Fort George and the Siege of Fort George
Fort George, built by the British in 1778, was the site of an important battle during the American Revolutionary War. In May, 1781, Spanish forces, led by General Bernando Galvez, captured the fort in the Siege of Pensacola. The British lost an important loyalist port, which helped supply their forces in the southern colonies and facilitate troop movement. The capture of the fort and others in the state allowed Spain to regain its hold in the state and mark its greatest territorial expansion on the continent. Little remains of the original fort but part of it has been recreated. The site is now called Fort George Park, and it is located on what is believed to have been the southeastern edge of the fort. The fort was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.
Backstory and Context
Spain and France played a major role in the American Revolution. The cooperation between nations was crucial to winning the war against England. Spain’s reasons for joining the American Revolution was the traditional alliance with France, and their desire to get back lost possession from previous wars with the British. The Siege of Fort George was part of one of the most significant battles during the American Revolution, the Battle of Pensacola.
Spanish entered the fray of the American Revolution in 1779 and the governor of Spanish Louisiana (later known as the Louisiana Territory), Bernardo de Galvez, sought to control British West Florida. Prior to entering West Florida, Galvez and Spanish forces were successful in capturing Mobile (Alabama), Baton Rouge (LA), and the Lower Mississippi region from the British. The first attempt to enter West Florida in April 1780, via the military garrison located in Havana, Cuba, was delayed until October and then was stopped when a hurricane swept through the area. Spain tried again in February of 1781 and arrived in early March at Santa Rosa Island. However, the Spanish troops had trouble negotiating the harbor as some ships became grounded and fired on by British artillery. Galvez himself led efforts to navigate the ships and proved successful. Spanish forces, along with a Spanish-Irish regiment, Afro-cuban and biracial militias, entered Pensacola and proceeded to lay siege on March 24.
After the fall of Mobile, between 1,500-2,000 Indians had come at various points of Pensacola for its defense. Including Choctwas, and Creeks, with Creeks being the most numerous. Before the Spanish attack, Campbell not yet realizing the impending threat, had sent about 300 Native American fighters. In 1779 Galvez had sent in an aide, under the guise of discussing the return of escaped slaves. Within the following years Campbell made numerous changes.
Pensacola’s defense in early 1781, consisted of Fort George, a fort topped by palisade. North of Fort George, Campbell built the prince of Wales Redoubt, northwest was the Queens Redoubt both built in 1780. Near the mouth of the bay, Campbell erected a battery called Fort Barrancas Colorada, by mid October 1780, Spain had finalized all preparations for the first invasion of Pensacola. A powerful fleet of 11 warships and 51 transport ships set sail on October 16,1780. Two days later, a gulf hurricane devasted the fleet at sea, scattering the ships throughout the Caribbean, Campeche coastline, and the Mississippi River. The survivors of the squadron limped back to Havana on November 17 and the damage to the fleet was an appalling setback
The following February Galvez, under the command of Captain Jose Calvo de Irizabal , embarked his flag with the Spanish fleet. With about 1,300 men, the regular troops including Arturo O’Neil-future governor of east and west Florida- commanding 319 men. Some of which included militias of biracial and free afro-Cubans. Galvez also had ordered troops from New Orleans and Mobile to assist. The Spanish expeditionary force sailed from Havana on February 13 and arrived outside Pensacola Bay on March 9.
Sailing the Spanish ships into the bay turned to be difficult, as it had been in the previous years capture of Mobile. Galvez boarded the Galveztown and on March 18 he sailed through the channel and into the bay, with three Louisiana ships following. The very next day they did the crossing and Calvo sailed back to Havana. March 24 the Spanish army and militias moved to the center of operations. O’Neill’s patrol scouts landed on the mainland and blunted an attack by 400 Indians allied to the British, these soon joined forces with the Spanish troops arriving from Mobile.
During the first weeks of April, the troops established encampments and began the extensive preparations for the siege. On April 12, Galvez was wounded by gunfire viewing the British fortifications, so the battlefield was formally given to Col. Jose de Ezpeleta, a close friend of Galvez. April 30, Spanish batteries opened fire beginning the full-scale attack on Pensacola’s fortifications. With the Spanish’s navy fear that the sea would crash the wooden ships on the shore, they were forced to withdraw. The army was on its own, May 5, Galvez made arrangements with Tallapoosa Creeks to cease, or suspend their attacks and agreed to purchase beef cattle from them in exchange. May 8, a howitzer blast hit the magazine in Fort Crescent, killing 57 British troops and devasting the fortification. Ezpeleta led a light infantry and was able to take charge of Fort Crescent and move the canons in place to open fire onto the next two fortifications. The British fired back but were overwhelmed with Spanish firepower.Facing the 7,400 infantry and 10,000 sailors and marines, were the 1,300 British regulars, militia, loyalists and natives of the area, and their 500 indian allies. From March 29 to April 30, the Spanish force dug out siege lines and batteries under artillery fire and constant attacks by the British, especially from the Indian allies. During this time Galvez was wounded. On April 30, the Spanish unleashed a heavy barrage of cannon fire to signal their attacks to begin. From April 30 to May 10, Fort George and nearby Fort Crescent, a smaller fortification, were pummeled and began to slowly give way to Spanish pressure. More good news for the Spanish came when a tribe of local Tallapoosa Creeks bearing meat for the military.
On May 10, Fort George surrendered. Galvez, still recovering, personally accepted the surrender. More than 1,100 British prisoners were taken, and another 200 casualties sustained, the Spanish lost 74 men with 198 wounded. With this victory in hand the Spanish captured control of Pensacola and by the end of the war all the lands surrounding the Gulf of Mexico were controlled by Spain. With the capture of forts George and Crescent, British control of West Florida ended. Galvez placed Arturo O'Neill (commander of the Irish regiment) in charge of West Florida as governor. Galvez then took some of the Spanish garrison to the Caribbean to take more land from the British.
Galvez was hero to Spain and Spanish Louisiana and was promoted to Lieutenant General and given governorship of West Florida with O'Neill taking control of East Florida. Of the Indian allies to England, one mixed blood leader, Alexander McGillvray, became a Spanish supporter and helped establish a treaty with Spain to help protect the Cherokee Indians, of which he was related to. He would later ally with the American colonies, then later try to lead Cherokee, British and Spanish forces to take over most of the lower Louisiana Territory as a Cherokee Empire. Although failed, he was able to trick Spain, England and America to pay him salaries as an Indian Agent and spy, secretly working with and against all three at once.
In 1819, Spain signed a treaty ceding control of all of Florida in exchange for American agreement not to pursue the acquisition of Texas. The fort itself does not exist today. A section of the fort was constructed as part of the Fort George Memorial Park.
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