Battle of Lake Okeechobee
The Battle of Lake Okeechobee was one of the major battles of the Second Seminole War
Second Seminole War
The Second Seminole War, also known as the Florida War, was a conflict from 1835 to 1842 in Florida between various groups of Native Americans collectively known as Seminoles and the United States, part of a series of conflicts called the Seminole Wars...

. It was fought between 800 troops of the 1st, 4th, and 6th Infantry Regiments and 132 Missouri Volunteers (under the command of Colonel Zachary Taylor
Zachary Taylor
Zachary Taylor was the 12th President of the United States and an American military leader. Initially uninterested in politics, Taylor nonetheless ran as a Whig in the 1848 presidential election, defeating Lewis Cass...

) and between 380 and 480 Seminoles led by Billy Bowlegs
Billy Bowlegs
thumbChief Billy Bowlegs or Billy Bolek was a leader of the Seminoles in Florida during the Second and Third Seminole Wars against the United States...

, Abiaca and Alligator on December 25, 1837. The Seminole were resisting forced relocation to a reservation out west. Though both the Seminoles and Taylor's troops emerged from the battle claiming victory, Taylor was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General
Brigadier General
Brigadier general is a senior rank in the armed forces. It is the lowest ranking general officer in some countries, usually sitting between the ranks of colonel and major general. When appointed to a field command, a brigadier general is typically in command of a brigade consisting of around 4,000...

 as a result, and his nickname of "Old Rough and Ready" came mostly due to this battle.

Taylor's army came up to a large hammock with half a mile of swamp in front of it. On the far side of the hammock was Lake Okeechobee
Lake Okeechobee
Lake Okeechobee , locally referred to as The Lake or The Big O, is the largest freshwater lake in the state of Florida. It is the seventh largest freshwater lake in the United States and the second largest freshwater lake contained entirely within the lower 48 states...

. Here the saw grass stood five feet high. The mud and water were three feet deep. Horses would be of no use. It was plain that the Seminole meant this to be the battleground. They had sliced the grass to provide an open field of fire and had notched the trees to steady their rifles. Their scouts were perched in the treetops to follow every movement of the troops coming up.

At about half past noon, the sun shining directly overhead and the air still and quiet, Taylor moved his troops squarely into the center of the swamp. His plan was to make a direct attack rather than encircle the Indians. All his men were on foot. In the first line were the 132 Missouri
Missouri is a US state located in the Midwestern United States, bordered by Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska. With a 2010 population of 5,988,927, Missouri is the 18th most populous state in the nation and the fifth most populous in the Midwest. It...

 volunteers. As soon as they came within range, the Indians opened with heavy fire. The volunteers broke, and their commander, Colonel Richard Gentry
Richard Gentry
Richard Gentry was an American politician and military officer who died during the Seminole Wars. The Missouri county of Gentry is named for him.-Early life:...

, fatally wounded, was unable to rally them. The Indians then mounted a counterattack on the remaining soldiers. In the deadly assault some of the soldiers were scalped by the Indians. Gentry had suggested to Taylor before the battle an encirclement strategy which Taylor rejected, charging that Gentry was afraid of a direct confrontation. This could have motivated Gentry to keep charging the Seminole positions even though the original battle plan had the militia retreating at the first sign of enemy fire to re-form behind the regular army lines.

As a result of the additional casualties induced by the continued charge, the Missouri Militia fled back across the swamp, where they were too disorganized and disheartened to re-form as planned. The fighting in the saw grass was deadliest for five companies of the Sixth Infantry; every officer but one, and most of their noncoms were killed or wounded. When that part of the regiment retired a short distance to re-form, they found only four men of these companies unharmed.

26 U.S. soldiers, including the majority of Taylor's officers and NCOs
Non-commissioned officer
A non-commissioned officer , called a sub-officer in some countries, is a military officer who has not been given a commission...

, were killed, with 112 wounded, against 11 Seminoles killed and 14 wounded. The battle achieved the effect of stopping Taylor's Troops from further advance south (for the time being) and no Seminoles were captured, although Taylor did capture 100 ponies and 600 head of cattle. Years later Billy Bowlegs visited Washington and on being escorted through the buildings of the Capitol and viewing many statues and paintings, he suddenly halted before a portrait of Zachary Taylor, grinned and exclaimed: "Me whip!"

Battlefield Endangered

The National Trust for Historic Preservation
National Trust for Historic Preservation
The National Trust for Historic Preservation is an American member-supported organization that was founded in 1949 by congressional charter to support preservation of historic buildings and neighborhoods through a range of programs and activities, including the publication of Preservation...

declared the site of the Battle of Okeechobee as one of 11 places, in the whole country, on a list they call America's Most Endangered Historic Places 2000. The state of Florida spent $3.2 million dollars for a 145 acre (0.5867947 km²) park. An annual battle reenactment is held to raise money for the State park.

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