In this chapter we shall follow the course of the attack itself on a day by day basis. The main source is the chronicle of the event left by Governor De Castro, "Journal of the commands and orders given by Brigadier Don Ramon De Castro, Governor, Quartermaster General and Captain General of the Post and Island of Puerto Rico beginning 17 April 1797 , when enemy ships came into sight, and the main operations and movements of the two armies and the Squadron until today's date."(1) (May 4). For this reason, any reference to "our" in the narrative refers to the Puerto Rican defenders, "the enemy", of course, being the British.
This valuable record is supplemented by other sources of the time which are no less important, including letters written by Felipe Ramirez(2) and Bishop Zengotita,(3) the accounts of the French naturalist Pierre Ledru and of Padre Miguel Rodriguez Feliciano.(4) Also referred to have been such valuable works as "The Three British Attacks" by E.T.Blanco,(5) the Boletin Historico de Puerto Rico by the famous historian Coll y Toste(6) and the Biblioteca Historica Puertorriquena by Alejandro Tapia y Rivera,(7) among others.
We shall also refer to the main English records, the log of Admiral Henry Harvey (8) and the account by General Abercromby in his letter of May 2, (9) making comparisons as appropriate.* Monday, April 17
At six in the morning, more or less, a convoy was sighted, consisting of warships and what appeared to be transports whose number, kind and nationality could not be made out, but in view of the current war, and the earlier warning of an attack against this Post and island, it was suspected to be an enemy squadron. This was confirmed shortly because of the movements of the squadron even though none of the ships had shown it's colors.
The Chiefs of Staff were called immediately to the Morro Castle where they and the Governor implemented the defense plans. The call to arms was sounded and the troops of the garrison were deployed amongst the castles, fortresses, batteries and inner and outerworks of the Post (Citadel). All these positions were supplied with the arms and provisions necessary to defend them. The trained citizens were issued with arms. Two armed pontoons and twelve gunboats were placed along with four armed barges under the command of Frigate Captain Don Francisco de Paula Castro. A platoon with four field cannon under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Don Isidoro Linares of the Regimiento Fijo (permanent or "fixed" regiment) were sent to prevent the landing. Orders were sent to the urban mounted militia and able bodied men of all the towns to take up arms and report immediately to the capital. Those not under arms were to bring supplies to the city to sustain the garrison. Written instructions were sent to all districts of the island.
The Ordnance Chiefs and their assistants were sent to their posts and the Storekeeper of the artillery was ordered to stay at the main artillery park day and night to supply equipment as necessary.
A Proclamation was issued ordering all women, children and elders to leave the Post, leaving only able-bodied men under arms. Powder stored in outlying magazines was hurriedly collected and stored in magazine ships in the bay.
By 10 o'clock in the morning, after observing it's manoeuvres, it was confirmed beyond any doubt that the squadron was British and that it was heading towards the shores of Cangrejos, with the transport ships anchoring at the far end of the inlet of La Torrecilla. In view of this, the outpost of Escambron and the outerworks of the post were made ready.
Engineer Don Ignacio Mascaro y Homar was sent with a team to prepare a battery at the Seboruco de Barrios(10) to defend the entrance to the Martin Pea channel and the bridge, where they were to raise a defensive embankment. They were to retreat if unable to carry out the work.
Two pontoons were to defend the entrance to the port, and two barges each were ordered to the Martin Peña and San Antonio bridges. These floating batteries each had two 15 pounder cannon. Some of the gunboats were to support the pontoons and barges and others were held in reserve.
His Excellency the Bishop and the Clergy pledged their services and some were appointed chaplains and deployed throughout the post. Surgeons equipped and manned the hospitals in readiness to care for the wounded. Arrangements were made for the Carmelite Calced nuns to leave the city with dignity, their convent and monastery being used as hospitals and quarters, as were several houses in the town.
No other movement of the enemy squadron was observed that day except that two frigates and a tender were sent out with the apparent objective of blocking the entrance to the port. The remainder of the squadron stayed by the inlet with the smaller transport ships nearer the shore. A ship was seen setting out to sea, apparently unarmed.
The British account is mainly in agreement although it stresses the problem of the offshore reef which runs all along the northern coast and the difficulty of finding a passage through. Even when the passage was found it was so narrow that only the frigates and smaller transports could get through, denying the British the use of their capital ships for close inshore support and increasing the problems of disembarking men and equipment.
The main dubiety arises regarding the number of British ships in the squadron. One Puerto Rican account lists them as follows:
1 ship with three decks.
2 with 70 cannon.
2 with 50 cannon.
2 frigates, one of 40 and one of 36 cannon.
2 brigantines of 16 - 18 cannon.
4 corvettes of about 16 cannon.
18 schooners, with a bearing of privateers, 6-12 cannon.
1 large merchantman.
28 smaller ships.
Total = 60 sail.
Don Felipe Ramirez, Chief Engineer of Royal Works in San Juan, also states in a letter of May 4 , 1797 that there were 60 ships(11) but Father Miguel Rodriguez Feliciano, a prebendary of the Catholic Church of Puerto Rico(12) and who E.T Blanco mentions in a letter of May 22 , 1797 as being "one of the illustrious defenders of the post, being an eyewitness of the events being narrated", describes "the enemy squadron as being 64 ships".(13)
The British accounts do not give a precise number of ships, and this and other discrepancies in figures will be looked at again in the next chapter.
Tuesday, April 18. The men of the cavalry company who lived in Bayamón and Guaynabo arrived on the night of 17/18, and 40 of them were deployed as reinforcements.
At dawn there was heavy firing from the anchored ships to protect the landings which were taking place. The frigates were still blockading the port.
A platoon set out under the command of Lt. Cal. Don Isidoro Linares, together with Don Jose Vizcarrondo, Captain of the Infantry Regiment of Valencia and Don Teodomiro del Toro, adjutant of the disciplined militias.
Each had 100 men, Don Isidoro taking position at "La Plaza", by one of the Cangrejos beaches, Vizcarrondo with his cannon at San Mateo beach and del Toro with further cannon at La Torrecilla, deployed so as to give maximum effect and mutual protection.
Most of the enemy's fire was directed against Toro's position, it being the closest. Four large and heavily armed boats, one showing the British colors, approached the beach. Toro opened fire against them, causing considerable damage to the extent that only one man survived in the boat carrying the colors and few were left in the other boats, which were forced to retreat. They soon returned with a greater number of boats and managed to land about 3,000 armed troops.
The British record contradicts Toro's account of heavy fire and significant casualties. Admiral Harvey's log states that the British "...Landed in the bay without any other opposition than the firing of musketry from a small party at the edge of the woods, who soon made off, having wounded three men in the boats."(14)
Also, there are discrepancies in numbers of troops landed, Ramón de Castro mentioning seven to eight thousand, (15) Felipe Ramírez quoting eleven thousand(l6) and Father Rodríguez Feliciano from twelve to thirteen thousand. (17) (See Chapter XV. )
On seeing the size of the enemy force, the defending officers decided to retreat, Linares and Toro towards the Martin Peña bridge and Vizcarrondo towards the San Antonio bridge, in accordance with their orders. Vizcarrondo dug in with his cannon at his new position to cover the retreat of his two fellow officers but they, on seeing that the enemy were advancing towards him, decided to Join him. However, the strength of the enemy again proved too great and the defenders retreated over the San Antonio bridge into the Citadel, leaving some of their number to help defend the bridge and the San Gerónimo fortress. They had no time to retrieve their cannon, so they disabled and buried them.
The British account for this incident reads "A party of the enemy were soon along the shore, but as our advance guard went on they moved towards the town, leaving three brass cannon and some military stores at one of their posts and pickets".(18)
De Castro's Journal continues: ...The British, no doubt on seeing the firepower ranged against them from the main defenses of the Citadel, halted their advance and sent out scouting parties. That same morning, Vizcarrondo and a party of French Republicans, 50 militia and 30 cavalry were sent out to rendezvous and harass the enemy. They marched towards Cangrejos, splitting into three groups with orders to rendezvous later with a Captain of Cavalry and 25 infantrymen.
As they were advancing towards San Mateo, an exchange of fire took place with enemy advance parties. The British quickly brought up reinforcements, again causing Vizcarrondo to retreat over San Antonio bridge, taking with him a cannon he found en route. Fire from the San Gerónimo fortress covered the retreat, after which the order was given to destroy the bridge.
As a precaution, the order was then given that all thatched roofs of the "bohios" (huts) in the city be removed to avoid the risk of fire.
That same morning a ship flying diplomatic colors approached the entrance to the port and was stopped by the Morro fortress. It was met by an aide-de camp and the officer in charge delivered a message to the city's Commanding Officer from the British Naval and Military Commanders, essentially demanding that the city be surrendered to the forces which were besieging it. (See Appendices XXIII and XIV) However, the British ship did not wait for a reply, so an attempt was later made to send it to one of the enemy frigates blockading the port. Unfortunately, possibly because of the darkness, the frigate did not see the flag of truce and opened fire, forcing the local ship to retreat.
Meanwhile, at three o'clock that afternoon, three gunboats were sent to reinforce the two barges defending the Martin Peña Bridge with the object of containing the enemy and covering the retreat of the engineers who had been sent to Seboruco de Barrios, who were in danger of being cut off. The British, however, attacked the gunboats from the land with a party of about 200 men. Fire was exchanged and the gunboats retreated. The floating batteries on the barges maintained their fire throughout the day and into the night to prevent the attackers from advancing or digging in.
Scout boats and reconnaissance parties were again sent out and they reported that the British were advancing towards the San Antonio and San Gerónimo fortresses, which sustained a continuous fire to prevent further progress. The Regimiento Fijo reported two dead and one wounded.
Wednesday, April 19.
A courier ship was made ready to leave the port under cover of darkness carrying word of the attack to the Commanders at Havana and repeating the Governor's request for aid in the form of warships, troops, arms and money, and confirming the intention of using all resources in an attempt to hold out until help arrived.
It was confirmed that the previous evening's heavy fire from the 8 and 12 pounder cannon at San Gerónimo and San Antonio, together with that from the barges, had severely restricted the enemy's operations, reportedly causing one fatality and several wounded. One of the mortally wounded was captured and on being questioned by the Commander at San Antonio, Don Ignacio Mascaro y Homar,(19) (the engineer rescued the previous day) it could only be ascertained that he was a German, a grenadier from one of his country's regiments in the service of England. He was one of a party of troops which had landed, more or less 3,000 men but there could be as many as 6,000. He was too ill to continue his statement, and died on the way to the Citadel.
The frigates blockading the entrance to the bay came further inshore than usual, although still out of cannon range. They were seen to send a boat to reconnoitre the point of the Isla de Cabras and the Cañuelo Fortress and to take depth soundings. Although they were out of range, a few shots were fired from the Morro Castle to discourage them, and in fact they hastily withdrew. With the same object in mind, cannon were fired from San Cristóbal Castle and the batteries of the Northern Line, but without effect on account of the distance.
To contain any attempted landing at Punta Salinas by the enemy following their reconnaissance, Lt. Col. Linares set out with 50 armed men to join others arriving from nearby districts to form a platoon to defend the post at Palo Seco.
On realizing how effective had been the fire from the barges in the Martin Peña channel in harassing the enemy, it was decided to reinforce that position with one of the pontoons from the port entrance, to increase it's potential. Also, San Gerónimo was reinforced with a howitzer.
News was received from Río Piedras that 400 troops had arrived from the surrounding districts, 200 of which remained to counter any enemy attack and the remainder going to the city. Further men arrived from Toa Baja, making the city's reinforcements for the day 251.
Word was received that an enemy party of between 20 and 30 men had encamped near Bañacaballos(20) and had sacked the nearby sugar refineries of Don Jose Giral and Don Jayme O'Daly in Puerto Nuevo and San Patricia.
A party of negroes from the Loisa district apprehended two German soldiers from the enemy force and sent them to the city. Efforts were made to obtain from them useful information about the enemy but their statements provided little of value, except that one had in his knapsack a paper on which was written the name of one of the city's residents. This was passed to the Judge Advocate for appropriate action.
This episode raised the spectre of enemy sympathizers and traitors in the city and arrangements were made to watch the movements of certain residents, particularly transients and those of British and Irish nationality. Investigations followed and some were even arrested.
The British account for the day mainly coincides, adding that they landed their heavy artillery by boat "as far to the westward as the navigation would allow".(21) They comment that the transportation of the guns was difficult due to the roads being of sand.
Thursday, April 20.
The frigates blocking the port remained on station and were accompanied by a brigantine and what appeared to be gunboats. The fire from San Antonio, San Gerónimo and the barges continued to match enemy movements.
It was observed that the enemy was trying to establish a battery on the Cerro del Condado overlooking our positions to the east and at a distance of about 400 "varas" ("rods"- an old unit of measurement, about two feet eight inches). We fired grenades, which seemed to have a favorable effect.
Militia Second Lieutenant Don Vicente Andino and his brother Don Emigdio, adjutant to the post, were ordered to take 60 volunteers to contain an enemy attack which was being attempted at the rear. Don José Díaz, Master Sargeant of the Toa Alta district, set out with 50 men for the same purpose.
Standing Orders were given to the Commanders of the companies of civilians forming at the camp from elsewhere in the island to defend themselves as best they could from enemy attack, and to counterattack when the opportunity arose.
The Naval Commander ordered an inventory of all the pirogues (small boats) in the many moorings around the bay in order to use them for transporting food, cattle, troops and munitions, and for communication purposes.
During the afternoon another frigate joined the blockade and at around nine o'clock, enemy frigates and a brigantine were seen approaching the area of Punta Salinas. The Morro and Cañuelo forts opened fire, although it was known that the ships were out of range. It was decided that the Captain of the Port, Frigate Lieutenant Don Juan Hurtado would set out with gunboats for Palo Seco to observe the movements of the frigates and repel any attempts at a landing. Despite the darkness, it was possible to observe the movements of the brigantine, which eventually anchored near Isla de Cabras. The Cañuelo fortress opened fire, as did San Fernando's 36 pounder battery. At daybreak it was seen that the fire had been effective, as the ship set sail swiftly, leaving behind her anchor.
Three hundred and twenty-five men from the urban companies of Guaynabo and Caguas entered the Post on this day.
A total of 25 prisoners and deserters were taken during the day. From their statements the most significant information was that in the enemy camp there were German and English regiments, that the landing troops numbered six to seven thousand men, and that some heavy artillery, howitzers, mortars and a large amount of munitions and ordnance had been landed. They also stated that there were between 400 and 500 Frenchmen who were prisoners of the British and who were virtually forced to take up arms for the expedition by reason of their miserable circumstances. They were said to be unhappy about such service and that many had been killed and wounded on the day of the landings.
Strangely, the British records make no mention of these Frenchmen amongst their numbers. The fact that they were allegedly prisoners implies that they were French Republicans and as such, enemies, and it would seem most unlikely that a Commander would arm a large number of enemy prisoners and let them loose amongst his own troops. At best, if Frenchmen were present at all it would seem more reasonable to assume that they were Royalist sympathizers from the French territories who were volunteers in exchange for British protection of their islands. The record of British forces makes no mention of such a contingent, although it may have been incorporated into the regimental totals.
Harvey's log for the day states.."A.M. the enemy fired occasionally from their different batteries and gunboats but without any effect. All the heavy artillery and mortars were in great part landed within four miles of the enemy's works. The Requin sailed to join the Tamar and Arethusa off the port and the latter sent in a Spanish schooner taken by her from St. Jago de Cuba, having aboard 1700 dollars and a quantity of beeswax."(22)
Friday, April 21.
The blockade and enemy fleet remained on station except for one warship, which set out to sea in the company of a brigantine.
At daybreak, several platoons were sent out under the command of Second Lieutenant of Grenadiers Don Luis de Lara and the brothers Andino. They were ambushed by about 150 men near the Martin Peña bridge but in spite of being outnumbered they were able to make an orderly retreat to El Roble, where they joined a larger party with 48 cavalry who were able to put the enemy to flight. The few enemy left behind were forced to take refuge at the Martin Peña bridge, where three enemy cannon were sited.
In this action the enemy suffered a fair number of dead and wounded, and a Second Lieutenant and 32 soldiers were taken prisoner and sent into the city. On our side there were 5 dead, 20 wounded, 2 severely, and two men missing in action.
The San Gerónimo fortress was reinforced with two 24 pound cannon to harass the enemy, who were constructing two batteries directed mainly at the San Antonio fortress, one to the south about 250 rods distant at a place called El Rodeo and another by the bridge to the east, in El Condado, about 400 rods distant.
The Commander of the San Antonio fortress, realizing the danger posed by the enemy works and being hampered by lack of space for artillery, arranged for two 8 pounder cannon to be installed.
Today, the fire fron San Antonio, San Gerónimo and the barges was intermittent, as appropriate to the enemy's movements.
Orders were given to destroy the breastwork of the San Antonio bridge to prevent the enemy from taking cover from our fire... The fort of San Gerónimo was reinforced with two mortars, one of 9 and the other of 12 inches.
During the evening a force of 15 men and two sergeants left the San Antonio Bridge in order to discover the enemy's works and their numbers. After advancing 100 feet from the bridge they were attacked by very strong enemy fire but they responded in kind even though they had inferior numbers and were able to retreat to the bridge under covering fire from San Gerónimo and the barges. After our Commandant was certain of the safety of his men, with only one wounded soldier, a general bombardment ensued against the enemy.
Thirty-five prisoners and deserters were taken to the Post, including those captured by Don Vicente Andino. The information given by these prisoners was useful as it was learned that the British were still disembarking artillery and munitions and that General Abercromby had established his headquarters in San Mateo Square, taking for his lodgings the house of the Bishop. Also, it was learned that the British were working feverishly in order to advance their batteries against our lines and that they were trying to construct some mortar batteries.
The urban militias entered the city with 530 men from the towns of Toa Alta, Vega Baja and Manaty...
Harvey states "The enemy's batteries of San Gerónimo and the gunboats continued to fire occasionally, but with no effect, on the works that were advanced."(23)
Saturday, April 22
Last night we fired bullets, bombs and grenades intermittently, causing damage to the enemy works. On seeing them dragging cannon towards their batteries, we intensified our fire in that direction.
It was rumored that the enemy General planned to advance on the Post and we feared a surprise night attack, as we could see large columns of veteran regiments flying their colors beyond the range of our cannon. We knew that the enemy had landed horses and we believed that they planned to use them to wade through the shallow waters to attack the bridge, supported by columns of musketeers and artillery, while another platoon forced a bridgehead.
To repel this action, "chevaux de frise", or barbed sawhorses, were placed at the points where it was easiest for the cavalry to cross, and boards spiked with nails were placed on the banks to injure the horses. Cylindrcal fuses, "salchichas cargadas", were laid out together with incendiaries and hundredweight barrels of gunpowder. A trench was dug to give cover for 400 musketeers to face the cavalry, and an 8 pounder and two 12 pounders were added to San Gerónimo. At the sound of vespers the 400 men took up their positions and some field cannon were sited in the Great Moat of San Cristóbal fortress. 1500 infantrymen and cavalry were deployed to reinforce the San Antonio fortress and the trench, partly to cover retreat if necessary. Hand grenades were prepared and barriers with spiked planks were placed at the entrance to the bridge. Embrasures were prepared for musketry. The garrisons at the bridge and San Gerónimo fortress were reinforced and explosive mines and packed mortar shells were placed to be blown when needed. The barges and gunboats were relocated as appropriate.
It was suspected that the enemy might first attack the bridge to draw our attention while attempting under cover of darkness to make landings at the Escambron or San Jorge channels to the North. Accordingly, cavalry patrols were sent out and an infantry platoon with two field cannon were emplaced to give opposition.
Today, 22 prisoners and deserters were taken, but their statements added nothing to our information.
Also, 323 men fron the urban militias of Juncos, Arecibo and Cayey arrived at the city.
The British account adds little for the day, other than that the landing of the heavy artillery, the mortars and their stores was completed, and that 300 seamen had been landed to assist with the artillery.(24)
Sunday, April 23.
The main part of the squadron were anchored further out.
The Commander of a platoon behind the enemy lines was ordered to break through and attack the enemy forward positions. Some foreigners in the town were imprisoned as a precaution, and they had information that the British intended to attack the citadel itself, a fact confirmed by some of the deserters.
The blockading frigates were coming closer inshore near Punta Salinas with some launches and it was suspected that information from spies had suggested the possibility of a mail ship leaving for Havana.
A 12 inch mortar was added to one of the pontoons at the San Antonio bridge, and fire from the batteries was kept up as necessary during the day to delay the enemy in their efforts. Two of our soldiers in the frontline were wounded.
Twenty nine prisoners and deserters were captured and taken to the Post, their statements adding no new information other than the damage which our fire was inflicting.
The British account for this day stated that the defenders' fire "did no mischief nor occasion any impediments to the advancing party at the batteries. The seamen in the night moved some guns to the newly constructed works."(25)
Monday, April 24.
From intelligence received of the enemy's positions, it was determined to launch a raid Militia Sargeant Francisco Diaz was chosen as leader with 70 volunteers, 20 from the Disciplined Militias and 50 from men being sent to prison. At daybreak they set out in pirogues, supported by two gunboats, passing down the San Antonio Channel to land nearest the enemy trenches and batteries. All floating and line batteries had previously laid down a heavy covering barrage and when they saw that our troops were landed, they were to maintain fire without cannon, also being prepared to cover a retreat if necessary.
Diaz landed his troops and advanced towards the enemy lines, shooting at the men working on the trenches. The British returned fire but Diaz continued to advance until, sabre in hand, he reached the trench, our men killing or wounding any enemy who stood in the way. Those who escaped our fire took flight quite shamelessly, even though we estimated their number at about 300. On taking the trench, Diaz discovered a cannon battery aimed towards San Antonio Bridge and San Gerónimo fortress, capable of accommodating seven cannon and having two 24 pounders and one 12 pounder already emplaced, along with two howitzers and three mortars. Not having the time or the means to retrieve this artillery, they decided to retreat, bringing in a Captain and 13 live prisoners. They became aware of a strong contingent leaving the enemy camp in pursuit but by the time these arrived, Díaz had re-embarked with his men and the prisoners, and was making an honorable withdrawal. The General of our Army had witnessed the action from San Gerónimo with some satisfaction, and ordered heavy fire from all our lines to cover the retreat and to force the enemy back to their line and batteries. In this action we had only one dead and three badly injured, two from the Regimiento Fijo and one from the militias.
Harvey's log refers to obtaining fresh water supplies from a spring near the landing ground and continues "The enemy fired much during the night, and we opened fire from the battery on the left. The fire continued very smart during the day."
Tuesday, April 25.
The blockading ships remained on station. Fire from both sides continued intermittently, ours being the heavier and with desirable results.
The San Antonio bridge structure was suffering badly from close cannon fire and more workmen were sent to repair it. The greatest problem was the lack of space, with nowhere to store ammunition or allow the troops to rest, or to build further protective barricades. The fire from the enemy's 24 pounder battery in the Condado caused falling masonry to disable our cannon on the left side of the bridge. Commander Mascaro was forced to retreat to the small interior plaza and set up a provisional battery aimed at the Condado emplacement. It's fire did considerable damage to the enemy, thanks mainly to the fine aim of Artilleryman Cristóbal Ortega of the Disciplined Militias, who at sunset took out one of the enemy cannon which was doing most of the damage.
A trench was begun to provide a line of retreat from the bridge and also a communicating road for the troops and workers from the Great Moat to the outposts.
The San Gerónimo fortress was sustaining considerable damage from the enemy's E1 Rodeo battery. It's Commander, Lt. Col. Don Teodomiro del Toro, tried to make repairs with sandbags and barrels and ordered the guardhouse and lower quarters covered with sand, as a shell had penetrated the guardhouse roof and burst, killing and maiming several men.
San Gerónimo then put up a heavy fire and Artilleryman Domingo Gonzalez of the Disciplined Militias, on seeing the enemy ammunition dump, managed to land a shell on it. The dump was blown up and a raging fire broke out, at which we all aimed our guns. The Captain General immediately ordered that Gonzalez be rewarded with 10 pesos.
This afternoon the enemy was observed moving towards the Miraflores Port and the magazine located there, which had been emptied in accordance with Standing Orders. We had first considered blowing up the magazine after emptying it but as it was not shellproof, we decided that we could destroy it later if necessary, possibly with more damage to the enemy.
This afternoon, the blockading frigates approached San Gerónimo and fired on it with their cannon as they sailed along the coast, probably to see if it could be attacked by sea. We replied with our 24 pounders and they retreated. Nevertheless, both here and at El Morro and San Cristóbal, mobile furnaces for hot shot ("bala-roja")were prepared, should the need arise. (It was the practice when aiming against wooden ships to heat the shot in a furnace in order to start fires.)
Seven prisoners and deserters were taken, but no new information was obtained.
We suffered four dead from the militias and nine wounded, four from the militias, 2 from the Regimiento Fijo, two Frenchmen and a Navy man from the floating batteries. Don Ignacio Mascaro y Homar and Don José Quiñones were both hurt.
Today, 204 men from the Coamo Urban Militia and the Aguada Cavalry arrived at the Post.
Harvey's log adds nothing of note.
Wednesday, April 26.
One of the blockading frigates had anchored during the night near Punta Salinas. Gunboats were sent to investigate and at dawn almost captured one of the enemy's boats, but shellfire from the frigate intervened.
Artilleryman Ortega, who had the previous day taken out an enemy cannon at the Condado battery, observed that this cannon had been re-emplaced and was again damaging the bridge. He tried to re-establish his aim and despite being wounded, maintained his fire with great effect. The General awarded him 10 pesos for his efforts.
As the enemy had been observed the previous day taking up positions at Miraflores, Don Pedro Córdova and Militia Sargeant Rafael García, along with 60 armed negroes, set out for the area in pirogues, supported by gunboats. They disembarked and meeting no opposition,they advanced towards the enemy trenches, hoping to mount a surprise attack with artillery. They were seen, however, and the British opened fire with muskets. The negroes returned their fire but "as that kind of people are not able to act with the necessary discipline and order," Córdova retreated as best he could to the Miraflores magazine. On regrouping and finding that they had not been pursued, they returned and found an enemy force of about 300 infantry, 30 horses and 2 field artillery pieces. The enemy opened fire, causing our men to withdraw and killing 10 negroes and wounding a further five. The gunboats protected our re-embarkation, leaving 4 enemy dead, 10 wounded and some damage to the boats.
Knowing that if the enemy were able to site a battery at Miraflores they would be able to enfilade the advance troops at the San Antonio outerworks, it was ordered that a protective barricade be constructed there. A mortar was placed on the Caballero of San Cristóbal and another on it's parade ground. All the 24 pounder cannon between that fortress and the Pedro Martin battery were also aimed towards Miraflores. Also, one cannon barge was sent into the bay to enfilade the enemy battery and a further one into the Martin Peña channel to attack it from the rear.
Today we maintained a heavy fire from San Gerónimo, San Antonio and the floating batteries. The enemy replied and their 24 and 36 pounders, again severely damaged the bridge, which required continual repairs. Also, the south battery at San Gerónimo was damaged and needed repair.
One of the frigates again approached San Gerónimo but retreated under fire without achieving anything. (Harvey's log confirms this.)
A battery was designated for La Puntilla, to deal with any enemy gunboats which may enter the bay.
Our troops and workmen suffered 4 dead, 18 wounded and 2 injured, including 4 Frenchmen.
Fiftheen prisoners and deserters were captured, including an artillery sergeant who crossed over to our front line and gave us details of the enemy batteries and mortars.
Today, the cavalry from Añasco arrived at the Post.
Thursday, April 27.
A platoon emplaced behind enemy lines observed that a party had gone inland to take cattle and fowl for their camp. Our men under Militia Sargeant Felipe Cleimpaux attempted to cut off their retreat and opened fire. They captured a Captain, a Lieutenant and 16 men, leaving 2 dead, whereas we suffered two wounded.
The San Antonio Bridge and San Gerónimo fort continued to sustain damage and require repair.
Our 12 inch mortars were aimed at Miraflores and we experimented with the propellant charges, to try to judge if the enemy would be able to reach the city with their own mortars, relying on information that they had none of larger caliber. We also found that our own 24 pounder cannon could be used effectively against Miraflores.
It was ordered that the following night, all gunboats should be brought to the San Antonio bridge to help ward off any surprise attack.
This afternoon, a warship and two frigates from the blockade again approached San Gerónimo and San Cristóbal and opened fire but our shooting kept them at a distance and they inflicted little damage. Our batteries were at the ready and hot shot was prepared but they retreated before we could use them.
Don Francisco Andino, commanding a platoon near the Martin Peña bridge, sighted an enemy advance post at his rear. He was able to ambush and take a lookout post, but when the enemy advanced on him he was forced to retreat due to being outnumbered. The enemy lost one dead and we had one man taken prisoner.
Some Urban Militia arriving from within the island at the Irregulars' Headquarters in Río Piedras were ordered to remain there to defend it, as were two cavalry companies from San Germán and Arecibo.
The historian Luis R. Arana in his publication "Estudio Histórico sobre el ataque Inglés"(26) explains that the Spanish troops deployed to the south of the Martin Peña lagoon in the Río Piedras area had as its specific objective the obstruction of any British attempt to enter the island's countryside further than the Martin Peña lagoon. Arana quotes: "from April 23, this officer had the specific order to upset the British attacks whenever the opportunity arose."(27)
100 men of the First Company, Ponce Urban Militia arrived at the Post, as did the prisoners taken by Cleimpaux earlier in the day.
In all, we suffered three dead and nine wounded.
Admiral Harvey's log for the day again confirms that attempts to bombard the defenses from the sea proved ineffective and that cannonading from the batteries continued, with some shells being thrown from the highest part of St. Christopher's castle (San Cristóbal).(28)
Friday, April 28.
Between 3 and 4 o'clock this morning the enemy opened fire from their battery at Miraflores with four 36 pounders, two mortars and a howitzer. Some shells and incendiaries fell on the post but most burst in the air or fell short. They continued this until about eight thirty or nine, until we returned fire with our batteries, mobile mortars, gunboats and a 9 inch mortar from one of the pontoons in the bay. Under such a bombardment the enemy were forced to cease fire and we suffered only a fire in a mess storehouse caused by an incendiary, which we quickly extinguished.
San Gerónimo, the bridgehead and the two gunboats continued their fire throughout and enemy batteries responded, although not as heavily.
Repairs continued on San Gerónimo and San Antonio and work continued on the redoubt, the covered way and the enfilade barricade at the Great Moat. Gabions were placed on the drill ground to protect the magazines from grenades or incendiaries. Two cannon were sited at the lower part of the San Gerónimo fortress to obstruct the entrance to the El Boquerón channel, should any gunboat try to enter. The most decisive action was to gather brushwood from nearby areas and take it to easily accessible points.
Today we took only one deserter, who stated that the enemy was about to attempt another surprise attack. We suffered 18 wounded. Two hundred and fifty-two men of the Toa Alta Urban Militia arrived at the Post.
Admiral Harvey reports that "the batteries were constantly employed and although the enemy's works both at the bridge and at St Gerónimo battery were much damaged, they continued a brisk fire from other works they had erected near them, and they appeared by large working parties to be throwing up additional works in different parts of the island.(29)
Saturday, April 29.
In the extreme event that our first line had to withdraw from San Antonio and San Gerónimo, it was felt necessary to obstruct the passage of enemy gunboats through the Boqueron channel. To this end, naval courier Don Miguel Asaldegui had set out the night before with 100 men in pirogues to drop large stones in the shallow water. They were forced to retreat when seen by the enemy but Asaldegui gave assurance that the passage had been well obstructed as his own pirogues had had a difficult time when returning.
Our gunboat in the bay opened fire on the Miraflores battery, making every shot count. The enemy returned fire, but the gunboat was undamaged.
Three frigates and three smaller warships were seen approaching Punta Salinas that evening and our local commander was told to be prepared to repel a possible landing. Gunboats were sent to assist him.
Today we had four dead and five wounded. Four prisoners and deserters were taken, adding nothing to our information.
Reinforcements of 298 men from the Peñuelas, Aguada and Tuna Urban Militias arrived at the Post.
Militia Lieutenant Don Miguel Canales was ordered to site two field cannon aimed at the Bishop's house, where General Abercromby had his Headquarters. This position could not be attacked easily as it was protected by the Martin Peña channel and could only be reached by a circuitous route. It was also well defended. Second Lieutenant Don Luis de Lara of the Regimiento Fijo, Commander of General Headquarters at Río Piedras, was to assemble his troops and two cavalry companies facing the Martin Peña bridge and await the opportunity to attack.
The Sargeant of the Disciplined Militias, plus some irregulars, were to pass through San Antonio to take up position to cut off the retreat of the enemy who were advancing from the beach. At daybreak of the 30th. Canales was to sound the alarm with his cannon and signal the army to advance. At the same time, Lara was to attack from the rear and Cleimpaux should attack from his own position. The outpost line was then to open fire to distract the enemy. Orders were given to co-ordinate the efforts of the respective commanders in the hope of a successful outcome.
Harvey records "A howitzer battery was opened on the town and the other batteries continued their fire, which the enemy likewise kept up very briskly. Three seamen of the Prince of Wales were slightly wounded at the battery. Shells were thrown from St, Christopher's castle without doing any material injury.(30)
Sunday, April 30.
Cannon and mortar fire against the enemy position at Miraflores continued during the night and in the morning it was seen to have had good effect, as the majority of the battery had been destroyed, some cannon taken out and few men remained at the post. The barge and the pontoon continued their bombardment.
Despite having received clear orders, however, Don Luis de Lara misunderstood the instructions he had been given by the General the previous day. He assembled 800 men and two cavalry companies with the field cannon in the front line and marched towards the Martin Peña Bridge, his troops forming several columns with others on the flanks in the mangroves to cut off enemy retreats. They were within pistol shot when the enemy opened fire with cannon, and de Lara replied with his own battery. He directed his cavalry to the flanks and opened up with musket fire. However, the lie of the land did not favor his further advance and as he was making no impression, he withdrew. He suffered three dead, including Sargeant Major Don José Díaz of Toa Alta, who was struck by a shell at the bridge. There were also eight wounded, none seriously.
Thirty-five prisoners and deserters arrived at the Post, from whom it was learned that following the morning action at Martin Peña, a general Call to Arms had been sounded in the enemy camp and that the army had formed into two corps. One was moving towards Martin Peña and the other towards the Post, intending to open a large space and attack from both sides.
Today 102 men of the Second Urban Militia of Ponce arrived at the Post.
Harvey's log states "It having been determined by the General to relinquish the attack and embark the troops and artillery, the latter of brass were accordingly moved during the night from the park, and boats from the ships of war and transports were sent at daylight to put them on board the ordnance ship. The seamen were likewise embarked and sent to their different ships. One seaman of the Prince of Wales was killed at the battery."(31)
Monday, May 1.
From midnight of the day before, the enemy firing ceased and ours was very light. The previous evening, a very large fire had been observed in the mangroves near the enemy territory along the northern shore, and it was thought that this was to discourage an attack from our side.
At daybreak today, when the enemy normally opened fire, it was observed that their camp was quite silent. The pilots of the forts and the lookouts later reported that the British were embarking in great haste, a fact earlier stated by some deserters to our lines. On hearing this, the General and his three cavalry companies marched to attack the enemy from the rear and immediately sighted the abandoned batteries with their artillery in place. Other parties followed the enemy trail and found that they had embarked leaving behind all their land artillery with a large quantity of ordnance, munitions, rations and other items.
At seven o'clock in the morning the last troops had embarked and at ten o'clock when the breeze came in, the transport ships began to sail from the inlets. At four o'clock in the afternoon the last one left in full sail, leaving the warships, except for the blockading frigates, at anchor when night fell.
Historian González Vales, of the Gazeta de Guatemala. quotes Padre Rodríguez Feliciano, "Finally, the enemy found such preparedness, bravery, resistance and opposition in the men of war and civilians at the Post, that they were unable to occupy even a small territory in a fortnight, having lost about 211 men, not counting the wounded, who were taken on board, leaving behind everything they had on land, cannon, mortars, powder, provisions, horses, even beds, as well as cookware and many other furnishings of the General, they were forced to weigh anchor and withdraw hastily on 2 May..."(32)
Harvey states "Every preparation was making for embarking the troops, stores, etc. that could be carried off. At 5 A.M. all the boats from the ships of war and transports attended on the beach and the troops were all brought off by 8 A.M. and divided in the different transports".(33)
Tuesday, May 2
The warships began to set sail, and all of them were at sea by eleven thirty in the morning.
Work was continued to bring back to the Post the artillery, munitions and other items left behind by the enemy, and the San Antonio Bridge was repaired to facilitate this.
With regard to the amount of abandoned equipment, General Abercromby's letter of May 2 states "All our artillery and stores were brought off, except seven iron guns, four iron mortars and two brass howitzers, which were rendered unservicable, it being impossible to remove them. Not a sick or wounded soldier was left behind, and nothing of any value fell into the hands of the enemy." (34)
Harvey states "The troops that had been put on the small vessels were removed to the transports. At 9 A.M. made the signal and made with the squadron and the transports and stood to the northward. Our ship the "Fury" parted company with dispatches for England". (35)
Wednesday, May 3.
At daybreak today the enemy squadron was already out of sight, and only one frigate remained to block the port. Four British soldiers were taken, apparently left behind.
The Gazeta de Guatemala quoted Padre Rodríguez Feliciano as saying that "... a Te Deum was sung at the Holy Cathedral and Governor De Castro led his troops riding the Britrish General's horse..." (36)
His Excellency the Bishop indeed sang a solemn Te Deum with High Mass, preaching a Sermon of Thanksgiving for the succor offered under such critical circumstances by the defenders of the Post and the inhabitants of the island who aided them.
"...For the duration of the siege we have counted 43 dead, 154 wounded, 2 injured, 1 taken prisoner and 2 missing in action. The enemy, 286 between prisoners, deserters and missing in action..."
So ended the final British attack on Puerto Rico. In his report to England dated May 2, General Abercromby stressed both the natural and manmade defenses of the city of San Juan and the difficulties they posed in mounting an effective attack.(37)
The siege is perhaps best summed up in Abercromby's own words. "After every effort on our part we never could sufficiently silence the fire of the enemy, who had likewise entrenched themselves in the rear of these redoubts. As to hazard forcing a passage into the island with so small a force, this would have been in vain, as the enemy could support a fire ten times more powerful than we could have brought against them. The only thing left was to endeavor to bombard the town from a point to the southward of it, near to a large magazine abandoned by the enemy. This was tried for several days, without any great effect on account of the distance. It appearing therefore that no act of vigour on our part, nor that any combined operation between the land and sea service could in any manner avail, I determined to withdraw and re-embark the troops, which was done on the night of April 30 with the greatest order and regularity."(38)
In the next chapter we will consider the reactions of the various parties to the failed attack and look further at certain discrepancies in the accounts. These differences in the figures and narratives give rise to interesting questions. Did the Spanish inflate the numbers and losses of the invaders to further glorify their triumph? Did Abercromby diminish the losses of his men and equipment to minimize the extent of his failure? Was it merely a genuine attempt to assess each other's strengths in the heat of battle? Have you ever tried to assess the crowd at a ball game In view of the time which has elapsed we can only evaluate the information quoted in the primary sources of both sides and speculate accordingly.
1- Ramón de Castro. "Diario de las disposiciones y ordenes dadas por el Brigadier Don Ramón de Castro, Gobernador, Intendente y Capitán General de la plaza e Isla de Puerto-Rico, desde el día 17 de abril de 1797 en que se presentaron buques enemigos a su vista y de las operaciones y movimientos mas principales de los dos ejércitos y escuadra hasta el día de la fecha. Tapia y Rivera, Alejandro. Biblioteca Histórica de Puertorriqueña, San Juan, 1945.
2- Felipe D. Ramírez. Escrito del ingeniero en jefe de las reales obras de San Juan, D. Felipe Ramírez, a D. Francisco Sabatini, Puerto Rico, 4 de mayo de 1797. Servicio Histórico Militar, Signaturas: 4-1-7-9. Zapatero, Juan Manuel. La Guerra del Caribe en el Siglo XVIII. Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña, San Juan de Puerto Rico, 1964.
3- Andre Pierre Ledru. Viaje a la Isla de Puerto Rico en el año 1797..., Ediciones del Instituto de Literatura Puertorriqueña, Universidad de Puerto Rico, 1957.
4- Fray Juan Bautista Zengotita. Carta del Sr. Obispo Zengotita al Rey. Puerto Rico 4 de mayo de 1797. Coll y Toste, Cayetano. Boletín Histórico de Puerto Rico, Vol. VII, Correspondencia del Obispo Fray Juan Bautista Zengotita con motivo del Asedio puesto por los Ingleses a la Capital, en 1797. San Juan, 1920.
5- Rodríguez Feliciano, Miguel (Padre). Extracto de una carta de Don Miguel Rodríguez Feliciano, prebendado de la Santa Iglesia de Puerto Rico, a un religioso de esta ciudad. Puerto Rico, 22 de mayo de 1797, Gaceta de Guatemala, Tomo I, Núm. 31, folios 246-247: lunes 4 de septiembre de 1797. González Vales, Luis. Alejandro Ramírez y su Tiempo. Editorial Universitaria, Universidad de Puerto Rico, 1978.
6- Enrique T. Blanco. Los Tres Ataque Británicos a la ciudad de San Juan Bautista de Puerto Rico, San Juan, Puero Rico, 1947. 7- Alejandro Tapia y Rivera. Biblioteca Histórica de Puerto Rico, San Juan, 1945.
8- See: Appendix XVIII.
9- See: Appendix XIV.
* Maps are provided in Appendices XIX and XX for the purpose of orientation.
10- "Seboruco de Barrios" (también llamado Seboruco de Barriga), según Coll y Toste, Boletín Histórico de Puerto Rico, Vol. XIII, pág. 203, (2) lugar por donde se ha levantado después el Cementerio de Santurce.
11- See: Appendix XVIII
12- Miguel Rodríguez Feliciano. Op cit.
13- Enrique T. Blanco. Op cit. pág. 117.
14- See: Appendix XIII.
15- Ramón de Castro. Op cit.
16- Felipe D. Ramírez. Op cit.
17- Rodríguez Feliciano. Op cit.
18- See: Appendix XIII
19- He was born is Arenys del Mar. Cataluña in 1760. For his services, he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and awarded the cross of Charles III. He died in San Juan in 1815. María Cadilla Martínez. Rememorando el Pasado Histórico, Puerto Rico, 1946, pag. 241.
20- See: Appendices XIX and XX
21- See: Appendix XIII
26- Luis R. Arana. Apuntes Para un Estudio Histórico-Militar sobre el Ataque Británico a la Isla de Puerto Rico en 1797. Monumentos Históricos Nacionales de San Juan, San Juan, Puerto Rico, 1952. Pag. 68.
27- Ibid, pag. 69.
28- See: Appendix XIII.
32- Op Cit., 5.
33- See: Appendix XIII
34- See: Appendix XIV
35- See: Appendix XIII
36- Op Cit., 5.
37- See: Appendix XIV
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