Archived Story

Archaeologist talks efforts to locate Red Stick barricade

Published 8:43pm Friday, March 21, 2014

A straight line of white stakes stretches across the site where the Battle of Horseshoe Bend was fought. It marks the barricade that gave Creek Red Sticks a short-lived advantage against the numerically superior American forces.

But an expert in military history was never convinced the line accurately depicted the placement of the barricade.

“I always wondered about that position,” Archaeologist John Cornelison told the Dadeville Kiwanis Club Thursday. “It seemed commanded by (the Army’s cannons, positioned atop) Gun Hill.”

When Cornelison — of the federal Southeast Archaeology Center in Tallahassee, Fla. — wonders about something, he has the unique ability to answer his question. So he assembled a team that spent last summer using a variety of state-of-the-art methods to zero in on the true location of the barricade where so many Creek and American warriors fell 200 years ago Thursday.

Cornelison was invited by Kiwanis member Doyle Sapp, superintendent of Horseshoe Bend National Military Park. Cornelison was in town for the 200th anniversary of the historic battle that took place there between militant Creek Indian Red Sticks and the U.S. Army led by Gen. Andrew Jackson.

Cornelison told the group of Dadeville Kiwanians and Dadeville High Key Club members how the team used ground-penetrating radar, an electromagnetic conductivity sensor, metal detectors, satellite-generate maps and the battlefield maps drawn by Jackson and Brig. Gen. John Coffee to “learn more about the Creek vs. the American positions.”

Because so many Native Americans died in the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, a traditional archaeological dig was not an option. So instead, Cornelison’s team searched for different calibres of musket balls to determine where each side stood, and where they clashed.

He explained how finding a musket ball that has been fire provides one piece of information — who was on the receiving end — while “drops,” or unfired musket balls, can point out places where the battle lines were being overrun and combatants were dropping rounds from fear or injury.

He was assisted by fellow archaeologists and students from Lehigh University and from nearby Auburn University.

“We were very fortunate to all be working together,” he said, explaining that each element of the team brought its own prefered tools and strategies to the effort.

In the end, Cornelison plotted out the locations of musket balls and other underground structures and artifacts they’d found.

“We discovered the park had been interpreting it almost exactly right the whole time,” he said, admitting his doubts about the historical placement of the barricade had been dispelled. “We precisely located it and we didn’t have to put a single shovel in the ground.”

Cornelison will be sharing his findings and a more detailed presentation about the effort with fellow experts in the field at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend Bicentennial Symposium today in Auburn.