The West Indies Campaign

General Sir William Howe's heart was not in the American War for Independence and his feelings of frustration were compounded by the loss of Burgoyne's Army at Saratoga on September 19, 1777. Howe turned in his resignation later that year, and the resignation was approved in April of 1778. Howe left for England a month later and military operations were promptly handed over to General Sir Henry Clinton. The French had been secretly supporting the American cause for some time, and finally declared war on England in June of 1778 and the focus of the war shifted to a more global scale.

At this point, some of the battalions stationed in America where detached to deal with the French threat in the West Indies. These islands were largely undefended, and maintaining British control over these islands was infinitely more important than the rebellion in the 13 colonies. General Clinton appointed Major General James Grant as commander of an expeditionary force of more than 5,000 troops (the 4th, 5th, 15th, 27th, 28th, 35th, 40th, 46th, 49th and 55th) to St. Lucia. Some scholars say Grant was put in charge of this force as a punishment for his failure to trap LaFayette at Barren Hill on the 20th of May, 1778, but in fact Grant was a very capable soldier and more than likely was considered the best man for the job. Whatever underlying factors there may have been, Grant's force embarked from Sandy Hook on November 3rd, 1778 and set sail for the West Indies as part of Admiral Hotham's fleet. The fleet was caught up in a violent storm, but all ships arrived safely in Barbados on December 10th, where they were joined by Admiral Barrington. The expedition continued under Barrington's command the next day, and arrived at Cul-de-Sac bay, St. Lucia, at noon on December 12 (Lindsay, pp 331-332).

The British troops immediately deployed their light infantry, and the next day the whole army advanced on a small French outpost atop a steep hill. The French garrison fired a few shots from their 24-pounders, then surrendered their post intact, complete with the magazine, hospital (full of sick French soldiers) and barracks.

General Grant took up a position on the Morne Fortune, while the grenadiers under Brigadier-general Meadows secured the Vigie penninsula and removed two French flags that stil flew there. Within the hour the French fleet commanded by Charles Hector Theodat, Compte d'Estaing appeared on the horizon. As d'Estaing approached, Admiral Barrington quickly arranged his defences. The lareg gunships formed a barricade across the mouth of the harbor, and the transports and supply ships were dispersed closer to shore. The French fleet made a first pass at the harbor with little or no damage resulting. Later that afternoon, d'Estaing made a second approach. Again there was little damage to either fleet, but d'Estaing used the maneuver to deploy his fleet of troop ships, which landed unopposed on the other side of the island and immediatley took the village.

At about 8:00 AM on December 18th, the light infantry (including the 55th's company) was cut off by the French ---- The battle lasted about three hours (Lindsay, pp 344-345). Some of the officers compared the action on St. Lucia to that at Bunker's Hill, only this time it was the French who had suffered horrific losses! The difference was in the numbers; at Bunker's (Breed's) Hill, a smaller, entrenched force was routed by a superior British (Lindsay p 348).

The British ultimately captured the island of St. Lucia from the French. On July 29, 1779 the 55th was on St. Kitts and went to St. Christopher later that year. From April of 1780 through 1783 the 55th was on Antigua, then went to St. Kitts in February of 1784. They were ordered home in 1785 and in October of that year were at Shrewsbury (also see the Regimental History).


Marshall/Peckham, p 66; Fortescue, p 250 and 263-264; Rogers, p 170-172; Hargreaves, p 321; Lindsay p 332-356; Kemble, p 165; Record of Service, p 9).

Transcribed and annotated by Mark Tully


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