Soldier Deaths From Seminoles - The Statistics

The costs of the Second Seminole War were certainly high. We know from various sources that dollar costs were around 30 to 40 million dollars for Indian removal during that period. Of the known deaths in Florida, there were 1,466 regular Army officers and soldiers, 328 who died in battle. There were 69 deaths in the Navy. We see from these figures that over all, less than one-quarter of the casualties were inflicted by the enemy during battle. The state militias fared better, but their death count is open to question.

John T. Sprague's The Origin, Progress, and Conclusion of the Florida War, written soon after the war ended, lists all the names of the regular Army officers and soldiers who died in Florida, where they died, and the cause of death. After looking over the list, here are some interesting statistics that I came up with:

The most common cause of death was "disease unknown".

About a dozen names on the list are ambiguous on the cause of death, saying just "died".

There are about half a dozen cases of soldiers shooting each other. A First Sergeant at Fort Marion was shot and killed by one of the Privates.

The regiment that served in Florida with the highest number of deaths: 2d Dragoon Regiment, with a total of 218 dead officers and enlisted. This wasn't even the regiment at the Dade Battle. One of the regiments that were at the Dade Battle came in second: The 3d Artillery Regiment, with 169 dead. The regiment with the least number of deaths was the 5th Infantry Regiment, with Maj. D. Wilcox as the only death recorded during the war. Most of the 5th was not stationed in Florida.

What about deaths caused by Seminoles in battle? Here are some interesting facts about the figures from the regular Army.

Most dangerous place to be stationed: Fort Micanopy was first, with nine incidents, and 26 officers and soldiers killed in battle. All during the war there were constant ambushes in the area near Micanopy. With the other deaths included, the military cemetery at Micanopy was the fourth largest during the war. (The other sites would have been in St. Augustine, Pensacola, and at the Dade Battlefield.) Coming in second place as the most dangerous fort was Fort King, with six incidents and nine officers and soldiers killed in battle.

Deadliest year during the war (death by battles): Since the Dade Battle was in 1835, it outdid all the other years by volume. For number of battles it was a tie between 1839 and 1840; there were about 20 incidents those years of death from Seminoles during battle. (But that number may change if I find out about other small skirmishes with the state militias.) Although the major battles were in the first half of the war, few were likely to be killed. The second half of the war turned into a war of attrition, where the Seminoles stuck to ambushing small parties and sporadic raids.

First death by Seminoles: Pvt. Kinsley Dalton, killed while serving as mail express on the Fort Brooke & Fort King road, August 11, 1835. He was in the same regiment that also lost a lot of soldiers at Dade Battle, even if he died before the war started. The next case of regular Army officers and soldiers killed was at the Dade Battle. (The battle of Black Point on December 18, 1835 was state militia forces.)

Last death by Seminoles in the war: Pvt. Jesse Van Tassel was wounded near the Suwannee River on May 17, 1842, and died on May 27, 1842 at Fort Fanning. The last major battle of the war was at Peliklakaha Hammock near Lake Ahapopka, April 19, 1842, where Pvt. Augustus Wandall was killed.

Most number of deaths by Seminoles at one time: Dade Battle of course, which has 103 deaths listed; one-third of all the deaths by battle. (Not including the 3 unnamed teamsters who were also killed.) If you served as a regular Army soldier in Florida, you had a one- percent chance of dying here in battle. Better odds than winning the Florida lottery.

Far behind in second was the Battle of Lake Okeechobee, on Christmas Day, 1837. 27 regular Army officers and soldiers died here, but the state militias also had a high casualty rate.

Third place was an ambush by Seminoles on 13 soldiers near Micanopy, May 19, 1840, where 10 regulars died. Another deadly ambush also happened near Micanopy travelling to Wacahoota, killing an officer, four soldiers, and a civilian being escorted on December 28, 1840.

Coming out as number four was the attack on the Caloosahatchee Trading Post, July 23, 1839. Nine regulars were killed. The total American body count was 12, including three civilians killed. Colonel Harney "barely" escaped wearing nothing but his undergarments during the night raid by Chakaika's Spanish Indians.

Surprisingly, the Battle of the Withlacoochee on December 31, 1835 only had four deaths during the battle. The Battle of Wahoo Swamp (November 21, 1836) only lists four deaths. The most famous death at Wahoo Swamp was Major David Moniac, and he is not listed on Sprague's list. Moniac was with the Creek Indian regiment, and was the first Indian to graduate from West Point. At the time he was probably on attached service, and not an actual member of the infantry, dragoon, or artillery regiments assigned in Florida.

A few incidents with three individuals killed at each were at Micanopy, Fort Clinch (probably the one on the Withlacoochee River), Fort King, Picolata, and Orange Creek. These are all instances of ambushes on Army patrols.

By far, most of the engagements with the Seminoles only killed one, and sometimes two soldiers. Even in major battles, only one or two soldiers were killed. There is no complete record of the militia casualties, but they would do little to change this statistic.

What can we tell from all this information? One is that the Seminoles preferred to limit attacks to ambushes and minor skirmishes, and would avoid open conflict. Injuries caused by gunshot wound were low during battle. Another reasons for low deaths and injuries were that the arms used were not very precise. The Indians usually did not measure powder in proper quantities, and the heavy wool coats would help deflect bullets with a low velocity. There are some eyewitnesses' accounts where soldiers were shot half a dozen times with bullets passing through their clothes, but not badly injured. One would almost have to stand motionless in front of the opposing force to be part of the three percent of the soldiers who were actually killed by Seminoles during the war.

On June 13, 1842, a fund was created for soldiers in the regular Army to donate one day's pay to establish a memorial for their fallen officers and enlisted. As far as it is known, every soldier contributed, and by the next month there were enough funds to erect a memorial at the military cemetery at St. Francis Barracks in St. Augustine.

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