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The Destruction of Negro Fort Part 4

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Below: From the website “shipmodel.com” Gun boat number 156, one of the ships that participated in the battle on Lake Borgne during the Battle of New Orleans. This is the class that Gun Boats 149 & 154 would have been that destroyed Negro Fort.

Supplies for Camp Crawford, the new American fort established in June 1816, were ordered from New Orleans. Two Barges of supplies, one for food and clothing, and one for gun powder and weapons. If they did not receive these supplies soon, then Lt. Col. Clinch would be forced to abandon the fort and suspend his campaign against the runaway slaves, and the Indians who had raided the cattle from Fort Gaines and killed Mr. Johnson and McCaskey.

The Gulf of Mexico was still considered a volatile frontier after the Battle of New Orleans in 1815. The city was a major shipping port, and US Navy was tasked under Commodore Daniel Patterson with guarding against Pirates of Barataria, and “lawless conduct of those sailing under the Carthagenian and Mexican flags.”

(Below: Commodore Daniel Patterson; Naval Commander over New Orleans and the Gulf Coast operations, and hero of the naval operations from the USS Carolina during the Battle of New Orleans.)

The American fleet was made up of small ships that could enter the narrow waterways and bayous of the Gulf coast and chase after the pirates. It did not do well against the British fleet in 1814, but the British fleet could not enter the narrow canals that the small gun boats were suited for.

A small flotilla left Pass Christian, Mississippi. Schooner Semilante was laden with ordnance, and the General Pike with provisions. Sailing Master Jairus Loomis, Commanding US Gun Boat 149, was overall commander, and Sailing Master James Bassett commanded US Gun Boat 154. Commodore Patterson gave orders that if Negro Fort showed any opposition to the ships, it was to be destroyed.

Gun Boat 149 and Gun Boat 154 were the same class of craft that saw action on the battle of Lake Borgne during the Battle of New Orleans campaign in December 1814, and are described by Major Arsene Lacarriere LaTour, main engineer for the defense of New Orleans under General Jackson. They were known as Jefferson Gun Boats, and were schooners that were armed with four carronades of 10 pound shot, two on each side, and a large artillery piece in front, usually a 24-pounder. They also had four swivel guns, and were manned by a complement of 45 men. It was all open deck, so if you wanted shelter, canvas was stretched overhead. At the time the US Navy was very small, and these were the best ships available that the Navy had to go up against the fort on the Apalachicola.

Sailing Master Loomis knew that he was going into a situation where he would be at a disadvantage. The fort was sitting higher up than his ships, with heavier artillery, and would be able to rake down upon his deck with grape shot and bar shot. The men in the fort were well trained by the British and knew how to operate the guns. In contrast, the one large cannon on the gun vessels was hard to aim and elevated by blocks, and would have to be elevated as high as possible to fire into the fort. The four 10-pound shot carronades on the sides would be mostly useless against the fort, and were better against other ships and personnel. Knowing the advantage that a well-defended fortification with heavy artillery had, it could make short work of the gun vessels.

(Below: Plan of Fort Gadsden drawn by James Gadsden which shows the British works. From the Florida Historical Quarterly, and on the Florida Memory photo website.)

There was no option in the mind of the military officers but the destruction of the fort. As Commodore Patterson described it: “the general rendezvous of runaway slaves, disaffected Indians, an asylum where they were assured of being received; a strong hold, where they found arms and ammunition to protect themselves against their owners and the government. This hold being destroyed, they have no longer a place to fly to, and will not be so liable to abscond.”

The fort flew the English Union Jack, and the red or bloody flag, as described by Commodore Patterson, who had them in his possession after the fort destruction, and turned them over to the Secretary of the Navy. These flags should be with the Navy Museum at Annapolis. It would be interesting to view these, if the opportunity ever becomes available.

(Below: In the woods, last March, I would still find the remains of the British walls of the fort at Fort Gadsden/Negro Fort.)

On July 10th, the vessels arrived at the Bay at the mouth of the Apalachicola River. Loomis sent an Indian runner (Lafarka / John Blount) up to Clinch to notify him of their arrival, so he could meet them and assist with their movement up the river. Here they would wait. And wait. And wait. They would wait here for the next 17 days.

On the 15th, the ships saw a boat pulling out of the river. Going to investigate, a boat was dispatched to investigate, but was fired upon with muskets when they got near. The gun boat responded with her artillery, but with no effect.

On the 17th, the ships were running low on fresh water. Master Loomis detailed five men in a boat to search for fresh water on shore.

Okay, last time I said I was going to talk about the Battle of Bloody Bluff, but I have talked about the ships so much, that I will save it for next time. I wanted to have this a four part series, and it looks like it will be six. Next time, I promise, Bloody Bluff, on July 17th, 1816, 200 years ago. On the Apalachicola River just south of Negro Fort, where four sailors were killed.

Taken from:

The Army & Navy Chronicle, Vol. 2, No. 8, Page 114-116, Feb. 25, 1836

Navy Doc. # 119, Letter from the Secretary of the Navy, Transmitting, in Obedience to a Resolution of the House of Representatives, of the 26th Ult, sundry Documents relating to the Destruction of the Negro Fort in East Florida, in the Month of July, 1816. February 1, 1819. Washington, 1819.

“Historical memoir of the war in West Florida and Louisiana in 1814-1815. With an atlas.” (Facsimile of the 1816 edition) by LaTour, Arsene Lacarriere.
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