However, the Spanish soldier knew that he must not lose the initiative that had worked so well up to then. He was now free of the threat behind him to the north-west and could act hands-free against the British positions in the east: Mobile and Pensacola.
Model of the Spanish siege of Fort Charlotte at Mobile in the Conde Museum.
In fact, this was his initial ambitious plan: to eliminate the British presence in the entire Gulf of Mexico. He set out in haste for Mobile at the head of some 1200 men aboard 14 smaller ships, but upon reaching the bay, a storm destroyed them, with 6 of them lost and some 400 men killed. General Campbell received this information in Pensacola and set out with 1100 troops to annihilate the surviving Spaniards.
But surprisingly, Gálvez reorganized the expedition and received reinforcements of 200 men and 4 ships, enough to begin the siege, and by nightfall, he was cannonading Fort Charlotte overlooking Mobile which had 35 cannons and just over 300 English and Indians. The next day the fort had a huge breach through which the Spaniards began to charge uncontrollably. The capture of the fort took place in full view of Campbell and his troops, who did not arrive in time to prevent Mobile’s surrender and retreated helplessly back to Pensacola.
Engraving of the surrender of Fort Charolotte to Gálvez
Once again the Malaga native’s tenacity succeeded in bringing the conquest to a successful conclusion, and once again he proved unable to stop there, asking to continue on to Pensacola. But it was not easy prey. Together with New Orleans, it was the main port in the area and its possession gave him control of the entire west coast of Florida. That is why Don Bernardo went to Havana to ask for and prepare a suitable contingent. There, however, he encountered something familiar as soon as we delve into history: envy and egos.
Bernardo was a successful soldier, too young for his rank, with his father as Viceroy of Mexico and his uncle as Minister of the Indies. Despite his merits, many saw him as an upstart. If it is true that these influences benefited him, it is no less true that his actions more than justified his promotion.
Everyone in his command and even foreign officers were full of praise for him, noting his closeness to the troops and his jovial energy in command. This was something that the military veterans in Havana, officers of a different generation who lacked Gálvez’s offensive impetus, and who even made all kinds of excuses to reduce and delay the reinforcements that Gálvez needed for his operations. Such was the extent of the obstacles and immobility of his superiors that even the French complained about it to Charles III.
Statue of Gálvez in the Spanish Plaza Park in Mobile (Alabama)
In spite of everything, Gálvez managed to impose the logic of a sea attack instead of a land attack from Mobile. He was given 3,800 soldiers and 2,000 more were contributed by Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Santo Domingo. Two months after Mobile’s conquest, the Spanish fleet left Havana for Pensacola but was intercepted by a hurricane that scattered the squadron from the Florida peninsula to the Yucatan. Anyone would have thrown in the towel in the face of such a misfortune and bad omen, but Don Bernardo returned to Cuba and asked for the attack to be attempted again: “The English who were on their way to Charleston were surprised by a heavy storm, as a result of which their ships were scattered to such an extent that some were swept almost as far as England. This is more or less what happened to us. But the English were not discouraged. They re-organized themselves and attacked Charleston, obtaining the fortunate results we all know. Are we not capable of such a thing? Has the military virtue that characterized us so much in attacking our enemies disappeared? Are we so faint-hearted and fickle that a simple tropical storm will weaken us in our glorious enterprise? This is what the English will think of us, defeated by a simple setback unless we are sustained by a purpose of far greater importance”. There was no more important enterprise on those seas for the Spanish than the capture of Pensacola.
Spanish Plaza Park in Mobile (Alabama)
Gálvez attacked the pride of the commanders but continued to encounter difficulties and in three months only managed to raise a contingent of 1300 men. The King had already given orders to arrange everything necessary for the recovery of Florida, but he still had to send Francisco de Saavedra, the King’s special emissary, to make his wishes come true. Saavedra did not achieve much in the face of the inattention of these commanders, but he promised Gálvez to send him reinforcements to take Pensacola.
Celebrations for the 230th anniversary of the Spanish capture of Fort Charlotte. Mobile (Alabama)
Meanwhile, the British, aware of the Spanish disaster, attacked Mobile on 7 January 1781 with 900 soldiers, 11 dragoons, 400 Indians, 2 cannons, and 2 frigates. But despite a 3-to-1 superiority, they were unable to overpower them and had to retreat once more to Pensacola. That night a redoubt of 190 Spaniards had withstood the initial onslaught of the 1,300 enemies, fighting bravely in hand-to-hand combat. As Ezpeleta, the officer in charge of the defense, recounted: “Our men, who had decided to sell their lives dearly, opened organized fire on the enemy. With these small victories, our men gradually acquired a certain feeling of superiority over the enemy.”
At the beginning of the year, on 28 February 1781, Gálvez’s new squadron, commanded by José Calvo Irázabal, weighed anchor from Havana with 29 ships and 3295 men, broken down as follows:
- 1 ship of the line: San Ramón (64 cannons), Irázabal’s flagship.
- 2 frigates: Santa Clara (34) and Santa Cecilia (28) commanded by Miguel Alderete and Miguel de Goicoechea respectively.
- 1 Chambequín: Caimán (22) commanded by José Serrato.
- 1 Paquebote: San Gil (18) of José María Chacón.
- 6 transport frigates.
- 4 transport paquebots.
- 3 polacras.
- 1 saetía.
- 3 brigantines: including the Galveztown.
- 4 sloops: including the Valenzuela and Carmen.
- 1 schooner: San Servando
- 1 French ship-of-the-line.
- 1 French frigate.
- 1,516 grenadiers: Navarre, Guadalajara, Hibernia, Soria, Flanders, Prince’s and King’s Infantry Regiments.
- 102 fortification soldiers.
- 50 artillerymen.
- 1627 sailors.