Battle of St. Louis

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The Battle of Saint Louis (Spanish San Luis) was an unsuccessful British-led attack on St. Louis (a French settlement that had been ceded to Spain) on May 26, 1780, during the Revolutionary War.


The attack was motivated both by Spain's entry into the war in 1779 and by American activity in the Northwest Territory that same year. American expeditions under George Rogers Clark had boldly challenged British domination of the region, and when the Spaniards under Louisiana Governor Bernardo de Gálvez began driving the British from the mouth of the Mississippi River and cutting communications with the Gulf colonies, British rule was directly threatened.

The British punitive expedition was organized at Fort Michilimackinac near the Canadian frontier. Gathered there for the purpose was a large body of their native allies, largely Sioux and Winnebago warriors. This force was led by a nucleus of British officers and regular infantry and supplemented with Canadian militia.

Awaiting them at St. Louis were 21 men of the Fijo de Luisiana ("Louisiana Regulars") colonial regiment and whatever militia could be mustered from the townspeople. But the small town, at the insistence of Captain Fernando De Leyba, Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana, had been well-fortified months before by a ring of trenches and a stone tower bearing the name Fort San Carlos.


The British arrived on May 26 and savagely handled a group of farmers and slaves on the outskirts of town before rushing into the deadly volleys from the entrenched defenders. The militia and natives, unused to attacking fortifications, faltered. (Classic native and French Canadian warfare, known in French as la petite guerre, involved lightning raids against undefended civilian targets). De Leyba's cannon on Fort San Carlos opened fire, driving the invaders off.


The village of 900 lost 92 dead and captured, virtually all civilians. The British met a similar defeat at Cahokia, and a year later the Spaniards from St. Louis seized Fort St. Joseph (in Michigan). With its position in the West and elsewhere slipping away, Britain entered peace negotiations in 1782.


  • Rickey, Don, Jr. "The British-Indian Attack on St. Louis, May 26, 1780" in David Curtis Skaggs, ed., The Old Northwest in the American Revolution: An Anthology. Madison, Wisconsin: The State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1977. ISBN 0-87020-164-6. Originally published in the Missouri Historical Review 55, October 1960.

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