ExploreSouthernHistory.com - The Battle of Fort Bowyer, Alabama
ExploreSouthernHistory.com - The Battle of Fort Bowyer, Alabama
Battle of Fort Bowyer
The War of 1812 battle took place in virtually the
same location as much of the Civil War battle for
control of Mobile Bay, Alabama.
Battle of Fort Bowyer
A little known fort of the War of
1812, Fort Bowyer stood at
the site of today's Fort Morgan
near Gulf Shores, Alabama.
Hero of Fort Bowyer
A portrait of Major Lawrence
hangs in the museum at Fort
Morgan. He waged a fierce
defense of his post and gave
the British a bloody repluse.
The Battle of Fort Bowyer - Mobile Point, Alabama
War of 1812 on the Gulf Coast
Copyright 2012 by Dale Cox
All rights reserved.
Custom Search
Fort Bowyer, Alabama
This 19th century plan shows
the outline of Fort Bowyer. The
semi-circular design of the
fort was common for the time.
Carronade on Display
Carronades were short but
often heavy cannon used by
both sides in the War of 1812.
A number were taken from the
wreck of HMS
Hermes.
The Battle of Fort Bowyer, one of the fiercest
actions of the War of 1812, was fought at the
entrance to Mobile Bay, Alabama.

The action took place at virtually the same
spot where fifty years later Admiral David G.
Farragut would give his famous battle cry of
"Damn the torpedoes. Full speed ahead!"
during the
Battle of Mobile Bay. While the
earlier fight is seldom remembered today,
both battles were of enormous importance.

Begun in 1813 at the western tip of Mobile
Point, Fort Bowyer was a log and sand work
designed to sweep the channel leading into
Mobile Bay with artillery fire. Its channel face
was built in the form of a semi-circle to allow
its cannon as large of a field of fire as
possible. Its land face was bastioned as a
defense against an infantry assault.

By the end of the summer of 1814, the little
fort was still not finished yet it was all that
stood in the way of the initial British plan to
take New Orleans. If the British navy could
bombard Fort Bowyer into submission, it
would be easy to take Mobile as well. Mobile
Bay could then be used as a base for land
operations against both Baton Rouge and
New Orleans.

To put this plan into motion, Captain William
Henry Percy of the Royal Navy set sail from
Pensacola in early September 1814 with a
squadron of four warships and several
tenders. The lead vessel and flagship was
HMS
Hermes.

The ships landed a force of around 80 Royal
Colonial Marines and 120 trained Creek and
Seminole Indians east of Fort Bowyer. About
twenty of the Marines took up a position to
block the passage from Bon Secour while
the others, along with their Native American
allies, marched west and placed a battery in
the sand dunes just east of the fort.

The land force was commanded by Lt. Col.
Edward Nicolls, but he became severely ill
with dysentery and turned over his command
to Captain George Woodbine. Nicolls, one of
the most battle-scarred heroes of the Royal
Marines, was taken aboard the
Hermes  for
treatment.

On September 15, 1814, Percy cleared for
battle, formed his ships in line and closed on
Fort Bowyer. The fort was then held by an
effective force of 120 men from the 2nd U.S.
Infantry under Major William Lawrence. He
and his men stood by their guns as the
British ships drew closer:

...[A[t 4 P.M. we opened our battery, which
was returned from two ships, and two brigs,
as they approached. The action became
general at about 20 minutes past 4, and was
continued without intermission on either side
until 7, and was continued without
intermission on either side until 7...

At the same time, the British land battery
opened with a howitzer, but its fire was soon
silenced by return fire from the fort.

The battle raged with great intensity for over
two and one-half hours. The thunder of the
cannon could be heard far up the bay in
Mobile and the American forces there waited
with great apprehension. Few believed the
little fort could hold out.
Historic Sites of Mobile Bay
At the entrance to Mobile Bay, however, the
men of Fort Bowyer were more than holding
their own:

...The leading ship... mounting twenty-two
32-pound carronades, having anchored
nearest our battery, was so much disabled,
her cable being cut by our shot, that she
drifted on shore, within 600 yards of the
battery, and the other vessels having got out
of our reach, we kept such a tremendous fire
upon her that she was set on fire and
abandoned by the few of the crew who
survived. At 10 P.M. we had the pleasure of
witnessing the explosion of her magazine.

The vessel that exploded within easy cannon
range of Fort Bowyer was Percy's flagship,
the
Hermes. The other warships, one of them
heavily damaged, withdrew beyond the range
of the fort's guns and the battle came to a
close.

A comparison of casualties between the two
forces is startling. The Americans reported a
loss of only 4 men killed and 5 wounded. The
British, on the other hand, lost 32 killed and
40 wounded, as well as their flagship.

Among the British wounded was Colonel
Nicolls of the Marines. He had joined the
crew of the
Hermes as the ship closed in on
Fort Bowyer and had suffered wounds to his
legs and head. The latter injury cost him the
sight in his right eye.

Major Lawrence and his men were hailed as
heroes across the United States. Andrew
Jackson even recommended that every one
of the fort's officers be promoted.

Fort Bowyer no longer stands. It was
demolished when
Fort Morgan was built on
the same spot beginning in 1819.
Please
click here to learn more about Fort Morgan
State Historic Site.