I am a bit behind on updating my blog. But I wanted to write about Fort Bowyer.
200 years ago, on September 15, 1814, a battle at Fort Bowyer had a significant impact in the Battle of New Orleans a few months later. It also involved several hundred Creeks / Seminoles. We reenacted this event last month on the same site where the fort once stood. Now in its place is Fort Morgan, finished in 1834.
Below, your cruise to commemorate the Battle of Fort Bowyer last month, around Mobile Point and throwing a wreath in the water near where the HMS Hermes was destroyed.
With the War of 1812, we need to get a look at the overall strategy and campaigns to get an idea what was happening. There was a humorous video on Youtube a few years ago where it is asked, “What happened during this time? Wikipedia had nothing!”
Well, I will explain part of it. Just a small part. There is a lot that went on, so I will just stick with the Gulf campaign.
For the southern part of the United States, the British wanted to secure the borders and push back the Americans from the western territory. They did not recognize the legitimacy of the Louisiana Purchase, which was an illegal sale by Napoleon, who the British just defeated and ended the French empire in Europe. If they captured New Orleans, they could essentially control the Mississippi and force the Americans into concessions, or even back into British control. NOLA (New Orleans, Louisiana) was a city with multiple ethnic groups, political factions, and nationalities, the weakest being the Americans; so the British believed that once in the city, they could easily control it.
Getting into New Orleans was the difficult part, because it was not conveniently on the gulf coast, but about 60 miles upriver, past narrow waterways and swamps. This created a natural defense for the city that prevented a large naval attack. So the British Plan A was to surround the city by land, and bring up the naval force from the Gulf.
For the British to surround NOLA by land, they would first have to control and occupy Mobile, and then go over land to New Orleans. Originally under Spanish West Florida, the Americans considered Mobile part of the Louisiana Purchase, and just walked in and forced the Spanish authorities to leave about a year and a half earlier, in 1813.
The Americans had a small earthwork fort to defend the entrance of Mobile Bay, Fort Bowyer. After General Andrew Jackson defeated the Red Sticks at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend forced the Creeks into the Treaty of Fort Jackson, he came to Mobile and had Fort Bowyer reinforced under the command of Colonel William Lawrence of the 2nd Artillery.
So the British came to take Mobile, but with a plan that was totally unrealistic. They underestimated the ships that they would need, and were working with poor intelligence of the situation that they would face. Included with the British force was 4 ships, several hundred British Marines, and about 180 disgruntled Red Stick Creeks, or as other accounts say, Seminole and Miccosukee Indians.
The Two cannons on the back side of the fort kept the Marines and their Creek warrior allies behind the sand dunes and away from the Fort.
British intelligence of the depth of the entrance around Mobile Point and into Mobile Bay did not know how shallow it actually was around the point. So the ship HMS Hermes ran aground and got stuck right under the American guns of the fort, who fired on the ship and lit it on fire, which burned down to the gunpowder magazine and exploded, destroying the ship. Wounded on the Hermes was Col. Nicholls, who was head of the British efforts to recruit the southern Indians, and who lost and eye on the ship. The burning ship also prevent the other three ships from entering Mobile Bay. So the British were pinned down and could not proceed to Mobile. The Brits returned to Spanish Pensacola, which they were using as a base of operations.
General Jackson soon followed the Brits back to Spanish Pensacola and took the town, driving out the Native American allies and the British garrison. The Spanish protested, but offered almost no resistance, and seemed a little relieved. As occupiers, the Brits had looted Pensacola and taken away all the Spanish slaves for their soldiers. The Spaniards were much relieved when Jackson ordered that no looting occur, and seemed a more benevolent occupier.
Because of this small American victory of the Battle of Fort Bowyer at Mobile Point, the British were denied a land route to New Orleans, and went to Plan B, which was a total amphibious operation to attack NOLA. That is the campaign and battles of December 23rd, 1814 to the final battle on January 8, 1815, which we are getting ready to reenact as part of the Battle of New Orleans Bicentennial celebration.
But because the British lost their chance at Fort Bowyer, it led to their downfall at New Orleans three and a half months later.
Although the British were defeated by Jackson on January 8th, they were not finished, and were going to try again, but this time back to Plan A. This time with 33 ships and thousands of soldiers, they forced Fort Bowyer to surrender in February 1815. Then they heard that the Treaty of Ghent had been signed, all forces stood down until they received further orders and directions what to do. So the beginning and ending of the New Orleans campaign happened at Fort Bowyer, between September 1814 to February 1815.
One important result of the September 1814 battle at Fort Bowyer, was a change in attitude towards the British and their Native American allies. The Creeks/Seminoles/Miccosukees were not so willing to throw themselves against the American cannons and fort, and give away their lives so easily in the cause for the Crown. The Brits recognized this and realized the Native Americans would not be as reliable, expendable allies as they had hoped. After this point, the Brits ended serious support to the tribes. The British did leave behind about 3,000 arms and a large amount of gunpowder supply at Negro Fort at Prospect Bluff, but withdrew their British soldiers from there and at a small fort south on the confluence of the Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers that forms the Apalachicola, known as Nicholls Fort, or Fort Apalachicola. Just as they pretty much abandoned Tecumseh and the Shawnee the previous year.
These actions also led to later events like the destruction of Negro Fort in 1816, which I will cover more of in the future.