The Gulf Coast campaign or the Spanish conquest of West Florida, of the American Revolutionary War, was a series of military operations primarily directed by the governor of Spanish Louisiana, Bernardo de Gálvez against the British province of West Florida. Begun with operations against British positions on the Mississippi River shortly after Britain and Spain went to war in 1779, Gálvez completed the conquest of West Florida in 1781 with the successful Siege of Pensacola.
Spain officially entered the American Revolutionary War on May 8, 1779, with a formal declaration of war by King Charles III. This declaration was followed by another on July 8 that authorized his colonial subjects to engage in hostilities against the British. When Bernardo de Gálvez, the colonial Governor of Spanish Louisiana received word of this on July 21, he immediately began to secretly plan offensive operations. Gálvez, who had been planning for the possibility of war since April, intercepted communications from the British at Pensacola indicating that the British were planning a surprise attack on New Orleans; he decided to launch his own attack first. To that end, he concealed from the public his receipt of the second proclamation.
Control of the lower Mississippi
On August 27, Gálvez set out by land toward Baton Rouge, leading a force that consisted of 520 regulars, of whom about two-thirds were recent recruits, 60 militiamen, 80 free blacks and mulattoes, and ten American volunteers headed by Oliver Pollock. As they marched upriver, the force grew by another 600 men, including Indians and Acadians. At its peak, the force numbered over 1,400, but this number was reduced due the hardships of the march by several hundred before they reached Fort Bute.
At dawn on September 7, this force attacked Fort Bute, a decaying relic of the French and Indian War that was defended by a token force. After a brief skirmish in which one German was killed, most of the garrison surrendered. The six who escaped capture made their way to Baton Rouge to notify the British troops there of the fort's capture.
After several days' rest, Gálvez advanced on Baton Rouge, only 15 miles (24 km) from Fort Bute. When Gálvez arrived at Baton Rouge on September 12, he found Fort New Richmond garrisoned by over 400 regular army troops and 150 militia under the overall command of Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Dickson. After nine days' siege, Dickson surrendered.
Gálvez demanded and was granted terms that included the capitulation of the 80 regular infantry at Fort Panmure (modern Natchez, Mississippi), a well-fortified position that would have been difficult for Gálvez to take militarily. Dickson surrendered 375 regular troops the next day; Gálvez had Dickson's militia disarmed and sent home. Gálvez then sent a detachment of 50 men to take control of Panmure. He also dismissed his own militia companies, left a sizable garrison at Baton Rouge, and returned to New Orleans with about 50 men.
In early 1780 Gálvez embarked on an expedition to capture Mobile, which was one of the only major British military establishments left in West Florida (the capital, Pensacola, was the other). Assembling 750 men at New Orleans, he sailed for Mobile on January 11, reaching Mobile Bay on February 9 after being delayed by storms. He was joined on February 20 by a supporting force of 450 from Havana, but did not begin siege operations until March 1. After 14 days of bombardment, Fort Charlotte's walls were breached, and its commander, Captain Elias Durnford, surrendered.
Gálvez in the fall of 1780 sought to capture Pensacola, but his expedition was devastated by a major hurricane. Its tattered remnants made their way back to either Havana or New Orleans, and planning began again for an expedition in 1781.
British authorities in Pensacola had, when war with Spain was imminent, attempted to shore up West Florida's defenses, but the meager resources allocated to the region meant that General John Campbell, the military commander at Pensacola, had been able to do little to stop Gálvez's advance. By late 1780 he had received some reinforcements, and managed to recruit a significant force of local Indians to bolster Pensacola's defenses. The destruction of Gálvez's expedition emboldened him to attempt the recapture of Mobile. In January 1781 he dispatched more than 700 men under the command of the Waldecker Captain Johann von Hanxleden to go overland. This force was defeated when it attacked one of the forward Spanish defenses of Mobile, and Captain Hanxleden was killed. The attack prompted Spanish authorities in Cuba to enlarge to Mobile garrison.
Gálvez and Spanish authorities in Cuba again launched an expedition against Pensacola in February 1781. With forces that eventually numbered about 8,000, Gálvez, assisted by Spanish and French naval forces, first blockaded the Pensacola harbor, and then began siege operations on March 9. By April 30 the Spanish had successfully placed cannons that could fully attack the main Pensacola defenses. A lucky cannon shot hit the powder magazine in one of the outer defenses on May 8, and the Spanish quickly capitalized, capturing the position. Realizing his position was no longer tenable, Campbell opened surrender negotiations the next day. The terms of capitulation included all of the British West Florida.
- Gayarré, Charles (1867). History of Louisiana : The Spanish domination, Volume 3. New York: Widdleton. OCLC 1855106. http://books.google.com/books?id=tXQOAAAAIAAJ.
- Haarmann, Albert (October 1960). "The Spanish Conquest of British West Florida, 1779–1781". JSTOR 30150253.
- Nester, William R (2004). The Frontier War for American Independence. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books. ISBN 978-0-8117-0077-1. OCLC 52963301.
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