Siege of Pensacola

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Spanish grenadiers and Havana militia pour into the breached British defenses
Contemporary engraving depicting the explosion of the powder magazine

The Siege of Pensacola marked the culmination of Spain's conquest of Florida from Great Britain during the American Revolutionary War in 1781.

Commanded by Field Marshal Bernardo de Gálvez, Governor of Louisiana and architect of the successful Spanish campaign, a powerful flotilla of warships, that had exploited a weakness in the British land based naval defenses, neutralized outer British defenses and began an amphibious siege (led by the Infanteria de Marina) of the town on March 9. The Spanish forces included 580 officers and men (or about nine percent of the entire Spanish soldiery) from the Regiment of Hibernia, one of the three regiments, at that time, of the Irish Brigade of Spain.

British Major General John Campbell clung tenaciously to the sturdy defenses of Fort George until Spanish artillery fire struck close to the door of the British powder magazine and set fire to it on May 8 at 9:30 in the morning. When the smoke cleared away, over 100 British casualties could be seen strewn about the emplacement, most of them fatalities. The Spaniards then took possession of the Queen's Redoubt, entering through a yawning breach caused by the explosion. Just before three o'clock, Campbell raised a white flag.

Campbell described the events in a letter to George Germain, 1st Viscount Sackville:

When I wrote your Lordship on the 7th instant, although I then foresaw the probable Fate of Pensacola, yet I did not apprehend that the Decision of the Contest was quite so near at Hand as it has since proved to have been; An unfortunate Shell from the Enemy, on the Morning of the 8th, precipitated its Destiny, and occasioned its falling under the Dominion of Spain at least some Days sooner than it otherwise would have happened. On the morning of the 8th a Shell, that accidentally burst by the Door of the Magazine of the Advanced Redoubt, set Fire to the Powder within, and in an Instant the Body of the Redoubt was a Heap of Rubbish, depriving no less than 48 Military, 27 Seaman, and one Negro of Life by the Explosion, besides 24 Men wounded, most of them dangerously. Two Flank Works, that had been added to the Redoubt since the Commencement of the Siege, still remained entire, the Fire from which (owing to the intrepid Coolness of the Artillery, particularly of Captain Johnstone, who commanded them) repulsed the Enemy in their first Attempt to advance to the Storm, and gave Time to carry off the Wounded, two Five and half Inch Howitzers, and three Field Pieces; but the Enemy having by this Time brought up their whole Army, there was a Necessity of abandoning these Works, after first spiking up the Pieces of Artillery in the Flank Works, viz. 2 Ten and 2 Eight-Inch Mortars, 3 Eight and 1 Five and half Inch Howitzers, and 1 Field Piece, a Three Pounder, and 1 Twenty-four-Pounder, 6 Twelve-Pounders, and 1 Nine-Pounder, were lost in the Redoubt.

The London Gazette, October 9, 1781.[1]


  • February 28 – Spanish fleet departs Havana for Pensacola.
  • March 9 – Spanish fleet appears off Santa Rosa Island, 6:00 a.m. Light infantry and grenadier companies disembark six miles east of Punta Sigüenza (near modern-day Casino Beach). A prearranged signal of seven guns from the British warship Mentor notified the British forces.
  • March 10 – The unfinished English battery at Punta Sigüenza is found abandoned and taken by forces under Francisco Longoria and Arturo O'Neill. They capture seven British soldiers, who were sent to retrieve supplies and burn an unused blockhouse, and receive some fire by anchored frigates Mentor and Port Royal, and the Red Cliffs fort. The British brigantine Childers breaks out of harbor to alert British authorities.
  • March 11 – Using two 24-pound cannon brought ashore to the captured battery, Spanish forces return fire, forcing the frigates to move out of range.
  • March 12 – The fleet moves west towards the harbor entrance, but is halted when the flagship San Ramón runs aground. A 24-pounder at a masked battery fires upon British interceptors, forcing them to get out of range.
  • March 18 – Four Spanish ships, including Bernardo de Gálvez's private brig Gálveztown, force entry into Pensacola Bay.
  • March 19 – Most of the rest of the fleet forces entry through Pensacola Pass into the Bay between 2:00 - 3:00 p.m., under fire from the British at Red Cliffs.
  • March 22 – 905 Spanish troops under José de Expeleta arrive from Mobile for reinforcement, 9:30 a.m.
  • March 23 – Fourteen more Spanish vessels, carrying 1,348 additional troops, arrive from New Orleans.
  • March 24 – Spanish army forces ferry from Santa Rosa Island to the mainland.
  • March 26 – Spanish troops advance from Tartar Point, enduring attacks by Indians allied to the British, to an encampment southwest of Sutton's Lagoon.
  • March 30 – Spanish forces advance closer to British Pensacola.
  • April 19 – A host of Spanish and French reinforcements arrive from Havana.
  • April 28 – Spanish engineers begin digging a trench near the British Queen's Redoubt.
  • May 1 – The Spanish install six 24-pounders in the advance battery.
  • May 8 – At 9:30 a.m., a Spanish artillery round lands near the door of the powder magazine at the Queen's Redoubt, detonating it. The resulting explosion kills 76 British troops and wounds two dozen more. Spanish troops occupy the redoubt and install a new battery in immediate proximity to Fort George. Peter Chester and John Campbell request terms of surrender at 3:00 p.m.
  • May 9 – Arrangements of surrender are negotiated.
  • May 10 – Capitulation of British forces.


  • Wesley S. Odom. The Longest Siege of the American Revolution: Pensacola. 2009.
  • David Marley. Wars of the Americas: A Chronology of Armed Conflict in the New World, 1492 to the Present. ABC-CLIO, 1998.