The forgotten Theater of the American Revolution

Wednesday, November 11, 2009
On May 8th, 1781, a shell penetrated the magazine in the Queen’s Redoubt. The explosion of the magazine killed nearly 100 English defenders of the fort. The Queen's Redoubt was one of the three strong points that the British had built for the defense of Pensacola against  a Spanish attack. After the explosion, the Spanish were quick to attack and occupy the position.

Campbell, the English commander, soon surrendered Pensacola to Bernardo de Galvez (pictured). With that surrender, the British lost their last foothold in Western Florida and were cleared from the Gulf of Mexico.

Although often forgotten, the Spanish declared war on England as well as France during the American Revolution. However, due to their American colonies, they did not recognize the United States. None the less, her contribution was important. Spain blockaded Gibraltar and caused the English to send much of its fleet to aide in its defense. Spain and England were also involved in a series of clashes throughout the Caribbean. In fact, the last battle of the American revolution was not fought at Yorktown, but in the Bahamas.

However, from the view point of the nascent United States, there is little doubt that clearing the English from West Florida and Louisiana was of critical significance. Had the English retained a toe hold on the Gulf, it is possible they would have eventually seized control of New Orleans. Had that happened the western boundary of U.S. expansion may have ended up being the Mississippi River. Who knows, maybe it would have been Jackson getting chopped to pieces as he was assaulting the entrenched British defenders of New Orleans in 1814.

Lafayette and Comte de Grasse have received their due in the history books. This post is a reminder of the forgotten Bernardo de Galvez. It can be argued that, in its own way, his victory at Pensacola was as important as Yorktown.


Skookumchuk said...

He did lots more along the Gulf Coast and Mississippi. The whole thing is quite a story.

chuck said...

That's fascinating. And I never heard of the man before. Maybe because I grew up in Massachusetts and it was all Paul Revere and the Minutemen.

Knucklehead said...

Just like Chuck, I've never heard of the man (or perhaps don't recall reference to him). I am currently reading Paul Johnson's A History of the American People. No index entry for Bernardo de Galvez.

OT, but I find Johnson's claim about the important influence of the colonization of Georgia by interests from Barbados on the nature of slavery in the United States to be interesting. We tend to forget, if we ever knew, that what is now small may once have been large and vice-versa.

Skookumchuk said...

I've done some reading over the last day or so. I can't find any English sources, but in 1777, Benjamin Franklin sent his deputy Arthur Lee to Spain where he contracted with the firm José Gardoqui & Sons for 215 bronze cannon, 4,000 campaign tents, 12,826 grenades, 30,000 muskets, 30,000 bayonets, 30,000 uniforms, 51,314 musket balls and 300,000 lb of powder to be sent via a French port to Boston.

The Spanish in Mexico also provided 500,000 gold pesos to the French fleet of Compte de Grasse, which he used to pay his men and repair his ships in Havana and Guarico, Venezuela prior to sailing for Yorktown. Once he sailed for the Chesapeake, they provided another million.

Then in 1782, Galvez led some sort of amphibious assault against the British Navy base at New Providence in the Bahamas, in which he was aided by the Navy of South Carolina.

Skookumchuk said...

Certainly this was done out of pure geopolitics and not out of any revolutionary sympathy. However, Spain remembered this aid (rather bitterly) during the Spanish American War.

Skookumchuk said...


I remember reading someplace that Barbados was insanely profitable. More than several individual North American colonies in fact. They were very highly productive slave plantations. It was where you went to learn how it was really done. I wish I could remember where I read this, but some intensive Googleing should do the trick.

pilgrim said...

I also grew up in mass and never heard of this fellow, and I've given much more than just the compulsory, cursory schoolgirl's look at the our Revolution. (I suppose I had a bent more towards looking at the contemporary writers who gave inspiration, a little more than the battles.) This stuff, it's in my blood though.

I found this truly fascinating. The first post I'd stumbled across (in a surprising coincidence) from young ambisinistral. clearly you've still got the mind- is there still fiction and pen and ink that carries on as well?

ambisinistral said...

This was something i didn't know about either. I knew Spain had declared war on England during the Revolution, and was vaguely aware that she tried to get Gibraltar back, but I never really thought about it much.

A couple of years ago my niece, knowing I like history and going the obscure route to find a book I wasn't likely to have read, gave me N. Owen Rush's "Battle of Pensacola". I put it on my to be read shelf and somehow I thought it was about a Civil War battle.

I was quite surprised when I took it down and discovered it was a Revolutionary War battle, and that it was between Spanish and English troops. I was even more surprised as I read it and realized the serious consequences of de Galvez's campaign.

I really would like to know more about this whole side of the Revolution.

For example, in the book he mentions the Revolutionaries had hoped the Caribbean colonies would join the States, but that the English navy put an end to that scheme. Was there traction in the Caribbean for the Revolution at one time?

I don't know. I do know that during the Mexican/American war there was an effort by some in the U.S. to gain Cuba as well as California. Was this a thread that reached back to the Revolutionary days?

Come to think of it, I don't even know what the stance the U.S. took towards the South and Central American Bolivarin liberation movements were.

Upon encountering it, I would like to read a more detailed treatment of the whole situation. It seems there is more to it than meets the eye.