“Through the years, Hispanic American citizens have risen to the call of duty in defense of liberty and freedom.
Their bravery is well known and has been demonstrated time and again, dating back to the aid rendered by General Bernardo de Gálvez during the American Revolution". —President Ronald Reagan W hen I received the invitation to participate in the Granaderos & Damas de Gálvez ceremony at Ft. Sam Houston National Cemetery, I linked into Robert Thonhoff’s work, The Vital Contribution of Spain in the Winning of the American Revolution: An Essay on a Forgotten Chapter in the History of the American Revolution. (Granaderos de Galvez. )
I was astonished. And humbled, even embarrassed. I taught American History in an earlier career. I’d never in twenty years taught about Bernardo de Gálvez, nor do I recall contemplating the logistics involved in conducting that war or what happened on the western and southern fronts. I took it for granted. Bob Thonhoff has sparked a
renewed interest in that struggle from oppression.
Many of the first fighters in the American Revolution carried their own guns, leftovers from the French and Indian War; some showed up with the family blunderbuss. Given that beginning, what hope did Washington’s Continentals have to win independence? We learned that France and Spain gave the fledgling American effort support, but what does that mean to the trucker on his way to Texarkana or the shipper in San Antonio today?
Logistics and transportation professionals greet the challenges of getting supplies to our troops every day. Now, picture what it was like in 1776-81—poor or no roads & bridges; hand carried communiqués; a dearth of industry and few American firearms or food producers on a scale equal to the need.
To begin with, in 1776, Texas was part of Nueva España. New Spain included present-day Southwestern United States, Mexico, Central America (except Panama), the Caribbean, and the Philippines. Bernardo de Gálvez governed the Texas Territory, an area that included nearly all the land west of the Mississippi plus New Orleans.
Ben Franklin was in France raising support for the American cause. Trade was restricted. Our eastern seaboard was patrolled and then blockaded by the Royal Navy. Washington’s men were in desperate need of arms and supplies. However, it was Spain and the Count of Aranda who sent 12,000 muskets to General Washington at his headquarters near Boston (Thonhoff, p 2). An ah-ha moment…Patriots got the muskets to fight the Redcoats
from Spain!
Franklin enlisted the Spanish firm of Jose Gardoqui and Sons to ship, “215 bronze cannon, 4,000 field tents, 12,826 grenades, 30,00 bayonets, 30,000 uniforms, 51,314 musket balls and 300,000 pounds of gunpowder from a French port by way of Bermuda to Boston” (p 2). Spain also provided almost eight million reales (currency) (p 4) with which all types of supplies were purchased and sent by way of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers to General
Washington and George Rogers Clark.
King Carlos (Charles) III declared war on Britain June 21, 1779. Immediately, the 33-year old governor and General, Bernardo de Gálvez, began a military campaign against the British in the Gulf of Mexico. Gálvez quickly raised a navy and an army. His forces engaged and defeated the British at Manchac, Baton Rouge, and Natchez in 1779; Mobile in 1780; and Pensacola in 1781. They secured the upper Mississippi and Ohio rivers by defeating the British at San Luís (St. Louis, Missouri) and San José (St Joseph, Michigan) they fought alongside George Rogers Clark at Vincennes, Indiana, and Kaskaskia and Cahokia in Illinois. American and French privateers sought refuge in and /or took their captured prizes to the Spanish controlled ports in Caribbean and to New Orleans, even as his navy defeated the British in the Bahamas (p.3).

T o feed his men, Gálvez purchased about 9,000 head of Texas
cattle from ranchers and missions in the San Antonio River Valley (Surprise!) during the war. The animals were trailed by Texas ranchers and escorted by Spanish Texas soldiers to his men campaigning in Louisiana and Florida. He supplied his cavalry and artillery with several hundred head of Texas horses (p.3). It is left to my imagination how they moved all that livestock. Were longhorns and horses herded to some point, and then transported in part by some type of watercraft? Given the terrain around San Antonio Bay or almost
any point in the Coastal Bend area, it makes one pause…how would you have done it? (The San Antonio River was first documented by Cabeza de Vaca in 1535 and it was named in 1691, so, I’d guess Governor Gálvez had many maps of the area when he developed
his strategy. Spain introduced cattle and horses into area more
than a century before!)
Gálvez possessed exceptional foresight, common sense, and strong logistics and diplomatic capabilities. For example, the French fleet was under Gálvez’s command during a
two month siege of Fort George in Pensacola in the spring of 1781. After their victory, he dismissed the French and provided a half -million pesos —from tax monies collected throughout Nueva España—to French Admiral Comte de Grasse who re-provisioned his fleet in Havana and then sailed north, arriving just in time to help Washington bring about the defeat of Cornwallis at Yorktown (p 3).
At war’s end, the American Congress commended General Bernardo de Gálvez for his heroic aid and statesmanship in America’s struggle for independence. On June 21, 1785, he succeeded his recently deceased father, Matias de Gálvez, in Mexico City as the Viceroy of Nueva España. Regrettably, in the fall of 1786 the much loved and talented leader succumbed to illness in an epidemic in Mexico City at age 40.
On April 23, 1789, the Galveztown, a Spanish warship and the only foreign ship in New York Harbor, was the first to salute General Washington as he made his way to his inauguration. Standing at Washington’s side at the presidential inaugural parade was Spain’s first ambassador to the United States, Diego de Gardoqui (p.5). Certainly, these honors demonstrated the warm, mutual regard between George Washington and Spain.
When we consider the meaning of Independence Day this year, we might recall the munificent leadership of Bernardo de Gálvez, hero, statesman, and logistician, without whose assistance our history would be very different. There is so much more to the story, I hope you’ll read Thonhoff’s brief essay at Granaderos de Galvez. While there, take a look at the map for the cattle trail indicated by the dotted line.