04 March 2009

Fort Gadsden

This is another little known fascinating site, just a while south of Tallahassee. During the War of 1812, the British recruited Native Americans and runaway slaves in an attempt to use them against the Americans. Here on the banks of the Apalachicola River they built a fort to shelter them and make a base for operations against American shipping on the river. The British left in 1815, but the fort continued to harass American shipping on the river. In spite of the fort being in what was still Spanish territory, the United States ordered it destroyed.
Alerted to the threat from the US, the local Natives and runaways took shelter in the fort and awaited an attack. Col Duncan Lamont Clinch with 116 men in riverboats met with Major John McIntosh and 150 friendly natives. On July 23, 1816 word was received that four men sent to the river for water had been killed by men from the fort. That was the excuse needed to attack, and on July 27, they approached by land and on the river with the gunboats.
The gunboats opened fire, and on the fifth salvo, an explosive shot landed in the fort's magazine, which exploded, killing over 300 of the people in the fort. Clinch reported that "the explosion was awful and the scene horrible beyond description." When the fort surrendered, the Native Chief and leading runaway were captured and executed for the murder of the four men who went to the river. In the above photo, small wooden posts mark the corners of the fort's magazine. In the center is a flagpole flying the British flag.
While this dramatic episode occurred after the official end of the War of 1812, and before the official beginning of the First Seminole War, it has often been considered a battle of both wars.
In 1818, after the official start of the First Seminole War, Andrew Jackson sent a group of men down the Apalachicola River to destroy Seminole Villages. Upon encountering the site of the old fort here, he was so impressed by the location, that he ordered a new fort constructed. The new fort was smaller, but on the same spot. The above model shows what the new American fort would have looked like.
Lt. James Gadsden, who would later negotiate the Gadsden Purchase in Arizona and New Mexico, was put in charge of building the new fort. Jackson was so impressed by Gadsden's enthusiasm that he named the fort for him. Above is a portrait of Gadsden.
The new fort was not occupied for long, and the site was virtually forgotten until the Civil War. With the Apalachicola River leading to vital plantations in southern Georgia and Alabama, the Confederates realized its importance and occupied the Fort Gadsden site until 1863 when Malaria drove them away.
Today little remains of the American fort, and almost no trace exists of the British fort. The site is a National Historic Landmark, and is well maintained by the Apalachicola National Forest.
In this site, locally known as the "Renegade Cemetery," the remains of many of the persons killed in the explosion of the British Fort were buried. The brick burial vault dates from the late 19th century. Grave Robbers, though to be workmen building a nearby railroad, broke into it in the early part of the twentieth century. Archaeological excavations revealed that the wet acid soils had destroyed all physical remains of the persons buried here. Only the numerous shallow depressions mark the resting places of those killed in the terrible explosion.
The brick vault in the cemetery
In 1838 the Steamship Irvington, carrying 200 bales of cotton on a downstream run, burned and sank four miles upstream from here. This 15 foot sidewheeler was constructed in 1836 in Madison, Indiana. These boilers and parts were dredged from the river about where the Irvington went down. The ship's short life on the river came during the early part of the Apalachicola steamship period. Later over 200 ships worked the river from the Gulf to as far north as Columbus, Georgia.
More parts from the Irvington
View of the Apalachicola River
Near the parking lot for the site is a large encased booth with many excellent artifacts found here and displays including the fort model and Gadsden portrait. Above are Native and British items from the time of the first fort.

Remains of a British musket and bayonet

Items from river steamboats found in the area

I'm not sure what this is, unless it's just a baby tree.

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