Voyage of Traveler / Blog

March 22, 2010

Traveler Postcard From Historic Cartegena

Filed under: Year 3: July09 - July10 Greece to Newport Beach, CA, Caribbean — mrlawlerjr @ 7:59 am

Hola de Cartegena, Colombia,

Did you know there was a huge, historic battle between the Spanish defending Cartegena and the invading British in 1741?  King Philip of Spain had spies in London who discovered, in 1740, that the British were planning a major assault on Cartegena.  On learning this, the viceroy of Cartegena, which was then the most important Spanish colony in South and Central America, requested Spain’s most feared and heroic military leader, Don Blas, to lead the defense of the walled city.  Spain had spent 100 years building the wall around Cartegena and several forts around the harbor to defend her.  Most of the gold shipments from the New World to Spain passed through Cartegena. The British knew it had been nine months since the last shipment, so they reasoned a massive fortune awaited them.  If they could only capture Cartegena’s mighty Fortress of San Felipe, strategically located on a hill guarding the harbor and the walled city, the rest of the city’s defenses would fall quickly.

Don Blas, born in the Basque country of noble parents, was a living legend. At age 16, already an officer, he lost his left leg in the Battle of Gibraltar.  However, he continued his distinguished military service to the king, with more battle wounds to come. In the Battle of Toulon he lost his right eye, and later in the Battle of Barcelona he lost his right arm.  Still, at age 52 (quite old for those times), he agreed to cross the Atlantic and go to Cartegena to prepare the troops for the British invasion.  He had only 500 Spanish soldiers plus about 2,000 slaves and native Americans, which he armed and trained in four months to help defend the city.

On March 15, 1941 the first three of Adm. Edward Vernon’s fleet anchored off Cartegena, waiting for the other ships to arrive.  Over the next few days, a terrifying sight developed as 186 ships gathered for the invasion. Not counting the sailors (who stayed on the ships), Vernon had 23,600 men and 2,070 cannons ready for battle.  One of his officers was Lawrence Washington, George’s half brother.  The Washington family admired Adm. Vernon so much they named their farm Mount Vernon in his honor.

The battle began on April 1.  Adm. Vernon sent two of his largest warships into the harbor to bombard Fort San Felipe.  Lucky shots from gunners at San Felipe, aided by a chain stretched tight across the channel to stop the British ships, hit and sank both ships right in the narrowest part of the harbor, blocking the channel so the other ships could not follow.  Adm. Vernon then decided to off-load his cannon and mount an assault by land.  This took about a week, and resulted in one of the bloodiest battles in British history.  In addition to the casualties of war, during that week, many of the British troops became ill, mostly dysentery, malaria and yellow fever.  The epidemic spread quickly through the officers and soldiers to the point where the vast majority where unfit for duty and a retreat was ordered.  It took a month for the British to tend to their wounded and get ready for sea.  In their retreat, they destroy the minor forts that were taken.  Finally, on May 12 the siege of Cartegena was over.

But during the battle, while leading his soldiers, Don Blas took a cannon shot to his good leg, and died of his injuries shortly after the last British ship returned for England.

Two interesting footnotes.
1.  The British were so sure the would prevail that they struck a victory medal as soon as the siege was underway.  It depicted Don Blas kneeling before the British commander with the inscription, “The pride of Spain humbled by Ad. Vernon.”  The Brits apparently thought it was ungallant to conquer half a man (Don Blas’ amputations were well known), so the artist put his arm and leg back on for the medal, for the surrender that never occurred.
2.  Had the British won the Battle of Cartegena, historians believe that not only Colombia but all of the Spanish colonies throughout South and Central America would have fallen like dominoes and become British colonies.  And consequently they would be speaking English, rather than Spanish, throughout North and South America today.

Enough of the history lesson.  In my next Postcard I’ll share with you our visit to this historic city.

Living the Dream,
with Kellie and Brian

1 Comment »

  1. Your still sailing! WOW

    May no more bad luck come your way and that the rest of the voyage be filled with joy and rum.

    All the best to you both,

    Sandy Whiting

    Comment by Sandy Whiting — March 22, 2010 @ 12:30 pm

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