The site of Fort Mitchell is located in Russell County, less than one mile west of the Chattahoochee River. The fort was established in late 1812 along the site of a horse path through the Creek Nation that allowed white settlers to cross Creek land while traveling from Georgia to the Mississippi Territory in the early 1800s; it was abandoned in 1840. The site was excavated by archaeologists in the early 1970s and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1990. Today, visitors can tour an interpretive facility that includes a reconstruction of the fort and other exhibits.
During the autumn of 1812 and winter of 1813, Gen. John Floyd, a commander in the Georgia Militia, established a settlement known as Fort Mitchell in Creek territory, on a trail that would soon become the Federal Road. The settlement was named for David Brydie Mitchell, a former governor of Georgia. Allied with some Creek towns, Floyd used the fort as a base to attack unfriendly towns, including Atasi (Auttose) and Talasi (Tallassee). Floyd remained at the fort for a year and left in 1814. The original troops stationed at Fort Mitchell were charged with keeping open that section of Federal Road running through the Creek Nation. In 1817, an Indian trading house, or "factory," was moved to Fort Mitchell from its original site at Fort Hawkins, near present-day Macon, Georgia. Starting in November 1818, the factory housed a post office, but the facility was abandoned in 1820.
Col. John Crowell, an Indian agent to the Creek Nation, arrived at Fort Mitchell in 1821 with his brothers Thomas and Henry to establish an Indian agency. By 1825, Thomas Crowell was the proprietor of a tavern on the grounds at Fort Mitchell and reportedly entertained the Marquis de la Lafayette there that spring. The U.S. Army's Fourth Infantry Regiment arrived in July and constructed a new fort that autumn. The tavern and existing buildings were converted to officers' quarters. The fort was described as being square with 12-foot-high pickets and diagonal corners and having a blockhouse, but little is known of its exact dimensions.
Fort Mitchell was occupied by the Fourth Infantry from 1825 to 1840 to manage tensions between settlers and the local Creeks, essentially preventing squatters from taking Creek land. Francis Scott Key, the author of the "Star Spangled Banner" lyrics, stayed there in the winter of 1833, sent by Pres. Andrew Jackson to investigate land disputes between the Creeks and squatters and reportedly finding fault with his Americans. In 1836, generals Thomas Jesup and Winfield Scott stayed at the fort during the Second Creek War. Also that year, when the Creeks were removed to present-day Kansas and Oklahoma, the fort served as an assembly point for the trek that became known as the Trail of Tears.
After the Creeks had been removed from the area, there was little reason for the federal government to continue to support Fort Mitchell. From monthly status reports submitted to the federal government, however, historians have gleaned that morale was low, the fort had its own stockade, and life was probably unpleasant for soldiers who suffered from outbreaks of malaria, typhus, small pox, and influenza. The last federal troops left the fort in the spring of 1840. About 20 years later, the Fifteenth Alabama Regiment assembled for drills in the nearby fields during the Civil War. After that, the land was left to nature and the buildings fell to ruin.
Given its location near the Chattahoochee River, the border between Alabama and Georgia, Fort Mitchell was the ideal site for settling disputes between citizens of the two states, typically in the form of duels. The first notable duel occurred in 1828 between George E. Crawford and Thomas Burnside. Burnside was the unfortunate loser in the conflict, and Crawford later became governor of Georgia. Another duel, between Gen. Sowell Woolfolk and Maj. Joseph Camp, resulted in Woolfolk's death.
Very little of For Mitchell's structures remained when the Alabama Archaeological Society began excavating the site in 1971.
That effort uncovered a variety of ruins, including gravesites, a hospital, the old fort, outbuildings, offices, barracks,
and storage rooms. The findings were published in a 1974 report. Fort Mitchell was designated a National Historic Landmark
in 1990 and is supported by the Fort Mitchell Historical Society, the Russell County Historical Commission, and the Lower
Chattahoochee Regional Development Center. The site now includes a visitors' center and the Chattahoochee Indian Heritage
Center to honor Creeks who suffered during their removal west, as well as reconstructions of the original buildings. In 1987,
the Fort Mitchell National Cemetery was established for veterans in the Southeast and Gulf Coast states and is part of the
property listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Chase, David W. Fort Mitchell: An Archaeological Exploration in Russell County, Alabama. Moundville, Ala.: Special Publications of the Alabama Archaeological Society, 1974.
The Heritage of Russell County. Clanton, Ala.: Heritage Publishing Consultants, 2003.
University of Alabama at Birmingham
Published October 25, 2010
Last updated June 26, 2013