O Mississippi! West Florida, 1779.

In the fall of 1778, a large number German soldiers departed from New York for places as distant as Nova Scotia in the north and the Gulf Coast in the south. Among them was the Third Waldeck Regiment, which at the time was stationed on Staten Island. It was ordered to Pensacola in West Florida, in order to help protect this loyal province from Spanish and French threats. They made up more than half of the 1,300 troops that were under the command of General John Campbell. It was the only German regiment that was sent as far south, and the only one that fought against the Spanish. It turned out to be a devastating mission.

The corps arrived in Pensacola in January 1779. General Campbell knew that if Spain was indeed planning to conquer the province, it would have to start with the British posts along the Mississippi, including at Manchac (Fort Bute) and Baton Rouge. In the summer of 1779, he decided to send Waldeck troops to reinforce the roughly 250 British soldiers under Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Dickson who were stationed at Fort Bute. Because of a shortage of transports, the Waldeckers made the journey as four separate detachments. They would travel the roughly 260 miles to their destination along the Gulf Coast, through Lakes Pontchartrain and Maurepas and on the Amite River. In June 1779, the grenadier company of 135 Waldeckers under the command of Captain Georg von Haacke was the first contingent to depart from Pensacola. The remaining three detachments followed in August.

The first detachment arrived at Fort Bute in early July. The area was swampy, the heat unbearable, and the fort in deplorable condition. Most of the troops quickly fell ill. Within a few weeks, Haacke had buried at least two dozen men who had died of disease (Donald Londahl-Smidt, ed., “The Waldeckers along the Mississippi: Letters from Two Grenadier Officers,” Journal of the Johannes Schwalm Historical Association 7, no. 1 [2001]: 13). Another twenty reportedly deserted (Bruce E. Burgoyne, The 3rd English-Waldeck Regiment in the American Revolutionary War [Bowie, MD, 1999], 129). Worse was to come.

In late August, a Spanish force of about 1,400 men commanded by the governor of Spanish Louisiana, Don Bernardo de Gálvez, set out to attack the British posts on the Mississippi. Dickson had already determined that his forces would have a better chance of withstanding an attack at Baton Rouge, where he planned to build another stronghold. He therefore withdrew the majority of his troops from Fort Bute, leaving only around twenty Waldeckers under the command of Haacke behind. The Spanish easily took the fort. A handful of Waldeckers were captured. The rest, including Haake, escaped to Baton Rouge. In September, the Spanish force followed. After a brief siege, around 400 British troops under Colonel Dixon surrendered. Half of them were Waldeckers. 

Reports of the loss of the posts and troops began to arrive in Pensacola in September. Chaplain Philipp Waldeck of the Third Waldeck regiment recorded what he learned about these developments in his diary. On September 8, for example, the garrison received news that Spain had declared war against Britain, no less than ten weeks after the formal declaration had been issued. Dickson’s letters to Campbell indicate that he was unaware of this development when the Spanish attacked. Limited access to reliable news posed significant challenges for troops in regions that were distant from major theaters of war. The chaplain seems astonished that the courier who delivered the letters had been able to make the journey from the Mississippi to Pensacola through the “wilderness” on horseback. The chaplain also refers to Spanish efforts to entice Native American allies of the British to switch sides. He worried about the safety of the garrison. By the middle of the month, he was bracing himself for more bad news from the Mississippi.

Detail from Map of the southern British colonies in America, January 1, 1776, University of Pittsburgh Darlington Digital Library, accessed at https://digital.library.pitt.edu/islandora/object/pitt%3ADARMAP0298


Pensacola, September 1779

On the 8th, a packet of 18 cannon that was sailing unbelievably fast arrived in the harbor. We expected nothing but good news. However, we were disappointed in our hopes! It was the news of the Spanish declaration of war!


On the 12th, we could not hold church services because the entire garrison was occupied with war preparations and the light infantry was selected. One does not see anything around us but war, and we are under so much pressure that I cannot imagine how we will be able to make it through safely, since we do not even have a war ship in the harbor for defense.

On the 13th: Sad news are coming in from our troops who departed from here on June 20 in order to march to the Mississippi. Many have already died and most of them are sick.

On the 14th: It is generally believed that an attempt on New Orleans is supposed to be made from here. This morning, four Indian chiefs from the nation of the Choctaws had a meeting with the general, and 200 of that nation are supposed to participate in the attack.

On the 15th: The Spanish have landed at Apalachee Bay, and they are trying to bring the Indians over to their side with generous gifts. Bad news from east and west! A courier came to us from the wilderness on the Mississippi with letters from Colonel [Alexander] Dickson for the general. They indicate that they know nothing of the Spanish declaration of war. However, the colonel reported that he had seen the Spanish across the river engaged in many activities. He therefore sent an officer across [the river] to the Spanish governor [Don Bernardo de Gálvez] to ask what this was supposed to mean. However, he did not receive an answer, except that the governor was so overwhelmed with business that it was impossible for him to deal with answering this question; he should not hold it against him.

On the 16th, another courier arrived from Colonel Dickson. He had ridden on horseback through the wilderness for 13 days, and he brought the news that the Spanish had advanced with 1,500 men. The colonel reported that he had withdrawn from Manchac. The ships that had carried our troops there had been captured by the Spanish, and he was forced to sink one to prevent it from falling into the hands of the enemy. Captain [Georg] von Haake was at Baton Rouge with the two companies, and the majority of the troops was sick.

O, how the Mississippi is costing us many a good man! [The Bancroft version of the diary (see note below) adds: it is the regiment’s ruin. O Mississippi redde nobis legions nostras! (Return to us our legions)].

On the 17th: Will today not once again arrive bad news from the Mississippi? Now the winter here will commence, which consist of persistently rainy weather. It also occasionally freezes at night. It is nevertheless so hot during the day that one sweats.


Pensacola, September 1779

Den 8ten kam Ein Paquet Boot von 18 Kanonen, das unbeschreiblich schnell segelte hier im Hafen an. Wir erwarteten nichts als erfreuliche Nachrichten. Aber wir wurden unserer Hoffnung getäuscht! Es war die Nachricht der Spanischen Kriegserklärung!


Den 12. konnte die Kirche nicht gehalten warden, weil die ganze Garnison mit Kriegsrüstungen beschäftigt war, und die leichte Infanterie ausgewählt wurde. Man sehet um uns her nichts als Krieg, und wir sind so im Gedrenge, dass ich nicht einsehen, wie wir glücklich durchwischen wollen, da nicht einmal ein Kriegsschiff zur Vertheidigung des Hafens hier liegt.

Den 13ten. Von unseren Leuten die d. 20 Jun. hier abgingen um an den Mississippi zu marschieren laufen betrübte Nachrichten ein. Viele sind [295] bereits gestorben, und die meisten sind krank.

Den 14ten. Wie man allgemein vermuthet, soll von hier aus ein Versuch auf New Orleans gemacht werden. Vier Indian Chiefs von der Nation der Chiketaws [Choctaws] haben heute morgen eine Unterredung mit dem General gehalten, und 200 Mann von dieser Nation sollen den Angriff mit machen.

Den 15ten. Die Spanier sind on der Apelache Bay gelandet, und bemühen sich, die Indianer, mit reichen Geschenken, auf ihre Seite zu bringen. Von Osten und Westen böse Nachrichten!

Es kam ein expresser durch die Wüsteneyen am Mississippi mit Briefen vom Obristen Dikson an den General. Daraus hat man ersehen, dass man dort noch nichts von der spanischen Kriegserklärung weis. Doch berichtet der Obrist, dass er jenseits des Flusses, die Spanier viele Anstalten machen sahe; er habe [296] deshald einen Offizier hinüber an den spanischen Gouverneur geschickt, und ihn fragen lassen, was das zu bedeuten hätte, aber keine Antwort erhalten als: Der Gouverneur wäre so mit Geschäften überhäuft, dass er sich unmöglich auf die Beantwortung dieser Frage einlassen könnte; er mögte ihm solches nicht übel nehmen.

Den 16 kam wieder eine expresser vom Obrist Dikson, der zu Lande, durch die Wüste in 13 Tagen herunter geritten war, und brachte die Nachricht, dass die Spanier mit 1500 Mann vorgedrungen wären. Der Obrist berichtete, dass er sich aus Manschak zurück gezogen, die Schiffe, welche unsere Truppen dahin gebracht hätten, wären von den Spaniern weggenommen, und ein anderes habe er selbst versenken müssen, damit es nicht in die feindlichen Hände [297] kommen sollte. Herr Hauptmann von Haake wäre mit unsern beiden Compagnien zu Baton Rouge, und der grösste Theil der Leute krank.

O was kostet uns der Mississippi manchen braven Mann! [In der Bancroft-Version des Tagebuchs (siehe unten) folgt: es ist der Ruin des Regiments. O Mississippi redde nobis legions nostras! (Gib uns unsere Legionen zurück).]

Den 17ten. Sollte heute nicht wieder eine Hiobs Post vom Mississippi einlaufen? Nun wird wohl der hiesige Winter einfallen, der in einem anhaltenden Regenwetter bestehet. Es friert auch bisweilen des Nachts Eis, demohngeachtet ist es am Tage so heiss, dass man schwizt.

Citation: Des Feldprediger Waldecks geführtes Tagebuch während dem letzen americanisch [sic] Kriege, University of Pennsylvania Kislak Center for Special Collections, Ms. Codex 1121, ff. 296-298. Accessed at http://hdl.library.upenn.edu/1017/d/medren/4259943

Note: Another version of the diary is in the Bancroft Collection of the New York Public Library. For a transcription of the entry for the same dates from this version, see Frank Löwenstein, Lauter Freiwillige: Waldeckische Notizen aus dem amerikanischen Unabhängigkeitskrieg, Band 1 (Baunatal, Ger., 2012), 221-222.

Image: Portrait of Bernardo de Gálvez. Accessed at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bernardo_de_G%C3%A1lvez#/media/File:Portrait_of_Bernardo_de_G%C3%A1lvez.jpg

One thought on “O Mississippi! West Florida, 1779.

  1. Interesting post and in particular to me and my research and writing interests, the comment regarding New Orleans, “It is generally believed that an attempt on New Orleans is supposed to be made from here.” Indeed Campbell had been ordered by Lord Germain by a letter dated in June to assemble a force or regulars and meet up with a large group of Native American allies and descend upon New Orleans. After taking New Orleans, the British were to proceed to Natchez securing both sides of the Mississippi River and meet up with elements of the ordered attack from the north which was stopped by defeats at St. Louis and Cahokia. Campbell had difficulty in securing the necessary ships and supplies and was still in the preparation stage when he heard definitive news of the British surrender of the West Florida forts and posts, most of which had been captured by the Spanish. Spanish intelligence was good too, particularly as several soldiers of the 3rd Waldeck Regiment deserted to the Spanish side of the river before the campaign began. Glavez did refuse to meet with Dickson’s emissaries but in the Spanish records the excuse was he was sick.

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