Fort Bowyer, located at the end of the Mobile Point peninsula, commanded the narrow entrance to Mobile Bay. In August 1814, General Jackson, having replaced Wilkinson as commander of the U.S. 7th Military District, learned that British forces at Pensacola intended to attack and capture Mobile before moving by land against New Orleans. He also knew that Britain’s Spanish allies, who had abandoned the area in 1813, were eager to regain possession. After posting some regulars near the town and calling for militia reinforcements, Jackson sent Maj. William Lawrence with one hundred thirty men from the Corps of Artillery and 2d U.S. Infantry to man and strengthen Fort Bowyer. Construction of the post had been begun shortly after the Spanish evacuation but had since been abandoned. Lawrence improved the sand-walled redoubt, erected battery positions, and increased the armament from nine to twenty guns.
V. Adm. Alexander Cochrane, commander of the Royal Navy’s North American Station, ordered Capt. Henry Percy, who held the local rank of commodore, to reduce harbor defenses. Percy’s command included a flotilla of four warships, several tenders, and a mixed landing force of British marines and trained Seminoles and Red Stick Creeks under now Lt. Col. Edward Nicholls. With more than thirteen hundred men and ninety cannon, Percy was confident that he could easily capture Fort Bowyer.
The British ships appeared off the peninsula on 12 September and anchored about six miles to the east of the fort. Shortly after Nicholls led the landing force ashore, he took ill and returned to the flagship. Capt. George Woodbine assumed command of the shore party and advanced to within eight hundred yards of Fort Bowyer, where Royal Marine artillerymen established a firing position for their 5½-inch howitzer. They would create a diversion on the landward side, while Percy’s ships pounded the fort into submission. For the next two days, the British sent sailors in launches to take soundings offshore and reconnaissance parties to scout the land approaches through the dunes to the defensive works. Whenever they drew uncomfortably close, U.S. artillery fire drove them back.
At noon 15 September, the four warships weighed anchor and stood out to sea, struggling against contrary winds. Two hours later, they changed tack and bore down on the fort until they were close enough for the U.S. gunners to engage. The batteries commenced firing, and the Royal Navy answered with all the shipboard guns aboard Hermes, followed shortly with those of Sophie, but the rest could not get close enough to bear. By 4:00 p.m., Percy’s flagship, Hermes, anchored within musket range, and the other vessels took station forming line of battle astern. When the firing become general, the marines’ artillery piece joined the attack, only to be silenced in short order by U.S. counterbattery fire. The British shore party advanced with sixty Creek and Seminole warriors in the center and an equal number of marines on the flanks. When the group got within range of the fort, grapeshot from the U.S. artillery pinned them down, compelling Woodbine to break off the engagement and retire.
Meanwhile, a projectile had cut Hermes’ anchor cable, and the ship drifted to shore and ran aground. Captain Percy ordered the crew to abandon the helpless ship and to set it on fire to prevent its capture. Intense gunfire from the fort drove off the remaining warships, damaging two and inflicting numerous casualties in the process. The fort’s gunners then directed their attention on the stricken flagship until the flames ignited its powder magazine. At about 11:00 p.m., Hermes blew up in a tremendous explosion. After exchanging signals with Percy, Woodbine and his force retreated back to the beach and re-embarked. Percy sailed the remnants of his battered flotilla back to Pensacola. The British had suffered thirty-two dead and forty wounded both ashore and afloat, including Colonel Nicholls. The Americans sustained four dead and five wounded.