The War Years
Friday, September 14, 2012
The War Years
On this day in 1764 in the British colony of North Carolina was born a general. Although he was widely heralded as an Indian fighter and brigade commander of the War of 1812, General David Blackshear of Laurens County rarely led his men into battle. Blackshear had seen war all too closely, watching his oldest brother James being killed by Tories during the American Revolution. This is the story of General David Blackshear, the soldier, planter, surveyor, and public servant during the years of the War of 1812.
Known to many as "The Second American Revolution," the War of 1812 began with a declaration of war by President James Madison on June 18, 1812 following a ten-year series of skirmishes at frontier outposts, impressment of sailors on the seas, and blockades of shipping. It was on the 4th of July in 1812, some three dozen years after America first declared its independence from the King of England that soldiers of the Georgia militia rendezvoused in Dublin to launch an attack on British fortifications in Florida, which would not become part of the United States until six years later.
During its regular session, the Georgia legislature on December 9, 1812, appointed David Blackshear to command the 2nd Brigade of the 5th Division of the state's militia. Dr. William Lee commanded the first division.
Blackshear's first known call to duty came in early August 1813, when Georgia governor David Mitchell wrote the general to move his brigade to the frontier and adopt measures to afford some security for the fearing inhabitants. Gen. Blackshear ordered Lt. Col. Ezekiel Wimberly to immediately man three forts: Twiggs, Telfair, and Jackson along the line of the frontier, then the Ocmulgee River. Blackshear ordered Col. Allen Tooke of Pulaski County and Major Cawthorn of Telfair to immediately do the same.
The General set out on a patrol to inspect the forts and reported back to the Governor, "I found the inhabitants in a high state of alarm - an immense number of whom had left and fled to the interior." Blackshear immediately began preparations to lay out an additional ten forts along the frontier, each manned by one subaltern, a sergeant, a corporal and fifteen privates and each approximately ten miles equidistant.
My mid-September, Gen. Blackshear reported that all threats of an eminent invasion had subsided, at least for the present. By mid-November, tensions along the Ocmulgee once again began to rise. Major General David Adams ordered Blackshear to send some of his best men to join a force of 157 men and to go out to the frontier to make improvements to existing fortifications and erect new ones and to report his activities to Major James Patton at Fort Hawkins.
On January 4, 1814, the newly elected Georgia governor Peter Early, a former judge of Laurens County Superior Court, replaced the ailing General John Floyd with his old friend, David Blackshear to command the army from Georgia in the lower Flint River region. Blackshear reported that a great number of his men were sick and that he needed substantial reinforcements to aid his 700-man force in guarding his forts and supplies, not to mention the effort to drive away the hostile Indians, all the Negroes, and the British forces at the mouth of Flint River.
Two years after the war began, Gov. Early reappointed Gen. Blackshear to command a brigade of first class militia along with Gen. Floyd. (LEFT) Blackshear responded, "Sir, I am at all times ready promptly to accept that or any other appointment you may think proper to confer on me in which it is in my power to serve my country."
Just as was the case in previous Septembers, tensions along the Georgia frontier began to explode. Blackshear ordered several units to move out from Hartford, opposite present day Hawkinsville. Adjutant General Daniel Newnan informed Blackshear that 2500 men would be needed to support General Andrew Jackson, then in the vicinity of Mobile. Several units from Blackshear's command were detached for that purpose.
Ten days before Christmas, Blackshear and his brigade received orders to move from their encampment at Camp Hope, two miles north of Fort Hawkins on the Milledgeville Road in present day Macon, to Hartford and then to open a road to the Flint River, where he was ordered to erect fortifications. No one in Georgia even realized that the war with Great Britain officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Ghent on Christmas Eve while Blackshear and his men were camping on the banks of the Ocmulgee.
Blackshear's men spent Christmas at Camp Blakely, two miles from present day Hawkinsville before moving west toward his objective on the Flint River. Blackshear reported that he arrived on January 6 "without forage and not many rations on hand." Blackshear continued his march, oblivious to the fact that two days later, General Andrew Jackson's command defeated the British at the war ending Battle of New Orleans.
With no instant communications informing him that hostilities had officially ended, Blackshear marched his men, many of whom were sick, south and west from their Flint River base. On January 14, Blackshear received orders to return to Fort Hawkins. Within a week, Blackshear was back at Fort Hawkins, where he begged Farrish Carter, of Baldwin County, to furnish him with 30,000 badly needed rations. Blackshear implored, "Our country is invaded; and I hope in God you will use every exertion in your power to facilitate the movement of the troops to check the insurrection and depredation that will ensue should we delay for want of provisions."
Once resupplied, at least in part, Blackshear began cutting a road down the northeastern line of the Ocmulgee and Altamaha. His destination was Fort Barrington on the Altamaha in McIntosh County. Along his line of march, Blackshear's men cut the legendary "Blackshear Road."
Reports of British activity around St. Mary's were coming in from many sources. One of those sources was J. Sawyer, possibly Jonathan Sawyer the founding father of Dublin, who reported that the British were landing on Cumberland Island. Sawyer wrote Blackshear concerning British atrocities and their movement toward Darien.
By February 4, 1815, Blackshear reported that he was some 132 miles from Hartford or just a few miles from Fort Barrington. Upon his arrival in Darien, David Blackshear reported, "We have been in a constant state of alarm, and the principal inhabitants, remonstrating against my leaving this station."
Just as he was making plans to move toward the enemy, General Floyd wrote to Blackshear, "The official accounts of a peace having been concluded between our country and Great Britain appear to have filled the hearts of the populace here (Savannah) with joy." And, just like that it was over. After formally winding up their affairs, Blackshear's men were discharged and went back their homes in East Central Georgia.
Thus ended the middle and most widely heralded chapter in the epic life of General David Blackshear - soldier, statesman and citizen. Blackshear returned to his Springfield home in Laurens County, where he spent the last twenty two years of his life serving the people of Laurens County and Georgia.