Dade Massacre (28 Dec 1835) - A Seminole War Battle fought between a U.S. Army expedition traveling from Fort Brooke to Fort King commanded by Bvt Major Francis L. Dade and Seminole forces under Chiefs Micanopy and Thlocklo Tustenuggee (Alligator). The result was a tactical victory for the Seminoles but strategically it signaled the beginning of the Second Seminole War which resulted in the removal of most of the Seminoles to Indian Territory (Oklahoma). The action was deemed to be a massacre because the Seminoles refused an offer of surrender and they methodically killed the survivors including the wounded. Four expedition members survived the battle, one of those was killed the next day, one was captured and kept by the Seminole and two managed to make it back to Fort Brooke. The battle was fought near present-day Bushnell in Sumter County, Florida.
As Major Dade's column approached what would be the massacre site it was organized with an advance guard of six enlisted men under the command of 2nd Lt. Robert Mudge. He was joined by Captain Fraser, Major Dade, and the translator Pacheo. The advance guard was 200 yards ahead of the main column and walked in single file. The main force followed in two-man columns led by Captain Gardiner. Following the main force was a wagon and cannon and directly behind them was the rearguard under 2nd Lt. William Basinger.
The Seminole plan was to simultaneously kill the Indian Agent at Fort King and attack Dade’s command while he was en route to reinforce Fort King. Chief Osceola would kill Indian Agent Thompson at Fort King and Chief Micanopy would lead the ambush on Dade's column. Both of these events occurred on the same day, either by plan or by circumstance.
The Seminoles were divided into two groups, the largest group was of some 200 dismounted Seminole Indians who hid on the left side of the Fort Brooke to Fort King road. The right side of the road bordered on a lake and marsh. The second group of Seminoles, some 100 in number were escaped slaves who had taken up with the Seminole and intermarried with them. This group was mounted and positioned to block soldiers fleeing toward Fort King. This group did not participate in the battle but did participate in the following massacre.
The ambush began just as the column reached the last and easiest part of the journey. The attack began sometime between 8 and 9 am with a single shot fired by Chief Micanopy that killed Major Dade instantly. Micanopy followed that shot with a war hoop that signaled the 200 warriors to open fire on the column. The first volley killed almost the entire advanced guard and almost the entire left-hand column of the main body. Half of Dade's command was killed in that first volley. Of the line officers, only two survived the initial volley unhurt, 2nd Lt. William Basinger and Captain George W. Gardiner. Bvt 2nd Lt. John Keyes had both his arms broken in the first volley and was incapacitated until he was killed. Lt. Richard Henderson was shot through the arm in the initial volley but was able to fire some 50 shots before he was killed. The assistant surgeon Dr. John S. Gatlin survived the majority of the battle.
After the initial volley, the survivors organized as they had been trained for Indian fighting, they sought the protection of trees and were ordered not to fire unless they has a sure target. The cannon was unlimbered and began firing under the direction of Lt. Basinger and Captain Gardiner assumed command of the overall defense. The cannon fire caused confusion and some consternation among the Seminole and after about an hour they withdrew out of range for a time. Captain Gardiner took advantage of the break in the fighting to order defensive triangular log breastworks built, to gather up the wounded, and to retrieve ammunition from the dead. Ammunition would become a decisive issue in the battle. There were about 30 soldiers left as the Seminoles resumed their attack.
The cannon was brought back into play and as long as it fired the Seminoles kept their distance. Captain Gardiner urged on the defenders until he was mortally wounded and died at the center of the breastworks. Lt. Bassinger was then the only officer left and he was already wounded, his cannon had served 49 of the 50 shells provided with the limber and he no longer had the ability to serve the piece. The fire from the breastwork slowed and then stopped as everyone ran out of ammunition. There were several people still alive but now unable to defend themselves so they waited.
The Seminoles debated about approaching the defense but they finally did and as they approached and began to dispatch any survivors they found. Lt. Basinger then rose up and offered his sword in surrender and they struck him down. Other survivors hid under the dead and two managed to survive to get back to Fort Brooke. The Seminoles did not desecrate the dead. They picked over the weapons and equipment and took scalps but they left a band of their Negro followers who began looting and killing the remaining wounded. It was these after-the-battle atrocities that attached the massacre descriptor to this battle.
Most of the detail about the Massacre comes from the account of one of the two survivors, Private Ransom Clark.
On 20 Feb 1836, General Edmund P. Gaines, on his way from Tampa Bay to Fort King, halted his command at the Dade battlefield and identified all the officer's bodies and most of the enlisted bodies. The scene was horrific with the bodies reduced to skeletons laying where they fell and clouds of buzzards waiting to finish their work. The officers were then buried in a trench outside the eastern end of the breastworks, and the soldiers were buried in two trenches inside the breastworks. The six-pounder cannon was recovered from the pond where the Indians had thrown it and it was placed at the head of the graves.
As the war drew to a close, officers and men of the army were invited to contribute a day's pay for the purpose of removing the remains of the Dade command and others who were killed or died of wounds or disease in the Florida campaigns to what is known today as the St Augustine National Cemetery known then as the garden of St. Francis Barracks. The reburial ceremony took place on 15 Aug 1842, nine days before the war ended and six and a half years after it began.
The remains were brought into the city in wagons — "each covered by the American flag as a pall and drawn by five elegant mules," to the St. Francis Barracks and interred in three vaults under the "Dade Pyramids." A monument was also placed in the West Point Cemetery to commemorate Dade and his command.
Part of Dade Battlefield Historic State Park, Sumter County, Florida
Visited: 22 Sep 2021