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Siege of Pensacola
Part of the American War of Independence
Spanish troops at Pensacola.jpg
Spanish grenadiers and militia pour into Fort George. Oil on canvas, U.S. Army Center for Military History.
Date March 9–May 8, 1781
Location Pensacola, then British West Florida, now Florida
Result Decisive Spanish victory
Territorial
changes
Spanish gain control of all of British West Florida
Belligerents
 Spain
France France
United Kingdom Great Britain
Germany Waldeck-Pyrmont
Commanders
Bernardo de Gálvez
José Calbo de Irazabal
José Solano y Bote
Juan Manuel de Cagigal
François Aymar de Monteil
John Campbell
Strength
7,000 regulars and militia 3,000 regulars
unknown number of Indians
Casualties and losses
74 dead
198 wounded
105 dead
382 wounded
2,113 captured

The Siege of Pensacola marked the culmination of Spain's conquest of the British province West Florida during the American War of Independence in 1781.

Contents

Background

When Spain entered the War in 1779, Bernardo de Gálvez, the energetic governor of Spanish Louisiana, immediately began offensive operations to gain control of British West Florida. In September 1779 he gained complete control over the lower Mississippi River by capturing Fort Bute and then shortly thereafter obtaining the surrender of the remaining forces following the Battle of Baton Rouge. He followed up these successes with the capture of Mobile on March 14, 1780, following a brief siege.

Gálvez began planning an assault on Pensacola, West Florida's capital, using forces from Havana, with the recently-captured Mobile as the launching point for the attack. However, British reinforcements arriving in Pensacola in April 1780 delayed the expedition, and when an invasion fleet finally sailed in October, it was dispersed by a hurricane a few days later. Gálvez spent nearly a month regrouping the fleet at Havana.[1]

British defences

7 (Johnstones) Company, 4th Battalion Royal Artillery at the Queens Redoubt during the defense of Pensacola 1781 20 Battery Royal Artillery, UK

Following the outbreak of hostilities with Spain 1779, General John Campbell, concerned over the condition of the defenses, requested reinforcements, and began construction of additional defenses. By early 1781, the Pensacola garrison consisted of the 16th Regiment, a battalion from the 60th, and 7 (Johnstones) Company of the 4th Battalion Royal Artillery (Present day 20 Battery Royal Artillery, 16 Regiment Royal Artillery). These were augmented by the Third Regiment of Waldeck and The Maryland Loyalist Battalion as well as the Pennsylvania Loyalists. These troops were provincial soldiers, rather than militia. In addition to the Loyalist soldiers, natives from the Creek Nation supported the British.

Gálvez had received detailed descriptions of the state of the defenses in 1779 when he sent an aide there under the guise of discussions concerning the return of escaped slaves, but Campbell made numerous changes in the intervening years. Pensacola's defense works in early 1781 consisted of Fort George, an earthen works topped by a palisade that was rebuilt under Campbell's directions in 1780. North of the fort he had built the Prince of Wales Redoubt, and to its northwest was the Queen's Redoubt, also built in 1780.[2] Campbell also erected a battery called Fort Barrancas Colorada near the mouth of the bay.

Sailing to Pensacola

Gálvez and the Spanish fleet, under the command of Captain José Calbo de Irazabal, sailed from Havana on February 13 with about 1,300 men. Gálvez had ordered additional troops from New Orleans and Mobile to assist. Arriving outside Pensacola Bay on March 9, Gálvez landed some troops on Santa Rosa Island, the barrier island protecting the bay. When the island turned out to be undefended, he landed and emplaced some artillery, which was then used to drive away the British ships in the bay.

Getting the Spanish ships into the bay turned out to be difficult, as it had been in the previous year's capture of Mobile. Some materials were unloaded onto Santa Rosa Island to raise some of the ships, but Calbo, the fleet commander, refused to send any ships through the channel after the first one, the San Ramon, grounded in its attempt, citing that danger, and some British guns that seemed to have range to the bay entrance.[3]

A 1763 map depicting Pensacola Bay

Gálvez then used his authority as Governor of Louisiana to commandeer those ships in the fleet that were from Louisiana. He then boarded the Gálveztown and on March 18 sailed her through the channel and into the bay; the other three Louisiana ships followed, under ineffectual British cannonfire. After sending Calbo a detailed description of the channel, the captains under his command all insisted on making the crossing, which they did the very next day. Calbo, claiming that his job, to deliver Gálvez' invasion force, was complete, sailed the San Ramon back to Havana.[3]

Over the next several days, the portions of the Spanish invasion force came together on the mainland. They cautiously moved toward Pensacola and studied its fortifications. The approach was interrupted on April 19 by the unexpected arrival of unknown ships. These turned out to be a combined Spanish-French fleet under the command of José Solano y Bote and François Aymar, the Baron de Monteil, bringing Spanish Field Marshal Juan Manuel de Cagigal, 1,600 Spanish troops, and 725 French troops.[4] These additional forces were sent from Havana in response to reports (likely inaccurate) had reached Havana that a British fleet had been sighted.

Siege

A 1783 engraving depicting the exploding magazine

On April 28, siege operations finally got underway. By May 1 they had emplaced a battery of cannons overlooking the Queen's Redoubt, and begun digging trenches toward an even more advantageous position. On May 4 the British made a sortie, in which they temporarily occupied the second position, and spiked the cannons the Spanish had placed there before retreating back behind their defenses.

Four days later the Spanish cannons found their lucky mark, when they hit the magazine in one of the British redoubts. The explosion killed at least 85 men and left the redoubt in ruins. The Spanish quickly occupied the position and began using it to shell Fort George itself. At 3 pm, the fort's garrison raised the white flag.

Aftermath

José Solano y Bote in front of Santa Rosa Bay coming to the rescue of General Gálvez

The terms of capitulation included the entirety of British West Florida The Spanish captured, in addition to the British garrison, large quantities of war material and supplies. Gálvez had the batteries and Fort Barancas Coloradas moved closer to the bay entrance, and also built a similar battery on Santa Rosa Island as a precuation against future British attempts on Pensacola.

The British troops were first taken to Havana, and then returned to the British in New York, an action that drew protest from the United States. (Gálvez probably believed that Spain was at war with Britain, rather than being allied with the United States.)

José Solano y Bote was later recognized by King Carlos III for his efforts in coming to aid Gálvez with the title Marquez de Socorro. A painting showing Solano with his recognitions with Santa Rosa Bay in the background recorded this accomplishment. The painting is now in the Museo Naval of Madrid.

References

  1. ^ Bense (1999), p. 36
  2. ^ Kaufmann (2004), p. 131
  3. ^ a b Dupuy (1977), p. 151
  4. ^ Dupuy (1977), p. 152
  • Bense, Judith Ann (1999). Archaeology of colonial Pensacola. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida. ISBN 9780813016610. OCLC 40444062. 
  • Dupuy, R. Ernest; Hammerman, Gay;Hayes, Grace P (1977). The American Revolution: A Global War. New York: David McKay. ISBN 0679506489. 
  • Kaufmann, J. E.; Idzikowski, Tomasz (2004). Fortress America: the forts that defended America, 1600 to the present. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press. ISBN 9780306812941. OCLC 56912995. 
  • Mississippi Valley Historical Association (1915). Proceedings of the Mississippi Valley Historical Association, Volume 8. Cedar Rapids, IA: Torch Press. OCLC 1644027. 
  • Marley, David F (2005). Historic Cities of the Americas: An Illustrated Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 9781576070277. 

External links

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