BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Sept. 8, 2016–With the 218th anniversary of the Battle of St. George’s Caye days away, historians from Mexico and Belize have collaborated to present findings transcribed from Spanish archives on the historic battle.
On Wednesday morning, the Bliss Centre was packed with students and historians who attended to hear a national lecture entitled: “Spanish Reports on the Battle of 1798: Preliminary Findings,” which was hosted by the Belize History Association (BHA).
According to panelists, a 1,200 page record of the battle had to be painstakingly translated from 18th century Spanish to modern Spanish. Also, the panelists had to reconstruct the timeline of the battle.
However, while there were no new major findings in the Spanish version of events when compared to accounts from the Baymen, there were minor differences in the details surrounding the planning and execution of the invasion and the justification for the Spanish retreat.
According to Dr. Angel Cal, of the University of Belize (UB), who was also a panelist, the Spanish wanted to wrench what is now known as Belize from the British, but their attempts failed because they proved to be ineffective war strategists.
The delay caused them to move their convoy from Campeche to St. George’s Caye and gave the British, their enemies, more time to prepare for the battle against them. Already faced with logistical issues, several of the Spanish soldiers had suffered from yellow fever.
Furthermore, their war vessels were not equipped to maneuver along the reef, shoals and currents, especially between Long Caye and St. George’s Caye, when compared to British war vessels and gun flats in strategic positions.
In essence, the Spaniards could not pass their large fleets through to St. George’s Caye, which they would have used as a base to attack the British on the mainland because they had gathered poor intelligence on the coastline.
However, they managed to force their way through a channel and led their convoy towards the mainland in an effort to dispatch 3,000 Spanish troops, which was critical to conquer the British.
The commander of the convoy refused to lead the attack against the British and so another commander took control of the battle, which began at about 3:30 p.m.
However, the Spaniards were at a disadvantage due to the British artillery, which in their accounts they conceded was superior.
Upon hearing that more British recruits would be sent to fight his men, the Spanish commander felt that he was doomed and gave the signal for his men to retreat and head back to Caye Chapel.
Despite hinting that they would return to fight the British, the Spaniards never returned. If they were able to dispatch their troops, history would have been framed differently, according to panelists.