HMS Pelican - Fort Mims

HMS Pelican takes the USS Argus
By Jesse Ames Spencer

The admiralty soon came to the aid of the British merchantmen and sent the sloop of war Pelican, Captain John F. Maples, and the frigate Leonidas in pursuit of the Argus. The impunity with which Allen defied danger seemed to make him reckless. On August 13 Allen captured a brig from Oporto laden with wine, and the Pelican carried 16 32-pound carronades, 4 long 16 pounders and a 12-pound carronade. There is a dispute as to the number of the American crew, but according to British authority Argus contained 127 men, while the Pelican carried 116. It gives the armament of the Pelican differently, crediting her with 16 short 32-pounders, 2 long 6-pounders, 1 short 12-pounder and 2 short 6-pounders, throwing 274 pounds of metal.

The battle began immediately. The Argus wore and fired her broadside within grape and cannister range, which was returned with cannon and musketry. During the first 15 minutes the Argus, having the advantage of position, raked the Pelican at short range, but her guns were so poorly served and so badly aimed that no great injury was inflicted on the Pelican's hull or rigging, and but few of the crew were killed. On the other hand, the gunnery of the Pelican was excellent. At the end of 25 minutes the Pelican had shot away the main braces, main-spring-stay, gaff, and top-sail mast of the Argus. 

The Pelican then attempted to get under the stern of the Argus so as to give her a raking broadside, but young William Howard Allen, then in command, prevented this and instead gave the Pelican a most damaging broadside. But, as the braces of the Argus had been shot away, she could not be kept in position; and, taking advantage of this, Captain Maples took a new position on the starboard quarter of the Argus, and for nearly 20 minutes raked her at close range with his carronades without receiving a single shot in return. t At 6.25 the wheel ropes and nearly all the running rigging of the Argus were gone and she became unmanageable. 

 According to the report of Captain Maples, the action was maintained on both sides for 43 minutes when the Pelican lay alongside the Argus and her boarders were prepared to go over the bow. Then the Argus struck her colors. During the action the Argus lost 6 killed and 17 wounded, while the Pelican lost only 7 killed and wounded, chiefly by musketry, t That so able a captain as Allen should have been beaten at gunnery seems almost inexplicable, for to him was due the high degree of excellence reached by the crew of the United States.

Allen was never able to explain his defeat, for five minutes after the action began he was struck by a shot from the Pelican which carried off his left leg, mortally wounding him; and, greatly weakened by the loss of blood, he was taken to the Mill Spring Prison Hospital at Plymouth, where he soon died. He was buried with all the honors of war, but was not forgotten by his countrymen; in New York City Allen Street now stands a monument to his brave deeds. 

By Henry Marie Brackenridge

On the 14th, at four in the morning, the Pelican, a British sloop of war of greater force than the Argus, obtained sight of her by the light of a brig then on fire; and immediately prepared to attack her. At five o'clock, the action commenced at the distance of musket shot; the Pelican having the weather gage. At the first broadside, captain Allen, of the Argus, fell, severely wounded, but remained on deck until several broadsides were exchanged, when he was carried below, leaving the command to lieutenant Watson. 

At half past six, the rigging of the Argus was so cut up, as to render her almost unmanageable; and the lieutenant was severely wounded in the head. The command now devolved on lieutenant William H. Allen, Jun., who for some time, by great exertion, defeated the attempts of the Pelican to gain a raking position. At thirty-five minutes past six, the Argus, having lost her wheel ropes and running rigging, could no longer be maneuvered, and the Pelican having chosen a position in which none of the guns of the Argus could be brought to bear upon her, the latter had nothing but musketry to oppose to the raking broadsides of the other. At forty-seven minutes past six, she surrendered, with the loss of six killed and seventeen wounded. On board the Pelican, there were three killed, and five wounded. Captain Allen, and midshipmen Delphy and Edwards, died soon afterwards in England, and were all interred with the honors of war. The Pelican was a sloop of twenty guns, the Argus of eighteen; but the victory, in this instance, may fairly be awarded to the English. Our officers and men did their duty; but were compelled to submit to a more fortunate adversary. Captain Allen was justly a favorite in this country, and his memory is dear to his countrymen.

A naval action of the 1813, which took place in British waters, on the 14th of August, between the brigs "Pelican" and "Argus." The "Argus" had landed Crawford, the United States minister, at L'Orient, in Brittany. Her captain, Allen, had received instructions to cruise off the British channel, and he remained for a month sailing between Brittany and Ireland, before his presence was known. It was too hazardous to attempt to carry all his prizes into a French port, although within easy reach. Of the twenty vessels taken, the "Argus" destroyed all but five. Two she gave up to her prisoners, one reached a French port, two were re-captured in their attempt to arrive in France.

The "Pelican" arrived at Cork on the 12th of August from a cruise, and the next day she was ordered to go in quest of the "Argus," whose depredations were now known. On this day the "Argus" had taken a prize off Milford haven, and had burned it. It was the flames of the vessel which betrayed the situation of the "Argus." At four o'clock on the morning of the 14th, the "Argus" was discovered. She made no attempt to avoid a contest. Seeing the "Pelican" was a brig, as Allen subsequently expressed himself, he was confident of taking her in ten minutes, and she remained to engage. 

She fired her first broadside at six o'clock. It was immediately returned by the "Pelican" with three cheers. The firing was continued for forty-five minutes, when the "Argus" was boarded and carried without resistance, and the colours were hauled down. The loss of the "Pelican" was, the master's mate, Young, killed while leading the boarding party by a shot from the fore-top, and one seaman; with 5 seamen wounded. The "Argus" had killed, 6 seamen; the wounded were, captain Allen, 2 midshipmen, the carpenter, boatswain's mate,and 3 seamen mortally; the first lieutenant and 5 others severely, and 8 others slightly; total, 24. The following shews the dimensions of the vessels:

"Pelican."                                             "Argus."
Length, 100 ft.                             Length, 95 ft. 16 in.
Guns, 21.                                             Guns, 20.
Broadside:                                          Broadside:
1 6-pdr. long gun.                       1 12-pdr. long gun.
8 32-carronade.                                  9 24-pdr.""
1 12-carronade. Lbs. 274. Lbs.     weight of metal, 228.

Crew, 116.                                Crew, 125, picked seamen. 
Tonnage, 385.                                 Tonnage, 316.

Massacre at Fort Mims

The massacre at  Fort Mims occurred on August 30th,  1813 during the  War of 1812.  A force of Creek people, belonging to the "Red Sticks" faction under the command of head warriors Peter McQueen and William Weatherford, or Lamochattee (Red Eagle), stormed the fort and defeated the militia garrison. After the defeat of the garrison there ensued a massacre and almost all of the remaining Lower Creek, white settlers, and militia at Fort Mims were killed.  

The enemy, apparently disposed‘ to enlist the savages in the war, at its commencement dispatched messengers to several of the Indian tribes in the Mississippi Territory, distinguished by the names of Creeks, Chocktaws and Uhickasaws, to persuade them to take a part with them in their contest with the United States. The most friendly relations had subsisted between these tribes and the United States for many years: and the latter, dictated by a generous policy, had been successful in their endeavors to introduce among them the improvements of civilized society, But so ardent is the propensity of the Indian character for war, that many were induced to commit the most wanton and unprovoked acts of barbarity upon the Americans. 

The most experienced and well disposed chiefs, aware of the evils a war with the United States must produce upon the tribes, made use of their best endeavors to suppress their acts of cruelty; but those determined on war were not disposed to listen to the dictates of discretion or wisdom, and commenced open hostilities against the United States by one Of the most bloody massacres recorded in Indian history. The particulars of the bloody transaction are copied from a letter of Judge Toulman, dated September 7th, 1813 :

The dreadful catastrophe which we have been some time anticipating has at len-gth taken place. The Indians have broken in upon us, in numbers and fury unexampled. Our settlement is overrun, and our? country, I fear, is on the eve of being depopulated.

The accounts which we received led us to expect an attack about the full moon of August; and it was known at Pensacola, when the ammunition was given to the Indians who were to be the lenders of the respective parties destined to attack the different parts of our settlement. The attempt made to deprive them of their ammunition, issued by the Spaniards on the recommendation of a British general on their way from Pensacola, and in which it was said the Indians lost more than 20 men, although only one third of our people stood their ground, it is highly probable in some measure retarded their operations; and the steady succession of rain contributed to produce the same effect. more judgment and supported with more vigor, there would have been an end, for a time, of Indian warfare. In consequence of the delay, our citizens began to grow careless and confident; and several families which had removed from Tensaw to Fort Stoddert, returned again and fell a sacrifice to the merciless savages,

Our whole plan of defense was erroneous. It was adopted by the citizens under an imperfect view of their danger. From the best accounts which I can obtain, I suppose that there must have been 20 forts erected on the two sides of the river be-tween Fort Stoddert and the upper settlements, a. distance of about 70 miles, which in a country so thinly settled as ours, could not he maintained, even if they had been better constructed. About the 20th of August intelligence was communicated to us by the Choctaw Indians, that in 8 or 10 days an attack would be made by distinct bodies of Creeks on Mime’ fort, in the Tensaw settlement, Which is on the east side of Alabama, nearly opposite to Fort Stoddert on the forts in the forks of' Tombighy and Alabama; on Easely’s fort, near the Choctaw line on the Tombighy, and finally on the fort and United States’ trading house at Hopkins.  

Had their attempt been conducted with.’the Mississippi Territory volunteers, commanded at Fort Mims. About a. mile or two from it was another fort, at Pierce’s mills; and a few miles below that place}, at another mill, a small party of soldiers was also stationed. Mims, however, where were the greatest number of familes and property collected, seems to have been the sole object of attack in that quarter.

A few days before the attack, some Negroes of Mr. M’Girt, who lived in that part of the Creek territory which is inhabited by half breeds, had been sent up the Alabama to his plantation for corn; three of them were taken by a party of Indians. One escaped and brought down news of the approach of the Indians. The officer gave but little credit to him; but they ‘made some further preparation to receive the enemy. On the next day Mr. James Cornels, a. half breed, and some white men, who had been out on the late battle ground, and discovered the trail of a. considerable body of Indians going towards Mr. M’Girt’s, came to the fort and informed the commanding officer of the discovery. 

Though their report did not appear to receive full credit it occasioned great exertions; and on Saturday and Sunday considerable work was done to put the fort in a state of defense. On Sunday morning three Negroes were sent out to‘ attend the cattle, who soon returned with an account that they had seen 20 Indians. Scouts were sent out to ascertain the truth of the report. They returned and declared that they could see no signs of Indians. One of the Negroes belonging to Mr. Mandon was whipped for bringing what they deemed a false report. He, was sent out again on Monday, and saw a body of Indians approaching; but afraid of being whipped, he did not return to Minis but to Pierces Fort; but before his story could be communicated, the attack was made. The commanding officer called upon Mr. Fletcher, who owned another of the Negroes, to whip him also. 

He believed the boy and resisted two or three applications; but at length they had him actually brought out for the purpose, when the Indians appeared in view of the fort. The gate was open. The Indians had to come through an open field 150 yards wide, before they could reach the fort, and yet they were within thirty steps of the fort, at 11 in the morning, before they were noticed. The sentry then gave the cry of ‘Indians !’ and they immediately setup a most terrible war-whoop and rushed into the gate with inconceivable rapidity, and got within it before the people of the fort had an opportunity of shutting it. This decided their fate. Major Beasely was shot through the body near the gate. He called to the men to take care of the ammunition and to retreat to the house. He went himself to a kitchen where it is supposed he must have been burnt.

The fort was originally square. Major Beasely had it enlarged, by extended the lines of the two sides about 50 feet, and putting up a new side into which the gate was removed. The old line of pickets stood, and the Indians, upon rushing in the gate, obtained possession of this additional part, and through the port holes of the old line of pickets fired on the people who held the interior. On the opposite side of the gate, which being open on the out side was also taken‘ possession of by the Indians, who with the axes that lay scattered about, immediately begun to cut down the gate. There was a large body of Indians, though they probably did not exceed 400. Our people seemed to sustain the attack with undannted spirit. They took possession of the port holes in the other lines of the fort, and fired on-the Indians who remained in the field. Some of the Indians got on the block-house, at one of the corners ; but after much firing upon the people they were dislodge. They succeeded, however, in setting fire to a house near the pickets from which it was communicated to the kitchen and from thence to the main dwelling house. They attempted to do it by burning arrows, but failed. When the people in the fort saw the Indians retained full possession of the outer court, and the gate confort, an offset or bastion was made round the back tinned open, that their men fell very fast, and that their houses were in flames, they began to respond. Some determined to cut their way through the pickets and escape. At the whole number of white men and half-breeds in the fort, it is supposed that not more than 25 or 30 escaped, and of these many were wounded. The rest and almost all the women and children fell a sacrifice either to the arms of the Indians or to the flames. The battle terminated about an hour before sunset.

The information was thus far, given to me by a person of character and credibility, who was present during the whole scene, and who escaped through an opening made in the pickets. The women and children took refuge in an upper story of the dwelling house; and it is said that the Indians, when the buildings were in flames, danced round them with savage delight. The helpless victims perished in the flames. 

It is also reported, that when the buildings were burning, and the few  who remained were exposed to the fire of the enemy, they collected many of the guns of the deceased and threw both them and the remaining stock of ammunition into the flames, to prevent their becoming subservient in the hands of the Indians, to the destruction of their fellow citizens. Surely this was an instance of determined resolution and benevolent foresight of which there are not many examples.

But notwithstanding the bravery of our fellow citizens, the Indians carried all before them, and murdered the armed and the helpless without discrimination. Our loss 15 commissioned officers and about 100 non commissioned officers and privates, of the first regiment of the Mississippi Territory volunteers. There Were about 241 families of men women and children in the fort, of whom almost all have perished, amounting to 160 souls. I reckon, however, among them about ‘six families of half breeds, and seven Indians. There were also about 100 Negroes, of whom a large proportion were killed. The half breeds have uniformly probably suggested for the purpose of putting us off our guard, and keeping out of sight the real intention of their revolt against the constituted authorities of their nation. 


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