The defenders of the Fort at Prospect Bluff (or “Negro Fort”) continued their bombardment of U.S. forces and Creek warriors 200 years ago today on July 21, 1816.
This is part of a series marking the 200th anniversary of the U.S. campaign to destroy the Fort at Prospect Bluff, Florida. Please click here to access the full list of articles in this series.
The strength of the fort and its cannon so surprised Lieutenant Colonel Duncan Lamont Clinch that he pulled his soldiers from the 4th Infantry back out of range of the fort’s defenders as the battle moved into its second day. One-third of the Creek warriors under Major William McIntosh and Captain Isaacs were sent forward to continue small arms fire on the defenders. They were instructed to “hover” or stay on the move to better protect themselves from the fort’s cannon and rocket fire.
The Creek chief John Blunt once again reached Apalachicola Bay on July 21st, but Sailing Master Jairus Loomis refused to move his gunboats into the river on the word of a Native American courier. The recent Watering Party Attack had shaken his nerves and he did not want to expose his men and vessels to fire from the river banks without clear proof that Clinch had reached the “Negro Fort.”
Duncan Lamont Clinch was an infantry officer with little or no experience in siege operations. He had expected to quickly overrun the fort in order to capture the African-Americans behind its walls. The supply ships would then have free passage up the Apalachicola River. Things did not go as expected.
The fort was far more powerful than the 29-year-old lieutenant colonel had expected. His force was too small – even with the addition of hundreds of Creek warriors – to launch a ground attack against the well-built defenses. Even had such an assault succeeded in crossing a wide field of fire to break through the outer entrenchments, the soldiers and warriors would then have faced not one but two rings of interior stockades, a wide and wet moat, and massive rampart that was 14-15 feet high and 18 feet thick. The attacking force would have come under devastating cannon and rocket fire from the moment it pushed forward from the American lines. The defenders of the fort would have switched to canister shot, which exploded over an attacking force with a shotgun like effect, and mounted the walls with their muskets ready to unleash withering volleys of fire.
The American officers knew that an open field assault against the fort was such an impossibility that they never gave it serious consideration after arriving on the scene and viewing the defenses.
Inside the fort, meanwhile, Garcon faced the difficult decision of how best to defend the force with a command of only around 100 men. The post covered acres of land with extensive outer breastworks, bastions, stockades, a water battery and an interior citadel to defend. There was simply no way for the maroon leader to hold his full lines with the force at his disposal.
Garcon likely decided to defend the strongest points of the post while using heavy artillery barrages to keep the enemy at bay. He had plenty of powder and cannon shot, even if he did not have enough men.
The fort, for example, had 12 pieces of artillery ranging from large 32 and 24-pounders to small pivot guns. Assuming that it took an average of 5 men to man each gun, although the bigger pieces probably required additional crew members and the swivel pieces not as many, it would take 60 of the fort’s 100 available male defenders just to man its cannon.
The women also pitched in to help. Lieutenant Colonel Edward Nicolls, who had built the fort in 1814-1815, learned in succeeding months that Mary Ashley – one of the female defenders – raised and lowered the British flag each day and also served on a cannon crew. Others likely did the same. Older children probably helped by running powder and other materials from the magazines to the defenders on the walls, even if they were not able to move the heavy 24 and 32-pounder cannon balls on their own.
The strongest points of the fort would have been the full bastions on the northeast and southeast corners of the outer breastworks and the demi-bastions on the northwest and southwest corners, the water battery and the central citadel where the primary magazine was located. Garcon likely concentrated his garrison at these points. If so, it was a successful activity as for the next five days the U.S. troops and Creek warriors could barely approach within range to fire on the fort.
This series marking the 200th anniversary of the U.S. attack on the Fort at Prospect Bluff will continue tomorrow.
Prospect Bluff Historic Sites (formerly Fort Gadsden) is located in the Apalachicola National Forest near Sumatra, Florida. Please click here for more information.