"Sous Cette Pierre Repose": Tombstone Inscriptions of the Old St. Landry Catholic Church Cemetery Opelousas, Louisiana; by Susan Burleigh Douget.
THE SPANISH AND ENGLISH WAR
During the early days of the Louisiana Colony, it was the duty of all able young men to serve in the militia, and to do their part to insure the protection of all. There are several accessible militia rolls for the Opelousas Post which are an added plus to the genealogist researching his or her family tree. However, there is one list for which we can be particularly proud to find the names of our ancestors. This list contains the names of 99 Fuseliers and 10 officers of the Opelousas Post Militia, and is dated June 8, 1777. It is the only known list of the Opelousas Post Militia that is recognized by the Sons and Daughters of the American Revolution, as those men who fought with Galvez in the Battle of Baton Rouge in 1778, thus, making them Veterans of the Revolutioary War, even though Louisiana was at that time in Spanish control.
Since Louisiana was in Spanish control at the time of the Revolution, most Louisianians are not aware that their local ancestors may have played a part in helping the young American Nation to secure victory over the might of England. As some historians credit the Battle of Baton Rouge as being a turning point in the war, an explanation of the battle and the events leading to it are appropriate here.
Already in control of Florida, the secret Treaty of Fountainbleau, signed by France and Spain in 1762, gave Spain the additional territory of Louisiana west of the Mississippi River and the Isle of Orleans. Then, in 1763, the Treaty of Paris was signed giving Britain control of the French held territory of Canada and the Spanish held Territory of Florida. These events unknowingley helped to set the stage for the shaping of the next twenty years of history and the birth of a new nation that would one day be one of the great world powers.
Everyone knows of the events which caused the unrest among people of the thirteen original colonies, eventually resulting in their revolt against the English Crown and the declaration of their independance on July 4, 1776. As this war raged on, Spain, still in control of Louisiana remained officially neutral, but ever watchful of the powerful British forces. Concerned that they would eventually be drawn into the conflict by the English and that Louisiana would also be taken by them, the Spanish Government requested information from then Governor Don Luis de Unzaga as to the state of defenses in the Spanish Colony. Unzaga reported that defenses were in such sad shape that if he were attacked, he would withdraw into Mexico.
The fact that he had been instrumental several years earlier, in reconciling the rebellious colonists to accept Spanish rule, and was now prepared to allow the British to take the colony without firing a shot seems inconceivable. Unzaga had been a very good Governor to Louisiana and sympathetic to the needs of the people. His mild manner when Louisiana needed a gentle hand had helped Spain to continue the colonization of the territory, but it was obvious that he was not the aggressive force needed to insure Spain's continued control. Realizing that he was old and tired and unable to further help the people of the colony, he requested that he be allowed to retire.
Spain allowed his retirement, and on September 19, 1776, Don Bernardo de Galvez became Governor of Louisiana. He was only 29 years of age, but his understanding of the people and their needs was remarkable.
Constantly aware of the British threat, Galvez also kept them under careful observation. Although Spain remained officially neutral, he secretly helped the Americans by supplying munitions and money to Washington's Army fighting in the Western part of the 13 colonies, and facilitated American shipping by sea and up the Mississippi River, all the while improving the defenses of the Louisiana Colony. In February of 1777, although still officially neutral, Spain gave Galvez formal permission to continue this practice of secret aid.
In 1778 France joined in the war in support of the new American Government, but Spain continued to resist official involvement and Galvez continued aiding the Americans in secret. His surveillance of the British, particularly at Pensacola, began to yield evidence that they were reinforcing their defenses beyond reasonable means. It was obvious that some form of attack was forthcoming, and it was suspected that the attack would be waged against New Orleans. The time had come and a decision had to be made. Galvez could wait for the suspected attack by the British, or he could take the initiative and attack them first.
These events finally led to Spain's declaration of war against England in May of 1779, and Galvez was given permission to attack the British. He immediately began preparations and the attack was planned for the first part of August. Disaster struck less than a week before his troops were to leave. In his words, "a hurricane, like none other registered in the memory of this colony," destroyed every ship so painstakingly fortified by Galvez for the impending attack. The city was totally devastated and even more importantly, defenseless. The colonists also felt the fury of the storm. Their crops and homes were destroyed as well as the stores and provisions of the colony. If the British, who had not experienced the devastation of the hurricane, had attacked New Orleans at this time, they would have gained control with very little resistance.
Galvez knew that something had to be done, and that there was no time to spare. Knowing of the devastation of the colonists, he hesitated to ask for their help, but had been left with no other choice. He could not even be sure that the ships scheduled to arrive from Spain with reinforcements, had not also perished in the storm. And so it was that Galzez presented the facts to the inhabitants of the city. Although he hoped for a favorable response, he seemed somewhat surprised and relieved when, without a second thought, every man capable rallied to his aid.
Word of the situation was soon passed to the settlements of the German Coast, Point Coupee, Opelousas and Attakapas. Although these areas had not felt the full fury of the hurricane that was experienced by those in New Orleans as the storm made landfall, they no doubt suffered the consequences of the torrential rains and slowly decreasing winds as it moved further inland. Even with their fields and homes damaged, they, just as the inhabitants of New Orleans, did not hesitate to band together and lend their assistance ot Galvez.
Part of their readiness to fight this common enemy can be attributed to their loyalty to Galvez. His winning personality, as well as his genuine concern for the needs of the inhabitants of Louisiana had won him their love. There were also many Acadian families, recently settled in Louisiana, who had been welcomed with open arms. These people, already having been expelled from their homeland by the British, were not ready to again be under English control.
The 109 man militia of the Opelousas Post soon left Opelousas and joined with other militias on the way to meet Galvez.
Meanwhile, Galvez was finally able to leave New Orleans with an army of about 600 men. They were joined along the way to English-held Manchac, which was to be their first attack, by the 500 or so men from the Opelousas, Attakapas, Point Coupee and German Coast Militia, as well as Indians and free men of color willing to fight in the conflict.
This rag tag army, containing men of every "class, nation, and color," endured many hardships on the nearly two week long journey. The bad roads and thick forests no doubt slowed their progress, and with no tents to protect them from the elements and very few supplies, many were forced to drop out along the way due to illness and exhaustion.
By the time the group reached Fort Bute at Manchac, Galvez had lost nearly one third of his army, but, thanks to the added numbers of the colony's militia, they were still of sufficient force to capture the fort.
After a few days of rest, the still shrinking army continued on their trek towards Baton Rouge. At Manchac Galvez had had the element of surprise on his side, as the English were not yet aware that Spain had declared war against them. Not so at Baton Rouge, and as they approached the fort, the English began to fire on them.
Realizing that to storm the well fortified and protected fort would be certain suicide for his army, and being the great strategist that he was, Galvez soon came up with a plan. He sent one group of his army into the woods near the fort to draw the attention and fire of the enemy. They were protected by the trees of the dense woods and very little damage was done to them. Meanwhile, the rest of his army was busy digging trenches behind the fence of a peach orchard, a short distance from the fort. By the time the Brisith realized where the main body of the Spanish Army actually was, they were already in the protected shelter of the trenches.
The following morning, September 21, 1779, Galvez began a serious attack on the fort, and within a few short hours the British surrendered. Galvez also insisted that Fort Panmure of Natchez be turned over to him, and the British, having no other choice, accepted his terms.
During the next few years, with the aid of the militia companies of the colony, Galvez went on to wage successful battles against the other British held forts of Mobile and Pensacola, thus returning the Florida Teritory to the control of Spain.
The peace treaty signed in September of 1783 in Paris, gave Spain official control of the Floridas including all territory south of Natchez and east of the Mississippi River, and ended the American Revolutionary War. Only Canada remained in British control, as the new United States gained all territory east of the Mississippi River betwen Florida and Canada.
THE IMPORTANCE OF SPAIN'S ACTIONS
In order to understand the importance of Spain's actions during the years of the American Revolution, and how it was of value to the struggling new country of America, one must first realize that Louisiana, at that time, consisted of the entire interior section of the present United States east of the Mississippi River and south of Canada.
England owned the Floridas, and if Spain had allowed the British to attack and take New Orleans, they would have been in complete control of the mouth of the Mississippi River, as well as the Port of New Orleans. Once the British were in control of New Orleans, Galvez would have been hampered in trying to retain control of the rest of the colony as most of the trade and reinforcements from Spain were received in the New Orleans Port. Eventualluy England would have no doubt taken control of all of Lousiana, giving them not only complete control of the Mississippi at its mouth, but the entire Eastern side of the river as well.
If this had occurred, the outcome of the American Revolution could very well have ended with England the victor. If England had gained that much control of the Mississippi River, it would have been as though they had opened a back door to the American Colony, thus giving Britain the ability to attack them from the west by way of the river as well as from the east by way of the ocean. This explains why some historians credit Galvez's capturing of the British held Floridas a turning point in the war, and why the militiamen of the Colony of Louisiana are, most definitely, VETERANS OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION.