Fort Bowyer was a short-lived earthen and stockade fortification that the United States Army erected in 1813 on Mobile Point, near the mouth of Mobile Bay in what is now Baldwin County, Alabama, but then was part of the Mississippi Territory. The British twice attacked the fort during the War of 1812.

Fort Bowyer
Fort Bowyer is located in Alabama
Fort Bowyer
Location of Fort Bowyer in Alabama
LocationWestern terminus of AL 180
Gasque, Alabama
Coordinates30°13′41″N 88°1′23″W / 30.22806°N 88.02306°W / 30.22806; -88.02306

The first attack took place in September 1814; unsuccessful, it led to the British changing their strategy and attacking New Orleans. The second attack, following the Battle of New Orleans, was successful. It took place in February 1815, after the Treaty of Ghent had been signed but before the news had reached that part of America.[1] Between 1819 and 1834 the United States built a new masonry fortification, Fort Morgan, on the site of Fort Bowyer.[2]

Construction edit

Fort Bowyer, mistakenly showing HMS Anaconda instead of HMS Childers[3]

Mobile had been a Spanish possession before the beginning of the Patriot War, but Congress had declared it American territory after the War of 1812 started. After Spanish forces evacuated Mobile in April 1813, the Americans built a redoubt on Mobile Point.[4]

In June 1813, Colonel John Bowyer completed the fort. The fort, which initially had 14 guns, was made of sand and logs and fan-shaped, with the curved face facing the ship channel into Mobile Bay.[4] On the landward side there was a bastion, flanked by two demi-bastions.[5] The fort's purpose was to impede any British invasion at this point on the Gulf Coast, as the fort commanded the narrow entrance to Mobile Bay.[6] About a year after the fort's construction, the Americans abandoned it, but in August 1814, Major William Lawrence and 160 men from the 2nd U.S. Infantry re-garrisoned it.

First battle edit

First Battle of Fort Bowyer
Part of War of 1812
DateSeptember 14–16, 1814
Fort Bowyer, Mississippi Territory
Result American victory
  United Kingdom   United States
Commanders and leaders
William Percy William Lawrence
60 Royal Marines,
1 artillery piece,
2 sixth-rates,
2 brig-sloops
Native Americans:
~60 warriors
Total: ~120 troops[a]
160 infantry,[8]
6–14 artillery pieces (disputed),
Fort Bowyer
Casualties and losses
34 killed,
35 wounded[9]
1 sixth-rate scuttled,
1 brig-sloop severely damaged
4 killed,
5+ wounded[10]

The First Battle of Fort Bowyer took place in mid-September, 1814. Captain William Percy of the Royal Navy decided to attack the fort in preparation for an assault on Mobile. He believed Bowyer to be a low, wooden battery mounting some six to 14 small caliber guns.[11][b]

Background edit

Capturing the fort would enable the British to move on Mobile and thereby block Louisiana's trade. From Mobile, the British could move overland to Natchez to cut off New Orleans from the north.[13]

Percy took with him HMS Hermes (22 guns), HMS Sophie (18 guns), HMS Carron (20 guns; Captain Robert Cavendish Spencer), and a fourth vessel, HMS Childers (18 guns; Capt. Umfreville).[14][15][c] Lieutenant Colonel Edward Nicolls volunteered to proceed with diversionary forces on land.[d]

On the morning of 12 September, Percy landed Nicolls's force of 60 Royal Marines,[e][f][26][g][28] and about 60 Indians, together with a 5+12-inch howitzer,[h] about 9 miles to the eastward.[29] The British land force then marched against the fort and Lawrence's 160 men.[30]

A further sixty Indians, under First Lieutenant James Cassell,[31] had been detached to secure the pass of Bon Secour 27 miles to the east of the fort, but they played no active part in the attack itself.[7]

The American forces in Fort Bowyer, commanded by William Lawrence, consisted of 160 infantry, and a disputed number of cannon (reports range between 6 and 14 guns).

Battle edit

The battle began with the Americans repulsing the British land attack on 14 September. Nicolls, ill at the time, was observing on Hermes. On 15 September, after contrary winds had died down, Percy crossed the bar with Hermes, Sophie, Carron, and Childers.[32] The fort opened fire at 3:20 p.m.[32] and at 3:30 Hermes opened fire.[33] The U.S. fort and Hermes were at musket-shot range. At 3:40, Sophie opened fire also, but the other two vessels were not able to get into a firing position.[32][34][i] During the battle a wooden splinter wounded Nicolls in the eye.[35]

The British naval attack was unsuccessful. After two hours of fruitless bombardment, Hermes ran aground and lay helpless under the fire from the fort. Sophie's boats took off Hermes' crew and Percy set her on fire; she subsequently blew up after the fire reached her magazine.[36] The remaining ships anchored for the night some one and half miles from the fort.[34]

Aftermath edit

The next morning they re-crossed the bar and sailed away. Hermes had lost 17 killed in action, 5 mortally wounded and 19 wounded, while Sophie had 6 killed in action, 4 mortally wounded and 12 wounded, and the Carron had one mortally wounded, and 5 wounded. In all, including the marine killed on shore (Charles Butcher), the British lost 34 killed and 35 wounded in the land and naval attacks,[j][9] while the Americans lost only four men killed and five or more wounded.[38] Percy's court-martial for the loss of Hermes concluded that the circumstances had warranted the attack.[39]

The defeat at Fort Bowyer led the British to decide to attack New Orleans instead.[citation needed] However, after their defeat at the Battle of New Orleans, the British decided to try again to take Mobile.[40]

Second battle edit

Second Battle of Fort Bowyer
Part of War of 1812
DateFebruary 7–12, 1815
Fort Bowyer, Mississippi Territory
Result British victory
  United Kingdom   United States
Commanders and leaders
  John Lambert   William T. Lawrence  (POW)
1,400 infantry,
11 artillery pieces,
3 (estimated) Rocket frames
375 infantry,[6]
22 artillery pieces,
Fort Bowyer
Casualties and losses
13 killed,
18 wounded[41]
1 killed,[42]
10 wounded,[42]
374 captured.[43]

The Second Battle of Fort Bowyer was the first step in a British campaign against Mobile, but turned out to be the last land engagement between British and American forces in the War of 1812.[44]

Background edit

After the unsuccessful British attack in September 1814, American General Andrew Jackson, recognizing Fort Bowyer's strategic importance, ordered the fort strengthened.[6][k] Now its garrison comprised 370 officers and men of the 2nd Infantry Regiment, and Jackson proclaimed "ten thousand men cannot take it".[46] Despite Jackson's bravado, Lawrence, in command of the fort, described his position as precarious because of the undefended landward approaches to the fort.[47]

Following the defeat at New Orleans, Admiral Cochrane and General John Lambert (replacing Pakenham) received some considerable reinforcements,[citation needed] and then went back to the original plan, before New Orleans, which had been to take Mobile first.[48]

The British troops came from the 4th, 21st, and 44th Regiments of Foot, who had fought at New Orleans.[49] The commander of the naval forces was Captain T.R. Ricketts of the 74-gun third-rate, HMS Vengeur.[50] Captain Spencer of the Carron was among the sailors landed near Mobile, and was second in command of the naval party.[51] The bomb vessels Aetna and Meteor were present during the siege of Fort Bowyer in February 1815.[52]

When the British captured the fort, they discovered that it mounted three long 32-pounders, eight 24s, six 12s, five 9s, a mortar, and a howitzer.[53] However, Fort Bowyer's weakness was its vulnerability to an attack from the landward side.[45]

Battle edit

The British campaign began with an investiture of Fort Bowyer. On 8 February, Lambert landed a force of around 1,000 men seven miles east of the fort.[54] The Royal Engineer Colonel Burgoyne surveyed the fort and decided on the method of attack.[53] That night a 100 yard parallel was dug, at the loss of 10-12 men, which in the morning was occupied by soldiers who kept up such a musket fire on the fort that the enemy could not make any effectual reply.[55]

The next night the parallel was extended and the following night four batteries were completed. The troops brought with them four 18-pounder cannons, two 8-inch howitzers,[53] three 5+12-inch and two 4.4-inch mortars.[56][57] In addition to these eleven conventional artillery pieces, HMS Tonnant landed Lieutenant John Lawrence's 25-man detachment of Royal Marine Artillery[58][59] with several Congreve rocket launchers, two 6-pounder rockets, and a hundred 12-pounder rockets.[60] While they were constructing their siege works, the British forces endured constant American fire and took light casualties, but continued undeterred. Once their guns were in place, the British were ready to launch a devastating artillery attack on the now vulnerable fort.[45]

On February 12 after a barrage of artillery, Lambert, under a flag of truce, called on the fort to surrender. He demanded that Major Lawrence accept British terms to prevent the needless slaughter of his men. Lawrence realised the vulnerability of the fort. It had no casemates to protect the gunpowder magazine, or the wounded, and it lacked land facing ramparts, which would cost a lot of men to defend. Lawrence reluctantly surrendered to the British,[47] after having resisted for five days.[40] An alternative history from British sources explains that on 11 February, before opening fire, Lambert called upon the fort to surrender. After negotiations, it was agreed that the Americans would leave as prisoners of war the following morning. The Governor reportedly begged for the delay "as so many of his men had got drunk." That was agreed to, with the gate of the fort moving to British control on 11 February, according to a British regimental historian.[55]

Aftermath edit

With Mobile Bay secured by British warships and Fort Bowyer now under British control, the remaining American forces in the area hurried to Mobile to prepare for the expected onslaught there.[citation needed] With Fort Bowyer under control, Admiral Cochrane and General Lambert's next move was to take Mobile.[61]

All British plans were cancelled when HMS Brazen arrived on 13 February, carrying news that the Treaty of Ghent had been signed on the previous Christmas Eve.[62][44] When news of ratification of the treaty arrived, ending the war, the British withdrew.[63]

The final attachment of Mobile to the United States from the Spanish Empire was the only permanent exchange of territory during the War of 1812.[62]

Fort Bowyer subsequently reverted to U.S. control. The War Department would later replace it with the more heavily fortified Fort Morgan.[44]

Two active battalions of the Regular Army (1-1 Inf and 2-1 Inf) perpetuate the lineage of elements of the old 2nd Infantry that was present at Fort Bowyer in both 1814 and 1815.[64][65]

See also edit

Notes edit

  1. ^ Embarked as supernumeraries are: 58 warriors & 21 marines on HMS Carron, with 29 marines and 12 marine artillerymen on HMS Childers. James refers to 60 marines and 120 indians,[7] based on Percy's letter sent prior to departing Pensacola. This is a lower figure than the 130 marines and 600 indians in contemporary American accounts such as that of Major Arsène Latour's Historical Memoir of the War in West Florida and Louisiana in 1814-15. James refers to Latour 'misnaming one vessel'. The complements of Hermes, Sophie, Carron, and Childers were 135, 121, c.135, and 121 respectively.
  2. ^ 'I have been able to obtain that it is a low wood battery of little strength, mounting at the most fourteen Guns of small Calibre en barbette; though others state the number only at six.' Taken from letter from Percy to Cochrane, dated 9 September 1814, archive reference ADM 1/505 folios 152–55, reproduced in a secondary source[12]
  3. ^ The Louisiana State Museum has a map of the battle showing the fourth vessel as Anaconda, rather than Childers.[16] American sources often mis-attributed the fourth vessel as HMS Anaconda, of 18 guns.[17] Lossing contains a map that shows the tracks of the vessels. Lossing's map is probably based on the map in the possession of the Louisiana State Museum.[18][19]
  4. ^ Marshall quotes a letter from Percy to Cochrane, dated 9 September 1814, that states, "[Nicolls] volunteered to proceed with a party of about 60 marines and 130 Indians; I shall sail tomorrow or next day, after embarking them."[20]
  5. ^ The muster from HMS Childers shows that she carried 29 marines and 12 marine artillerymen.[21] In addition the muster from HMS Carron shows that she carried 21 marines as supernumeraries, and around 60 native American allies, under the command of Robert Henry (1791–1850).[22][23] Despite Nicolls having promised 130 Indians, the muster records "Indian Warriors victualled – 58 in number".[24]
  6. ^ Latour claims that 'the enemy had landed six hundred Indians or Spaniards, and one hundred and thirty marines' but this does not reconcile with the ship musters.[25]
  7. ^ Roosevelt's observation. 'Latour is the only trustworthy American contemporary historian of this war, and even he at times absurdly exaggerates the British force and loss, Most of the other American "histories" of that period were the most preposterously bombastic works that ever saw print. But as regards this battle, none of them are as bad as even such British historians as Alison... Almost all British writers underestimate their own force and enormously magnify that of the Americans.'[27]
  8. ^ The 5+12-inch howitzer fired a shot of about 24 pounds. A 24-pounder cannon had a 5.82 inch bore and fired a shot with a diameter of 5.547 inches. The howitzer was much lighter than the gun and used a smaller powder charge, but could produce plunging fire, which a gun could not.
  9. ^ Percy records these events occurring one hour later.
  10. ^ Latour had estimated British casualties to be 162 killed and 70 wounded, whereas the ship musters record 33 killed in action and died of wounds.[37]
  11. ^ "[Jackson] understood the strategic importance of Mobile and Fort Bowyer".[45]

Citations edit

  1. ^ Heidler (2004), p.115.
  2. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. January 23, 2007.
  3. ^ Lossing, Benson (1868). The Pictorial Field-Book of the War of 1812. Harper & Brothers, Publishers. p. 1021. ISBN 9780665291364.
  4. ^ a b Chartrand (2012), p. 27.
  5. ^ England et al. (2000), p.10.
  6. ^ a b c Heidler (2004), p.59.
  7. ^ a b James (1818), Vol. 2, p.343.
  8. ^ "Niles' National Register, volume 7". 22 October 1814. p. 93. Letter from Jackson to the US Secretary of War dated 17 September 1814: 'By the morning report of the 16th, there were present in the fort, fit for duty, officers and men 158.'
  9. ^ a b Sugden, on p.292 refers to the 69 casualties mentioned individually in the annex to Cochrane's letter to the Admiralty dated 7 December 1814, archive reference ADM 1/505 folios 161-2
  10. ^ "Niles' National Register, volume 7". 22 October 1814. p. 93. Letter from Lawrence to Jackson dated 15 September. 'Our loss is four privates killed and five wounded.'Letter from Lawrence to Jackson dated 16 September. 'Capt Walsh and several men were much burned by the accidental explosion of two or three cartridges. They are not included in the list of wounded hereforeto given.'
  11. ^ Marshall (1829), p. 66.
  12. ^ Hughes & Brodine (2023), p. 879-880.
  13. ^ Tucker (2012), p229
  14. ^ Marshall (1829), pp. 66–70.
  15. ^ Remini (2001), pp. 19–20.
  16. ^ Louisiana State maps.
  17. ^ Eaton and Van Crowninshield Smith (1834), pp. 174–176.
  18. ^ Lossing (1868), pp.1020–1021.
  19. ^ Malcomson (2006), p.50.
  20. ^ Marshall (1829), p. 64.
  21. ^ ADM 37/4636 HMS Childers' ship muster.
  22. ^ "ROYAL MARINES [officer appointments]". The Times. No. 20638. London. 5 November 1850. col 5, p. 4. Notice dated 30 Oct 1850: "Capt W H Parke is appointed, to take the place of the late Capt Robert Henry"
  23. ^ Sugden, on p291, incorrectly spells his surname as Harvey
  24. ^ ADM 37/5250 HMS Carron ship muster.
  25. ^ Latour (1816), p.31.
  26. ^ "Niles' National Register, volume 7". 22 October 1814. p. 93. Letter from Jackson to the US Secretary of War dated 17 September 1814: 'The land force consisted of 110 marines, and 200 Creek Indians, under the command of captain Woodbine, of the marines, and about 20 artillerists, with one four[sic] and a half inch howitzer...They re-embarked the piece, and retreated by land towards Pensacola, whence they came.'
  27. ^ Roosevelt 1900, p. 232.
  28. ^ "Niles' National Register, volume 7". 19 November 1814. p. 166. Journal of a prisoner of the British: 'Sept 15 – The express returns this evening with the news that the marines, 75, and indians, 130, under the command of captain Henry, had landed at the point and had fired four bombs into the fort.. About an hour after night, we heard a great explosion – suppose it to be the fort blown up.'
  29. ^ James (2002 [1827]), Vol. 6, p.356.
  30. ^ Heidler (2004), p.296.
  31. ^ The Navy List, corrected to the end of December 1814. London: John Murray. 1814. p. 107.
  32. ^ a b c ADM 52/4355 HMS Sophie ship log.
  33. ^ ADM 52/4443 HMS Childers ship log.
  34. ^ a b Marshall (1829), p. 68.
  35. ^ Medical Journal of HMS Hermes ADM 101/104/3 journal transcript
  36. ^ Marshall (1829), Supplement Part 3, p68, Percy records these events occurring one hour later.
  37. ^ Latour (1816), p.34.
  38. ^ James (1818), Vol. 2, p.344.
  39. ^ Marshall (1829), p. 70.
  40. ^ a b Tucker (2012), p.249.
  41. ^ James (1818), Vol.2, p.572.
  42. ^ a b Quimby (1997), p. 941.
  43. ^ Heidler (2004), p.297
  44. ^ a b c Chartrand (2012), p. 29.
  45. ^ a b c Heidler (2004), p.358.
  46. ^ Elting (1995), p.319.
  47. ^ a b Smith (1999), pp. 3–20.
  48. ^ Owsley, F. L. (1972). The Role of the South in the British Grand Strategy in the War of 1812. Tennessee Historical Quarterly, 31(1), p 36
  49. ^ James (1818), p.570, Appendix, folio 109. Letter from General Lambert to Lord Bathurst dated 14 February 1815 "It was considered a brigade would be sufficient for this object, with a respectable force of artillery. I ordered the second brigade, composed of the 4th, 21st and 44th regiments, for this service."
  50. ^ Brenton (1823), p. 200.
  51. ^ Marshall (1829b), p. 260.
  52. ^ Fraser, p. 294
  53. ^ a b c "No. 17004". The London Gazette. 18 April 1815. p. 728.
  54. ^ Porter, p. 365
  55. ^ a b Porter, p. 366
  56. ^ "Battle of Fort Bowyer". Retrieved 25 Nov 2012.
  57. ^ The London Gazette does refer to 'eight small cohornss' rather than five mortars.
  58. ^ Heidler, (2004), pp24,56
  59. ^ ADM 37/5167 HMS Tonnant ship muster 1814 Nov – 1815 Apr
  60. ^ Dickson 1929, p. 226.
  61. ^ Owsley Jr., F. L. (1972). "The Role of the South in the British Grand Strategy in the War of 1812". Tennessee Historical Quarterly. 31 (1): 36. JSTOR 42623279.
  62. ^ a b Tucker (2012), p250
  63. ^ Fraser, p294, quote:'Lieutenant Lawrence and his RMA detachment remained camped on Dauphine Island [off Mobile Bay] until the treaty had been ratified, after which the squadron and transports returned to Bermuda to prepare for the passage to England'
  64. ^ "Lineage And Honors Information – 1st Battalion, 1st Infantry Lineage". U.S. Army Center of Military History. Archived from the original on 2012-10-17. Retrieved 2012-12-15.
  65. ^ "Lineage And Honors Information – 2d Battalion, 1st Infantry Lineage". U.S. Army Center of Military History. Archived from the original on 2012-01-18. Retrieved 2012-12-15.

References edit

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  • Dickson, Alexander (1929) [1815]. "Artillery services in North America in 1814 and 1815. Being extracts from "Journal of Operations in Louisiana, 1814 and 1815" by Sir Alexander Dickson". Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research. Part 3 of 3, February 1815. 8 (34). With an introduction and annotations by John H Leslie: 213–227. JSTOR 44232284.
  • Eaton, John Henry, and Jerome Van Crowninshield Smith (1834) Memoirs of Andrew Jackson: late major general and commander in chief of the Southern division of the army of the United States. (Philadelphia)
  • Elting, John (1995) Amateurs, to arms!: a military history of the War of 1812 (Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books)
  • England, Bob, Jack Friend, Michael Bailey, and Blanton Blankenship (2000) Fort Morgan. (Charleston, CS: Arcadia).
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  • Hughes, Christine F.; Brodine, Charles E., eds. (2023). The Naal War of 1812: A Documentary History, Vol. 4. Washington: Naval Historical Center (GPO). ISBN 978-1-943604-36-4.
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  • Porter, Maj Gen Whitworth (1889). History of the Corps of Royal Engineers Vol I. Chatham: The Institution of Royal Engineers. OCLC 35254552.
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External links edit