Heart of Louisiana: Bernardo de Galvez and the Battle of Baton Rouge

Updated: Jul. 28, 2020 at 9:45 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WVUE) - While the American colonies were fighting for their independence from Great Britain, a little known Revolutionary War battle took place along the Mississippi River at Baton Rouge.

Forces led by Bernardo de Galvez from the Spanish colony at New Orleans scored a major victory over the British.

As America’s Continental Army was struggling against British forces along the East Coast, there was an uneasy standoff between Spanish colonial New Orleans and British West Florida, which stretched from Baton Rouge to Pensacola.

At the time that the American colonies were declaring their independence and going to war against the British, what was happening in Louisiana?

“The British has forts on the Mississippi from which they could launch an attack on New Orleans, which is probably why Spanish colonial officials were very careful to maintain neutrality at least early on in the conflict,” says Jason Wiese with the Historic New Orleans Collection.

Wiese says the Spanish governor of New Orleans, Bernardo de Galvez, was getting ready to fight the British.

“He had gun boats on the river, he had supplies, he had increased both his regular army units and his militia companies.”

The British outpost at Fort Bute, south of Baton Rouge, where Bayou Manchac flowed from the Mississippi River and a much larger fort at Baton Rouge.

“There was a strong British fort there that was probably the strongest military position in British West Florida at that time.”

Once Spain declared war on Great Britain, Galvez marched his troops upriver, picking up more militia and volunteers along the way and camping near the still standing St. Gabriel Church.

There was little resistance at Fort Bute. The British were dug in at their Fort in Baton Rouge.

“There were earthen embankments, wooden palisades, there was a wide ditch surrounding its mounted 13 cannons. And then there were over 500 people inside, also armed. So it was a pretty strong position.”

Galvez created a diversion using part of his force to cut trees and appear as if they were digging in.

All night long the British fired into the woods.

“And then when daylight came, the British gunners were astonished to find Galvez’s actual artillery dug in and firing at them form the opposite side of where all the noise had been coming from. And they were already within musket shot range and firing on the fort with great effect.”

The British surrendered Baton Rouge and also their fort upriver at Natchez.

As the Revolutionary War continued, Galvez eventually defeated British forces at Pensacola.

“There was a very large garrison, a British army that could conceivably have marched out to the relief of British troops that were trapped at Yorktown. But when Galvez captured them, he took them entirely out of the war.”

And that began with a decisive battle at Baton Rouge led by Governor Bernardo de Galvez, who cleared the British from Louisiana and the Mississippi River.

The site of the Revolutionary War battle on Baton Rouge is located near the State Capitol building.

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