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 5 of 7|
Bunkers Hill in Miniature
With the fall of Mobile, British West Florida was reduced to the garrison of Pensacola. It took no military genius to figure out that this last city would be next on Don Galvez's intended conquests. Within days of their arrival back at Pensacola from the environs of Mobile, twenty one Spanish ships arrived off the harbor.
The troops in the garrison were immediately put in order, and the principle defenses of Fort George were fully manned. All the guns left to the British prepared to battle the Spanish fleet and army, knowing no help or reinforcements would arrive to assist them, with the exception of some 300 warriors from the Choctaw tribe, and the same number from the Creeks.
The Choctaws arrived on 2 April 1780 and Chaplain WALDECK of the Germans described their entrance:
"I was sitting peacefully in my tent when I suddenly heard small weapons fire close to the camp, very much as if an outpost were under attack. We ran from our tents and saw a party of the Choctaw Indians, who had been thirty days traveling from their land, here. They were all dressed according to their own way. They camped, spread out in an almost oriental fashion, and smoked from their tomahawks.To the great joy of the garrison, these warriors would not now be needed. The fleet which had arrived off of Pensacola contained over 2,000 fresh Spanish troops from Havana. Seeing the city so well prepared to receive them, and judging they could not silence the guns defending the harbor, the fleet turned about and returned to Cuba.
Don Galvez, still in Mobile with the troops that had taken that town, considered the possibility of trekking overland as Campbell had done, but with heavy siege artillery. An engineer informed him of the impossibility of this attempt, and with the concurrence of his officers, his expedition returned to New Orleans, leaving behind a garrison of troops in Mobile.
Just as welcome was the arrival of a British fleet at Pensacola, carrying supplies and a few recruits. The British were now free to perfect their defenses and prepare for the time when Galvez would visit and not be deterred.
After so much activity and anxiety, Major General CAMPBELL could once again turn his attention to providing for the needs of the garrison. Of great necessity was the need for new clothing for his United Corps. Sir Henry CLINTON had ordered that in future all clothing for his Provincials should be sent from the Inspector General's stores at New York, rather than purchased locally or ordered directly from England.
By May of 1780 no new clothing had arrived from New York, and the Pennsylvania and Maryland troops presumably were still in the uniforms purchased for them at Jamaica. To CAMPBELL's credit, he disobeyed his instructions and provided for the men's needs:
"…I thought it would have been cruel to the Men, and of Prejudice to the King's Service not to have furnished them with such Clothing as appeared justly due to them and could be procured for them; And as the Allowance for Clothing has not been exceeded, and the Person, or Persons whose Duty it was to have provided Clothing can only turn on themselves to blame for its not turning out more to his or their account, I trust my having done so meets with Your Excellency's Approbation. Indeed had the Clothing even exceeded the Allowance, I should have thought it my Duty to have purchased it."56There is no record of exactly what this clothing was or who received it.
Even while attending to his garrison duties, CAMPBELL still feared for the city and troops' safety. At the end of July, 1780, he wrote to Lord CORNWALLIS, commanding the British Army in the South:
"Our Situation at Pensacola is dangerous and critical, We are Sure of being attacked in the Fall, unless the Spaniards are prevented or engaged in their own Defence."57This last line is significant in that it foreshadowed General CAMPBELL's next move in West Florida.
The garrison of Pensacola spent the entire year 1780 in daily expectation of Don Galvez and a Spanish invasion force. Sensing that their only chance for survival might be in keeping the Spanish on the defensive, CAMPBELL launched his riskiest move yet: he would attack the Spanish near Mobile.
Twice in 1780 the Indians allied to the British and detachments of the West Florida Royal Foresters, a locally raised Provincial cavalry unit, had skirmished with the Spanish outside of Mobile. Through this CAMPBELL learned that the Spanish had established a post on the opposite side of the bay from Mobile, called Mobile Village or Spanish Fort.
Questions exist as to the strength of the British force sent to attack it. In all it consisted of several hundred men of the 60th Regiment of Foot, the Waldeck Regiment, a large number of men from the United Corps, and eleven cavalry from the Royal Foresters. Added to this was a number of warriors, in whose number was a young Maryland Loyalist named William Augustus BOWLES.
This officer had been commissioned an ensign in the Maryland Loyalists in 1778 at the age of fourteen and had promptly left it a year later after arguments and disagreements with his fellow officers at Pensacola. BOWLES had gone off into the Indian country, taken a native bride, and had become a leader amongst the warriors. With the British now in need of the warriors, Bowles returned to fight alongside his former regiment.
The force slipped out of Pensacola on 31 December 1780, led by the commanding officer of the Waldeckers, Colonel Johann Ludwig Wilhelm Von HANXLEDEN. The troops arrived outside of the village and awaited to attack early in the morning of 7 January 1781.
Colonel HANXLEDEN ordered the Spanish works taken by the bayonet, and accordingly the a detachment of the troops, British, Germans and Provincials, rushed on. Lieutenant Benjamin BAYNTON of the Pennsylvanians described for his brother in Philadelphia what happened that frightful morning:
"It was with singular satisfaction that I found myself pitched upon as one in a detachment ordered for an assault against the Village of Mobile, a post in possession of the Spaniards, about Sixty Miles from this place. We arrived before sun rise, on the fifth day of our march, within two hundred yards of the enemy's entrenchments, and the signal of attack being immediately given, we rushed on with a boldness and intrepidity which deserved, tho' it did not command success.Baynton, writing after the war, still vividly recalled the height of the fighting, even though he had by this time been wounded twice, and the role played by his young friend from Maryland:
"…more than half of this gallant detachment were either killed or wounded. Out of ten officers, three were killed, and three others badly wounded. Two others, of a foreign regiment, were exerting themselves to compel at the points of their swords, fifty of the original detachment, who refused to do their duty. There remained left in the fort but two officers, with scarce twenty men, who must inevitably have fallen, had they not been forced to fly their vainly imagined victory.The attack had failed. Major General CAMPBELL attributed the failure to Colonel HANXLEDEN being killed early in the assault, which threw the rest of the troops into confusion. The survivors were brought off by Captain Philip B. KEY of the United Corps, a Marylander. Sergeant Carl Philipp STEUERNAGEL of the Waldeck Regiment recorded the melancholy aftermath:
"The Spaniards in this affair suffered heavy losses, in that many were killed in the attack, being shot and wounded by bayonets, and their magazines were set on fire. From what I have heard, our gallant Colonel von HANXLEDEN lies buried in the wilderness and the Spaniards fired a rocket over his grave as a tribute to his honor. On the 9th, the remnants of his command returned…"60
55 Waldeck, 155.
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