Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Battle That Saved Nashville - Buchanan's Station

Major John Buchanan

  At the time that the James Robertson Party arrived in Nashville, crossing on foot from present day East Nashville over the frozen Cumberland River on Christmas Day 1779 into present day downtown Nashville there were several tribes of American Indians living in a twenty mile radius of Nashville. The Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Creeks. Some northern tribes like the Shawnee also hunted in the area. Nashville was packed with game because of the salt lick that was located near the present day Werthan Bag Co. building and Sulphur Dell. Because of the lick it was a major hunting ground for the tribes. The French had traders living in the area in the early 1700's but the Indians never bothered them because they weren't considered to be permanent settlers. By 1740 they were gone from the area. Timothy Demonbreun arrived in 1766 but he was not bothered by the Indians either. It wasn't until the arrival of the Robertson party and the John Donelson party the following April carrying the women and children settlers down the Cumberland on flatboats that the problems began with the Indians. The settlers were seen as a threat to their food supply and an encroachment of their sacred lands. 

  They built one large stockade on the bluff near the present replica of Fort Nashboro and a series of smaller stations or forts around the Nashville area. All through the 1780's and into the early 1790's the Indians never attacked the settlers in large numbers except for the 1781 Battle of the Bluffs. A few Indians would catch a settler or a few settlers plowing their fields, feeding their livestock, or traveling from one station to another to visit neighbors and ambush them. I have read that over time at least half of the settlers were killed or forced to flee from this area because of the constant sniping and attacks. On April 2, 1781 400 Chickamaugans, who were Cherokees that had broken off from the regular tribe because they considered the rest to be too passive toward the settlers, attacked Ft. Nashboro. This was called the Battle of the Bluffs. The following account of the battle is from an article from a web site named Nashville Vacation Fun. "During the night the Indians divided up and crept close to the fort. One group came to where Church and Broadway is now and hid in the wild-brush and cedars. The other group hid on the banks of a small stream that ran into the Cumberland River. It is now the intersection of College and Demonbreun. The next morning three indians ran up to the fort and fired at the guard in the watchtower. They then retreated out of range and reloaded their guns while shouting and waving their hands. About twenty of the settlers led by Colonel James Robertson mounted their horses and chased after them. The three warriors keeping in sight of the settlers made their stand on the banks of stream near the intersection of College and Demonbreun. The settlers rode up and dismounted for battle. No sooner had they dismounted, the hidden war party attacked directly in front of them. The gunfire from the Indians scared the horses and they ran up the hill to the fort. Once the gunfire began, the second group of Indians came out of hiding to cut off the settlers retreat to the fort. The horses almost running over this group of warriors caused a distraction. Indians loved horses and many of these warriors couldn't resist trying to capture them.The horses ran to the fort but the gates were closed. With the Indians in pursuit, they ran over Capitol Hill and down to Sulfur Spring Bottom. Some of the horses were captured, but the majority returned to the fort later.As the Battle of the Bluff continued, the settlers were attempting to get back to the fort. Carrying their wounded and shooting back at the Indians, they were making their way back to the fort. In the fort, a pack of fifty hunting dogs were running madly around the fort enclosure wanting to get at the Indians. Charlotte, wife of Colonel James Robertson, seeing what was happening ordered the gates to be opened to let the dogs out. The dogs ran down the hill to defend their masters and attacked the war party. The dog attack distracted the indians and gave the settlers the break they needed. Carrying their wounded they hurried to the fort. Isaac Lucas was in the rear of the group when he was shot in the leg and fell to the ground. He primed his gun and shot a big Indian in the lead of the attack, killing him. The rest of the settlers making it into the fort looked back and saw Lucas on the ground. They started shooting at the advancing war party and drove them back. The retreating Indians scalped the dead settlers on the battlefield. Also they collected all the guns and ammunition they could find. It was 10 am when the war party disappeared into the woods. The Battle of the Bluff was over. Capt. James Leiper, Peter Gill, Alex Buchanan, John Kennedy had been killed, and Kasper Mansker, James Manifee, and Joseph Moonshaw were wounded. One of Robertson’s sons, was scalped but survived. It is unknown how many Indians were killed because they would carry off their dead. After the Battle of the Bluff, Mrs James Robertson stood at the fort gates petting all the dogs that returned. She thanked God that he had gave the Indians a love for horses and a fear of dogs".

  Several historians have claimed that Major John Buchanan as a twenty year old arrived with his family before the James Robertson Party. His brother Alex Buchanan would die at the battle of the Bluffs. John Buchanan was born in Harrisburg Pennsylvania in 1759 and died in Nashville in 1832. His first wife Margaret Kennedy died after the birth of their first child. His second wife Sarah Ridley would eventually bear him thirteen children. The last great attempt to destroy the Cumberland settlers occurred on September 30, 1792. One thing that we sometimes lose sight of is how the Indians were being influenced and supplied by the British and the Spanish to attack the Americans. Tennessee was then part of North Carolina but the state government and federal government were either unwilling or unable to protect the settlers. The British influenced the northern tribes to attack and the Spanish the southern tribes. The Spanish especially were afraid that the American expansion would eventually pose a threat to their empire in North America. The Spanish were arming the Indians from Pensacola Florida. John Buchanan's station was to the south of Nashville and isolated. There was only about sixty families living in the Nashville area at the time. Nashville was isolated. The nearest settlements were Knoxville to the east and Natchez Mississippi to the southwest. Buchanan's station was on Mill Creek off present day Elm Hill Pike, consisting of a few buildings, a picket stockade and a blockhouse overlooking the creek at the front gate. It was four miles south of the of present downtown Nashville. At the time of the attack there were about 20 people living there. Four hundred Cherokees, Creeks, and Shawnee attacked Buchanan's Station at midnight. Fifteen men in the station fought off the Indians from the portholes while the women and children molded bullets, and reloaded muskets under the leadership of John's 18 year old wife Sarah (Sally) Ridley Buchanan who was nine months pregnant with her first child. For two hours they fought off the Indians. Sally even melted down her dinnerware to make bullets. She encouraged the women and children during the battle and became the heroine. She became known as the "Heroine of Buchanan's Station" in written accounts of the battle. Her fame was known as far away as Boston. The Indians attempted to set fire to the roofs of the buildings but were finally repelled. The importance of the battle was that it lifted the morale of the Nashville settlers. There had been rumors of a massive attack coming but few believed the rumors. When the attack actually did come the pioneers were relieved to know that because of Buchanan's Station they had been saved from a similar fate. The goal of the attack had been to completely destroy the Nashville settlement. The Indians broke up into small bands and attacked outlying areas but after this battle the Indians would never attack Nashville again in large numbers. Andrew Jackson arrived in Nashville in 1788 and would eventually command the Tennessee Militia. During the War of 1812 he would defeat the Creeks at the battle of Horseshoe Bend. Because of their defeat America gained control of the territory that would become Alabama and Mississippi. In 1815 Jackson, the Tennessee Militia, pirates, and free blacks defeated Britain's best soldiers at the Battle of New Orleans. In 1818 he would invade Spanish Florida defeating the Seminoles in the 1st Seminole War which would eventually lead to a treaty with Spain which would cede the present day state of Florida to the United States thus ending the threat of Indian attack in the lower South altogether. Nashville and the Tennessee Militia had been instrumental in securing much of the United States. One could argue that this long march started with the Battle of Buchanan's Station.
The graves of John and Sally Ridley Buchanan

Historical marker on Elm Hill Pike
The Donelson Party on the Cumberland

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating! Where were "Sacred lands" of the Indians. Where did the Indians get guns? Why did they fear dogs?
    Where was the "empire of the Spanish, in the U.S.? Who was SAM Ridley?