The Ol’ Perfesser Explains His Project

One of my projects is the hypothetical conflict between the United States and Spain.  No, not the Spanish American War of 1898, the one that didn’t get fought between say 1795-1810.  Yes, I know, no blood was shed in this conflict, but it could have and nearly was on several occasions.  I shared this project on my old Blogger site (God rest its soul, and thank you Google,) but I took a break from it last year as I focused on other things.  However, as Bladensburg begins to wrap up and I can look forward to other plans, I am drawn back to this project.  I envision this post as one of several that explains a bit about this period, and my thinking around it as potential games using miniatures from the era, so bear with me.  But if you see something interesting here, or have some ideas of your own, let me know.  I’d love to hear about it.

We all know the British, by the terms of the Treaty of Paris that ended the American Revolution ceded its territory south of the Canadas and west to the Mississippi River to the United States.  Unfortunately, that did not include all of the territory on the east side of the Mississippi.  There was still some prime real estate that remained in the hands of that sometime American ally, Spain.  The fortress of Pensacola, the excellent harbor of Mobile, and the real gem, New Orleans, were all controlled by Imperial Spain.

This map shows the disputed territory between the U.S. and Spain 1783-1795.  Map from The Spanish Frontier in North America by David Weber.

This map shows the disputed territory between the U.S. and Spain 1783-1795. Map from The Spanish Frontier in North America by David Weber.

By 1783 the Spanish Empire was more than a little bit rickety.  Unable to compete economically with France and Great Britain, many of the Spanish settlements in the borderlands were weak, and barely able to defend themselves against aggressive Native American tribes such as the Apaches and Comanches.  Spaniards were always a minority in their own provinces, had difficulty attracting settlers, and lacked the resources to entice colonists or adequately maintain defenses.  Though a series of reforms in the 1780’s allowed the Spanish to make peace with their native neighbors, by the late 1790’s the United States, having won their own peace with their northern native enemies, was knocking on the door of the Spanish borderlands.  Lacking a large professional army, Americans frontiersmen frequently penetrated and settled Spain’s frontier, challenging Spanish authority and threatening Spanish rule.

Though the Paris peace of 1783 awarded Spain, as a victorious American ally, the key strongpoint of Pensacola, as well as East and West Forida, they persisted in claims of land in upper Alabama and Mississippi. American settlement and economic development, well beyond the subsistence level in the Ohio River valley, required getting goods to market through Spanish New Orleans. It made that port city a target for war cries from the new west.  Historical face offs at places like Nacogadoches, Natchitoches, and the Burr plot to seize New Orleans, Louisiana and Mexico itself make a hypothetical conflict with Spain seem less like a historical maybe, and more a miracle war didn’t actually happen. Though Spain gradually retreated from its borderlands through a series of diplomatic negotiations until Mexico’s independence finally put an end to Spanish rule in America in 1821, a potential conflict with the United States makes for interesting game possibilities.

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