The U.S. gunboats reached Bloody Bluff on the Apalachicola River 200 years ago today. The full-scale American assault on the Fort at Prospect Bluff (or “Negro Fort”) was now just three days away.
This is part of a series marking the 200th anniversary of the U.S. attack on the Fort at Prospect Bluff. Please click here to read previous articles in this series.
Creek warriors under Major William McIntosh and Captain Isaacs continued to pin down the defenders of the fort on July 25th while Lieutenant Colonel Duncan Clinch and his officers shifted their base of operations from near Brickyard Creek north of the fort to Bloody Bluff about four miles downstream.
Clinch had spent the previous day picking a site for a battery that he planned to build east of the fort. The supply ships General Pike and Semelante carried two 18-pounders sent for his use from New Orleans and he apparently expected them to arrive mounted on field carriages. Moving the heavy cannon into place through the swamps and sloughs that surrounded the fort would be extremely difficult but not impossible. Once again, however, the American commander was disappointed:
…On the 25th I went on board of Gun Vessel 149 about 4 miles below the Fort. I had previously determined on a position in the rear of the Fort for erecting a battery, but on examining the two Eighteen pounders, I found them mounted on heavy garrison carriages which rendered it almost impossible to get them to the spot situated as they must have been taken through a cypress swamp. After reconnoitering the river below the Fort in company with the Commandant of the Gun Vessels I determined to erect a battery on the west side and ordered Brevet Major Muhlenburgh and Capt. Taylor to cross with their companies leaving Lieut. McGavock and a party of men with the main body of the Indians to secure the rear. (Lt. Col. Duncan L. Clinch, August 2, 1816)
The new site selected by the two officers for the placement of the battery was on the west bank of the river about three-quarters of a mile downstream from the fort. It was within view of the fortifications at Prospect bluff and vice versa. It was technically possible for the 32- and 24-pounders in the water battery to hit the site proposed for the American battery, but the distance was great that it would take an extremely well-aimed shot to do so. The same was true of Clinch’s 18-pounders. While they could hit the fort from such a distance, it would be extremely difficult to target a specific part of the works for repeated blows. The effectiveness of artillery fire from this distance would later become a great point of contention between Loomis and Clinch.
It is unclear how much Garcon and the defenders at Prospect Bluff knew about what was going on below them. They had known, of course, that U.S. ships were in Apalachicola Bay and reasonably would have assumed that they were there to play a role in the attack. The tops of the masts of the vessels would not have been visible from the fort due to the bends of the river and heavy tree growth between the water battery and Bloody Bluff. It is also unclear whether the defenders could see Clinch and Loomis as they looked for a potential battery site on the opposite shore downstream.
The next day would bring a rapid acceleration of events as the Battle of Prospect Bluff (or Battle of “Negro Fort”) approached its deadly conclusion.