Sunday, March 6, 2016

People: Yo Solo

A Fighter

He fought the Apaches. He fought the Algerians. He fought the Hessians. He fought the Portuguese. He fought the British. He Fort Dix...Okay, the Fort Dix part was a Mel Brooks rip off. But who was he?  Bernardo de Galvez was a Spanish governor, soldier and diplomat who played a significant role in the time of the Yankee Doodle Spies. I have received feedback from folks interested in the American Revolution when I post things about the traditional venues. They often lament not being closer to Yorktown, Lexington etc. But the war rippled across the world, expanding in scope when our allies entered the fray. We see little on the American War for Independence in the west, and even less on the southwest and other actions outside the original thirteen states. I thought it time to remedy that a bit.

Bernardo de Galvez

Old Spain

Bernardo de Gálvez was born on July 23, 1746, in Macharaviaya, a mountain village in the province of Málaga, Spain, the son of Matías and Josepha Madrid y Gallardo de Gálvez. During his lifetime his family was one of the most distinguished in the royal service of Spain.  Bernardo came from a military family, so in keeping with tradition he chose a military career. His first action came in 1762 when he served as a lieutenant fighting Portugal. When the war ended, the King of Spain promoted the promising young officer to captain. His appointment was to the infantry regiment  La Coruña.

New Spain

In 1769 Gálvez was sent to the northern frontier of New Spain, where he was appointed commander of Spanish forces in Nueva Vizcaya and Sonora. Spain's big enemy there were the Apaches, whose depredations seriously crippled the economy of the region. Always aggressive in his tactics, Galvez led several major expeditions against the fierce warriors. Galvez was wounded twice in the campaigns along the Pecos and Gila rivers in 1770 and 1771. But the action blooded him and he forged a style of command that would later serve him well.

Old Spain and Beyond

Gálvez was ordered back to Spain in 1772  for a new assignment. This time in France, with the Regiment of Cantabria.  Besides developing a more formal study of the military arts, Galvez became fluent in French, a skill that would prove invaluable later in life on several fronts.
He was ordered back home in 1775 to serve in the Regiment of Seville (solders renowned for their haircuts, I am sure). War loomed again and Galvez participated in the renowned Captain General Alejandro O'Reilly's failed attack on Algiers. Galvez received another wound for his efforts in the campaign, but also promotion to lieutenant colonel. Galvez's career took an upward arc when he was transferred to Louisiana in 1776 and promoted to colonel of the Louisiana Regiment. Then, on January 1, 1777, the promising young officer was named governor of Louisiana. While governor, he reached out to the local French populace. His knowledge of French made him popular with the locals. Especially a young Creole woman, Marie Felice de Saint-Maxent Estrehan of New Orleans, whom he married.

Alejandro O'Reilly

Yankee Doodle Spaniard?

The activities along the Atlantic seaboard in the nearly to mid 1770s did not go unnoticed by Spanish authorities. Factions in Madrid struggled with the idea of supporting a rebellion against a  lawful king but some factions favored it as a way to get back at the British for previous losses and insults to Spain. Galvez was among the latter. Before Spain entered the American Revolutionary War, he secretly aided the American cause. Galvez had secret correspondence with some of the most notable first patriots:  Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, and Charles Henry Lee. As important, he personally received their emissaries, Oliver Pollock and Capt. George Gibson. He reacted to their request for support by securing the port of New Orleans and allowing only American, Spanish, and French ships  up and down the Mississippi River. He used the river to send arms, ammunition, and military supplies to the American forces under Colonel George Rogers Clark. When Spain formally declared war against Great Britain in  1779,  Gálvez  raised a force of men and conducted a campaign against the British along the Mississippi River and the Gulf Coast. He requested cattle and horses from the Spanish governor of Texas. This enabled him to feed the troops and move guns and supplies. Gálvez, in command of 1,400 men (including Americans, French, free blacks and Indians), went on the offensive in the fall of 1779, defeating the British  at Manchac, Baton Rouge, and Natchez. For its time and place, a veritable blitzkrieg against the unprepared British. Once the lower Mississippi was secured, he turned his attention to a larger prize, the British port and garrison at Mobile. He waged a month-long siege with land and sea forces now numbering over 2,000 and captured the British stronghold of Fort Charlotte on 14 March,1780.

Galvez's Campaigns

West Florida

General John Campbell
Anxious to rid the gulf coast of all British, Galvez turned his attention to West Florida (the panhandle). He led a joint land-sea attack on Pensacola, the British capital. But he did so without the help of the Spanish navy whose commander, Admiral Don Jose Calbo de Irazabel thought the shallow waters too treacherous. Tired of delays, Galvez ventured on his own.He had raised more than 7,000 men for the two-month siege of Fort George. Pensacola proved a tough nut to crack. It had 900 British and German defenders under General John Campbell and was well fortified. Tenacious fighting took place and Galvez himself was wounded twice as they advanced their trenches. Then luck took its turn. A stray Spanish cannon ball struck and ignited the British powder magazine. The ensuing explosion sent stone, wood and limbs into the air and collapsed a part of the defense works. Short now on powder and exposed to assault by the Spanish,  Campbell surrendered on 10 May, 1781. In recognition of his conquests, Spanish King Carlos III promoted Galvez to to lieutenant general, captain-general of Cuba, and governor of Louisiana. He also raised Galvez to the peerage as a Conde (Count) and gave him a coat of arms with the inscription "Yo Solo" (I Alone) to commemorate his attack on Pensacola without naval support.

A year later,  Spanish forces under Galvez captured New Providence in the Bahamas, a telling blow to the British. Galvez quickly set to planning a move on Jamaica, Britain's prize possession. But peace negotiations ended things before he could act. Gálvez played a role in developing the terms of the peace treaty. The Continental Congress praised Galvez for his aid during the conflict. The pressure placed on Britain by France and Spain, especially the gulf losses and the threats to the West Indies, were both factors in Britain seeking peace terms. Bernardo de Galvez played no small role in providing that pressure.

Spanish troops storm Pensacola

Viceroy of New Spain

After a short rest back in Spain, Galvez was sent once more to America in October 1784. This time to serve as captain-general and governor of Cuba. In 1785 he was appointed Viceroy of New Spain (central and north America plus the islands) to succeed his father, who had held the post but died on November, 1784. So the ever flexible and upwardly mobile Gálvez and his family moved to Mexico City. He proved as effective a governor in peace as general in war.The new Viceroy quickly became endeared to the people by opening up not only the resources of the government but also his personal fortune to help the populace, who were suffering from famine.  Among Galvez's achievements as Viceroy were the start of the reconstruction of the Castle of Chapultepec, and the completion of the Cathedral of Mexico, the largest cathedral in the western hemisphere. As is the case so often in history, when the smoke of battle clears, true warriors become builders.

A Sudden End, or Not...

Unfortunately for the people of New Spain, Bernardo de Gálvez died suddenly of the fever on 30 November, 1786. They buried him alongside his father in the wall of the Church of San Fernando. Eight days after his funeral, his widow gave birth to another child. But his name lives on beyond his progeny. There are numerous streets and towns named for this great Spanish hero of the American Revolution. While he was Viceroy of New Spain Gálvez ordered José de Eviaqv's survey of the Gulf Coast. The mapmaker named the biggest bay on the Texas coast Bahía de Galvezton, a name later altered to Galveston. One can only speculate what might have transpired had Galvez not died so young. Clearly one of the most remarkable and talented soldiers and statesmen Spain ever produced, Galvez might have accomplished much more in developing Spanish America. Who knows, had he lived, the face of the Americas might have been vastly different. Just how different, I shall leave to speculation.