment. Would they win the ideological fight in Europe only to be ‘barbarians’ in the USA?
In early 1814, Royal Navy Vice-Admiral Alexander Cochrane became the new North American station commander, but was focussing most of his efforts in the southern waters. The British felt the gulf coast was strategically important to the USA, because the ports of Mobile and New Orleans provided a vital communications outlet for the agricultural exports from the trans-Appalachian states and territories.34 Cochrane renewed the idea of using the southern Indians to strike the gulf coast in conjunction with the Governor of the Bahamas, Charles Cameron, who had been an early supporter of Stirling’s recommendations.35 The plan was not enthusiastically accepted at first due to manpower shortages. Subsequently, Cochrane and Cameron proposed the plan to London again with the significant alteration that the Indians would be the main component of the force. This led to a reconsideration by London. Consequently, the British secretary of state for war and colonies, the Earl of Bathurst, decided to assault the Gulf of Mexico coast to force the USA to move troops and supplies away from the Great Lakes, Northeast, and Chesapeake Bay theaters. The British leadership knew something of the Creek War in the south, but most certainly did not know of the decisive defeat that had been handed to warring faction of the Creeks at Horseshoe Bend in March 1814 when the British were making their plans at approximately the same time.36
34 35 36
Owsley (1967), pp. 115-117 CO 23/60 ( 30 Nov 1813), p. 131 Mahon (1966) pp. 287-291 21
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Unlike the situation in the north, Britain had to start from scratch in the gulf campaign. Their geographical connection with the southern tribes had been severed with the loss of Florida to the Spanish as part of the Treaty of Paris in 1783. Due to the absence of the British and the feebleness of the Spanish, many of the southern Indians had resigned themselves to the American way. In fact, all but a small portion of southern Indians spurned Tecumseh’s advances on a trip to southern tribes in 1811 to solicit their inclusion in his confederation. Some of the southern Indians, such as the Cherokees, were even enthusiastic supporters of the Americans in their suppression of the warring faction of the Creek Indians. Operationally, the British would use the southern Indians even more conventionally than they had in the north. It was a force that would be recruited, trained and deployed as a unit of Colonial Marines, but with part of a regular British Royal Marine unit integrated. There is no clear indication in the record of why Admiral Cochrane chose to bring the southern Indians not only into alliance, but under British command as a British unit with a substantial Royal Marine cadre. However, the war had been on for nearly two years at this point, so the Indian atrocities, such as the River Raisin massacre, might have come to his mind. Bathurst definitely had some qualms on the issue. 37 The Indians that the British were recruiting had certainly belonged to bands that had participated in the Ft. Mims Massacre in 1813 which set off the Creek War, but there is also no indication in the record that Cochrane had any knowledge of this massacre at the time of his decision. As with so many command decisions, it was most likely a combination of limited information, general knowledge of how combat develops, and instinct. To avoid atrocities, it was a good decision, but it is questionable whether the Indians value as allies was improved with the move.
Mahon (1966) pp. 285 22
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Although the British had finally committed to using the Creeks in their effort to assault the gulf coast, they were too late to help the Creeks fight for their own homeland. By April 1814 when Cochrane started landing supplies and weapons, Andrew Jackson, a Tennessee militia commander, had already defeated the warring faction of the Creeks, the ‘Red Sticks’, in battle at Horseshoe Bend in present day Alabama.38 Horseshoe Bend was one of the most devastating defeats of Indians in North American history and came at the end of a vicious, year long war where both sides employed the tactics of the back country. Jackson employed USA friendly ‘White Stick’ Creeks, Choctaws, and Cherokees against the Red Sticks in both conventional and unconventional ways. Jackson was not the only militia commander in the Creek War, but was the most successful by far. Much of Jackson’s success could be attributed to employing Indian forces in the appropriate manner, even when his own militia were in mutiny. Jackson later became a Major General and the commander of the 7th Military District of the USA which encompassed the central gulf coast and was charged with defending the area from British invasion.
From Prospect Bluff near the mouth of the Apalachicola River in Spanish West Florida, the British began recruiting the bloodied but unbowed remnants of the Red Stick Creeks along with the local Seminoles, who feared similar treatment from Jackson, in the spring and summer of 1814. Cochrane sent Captain Hugh Pigot in the frigate HMS Orpheus with a message to the Indian chiefs, presents, and a stand of two-thousand muskets with ammunition in April 1814. Pigot anchored in Apalachicola Bay in Spanish West Florida on 11 May 1814. Captain-General Ruiz Apodoca, Spanish Governor at
Owsley (2000), pp. 72-85 23
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Havana, had been consulted and had given the British vague latitude to operate in the Floridas as long as they stayed away from the population centres of St. Augustine, St. Marks and Pensacola. Pigot landed a small Royal Marine detachment led by acting Lieutenant of Marines, George Woodbine. 39 Pigot had picked up Woodbine, a white Jamaican trader, when he had stopped to pick up provisions from Bahamas Governor Charles Cameron. In the past, Woodbine had traded with the Indians that Pigot was seeking and knew many of the chiefs. Woodbine did not disappoint and returned shortly with ten Creek and Seminole chiefs and an interpreter. Pigot promoted Woodbine to Brevet Captain for his services. The chiefs told of the recent war and defeat at the hands of Andrew Jackson at Horseshoe Bend. They pleaded for supplies as their people were scattered in the surrounding swamps and starving. Pigot told Woodbine to purchase food for the Indians from the local trading post at Prospect Bluff on the Apalachicola River operated by Forbes and Company. Pigot was impressed with the martial enthusiasm to attack the USA still held by the chiefs. Pigot left supplies and arms, two marine non-commissioned officers to drill the Indians in bayonet use. He appointed Woodbine as the British Agent for the Creeks before weighing anchor and penning his report to Cochrane. He was also carrying a letter from the Indians to Cochrane which expressed the chiefs commitment to the British cause.40 Pigot’s June 1814 report largely corroborated with Cameron’s and Stirling’s previous assessments. 41 Cochrane was so enamoured with the idea that he told Bathurst that he needed even fewer troops from the European theatre than originally requested. The Indians would make up the difference. At this point, London became much more interested in the plan and approved it. The plan was put in motion to increase the effort on the
39 ADM 40 ADM 41
1/506 (June 8, 1814) pp. 394-397, Sugden (1982) pp. 280-281 1/506 (June 8, 1814) pp. 401-402
Owsley (2000) pp. 98-99 24
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Apalachicola River with supplies and support in the form of a Royal Marine unit, led by Major Edward Nicolls, with the aim of supporting a full blown assault on the gulf coast.
In the summer period between Pigot leaving and Cochrane sending in the full complement of Royal Marines to train the Indians, Woodbine spoke to the willing Indians about the strength of the British and the weakness of the Americans. He built a fort at Prospect Bluff and continued the talk of British military assistance and training. Interestingly, Woodbine already had the idea that the Indians should be warned that European standards of care would have to be taken with any prisoners taken in the name of the British. The chiefs even signed a document to this effect. Woodbine may have been concerned about this after hearing the narrative of what had gone on in the Creek War, which was a nasty civil war as well as an insurgency against American control. In Nassau and Jamaica, Woodbine would have been well connected to the news traveling through the British fleet and the issues with Indian atrocities in Canada would have been discussed. Woodbine has sometimes been portrayed as either in awe of Nicolls’ ideas or a calculating trader, but his action on this issue could only mean one of two things. Either Woodbine held the same values on this issue as the military professionals or he was sophisticated enough to know that his future as an British Indian Agent depended on his getting the Indians to act in ways that the leadership desired, including committing no atrocities in the British name. Whatever his reasons, Woodbine had set the stage for the idea that the Indians would be expected to operate as the British did at least as far as the law of war was concerned. Woodbine sent out emissaries to the other Indians in the area and began the propaganda to bring the disaffected Indians into the British fold. This effort met with limited success, but there was a steady flow of new arrivals. However, for every warrior
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that came, there were another two women and children who also needed food, clothing and shelter. Eventually, Woodbine could not handle the logistical requirements from Prospect Bluff, even after having taken over the Forbes and Company post. By August, Woodbine had begun moving some of his force to Pensacola where staple goods could be acquired more readily.42
In July 1814, Royal Marine Major Edward Nicolls, with the local rank of Colonel, departed Cochrane with instructions to train the Indians and prepare for operations against the Americans on the Gulf of Mexico coast of the USA. Nicolls was given wide latitude to operate as required, but with three specific instructions that were particular to the Indians. First, Nicolls was to train the Indians in an ‘organized mode of warfare’. Second, he was to cause no offense to the Indian chiefs and only assume what power they offered him over them. Finally, Nicolls was to persuade the Indians to ‘desist from the practice of scalping and other species of cruelties’ when they take prisoners. Even if he could not persuade them to desist with their prisoners, Nicolls was to make sure that the acts were not committed on prisoners under his command.43 These three specifics are interesting to investigate further. Vice-Admiral Cochrane was obviously concerned about potential atrocities. The record does not reveal if Cochrane has a general fear of these acts when working with Indians or is acting on specific information. The fact that Woodbine had already addressed this issue in May and Cochrane is now repeating it may indicate that it was part of a wider and general concern. Cochrane might have given Pigot the same instructions and they were passed on to Woodbine, but there is no record of it. However, Cochrane is still very sensitive to the Indians’ sensibilities and customs in telling Nicolls
Sugden (1982), pp. 280-284 1/506, (4 July 1814) pp. 480-485, Brown (1969), p. 27 26
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not to over-step his command authority. The instruction to drill the Indians in organised warfare could be read in two ways. It may have been simply the British wanting the Indians to be more effective or it could have been designed as a way to keep control of them and prevent atrocities. If the latter, it was definitely a question of military honour and may have been a hindering factor in their use, but what of the former? It has been argued that the British chose to attack in the gulf the way they did, because they had seen the American militia break and run at the first encounter in the Chesapeake campaign. However, this correspondence was given to Nicolls before the Chesapeake Bay campaign. It is true that Cochrane held a dim view of American military prowess in general, but the Chesapeake campaign was very influential in this regard and it certainly influenced the British Army’s view at New Orleans.
After arriving at Prospect Bluff and finding that Woodbine had decamped to Pensacola, Nicolls dropped some supplies and headed to Pensacola as well. Nicolls had brought a proclamation from Cochrane to the Indians as well.44 Cochrane proclaimed the British resolve to help the Indians in return for their assistance in fighting the Americans. Most of August was spent in Pensacola creating a nuisance for the Spanish Governor Manrique. The presence of the British and a sizeable Indian force attracted the attention of Andrew Jackson who had just finished his Treaty of Fort Jackson that stripped the Creeks of twenty-three million acres of their land. Nicolls welcomed Jackson’s attentions, but Manrique did not. Nicolls was a busy man in August 1814. Not only was he preparing for his mission, he was busy writing proclamations to the Kentuckians and proposals to the Baratarian Pirates to enlist their help. To prove that he knew something of the war in the
WO 1/143 (1 July 1814) Proclamation 27
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north, Nicolls mentions that the Kentuckians had shouldered too much of the burden for their wicked nation already. The Kentucky militia had taken the bulk of the American casualties in the war, including the two massacres at the hands of British allied Indians at the River Raisin and Fort Meigs.45 One wonders what the Kentuckians thought when they found out that Nicolls wanted them to surrender to his force of Indians. This obviously was propaganda, but what is more indicative of Nicolls thinking was his first order to his ‘first colonial battalion of the royal corps of marines’. As Nicolls gets warmed up, he reminds his marines that the mother country was just finishing with twenty-one years of toil and that it was not just in defense of the country, but also for ‘all of those who groaned in the chains of oppression’. The Americans are now the oppressors and it is not just the Indians and the slaves they are after. Spain has been touched again and was now ‘struggling for the greatest of all possible blessings (true liberty)’. In encouraging his marines to avenge the Spanish, he stirs them with the rallying cry of ‘Valour, then, and humanity!’ Sir Walter Scott would have recognised the character that Nicolls was creating in the Florida swamps.46
Nicolls saves his best for the end of his first order, though. It concerns his views of his Indian charges and it warrants quoting more extensively;
As to the Indians, you are to exhibit to them the most exact discipline, being a pattern to those children of nature, you will have to teach and instruct them: in doing which you will manifest the utmost patience, and you will correct them when they deserve it.
Fabel (1980) pp. 206-207 Millett ( 2005), p. 237 28
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But you will regard their affections and antipathies, and never give them just cause for offence. Sobriety, above all things, should be your greatest care -- a single instance of drunkenness may be our ruin: I declare to you, in the most solemn manner, that no consideration whatsoever shall induce me to forgive a drunkard...Sobriety is your first duty; I ask of you the observance of it among your brethren.47
Nicolls really is restricting his combat power deeply with this order. Not only is he ignoring the fact that many of the Indian warriors have more combat experience, having held Andrew Jackson at bay for a year, than his marines, but by spreading this infantilisation of the Indians to his troops, he is creating a force that will be more concerned with taking care of their charges than defeating the enemy. In the name of providing a Rousseauian education, Nicolls is risking the whole mission. Although Cochrane had mentioned most of the components of this directive, it is hard to read his instructions to Nicolls in such a light. Cochrane had envisioned thousands of Indian warriors to support his campaign, but this order makes them victims of their birth. The use of run-away slaves in this cause is out of scope of this paper, but suffice it to say that Nicolls pours on the heart rending treatment of Christian brotherhood for them as well. Nicolls appeared to be a pre-cursor of the Victorian gentlemen working in the world on behalf of the oppressed. As an interesting technological point, Nicolls encouraged fighting with the bayonet primarily to exhibit honourable behaviour. 48 This technique is in stark
Latour (2008), Appendix XII, pp. 199-200 Millett (2005), p. 237-238 29
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contrast to the use of long rifles by the Kentuckians to inflict terrible casualties on the British at the Battle of New Orleans.
Although the scalping prohibition was dictated by Cochrane, Nicolls and Woodbine seemed to have believed in the righteousness of the idea and more. Correspondence between the two shared their hopes for the improvement of the noble savages by such restraints. This included some soaring language that separates Woodbine and Nicolls from other British officers of the time. In October 1814, Woodbine confided in Nicolls that he felt ‘not a little proud in having been the first instrument of inducing them to lay aside the tomahawk and the scalping knife’. He continued that the chiefs were willing to liberate their slaves even though it was financially disadvantageous to them. Finally, Woodbine sounds like a missionary by telling Nicolls that the Indians ‘only want the fostering hand of instruction and light of Christianity to mature’ to be civilised.49 Looking at these issues chronologically, one could imagine Woodbine just sycophantically saying what Nicolls liked to hear, but the fact is that Woodbine broached the issue of preserving prisoners with the Indians long before meeting Nicolls, so it is not impossible that he held strong views on slavery, liberty and Christianity as well.
Simultaneous to the Indian recruitment in West Florida, British operations in the Iberian peninsula against Napoleon were coming to a close. The war weary British nation, especially the long suffering Royal Navy sailors, were not in the mood to travel across the Atlantic for another war, but the British government did transport some extra veteran troops to participate in the gulf coast assault, including one of Britain’s best young
Sugden (1982), pp. 298-299 30
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Generals, Edward Pakenham. The availability of these troops eventually meant that the Indians would not be in the main assault force, but supporting units that would hold down American forces in Florida, Georgia and present day Alabama whilst the main body attempted to capture New Orleans.50 This was a change to the original plan, but it was a mission that the Indians were supremely more capable to perform. Nicolls and his Royal Marine detachment continued to land a significant number of weapons, uniforms, and accoutrements and drilled the Indians in British military skills in Pensacola and in the countryside around Prospect Bluff on the Apalachicola River.51 By the Autumn of 1814, this unconventional force led by Nicolls was ready to begin operations. As the first part of the British operational plan, Nicolls’ force was to operate near Pensacola and Mobile to draw American forces to the area in the belief that Mobile was to be the main point of British attack. If the operations were successful, Nicolls was to turn west and scout the routes to the New Orleans. The presence of the British and Indian force certainly had Jackson’s attention and he was busy moving units to the area and constantly reconnoitering the gulf coast for suspected British landings.
On September 12th, 1814, Nicolls and Captain William Percy of the Royal Navy conducted a joint assault on Fort Bowyer, which protected the entrance to Mobile Bay, in preparation for attacking Mobile. Insufficient reconnaissance of the waters surrounding Fort Bowyer and an amphibious assault that relied on brute force and poor American defences doomed the operation from the start. Nicolls’ Indian and Marine force of approximately 250 attacked the fort from the land in a conventional manner with one artillery piece whilst Percy assaulted with a small naval force from the shallow waters
Owsley (2000), pp. 134-135 Boyd (1937) p.70 31
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around Fort Bowyer. Other than the Indians on shore, Nicolls’ force in Royal Navy vessels never saw action. The defenders of the Fort Bowyer were not the raw militia that the British had come to expect from the Americans, but US Infantry regulars who fought admirably and defended the fort. The Americans won the three day battle by blowing up the Royal Navy ship, HMS Hermes and holding Nicolls’ Indians at bay with grape shot.52 The reason for the British failure was fundamental. The British did not have a well prepared and sufficiently sized assault force for an amphibious attack and the supporting ships were not prepared for a vigorous artillery duel.53 The British had simply expected the defenders to break and run at the sight of a combined land and sea attack on an exposed fort. Jackson was present at Mobile during the battle and heard the explosion of Hermes, but did not arrive in time to witness the battle. The attack was a disaster for Nicolls’ hopes of using the Indians in a pro-active campaign to support the main British landings, but had inadvertently accomplished its diversionary purpose as Jackson became ever more convinced that the British would attack Mobile in force. Successful as a diversion or not, it put a wet blanket over Nicolls’ hopes and raised the hopes of the American troops in the region. Nicolls retired to Pensacola to prepare for the next operation.54
Nicolls was unsure of how his force would be received on their return. The British had met with the Spanish Governor Manrique of Pensacola again, who was very concerned about an American attack, because Andrew Jackson had made clear that he thought the Spanish were aiding and abetting the British and Indians. The British eventually convinced Governor Manrique that only Nicolls and his Indian force could protect Pensacola from
Owsley (2000), pp. 101-112 1/505 (9 Sep & 16 Sep 1814), pp. 152-162
53 ADM 54
Brown (1969), pp. 45-46 32
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American attack.55 However, Manrique’s prevarication on whether to allow Nicolls to fully prepare Pensacola for a defence against Jackson meant the plan was unworkable from the beginning. This was not helped by Nicolls’ high-handedness and Woodbine’s recruitment of Spanish slaves into the British force. Spanish citizens were none too impressed with former slaves and Indians patrolling their streets in British uniforms.56 What began as an operation to protect the Spanish became an oppression itself. By early November 1814, Nicolls, Woodbine and their detachment were not very popular. On November 7th, 1814, Jackson invaded Pensacola with a combined force of three regiments of regulars, militia, and a Choctaw element. Manrique surrendered the town with no more than a few shots fired. Nicolls had not been allowed prepare the town nor the forts for defence, so he blew up Fort Barrancas near Pensacola and proceeded to evacuate Pensacola by ship for Prospect Bluff again.57 Ironically, Manrique was pleasantly surprised by Jackson’s magnanimity after the invasion. Jackson had learned a little about diplomacy and denied an important staging point to the British. However, Nicolls’ force had evaded Jackson and was still at large. Jackson still did not know where the British would land their main force, but was starting to lean towards New Orleans as the two British attempts on Mobile and Pensacola were obviously not the main force. He would still need to defend Mobile, but morale amongst his troops and the region was growing and he now had Nicolls’ force on the defensive. 58
55 ADM 56 57 58
1/505 (2 Nov 1814), p. 171
Millett (2005), pp. 244-250 Fisher (1949) pp. 326-329, ADM 1/505 (18 Nov 1814) pp. 172-174 Remini (1998), pp. 242-243 33
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At this point, it became clear that Nicolls’ Indian force would not play a significant role in supporting the British regulars in the main assault on the gulf coast. However, they had proven their worth in creating a diversion. Jackson was still obsessed with them and was determined to provide Nicolls and the Indians no respite. Intelligence was telling him that the Indians were now congregating at Prospect Bluff again with large stores of ammunition to begin raiding the back country. Cochrane had determined by now that the main British landings would be at New Orleans. Once Jackson got word of this, through his excellent intelligence network, he moved himself to New Orleans to conduct the defence personally. However, Jackson had to send a force under Major Uriah Blue to search out Nicolls’ force and keep it at bay. Jackson also called up the Georgia militia to supplement a friendly Creek element led by Benjamin Hawkins, the USA’ Creek Indian Superintendent. Hawkins’ force of two-thousand, five-hundred was to strike down from the north and Blue from the west towards Prospect Bluff on the Apalachicola River. These two forces along with the force needed to protect Mobile and the regulars at Fort Bowyer were a serious drain on Jackson’s total troop strength and he knew it. In this respect, Nicolls’ force was a major success.
Major Uriah Blue’s force warrants a full discussion as it highlights some of the differences in the way back country warfare was executed. Nicolls had recruited an Indian force that was experienced in harsh terrain of the area and had long experience in the type of warfare that had bedeviled Jackson at the beginning of the Creek War. The Creeks had been successful for approximately a year when the Americans were finding it impossible to provision their columns. The Creeks had harryied them continuously and even won several small engagements. However, the two heavy defeats that the Creeks had experienced were
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at Holy Ground and Horseshoe Bend when they had attempted western style defences. At Holy Ground, with disastrously predictable results, the Creek holy men had convinced their warriors that they could hold their sacred village due to magic that would stop the Americans like a force field.59 At Horseshoe Bend, the Creeks had set up European style breastworks across the opening of a horseshoe shaped bend in the Tallapoosa River. The loss there still stands as the largest single loss of Indian life in battle with the USA.60 Up to this point, Nicolls had used his force to defend the small town of Pensacola and conduct an amphibious attack on Fort Bowyer which were not exactly missions within the Indians’ skill set. Only in retreat was Nicolls actually drawing the Americans into a style of fighting that evened the odds slightly.
The reason that fighting in the back country of Alabama, Georgia and Florida was so difficult was that movement and logistics were so heavily restricted. Major Blue waited at Mobile for provisions that never came, so he eventually set off on 8 December 1814 with less than a month’s rations. Blue had one-thousand mounted riflemen, including the later famous Davy Crockett acting as a scout, and fifty-three Choctaws to harass Nicolls in the West Florida marshes between Apalachicola and Pensacola. In contrast to Nicolls’ lofty rhetoric, Crockett was far more down to earth in saying Blue’s mission was to ‘kill up the Indians on the Scamby [Escambia] river’. In treacherous weather that had turned the trails to mud and swollen the rivers and creeks, Blue’s troops took off in pursuit of Nicolls’ force. Not long after, Choctaw scouts found two hostile Creek warriors and decapitated them. Afterwards, they ritually beat the skulls as did Crockett. Crockett’s group continued and found a slain and scalped Spanish family. Shortly thereafter, the force found a sizeable
Owsley (2000), pp. 47-48 Owsley (2000), pp. 79-81 35
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Creek camp and demanded surrender. The Creeks refused and twenty Creek warriors were killed and one-hundred and fifty warriors, women and children were taken prisoner. USA allied Chickasaws began scalping the dead Creeks, before the Americans could stop them. At another camp, several more were killed or captured and some were chased all the way back to Pensacola before being captured. Blue had sent elements in every direction to hound the Creeks in their camps, but could not get anywhere near Prospect Bluff before running dangerously low on rations by Christmas 1814. Several false reports led Blue’s force on more expeditions in hopes of capturing rations, but all failed. Blue’s force returned to civilisation on 9 January 1815 looking like ghosts, but without a single casualty. Blue’s endeavours show to what lengths the Americans would go to hold down Nicolls force, but also how they had no real qualms in using allied Indians in a form of warfare they knew very well. Little more is known about the specifics of the campaign, but Nicolls acknowledged later in life that the force harried his Indians with ferocious small unit fights all throughout the West Florida marshes and rivers. However, with Blue’s force, the regulars at Fort Bowyer, Mobile, and militia units from Georgia having to hold the area in defense of Nicolls’ Indians, the diversionary mission was a great success. Nicoll’s Indians fought Blue and conducted limited raids in southern Georgia, but were never heavily engaged again in the war. 61
What was left of the British gulf campaign was the series of battles over Christmas of 1814 and New Year 1815 that would come to be known collectively as the Battle of New Orleans. Nicolls and some of the Indian chiefs were present at the 8 January 1815 battle at Chalmette plains, near New Orleans, but did not participate in the battle itself.
Rucker (1995), pp. 328-336, O’Brien (2003), pp. 180-182 36
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Nicolls, being the senior Royal Marine present, asserted his right to lead the marine force of two-hundred that helped Colonel Thornton nearly turn Jackson’s flank by taking the American position on the west side of the Mississippi River.62 However, Cochrane, not knowing that a peace had been agreed in Ghent on Christmas Eve, refused to let Nicolls take command as he was too valuable to the success of the Indian force to lose. Conjecture could easily build a case that Nicolls force could have made the difference on the west bank, but balance would demand that Jackson would have had Major Blue’s force and more Georgia militia present as well. Cochrane attempted Fort Bowyer again in February 1815 with British forces only, took it handily, and was preparing to assault Mobile when news of the Treaty of Ghent arrived on HMS Brazen.
The Battle of New Orleans holds one last salient story that helps expose the different ways the USA and Britain saw honourable action and the use of Indians. Between the major engagements that constituted the Battle of New Orleans, the British complained to the USA commander, Major General Andrew Jackson, about the shooting and scalping of British sentries in the night by Choctaw ‘assassins’. The response was a stereotypically Jacksonian, ‘sentinels of the opposing armies would be running great risks to drink out of the same stream’.63 Lieutenant Gleig of the British Army tells this story and reminds his reader that French and British sentries in Spain would exist twenty yards apart and not fire at each other unless a major attack was about to begin. 64 This single example would not, on its own, raise a question. However, the use of Indians in the broader campaign and the particular circumstances that they were recruited, trained, and led does.
62 63 64
Owsley (2000), pp. 153-164 Brown (1969) p. 109 & 118, Buchanan (2001), p. 352 Gleig (1836), pp. 313-314, Holmes (2001), p. 374 37
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To determine whether military honour hindered the effective use of Nicolls’ Indians, a review is needed of three primary components. First, the personalities and actions of the three main actors (Cochrane, Nicolls, and Woodbine) that influenced the use of the Indians most must be examined. Second, the effect of the Indians’ preparation and deployment must be considered to determined whether a change in these activities could have caused a better outcome. Finally, one must examine the comparative effect on strategy, weapons, and tactics.
Personalities Cochrane was blinded by his hatred for the Americans, partially due to his loss of a brother in the American Revolutionary War.65 His familial honour group demanded that the traitors be taught a lesson. Since the Americans were still traitors in his eyes and traitors possessed contemptible characters and ethics, they could not withstand the noble and disciplined actions of British troops. Cochrane had gained this opinion not only from his personal distaste, but the actions of the American militia around the Chesapeake Bay campaign had solidified the position in his mind. An interesting linkage is that the Chesapeake Bay campaign had been a huge success for Cochrane’s forces, but there were the lingering accusations of breaches in the laws of war surrounding Admiral Cockburn’s actions. This issue combined with the ongoing debate as to whether British troops in Canada had relied too much on their Indian allies, with the atrocities that almost inevitably came with Indian style warfare, meant Cochrane had a heightened sensitivity to how
Bartlett and Smith (2004) p. 176 38
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Indians would be used in the gulf campaign. Although the Bladensburg and Washington part of the Chesapeake campaign, in August 1814, had yet to occur when Cochrane issued his orders to Nicolls in July 1814, Admiral Cockburn had been earning the name ‘Go-burn’ in the Chesapeake area since March of 1813. Most Britons did not think there was anything untoward in Cockburn’s tactics. However, some notable names were questioning specific actions.66 Therefore, the specific instructions to spare prisoners, the issue of British uniforms and accoutrements, training, and a significant cadre of Royal Marines to keep order would have provided Cochrane with some ethical cover when the heavier accusations about the Washington campaign raised eyebrows in London. Cochrane was a senior Admiral with social standing in Britain and he inevitably wanted not only success in the war, but also an honourable reputation that he could defend with evidence of his actions to prevent atrocities on his watch. This was most likely a determining factor in personally requesting Nicolls to lead the Marine party on his command ship, since a temperate man with strong views on military honour would be the most trustworthy in such an independent command.67
By the Autumn, Cochrane knew he would be receiving a large force of regulars to assault the gulf coast, so he no longer needed to rely on the Indians to perform the main assault. He must have been relieved by this fact when he learned of the Indians’ drubbing at Fort Bowyer and Pensacola. Cochrane is suspiciously quiet in the record on the Indians’ performance. We do not know if he was pleased with their progress under Nicolls’ tutelage. Captain Percy faced an inquiry into his conduct at Fort Bowyer, but surely several hundred Indian warriors and Royal Marines should have been held to a higher standard in attacking
Bartlett (2004) pp. 182-186 1/505 (5 January 1814) p. 23 39
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an isolated, hastily built outpost with or without naval support? The British Army, after the defeat at New Orleans, took the same fort in short order six months later. When he ordered Nicolls to use his force to threaten the Georgia back country, Cochrane was finally starting to get a return on his investment. This fact begs the question of why Cochrane did not use the Indians for this mission much earlier. There are three possible explanations. First, Cochrane did not expect to get the large number of British troops and thought he would need the Indians in the major operations. This is unlikely as there is ample evidence that Cochrane believed up to twenty-thousand British troops could be available from Europe.68 Second, Cochrane really did fear setting the Indians loose on the back country for fear of atrocities. This is more likely, but still doubtful. Cochrane had set up the operation with a Royal Marine Major in command and a detachment of one-hundred Royal Marines, so there would be ample oversight to help avoid atrocities. Third, and most believably, Cochrane’s incredibly low opinion of the Americans convinced him that he just might be able to accomplish his mission with such a small and irregular force. Along with the instruction to prevent scalping was the instruction to teach the Indians the British way of war. Cochrane thought that the Indians, with a stiff Royal Marine cadre and the right training, could take the ‘whining, canting race’ of Americans.69
Nicolls was a stereotypical Royal Marine. He was a man with a bias for action and trustworthy in the most difficult of circumstances. His coming of age in the Royal Marines of the reforming Earl St. Vincent almost guaranteed these traits. The trust given to the Royal Marines after the mutiny crisis in the late 1790s and their newly minted Royal designation meant the young officers in this service would have held a particularly high
Bartlett (1994), p. 154 Ibid. p. 152 40
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standard of honour in their honour group. This standard, the prevailing culture of the times, and his personality had obviously lead Nicolls to further thoughts on the honour of the individual. Nicolls keenly felt the responsibility to raise underprivileged groups to the higher level of honour that he had had the great fortune to be imbued with in his career. Not only was the ethical part of his character highly developed, but he was ‘Fighting Nicolls’, ‘possibly the most distinguished officer the Corps ever had’.70 Nicolls possessed a personal courage that would have made an impact on any group, but especially his Indian brothers. Nicolls experience and his charmed combat record led him to believe that any honourable group that possessed the right tools and training could accomplish their goals. Nicolls did not evidence any pre-existing hatred of the Americans, as did Cochrane, but his proximity to the Indians and slaves that had been dealt such rough treatment by the Americans heightened his feeling of injustice. Therefore, Nicolls had a low view of the honour of the Americans that he was facing. If Nicolls had a flaw as a Royal Marine, it would have been his lack of subtlety in an unconventional warfare scenario. Nicolls’ inability to understand that although the Creeks were still living their native lifestyles, they were not children of nature any more. There warrior ethos was highly developed and they had spent years dealing with the whites in the area. They were the victims in the end, but certainly not innocent of all wrong-doing either. Nicolls did not realise that the British were not the model the Creeks wanted to live up to, but a last ditch opportunity to regain their losses. Additionally, Nicolls’ ham fisted handling of the Pensacola situation, and much of the Indian activities after the war, probably doomed that area to American control more certainly than any Spanish action. Nicolls acted as he had been trained and how he
Smith (1974) pp. 45-46 41
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trained himself to act. These actions were highly admirable, but in the murky world of borderland diplomacy, Nicolls was a babe in the woods.
Unlike Nicolls, George Woodbine was not a career Royal Marine. Woodbine was a stereotypical Indian trader of the era. Woodbine saw opportunity when others saw difficulty. When asked to lead Pigot and the HMS Orpheus to the Apalachicola River to engage the Indians, Woodbine jumped at the chance and never looked back. Every action from that point forward was taken to further involve the British in West Florida. Woodbine knew the local situation and knew that Forbes and Company held a lucrative license to trade in the area. If this could be re-arranged, Woodbine would gain a key advantage in the area. Later actions in the lead up to the first Seminole War of 1818 shows him to be still trying to establish a profitable trading base in the area. He held hopes of Britain reclaiming Florida and his reclaiming his old role as Creek Agent. The American government accused him of repetitively stoking up Indian resentment with false promises of Britain’s return to the area. 71 This does not mean that Woodbine was insincere in the era of the gulf campaign. His reports to Pigot and Nicolls are very consistent on his commitment to bring a higher way of life to the Indians which he views to be the very archetype of the noble savage. Very little more is known about Woodbine and what does exist is coloured heavily by American accusations in the lead up to the First Seminole War, so are suspect. For the purposes of this paper’s inquiry Woodbine has to be considered a neutral. Whether he instigated the ban on scalping is interesting, but not the most important issue. Cochrane’s orders to Nicolls and Nicolls’ over-zealous application would have most likely forced Woodbine to go along, even if he disagreed. There is the slight possibility that Woodbine
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influenced Nicolls, but a man of Nicolls’s stature and experience would not have likely succumbed to the ideas of Woodbine, if he did not want to or think they were militarily viable for his command.
Preparation and Deployment The voices that would be most interesting to hear are the Indians themselves. Sadly, like so much of American Indian history, whatever history there was from the Indians was oral and has either not been documented or lost. What the Indians thought of the Royal Navy, Nicolls, and Woodbine is limited to a handful of notes. These few documents that were written for the Indians by translators, often British agents, were mostly cloying requests for more aid. The destitute Creeks and Seminoles seemed to be willing to do anything within reason to please the British and continue their aid. However, we can compare the deployment detailed by the British against how the Americans used their Indian allies. As previously mentioned, the Americans used Choctaws, Chickasaws, Cherokees, and friendly Creeks in the campaign. The most active were the Choctaws. Choctaws moved in a conventional formation with Jackson in his attack on Pensacola. They also worked the lines as snipers, provided scouting screens, and held the swampy left side of the line at New Orleans for USA Major Pierre Jugeat. At the same time as the battle of New Orleans, a band of Choctaws with their prominent chief, Pushmataha, were patrolling the West Florida swamps with Major Uriah Blue. The range of activities are different to Nicolls’ use of his Indians in mission, temperament, and skills deployed. The Choctaws were led by a USA officer, but given wide latitude in performing skills that were natural to them like scouting, tracking, stalking, and shooting at distance. These were the skills of a hunting party and to most southern Indians they were learned from youth. The
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British, on the other hand, emphasised the use of the bayonet and drilled their Indians in standard Royal Marine drill. Nicolls used them in an amphibious operation, a defence of a town, and finally, when all else seemed to fail, as a frontier settlement raiding force. There is no indication that the Creeks and Seminole warriors objected to this training and the deployments, but one suspects they would have thought it quite odd.
Strategy, Weapons, and Tactics Tactically, the Choctaw sniping along the picket lines at New Orleans was especially effective. The Choctaws, in conjunction with Mississippi dragoons and Tennessee riflemen, denied the British any reconnaissance of the American line on the Chalmette plains. One story in particular highlights two differences in the use of Indians. A Choctaw warrior known as Poindexter made money by shooting British sentries, infiltrating the post, recovering the short, thick, and heavy rifles to sell to American officers as souvenirs. First, this type of action was considered unsporting by the British and was presumably not allowed for their Indians to practice. Second, the Choctaws, like many of the Americans were using long rifles, whilst the British issued standard muskets to their Indians which had a very short effective range. Hence, the emphasis on the bayonet. For the close quarter fighting of cutting out expeditions and boarding parties that the marines were most familiar with, this made sense. However, for fighting in the American back country, it was a self imposed handicap. This technological differentiation made a big difference at New Orleans. As another romantic writer, Thomas Carlyle, would say, ‘the rifle made all men tall’.72
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One particular missing tactic is puzzling. The Americans could not disrupt the British rear, because it was afloat and the Royal Navy owned the Gulf of Mexico. The USA’s navy assets were kept very close to New Orleans for fear of the British. However, the American rear was very lightly defended with small militia units converging on the southern coast from every northern direction. Ambushes by the British Indians who knew this area intimately would have made an enormous impact with little risk of major loss. This tactic of guerilla warfare was not unknown to the British, because they had worked on the winning side of the Spanish guerilla actions in the Peninsular War. As Michael Glover has pointed out, ‘[i]t was these obscure triumphs—a platoon shot down in an ambush, a courier and his message captured as he galloped across the plain—which made possible the orthodox victories of Wellington and his Anglo-Portuguese army…’.73 However, this was a tactic of the weak in British ideas. It was something you did when you could not face your enemy on an equal footing. Nicolls thought so little of the Americans that he wanted to face them down and prove that he and his Indians were their betters.
Strategy was the final point where the British need to confront the Americans inappropriately got the better of them. Although, it is arguable that Nicolls and Percy succeeded in creating a diversion for Cochrane when they attempted to take Fort Bowyer in preparation for Mobile, they did it in the most ostentatious way. Had they merely landed at any one of the hundreds of inlets between Pensacola and Mobile and infiltrated into Mobile, or even by-passed it, they could have threatened so much more and would have probably caused Jackson to draw far more away from New Orleans. At Pensacola, Nicolls condescension and high-handedness with the Spanish showed that he did not understand
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the strategic stakes at risk of losing this part of West Florida as a staging area. Only as a last resort did Nicolls move his Indians into a defensible position that was also threatening. By moving back to Prospect Bluff, Nicolls and his Indians were tying up the better part of five-thousand American troops and allies with minimal casualties and minimal cost. This part of the mission was an unqualified success. It seems to have been the reverse of Winston Churchill’s famous dictum on the Americans, ‘[t]he Americans will always do the right thing... after they've exhausted all the alternatives.’
The inability of the British strategic intelligence to learn from the Creek War about what they were facing in Andrew Jackson and the southern militias prevented Cochrane and Nicolls from making an honest assessment of the Indians usefulness in the campaign. If they had understood what they were facing, they may still have not used the Indians in ways that would have risked atrocities, but they could have saved a lot of time, effort, and resources that could have been spent elsewhere more effectively. British resources in supplying Prospect Bluff would have provided the Indians with the critical advantage in the back country. The Americans and the Creeks had found repetitively that whoever could supply their forces in the West Florida area could control it.
‘It follows that the events of every age must be judged in the light of its own peculiarities’. -- Carl von Clausewitz, On War 74 The British recruitment and use of Indians was considered crucial in the political and military planning for the Gulf of Mexico campaign. Their use became less important
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with the end of the Peninsular War and the subsequent release of veteran British troops to fill the ranks in the American war. However, the question remains, ‘did military honour hinder the effective use of British allied Indians?’
In the Gulf of Mexico region of the USA, the cultures of France, Spain, Britain, America, west Africa, and the Indians became intertwined to the point that a common view of personal honour would have been hard to agree. Military honour would have been, theoretically at least, a more universal concept. Interestingly, this was not the case, but not for the obvious reasons of Indian cultural norms. The issue of military honour was remarkably soft on both sides. One side termed a future ally ‘desperate banditti’ before the battle, but used them effectively in battle, whilst the other side lamented firing on pickets whilst firing congreve rockets indiscriminately at towns.75 76 Much of the outrage over alleged laspses in military honour was mere posturing to disguise shame, cover incompetence, and to raise the blood of their own people. Historian Geoffrey Best called the War of 1812 a ‘vicious little war’ with good cause.
Military honour as displayed in the Royal Navy and Royal Marines in the gulf campaign of the War of 1812 was a very personal affair. The age of revolution, Napoleon, and Romanticism had change military honour dramatically in the decade preceding the Battle of New Orleans. The basis for military honour was not drastically different for each of the individuals involved, but the honour group with which each was identifying demanded specific actions and forbearances. In fact, there were often different honour groups at play with each issue, whether it be strategy, tactics, resources, or diplomacy.
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Even though the law of war and military honour are not synonymous, they were quite intertwined at the time when international law was just developing. In the War of 1812, the law of war rested heavier on the British than the Americans or the Indians, because the majority of the British honour groups were so much more invested in it.77
The Royal Marines use of Indians was heavily influenced by Nicolls' personal views of military honour, and to a lesser extent Cochrane's, but in the end the force was relatively successful in raising fears and detouring troops away from New Orleans to deal with them. They almost delayed Jackson from getting to New Orleans on time as well with their operations around Mobile and Pensacola, although at great cost in lives and morale. The ultimate measure of the effectiveness of the Indians was in their renewed strategic presence not their tactical or operational employment. This success actually paid dividends for the Indians as they were remembered by Britain in the peace treaty with an article that made the Americans agree to restore the Indians to their position of 1811. Therefore, Nicolls had preserved his internal military honour in relation to the Indians and successfully accomplished his overall mission of strategically distracting the Americans from concentrating on New Orleans until the very last moment.
However, in the end military honour of the external type, albeit not specifically in relation to the Indians’ actions or virtues, was the proximate cause of the British failure to win the gulf campaign. Admiral Cochrane, Nicolls and much of the British political and military class were in open contempt of the USA and their ability to handle the allpowerful British military machine. Interestingly, the roots of the anti-American attitudes
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went back to another Gulf of Mexico issue. In 1803, after twenty years of uneasy, but peaceful co-existence with Britain, the USA bought Louisiana from Napoleon. Prior to the purchase, the Americans were very wary of Napoleon’s North American intentions which made them natural allies to the British. After the removal of the Napoleonic threat, the Americans were more interested in commercial dealings than geo-politics. A decade of economic warfare later, the British and Americans were at each other’s throats again. Anger at the American upstart daring to trade with France whilst Britain was in an existential struggle was wide-spread in government and the nobility. Even the civilian honour elite got into the act with William Wilberforce and Sir Walter Scott lamenting a missed chance to punish the vulgar and despicable Americans when the war was declared over. This decade of animosity and condescension led to stereotypes on both sides of the Atlantic that were unrecognisable to the parties themselves. It was inevitable that it would spread to the Royal Navy and Royal Marines.78
Cochrane’s personal animosity towards the Americans knew few bounds, even in the face of facts to the contrary in specific actions. When the war was declared over with the Treaty of Ghent, Admiral Codrington reported that Cochrane was despondent. Cochrane was a worthy Admiral with great experience in amphibious warfare, but he allowed his hatreds to cloud his judgement. Nicolls’ also held the Americans in very low regard. After the war, Nicolls, quite rightly, called out the Americans for not honouring Article IX of the Treaty of Ghent which declared that the Indians were to be returned to their 1811 circumstances. Repetitive threats to Benjamin Hawkins and Andrew Jackson of the renewal of hostilities got Nicolls into hot water. Tortuously, over the next three years
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the situation festered until it led led to the Americans declaring war on the Seminoles in 1818.79
The British commanders in the gulf refused to acknowledge the differing qualities of the USA commanders and forces encountered in the gulf campaign from the Chesapeake campaign. Cochrane and Nicolls were too easily seduced by the idea that a few well chosen assaults on the Americans would deliver a disproportionate level of panic and ease the job of the main force under any circumstance. The failure to understand that the first battle of Fort Bowyer and Pensacola were not flukes forced the British to accept Battle of New Orleans on the Chalmette plains under debilitating circumstances. The British fault was its disregard of Jackson's ability to construct an effective defense with militia and limited naval assets on very favourable ground.
To conclude, military honour did hinder the Royal Navy and Royal Marines in their effective use of Indians, but only the in the context that it hindered the effective use of all troops in the gulf campaign. Admiral Cochrane, Major Nicolls, and the Royal Navy as a whole held their own military honor groups’ reputation and prestige so highly and the USA’s so lowly that it severely hindered their decision making process. In fact, these tightly held convictions so degraded the decision making process that it negated an overwhelming superiority in troops, equipment, and control over the battleground.
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National Archives of the United Kingdom, Kew ADM 1/505 ADM 1/506 ADM 1/505 ADM 1/508 ADM 1/509 CO 23/60 WO 1/ 141 WO 1/ 142 WO 1/ 143 WO 1/ 144 WO 1/145 WO 6 /2
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