Siege of Pensacola
In June 1779, Spain declared war on Britain and the Spanish Governor of Louisiana, Bernardo de Gálvez swung into action immediately. Gálvez had already been covertly supporting the American cause through their agent, New Orleans merchant Oliver Pollock, since he took office on January 1, 1779. In fact, Gálvez had been making preparations for an offensive months before the official declaration. When he learned of the declrations, he announced nothing to the British, but began operations. He captured Fort Bute at Manchac, Louisiana on August 27, followed by the garrison at Baton Rouge on September 20. He negotiated for the surrender of Fort Panmure in Natchez at the same time, so by the first week of October 1779, the Mississippi River was securely in Spanish control and Gálvez was promoted to Brigadier General.
Now that Gálvez had secured the Mississippi River, he set his sights on removing the British threat from the Gulf of Mexico. However, bad weather thwarted his efforts several times. In August 1779, his fleet at New Orleans had been dispersed. On January 28, 1780, he was finally able to sail for Mobile, but it was not until March 6, 1780 that he was able to maneuver his fleet in close enough to begin operations. Three days later, Mobile surrendered. As a reward for this victory, Gálvez was promoted to Field Marshal and given command of all Spanish operations in America.
Gálvez had intelligence on the forces at Pensacola and wanted to immediately take his offensive there, but the weather delays had cost him. Reinforcements had arrived from Jamaica, so he personally sailed to Havana, Cuba in August 1780 to secure his own reinforcements. He received his reinforcements, but his expedition was cut short after only two days when a storm scattered his fleet and he was forced to return to Havana. He once again had to secure other reinforcements because some of the ships had been damaged, but it was more difficult the second time around. However, he finally got his reinforcements in February 1781, when word arrived of a failed British effort to recapture Mobile.
The Expedition Finally Gets Underway
On February 28, 1781, Gálvez again set sail for Pensacola from Havana, Cuba with 1,300 men. He had already sent instructions ahead to New Orleans and Mobile that reserves should make for Pensacola. On March 9, Gálvez reached Santa Rosa Island outside Pensacola Bay. On March 11, he attempted to enter the bay after securing the island, but the flagship "San Ramon" ran aground. After she quickly worked free, she returned to her former position outside the bay. The next few days were spent unloading more supplies onto Santa Rosa Island, while Gálvez tried to convince Captain José Calbo of the "San Ramon" to try again, or allow the smaller ships to go ahead first. Calbo was reluctant and even though Gálvez was in command of the expedition, Calbo was responsible for the safety of the fleet itself and was within his right to refuse.
Gálvez knew that he had to enter the bay to carry out successful operations, so he boarded the brig "Galveztown" on March 18 and led four ships into the bay without consulting with Calbo. The next day Gálvez was able to convince Calbo to send in the rest of the fleet. Calbo himself took the "San Ramon" back to Havana. Gálvez began to correspond with Maj. General John Campbell, the British commander of Fort George and Pensacola. Campbell had formed the garrison in 1778 with roughly 650 men, but it was now reinforced by Hessian mercenaries, Maryland and Pennsylvania Tories and Creek Indian allies, so that his total force was almost 2,000. On March 22, 500 men from Mobile and 1,400 from New Orleans arrived to join Gálvez.
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