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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 Baldwin County, Alabama. The British twice attacked the fort during the War of 1812. The first, unsuccessful attack, took place in September 1814 and led to the British changing their strategy and attacking New Orleans. The second attack, following their defeat at the Battle of New Orleans, was successful, 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 | edit source]

Mobile had been a Spanish possession before the beginning of the Patriot War, but Congress had declared it part of American territory after commencement of the War of 1812. After Spanish forces evacuated Mobile in April 1813, the Americans built a redoubt on Mobile Point.[3]

In June 1813, Colonel John Bowyer completed the fort, but the Americans abandoned it about a year later. The fort was made of sand and logs, and fan-shaped, with the curved face facing the ship channel into Mobile Bay, and initially had 14 guns.[3] On the landward side there was a bastion, flanked by two demi-bastions.[4] The fort's purpose was to impede any British invasion at this point on the Gulf Coast, as it commanded the narrow entrance to Mobile Bay.[5] Then in August 1814, the Americans again garrisoned the fort with 160 men from the 2nd U.S. Infantry under the command of Major William Lawrence.

First battle[edit | edit source]

First Battle of Fort Bowyer
Part of War of 1812
DateSeptember 14–16, 1814
LocationFort Bowyer, Alabama,
Mobile Bay,
Gulf of Mexico
Result American victory
Belligerents
United Kingdom Great Britain United States United States
Commanders and leaders
William Percy William T. Lawrence
Strength
British:
60 Royal Marines,
1 artillery piece,
2 sixth-rates,
2 brig-sloops
Native Americans:
~60 warriors
Total: ~120 troops[Note 1]
160 infantry,[7]
6-14 artillery pieces (disputed),
Fort Bowyer
Casualties and losses
33 killed,
40 wounded[8]
1 sixth-rate scuttled,
1 brig-sloop severely damaged
4 killed,
5+ wounded[9]



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.[10]

Background[edit | edit source]

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.[11]

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).[12][13][Note 2] American sources often mis-attributed the fourth vessel as HMS Anaconda, of 18 guns.[14][Note 3][16] Lieutenant Colonel Edward Nicolls volunteered to proceed with diversionary forces on land.[Note 4]

On the morning of 12 September, Percy landed Nicolls's motley force of 60 Royal Marines,[Note 5][Note 6],[23][24] about 60 Indians, together with a 5½-inch howitzer,[Note 7] about 9 miles to the eastward.[25] The British land force then marched against the fort and Lawrence's 160 men.[26]

A further sixty Indians, under First Lieutenant James Cassell,[27] 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.[28]

Battle[edit | edit source]

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.[29] The fort opened fire at 3:20 p.m.[29] and at 3:30 Hermes opened fire.[30] 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.[29][31] During the battle, a wooden splinter wounded Nicolls in the eye.[32]

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.[33] The remaining ships anchored for the night some one and half miles from the fort.[34]

Aftermath[edit | edit source]

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. In all, including the Marine killed on shore (Charles Butcher), the British lost 33 killed and 40 wounded in the land and naval attacks,[Note 8] while the Americans lost only 4 killed and 4 wounded.[8] Percy's court-martial for the loss of Hermes concluded that the circumstances had warranted the attack.[36]

The defeat at Fort Bowyer led the British to decide to attack New Orleans instead. However, after their defeat at the Battle of New Orleans, the British decided to try again to take Mobile.[37]

Second battle[edit | edit source]

Second Battle of Fort Bowyer
Part of War of 1812
DateFebruary 7–12, 1815
LocationFort Bowyer, Alabama
Result British victory* News of peace arrives two days later, Fort Bowyer returned to American control
Belligerents
United Kingdom Great Britain United States United States
Commanders and leaders
United Kingdom John Lambert United States William T. Lawrence  (POW)
Strength
1,400 infantry,
11 artillery pieces,
3 (estimated) Rocket frames
375 infantry,[5]
22 artillery pieces,
Fort Bowyer
Casualties and losses
13 killed,
18 wounded[38]
1 killed,[39]
10 wounded,[39]
374 captured.[40]


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.[41]

Background[edit | edit source]

After the unsuccessful British attack in September 1814, American General Andrew Jackson, recognizing Fort Bowyer's strategic importance, ordered the fort strengthened.[5][Note 9] Now its garrison comprised 370 officers and men of the 2nd Infantry Regiment, and Jackson proclaimed "ten thousand men cannot take it".[43]

British General John Lambert decided to attack Mobile again. The commander of the naval forces was Captain T.R. Rickets of the 74-gun third-rate, HMS Vengeur.[44] The British troops came from the 4th Foot, the 44th Foot, and the 21st (Royal North British Fusiliers) Regiment of Foot, who had fought at New Orleans.[45]

When they captured the fort, the British discovered that it mounted three long 32-pounders, eight 24s, six 12s, five 9s and a mortar and a howitzer.[46] However, Fort Bowyer's weakness was its vulnerability to an attack from the landward side.[47]

Battle[edit | edit source]

The British campaign began with an investiture of Fort Bowyer. Lambert landed a force of around 1,400 men east of the fort to block any reinforcements by land. Judging they would need a line of artillery to successfully reduce the fort, the troops brought with them four 18-pounder cannons, two 8-inch howitzers,[46] three 5½-inch and two 4.4-inch mortars.[48][49] In addition to these eleven conventional artillery pieces, HMS  Tonnant landed Lieutenant John Lawrence's 25-man detachment of Royal Marine Artillery[50][51] with several Congreve rocket launchers, two 6-pounder rockets, and a hundred 12-pounder rockets.

The British moved to within 200 yards of the fort[46] and began to build their siege works. 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.[47]

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 acquiesced, surrendering Fort Bowyer after having withheld the siege for five days.[37]

Aftermath[edit | edit source]

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. The British postponed the attack on Mobile itself when HMS Brazen arrived some two days later, carrying news that the Treaty of Ghent, ending the war, had been signed on the previous Christmas Eve.[52][41] When news of ratification of the Treaty arrived, the British withdrew. The final attachment of Mobile to the United States was the only permanent exchange of territory during the War of 1812.[52]

Fort Bowyer subsequently reverted to U.S. control. The War Department would later replace it with the more heavily fortified Fort Morgan.[41]

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.[53][54]

Footnotes[edit | edit source]

Notes
  1. Embarked as supernumeraries are: 58 Warriors & 21 Marine infantry on HMS Carron, with 29 Marine infantry and 12 Marine gunners on HMS Childers. James refers to 60 Marines and 120 Indians,[6] 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. The Louisiana State Museum has a map of the battle showing the fourth vessel as Anaconda.[1]
  3. 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.[15]
  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."[17]
  5. The muster from HMS Childers shows that 29 Royal Marine infantry were carried on board, as were 12 Marine gunners.[18] In addition the muster from HMS Carron shows that she carried 21 Royal Marine infantry as supernumeraries, and around 60 native American allies, under the command of Robert Henry (1791-1850).[19][20] Despite Nicolls having promised 130 Indians, the muster records "Indian Warriors victualled - 58 in number".[21]
  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.[22]
  7. The 5½-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.
  8. Latour had estimated British casualties to be 162 killed and 70 wounded, whereas the ship musters record 32 killed in action and died of wounds.[35]
  9. "[Jackson] understood the strategic importance of Mobile and Fort Bowyer".[42]
Citations
  1. Heidler (2004), p.115.
  2. "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2007-01-23. http://nrhp.focus.nps.gov/natreg/docs/All_Data.html. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Chartrand 2012, p. 27.
  4. England et al. (2000), p.10.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Heidler (2004), p.59.
  6. James (1818), Vol. 2, p.343.
  7. "Niles' National Register, volume 7". 22 October 1814. p. 93. http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=wVA8AAAAIAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=snippet&q=Nicoll&f=false. "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.'" 
  8. 8.0 8.1 James (1818), Vol. 2, p.344.
  9. "Niles' National Register, volume 7". 22 October 1814. p. 93. http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=wVA8AAAAIAAJ&pg=PA94#v=onepage&q&f=false. "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.'" 
  10. Marshall (1829), Supplement Part 3, p.66.
  11. Tucker (2012), p229
  12. Marshall (1829), Supplement Part 3, pp.66–70.
  13. Remini (2001), pp. 19–20.
  14. Eaton and Van Crowninshield Smith (1834), pp. 174–176.
  15. Lossing (1868), pp.1020–1021.
  16. Malcomson (2006), p.50.
  17. Marshall (1929), p.64.
  18. ADM 37/4636 HMS Childers' ship muster.
  19. "Error: no |title= specified when using {{Cite web}}". 5 November 1850. p. 12.  Notice dated 30 Oct 1850: "Capt W H Parke is appointed, to take the place of the late Capt Robert Henry"
  20. Sugden, John (January 1982). "The Southern Indians in the War of 1812: The Closing Phase". "Sugden, on p291, incorrectly spells his surname as Harvey" 
  21. ADM 37/5250 HMS Carron ship muster.
  22. Latour (1816), p.31.
  23. "Niles' National Register, volume 7". 22 October 1814. p. 93. http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=wVA8AAAAIAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=snippet&q=Nicoll&f=false. "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.'" 
  24. "Niles' National Register, volume 7". 19 November 1814. p. 166. http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=wVA8AAAAIAAJ&pg=166#v=onepage&q=cassals&f=false. "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 for blown up.'" 
  25. James (2002 [1827]), Vol. 6, p.356.
  26. Heidler (2004), p.296.
  27. The Navy List, corrected to the end of December 1814. London: John Murray. 1814. p. 107. http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=0xYYAAAAMAAJ&pg=RA1-PA107&lpg=RA1-PA107#v=onepage&q&f=false. 
  28. James (1818), Vol. 2, p.343.
  29. 29.0 29.1 29.2 ADM 52/4355 HMS Sophie ship log.
  30. ADM 52/4443 HMS Childers ship log.
  31. Marshall (1829), Supplement Part 3, p68, Percy records these events occurring one hour later.
  32. Medical Journal of HMS Hermes ADM 101/104/3 journal transcript
  33. Marshall (1829), Supplement Part 3, p68, records this occurring at 10pm, whereas the log for Childers records a time of 11pm.
  34. Marshall (1829), Supplement Part 3, p68.
  35. Latour (1816), p.34.
  36. Marshall (1829), Supplement Part 3, p.70.
  37. 37.0 37.1 Tucker (2012), p.249.
  38. James (1818), Vol.2, p.572.
  39. 39.0 39.1 Quimby (1997), p. 941.
  40. Heidler (2004), p.297
  41. 41.0 41.1 41.2 Chartrand 2012, p. 29.
  42. Heidler (2004), p.358.
  43. Elting (1995), p.319.
  44. Brenton (1823), p. 200.
  45. 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."
  46. 46.0 46.1 46.2 "No. 17004". 18 April 1815. https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/17004/page/ 
  47. 47.0 47.1 Heidler (2004), p.358.
  48. http://www.mywarof1812.com/battles/150211.html accessed 25 Nov 2012
  49. The London Gazette does refer to 'eight small cohorns' as opposed to a quantity of five mortars
  50. Heidler, (2004), pp24,56
  51. ADM 37/5167 HMS Tonnant ship muster 1814 Nov - 1815 Apr
  52. 52.0 52.1 Tucker (2012), p250 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Tucker1" defined multiple times with different content
  53. "Lineage And Honors Information - 1st Battalion, 1st Infantry Lineage". U.S. Army Center of Military History. http://www.history.army.mil/html/forcestruc/lineages/branches/inf/0001in001bn.htm. Retrieved 2012-12-15. 
  54. "Lineage And Honors Information - 2d Battalion, 1st Infantry Lineage". U.S. Army Center of Military History. http://www.history.army.mil/html/forcestruc/lineages/branches/inf/0001in002bn.htm. Retrieved 2012-12-15. 

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  • Brenton, Edward Pelham (1823) The naval history of Great Britain from the year MDCCLXXXIII to MDCCCXXIII. (London: C. Rice).
  • Chartrand, René (2012). Forts of the War of 1812. England: Osprey. ISBN 978-1849085762. 
  • 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).
  • Heidler, David Stephen & Jeanne T. Heidler (2004) Encyclopedia of the War of 1812. (Annapolis, Maryland; Naval Institute Press;1997). ISBN 1-59114-362-4
  • James, William (2002 [1827]). The Naval History of Great Britain, Volume 6 (1811–1827), p.356.. Conway Maritime Press. ISBN 0-85177-909-3. 
  • James, William (1818) A Full and Correct Account of the Military Occurrences of the Late War Between Great Britain and the United States of America. (London, Printed for the Author). ISBN 0-665-35743-5.
  • Latour, Arsène Lacarrière (1816) Historical memoir of the war in West Florida and Louisiana in 1814-15. (Philadelphia: John Conrad & Co)
  • Lossing, Benson John (1868) The pictorial field-book of the war of 1812: or, illustrations, by pen and pencil, of the history, biography, scenery, relics, and traditions of the last war for American independence. (New York: Harper & Bros.)
  • Malcomson, Robert (2006) Historical dictionary of the War of 1812. (Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press).
  • Marshall, John. (1823–34) Royal naval biography; or, Memoirs of the services of all the flag-officers, superannuated rear-admirals, retired captains, post-captains, and commanders, whose names appeared on the Admiralty list of sea-officers at the commencement of the year 1823, or who have since been promoted. (London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown and Green).
  • Quimby, Robert S. (1997) The U.S. Army in the War of 1812: An Operational and Command Study. (Michigan State University Press, East Lansing, Michigan). ISBN 0-87013-441-8
  • Remini, Robert Vincent (2001) The Battle of New Orleans. (New York: Penguin Books)
  • Sugden, John (January 1982). "The Southern Indians in the War of 1812: The Closing Phase". http://digitool.fcla.edu/webclient/DeliveryManager?pid=3169504&custom_att. 
  • Tucker, Spencer (ed). (2012): 'The Encyclopedia of the War of 1812: A Political, Social, and Military History'. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 1851099565

External links[edit | edit source]

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