The Regiment of Louisiana and the Spanish Army in
the American Revolution
By Thomas E. DeVoe and Gregory J. W. Urwin
THE CAMPAIGNS OF BERNARDO DE GALVEZ
As noted editor and Revolutionary War scholar
Greg Novak has so astutely put it, most Americans view their War of'
as a private little family quarrel between their forebears and England. In
reality, however, it was one of the world's first truly global war, and it
was the intervention of three major European powers, as well as the
frequently celebrated and sometimes overrated courage and persistence of
George Washington and the Continental Army, that brought Great Britain to
terms in 1783.
Much has been made of the military and economic
help France so generously supplied to the struggling United States, but
the many notable contributions of France's Bourbon ally, the resurgent
Spain of Charles III, have been virtually ignored.
When the widening breach that had been growing
between the Thirteen Colonies and the Mother Country exploded into a
full-fledged rebellion in the spring of 1775, both the courts at
Versailles and Madrid hailed the event as a godsend. Here was their chance
to strike at their ancient enemy while her arms were tied and get some
revenge for the humiliating defeats England had dealt them during the
Seven Years War.
France and Spain each set up bogus trading
companies to send the American Rebels covert shipments of arms, clothing,
munitions and other much-needed items, and they loaned the impecunious
Continental Congress thousands of dollars. Somewhat to Madrid's dismay and
displeasure, the French were a little too generous and friendly with the
Americans. They gave the Rebels thirteen times as much money and material
assistance as their Iberian cousins, and then in 1778, France actually
signed an alliance with the United States and entered the war as an
Spain hesitated at taking such a plunge. She was
glad to help the Yankees tweak the British lion's tail, but as a leading
imperial power herself, she did not want to give her Creoles the idea that
she approved of so dangerous an idea as colonial insurrection. When Madrid
finally decided to declare war on England in the summer of 1?79, it was
not because Charles III and his advisors had undergone a sudden conversion
to the cause of American liberty, but because they felt it was in the best
interests of their country. France had promised to cooperate militarily in
the recovery of Florida, the Bay of Honduras, Minorca, and Gibraltar, if
Spain openly entered the struggle against the British. It was too good an
offer to refuse.
France clearly overshadowed Spain in the sheer
weight of her direct aid to the struggling new nation, and she easily
outdid her Bourbon ally in exhibitions of friendship for the Rebels. No
Spanish regiments served side-by-side with the Continentals as the French
did at Newport, Savannah and Yorktown, but it would be a mistake to
conclude that Spain had a negligible effect on the outcome of the
conflict. Spain sent the United States hundreds of muskets, thousands of
coats, small clothes, blankets, shirts and shoes, and vast amounts of
gunpowder, naval stores, copper, tin, brass cannon and horse furniture.
Supplies and money channeled by Spanish officials through New Orleans and
St. Louis enabled George Rogers Clark to safeguard Kentucky and sweep the
British from much of the Northwest Territory.
Even though Spain committed the bulk of her naval
and military power to the abortive, four year siege of Gibraltar, at
various times between 1779 and 1781, at least 17,000 Spanish soldiers and
sailors saw service on what was to become American soil, capturing a
number of English garrisons in the process and seizing the province of
West Florida for their monarch.
The man who was almost solely responsible for
this triumph of Spanish arms was Bernardo de Gálvez, a young professional
soldier born in 1746, the captain of the grenadiers of the Regiment of
Seville, the colonel of the Fixed Infantry Regiment of Louisiana, and the
Governor of Louisiana from 1777 to his premature death in 1786. When the
Spanish Court informed its colonial administrators on May 18, 1779, that
it intended to declare war on Great Britain by the twenty-first of June,
young Gálvez realized that weeks would pass after that before the English
commanders in North America learned of the commencement of hostilities. He
decided to utilize that period of grace to surprise and seize the enemy
forts facing his province on the Mississippi River.
On August 27, 1779, Gálvez launched the first of
his three brilliant campaigns. A violent hurricane had devastated his base
at New Orleans only nine days before, spoiling, sinking or washing away
nearly all the provisions and boats the enterprising governor had
assembled for his expedition with such great difficulty. Undeterred by
this grave setback, Gálvez quickly made good his losses or did without,
and set out only four days after his originally intended date of
Gálvez marched out of New Orleans at the head of
170 veteran regulars drawn from the Regiments of Spain, Mallorca, Havana
and Prince, 330 untested recruits from his own Regiment of Louisiana,
twenty carabiniers, sixty white militiamen, eighty free blacks and
mulattoes, and seven American volunteers. As they tramped along the
Mississippi shore, they were accompanied by a flotilla of flatboats
bearing four 4-pounders, one 24-pounder, and five 78-pounders. Forging on
ahead, Gálvez mustered 600 additional men from the Acadian and German
settlements and 160 Indians, bringing his hodgepodge force up to a grand
total of 1,427 men-at-arms.
The Spanish troops covered 105 miles in eleven
days, losing at least a third of their number along the way to fatigue and
disease before they caught sight of the first enemy post at the village of
Manchac. At dawn the next day, September 7, Gálvez's militia rushed Fort
Bute and took it from its shocked, twenty-seven man English garrison
without the loss of a single Spaniard.
Resting his soldados a few days, Galvez then
pushed on to Baton Rouge, which was defended by 146 Redcoats, 201
Waldeckers, 11 Royal Artillerymen and 150 armed settlers and Negroes
shielded by the walls of a stout fort with thirteen guns. By the time he
reached there, September 12, fever and privation had pared his dwindling
army down to 384 regular infantry, 14 artillerymen and 400 militia,
Indians and Negroes. Utilising a clever ruse on the night of the
twentieth, Gálvez was able to place a battery unseen within musket shot
of the British fortifications. At 5:45 A.M. the next day, the Spanish guns
began to blast the palisade to splinters and level the earth-works. The
English took this punishment for three and a half hours, and then they
raised the white flag. Included in the capitulation agreement was the
surrender of 80 Waldeck grenadiers staffing Fort Panmure at Natchez.
In the matter of just a few weeks, Colonel Gálvez
and his motley army had captured 550 British and German regulars, 500
armed settlers and Negroes, and three forts. They had added 1,290 miles of
the best land along the Mississippi to their sovereign's domain, and all
at the ridiculously low cost of one Spaniard killed and two wounded. It
had been a brilliant coup, but Gálvez was just getting started. He had
been maintaining an effective espionage service in British territory since
1777, and his spies told him that the rest of West Florida was ripe for
Some fresh troops had been sent to New Orleans
while Gálvez had been absent on his first sortie, and the young governor
decided to incorporate them into his new expedition. On January 11, 1780,
he embarked 754 men aboard twelve small vessels at New Orleans and set
sail for Mobile. Gálvez's new force consisted of 43 soldiers of the
Regiment of the Prince, 50 of the Regiment of Havana, 141 of the Regiment
of Louisiana, 14 artillerymen, 26 carabiniers, 323 white militia, 107 free
blacks and mulattoes, 24 slaves and 26 Americans.
At the same time he sent an officer to Havana to
request an additional 2,000 reinforcements from his immediate superior,
the Captain-General, but all the troops that esteemed gentleman would
spare were the 567 regulars of the Regiment of Navarro. Under Gálvez's
handling, however, they were enough to turn the trick. On March 14, the 98
Royal Americans, 4 Maryland Loyalists, 60 sailors, 54 militia and 51 armed
Negroes that composed the garrison of Mobile's Fort Charlotte left their
works and grounded their arms after a two week siege.
King Charles III was so delighted by his young
servant's string of daring victories that he appointed him "Governor
of Louisiana and Mobile" and raised him to the rank of "Field
Marshall in command of Spanish operations in America." Armed with the
royal favor and fiat, Gálvez sped down to Cuba in August 1780 to
personally raise the ships and soldiers he needed to besiege Pensacola,
the capital of British West Florida.
On October 16, 1780, Gálvez sailed proudly out
of Havana Harbor with 7 warships, 5 frigates, 1 packet boat, 1 brig, 1
armed lugger and 49 transports containing 164 officers and 3,829 regulars.
A savage tropical storm struck the fleet on the 18th and scourged it for
five days, sinking one ship and scattering the rest across the Gulf of
Mexico. Refusing to admit defeat, Gálvez put back to Cuba and regrouped
his command. At the end of February 1781 he set out again, and this time
everything went right.
Sighting Pensacola on March 8, the following
night Gálvez loaded a party of grenadiers and light infantry into some
ships' boats and occupied Santa Rosa Island at the entrance of the bay
before the English even knew they were there, In the next few weeks naval
and military reinforcements materialized from Spain and various quarters
of her empire. By the end of April, Gálvez had shifted his operations to
the mainland and had pushed his trenches and batteries to within half a
mile of Fort George, the refuge of Pensacola's harried defenders, 1,600
Redcoats, Hessians, Loyalists, Sailors, Negroes and Militia. Facing them
were at least 7,000 of Spain's finest soldiers from such outfits as the
Fixed Battalion of Louisiana, the Regiments of the King, the Crown and the
Prince, the Royal Corps of Artillery, the Regiments of Spain, Soria,
Navarro, Guadalajara, Mallorca, Navarra, Aragon, Cataluna, Volunteers, and
Toledo, the Fixed Battalion of Havana, and the three tough red-coated
regiments of Spain's famous Irish Brigade, the Hibernia, Irlanda and
Some 1,350 Spanish sailors were put ashore to man
some big guns and serve as laborers. Another 10,000 seamen in sixteen
ships-of-the-line and dozens of smaller craft hovered offshore, cutting
off all chance of escape or relief from the sea. Four French frigates
arrived to add 725 allied troops, light infantrymen from the Regiment of
Orléans, piguets from the Regiments of Poitou, Agenois and Gâtinais, and
assorted artillerymen, to Gálvez's swelling host.
Pensacola's fate was sealed, but the end came in
a dramatic climax on May 8, when a single Spanish cannonball entered a
British powder magazine and sent eighty to one hundred members of the 1st
Battalion of Pennsylvania Loyalists flying sky high in an earth-shaking
explosion that gutted the Queen's Redoubt, which held a stretch of high
ground overlooking Fort George. Some quick-thinking Spanish light infantry
seized the shattered, smoking earthworks, with its ghastly, shredded
bodies, and brought a couple of howitzers and field-pieces directly to
bear on the now exposed enemy lines. At 3:00 P.M. the surviving 1,113 men
of the British garrison acknowledged the inevitable and surrendered, West
Florida was Spanish again.
The conquests of Bernardo de Gálvez secured the
province of Louisiana, the Mississippi River and the Gulf Coast for the
Spanish Empire. England was so shaken by the defeats she sustained at his
hands that she also ceded East Florida to his royal master and abandoned
the trans-Appalachian region to be divided between Spain and the infant
United States. Thanks to his amazing courage, foresight, guile, and iron
determination, young Gálvez proved that it was indeed possible for one
man to change the course of history.
THE REGIMENT OF LOUISIANA
The backbone of Gálvez's campaigns against
Manchac, Baton Rouge and Mobile, and the first line of defense in his
far-flung province, was El Regimiento Fijo de Infanteria de la Luisiana,
or the Fixed Infantry Regiment of Louisiana.
After certain reforms proposed in 1764, Madrid
employed two types of regular units to defend the wide expanses of the
Viceroyalty of New Spain and her extensive holdings in South America.
First there were the peninsular regiments, which were recruited in Spain
or elsewhere in Europe, and were rotated on overseas service in the
principal ports and frontier presidios. The second category consisted of
fijo regiments - permanent or fixed battalions raised in the colonies
themselves and kept there, The Regiment of Louisiana belonged to this
The Regiment of Louisiana was founded in 1769 by
General Alejandro O'Reilly, Charles III's best military commander, after
he crushed a French rebellion against Spanish rule at New Orleans with an
awesome punitive expedition of 2,056 troops and 24 ships. Before O'Reilly
pulled out of the pacified city, 179 men from the Regiment of Lisbon and
some pickets from the Regiments of Guadalajara, Aragon and Milan
volunteered to form the nucleus for Louisiana's new fixed battalion.
Like many other colonial organizations, the
Regiment of Louisiana never reached the paper strength specified by the
Spanish Army's 1768 regu1ations. By the spring of 1779, when Spain finally
decided to declare war on the English, the Louisiana had only five
companies. Each company was supposed to average one captain, three
lieutenants, three sergeants, seven corporals, seventy-nine privates and
two drummers. In July of that year 159 recruits from Mexico and the Canary
Islands joined Gálvez at New Orleans.
This gave the regiment enough men to expand to a
respectable eight companies. Only about 380 of the Louisiana were
concentrated under the colonel's direct control at New Orleans. However,
the rest were scattered far upriver and stationed at such remote spots as
St. Louis, Arkansas Post, Upper Illinois, and Balize.
The regimental coat, or la casaca, of the
Louisiana Regiment was white, which had been the official color of the
Spanish line since the accession of the Bourbon dynasty early in the
eighteenth century. While peninsular troops were sent to campaign in the
tropics in heavy European wool, thanks to supply difficulties and perhaps
a touch of common sense, the fixed battalion was issued regimentals made
out of lighter cotton or linen - with the latter being more common.
In 1770 Charles III had his army adopt the more
modern military fashions decreed by his French cousin, but even as late as
1779, the troops of the Louisiana were wearing the old long style coat.
These garments were lined with blue cloth. They also had blue cuffs and
collars, which were detachable so as to not run and contaminate the white
shell and sleeves during the frequent launderings that were necessary to
keep such items clean. The repeated washings helped the facings and
turnbacks quickly fade to a mellow sky blue.
The regimental was single-breasted and had ten
large pewter buttons on the right side. They were plain, flat and one inch
in diameter. Three buttons were attached to each of the coat's two pockets
and two more sat at about waist level above the tails.
The Louisiana Regiment's small-clothes were
supposed to be blue, but frequent shortages dictated that white cotton be
substituted, which frequently happened to the linings of the regimental
coat as well. The long waistcoat, or "el chaleco", had sleeves.
It was closed by a single row of half-inch pewter buttons. Three more
buttons were sewn by each pocket and one at the opening of each sleeve.
Gálvez intended his regiment's coats to last
three years apiece, and so the troops were allowed to turn out for fatigue
and drill, and even on garrison duty, when the weather was particularly
hot, in just their sleeved waistcoats. They were also permitted to wear
them while on campaign or in battle.
The Spanish Army's shirt was made out of the
standard fine white linen and had the usual high collar. Instead of a
neck-stock, the soldado wrapped a white linen cravat two inches wide and
thirty inches long around his neck.
Spanish troops were issued two kinds of canvas
gaiters. There was a white pair that fitted over the knee and each was
fastened on the outside of the leg by a row of sixteen small,
cloth-covered buttons. A black leather strap was attached to the bottom of
the inside of the legging, run under the instep of the shoe and attached
to the fourth or fifth button to keep it in place. A shorter black pair
with only eight small white-metal buttons apiece, also saw service with
the Louisiana. These leggings protected the soldiers' white worsted
stockings and the brass buckles on their plain black shoes.
The Regiment of Louisiana was apparently issued a
bewildering variety of firelocks. Most of the men probably carried the
1752 Spanish Fusil, a brass-banded weapon modelled after the French musket
of the time. Its straight, broad-based bayonet was housed in a dark
leather scabbard that hung from a brown or buff waistbelt or a crossbelt
slung over the left shoulder. There is evidence that many Spanish troops
carried French muskets, and some British flintlocks were also turned on
their former owners. In the Louisiana Regiment musket slings were made out
of buckskin or natural leather, and even linen, when supplies of the other
two materials were short.
A plain black cartridge box rested on the right
hip from a narrow buckskin or dark leather strap slung from the right
shoulder. This cartuchera had two flaps to keep rain water from spoiling
the cartridges inside, and it was joined to the strap by two brass rings.
Some of the troops may have also gone into action still using the old
twenty-one round belly box, which was attached to the waistbelt. The Royal
Arms was embossed on the outer flap and highlighted by red paint.
Battalion company soldiers wore a black tricorne
hat. It was made of stiffened black felt and edged with white tape. A red
satin cockade was fixed on the left side of the front corner by a gold
loop. Members of the grenadier company wore a tall, sloping bearskin cap
that was entirely plain except for a blue crown in the back with a
white-laced cape (bag) that flowed down to the shoulder.
All the men had a cloth fatigue or barracks cap,
which was known as the bonnet du police or el garro de guartel. It was
made of blue and white wool with a blue tassel. A brass plate cut in the
shape of the regimental coat of arms was mounted on the front of the cap.
Non-commissioned officers and grenadiers were
issued a short, curved saber with a plain brass hilt and guard. It was
carried in a black leather scabbard that hung from a double frog with the
owner's bayonet. Grenadiers also had brass matchboxes attached to the
upper front of their cartridge box belts.
The colonial Spanish soldier had a wide range of
vessels to choose from for his canteen. Leather bags, dried gourds,
leather-covered bottles and little wooden kegs were all pressed into
service. His blanket, rations and other equipment and belongings were
crammed into a combination knapsack/ haversack that came in the form of a
heavy linen bag or a leather bag that was held on the back with a brown
leather sling that slipped across the front of the body over the right
The soldado's hair was cut short on top of the
head and gathered into a single tight curl on each temple. The rest was
braided in a long, sixteen-inch queue that was wrapped in a black satin
ribbon that came to a large bow at the collar of the coat. The tip of the
queue reached down to the junction of the cross-belts on the soldier's
Officers had silver buttons and hat lace. When on
duty they wore plain gorgets so close to their throats they were obscured
by the collars of their coats. As the colonel of the regiment, Gálvez
carried a regulation command stick with a golden knob and tassel. At the
edge of the cuffs on his regimental, he had three strips of silver lace to
mark his rank.
In keeping with the custom of the day, the
musicians of the Regiment of Louisiana had quite distinctive uniforms. The
collar, cuffs, pocket flaps, turnbacks and front of the coat and the
waistcoat were edged in white and red chequered lace. Sources disagree on
precisely how this brilliant color scheme was effected. Some say that a
row of red crosses was superimposed over white lace, and others believe
that there were white crosses over a red background. The drummers carried
instruments with blue shells and red rims. The royal coat of arms was
centred at the front of the drum.
Archer, Christen I. The Army in Bourbon Mexico,
1760-1810. Albuquerque. University of New Mexico Press, 1977.
Brinckerhoff, Sidney B., and Faulk, Odie B. Lancers for the King: A Study
of the Frontier Military System of Northern New Spain, with a Translation
of the Royal Regulations of 1772. Phoenix, Arizona Historical Foundation,
Caughey, John Walton, Bernardo de Gálvez in Louisiana 1776-1783.
Berkeley, University of California Press, 1934.
Kuethe, Allan J. Military Reform and Society in New Granada, 1773-1808.
Gainesville: The University Presses of Florida, 1978.
Lang, James. Conquest and Commerce Spain and England in the Americas. New
York: Academic Press, 1975.
Langley, Lester D. Struggle for the American Mediterranean, United
States-European Rivalry in the Gulf-Caribbean, 1776-1904. Athens: The
University of Georgia Press, 1969.
McDermott, John Francis, ed. The Spanish in the Mississippi Valley
1762-1804. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1974.
Thomson, Buchannon Parker. Spain: Forgotten Ally of the American
Revolution. North Quincy, Massachusetts: The Christopher Publishing House,
Whitaker, Arthur Preston, The Spanish-American Frontier: 1783-1795: The
Westward Movement and the Spanish Retreat in the Mississippi Valley.
Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1969.
Wright, J. Leitch, Jr. Anglo-Spanish Rivalry in North America. Athens: The
University of Georgia Press, 1971.
_______ Florida in the American Revolution. Gainesville: The University
Presses of Florida, 1975.
Beer, William. "The Surrender of Fort
Charlotte, Mobile, 1780." American Historical Review. Vol. 1 (July
1896), pp. 696-99.
Dart, Henry P., ed. "West Florida: The Capture of Baton Rouge by
Galvez, September 21st, 1779." Louisiana State Historical Quarterly.
Vol. 12 (April 1929), pp. 25- 65.
DeVoe, Thomas. "The Spanish Regiment of Louisiana." Bull Schott.
Vol 2 (March 1979), pp. 45-47.
Gálvez, Bernardo de. "Diary of the Operations of the Expedition
against the Place of Pensacola, Concluded by the Arms of H. Catholic M.,
under the Orders of the Field Marshall Don Bernardo de Gálvez."
trans. By Gaspar Cusachs. The Louisiana Historical Quarterly. Vol. 1
(January 1917), pp. 44-84.
Haarmann, Albert W. "The Spanish Conquest of British West Florida,
1779-1781." Florida Historical Quarterly. Vol. 39 (October 1960),
Holmes, Jack D. L. "Some Irish Officers in Spanish Louisiana."
The Irish Sword, The Journal of the Military History Society of Ireland.
Vol.6 (1963-1964), pp. 234~47. - 100 -
Katcher, Philip. "The First Battalion of Pennsylvania
Loyalists." Campaigns: An International Magazine of Military
Miniatures. Vol. 3 (November December 1977), pp. 8-9.
Llull, Francisco Ferrer, and Hefter, Joseph. "The Spanish Louisiana
Regiment in the Floridas, l779—1781." Military Collector &
Historian. Vol. 16 (Fall 1964), pp. 79-80.
McAlister, Lyle N. "The Reorganization of the Army of New Spain,
1763—1766." Hispanic American Historical Review. Vol. 33 (February
1953), pp. 1-32.
Mora, Carl. "Spain and the American Revolution; The Campaigns of
Bernardo de Galvez." Mankind: The Magazine of Popular History. Vol. 4
(August 1974), pp.50 57.
Mullen, Thomas, Jr. "The Hibernia Regiment of the Spanish Army."
The Irish Sword: The Journal of the Military History Society of Ireland.
Vol. 8 (1967-1968), pp. 218-25.
Murphy, W. S. "The Irish Brigade of Spain at the Capture of
Pensacola, 1781." Florida Historical Quarterly. Vol. 38 (January
1960), pp. 216-25.
Nachbin, Jac, ed. "Spain's Report of the War with the British in
Louisiana." The Louisiana Historical Quarterly. Vol. 15 (1932), pp.
Osorio, Alfred J. "Organization and Description of El Regimiento de
la Luisiana, 1777- 1783." Military Notes