Friday, August 19, 2011

St. Kitts (8): Watching and Waiting

This is the seventh in a series of post on the St. Kitts campaign of 1782. The St. Kitts campaign took place in what is known as the West Indies theater of the Revolutionary War. [Click for Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, or Part 7].

De Bouillé’s March

On January 28th, 1782. The British (under Brigadier-General Robert Prescott) landed troops from the 13th, 28th, and 69th regiments on St. Kitts and fought a French detachment commanded by Comte de Fléchin (Part 7). Although de Fléchin occupied a commanding height, his men were greatly outnumbered, and forced to retreat after an hour or so of heavy fighting. This withdrawal gave the British a clear road into the island’s interior. The Marquis de Bouillé quickly moved to block this opening. According to de Bouillé:

I was told around 4:30pm of the enemy landing and of M. de Flechin’s battle. I departed instantly, after issuing orders… I took 4 pieces of 8 [i.e., four 8-pounders], and I made my march during the night with around 3,000 men.

I was ignorant about the enemy’s force… I deployed my troops in two columns, with one taking the road by the sea, led by M. de Saint-Simon; the other, which I led, by the great road.

I arrived around 9pm at Basse-Terre, where I found in the rear of the town M. de Flechin with his detachment. [1]

At Basseterre, de Bouillé learned that he had more than enough men to defeat Prescott. His chief concern at this point was that the British might get around his left flank and into the mountains. There they might find some way of aiding the besieged garrison on Brimstone Hill. According to de Bouillé, “I had the hussars beat the passes, and I sent detachments to my left, with instructions to prevent an enemy movement to his right.”

When General Prescott discovered this new French force, he pulled back from the Mooring Hills to a more defensible post on St. Timothy’s Hill.

Not longer afterwards, de Bouillé began a pursuit. He wrote:

I made my march in one column. I crossed the field of battle where M. de Flechin had his combat. There I found a great number of wounded, of the English and of ours, which had been abandoned.

As daylight spread on the 29th, de Bouillé could see Prescott’s force on St. Timothy’s Hill. Just offshore were several British frigates. De Bouillé could not attack Prescott without exposing his troops to a devastating fire from front and flank. Even on the Mooring Hills his men were endangered. The British vessels saw “several parties of the enemies troops drawn up in different places” and the frigates opened fire, killing two men.

Soon, both sides withdrew. The British infantry re-embarked on the frigates, having failed to “distress, puzzle, and embarrass the enemy” as Hood had hoped. De Bouillé, with most of his men, returned to the siege of Brimstone Hill.

The Siege Unabated

Brimstone Hill once again became the locus of military operations.

On the night of the 29th, British boats attempted to get troops into Brimstone Hill fortress from a cove near Sandy Point. De Bouillé had 150 men and two cannon in this area, and they repulsed the attempt.

On the 30th, de Bouillé informed Shirley that the British relief force had received a check and reembarked. He asserted that the garrison’s situation was now hopeless and that they should surrender. Governor Shirley declined.

On the night of the 31st, French infantry found at the base of Brimstone Hill a large, abandoned cache of artillery. This included eight brass 24-pounders, with 6,000 cannonballs, and two brass 13-inch mortars, with 1,500 shells. These guns had been part of the “travelling artillery of the West Indies,” kept in storage on St. Kitts. As the artillery belonged neither to the garrison, nor to the militia, neither had thought to remove the guns and mortars to a more secure location when the invasion began. This windfall would allow the French to escalate their bombardment of the British garrison.

The British now looked forward to the arrival of a naval squadron commanded by Admiral George Brydges Rodney. Rodney had intended to set sail for the West Indies in December, but an unfavorable wind kept his fleet grounded until mid-January. When he did set sail, he encountered difficult weather. At the time that Prescott was abandoning his post on St. Kitts, Rodney was still 3 weeks away from the West Indies.

The key questions at this point were: how long could Brimstone Hill hold out against round-the-clock bombardment? How long could the French continue the siege? What would happen when the ships commanded by Rodney and Samuel Hood united?


1. Attaque et prise de Saint-Christophe dit le «Gibraltar» des Antilles (janvier-février 1782), in Revue Historique des Armées, Vol. 1, 1974. This article includes extracts from «Mémoires Secrets» de Bouillé. (Translation of those extracts is my own).

Other information in this post is drawn from: David Hannay (1895). Letters written by Sir Samuel Hood (Viscount Hood) in 1781-2-3; Algernon Aspinall (1915). West Indian tales of old; Charles Middleton (1907). Letters and papers of Charles, Lord Barham, Volume 1; George Basil Mundy (1830). The life and correspondence of the late Admiral Lord Rodney, Volume 2; the Journal Politique for 1782; Journal of the capture and recovery of Nevis in Charles Ekins (1824). Naval battles, from 1744 to the peace in 1814.


  1. I'm going down the right side of your blog and looking at all the units and places and individuals you've covered on here. Totally amazing the amount of history this blog produces. Great work.

  2. Very interesting, AD, as always. I do like the idea of "puzzling" the enemy. It sounds like Hood was shouting out really difficult crossword clues.

    Best wishes