Interface: NPS shield
Navigation: National Park Service siteNavigation: U.S. Department of the Interiror site
Interface: The American Revolution, Lighting Freedom's Flame
Navigation:  About the Revolution
+ Timeline of Events
+ Revolution Day by Day
+ Revolutionary Stories
+ Revolutionary People
+ Revolutionary Links
Navigation:  Revolutionary Parks
Navigation: Revolutionary Learning
Navigation: Unfinished Revolution
Navigation: Contact
  Stories from the Revolution  
Image: Spanish sortie routs British attackers at Arkansas Post. Colbert's Raid on Arkansas Post: Westernmost Action of the Revolution
by Bob Blythe

At the time of the American Revolution, the lower Mississippi River Valley had only scattered white settlements, and its control was disputed among the Spanish, the British, and various Indian tribes. At the end of the Seven Years War (French & Indian War) in 1763, Great Britain had taken over East and West Florida. The boundary of West Florida extended to the Mississippi River, and the province included Pensacola, Mobile, and the Natchez district of present-day Mississippi. The capital of Spanish Louisiana was New Orleans, and Spain largely controlled the traffic up and down the Mississippi. Although white settlement was just beginning, many understood the great potential for agriculture in the Mississippi Valley. Control of the river and its vast hinterlands was one of the prizes up for grabs in the war between American patriots and the British government.

Even before Spain formally entered the war on the patriot side in June 1779, the Spanish in New Orleans had given secret aid to the Americans. The Spanish governor at New Orleans, José de Gálvez, had helped supply George Rogers Clark's 1778-1779 campaign against the British posts in the Northwest. After Spanish entry into the war, the contest for Florida and the lower Mississippi began in earnest.

Gálvez immediately made plans to attack British outposts. With a force composed of regular army troops as well as black and white militias, the Spanish took Baton Rouge and Natchez by early October 1779. Having secured the great river, Gálvez then moved on to the British garrison at Mobile, which fell in May 1780. Alarmed by the Spanish gains, the British commander at Pensacola roused British supporters to retake Fort Panmure at Natchez. A British and Choctaw force under Captain John Blommart held the fort for about six weeks, until the Spanish recaptured it and took Blommart and others captive on June 22. In the meantime, Gálvez had taken Pensacola, capital of West Florida.

British citizens and Chickasaw Indians who had fled Natchez before the Spanish retook it then formed a partisan band under the leadership of James Logan Colbert. Colbert had been a captain in the British army at Pensacola. Instead of surrendering to the Spanish, he sought refuge in the Chickasaw Nation and fought on. From late 1781 through early 1783, Colbert's band raided Spanish and American shipping on the Mississippi. Aiming to get Blommart and other British prisoners released, Colbert took hostages in hopes of arranging a prisoner exchange.

Throughout 1782, Colbert proclaimed an intention to attack the vulnerable Spanish garrison at Arkansas Post. Located about 35 miles up the Arkansas River from its confluence with the Mississippi, this small outpost was protected by 40 Spanish troops in a stockade known as Fort Carlos III. In April 1783, Colbert, with a force of about 100 whites and Indians, made his way up the Arkansas River toward Fort Carlos. In the early morning of April 17, the British force took several prisoners in the village outside the fort's walls, and then went after the fort. For about six hours, the battle raged. The Spanish garrison fired about 300 cannon balls at the attackers, but did little damage because Colbert's men lay protected in a ravine. At about 9:00 am, the Spanish commander, Captain Jacobo Du Breuil, ordered a sortie that sent the British force running for its boats. A pursuit by Du Breuil's Quapaw Indian allies forced Colbert to release his remaining prisoners. Later in 1783, after making a final report to his British superiors in St. Augustine, Colbert was thrown from his horse and killed.

Word of the preliminary peace treaty concluded among France, Spain, and Britain in January 1783 reached the Mississippi Valley shortly after Colbert's Raid. Hostilities ceased, and Spain prepared to reoccupy the Floridas. Spain remained in possession of New Orleans, and the right of the new United States to send cargo down the Mississippi and deposit goods at New Orleans would remain a disputed issue until New Orleans and all of Louisiana was purchased by the U.S. in 1803. By this time, France had forced Spain to return Louisiana to her, and the $15 million sale was arranged between President Thomas Jefferson and France's Napoleon Bonaparte.

Most of the battleground now lies beneath the Post Bend, but the site of Fort Carlos III and the history of Colbert's Raid, the final battle of the Revolutionary War, can be explored through exhibits at Arkansas Post National Memorial.

< back to story listing


Navigation: Privacy NoticeNavigation: Disclaimer
  Last Updated: Thursday, 04-Dec-2008 9:30
Navigation: Credits and Questions Navigation: NPS Home