The British Nav was advancing on New Orleans after successful attacks upon Pensacola and Mobile. British Ships were sailing off the American Southern Coast to capture New Orleans. The British fleet's landing area for the invasion of New Orleans was through the Rigolets into Lake Ponchatrain for an easy victory, however, this Battle and the larger Battle of Lake Borgne, negated this advance.
In fact, this Battle was forerunner of the Alamo. Some historians have suggested that the fighter at the Alamo exclaimed "Remember the Battle of The Bay" as they stared down the invading forces.
Most historians agree that the following occurred:
At night, on December 13, 1814, the British set course for the lake. British Admiral Alexander Cochrane ordered Captain Nicholas Lockyer, of HMS Armide to proceed to the lake with a force of forty-two armed ships to destroy a garrison of weapons to prevent its possible capture by the British fleet. The USS Sea Horse was armed with only one 6 inch cannon and had a crew of fourteen men with muskets. Also in the Bay of St. Louis was the USS Alligator stationed in the Bay on the east side.
The USS Sea Horse in the Bay of St. Louis, had not yet made it to its dock at the Ulman Ave. Pier in Bay St. Louis when it was spotted by the British from a distance, and an unknown number of boats were sent in that direction to cut the American schooner off and capture her. At some point, Sailing Master Johnson spotted the Royal Navy boats and attacked. This attack included the USS Alligator and the USS Seahorse against the whole British Fleet.
The initial exchange occurred which resulted in damage to the Seahorse by a couple British shots and destruction of the USS Alligator, wherein the Seahorse then decided to retreat and proceed to its dock at the Ulman Ave. Pier and continue its mission. The British longboats pressed forward. However, due to the season and the tides the longboats had difficulty traveling in the Bay. The tides drew the British longboats into range of the Bay St. Louis shore artillery batteries which began to attack the invading fleet. History says that a lady of the City saw the longboats approaching, yelling at the artillery officers, yanked a cigar out of the mouth of the one officer and lit a cannon starting an artillery attack.
Upon the firing of the shore artillery, The USS Sea Horse turned and headed back into battle, again, and took the fight to the British. The artillery on the coast began firing and the British flotilla retreated. The British gunboats landed at Pass Christian and attacked the garrison in Pass Christian in the early morning.
After fighting off the British's first boat attack, Master Johnson continued to complete his mission, and with the shore batteries as protection anchored his ship until the next morning.
So the anchor was dropped and the USS Sea Horse's crew began to settle for the night. After a short period of rest, the British longboats returned, more in numbers this time. The Royal Navy was able to achieve a closer range than during their first attack, due to the Americans believing their action was over for that night.
One member of the fourteen man U.S. crew spotted the silently approaching British boas and the alarm was raised. Immediately the crew was ordered to arm themselves with the schooner's issue of muskets, or man the sailing vessel's one gun. The British boats drew close and the Americans opened fired.
Hearing the USS Seahorse's fire, the American battery commenced. Accurate fire from the America's small arsenal fo weapons proved efficient and another longboat attack was driven off. Captain Lockyer decided to continue his attempt to capture the Sea Horse, but ordered his main fleet to continue on to Lake Borgne.
The British Navy suffered damage to the longboat during the action and an unknown number of dead and wounded. The United States lost two dead and two wounded, as well as damage to the schooners. William Jonson, just after his encounter with the British, realized that the enemy fleet was nearby and the capture of his ship by the main Royal Navy fleet was indeed possible. So he ordered his shop back to the Ulman Ave. Pier and scuttled his schooner aground on the beach and had her burnt.
This Battle has been unrecognized for too long. The Battle was significant for several reasons and historic facts:
1. It was a classic - "David vs. Goliath".
2. The Battle saved New Orleans by giving precious time to General Andrew Jackson to prepare.
3. It was a precursor for the "Alamo"; and
4. The last naval battle between US Navy ships and and foreign naval power in US Territorial waters.
5. The only battle in the State of Mississippi in the War of 1812.