Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Siege of Gibraltar

The Siege of Gibraltar effectively began on June 16, 1779, when Spain declared war on Great Britain, hoping to regain territory lost to the British in previous wars. Great Britain was engaged in the American War of Independence at the time, making the moment especially opportune. Part of Spain’s overall plan of attack against the English included a land based assault on British soil. But Gibraltar held strategic significance for trade in the Mediterranean region.

Spanish and allied French navies formed a blockage of Gibraltar, while land forces readied themselves to fight with British troops, which were under the leadership of George Elliot. The Brits held out, forcing Spain to commit more men to the siege, and forestalling the planned invasion of England. Various attacks on the British fort failed, and the British navy scored major victories over the blockading fleet, so that the Siege of Gibraltar ended up a decisive British victory.

Walter Scott voyaged to several European spots toward the end of his life, partly in an effort to improve his health.  He records reaching Gibraltar in his Journal...

November 14 (1831)… I wrote to Mr. Cadell to-day, and will send my letter ashore to be put into Gibraltar with the officer who leaves us at that garrison. In the evening we saw the celebrated fortress, which we had heard of all our lives, and which there is no possibility of describing well in words, though the idea I had formed of it from prints, panoramas, and so forth, proved not very inaccurate. Gibraltar, then, is a peninsula having a tremendous precipice on the Spanish side--that is, upon the north, where it is united to the mainland by a low slip of land called the neutral ground. The fortifications which rise on the rock are innumerable, and support each other in a manner accounted a model of modern art; the northern face of the rock itself is hewn into tremendous subterranean batteries called the hall of Saint George, and so forth, mounted with guns of a large calibre. But I have heard it would be difficult to use them, from the effect of the report on the artillerymen. The west side of the fortress is not so precipitous as the north, and it is on this it has been usually assailed. It bristles with guns and batteries, and has at its northern extremity the town of Gibraltar, which seems from the sea a thriving place, and from thence declines gradually to Cape Europa, where there is a great number of remains of old caverns and towers, formerly the habitation or refuge of the Moors. At a distance, and curving into a bay, lie Algeciras, and the little Spanish town of Saint Roque, where the Spanish lines were planted during the siege.[485] From Europa Point the eastern frontier of Gibraltar runs pretty close to the sea, and arises in a perpendicular face, and it is called the back of the rock. No thought could be entertained of attacking it, although every means were used to make the assault as general as possible. The efforts sustained by such extraordinary means as the floating batteries were entirely directed against the defences on the west side, which, if they could have been continued for a few days with the same fury with which they commenced, must have worn out the force of the garrison. The assault had continued for several hours without success on either side, when a private man of the artillery, his eye on the floating batteries, suddenly called with ecstasy, "She burns, by G----!";[486] and first that vessel and then others were visibly discovered to be on fire, and the besiegers' game was decidedly up…

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