Friday, February 6, 2009

Battle of Fort Charlotte - American Revolution in Alabama

When the American Revolution comes to mind, most people think of the Eastern seaboard. The war raged from Georgia north to Maine.

It may be surprising, then, to learn that a Revolutionary War battle took place in the heart of what is now downtown Mobile, Alabama. Remembered today as the Battle of Fort Charlotte, the engagement was an important part of General Bernardo de Galvez' Gulf Coast campaign.

When Spain established a formal alliance with the Continental Congress, General Galvez was sent to drive British forces from the lower Mississippi River, Gulf Coast and West Florida. By 1780 he had successfully cleared the lower Mississippi of British troops and now turned his attention to Mobile Bay.

Fort Charlotte at Mobile (formerly called Fort Conde by the French) had been in British hands since the end of the French and Indian War in 1763. Located on the waterfront of the old French city, the fort was forty years old at the time British troops moved in and another 17 years had passed since then.

General Galvez targeted Fort Charlotte as a preliminary move prior to a planned attack on the British West Florida capital in Pensacola. He arrived off Mobile Bay with a fleet and hundreds of soldiers in February of 1780. The weather was bad and the general's ships had been damaged and supplies lost and he was on the verge of calling off the attack when reinforcements and additional ships arrived.

Galvez now moved up the bay and laid siege to Fort Charlotte, digging entrenchments and planting batteries of artillery. British Captain Elias Durnford turned down a request to surrender and the Spanish forces opened fire on March 10, 1780.

In anticipation of the battle, Durnford torched the city of Mobile to prevent its houses and shops from being used as cover by the attacking army. It was a wasted gesture that caused enormous suffering for the inhabitants of the city. British reinforcements did not reach Fort Charlotte time and the outnumbered captain was forced to surrender. The white flag was raised on March 12, 1780 and the surrender completed the next day.

The site of the Battle of Fort Charlotte is now partially preserved on South Royal Street in Mobile where about one third of Fort Conde (later Fort Charlotte) has been reconstructed. A British cannon can be seen adjacent to the fort in the front yard of the Conde-Charlotte House.

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