The history of the Provincial Corps of Pennsylvania Loyalists is presented in 7 parts. Click below to skip to:
Part 1 - Introduction & The Philadelphia Campaign, 1777
|A History of the Provincial Corps of Pennsylvania Loyalists - Part 6 of 7|
The Siege of Pensacola
The repulse at Mobile Village cast a cloud over the garrison of Pensacola. Their best chance for putting the Spanish on the defensive had failed, leaving their own city open for attack. Major General CAMPBELL, a known hater of the Spanish enemy, felt confident though in his reduced garrison, which took on a bit of a new/old look.
It was apparently at this time that Sir Henry CLINTON's orders to dissolve the United Corps and return it to two separate regiments reached Major General CAMPBELL. Neither William ALLEN nor James CHALMERS was present to command their respective re-constituted corps. Both were absent on leaves elsewhere, CHALMERS having never returned from his 1779 leave.
Command of the Pennsylvania Loyalists on the scene therefore fell upon now Major Philip KEARNY. The former major, John DeLANCEY, had left Pensacola for England in July of 1780, having been promoted to the rank of captain lieutenant in the 18th Regiment of Foot, which regiment he had technically never left.
This was known as serving with a dual commission, and most officers holding such had to make a choice which they wished to abide by. The advantages to holding a Provincial commission was that it was usually a higher rank while that of the British commission held the promise of security in rank and establishment. DeLANCEY chose his British commission and thereby ended his career with the Pennsylvania Loyalists.61
Some were still licking their wounds from the attack on Mobile Village in January, particularly Lieutenant BAYNTON:
"It is now four weeks since I received my wound; and have the pleasure to inform you; that in less than half that time, I shall be out of the Surgeons report. My wound was a most miraculously fortunate one, the ball passing between the leading artery and the bone, and as the sons of Physick suppose, grased both. In either case; my situation would have been truly deplorable, either perhaps the loss of my arm, or the want of use of it, or as the Surgeons on the spot informed me, I should have in all probability, bled to death before he could have given me assistance.Major General CAMPBELL and the troops did not have long to wait for their chance to fight the Spanish again. At eight o'clock on the morning of 9 March 1781, HMS Mentor, a sloop-of-war assigned to Pensacola, fired an alarm gun seven times: over thirty Spanish vessels, both warships and transports, were sailing towards them. The Brig Childers was immediately dispatched to Jamaica to inform the British there of the situation and possibly seek reinforcements.63
For General Galvez, this would be the culmination of two years of conquests against the British. With a force of just over 1,300 Spanish regulars, the Spanish General landed his men on Santa Rosa Island, where the British grazed cattle. Operating from there, they later landed on the mainland, after forcing the two Royal Navy vessels to stay close to harbor and not interfere in the operations.
Major General CAMPBELL proposed to Galvez that the fight be limited to the British fortifications and the countryside, leaving the city intact and unused by either side. Mutual mistrust and accusations led to the nullification of this offer, and the siege was begun in earnest.
For the next two months the Spanish received reinforcements from Mobile, New Orleans and Havana, including French infantry and warships. The siege was far from easy for either side.
On 12 April the British launched a sally, or surprise raid, from their works, which consisted of Fort George (their main fortification) and two smaller works, the Queen's Redoubt and the Prince of Wales' Redoubt. The sailors likewise had their own work, the Royal Navy Redoubt.
The sally was launched against the Spanish troops attempting to entrench outside of Gage Hill, opposite the British works. It was a costly attack for both sides. Lieutenant Joseph PINHORN, leading the West Florida Royal Foresters in the attack, was shot through the head and instantly killed.
General Galvez, rushing to an advanced work to witness the skirmish, was shot through the hand and into the abdomen. Ten other Spaniards were killed or wounded, while the British had some of their Indians wounded as well. Many such sallies were made by the garrison, usually to the disadvantage of the Spanish. This would culminate in the garrison's finest moment.
On 6 May 1781, 100 Pennsylvania and Maryland Loyalists were selected to attack the main Spanish works, 600 yards distant from the British fortifications. Commanding the attack would be Major John McDONALD, the commander of the Maryland Loyalists, while Major Philip KEARNY would lead on the first division.
The attack would daringly be carried out at noon with fixed bayonets. Eighty Waldeckers and twenty other Provincials, under Lieutenant Colonel DE HORN of the Waldeck Regiment would support the attacking troops. One of the participants in the attack was Ensign William Augustus BOWLES, recently returned to his rank in the Maryland Loyalists, who:
"distinguished himself at a sortie, made by ninety-six rank and file provincial troops…who carried the advanced post of the enemy, with the loss of only one man. This attack will be long remembered in the Spanish army, by the gentlemen of the Irish brigade who survived this bloody assault. Fifty, of seven hundred men, who were in the works, were killed with bayonets alone, besides numbers who were shot, flying down the trenches. The gallantry of the Irish officers never shone more distinguished than on this day: they kept their ground, though trod down by the Spanish soldiers; and those who fell fought to the last gasp, with their small swords in their hands."64The Spanish, who had stacked their arms and were in the middle of eating their lunch, were taken completely by surprise. According to one Spanish officer, they "believed themselves as safe and out of risk as in the plaza mayor of Madrid."65
The Pennsylvanians and Marylanders slashed into the trenches with their bayonets, capturing the advanced Spanish works and moving on to a further redoubt on Pine Hill. The troops spiked five of the enemy cannons, set fire to the fascines and then retired to their lines.
They left behind twenty dead Spanish, including two officers, and seventeen wounded, including an Irish officer who was brought in and soon after died. Three other officers and a private were likewise brought in. The attackers lost Ensign Theodore URSALL of the Waldeckers and Sergeant William WARDEN of the Pennsylvania Loyalists killed, a sergeant of the Waldeckers and a private of the Royal Foresters wounded.66
While a temporary victory, it would be short lived. For the garrison of Pensacola, and many of the Pennsylvania Loyalists in particular, the war was about to end.
Tuesday the 8th of May started routinely. Early in the morning the Pennsylvania Loyalists relieved the 16th Regiment of Foot in the advanced redoubt, ready to take their tour of duty.
Without warning, a shell thrown from one of two Spanish howitzers, arced into the redoubt and exploded just as the door of the powder magazine was opened to issue cartridges to the troops. The result was horrific.
The exploding shell ignited the powder in the magazine, blowing up over fifty of the Pennsylvanians and almost fifty sailors. The redoubt lay in ruins, open to assault. Seizing the moment, the Spanish immediately moved forward, leaving the stunned Loyalists just enough time to spike up the remaining cannon and bring off their wounded.
Within 48 hours the garrison would be surrendered, prisoners of war to the King of Spain. British West Florida ceased to exist.
61 Campbell to Clinton, Pensacola, 27 July 1780. PRO 30/55/9873. See also "List of Regular Officers
holding Provincial Commissions," 8 January 1779. CL, Sir Henry Clinton Papers, 50:11.
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