Living near Philadelphia, I tend to have a very East Coast view of the American Revolution.  After all, the BIG battles in North America were in New England, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, the Carolinas and Virginia. 
America west of the Mississippi River was a far of land deep in New Spain for most Americans in 1777.  Not an important place.  That said, two significant engagements in the American Revolution occurred on the western banks of the Mississippi River where our Spanish allies crushed British designs to conquer larger portions of the continent.

The first of these is the battle of Fort San Carlos near present day St Louis just south of the confluence of Mississippi and Missouri rivers.  On May 26, 1780, a hodgepodge force of 300 townsfolk, free and enslaved blacks, French settlers, and Spanish soldiers rallied to defend their town from the advance of a combined British and Native American force.  The Native Americans, whose numbers included Sioux, Chippewa, Menominee, and Winnebago, and various other tribes from the local area committing forces.  These Indian warriors were accompanied by British fur-traders turned militia.  All told a force of over 1000 men under the command of Chippewa Chief Matchekewis laid siege to the Spanish Fort Carlos near the current location of St. Louis.

Fort San Carlos comprised a single tower, approximately 30 to 40 feet, with trenches extending to the river. The initial plan had called for the construction of four stone towers but time and resources limited the fort to just one. This fort was armed with three 4-pound and two 6-pound cannons mounted in the tower with other artillery pieces on either end of the trench line. This fort was created to protect the former French trading post (surrendered after the French and Indian War). 

The Spanish commander of San Carlos was Lieutenant Governor Fernando de Leyba and he had information, gleaned from another fur trader, of the impending strike by the British and their Native American allies.  On the eve of battle, de Leyba send word to Francois Valle, a French inhabitant and former militia captain located 60 miles away.  Valle sent his two sons and 151 trained and equipped French militia men plus extra lead for musket balls.   On May 25, 1780, the British and Native Americans struck a former British outpost across the river at Cahokia.  This outpost was occupied by a Virginia militia with a force of 300 men lead by George Rogers Clark who retreated to Fort San Carlos further strengthening the fort. 

Indians from the Sac and Fox tribes immediately fell back with the first fire from the fort and trench line and refused to advance or partake in anymore of the engagement. The Wapasha and Sioux tried to entice the defenders out from their defensive emplacements to no avail. Having no luck, the warriors made a public killing of captives found on the approach to Fort San Carlos. Still, Leyba was able to keep his force from sallying out and playing into the hands of the enemy and the Native Americans refused to continue to advance. With the Indian repulses thwarted the combined British and Native American force withdrew, burning crops and buildings along with taking livestock on their retrograde movement.  Although this was a small battle the engagement at Fort San Carlos ruined English designs for controlling the Mississippi River.

The second battle along the upper Mississippi occurred, again between British militia and the Spanish at Arkansas Post, a settlement at the nexus of the Arkansas and Mississippi rivers about 400 miles south of San Carlos.  Colbert Raid, was a minor battle fought at Arkansas Post on April 17, 1783, TWO YEARS AFTER Cornwallis had surrendered at Yorktown and three months after the preliminary treaty between Spain and Britain was signed on January 20. 

Loyalist irregulars led by James Colbert attacked a trading post and Spanish fort.  After a six-hour siege and a subsequent counter sortie by the Spanish defenders, causing the Loyalist irregulars and their Chickasaw allies to rout.

A former British Army captain James Colbert led a small band of loyalists harassing Spanish trading posts all along the Mississippi river.  This was essentially a guerrilla war where Colbert and his fighters would attack Spanish traffic on the Mississippi without serious consequence. Eventually this culminated in an attack on a small garrison of 33 Spanish Army soldiers of the Louisiana Regiment and four Quapaw warriors under the command of Jacobo du Breuil and his lieutenant Luis de Villars.  Colbert, essentially a pirate on the Mississippi river focused on seizing trade goods being shipped up and down the Mississippi from New Orleans to St Louis. 

The battle began with an initial Loyalist raid of the village just after midnight.  Four families escaped the village and proceeded to seek shelter in nearby Fort Carlos III (Arkansas Post) causing the garrison tp counter-attack.  During this engagement, the Spanish garrison sustained two losses before the Spanish garrison retreated to the fort.  at about 3:00 a.m., the attacking force began to entrench themselves in a ravine just outside the fort, which, due to its location among trees and bush, they could approach “within pistol shot”. The two sides exchanged gunfire for six hours, with neither sustaining casualties because of both the strength of the fort’s palisade walls and the attackers’ entrenched position.  At 9:00 a.m., suspecting that the attackers might be setting up artillery with which to breach the fort. Commander Dubrueil ordered nine soldiers and four Quapaw warriors to prepare to make a sortie but Colbert sent forth one of his officers under a flag of truce to deliver a peace offer demanding surrender. Dubreuil refused to surrender, and ordered a sally. Spanish forces allied out of the fort toward the attackers, shouting Quapaw war cries. The apparent shock of this sally, mixed with war cries and volleys of musket fire, scattered the attacking force, which immediately retreated to the river and boarded the canoes with their prisoners.  Following the rout, Colbert drove a tomahawk into the ground near the riverbank, symbolizing his intent to return. 

Chief Angaska of the Quapaw nation arrived at the post at noon that day, sent a pursing force of 100 Quapaw and 20 Spanish soldiers to recover the prisoners taken by the retreating Loyalists. On April 24, Angaska reached Colbert’s flotilla near the mouth of the Arkansas River.  Angaska convinced Colbert to release all but eight of his prisoners. On May 16, Colbert was informed of the January 20 preliminary peace treaty and ordered to return all property and prisoners unconditionally. Although the remaining prisoners were released, Colbert refused to return the property seized in the raid.

These actions would eventually have dire consequences for British Loyalist in the Mississippi River Valley as British forces were forced to relinquish control of their forts and settlements after the Treaty of Versailles.   Effort to protect the inhabitants of these lands from just reprisals by American, French, and Spanish settlers after the war is part of the dilemma faced by the Constitutional Convention in 1787 when they remarked that they must “…insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare,..” as British forces continued to occupy forts they were ordered to surrender in 1783.

Published by Michael Carver

My goal is to bring history alive through interactive portrayal of ordinary American life in the late 18th Century (1750—1799) My persona are: Journeyman Brewer; Cordwainer (leather tradesman but not cobbler), Statesman and Orator; Chandler (candle and soap maker); Gentleman Scientist; and, Soldier in either the British Regular Army, the Centennial Army, or one of the various Militia. Let me help you experience history 1st hand!

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