This is a followup article to Part 1 and a response to the Texas Bowl being cancelled due to COVID-19. Don Blas de Lezo was an admiral from the Basque part of Spain, born 1689. In those days, Europe was known for a lot of international royal marriages and diplomatic turmoil. During that time, England was out to take Spanish possessions in the Americas as repayment for alleged broken promises. Today we will talk about the Battle of Cartagena de Indias, 1741.
By the way, when I use the term “Don”, I use it in the Spanish sense. “Don” kinda means “Mr”. Actually, there is no direct translation, as far as I know. In any case, it is a title of respect. When I presented a paper in Madrid back in 1993, the Spanish called me “Don Richard”. I kinda liked that.
Cartagena is a city on the coast of northern Colombia and the army there was led by Don Blas. England had sent Admiral Edward Vernon (you know, Mt. Vernon) to Cartagena to sack the city and take all the loot out of Fort San Lazaro, otherwise known as Castillo de San Felipe. Cartagena was an important port for Spain since much treasure from South America was transported to Cartagena, then shipped to Havana, Cuba. From Havana, the goods would link up with other Spanish ships and convoy to Spain.
The job for Vernon was not going to be easy. Apparently, the Spanish had done their homework and made sure that the only way to get to the Castillo de San Felipe was through Boca Chica, and thereby follow a tortuous route to the Fort. The English had about 30,000 troops, while the Spanish had around 3,000. If I were Don Blas, I would have said, “This is hopeless”.
The city of Cartagena was well fortified with high seawalls and plenty of canon. I have been to Cartagena. These fortifications are extremely impressive.
To the south, were 2 channels that lead to the Bay (Bahia in Spanish) of Cartagena. The first channel, Boca Grande, was too shallow for navigation. Thus, the obvious choice was Boca Chica. The problem was that Boca Chica was protected by 2 forts and battleships. To make things worse, the channel was very narrow, so Don Blas sunk a Spanish ship right in the middle of it and stretched a huge iron chain across the channel too.
The English finally broke through Boca Chica, then started a land attack, marching overland to the rear of the Fort. The Spanish badgered them all the way. From personal experience, I can tell you that Cartagena is a hot and damp place, with lots of mosquitos. The conflict was staged between March and May, so you can just imagine.
Vernon’s troops occupied a large hill (cerro in Spanish) right behind the Fort called La Popa. I have been there; and although when I was there in 1991 it was a slum, nevertheless, the hill towers over the city. Unfortunately, Vernon had lost his military engineer and could not setup canon for a barrage. The English troops attacked in the early morning hours, over land.
By now, the English were so worn down from battle, mosquitos, and disease, that they could not muster enough force to take the Fort. I have been to the Castillo de San Felipe. This Spanish fort is the largest of its kind that I have ever seen in the Western Hemisphere. The one in San Juan, Puerto Rico, might compare; but I don’t think so. I will not even put up pictures of it because you just have to be there to see it. The Fort served as a setting for the movie “The Adventurers” (1970).
To say the least, Vernon packed it up and went home. In 1991, I read that Don Blas was killed in the battle. However, the internet says he died later of disease. Don Blas was a guy who fought with only one eye, one arm, and one leg due to injuries in previous battles. He was a tough man and a testament to our former greatness – before COVID-19. If Don Blas were here today, he would say, “DON’T QUIT”.