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Spain belatedly joins the French, only to see defeat

November 30, 2006|by Allan Powell

Editor's note - With the 250th anniversary of the French and Indian War this year, The Daily Mail is running a monthly column on the war by local historian Allan R. Powell. The column usually appears on the last Thursday of the month.

With the surrender of Canada in 1760, it seemed possible that European powers might bring about a cease-fire and begin a negotiated settlement. But this was not to be. Spain became increasingly uneasy about the probability that England would win the war. This would almost certainly result in a rearrangement of the old balance of power in Europe unacceptable to France and Spain.

England became aware of Spain's point of view and of her intention to formally ally with France. Fearing an attack by Spain, England declared war on Jan 2, 1762. The timing gave an advantage to England because she could bring all the resources that had been deployed in North America against Spain.

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The British navy wasted little time in trashing the Spanish fleet. Within a month Martinique belonged to England. Soon thereafter St. Lucia and Grenada became British possessions. By August Havana fell after a siege that lasted two months. The Caribbean was now under England's control. Then, in the Philippines, Manila surrendered and Spain was ready to call it quits.

Fighting a war in the tropics is a story of human suffering and privation. The galling pain endured by those exposed to that climate is heartrending. The siege of Havana in Cuba is a case in point. The British fleet placed their troops ashore near Havana harbor. At the entrance to that harbor stood Morro Castle, a huge, imposing fort that dominated the surrounding territory.

Bringing this almost impregnable edifice to terms would require enormous effort including a well directed siege. To approach the fort a tangled mass of jungle-like foliage had to be cleared. Bringing the heavy siege guns and equipment to bear meant back-breaking labor in stifling heat. Good drinking water had to be carried some distance and was always in short supply. By all accounts, the toll was heavy on human endurance.

Although the landing of troops began in early June, it was not until some time in July that siege guns and guns from ships began to bombard Morro Castle. Spanish resistance was stout and ground forces toiled laboriously to inch forward. But the trenches were progressing and the walls of Morro Castle were coming into range for mining. Mining was a siege procedure by which trenches were dug toward the wall of an enemy fort, making it possible to place explosives close enough to destroy the wall and enter the fort.

By early August, the mines were in place and a huge blast ripped a large opening in the castle walls which allowed British grenadiers to rush through. Morro Castle was now in British control and, by the 10th of August, a request for surrender was forwarded to Spanish officers. They refused and paid a severe penalty when the town of Punta was heavily bombarded. On the 14th, the terms of surrender were accepted.

Victory provided the victors with a huge stash of the spoils of war. How the spoils were distributed is an object lesson in the golden rule - "he who gets the gold, rules. The two top admirals each got more than 122,000 pounds sterling. Three underlings on the next tier got over 150,000 pounds to be shared equally among them. Each private received just over 4 pounds and every seaman took home a little over 3 pounds each.

The 560 who died of wounds and the more than 4,000 who died of tropical diseases got nothing. The distribution of territory is another story. By a secret treaty, Spain was awarded all the territory claimed by France west of the Mississippi. This was the reward France gave to Spain for coming to her support.

The treaty of Paris, which officially ended the war, was signed on Feb. 10, 1763. It redistributed possessions in terms more or less acceptable to all participants. Only a bare outline of these terms is possible. Great Britain was able to get the following as the victor: all lands claimed by France east of the Mississippi, control of Acadia (including Cape Breton) and Canada. In the Caribbean, England took control of Dominica, Tobago and St. Vincent. In the Mediterranean, England regained control of Minorca.

France did not fare well, as would be expected. The islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe were her Caribbean prize. But, least we forget, England was only able to retain control of her American colonies for a mere 13 years. A major reason for a colonial victory in the war for separation was the huge support given to the colonies by France. France, embittered by her loses to England in the French and Indian War, was able to exact her revenge in the American Revolution.

As a consequence of a real world war which lasted some seven years, England accumulated a huge, crippling debt from which she needed relief. Our concluding column about the French and Indian War will present several of the debt figures that are seldom shown in American history textbooks. In addition, British plans for tax relief will be included.

Next month: England's debt and failed tax policy provoke the American Revolution

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