July 3, 1998

Nary a Yankee in Sight

By Raoul Lowery Contreras

British soldiers, Canadian militia and war-painted Indian warriors, 1200 heavily-armed men in all, forced marched across hundreds of miles of what is now Illinois in May of 1780 to attack Ft. San Carlos at St. Louis. It was the key to supplying American rebels in the Ohio Valley and Pennsylvania from New Orleans.

Captain Ferdinand de Leyba of the Spanish Army, with 29 regular soldiers and 281 Spanish and Mexican militiamen smashed the 1200 invaders and sent them reeling and scurrying back to Canada, never to return. This was a critical battle in the American Revolution and nary a Yankee was in sight.

Captain de Leyba's commander, Governor General Bernardo Galvez, the Conde de Galvez, Spain's Numero Uno in America under orders from his King, had sent agents throughout Spanish America raising money and volunteers to fight for the American Rebellion. Money and men came from as far away as San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Tucson, Santa Fe, Mexico City, Mana-gua, Lima and almost every village and town in Spanish America.

With four Spanish fighting ships and his volunteers, Galvez defeated the British at Baton Rouge, Natchez (Mississippi) and the British naval base at Mobile Bay, all in the early months of 1781. Supplies for American rebels in Pennsylvania and New York flowed up the Mississippi unhindered by British forces defeated in battle after battle as far away at St. Joseph in what is now Michigan. These Spanish victories were but seasoning for, perhaps, the penultimate battle of the American War of Independence, that of Pensacola in Florida, in March, 1781.

The British Fort Half Moon, at Red Cliffs, seven miles from Pensacola, was heavily armed with giant cannon pointed seaward. No enemy force could come within miles of the British fort and the harbor it protected without being blasted.

The British fort was so invincible, Spanish naval officers thought, that they couldn't even attack it, much less take it. General Galvez, however, wasn't a sailor, he was a soldier. With his 40-ship fleet, he landed 1400 Mexican-Puerto Rican-Cuban and Spanish troops at Santa Rosa Island, at the mouth of Pensacola harbor and shut off the British from the sea.

Galvez then took his flagship, guns blazing, briskly sailing through the shallows in front of the fort within steps of land and bombarded the British who couldn't fire back. The fort's heavy cannon were mounted to fire at ships out to sea, far away in registered areas where the cannon could smash any attacking ship. General Galvez, however, was not a sailor, he was a soldier. He came under the British guns and the fort was defenseless to his blazing cannon.

The British surrendered 1100 troops at Fort Half Moon and the American Revolutioin was over in the Gulf of Mexico. Another Galvez Lieutenant, Francisco de Miranda, captured the Bahamas Islands. Victories, victories over the British with nary a Yankee in sight.

With 40 ships, Galvez sailed for Virginia, where George Washington needed help, having trapped the 8,000-man British army of Lord Cornwallis on the Yorktown Peninsula. Galvez and his troops arrived, inspired by their undefeated campaign against the British to find a surly American army and 3,000 French soldiers threatening mutiny for they had not been paid in 6-months. Moreover, they refused to be paid in paper money for that printed by the Continental Congress wasn't worth a "Continental."

With George Washington's permission, Galvez took four ships and sped to Havana. In town squares, churches, schools and individual homes, General Galvez pleaded for help for the Americans. Women donated wedding bands, churches their chalices and gold leaf, businessmen their profits and workers their centavos. Nary a Yankee was in sight.

Galvez rushed back to George Washington with $6-million dollars worth of gold and silver to fund the final battle. That $6-million would be the equivalent of $120-million today.

Galvez then turned over command of 12 regiments of battle-tested troops that had not lost a battle to the British, to George Washington for the Battle of Yorktown. Washington's French-Spanish and English-speaking army now numbered 15,000 soldiers and a French/Spanish fleet of over 50 ships. The British surrendered after bloody fighting in which 4,000 Spanish solders were killed, wounded or captured by the British. The final victory of the American Revolution had a heavy Spanish accent.

Shamefully, they rarely get the credit they deserve. Oh, sure, General Bernardo Galvez is honored with a park in Pensacola named for him, statues in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., a commemorative stamp for the U.S. Postal Service and the city of Galveston, Texas is named for the great General, but the name is unknown to many Americans for the simple reason that teachers don't know the name either or what the Spanish, Mexican, Puerto Rican and Cuban soldiers did for American Independence. The blackout was lifted by the Ronald Reagan Defense Department in 1981 with publication of "Hispanic Contributions to America's Defense."

The 4th of July, el Cuatro de Julio, belongs to the Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban and Spanish soldiers, sailors and Marines, the Black and Tan Battalions of General Bernardo Galvez as it does to anyone. On behalf of our great country, I extend a giant salute and thanks to those brave men who bled and died helping the United States of America win its —our— independence.