Dade’s Battle (December 28, 1835)

The State Library and Archives of Florida provides access to a multitude of published and unpublished resources for the study of Native American history and culture. In recognition of Native American Heritage Month, this series highlights materials in the collection that speak to the past and ongoing influence of Native peoples in Florida history.

The Second Seminole War (1835-1842) is regarded by historians as the longest and costliest Indian war in United States history. The conflict began in December 1835 with an event known as Dade’s Battle, or, from the American perspective, the Dade Massacre.

Map of the Dade Battlefield, published in Myer M. Cohen, Notices of Florida and the Campaigns (Charleston: Burges & Honour, 1836)

Map of the Dade Battlefield, published in Myer M. Cohen, Notices of Florida and the Campaigns (Charleston: Burges & Honour, 1836)

The battle took place along the Fort King Road near modern-day Bushnell. Seminole and black warriors opened fire on U.S. troops under the command of Major Francis L. Dade as they passed along a section of the road bordered by saw palmetto and pine scrub. The initial volley killed half of the white soldiers and within hours all but three of Dade’s 110 men lay dead on the battlefield. Only one soldier survived long enough to recount the American defeat.

The account of the battle below was attributed to the Seminole leader Halpatter Tustenuggee (Alligator) and published in John T. Sprague, The Origins, Progress, and Conclusion of the Florida War (New York: D. Appleton & Company, 1848). Alligator’s account provides insight into the Seminoles’ war strategy and the tactics that yielded several victories in the early stages of the Second Seminole War. His account is significant because it represents one of the few available from the Native American perspective.

Spellings used in the original are retained, with minimal notes in brackets for clarification when necessary.

Alligator’s Account of the Dade Battle

“We had been preparing for this more than a year. Though promises had been made to assemble on the 1st of January, it was not to leave the country, but to fight for it. In council, it was determined to strike a decided blow about this time. Our agent at Fort King [General Wiley Thompson] had put irons on our men, and said we must go. Oseola [or Osceola] said he was his friend, he would see to him.

“It was determined that he [Oseola] should attack Fort King, in order to reach General Thompson, then return to the Wahoo Swamp, and participate in the assault mediated upon the soldiers coming from Fort Brooke, as the negroes there had reported that two companies were preparing to march. He was detained longer than we anticipated. The troops were three days on their march, and approaching the Swamp. Here we thought it best to assail them; and should we be defeated the Swamp would be a safe place to retreat.

“Our scouts were out from the time the soldiers left the post, and reported each night their place of encampment. It was our intention to attack them on the third night, but the absence of Oseola and Micanopy prevented it. On the arrival of the latter it was agreed not to wait for Oseola, as the favorable moment would pass.

“Micanopy was timid, and urged delay. Jumper earnestly opposed it, and reproached the old chief with indecision. He addressed the Indians, and requested those who had faint hearts to remain behind; he was going, when Micanopy said he was ready. Just as day was breaking we moved out of the swamp into the pine-barren. I counted, by direction of Jumper, one hundred eighty warriors. Upon approaching the road, each man chose his position on the west side; opposite, on the east side, there was a pond. Every warrior was protected by a tree, or secreted in the high palmettoes.

“About nine o’clock in the morning the command approached. In advance, some distance, was an officer on a horse, who, Micanopy said, was the captain; he knew him personally; had been his friend at Tampa. So soon as all the soldiers were opposite, between us and the pond, perhaps twenty yards off, Jumper gave the whoop, Micanopy fired the first rifle, the signal agreed upon, when every Indian rose and fired, which laid upon the ground, dead, more than half the white men. The cannon was discharged several times, but the men who loaded it were shot down as soon as the smoke cleared away; the balls passed far over our heads.

“The soldiers shouted and whooped, and the officers shook their swords and swore. There was a little man, a great brave, who shook his sword at the soldiers and said, ‘God-dam!’ no rifle-ball could hit him. As we were returning to the swamp, supposing all were dead, an Indian came up and said the white men were building a fort of logs. Jumper and myself, with ten warriors, returned.

“As we approached, we saw six men behind two logs placed one above another, with the cannon a short distance off. This they discharged at us several times, but we avoided it by dodging behind the trees just as they applied the fire. We soon came near, as the balls went over us. They had guns, but no powder; we looked in the boxes afterward and found they were empty. When I got inside the log-pen, there were three white men alive, whom the negroes put to death, after a conversation in English.

“There was a brave man in the pen; he would not give up; he seized an Indian, Jumper’s cousin, took away his rifle, and with one blow with it beat out his brains, then ran some distance up the road; but two Indians on horseback overtook him, who, afraid to approach, stood at a distance and shot him down. The firing had ceased, and all was quite when we returned to the swamp about noon.

“We left many negroes upon the ground looking at the dead men. Three warriors were killed and five wounded.”

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9 thoughts on “Dade’s Battle (December 28, 1835)

  1. it is well written that this event of December 1835 is “known as Dade’s Battle, or, from the American perspective, the Dade Massacre.”
    From Wiki, Robert Melson’s “basic working definition,” reads, “by massacre we shall mean the intentional killing by political actors of a significant number of relatively defenseless people, and Mark Levene defines massacre historically as involving the murder of more than one individual, within an outrageous moral deficiency.
    Much as we would prefer immoral, sinister motivation, Dade’s battle was one well-armed force caught unawares by another with superior strategic advantage.

    • When a military unit is destroyed to the last man from ambush by another military unit the use of massacre is justified IMO. I think this is especially so as the in light of how the language may have been used almost two hundred years ago. FWIW, having been on both ends of ambush, I assure you it is better to give than to receive.

      Happy New Year!

  2. Hi, My name is Johnny, Graham. My partner and I, Are Doing the National History Day Project this year. Our topic on our website is The Dade Massacre. We would like to know if there is any information you could send us or any sources. Maybe pictures. Anything would help us. Thanks- Johnny Graham

    • Hi Johnny,

      Thank you for contacting us with your question. Since photography was not invented until 1839, you will not find photographs of the Dade Massacre. A search on Florida Memory shows that we do have photographs of the monument that was erected after the battle and a map of the battle and massacre ground. There is also an account of the Dade Massacre in the Richard Keith Call Papers which have been digitized and are available online.

      The State Library of Florida has books that may help you with your research and I’ve included those titles below:

      Cubberly, Frederick. The Dade Massacre. S.l.: s.n., 192-?
      Knetsch, Joe. Florida’s Seminole Wars: 1817-1858. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2003.
      Laumer, Frank. Massacre. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 1968.
      Lowe, Cindy. “Dade’s Massacre: The Pearl Harbor of the Second Seminole War.” Florida Living Magazine 15, no. 1 (January 1995): 30-31.
      Power, A.D. The Dade Massacre and Dade Memorial Park. St. Petersburg, FL, 192-?
      Steele, W.S. “Last Command: The Dade Massacre.” Tequesta, no. XLVI (1986): 5-19.

      There is also a bibliography online with primary and secondary resources about the Seminole Wars. Some of these resources may be helpful to you: http://dos.myflorida.com/library-archives/research/explore-our-resources/florida-history-culture-and-heritage/seminole-wars/

      If you have any further questions, please contact the Archives reference desk at 850-245-6700.

      Thanks,
      Elizabeth

  3. Johnny, I am always researching the war and looking for information. You are welcome to join our discussion at our Facebook page for Florida Seminole Wars. Please ask questions there. I won’t do your project but love to share things/research.

    • My partners and I, are continuing with the website for History day. It would be a great help if pictures of the massacre would be sent to this page or my email!

  4. There is an 1838 map of Florida at the Library of Congress called “Seat of War in Florida”. It shows the site with the notation “Massacre of Dade’s Command”. The map is filled with info about various events in the 1835-1836 period. It’s online at the Geography and Map division. You can also see the map (including a closeup of the massacre site) on my ETSY shop – where I sell reprints. Oldmap. But you don’t need to buy it- the image is there to see for free!
    dave allen

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