Sunday, August 14, 2016

Scorpions in a Bottle: The Louisiana War

Today's excerpt from Scorpions in a Bottle is the third section of Chapter 7: The Trans-Oceanic War, and tells of the Southern Confederation's conquest of Spanish Louisiana in 1797-98.

* * *

In the Southern Confederation, the proposed expedition to New Orleans was delayed for a year while the S.C. militia under General Edward Curtis and Captain Nelson’s fleet were diverted to West Florida to assist the Georgia militia. A combined S.C.-British force captured the West Floridian capital of Pensacola on July 22, 1796, after a three-week siege that saw the besieging armies decimated by an outbreak of yellow fever. By the time Pensacola fell, illness had left less than half of the combined force fit for duty, and Cornwallis chose to end the campaign and return to Halifax. [1]

Curtis traveled to Halifax in the spring of 1797 to meet with Cornwallis and Nelson, and there the three men planned to renew the campaign. Cornwallis’s men boarded Nelson’s transports in June while Curtis returned to Pensacola to organize the overland march to New Orleans. The British fleet returned to Pensacola in July, and the S.C. militia set off three days later, traveling along the Gulf coast with Nelson’s ships sailing offshore. The combined force laid siege to Mobile on August 12, and the settlement quickly capitulated. The same occurred two weeks later when the combined force arrived at the settlement of Biloxi. From there, the two forces split up, with Curtis’s militia making their way around the western shore of Lake Pontchartrain while Nelson’s fleet sailed up the Mississippi. The two forces reunited just outside of New Orleans in late September, and the Spanish governor of Louisiana formally surrendered the city on October 1. [2]

Major Jackson’s force of Jeffersonians still occupied the log fort they had constructed nineteen months before, and Jackson himself traveled to New Orleans two days after the city’s fall to inform Cornwallis and Curtis of Jefferson’s separation from the Spanish Empire. He also, on his own initiative, laid claim to all of Louisiana southwest of the Mississippi-Arkansas river complex on behalf of the State of Jefferson.

Although Jackson was only eight when the Rebellion broke out, his family were well-known rebel sympathizers. After the restoration of British rule in the Carolinas, Jackson and two of his brothers were imprisoned by British troops. Conditions in the stockade where they were held were onerous, and both brothers died during their captivity; Jackson developed a fierce, lifelong hatred of the British as a result. [3] While in New Orleans, he behaved with notable rudeness to both Cornwallis and Curtis, threatening military action against the Southern Confederation if his claims on behalf of Jefferson were ignored by their troops. Cornwallis and Curtis debated attacking Jackson’s outpost, but Curtis was under orders from Connolly to move upriver and occupy the Franco-Spanish settlements at Baton Rouge and St. Louis, so the two men agreed to respect Jackson’s claims. [4]

From New Orleans, Nelson’s fleet sailed upriver in November, and the two armies followed on land. After capturing Baton Rouge on November 17, Cornwallis and Curtis decided to establish a winter camp there and make preparations to continue the campaign in the spring. The armies constructed a large encampment called Fort George and settled down for the winter, while Nelson returned with most of his fleet to New Orleans.

Reorganized and resupplied, the combined army marched north from Baton Rouge in April 1798. They encountered no organized resistance from the Spanish, but endured several attacks by Indian war parties before reaching Fort Radisson in July. Pausing for a week in the Indianan capital to resupply and care for their sick and injured, the armies marched north to St. Louis, the northernmost Franco-Spanish outpost on the Mississippi, which was captured on August 25. With the fall of St. Louis, all of Louisiana north of the Arkansas River was in North American hands.

1. Pickett. The Florida War, pp. 121-33.

2. Roscoe Chettering. The Conquest of Louisiana (New York, 1897), pp. 83-87.

3. Alice Rich. Jackson: The Third Founder (Mexico City, 1967), pp. 24-39.

4. Miles. Jefferson in the Trans-Oceanic War, pp. 371-78.


DaveMB said...

Is General Edward Curtis of Georgia ever identified in your text?
As far as I can see he just shows up here as "Curtis", though he
may be in an earlier chapter as well.

Johnny Pez said...


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