ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – Even life-long St. Louis residents may not realize that a big battle was once fought on what is now the site of Ballpark Village, which is in the early stages of development just north of Busch Stadium.
Interestingly, this wasn’t a conflict during the U.S. Civil War, but the Revolutionary War.
The “Battle of St. Louis” — also known as the “Battle of Fort San Carlos” — took place in May 1780, and downtown looked much different 233 years ago.
“The early French city of St. Louis had a wall that enclosed it on three sides, and the fourth side was the Mississippi River,” notes Michael Fuller, history professor at St. Louis Community College-Meramec and one of the foremost experts on the battle.
He says multiple native American tribes brought together by the British attacked Fort San Carlos being held by the French, who fired a cannon from a tower to successfully hold off the attackers…despite quickly running out of cannonballs.
“So they loaded that cannon up with broken glass and nails and everything they could,” Fuller explains. “It was actually more effective than a cannonball at that point in time.”
Modern-day estimates are that somewhere between 1,200 and 2,000 Native American warriors from different tribes including Sioux, Chippewa, Menominee, and Winnebago advanced on Fort San Carlos on May 26, 1780.
But Fuller points out that if the British forces were counting on a unified effort to overwhelm the French defenders, they were sorely disappointed because it turned out that the different tribes were more interested in trying to impress each other than they were in total victory.
He says each tribe would take a turn rushing the fort, fighting ferociously, but once the main attack had been made they rode off and the next tribe would take a turn.
“And the British soldiers that were hoping to direct the battle over a period of several days and to destroy St. Louis were probably flabbergasted to see their Native American allies satisfied with what they did,” which was having proved their strength and bravery in battle, according to Fuller.
The fort, and St. Louis itself, survived.
Now Fuller can’t help but wonder what kind of historic artifacts like arrowheads, cannonballs or even bones might be getting churned up as crews bulldoze the ground to lay the foundations for Ballpark Village.
But that work is moving forward without any archaeologist having had a chance to explore the site.
“If there is not a federal involvement in terms of funding, if it’s private development money, then all we can do is stand back like quiet little mice going ‘Please, please…let us see!’,” Fuller says.
He and other local historians worry that the opportunity of a lifetime may be slipping away, and he’s hoping there’s still time for the property owner to learn about this and invite historians to take a detailed look at the site.