Battle of Moosa Old Fort
May 16, 1812 near St. Augustine, Florida
Books on The Battle of Moosa Old Fort are available from Amazon.com
While the rebellion took place in West Florida, President James Madison's administration encouraged a rebellion in East Florida. Gen. George Matthews and Col. John McKee were appointed agents of the nation to recieve any posts east of the Perdido River tendered to them by revolutionaries. Matthews, convinced that he was under orders to abet the insurgents, did his best to involve the United States Navy, under Capt. Hugh Campbell. Campbell was stationed at the mouth of the St. Mary's River.
Relations with England now grew too delicate to risk offending Spain any further. Accordingly, on April 4, Secretary of State James Monroe charged Matthews with exceeding his instructions, through excess zeal, and relieved him of his command. Secretary of Navy Paul Hamilton fired off orders to Capt. Hugh Campbell to withdraw any aid he might mistakenly have afforded Matthews, and to get his ships out of Spanish waters.
Campbell's withdrawal of his naval force out of Spanish waters around Florida, however, did not end American involvement. Avoiding the appearance of official participation, Madison's administration still managed to maintain American troops on Spanish soil between the St. Mary's River and the town of St. Augustine.
On May 16, Spanish officials launced a half-hearted attack on Col. Thomas A. Smith's bivouac site at Moosa Old Fort, which was located just north of the St. Augustine River. The attack failed.
Lt. Col. Smith to U. S. Adjutant & Inspector.
Camp near St. Augustine, 21st May, 1812. Sir :
In my letter of the 5th Inst., I informed you that in consequence of the Governor ofSt. Augustine having received intelligence of the disavowal on the part of the UnitedStates of any participation in the revolution of East Florida, I did not expect theSpaniards would make an attack on the Troops under my Command. This opinion wasstrengthened on the 9th, by the assurances which the Governor of St. Augustine madeto Colo. Cuthbert, aid to Governor Mitchell, that the American flag should berespected. In violation of this assurance, in violation of every usage pendingnegotiation, an attack was made on my advance guard on Saturday, the 16th. I had removed my encampment a few hundred yards in therear of Old Fort Moosa ; it was necessary however, that the Fort should be occupied. The Picket was accordingly stationed there.
In the morning of the 16th an armed schooner & four launches filled with men& mounting each a Six pounder were seen going up the North River. On arriving atthe Creek upon which Fort Moosa is situated the schooner was moored & everypreparation made for an attack. A reinforcement was immediately sent to the Picketunder the impression that a landing would be attempted. They had orders, however, toretreat in the event of the enemy's balls penetrating the walls of Moosa, withthe exception of fifteen men who were to be left in ambuscade. Under protection of a heavy fire from the schooner the boats advanced. The twenty-second shot, aTwenty-four, passed through both walls of Moosa & the grape was distinctly heard rattling against its sides. That part of the Detachment which was ordered nowretreated. The stratagem took effect. The shouts of the Spaniards proclaimed their rapid approach & I expected in a few minutes that a deadly fire would have beenpoured in upon them, but by the disobedience of a Sergeant an opportunity of giving a character to this Detachment was lost which can never again occur. Positive orderswere given to the Sergeant left in command of the party in ambuscade not to fire until the first boat arrived within sixty yards of the landing ; however from somestrange infatuation he commenced firing at the distance of four hundred yards. The surprise of the Spaniards was great. They immediately halted & renewed their cannonade. The Sergeant now, in opposition to the en treaties of his men, disgracefully abandoned his post & the enemy taking possession of it we soon discovered Moosa in flames.
Their attention was now directed to our encampment. Finding that we were in reach of their fire I removed the men to a more secure position, ready however to make an attack if an opportunity should offer. The flag seemed to be the point upon which their fire was directed. Discovering that they evinced no disposition to effect a landing in any force & judging it prudent to retire beyond the reach of their armed vessels, I have fallen back to my present position, which is about a mile in the rear of the former encampment. In this affair we received no further injury than the damaging of a few tents by their twenty-fours. The cannonade commenced at eleven and continued until four o'clock. We did not leave the ground until the Spaniards had retreated & the schooner under weigh for the harbor of St. Augustine.
I have so frequently laid before the Department the situation of this Detachment that they cannot require further information respecting it. I would wish however that information seriously considered. I have already informed the Honorable the Secretary that the contract which I have made will expire on the 31st May, & that there is no probability of the Troops being supplied with rations unless some arrangement is made to that effect by the Department of War. However critical my situation may be in other respects, I shall not flinch from the arduous task imposed upon me ; but in this case, without the means of supply, I cannot overcome the difficulties which present themselves on every side.
Lieut. Haig joined me on the 12th Inst. I have the honor to be, sir, With high respect, Your Obt. Servt.,