The city was built close to the shore fronting west, and directly from its southern face an inlet of the sea stretched many leagues southward along the coast, forming a large lagoon.
Continuing Drake Captures Cartegena; Raids Cadiz,
our selection from Sir Francis Drake by Julian Corbett published in 1890. The selection is presented in eight easy 5 minute installments. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages
Previously in Drake Captures Cartegena; Raids Cadiz.
Place: Cartegena, Columbia
The plunder was disappointing. The city was already a hundred years old, and its day was done; for the reckless native policy of the colonists had almost ruined the island. It remained but to treat for a ransom. The Governor at once declared himself unable to meet the extravagant demands of the English admiral, and in order to bring him to terms Drake began to burn the town piecemeal. But so well was it built that little harm could be done, and every day his impatience increased.
Once, in the course of the negotiations, he sent a boy with a flag of truce to the Spanish camp. A Spaniard, meeting the lad, so ill-treated him that he could barely crawl back to die at the admiral’s feet. Then all the fury of Drake’s nature burst forth. Two friars who were among the prisoners were immediately sent ashore and hanged by the provost-marshal on the scene of the crime. Another was dispatched to the Spanish camp to declare that two more would be executed every morning until the offender was brought down and hanged on the spot by his own authorities. In hasty alarm the demand was complied with, and then the international dinners and the negotiations went on more smoothly. Convinced at last of the poverty of the colony, Drake accepted a ransom of twenty-five thousand ducats. The sum, which is equal to about fifty thousand pounds of our money, though little enough to satisfy the shareholders, was very serious for the enemy. For besides this loss the town had been stripped of everything worth carrying away by the troops and seamen. Two hundred forty guns were taken on board the English ships; and not only were they thoroughly refurnished from the Spanish stores, but for a month the whole expedition had lived in free quarters at the enemy’s expense. The entire fleet which lay in the harbor fell into Drake’s hands, and, with the exception of four of the finest galleons, was given to the flames. Besides the vessels which the Spaniards themselves had scuttled, two galleys with their tenders, fifteen frigates, and a galleon were thus destroyed, and hundreds of galley-slaves set free.
“It was such a cooling to King Philip,” said one in Europe as the news leaked out, “as never happened to him since he was King of Spain.” But as yet Drake was far from done. In the middle of February, with his force recruited by the English prisoners he had freed, and with a troop of attendant prizes laden with his spoil, in undiminished strength he appeared before Cartagena. No city in America was more difficult of approach, but the memories of the old hard days were still green, when, storm-beaten, drenched, and chilled, without food or shelter, he had ridden in the harbor day after day in despite of all the Spaniards could do, and he knew it all like a pilot. The city was built close to the shore fronting west, and directly from its southern face an inlet of the sea stretched many leagues southward along the coast, forming a large lagoon. The long spit of land which separated this sheet of water from the sea was pierced by two natural channels. At the far end was the dangerous Bocca Chica, and some three miles from the city was a larger entrance known as the Bocca Grande. Between this entrance and the town a tongue of land ran out at right angles from the spit to the opposite shore, forming an inner harbor and barring all approach to the city from the outer part of the lagoon, except by a narrow channel which lay under the guns of a powerful fort on the mainland.
On its northern and eastern faces the city was encircled by a broad creek, which ran round it from the inner harbor to the sea in such a way as to form a wide natural moat, rendering the city unapproachable from the mainland except by a bridge. This bridge was also commanded by the harbor fort, nor were land operations possible at any other point except from that part of the spit which lay between the city and the Bocca Grande. So finely, however, did this narrow down before the city could be reached, that between the inner harbor and the sea it was but fifty paces wide, and here the Spaniards had had time to prepare defenses that looked impregnable. From shore to shore a formidable entrenchment completely barred the way; and not only was its front so staked and encumbered as to render a night attack impossible, but its approaches were swept by the guns and small-arms of a great galeas and two galleys which lay in the inner harbor.
To a man so tender as Drake ever was for the lives of his men and the safety of his ships, to attack such a place might well have appeared hopeless; but the originality of the amphibious corsair at once descried a hole which had escaped all the science of the Spanish martialists. Instead of entering by the Bocca Grande, with consummate skill and daring he piloted the whole fleet through the dangerous channel at the extreme end of the lagoon. The only impression which so hazardous a movement could create in the minds of the Spaniards was that he was about to repeat his Santo Domingo operations, and land his troops there to attack from the mainland. Such an impression must have been confirmed as, moving up the lagoon, he anchored opposite the Bocca Grande and threatened the harbor fort with his boats; but Drake’s project was far different. Instead of being landed on the mainland, Carleill with eight companies was quietly slipped ashore in the Bocca Grande, with instructions to make his way diagonally through the woods that covered the spit till he reached the seashore, and then, instead of advancing on the front of the entrenchments, to wade along through the wash of the surf till he was within striking distance of the Spanish position.
We want to take this site to the next level but we need money to do that. Please contribute directly by signing up at https://www.patreon.com/history