Ask Rufus: Real Heroes


While we know about Andrew Jackson's victory over the English at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815, most people do not realize how diverse his army was with its being composed of whites, blacks, Indians and even pirates. Shown is an 1849 wood cut of the battle.

While we know about Andrew Jackson's victory over the English at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815, most people do not realize how diverse his army was with its being composed of whites, blacks, Indians and even pirates. Shown is an 1849 wood cut of the battle.
Photo by: Courtesy image



Rufus Ward



This Fourth of July weekend we celebrate America's independence as a holiday weekend. At a time when heroes are needed, we are now prone to judge those of the past by the standards of today and we are seeing efforts to tear down or remove memorials to Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt and Jefferson.


These men were not perfect, but then there has only been one perfect person in all of history. However, for their times they were liberal and forward thinkers. Without their efforts we probably would not have the freedom we enjoy today.


How many of us have heard of John Daves and the "Forlorn Hope"? At the Battle of Stony Point in 1779, Gen. "Mad" Anthony Wayne's Corps of Light Infantry fixed bayonets and charged a British fort. One of those at the head of the charge was Lt John Daves the great-grandfather of Sally Govan Billups, who lived at Snowdoun in Columbus. It was not just a charge; it was a daring almost suicide mission.



Gen. Wayne's 1,300-man Corps of Light Infantry charged a well defended British fort manned by 525 veteran British soldiers at midnight with fixed bayonets and, except for a small diversionary force, unloaded muskets. The plan formulated by Washington and Wayne to take Stony Point was extremely risky.


The British fort was on a commanding rocky prominence sticking out into the Hudson River and manned by about 525 veteran British soldiers, 15 pieces of artillery and protected by two Royal Navy gunboats in the Hudson River.


The American plan was for a two-pronged assault at midnight on the fort's north and south flanks with a small diversionary attack in the center. What was especially daring was that the two main assaults would be with fixed bayonets and unloaded muskets. Only the diversion would be firing at the British. The plan was to draw the British into thinking the only real assault was in the center. Each flanking attack would have a forlorn hope of 20 men to advance in front of the assault and with axes cut open a path through the defensive network into the fort.


The term "forlorn hope" referred to the mission of those 20 men being of great importance but so perilous that the odds were against them surviving. Lt. Daves was a member of one of the 20-man advance units. The charge was a success and the fort was captured, but of the forlorn hope Daves was a part of 17 were killed or wounded, Daves being wounded.


Lt. Daves recovered from his wound, was promoted to captain and returned to action, serving until the end of the war.


Slias McBee was one of the founders of Columbus and moved here in late 1817 or early 1818. He is credited with naming Columbus and while it was believed Columbus was in Alabama he was a part of the Alabama Constitutional Convention.


He died in 1845 in present-day Oktibbeha County, and his obituary tells of his service during the Revolutionary War: "In feeling he espoused the cause of Independence with enthusiasm but was too young to take part in the War until the British had over run the state (S C); when in the fall of 1780 - then in his fifteenth year, he joined the Patriots under Col. Williams, who so nobly cooperated with Campbell, Shelby and Cleveland at the Battle of King's Mountain. He mingled in the fight and was "in at the death" when Ferguson fell, mortally wounded - subsequently he aided in driving The British from the soil of South Carolina."


McBee had enlisted and fought the British at age 15.


Though now little-known, a Choctaw war chief, "General Hummingbird," repeatedly came to the aid of the U.S. in times of trouble. He received military commissions from both George Washington and Andrew Jackson. His life took him through the formation of this country and saw him serving with some of America's greatest leaders. By the early 1800s, his exploits in support of the United States were known from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico and his death in 1828 received national press coverage.


About 1790 George Washington ordered the U.S. Army to end the hostilities of the Shawnee and Delaware Indians occurring between the Ohio River and the Great Lakes. In 1790 and 1791 the U.S. forces suffered terrible defeats at the hands of the Indians. Finally, President George Washington sent Gen. "Mad" Anthony Wayne into action. In what amounted to a show of support for the U.S., Hummingbird led 60 Choctaw warriors from Mississippi to join with and serve as scouts for Wayne's army. On Aug. 20, 1794, Wayne's force soundly defeated the hostile Indians at the Battle of Fallen Timbers. As a result of the victory the U.S. maintained control over the Northwest Territory and Hummingbird earned his reputation for bravery and commenced his long relationship with the United States including serving with Jackson during the Creek Indian war.


One of the most interesting figures in Columbus history was William Cocke, who moved to Columbus in 1818 or 1819. He was born in Virginia in 1747 and was a longtime friend of Thomas Jefferson. Cocke actually lived the founding and settlement of the U.S. He then became one of the founders of Columbus.


During the American Revolution, he served as captain and one of the "Overmountain Men" under Col. John Sevier in the 1780 American victory over British Col. Ferguson at the Battle of King's Mountain. Cocke also saw action at the battles of Long Island Flats and Fort Thicketty.


After the Creek Indian war broke out in 1813, he enlisted at age 65 as a private in the Tennessee Militia and was cited for bravery in battle by Andrew Jackson. In the early 1820s as the president of the Trustees of Franklin Academy in Columbus, he corresponded with Thomas Jefferson about the school.


While we all know about Andrew Jackson's historic victory over the English at the Battle of New Orleans on Jan. 8, 1815, most people do not realize how diverse Andrew Jackson's army was. It represented a true cross section of the American South.


Official records show that Jackson's army was composed of the following troops; U.S. regular Army regiments, Louisiana, Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi and Orleans militia, Baratarian pirates, Choctaw Indians and two battalions of Free Men of Color (free blacks), Maj. Lacoste's Louisiana Free Men of Color and Capt. Daquan's Santa Domingo Free Men of Color.


Prior to the climatic battle the Choctaws terrorized the English camps at night and during the battle the Baratarian's under the command of Capt. Dominque You manned artillery battery No. 3. Maj Lacoste's free Black battalion numbering 280 men along with the 289 man battalion of Orleans Volunteers held the American line between batteries 3 and 4. Capt. Daquin's free Black battalion of 150 men and the 240 man U S 44th Infantry Regt held the line between batteries 4 and 5.


All of these men, black, red and white and those serving with them are real American heroes. As we celebrate this holiday weekend we need to remember that none of them were perfect but without them we might not be a free people.



Rufus Ward is a Columbus native a local historian. E-mail your questions about local history to Rufus at [email protected]


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