Friday, May 23, 2008
Apalachicola River, Part 21
When the little U.S. flotilla reached Apalachicola Bay, a boat party sent into the mouth of the river to secure fresh water was ambushed by gunmen from the "Negro Fort." Several men were killed and at least one was captured alive, only to be taken to the fort, covered with pine tar and set afire.
U.S. forces moved immediately to attack the fort. Col. Clinch and his battalion from the 4th U.S. Infantry surrounded the fort, assisted by a force of several hundred Creek warriors under the chief William McIntosh, who functioned as a major during the expedition.
On the morning of July 27, 1816, the U.S. Navy's Gunboats #149 and #154 moved upstream and to within range of the fort. The occupants of the fortress responded by hoisting both a British flag and a red or "bloody" ensign (a sign of no quarter) over the earthworks. As the gunboats moved within range, the fort's heavy artillery opened fire.
The little gunboats, each of which mounted only one cannon, responded with ranging shots and then, on their fifth round, a "hot shot" or heated cannonball fired by Gunboat #154 sailed over the walls of the fort and through the open door of one of the gunpowder magazines. The fort exploded in a tremendous blast.
Although there are varying estimates of casualties, Col. Clinch and the navy officers present reported that of the 320 men, women and children in the fort, 270 were killed instantly and most of the others were wounded. The sergeant major, Garcon, and the chief of the small contingent of Choctaw warriors in the fort were wounded but captured. Both were executed by McIntosh's warriors.
Most of the survivors of the blast were carried back to Camp Crawford, where Clinch sent out letters containing a list of names. Plantation owners who could prove "ownership" were invited to the post to claim the individuals and carry them back into slavery.
The attack on the "Negro Fort" became a major fixture in abolitionist writings for the next several decades. Slavery opponents including John Quincy Adams condemned the attack as a "slave catching expedition" by the U.S. military and the publicity surrounding the incident helped solidify the anti-slavery movement in New England. It was an important incident in the development of the national crisis that led to the outbreak of Civil War in 1861.
Our series will continue.