Thursday, January 15, 2015

            The 200th Anniversary of the Siege of Ft. Bowyer and The End of The War of 1812 

Saturday, February 4, 1815: The weather improved and the larger British men-of-war and the larger troop transports received orders to sail to the lower(southern) anchorage off the Chandeleur Islands and the shallow draft vessels which included smaller men-of-war and troop transports were ordered to sail to the upper(northern) anchorage near Ship Island. This was done in anticipation of the ships of the lower anchorage taking the outer passage in the Gulf to the mouth of Mobile Bay and the ships of the upper anchorage taking the inner passage through the Mississippi Sound. Admiral Malcolm took command of the ships of the upper anchorage.

Sunday, February 5, 1815: The battering transports received orders to  move to the lower anchorage. All of the men and material aboard ships on the inner passage intended for the attack on Ft. Bowyer were identified and were ordered to disembark on Dauphin Island before being transported to Mobile Point.

Monday, February 6, 1815: The ships of both anchorages weighed anchor and sailed east toward Dauphin Island. All of the troops on board the ships on the outer passage except the ones to be used in the attack on Ft. Bowyer were ordered to land and occupy the eastern point of Dauphin Island the next morning.
Lawrence, the American commander at Ft. Bowyer, sent a messenger from Mobile Point to General Winchester in Mobile with the news of the British arrival and requested reinforcements.

Tuesday, February 7, 1815: The 85th Regiment of the British Army landed on Dauphin Island and found it so suitable that the 1st and 3rd Brigades were ordered to land and camp on the island. At daylight the ships of the lower anchorage off Petit Bois Island sailed to a new anchorage in the Gulf about three miles south of the shore of Dauphin Island. The ships designated to land troops on Mobile Point set sail at 1 P.M. and sailed for two hours and dropped anchor 4 miles south of the Gulf beach of Mobile Point. It was determined that it was too late in the day to begin landing troops.
38 of the Royal Navy's ships-of-the-line sealed off all of the sea approaches to Mobile Point,
U.S. General Winchester in Mobile received Lawrence's request from Ft. Bowyer on Mobile Point for reinforcements.

Wednesday, February 8, 1815: At 9 A.M. the 2nd Brigade of the British Army with about 1300 to 1400 men began landing on the Gulf beach on Mobile Point with no opposition. This landing occurred about two and a half to three miles east of Ft. Bowyer. The landing craft were only able to land 600 men at a time and no field artillery were landed in this first operation. Captain Robert Spencer and Colonel Alexander Dickson walked east down the beach toward the fort and found a landing place for the artillery and stores located about a mile closer to the fort. This landing place was determined when an opening in the outer sand bar was discovered which had about 4 feet of water. As the men of the 21st Regiment marched toward the fort along the beach, two of their men were killed and another injured by small arms fire coming from the fort. After determining the ideal location for artillery emplacements on the highest dunes, troops under the command of Colonel Burgoyne began digging a ditch parallel to the fort during the night of the 8th. The Americans were able to see the dark bodies of the British soldiers on the white dunes at night and fired four cannons at them at once. This killed and wounded 8 or 10 men.

Thursday, February 9, 1815: The working parties continued to dig trenches to the locations of the proposed batteries which were to be built on the highest sand dunes. Two British boats located in the water between Dauphin Island and the fort were fired upon by the Americans in the fort and one boat was shot through the sails. The Americans maintained a brisk cannon and musket fire at anyone who moved on the land side of the fort. British countered with musket fire forcing the Americans to pile sandbags around their rifle ports and embrasures.

Friday, February 10, 1815: Enough ordnance for two days firing was landed on shore by the British. The rest of the army had completed its landing on Dauphin Island. Members of the 85th Regiment were brought over to Mobile Point from Dauphin Island to relieve the 44th which had begun the siege on February 8. Captain Spencer was now in command of all 200 Seamen who had been landed on Mobile Point. In the afternoon the British captured a Mr. Drury at Little Bay John 12 miles east of Mobile Point and he informed them that the Americans had mined the ditch in front of Ft. Bowyer.

Saturday, February 11, 1815: At 9 A.M., with the artillery batteries completed and the trenches dug within 40 yards of the ditch of the fort, Major Harry Smith was sent under a flag of truce to Ft. Bowyer to offer the Americans the opportunity to let their women and children to come out of the fort before it was to be destroyed by British cannon fire which was to commence at 10 A.M. After considering the British proposal for two hours, the American commander, Colonel Lawrence, agreed to surrender but pleaded to be allowed not to deliver the fort until the next day, using as an excuse that some of his men had gotten drunk. A British detachment was allowed to occupy the gate of Ft. Bowyer and the Americans remained inside. This was a delaying ploy by the Americans who hoped that they would soon be supported by a force of 1000 American troops under the command of Major Uriah Blue who were enroute to Ft. Bowyer from Mobile.

Sunday, February 12, 1815:  The Americans at Ft. Bowyer on Mobile Point surrendered to the British.
370 Americans marched out of the fort including 20 women and 16 children.

From page 301 of Samuel Carter III's BLAZE OF GLORY:

Replying to Lambert's ultimatum, Lawrence agreed to capitulate if the terms were honorable.

The negotiations were conducted with the utmost propriety and courtesy. The written terms provided that the surrender would be handled with dignity and respect for the Americans,"the troops marching out with colors flying and drums beating...officers retaining their swords,.. all private property to be respected." The reason for these niceties, readily agreed to by the British and in fact promoted by them, became apparant later. No surrender in history has been so elaborately staged for the sake of its effect upon a truly captive audience.

It was as extravaganza timed, produced and directed with a fine flair for showmanship. While Cochrane and Lambert joined the cast on shore, Admiral Codrington, to lend dignity to the performance, arranged an elaborate dinner at sundown for the Americans in the cabin of the TONNANT (ed note: The same ship on which Frances Scott Key had composed THE STAR SPANGLED BANNER the previous September). Codrington was at the head of the table, the Americans on his right. After the dessert and vintage wines, a bugle sounded and the curtains of the main saloon were drawn.

Framed in the proscenium like an animated backdrop was Fort Bowyer in the last glow of the setting sun. At that moment the Stars and Stripes slid down the flagstaff while the Union Jack was raised to take its place. Guns thundered. The American troops marched out in full dress uniform while the British stood at attention. The band played "Yankee Doodle" and "God Save the King" as a finale.

Codrington regarded his guests with smug satisfaction. This would be something for them to report to Jackson! This was how the British did things! He turned to Livingston on his right.

"Well, colonel, you perceive now that our day has just commenced."

Livingston, deeply troubled by this spectacle, was never at a loss for words. He raised his glass to the exultant victor.

"Congratulations, Admiral!" he said. "Please be assured that we Americans do not begrudge you this small consolation." 

Monday, February 13, 1815: The HMS Brazen arrived that morning at the lower British anchorage off of Dauphin Island with news that peace had been signed at Ghent between Great Britain and America on December 24, 1814.
 from page 301-302 of Samuel Carter III's BLAZE OF GLORY:

While the Americans were detained aboard the TONNANT and the British staff debated the next move that would consolidate its gain, a swift frigate approached the anchorage. A lowered gig was rowed toward the flagship, Shepherd was standing on deck beside Admiral Malcolm when the officer approached with a message from the gig. Malcolm read it, threw his hat in the air with an un-British shout, and turning to Shepherd wrung his hand with uninhibited warmth.

"Good news, my friend," he said, "The treaty has been signed in Ghent. We are enemies no longer." then, votto voce, the Admiral added: "To tell you the truth I have hated this war from the beginning." 

A watercolor of Fort Bowyer found in the Pulteney Malcolm papers at the University of Michigan. It was reprinted in Gene Allen Smith's article, DEFEAT AT FORT BOWYER, in the Summer 2014 issue of ALABAMA HERITAGE

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