The American Revolutionary War: Allies


Figure 1.--.

King Carlos III of Spain was a virtually absolute monarch, but he was also a man of the Enlightenment and open to new ideas. And he came to champion the American cause. Much more attention is given by historians to the French alliance and with good reason because it was key to the American victory. And the French fought alongside Washington at Yorktown. The Spanish alliance, however, should not be ignored. Spanish participation was also important. Here Count Aranda played a critical role championing the Americans at court. The Spanish asked for Gibraltar from the British in exchange for sideing with Britain. When Britain refused, Spain declared war on Britain (1779). The Spanish both provided financial assistance to the American cause as well as supplies and engaged in military action. Spanish military actions were conducted in Europe, the Caribbean, Central America, the American South and Midwest. While actual joint operations with Americans were limited, the extensive operations against the British diverted substanbtial forces that could have been used against the Colonists. Jorge Ferragut lead military campaigns against the British in North Carolina. Benjamin Franklin is best known for his role in France, but he was also the Continental Congress' Commissioner to Spain. He helped convince King Carlos to send money, uniforms, and military equipment to the Americans. The Spanish help finance the siege at Yorktown. Bernardo de Gálvez helped divert Royal Navy units at Pensacola assisting in Washington's victory at Yorktown (1781). Combat between the Americans and British essentially ceased after Yorktown. This was not the case with the Spanish. Spanish military actions after Yorktown, helped convince the British to make peace.

French and Indian War/Seven Years War (1756-63)

The Spanish sustained serious losses against the British in the Seven Years' War (1756–63). These serious losses less than two decades earlier greatly influenced their attitude toward Britain (1770s) The British had attacked and occupied two of Spain's major trading ports: Havana and Manila (1762). In the peace settlement Spain recovered Havana by ceding Florida, including St. Augustine, which the Spanish had founded in 1565 (1763). Spain recovered the Philippines later. The Spanish had strategic concerns about Portugal, a hstorical British ally. The Spanish were also concerned about the security of their annual convoy of treasure ships. British posession of the Bahamas and Florida meant that the British could interdict the fleet after it set sail from Havana. But most ofall the Spanish wanted Gibraltar back. Major efforts to regain Gibraltar had failed. As a Bourbon and exisren btween France and Spain, the French transferred Louisiana to France realizing that the British would demand it at the peace conference. For the Spanish this ws not a huge gain. It was ahuge territory. But few Soanairds lived there and little income was derived from it.

King Carlos II

Charles was the son of King Philip V by his second marriage with Queen Isabella Elizabeth (Farnese) and was a grandson of French King Louis XIV. He was not initially in line to become king of Spain. This Parma and Piacenza in Italy were obtained for him as a youth to gratify the ambitions of his mother. Still a young prince, in 1734 he invaded the two Sicilies which at the time belonged to Austria. Charles succedded to the Spanish throne in 1759 on the death of his childless half-brother, Ferdinand VI. He allied Spain with France against Britain in the Seven Years War. Spain was forced to ceed Florida. King Carlos III of Spain was a virtually absolute monarch, but he was also a man of the Enlightenment and open to new ideas. And he came to champion the American cause. Of course the King saw major gains possible at tge expense of the British. Spain again joined France to assist the American colonies against the British. Efforts to take Gibralter in 1781 and 1782 failed. Some domestic reforms proved more succesful. The Jesuits wre expelled (1767). Major progress was made in restricting the reach of the Inquisition. He also made profress in reducing bringandage and piracy. He supported commerece, the arts, and science.

European Allies

Historians have given much more attention to the French alliance and with good reason because it was key to the American victory. And the French fought alongside Washington at Yorktown. The Spanish alliance, however, should not be ignored. Spanish participation was also important.

Declaration of War (1779)

From the outset of the Revolutionary War there was considerable sympathy for the colonists even in conservative Spain. Anti-British feeling was amajor factor, but there was also support for the Colonists, even at court. Newly appointed Prime Minister, José Moñino y Redondo, Count of Floridablanca, wrote 'the fate of the colonies interests us very much, and we shall do for them everything that circumstances permit' (March 1777). [Fernández y Fernández, p. 4.] Count Aranda played a critical role championing the Americans at court. The Spanish took a major step 2 years vbefore declaring war. Benjamin Franklin achieved a major success in Spain while working primarily in France. He informed the Congressional Committee of Secret Correspondence that the Spanish court quietly granted the Americans direct admission to the restricted port of Havana under most favored nation status (March 1777). From Havana, American privateers could more easily move arms and gunpowder to American ports. Franklin also noted in the same report that 3,000 barrels of gunpowder were sitting for the Colonists in New Orleans. And also there were supplies available in Bilbao where the merchants 'had orders to ship for us such necessaries as we might want'. [Sparks, 1:201] The Spanish would not have actually declared war without the French. But once France declarwd war (1778), the Spanish considered their options. The Spanish asked for Gibraltar from the British in exchange for sideing with Britain. When Britain refused, Spain declared war (1779).

Spanish Support (1779-83)

The Spanish provided financial assistance to the American cause as well as supplies and engaged in military action. Although the Spanish only declared war 3 years after the war began, covert Spanish aid began from the earliesrt point of the War (1776). Benjamin Franklin is best known for his role in France, but he was also the Continental Congress' Commissioner to Spain. He helped convince King Carlos to send money, uniforms, and military equipment to the Americans. Roderigue Hortalez and Company through financing the final Siege of Yorktown (1781). They collected gold and silver in their Cuban colony. Spanish military actions were conducted in Europe, the Caribbean, Central America, the American South and Midwest. While actual joint operations with Americans were limited, the extensive operations against the British diverted substanbtial forces that could have been used against the Colonists. Jorge Ferragut lead military campaigns against the British in North Carolina.

Financing

Benjamin Franklin is best known for his role in France, but he was also the Continental Congress' Commissioner to Spain. He helped convince King Carlos to send money, uniforms, and military equipment to the Americans. Roderigue Hortalez and Company through financing the final Siege of Yorktown (1781). Thgey collected gold and silver in their Cuban colony.

Supplies

Spain actively supported the Colonies throughout the Revolutionary War. They jointly funded Roderigue Hortalez and Company, a trading company that provided critical military supplies and fnancing (January 2004). [Chavez, p. 225.] Spain was in a much better position to supply te colonists than France. Possession of Cuba ans Louisiana opened ways of getting supplies to the Colonies. And before war was declared, the Royal Navy could not interdict Spanish shipping. Spanish aid could be shipped to the Comonies Colonies through four principal routes: 1) French ports with the funding of Roderigue Hortalez and Company, 2) the port of New Orleans and up the Mississippi River, 3) warehouses in Havana, and 4) from Bilbao, through the Gardoqui family trading company. An advantage the Colonists had was one of the largest merchnt marines in the world. They were mosly small, crudely built ships, but there were so many that the Royl Navy had trouble controlling them. Smuggling operations began at the onset of thge War. General Charles Lee sent two Continental Army officers to request supplies from the New Orleans Governor, Luis de Unzaga. Unzaga agreed to covertly assist Lee and the assist the rebels covertly, but insisted it be dine coivertly so as not to create an international incident. Unzaga made possible the shipment of gunpowder needed by the Contimnental Army in a transaction brokered by Oliver Pollock, a Patriot financier. [Caughey, p. 87.] At the onset of the War, the colonies had only one small powder mill and its quality wa not sufficent to fire artillery. Even with efforts to expand production, the Continental Army was sependent on gunpowder imports for the entire War. Without European gunpowder, the Colonists could not have fought mjor battles with the British. [Dick] When Bernardo de Gálvez y Madrid, Count of Gálvez was appointed Governor of New Orleans (January 1777), he not only continued, but expanded this smuggling operations. [Mitchell, p. 99]

Military actions

Although the Spanish only declared war 3 years after the war began, covert Spanish aid began fromm the earliesrt point of the War (1776). Spanish military actions were conducted in Europe, the Caribbean, Central America, the American South and Midwest. While actual joint operations with Americans were limited, the extensive operations against the British diverted substanbtial forces that could have been used against the Colonists. Jorge Ferragut lead military campaigns against the British in North Carolina. Bernardo de Gálvez helped divert Royal Navy units at Pensacola assisting in Washington's victory at Yorktown (1781). Combat between the Americans and British essentially ceased after Yorktown. This was not the case with the Spanish. Spanish military actions after Yorktown, helped convince the British to make peace.

Peace Negotiations

Each of the parties entering the peace neotiations had different goals. The French believed that the Americans would follow their lead. This did not occur. The American delegation brilliantly played rrge different European oowers off one another. The Spanish had two goals: 1) to regain Florida from the British and 2) to ensure that the new American republic be as weak as possible. Spain would have a long border with the United States. They did not want that border to be with a strong, expansionist new mation, especially because both Florida and Louisiana were so lightly populated. The Spanish concerns were apparently well founded. Dlorid would be the first territory added to the United States following the Revolution (1810-19).

Sources

Caughey, John W. Bernardo de Gálvez in Louisiana 1776-1783 (Gretna: Pelican Publishing Company, 1898).

Chavez, Thomas E. Spain and the Independence of the United States: An Intrinsic Gift. (UNM Press: 2004).

Dick, Jimmy. "The gunpowder shortage," Journal of the American Revolution (September 9, 2013).

Fernández y Fernández, Enrique. "Spain's Contribution to the independence of the United States" (Embassy of Spain: United States, 1885). .

Mitchell, Barbara. "America's Spanish Savior: Bernardo de Gálvez marches to rescue the colonies". Military History Quarterly. (Autumn 2010), pp. 98–104.

Sparks, Jared. The Diplomatic Correspondence of the American Revolution. (Boston: Nathan Hale and Gray & Bowen, 1829–30).







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Created: 2:38 AM 3/24/2015
Last updated: 1:28 AM 7/5/2015