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W. P. A. History of Pontotoc County, Mississippi

Chapter V:   Indians


The Battle of Akia

E. T. Winston's story of the Battle of Aki is given space here because it was one of the decisive battles in this section during the first half of the eighteenth century and settled forever the question of territorial possession of the French in the Chickasaw territory in North Mississippi.


By E. T. Winston

In his introduction to Mississippi Provincial Archives, relating to the French Dominion, 1729 - 40, covering a period of more than a decade, Dr. Dunbar Rowland, Mississippi State Archivist, says:

"France in the lower Mississippi Valley has never had a Francis Parkman (historian of the Upper Mississippi Valley and Canada) to tell the story of the efforts of that valiant people to build an empire on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico and on the banks of the Mississippi.  The story of the heroism and self-sacrificing devotion of the French in their efforts to transplant their culture and civilization in the country of the Lower Mississippi has the same fascinating interest which marks the colonization of Canada, the subject which commanded the genius of Parkman from his early manhood until his death.

If, on the other had, the valiant efforts of a people worthy of such extravagant praise be thwarted by a foe who in every way proved as gallant, courageous and worthy, we must admit that the language of the historian is inadequate to record the achievements of the noble Chickasaws in resisting for eleven years the efforts of the French government with a horde of Indian allies to conquer their country and subdue them.

The real purpose of this war against the Chickasaws was to unite the French possessions from Louisiana to Canada.  The block of territory which was the Chickasaw domain, alone prevented the consummation of this design, and less than 500 Chickasaw warriors, not more than 100 Natchez refugees, and approximately 30 English traders - about 600 fighting men - withstood this siege of more than a decade and successfully defended their country until they were proven invincible and unconquerable.  Humiliated, chagrined, defeated, and divested of their leadership commander after commander abandoned the enterprise and retired, until finally the French government relinquished its American possessions and withdrew from colonial designs in this part of the world.

With this introduction we may proceed with our narrative of the events that led up to and an account of the Battle of Akia, which was fought May 26, 1736.  (Akia, by the way, is correctly Hikia, which means erected, set up, enlarged, etc.).  Governor Bienville, at his capitol in New Orleans, was straining every nerve to complete preparations for the invasion of the Chickasaw nation.  He visited Mobile, and having assembled at that point a large delegation of Choctaw chiefs, he in a great measure accomplished his object in gaining them over to his side.  It was important that he should do so, for Red Shoe, a potent chief of the tribe, had already declared in favor of the English.  Bienville freely distributed merchandise and promised a much larger amount if they would assist him in the war, to which they finally consented.  Indeed, since his arrival from France he saw the necessity of inspiring the Indian nations with awe and respect by a bold and successful strike at the Chickasaws.  Nor had he failed to demand the necessar5y men and military supplies from the mother country.

Nine months before this period he had dispatched M. Lusser with a company of soldiers and artisans to a place upon the Little Tombigbee, which is now called Jone's Bluff, with orders  to erect there a fort and cabins to be used as a depot for the army, and afterwards to serve as a permanent trading post.  That fearless officer had reached these wilds in safety and it was not long before the forest resounded with the noise of axes and the heavy falling of timber.  He was assisted in his labors by many of the Choctaws.

The army left New Orleans, March 22, 1736, and passing through the lakes, reached Mobile.  The vessels containing the supplies were retarded and other delays made, it was April 1, before Bienville embarked his troops at Mobile and turned his boats up the river of that name.  Never before had such a large and imposing fleet of the kind disturbed the deep and smooth waters.  Every kind of up-country craft was employed and they bore men of nearly all kinds and colors.  There were genteel merchants, gentlemen of leisure and fortune, loafers and convicts, rough but bold mariners, veteran soldiers, sturdy and invincible Canadians, monks and priests, Choctaws and Modillions, and a company of mulattoes commanded by Simon, a free mulatto.  The fleet comprised more than sixty of the largest pirogues and bateaux.  Entering the main Tombigbee, Bienville made his way up that stream to the confluence of the Warrior, and there passing into Little Tombigbee, he at length arrived at the fort (Jone's Bluff).  Heavy rains and much high water had retarded his passage.

When all the allied Choctaws had arrived, Bienville reviewed his troops upon the plain in the rear of the fort.  He found that his army was composed of 550 men, exclusive of officers, together with 600 Indians.  He now took up the line of march for the enemy's country.  The larger number of the French troops embarked in the boats.  Some of the Indians proceeded in their own canoes, while many hardy Canadians, called couriers de bois, marched with other Indians, sometimes along the banks, where the swamps did not intervene and then again a mile or two from the river.  It was truly an imposing scene to be exhibited in these interminable wilds.  After encountering many difficulties, the redoubtable  Bienville at length reached the spot where now stands the city of Columbus, Mississippi, and pursuing his tedious voyage, finally moored his boats at or near the place later known as Cotton Gin Port.

Disembarking there, Bienville began to fell the trees in the forest for the erection of a stockade, with loopholes for muskets to protect his boats, which were all unladen and drawn up close together.  He was 27 miles from the towns of the enemy, which lay in a western direction, says Pickett.  Taking provisions with him to last twelve days, the governor began the march in the evening (May 23) and that night encamped six miles from the depot.  The rains which incommoded him in the voyage up the  river did not forsake him in his march on the present occasion, for scarcely had he formed his camp when a violent storm arose.  The next day he passed three deep ravines - the soldiers wading up to their knees - and after gaining the opposite banks, slipping and falling constantly on the slimy soil, great difficulties were surmounted in transporting the army over these angry torrents.  The banks on each side were covered by large ravines but Bienville took the precaution always to send spies in advance, to prevent surprise from ambuscade.

Soon however, the French were relieved by the appearance of the most beautiful country in the world, the Chickasaw Old Fields.  The prairies were stretched out wide before them, covered with green grass, flowers and strawberries, while forests of magnificent trees were to be seen in the distance.  A breeze gently played over the lovely plains and a May day's sun warmed nature into life.  The sleek cattle were everywhere grazing upon sweet meadows of nature.  The nimble dear bounded along and droves of wild horses of every variety of color, with lofty tails and spreading manes, made the earth resound with their rapid tread.  (Pickett).

Drawing nearer and nearer to the enemy, Bienville encamped within six miles of their towns.  His camp was formed upon the border of a delightful prairie, the view across which was not interrupted by trees until it had reached far beyond the Indian houses.  He had previously sent spies in all directions to look for D'Artaguette and his troops.  The bands, chiefly composed of Indians, returned without having heard anything of that unfortunate officer.  The governor was sorely disappointed and could no longer hope for aid from that source, and he resolved to rely upon his own forces.  His intention at first was to march in a circuitous direction around the Chickasaw villages, in order to attack the Natchez town which lay behind them and which had recently been erected - the same D'Artaguette attacked.

But the Choctaws had become very impatient to assail an advanced village of the Chickasaws, which they insisted could be easily taken, and which they stated contained a large amount of provisions.  Their importunities were disregarded until strengthened by Chevalier Noyan, nephew of the governor, and other French officers, whose impetuous disposition made them eager for an immediate attack.  The houses of the enemy stood upon a hill in the prairie and spread out in the shape of a triangle.  After some consideration Bienville resolved to give the French an opportunity of satisfying a long sought revenge.

At two o'clock in the afternoon (May 26) Chevalier Noyan was placed at the head of a column consisting of a detachment of fifteen men drawn from each of the eight French companies, a company of grenadiers, 45 volunteers and 65 Swiss.

The Chickasaws had fortified themselves with much skill, and were assisted by Englishmen, who had caused them to hoist a flag of their country over one of the defenses.  The French troops, as they advanced, were not a little surprised to see the British Lion, against which many of them had fought in Europe, now floating over the rude huts of American Indians, and bidding them defiance.  It is said that there were about thirty Englishmen allied with the Chickasaws in this battle.  In the main, they were probably members of a party of 125 traders and adventurers who had set out from Charleston, S. C., for the Southern Indian country some years before and were scattered among the various tribes.

The Chickasaws had fortified their houses in a most defensive manner by driving large stakes in the ground around them:  Loop-holes were cut through the latter, very near the ground.  Within the palisades entrenchments were cut deep enough to protect the persons of the defenders as high as their breasts.  In these ditches they stood and when the battle began shot through the loop-holes at the French.  The tops of these fortified houses were covered with timbers upon which was placed a thick coating of mud plaster, so that neither ignited arrows nor bomb shells could set the houses on fire.

What added still more to the security of the Chickasaws was the position of some of their houses, which stood in nearly opposite directions, so as to admit of destructive cross-firing.  Bienville, having previously learned that there were several of the British within their villages, had with much humanity, as it may have at that time seemed, or probably diplomatic deference to the government and men of his own race, directed the Chevalier Noyan to give them time to retire before he brought on the attack.

The division then marched swiftly on.  It was protected by movable breast works called mantelets which are now carried by the company of negroes.  As their lives appear not to have been esteemed as much as the French, these negroes were used in the same manner as shields are in battle.  When troops advanced within carbine shot of the village of Akia, where waved the British flag, one of the negroes was killed and another wounded.  They all now threw down their mantelets and precipitately fled.  And now, no longer protected by the mantelets, the French received a severe fire from the Chickasaws, which killed and wounded many.

Among the killed was the gallant and accomplished Chevalier de Contrecouer, and when he fell dead it produced an unpleasant feeling among those  around him, by whom he was greatly esteemed.  Upon his right and left the soldiers lay dead, discoloring the green grass with their blood.  But the troops carried three fortified cabins and reached several smaller ones, which they presently wrapped in flames.

The chief fort and other fortified houses lay some distance in the rear of those they had in possession.  Chevalier Noyan was eager to advance upon them, but turning around to take a rapid survey of his forces he was mortified to perceive that only the officers, a dozen of the volunteers and some grenadiers remained with him.  Dismayed by the fall of Captain de Lusser, who was now killed, and seeing a  popular sergeant of grenadiers and several soldiers fall, the troops retreated to the cabins which were first taken.  In vain did the officers who belonged to the rear endeavor to drive them on to the scene of action.  A panic had seized them and no exhortation, threats, promises of promotion nor hopes of military duty could induce them to make the slightest advance from their cowardly position.

But the officers resolved more than ever to do their duty, and placing themselves at the head of a few brave soldiers, essayed to storm the fort.  But just at the moment of their contemplated charge, the brave Chevalier de Noyan, Grondel, an invincible lieutenant of the Swill; De Hauterive, the captain of the grenadiers; Mobrum, De Velle and other officers and soldiers received severe wounds.  The balls of the Chickasaws came thick and whizzed over the prairie.  The bleeding Noyan stood his ground and dispatched his aide to assist in bringing up the soldiers, who still screened themselves behind the cabins.  But as he left to perform the order a Chickasaw ball put an end to his existence.  The death of this officer, whose name was Sieur de Juzan, increased the panic which had so unfortunately seized upon the larger number of the troops.

A party of Indians at this moment rushed up to scalp the wounded Grondel, the Swiss officer who had fallen near the walls of the fort.  A brave sergeant with four fearless soldiers rushed to the rescue.  Driving off the savages, they were about the bear him off in their arms when a fire from the fort killed every one of those noble fellows.  But the bleeding Grondel still survived, although those who came to protect his head from the blows of the hatchet lay dead by his side.  Another act of heroism is worthy of record:  Regnisse now rushed out alone, and making his way to the unfortunate Grondel, who still lay bleeding from five wounds, dragged him out from among the bodies of those who had just fallen in his defense, placed him on his back, and returned to the French lines without receiving a solitary wound from the shower of Chickasaw balls.  The almost lifeless Grondel, however, received another severe wound as he was borne off by the noble Regnisse  This Grondel was an officer of indomitable courage.  His life was full of romantic events.  He had fought several duels in Mobile.  He recovered from the wounds he received in this battle and was promoted to high military station.

But where were the Choctaws while the French were thus expiring in agony upon the prairie?  Painted, plumed, and dressed in a most fantastic and horrible manner, they kept the plain on each side of the French lines at a distance where the balls of the enemy could not reach them, sending forth yells and shouts, occasionally dancing and shooting their guns in the air.  The brave Chickasaws maintained their positions in the fortified houses and from loop-holes riddled the French with their unerring rifles.  They, too, yelled most awfully.  The scene was one calculated to excite deep interest, for added to all this the onlooker might have viewed the flames rising up from the burning cabins and sending above them volumes of black smoke, which a May breeze wafted to the distant forests.

The Chevalier de Noyan now ordered a retreat to the advanced cabins, and when he had arrived there, he dispatched an officer to Bienville, bearing an account of their critical condition.  Noyan sent his word that although severely wounded himself he was determined to keep the position he had just taken.  He requested that a detachment be sent to his assistance to bear off the dead and wounded and assist those who were alive to make a retreat, as now no further hope remained of storming the fortifications of the Chickasaws.

Bienville was hastened in his determination to send aid by observing that a Chickasaw force on the flank, which had not yet participated in the battle, was about to sally from their houses and immolate the French officers and the few soldiers who had remained with them.  He immediately dispatched Beauchamp with 80 men to the scene of action.  Arriving there, he found the French officers huddled together, holding their ground at the imminent peril of their lives.  Beauchamp, in advanci9ng had already lost several men.  The Chickasaws now redoubled their exertions and made the plain resound with their exulting shouts.  Beauchamp began the retreat, carrying off many of the wounded and dead, but unfortunately was forced to leave some behind, who fell into the tiger clutches of the Chickasaws.

When the French had retreated some distance towards Bienville's headquarters, the Choctaws, by way of bravado, rushed up to the Chickasaw fortifications as if they intended to carry them by storm, but receiving a general volley from the enemy, they fled in great terror over the prairie.

Thus was fought the battle of Akia, on a May day more than two centuries ago.  It lasted three hours and resulted in glory for the Chickasaws and disgrace for the French.  Bienville made no further effort to find D'Artaguette or pursue his conquest of the Chickasaws, but humiliated and defeated, he took up the line of march to his base at Cotton Gin Port, where he embarked and returned to New Orleans.

Though other expeditions were sent out, one of which was led by Governor Bienville himself, and various sorties were made by his successors in office to conquer or subdue the Chickasaws, they were all without result.  Bienville was finally recalled by his government for his failure to subdue them, and though he lived to be an old man and had a wonderful record of achievement, he never lost interest in the Louisiana Territory nor recovered his prestige with the French Government.  With the great preparation he had made and the vast outlay of men and money wasted, the king of France and his cabinet could not understand how  a handful of American 'savages' were 'invincible and unconquerable'.  (1)

The sources used in collecting the facts contained in the above article were:

Malone, James H.:  The Chickasaw Nation, Map insert, pp. 284-285; John P. Morton and Company, Louisville, Ky., 1922

Leftist, George J.:  Some Main Traveled Roads "Publications of the Mississippi Historical Society," Centenary Series, Vol. I.

O'Brien, Rev. James:  The Louisiana and Mississippi Martyrs, Paulist Press, 401 West 59th St., New York.

Rowland and Sanders:  Mississippi Provincial Archives, 1729074, French Dominion Jackson Press of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, 1927.

(1) E. T. WInston, Pontotoc, Miss.


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