Siege of Pensacola

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Siege of Pensacola
Part of the Gulf Coast campaign
Spanish troops at Pensacola.jpg
Spanish grenadiers and militia pour into Fort George. Oil on canvas, United States Army Center of Military History.
DateMarch 9 – May 8, 1781
Result Decisive Franco-Spanish victory
Spanish gain control of British West Florida
Bandera de Espana 1748-1785.svg Spain
Royal Standard of the King of France.svg  France

Union flag 1606 (Kings Colors).svg  Great Britain

Commanders and leaders
Bandera de Espana 1748-1785.svg Bernardo de Gálvez  (WIA)
Bandera de Espana 1748-1785.svg Francisco de Miranda
Bandera de Espana 1748-1785.svg José Calvo de Irazabal
Bandera de Espana 1748-1785.svg José Solano y Bote
Bandera de Espana 1748-1785.svg Juan Manuel de Cagigal
Royal Standard of the King of France.svg François Aymar de Monteil
Union flag 1606 (Kings Colors).svg John Campbell
7,400 regulars & militia [1]
10,000 sailors & marines
21 ships [2]
1,300 regulars, rangers, militia & natives [2]
500 Indians [3]
Casualties and losses
95 killed
202 wounded [4]
155 killed
105 wounded
1,113 captured [4]
2 sloops captured

The Siege of Pensacola was a siege fought in 1781, the culmination of Spain's conquest of the British province of West Florida during the Gulf Coast campaign.

Kingdom of Great Britain Constitutional monarchy in Western Europe between 1707 and 1801

The Kingdom of Great Britain, officially called Great Britain, was a sovereign state in western Europe from 1 May 1707 to 1 January 1801. The state came into being following the Treaty of Union in 1706, ratified by the Acts of Union 1707, which united the kingdoms of England and Scotland to form a single kingdom encompassing the whole island of Great Britain and its outlying islands, with the exception of the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. The unitary state was governed by a single parliament and government that was based in Westminster. The former kingdoms had been in personal union since James VI of Scotland became King of England and King of Ireland in 1603 following the death of Elizabeth I, bringing about the "Union of the Crowns". Since its inception the kingdom was in legislative and personal union with Ireland and after the accession of George I to the throne of Great Britain in 1714, the kingdom was in a personal union with the Electorate of Hanover.

British West Florida

West Florida was a colony of the Kingdom of Great Britain from 1763 until 1783 when it was ceded to Spain as part of the Peace of Paris.

Gulf Coast campaign

The Gulf Coast campaign or the Spanish conquest of West Florida in 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.



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 beginning with his assault at Fort Bute. 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, after a brief siege.

Spain Kingdom in Southwest Europe

Spain, officially the Kingdom of Spain, is a country mostly located in Europe. Its continental European territory is situated on the Iberian Peninsula. Its territory also includes two archipelagoes: the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa, and the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean Sea. The African enclaves of Ceuta, Melilla, and Peñón de Vélez de la Gomera make Spain the only European country to have a physical border with an African country (Morocco). Several small islands in the Alboran Sea are also part of Spanish territory. The country's mainland is bordered to the south and east by the Mediterranean Sea except for a small land boundary with Gibraltar; to the north and northeast by France, Andorra, and the Bay of Biscay; and to the west and northwest by Portugal and the Atlantic Ocean.

Fort Bute

Fort Bute (1766-1779) was a colonial fort built by the British in 1766 to protect the confluence of Bayou Manchac with the Mississippi River and was named in honor of the Earl of Bute. Fort Bute was located on Bayou Manchac, about 115 miles (185 km) up the Mississippi River from New Orleans, on the far western border of British West Florida. It was one of the three outposts maintained by the British in the lower Mississippi along with Fort Panmure and the Baton Rouge outpost.

Mississippi River largest river system in North America

The Mississippi River is the second-longest river and chief river of the second-largest drainage system on the North American continent, second only to the Hudson Bay drainage system. Its source is Lake Itasca in northern Minnesota and it flows generally south for 2,320 miles (3,730 km) to the Mississippi River Delta in the Gulf of Mexico. With its many tributaries, the Mississippi's watershed drains all or parts of 32 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces between the Rocky and Appalachian mountains. The main stem is entirely within the United States; the total drainage basin is 1,151,000 sq mi (2,980,000 km2), of which only about one percent is in Canada. The Mississippi ranks as the fourth-longest and fifteenth-largest river by discharge in the world. The river either borders or passes through the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

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. British reinforcements arriving in Pensacola in April 1780 delayed the expedition, however, 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. [5]

Pensacola, Florida City in Florida, United States

Pensacola is the westernmost city in the Florida Panhandle, approximately 13 miles (21 km) from the border with Alabama, and the county seat of Escambia County, in the U.S. state of Florida. As of the 2010 census, the city had a total population of 51,923, down from 56,255 at the 2000 census. Pensacola is the principal city of the Pensacola metropolitan area, which had an estimated 494,883 residents as of 2018.

Havana Capital city of Cuba

Havana is the capital city, largest city, province, major port, and leading commercial center of Cuba. The city has a population of 2.1 million inhabitants, and it spans a total of 781.58 km2 (301.77 sq mi) – making it the largest city by area, the most populous city, and the fourth largest metropolitan area in the Caribbean region.

British defenses

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.

20 Battery Royal Artillery

20 Battery Royal Artillery is the headquarters battery of the 16th Regiment Royal Artillery. It is one of the five batteries that make up 16th Regiment Royal Artillery. The Regiment use the Rapier Field Standard C air defence missile system and the Land Environment Air Picture Provision (LEAPP) capability, the only Regiment in the British Armed Forces to do so.

Militia generally refers to an army or other fighting force that is composed of non-professional fighters

A militia is generally an army or some other fighting organization of non-professional soldiers, citizens of a nation, or subjects of a state, who can be called upon for military service during a time of need, as opposed to a professional force of regular, full-time military personnel, or historically, members of a warrior nobility class. Generally unable to hold ground against regular forces, it is common for militias to be used for aiding regular troops by skirmishing, holding fortifications, or irregular warfare, instead of being used in offensive campaigns by themselves. Militia are often limited by local civilian laws to serve only in their home region, and to serve only for a limited time; this further reduces their use in long military campaigns.

In addition to the Loyalist soldiers, many Native Americans supported the British. After the fall of Mobile in March 1780, between 1,500-2,000 Indians had come at various points to Pensacola to join in its defense. These included Choctaws and Creeks, with Creeks being the most numerous. Just before the Spanish attack only 800 Native American warriors remained in Pensacola, as Campbell, not realizing the attack was imminent, had sent about 300 away. During the siege and battle there were ultimately only about 500 natives left at Pensacola, due to diplomatic efforts of the Muscogee Creeks to take a more "balanced" role by offering supplies to both sides and diminishing their role on the British side. The majority of the Native Americans still present during the siege were Choctaw. [6]

Native Americans in the United States Indigenous peoples of the United States (except Hawaii)

Native Americans, also known as American Indians, Indigenous Americans and other terms, are the indigenous peoples of the United States, except Hawaii and territories of the United States. More than 570 federally recognized tribes live within the US, about half of which are associated with Indian reservations. The term "American Indian" excludes Native Hawaiians and some Alaskan Natives, while "Native Americans" are American Indians, plus Alaska Natives of all ethnicities. The US Census does not include Native Hawaiians or Chamorro, instead being included in the Census grouping of "Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander".

Choctaw Native American people originally from the Southeastern United States

The Choctaw are a Native American people originally occupying what is now the Southeastern United States. Their Choctaw language belongs to the Muskogean language family group. Hopewell and Mississippian cultures, who lived throughout the east of the Mississippi River valley and its tributaries. About 1,700 years ago, the Hopewell people built Nanih Waiya, a great earthwork mound located in what is central present-day Mississippi. It is still considered sacred by the Choctaw. The early Spanish explorers of the mid-16th century in the Southeast encountered Mississippian-culture villages and chiefs. The anthropologist John Reed Swanton suggested that the Choctaw derived their name from an early leader. Henry Halbert, a historian, suggests that their name is derived from the Choctaw phrase Hacha hatak.

Gálvez had received detailed descriptions of the state of the defenses in 1779, when he sent an aide there ostensibly to discuss the return of escaped slaves, although Campbell had made numerous changes since then. Pensacola's defensive 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. [7] Campbell erected a battery called Fort Barrancas Colorada near the mouth of the bay.

Fort George (Pensacola, Florida) United States national historic site

Fort George was a British fort built in 1778 for the protection of Pensacola, Florida. The Spanish captured it in Siege of Pensacola on May 10, 1781.

Palisade defensive structure; typically a fence or wall made from wooden stakes

A palisade, sometimes called a stakewall or a paling, is typically a fence or wall made from iron or wooden stakes, or tree trunks and used as a defensive structure or enclosure.

Redoubt type of fort or fort system

A redoubt is a fort or fort system usually consisting of an enclosed defensive emplacement outside a larger fort, usually relying on earthworks, although some are constructed of stone or brick. It is meant to protect soldiers outside the main defensive line and can be a permanent structure or a hastily constructed temporary fortification. The word means "a place of retreat". Redoubts were a component of the military strategies of most European empires during the colonial era, especially in the outer works of Vauban-style fortresses made popular during the 17th century, although the concept of redoubts has existed since medieval times. A redoubt differs from a redan in that the redan is open in the rear, whereas the redoubt was considered an enclosed work.

Spanish Forces

A 1763 map depicting Pensacola Bay PensacolaMap1763.jpg
A 1763 map depicting Pensacola Bay

Gálvez embarked his flag with the Spanish fleet, under the command of Captain José Calvo de Irazabal. With about 1,300 men, the regular troops included a Majorcan regiment and Arturo O'Neill (later Governor of Spanish West and East Florida) commanding 319 men of Spain's Irish Hibernia Regiment, and including militias of biracial and free Afro-Cubans. [8] Gálvez had also ordered additional troops from New Orleans and Mobile to assist.

The Spanish expeditionary force sailed from Havana on February 13. Arriving outside Pensacola Bay on March 9, Gálvez landed some troops on Santa Rosa Island, the barrier island protecting the bay. O'Neill's Hibernians landed at the island battery, which he found undefended, and landed artillery, which he used to drive away the British ships taking shelter in the bay.

However, bringing the Spanish ships into the bay turned out to be difficult, just as it had been the previous year at the capture of Mobile. Supplies were offloaded onto Santa Rosa Island to raise the draft of some of the ships, but Calvo, the fleet commander, refused to send any more ships through the channel after the lead ship, the 64-cannon San Ramon, grounded in its attempt. Furthermore, some British guns seemed to have the range to fire on the bay's entrance. [9]

Gálvez used his authority as Governor of Louisiana to commandeer the ships that were from Louisiana. He boarded the Gálveztown, and on March 18 he sailed her through the channel and into the bay. The three other Louisiana ships followed him, under what proved to be ineffective British artillery fire. After sending Calvo a detailed description of the channel, his captains all insisted on making the crossing, which they did the next day. Calvo, claiming that his assignment to deliver Gálvez' invasion force was now complete, sailed back to Havana in the San Ramon. [9]


On March 24, the Spanish army and its accompany militia moved to the center of operations. O'Neill served as aide-decamp and commander of the scout patrols. Once the bay had been entered, O'Neill's scouts landed on the mainland and blunted an attack by 400 mainly pro-British Choctaw Indians on the afternoon of March 28. The scouts soon joined forces with the Spanish troops arriving from Mobile.

The Spanish forces led by Bernardo de Galvez at the battle. Oil on canvas, Augusto Ferrer-Dalmau, 2015. Cuadro por espana y por el rey, Galvez en America.jpg
The Spanish forces led by Bernardo de Gálvez at the battle. Oil on canvas, Augusto Ferrer-Dalmau, 2015.

During the first weeks of April, O'Neill's Irish scouts reconnoitered the Pensacola fortifications. The redoubt farthest from the city was the Crescent. Next distant was the Sombrero, followed by Fort George. The Spanish troops established encampments and began extensive preparations for a siege. Hundreds of engineers and laborers brought supplies and armaments to the battlefield. [10] The engineers also dug trenches, and built bunkers and redoubts, besides constructing a covered road to shield the troops from the constant fire of grapeshot, grenades, and cannonballs. [11] On April 12, Gálvez himself was wounded while viewing the British fortifications. Battlefield command was formally transferred to Colonel José de Ezpeleta, a personal friend of Gálvez. [12]

A second attack by the Choctaws began on April 19, interrupting the siege preparations, and that day a large fleet was sighted heading towards the bay. Although at first thought to be bringing British reinforcements, the ships turned out to be the combined Spanish and French fleet from Havana commanded by José Solano y Bote and François Aymar, the Baron de Monteil, having on board Spanish Field Marshal Juan Manuel de Cagigal. Reports of a British squadron sighted near Cape San Antonio had reached Havana, and reinforcements had been sent to Gálvez. The Spanish ships carried a total of 1,700 sailors and 1,600 soldiers, bringing the total Spanish force at Pensacola to an unstoppable 8,000 men. [13] Solano decided to remain to assist Gálvez after the disembarkation of the troops, and the two men worked closely together.

A 1783 engraving depicting the exploding magazine CaptureOfPensacola1781.jpg
A 1783 engraving depicting the exploding magazine

On April 24, a third Choctaw attack caught the Spanish napping. Five Spanish were wounded, including O’Neill's cousin, Sublieutenant Felipe O'Reilly. Two days later, soldiers from the Queens Redoubt attacked Spanish positions, but were driven back by O'Neill's scouts. On April 30, the Spanish batteries opened fire, signalling the start of the full-scale attack on Pensacola. However, the Gulf was now experiencing tempestuous storms, and a hurricane struck the Spanish ships on May 5 and 6. The Spanish fleet had to be withdrawn, for fear the seas would wreck the ships on the shore. The army remained to continue the siege, even though the trenches were flooded. Gálvez issued them a daily ration of brandy to keep up their spirits. [14]

In early May, Gálvez was surprised to receive chiefs of the Tallapoosa Creeks, who came offering to supply the Spanish army with meat. Gálvez arranged the purchase of beef cattle from them, and also requested that they appeal to the British-allied Creeks and Choctaws to cease their attacks. On May 8, a howitzer shell struck the magazine in Fort Crescent, exploding it and sending black smoke billowing. Fifty-seven British troops were killed by the devastating blast, and Ezpeleta quickly led the light infantry in a charge to take the stricken fort. The Spanish moved howitzers and cannons into what remained of it and opened fire on the next two British forts. Pensacola's defenders returned fired from Fort George, but were soon overwhelmed by the massive Spanish firepower.

Two days later, realizing his final line of fortification could not survive the barrage, General John Campbell reluctantly surrendered Fort George and Prince of Wales Redoubt. The garrison raised a white flag over Fort George at 3 in the afternoon of May 10, 1781. More than 1,100 British and colonial troops were taken prisoner, and 200 casualties were sustained. The Spanish army lost 74 dead, with another 198 wounded. [15]

Gálvez personally accepted the surrender, ending British sovereignty in West Florida. The Spanish fleet left Pensacola for Havana on June 1 to prepare assaults on the remaining British possessions in the Caribbean. Gálvez appointed O'Neill the Spanish Governor of West Florida, and his Hibernia Regiment departed with the fleet.


Jose Solano y Bote in front of Santa Rosa Bay coming to the rescue of General Galvez Jose Solano y Bote.jpg
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 British garrison, large quantities of war material and supplies, and one British sloop of war. [16] Gálvez had the batteries and Fort Barrancas Coloradas moved nearer to the bay's entrance, and placed a battery on Santa Rosa Island against British attempts to recapture Pensacola.

The Tallapoosa Muscogee Creek mission during the siege was probably connected with or even ordered by Alexander McGillivray, a mixed-race Creek trader. Although he was a Loyalist and held a British commission as a colonel, he was a longtime opponent of American colonial intrusions on Creek land. Raised as a Creek, though well educated in South Carolina, McGillivray was viewed by many Creeks a their leader. He supplied the British in Pensacola, and had organized the British Muskogee Creek contingents who fought alongside the Choctaws. He would become principal Chief of the Upper Creeks in 1783, who lived on the Tallapoosa River at Little Tallassee (near today's Montgomery, Alabama). His support for Spain later resulted in the 1784 Treaty of Pensacola, in which Spain guaranteed to respect Creek territory. McGillivray personally negotiated the treaty and spent the rest of his life in Pensacola.

The Spanish fleet took the British prisoners to Havana, from which they were sent to New York in a prisoner exchange, which angered the rebellious Americans. However, such exchanges were routine, and Gálvez arranged the exchange to free Spanish soldiers and seamen from the brutal conditions on British prison ships.

Gálvez and his army were welcomed as heroes on their arrival in Havana on May 30. King Charles III promoted Gálvez to lieutenant general, [13] and he was made governor of both West Florida and Louisiana. The royal commendation stated that as Gálvez alone forced the entrance to the Bay, he could place on his coat of arms the words Yo Solo. [17]

José Solano y Bote was later recognized by King Charles III for coming to aid Gálvez with the title Marques del Socorro. A painting of Solano now hanging in the Museo Naval de Madrid shows him with Santa Rosa Bay in the background. A British flag captured at Pensacola is displayed at the Spanish Army Museum in Toledo.

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  1. Marley p 333
  2. 1 2 Mays p 250
  3. Chartrand 54
  4. 1 2 Chávez, 2003: 194
  5. Bense (1999), p. 36
  6. O'Brien, Greg (30 April 2008). Pre-removal Choctaw history: exploring new paths. University of Oklahoma Press. pp. 124–125. ISBN   978-0-8061-3916-6 . Retrieved 25 March 2011.
  7. Kaufmann (2004), p. 131
  8. Kuethe pp. 41-42
  9. 1 2 Dupuy (1977), p. 151
  10. Gálvez p. 26
  11. Gálvez p. 20
  12. Martín-Merás p. 82
  13. 1 2 Martín-Merás, p. 85
  14. Mitchell p. 104
  15. Caughey pp. 209-211
  16. This was the 18-gun HMS Port Royal. The 18-gun sloop HMS Mentor, the former Maryland privateer Who's Afraid, which the British had captured in 1779 off the Bahamas, had wrecked in March. Her crew had burnt her to prevent her capture.
  17. Caughey p. 214


Coordinates: 30°20′52″N87°17′50″W / 30.34778°N 87.29722°W / 30.34778; -87.29722