THIS WEEK in the War of 1812 (January 11-January 17, 1815)
Siege of Fort St. Philip.
The small, rugged Fort St. Philip along a bend in the Mississippi River blocks the way for the Royal Navy, preventing a naval bombardment of the city of New Orleans. British Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane (the man who commanded the attacks on Washington and Baltimore in late summer) orders a small squadron of five ships including two bomb vessels, to reduce the fort, move up river and support the British army in an attack on New Orleans.
But more than 400 Army regulars — infantry and artillerymen — black and white Louisiana militia and about 40 sailors — are prepared for attack. All the fort’s wooden buildings, like barracks, have been dismantled as a possible fire hazard. The powder magazine is divided into several smaller magazines around the fort, all buried under several feet of earth and timber.
Starting late on January 9, the Royal Navy — anchored more than two miles downstream — begins shelling the fort. Many of the shells bury themselves in the swampy morass surrounding the fort and fail to explode. Others fall short or sail harmlessly overhead. Frequent attempts to approach the fort in longboats are driven off by the fort’s small arms. So far the shelling has killed only one man and wounded two others. No part of the fort has been severely damaged although several cannon have had their carriages damaged.
Day after day the British bombard the small fort — except for two hour meal breaks at noon and sunset. It rains constantly, turning most of the fort’s interior into a lake. The fort’s tents have been shredded by the British shelling and there is little shelter from the elements. None of the fort’s 34 guns can reach the British ships, except one, a large mortar, but it doesn’t have the right ammunition.
On January 15, supply ships from New Orleans reach the fort bringing much-needed food and the proper ammunition for the mortar. By January 17, the gun crews have the big mortar all ready and finally return fire on the British. One mortar round strikes one of the bomb ships, doing unknown damage. The British bombardment stops at sunset.
Battle of Fort Peter
When Admiral Cochrane sailed off to New Orleans in December, he left behind Rear Admiral Sir George Cockburn (the man who suggested attacking Washington and Baltimore) to raid around Chesapeake Bay and along the southern U.S. coast to create a diversion and keep the Americans off balance.
On January 10, soldiers of the 2nd West Indian Regiment and Royal Marines under Cockburn land on Cumberland Island off the Georgia coast. They number about 1,000 men. Three days later Cockburn’s ships begin bombarding Fort Peter on the Georgia mainland near the town of St. Mary’s. The St. Mary’s River marks the boundary between British-allied Spanish Florida and the United States. Runaway American slaves flee south into Florida and Native American raiding parties attack Georgia plantations and settlements from the largely-ungoverned Spanish colony.
Cockburn lands troops at Point Peter, attacks Fort Peter and takes it without suffering any casualties. On their way to sack St. Mary’s the British force encounters a small American force of 160 Army regulars. There’s a brief skirmish. The Americans suffer 1 killed, 4 wounded and 9 missing before withdrawing in the face of a force that outnumbers them almost 7-to-1.
On January 15 the British capture St. Mary’s even though there is another small fort just outside the town. In addition to burning Fort Peter, the British capture two American gunboats and a dozen merchant vessels. Cockburn’s men occupy the area for about a week before withdrawing back to Cumberland Island. They suffer only 3 dead and 5 wounded. With no one in North America yet aware that a peace treaty has been reached in Belgium, the British begin planning a raid in force on Savannah, Georgia.
Entry filed under: Army, National Security and Defense, Naval Warfare, THIS WEEK in the War of 1812, Weaponry and Equipment. Tags: amphibious warfare, Army, Attack on Fort Peter, Battle of New Orleans 1814-1815, Forts in the War of 1812, Georgia, Naval War of 1812, RearAdmiral Sir George Cockburn, Seige of Fort Saint Philip, Topics, War of 1812 Bicentennial, War of 1812 in Georgia, War of 1812 in Louisiana.