On December 28th, 1835 a column that consisted of a 138 U.S. Army Regulars under the command of Major Francis Dade marching in a "column of twos" were ambushed by a party of Seminole Indians under the command of Chief Micanopy. The soldiers had left Fort Brooke [present day Tampa, Florida] several days before and were marching to re-enforce Fort King [present day, Ocala, Florida] that was still over twenty odd miles away
The column was marching along what was known as the "King Highway," which was a rude wagon road that at the point of the ambush ran through a hammock of pine, live oak, palms and palmetto. Apparently Major Dade did not expect any trouble on this march because he had not deployed any scouts.
Chief Micanopy led a Seminole force of approximately 180 Braves and he had planned the ambush well. According to the statements of Ransone Clark [the only soldier to survive the massacre] the first volley, fired from ambush killed not only Major Dade but also killed or wounded approximately half of the soldiers in the column!
The surviving soldiers retreated to an open area nearby and hastily threw up a rude, triangular breastwork that consisted of several pine logs placed one on top of another. Some of the surviving artilleryman, the crew of a 6 pounder cannon, placed their gun besides the breastwork-but this did no good because all the soldiers were soon picked off and overwhelmed.
Today, of course, the Seminole Wars have been almost totally forgotten. Our schools and college do not even teach courses on the Seminole Wars. Those wars have also been almost totally ignored by Hollywood. Yet, more U.S. soldiers died in Florida during the Seminole Wars that in all the Indian Campaigns West of the Mississippi River following the Civil War!
Today, the site of the Dade Massacre is a sleepy and picturesque Florida State Park just a few miles off of I-75 near modern day Bushnell, Florida. Several years ago, I turned off of I-75 and followed the signs to the park. As it turned out, I was almost the only visitor there that entire day. I walked the grounds, trying to envision the desperate fighting that took place there in 1835. Then I came to a startling conclusion: Apparently, the Seminoles were armed with rifles and were highly skilled in their use.
This had to be true, if as, according to Ransone Clark's account, that fully one-half of the soldiers in the column went down from the first volley that was fired! We also know for certain that the soldiers were armed with U.S. Model 1816, flintlock, Smoothbore Muskets. So, the soldiers never had a chance as they were literally being picked off one by one with accurate rifle fire, delivered from beyond the range of their SB muskets and fired by Seminoles concealed in the brush. The grand irony is that the Seminoles had arms that were technologically superior to the smooth bore muskets carried by the soldiers!
So, if you find yourself driving down I-75 in Florida one day, take time to stop by the park. The sacrifice of Major Dade and his command should not be forgotten.