Sumter County

This county has two battlegrounds of some of the most dramatic battles of the Second Seminole War.

Other Second Seminole War Forts: Fort McClure

Places To Visit:

Dade Battlefield Historical Site:

This is the site of the most spectacular battle of the Second Seminole War. Today there is a small museum on this site, and nature trails with interpretive signs describe the battle. This was for a long time called a massacre, but Author Frank Laumer, who knows more of this one battle than anyone else alive, says that would be incorrect. Laumer says that it is a battle of armed soldiers and warriors on opposing sides during a time of conflict.

Annual Reenactment at Dade Battlefield.

Each year on the weekend following Christmas the battle is reenacted, and is the biggest Second Seminole War battle re-enactment. It is called by the state park system as "The most historically accurate battle re-enactment in the state." You will enjoy seeing the lively encampment of re-enactors portraying U.S. Soldiers and Seminole Indians.

The story is as follows:

In December 1835, two artillery & infantry companies were ordered to leave Fort Brooke (Tampa) and garrison Fort King (Ocala). It was believed that Fort King was in danger of increased Indian attacks, and that a stronger show of force would help persuade the Seminoles to turn themselves in and immigrate to Oklahoma. Major Francis L. Dade took command and left on the 100-mile march on December 23, 1835.

The first few days were pretty uneventful, and the burned bridges and cold, rainy weather presented a bigger problem than the Seminoles.

The Seminoles were keeping watch on the whole command as soon as it left Fort Brooke. The main Seminole leaders were Micanopy, Alligator, and Jumper; all important Red Stick leaders. They planned on the ambush at many places, and were waiting for Osceola to return from Fort King on his mission to assassinate Indian Agent Wiley Thompson. After several days, the warriors realized they had to make their move before the soldiers reached safety, and had let them pass unharmed through some excellent ambush sites.

On December 28, 1835 the army command let its guard down. They felt they were out of danger, and placed most of their rifles on the ox cart to keep dry. Others buttoned their coats over their weapons, which would make it difficult to remove them quickly. After breakfast and on the trail, Major Dade encouraged his men with, "Have a good heart; our difficulties and dangers are over now, and as soon as we arrive at Fort King you'll have three days rest and keep Christmas gaily." Those were the last words the officer uttered, as a single shot rang out and killed him.

It is believed that Micanopy fired the first shot. As the highest ranking chief, it was traditional for him to fire the first round and start the battle. Also, Micanopy needed to show that he supported the Seminole resistance against the United States. He had for a long time kept friendly relations with the whites, and was resented by the hard core Red Sticks because of this. It is said that Jumper threatened Micanopy, that if he did not fire the first shot to start the battle, then Micanopy would be the first casualty. Whoever fired the first shot, it was on target and could not have been any more dramatic than Major Dade's sudden and startling death.

After the Major's death, the Seminoles opened up fire from among the trees. Half the army command died in these first few minutes. Panic and lack of preparation took a heavy toll on the troops. After some cannon fire and bayonet charge, the Seminole withdrew and disappeared into the woods. The soldiers then built a breastwork to hide behind.

The Seminoles intended to end the battle at that point. They had planned to have a show of force and a sign of Seminole determination to remain in Florida. When scouts reported that the soldiers were staying and constructing a log barricade, the Seminoles were puzzled as to why the troops did not scatter and escape. Creator must have intended for the troops to be finished off; why else would they construct a pig pen to hide in and wait to die? So, the Seminole figured that it was their duty to finish what they had started.

A second attack killed or wounded all the remaining members of the command. The Seminoles early in the battle captured the Black guide Louis Pacheco.

Only two soldiers survived and made it back to Fort Brooke: Joseph Sprague, and the badly injured Ransom Clarke. Clarke wrote about his account, and is considered a very good eyewitness. The Seminoles had only a few deaths on their side.

A town of Black Seminoles & escaped slaves was about eight miles away from the battle, at present day Center Hill. After the battle was over, the Black Seminoles came over and found that they had missed the action, and killed many of the wounded that remained.

The Seminoles did not gloat over their defeated enemy, contrary to what has been written by people who were not there. The main purpose of the attack by the Seminoles was to show the world that they intended to remain in Florida, and that they mean business. They knew what they were doing would start a war. At the Seminole camp in the Wahoo Swamp that night, many of the warriors had a serious mood; almost ill thinking about the many deaths and the great war to come. There was not wild, drunken dancing like the white man has written about. Nor was there a bloody display of scalps and the Seminoles smearing themselves with the blood of their victims, which was written by white men with fanciful imaginations.

Old postcard of Dade Battlefield about 1910. From State of Florida Archives.

Later that night, Osceola returned to the Seminole camp in the Wahoo swamp. That same day Osceola and his warriors had assassinated the Indian Agent Wiley Thompson at Fort King. It is said that they remained in hiding outside Fort King for two days before they found an opportunity to kill Thompson.

Three days later at the Battle of the Withlacoochee River, the soldiers under Generals Gaines & Call found a soldier's backpack dropped by the Indians. They did not know where it came from, and were beginning to fear the worst. Nobody had heard from Dade's command, which was overdue to arrive at Fort King.

The burial party did not arrive until six weeks later, after some major battles and defeats for the Army on the Withlacoochee River. The site that the burial party came upon was shocking. The vultures blackened the sky when the burial party approached the site. The earth was scorched from a fire that resulted from the battle. Soldiers in the burial party who knew them recognized individual bodies.

The bodies lay where they fell. It is recorded that the soldiers still had coins, watches, and other valuables in their pockets. The only items that were taken were a few overcoats, and most all the rifles and ammunition.

The soldier's bodies were buried at the site, with the cannon retrieved from the nearby lake and turned upside down on the mass grave in honor of the fallen. The burial party did not stay very long at the haunting scene of so many dead. It is said that it only took an hour to bury all the bodies in a few large trenches. At the end of the war, money was raised to have the graves removed and interred at the military cemetery in St. Augustine. Each soldier in the Army could donate the salary of one day's wage to erect a monument and perform a proper burial. (See St. Francis Barracks at St. Augustine, St. Johns County.) It is said that every soldier donated for the monument, and not one refused.

Shortly after the Dade Battle, Fort Armstrong was built nearby to guard this bloodied ground from another such attack.


Other Travel Tips: