The last battle of the War of 1812 wasn’t the Battle of New Orleans, at which U.S. troops led by Andrew Jackson defeated British troops on Jan. 8, 1815.
Instead, the last battle of the war involving significant British and American forces was fought in February 1815 in what is now Alabama, said Jim Parker, director of the Fort Toulouse/Fort Jackson State Historic Site near Wetumpka.
At least 3,000 British troops attacked fewer than 400 U.S. troops inside Fort Bowyer, which was built of logs and sand overlooking Mobile Bay, near where Fort Morgan would be built a few years later.
The fort’s soldiers repulsed a smaller British attack in September 1814, but this time the outnumbered Americans lost.
“It’s the last battle of the War of 1812,” said Parker, who spoke recently at the state archives building about the war, especially battles fought in Alabama.
The fort commander, William Lawrence, surrendered on Feb. 11, 1815, a few days after British soldiers landed on what is now called the Fort Morgan Peninsula.
“They were firing cannon balls at each other. There wasn’t a frontal assault,” Parker said. Mike Bailey, the historian at Fort Morgan State Historic Site, said the British also fired rockets at Fort Bowyer, just as they had at Fort McHenry in Maryland.
Bailey said Lawrence, cut off from relief by thousands of British soldiers and 38 British warships, “was not going to risk needless bloodshed, and so surrendered the garrison.”
He said the battle for Fort Bowyer ended with British casualties of 13 dead and 18 wounded, and Americans casualties of one dead and 10 wounded. “These are the same British units that were at New Orleans,” Bailey said. “They came over here with the intention of taking Fort Bowyer and then taking Mobile and then going back to New Orleans.”
But he said that a few days after the fort’s surrender, the British commander, Alexander Cochrane, finally got word that the Treaty of Ghent, signed in December 1814, had ended the war.
Parker said the Battle of New Orleans is famous, and the later battle for Fort Bowyer is little known, in part because both sides at the Battle of New Orleans had thousands of soldiers.
He noted that the Battle of New Orleans also was bloodier: More than 2,000 British soldiers were killed, wounded or captured, while the Americans suffered only about 70 casualties, according to The World Almanac and other sources.
“The British lost so many people,” Parker said. “The sheer scope of it was just so different.”
Bailey said the outcomes of the battles also may explain why the Battle of New Orleans is so much better known in America.
“It was a major, major victory for the U.S.,” Bailey said. “The Americans are not going to play up a battle that was a defeat.”