The Indians inside the fortification began beating their war drums and screaming their defiance. With only a few short interruptions, Jackson kept up "a very brisk fire" for two hours, blasting the hostiles with musketry and rifles whenever they showed themselves above their works or ventured out of the enclosure. Then, without warning and apparently without specific orders from the general, the friendly Creeks, part of the Cherokee force, and the company of spies guarding the other side of the Tallapoosa crossed the river in canoes and set fire to buildings near the shore. They then mounted the bluff and attacked the Red Sticks from the rear. This sudden and unexpected maneuver gave Jackson the diversion he needed, and he seized it.
"Charge!" he screamed.
His order was instantly greeted with "joy" by his soldiers, "Never were men more eager to be led to a charge than both regulars and militia," reported Jackson to Pinckney. "They had been waiting with impatience to receive the order, and hailed it with acclamation." It "was a sure augury of the success which was to follow."
The troops rushed forward under an unrelenting hail of Indian bullets and arrows. The 39th Regiment reached the barrier first and thrust their rifles through the portholes, firing at point-blank range. For a time it was muzzle-to-muzzle shooting "in which many of the enemy's balls were welded to the bayonets of our musquets." Major Lemuel P. Montgomery leaped onto the top of the breastwork and commanded his men to follow. His words had hardly been spoken when a bullet struck him in the head and he fell lifeless to the ground. Ensign Sam Houston immediately took Montgomery's place and repeated the command, whereupon an arrow pierced his thigh. Disregarding the wound, he jumped into the compound, followed by a large contingent of regulars. Within moments the breastwork was breached and the army scaled the rampart in force.
With the capture of the breastwork and the mass arrival of troops within the compound, the end of the Red Sticks was at hand. The infantry rushed forward while the friendly Indians and spies advanced from the rear. The Red Sticks found themselves caught in this crushing pincer. They could not escape. They ducked into the thick brush that covered the ground to seek shelter, but they were flushed out and shot at close range. The killing became savage.
Desperate, frightened, and overwhelmed, the defenders fought furiously, but were "at length entirely routed and cut to pieces." No quarter was given, none asked. "Arrows, and spears, and balls were flying; swords and tomahawks were gleaming in the sun and the whole Peninsula rang with the yell of the savages, and the groans of the dying."
In the midst of this mayhem a frightened, confused, and lost Indian boy of five or six wandered into a group of soldiers, and one of them struck the child on the head and killed him with his musket. An officer reprimanded the recruit for committing such a barbarous act. The soldier simply replied that if the boy had lived he would have grown into a warrior and wreaked revenge on innocent whites.
Once the troops gained the upper hand they set the village on fire. During the conflagration another soldier came upon an old noncombatant Indian sitting on the ground pounding corn with a mortar. The old man may have been senile, for he seemed unaware of the savagery taking place around him. Without giving it another thought the soldier calmly and deliberately shot him dead so that he could return home and boast that he had killed an Indian. As Jackson later told his wife, Rachel, "the carnage was dreadful." Indeed it was hideous.
In their pell-mell rush to escape the horror surrounding them, many Red Sticks headed for their canoes in the river, only to run smack into Coffee's troops and another blast of deadly fire. Others barreled down the bluff overlooking the river and concealed themselves among the cliffs, which were covered with fallen trees and brush. For the next several hours the American troops hunted down these desperate defenders, flushing them from their hiding places and shooting them on the spot. Only women and children were to be taken captive, although a few of them were "accidentally" killed. By this time the Red Sticks were racing madly about not knowing what to do or where to hide. The remaining warriors in the compound were systematically slaughtered.
Monahee, the principal prophet, was later found dead, shot in the mouth by grapeshot. It was "as if Heaven designed to chastise his impostures by an appropriate punishment," commented Jackson. "Two other prophets were also killed." Menewa, the great chieftain, was wounded at least seven times. He lay unconscious among the heap of dead, but after dark he regained consciousness and crawled to the river, where he found a canoe and made his escape.
For five hours, Horseshoe Bend was a killing field, "but the firing and the slaughter continued until it was suspended by the darkness of the night," reported Jackson. "It was dark before we finished killing them."
As the sun went down it also set on the great and proud Creek Nation. The mangled and painted bodies strewn everywhere and the smoking remains of the once mighty stronghold maked a tragic end to the grand Indian dream of driving the white man back into the sea. For the Americans the victory came at the most opportune time. That part of the Creek Nation that had responded to Tecumseh's call to destroy the American nation was crushed just when the British were about to land troops along the Gulf and provide the Indians with additional support. No one can say what might have happened had the Creek War been delayed and synchronized with the landing of the British troops. They might well have overcome Jackson's army and gone on to capture New Orleans as planned, and then establish a buffer state in the Mississippi Valley to prevent further expansion by the United States.
The next morning the killing was resumed. Sixteen hostiles were found concealed "under the banks" and promptly dispatched. Unfortunately, the barbartity did not abate with the end of the fighting. Tennessee soldiers were observed cutting long strips of skin from the bodies of the dead Indians to make bridle reins of them. The friendly Indians scalped their victims.
Jackson ordered a body count of the hostiles and his own troops. There were hundreds of dead Red Sticks everywhere within the compound, and to prevent counting any of them twice the tip of each hostile's nose was cut off as soon as the count was made. It appalled some observers who watched the ghoulish operation. "The Indians," they reported, "take off the scalps. These soldiers took off the nose."
The total count of Indian dead on the battlefield came to 557. In addition, according to the report of General Coffee and other officers, not less than 300 Red Sticks died in the river and could not be counted. All told, said Jackson, 850 hostiles were slain. Perhaps 20, maybe more, made their escape at night.
Andrew Jackson And His Indian Wars by Robert V. Remini, pages 76-79
Viking published by the Penguin Group, New York, 2001