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Featured Publication

My new book switches focus to the 18th century. This military history provides a beginning to end account of the British expedition to conquer the West Indies in 1740-42. The campaign stands out because it represents the first overseas deployment of American troops. Thirty-four years before Lexington and Concord 4,000 American marines fought alongside the British at Cartagena de Indias and Cuba. Over 2,400 of these colonists never came home.

Cover of Disaster on the Spanish Main
Book Cover Artwork

See what some noted historians think of it.

Fred Anderson, author of Crucible of War: The Seven Years’ War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754–1766. “Craig Chapman’s fine treatment of an all but forgotten episode in the history of the Americas offers scholarly and general readers much to admire and much to learn. Historians who have lamented the lack of a comprehensive, deeply researched account of the Cartagena Expedition of 1741 need complain no longer. Readers interested in the American colonial period will find it hard to put down this vivid narrative of a one of the greatest fiascos in British military and naval history. Above all, Disaster on the Spanish Main will compel every reader to confront matters as vital today as they were three centuries ago: the folly of imperial ambition and the tragedy of war.”

Richard Harding, author of The Emergence of Britain’s Global Naval Supremacy: The War of 1739–1748. “This work is a splendid operational history, drawing on both traditional narratives and the latest research in English and Spanish. Chapman has provided a riveting study of a sadly neglected episode.”


Chapter - Mustering the Americans

Throughout the summer militia officers and gentlemen of means set up recruiting stations and competed to fill their companies. New Yorkers took notice of the activity. “Our City is Very Lively with all these Officeiers [sic] and beating Up for Soldiers.” The son and namesake of New York’s late and oppressive governor, William Cosby, and four other officers beat the drum from Albany to Manhattan. Down south, James Innes, a recent Scottish immigrant, signed up men along North Carolina’s Cape Fear River while three more companies formed in the lowlands by the Albemarle Sound. In Philadelphia, Thomas Lawrie, the governor’s secretary, quit his job to raise a company. One of the militia colonels in Rhode Island, William Hopkins, decided to take the king’s commission and proceeded to recruit his own company out of Providence. Farther east, John Winslow, a great-grandson of a signer of the Mayflower Compact, pulled together his quota of one hundred recruits from Plymouth County. Fifty-two-year-old militia officer Ammi Ruammi Wise signed up a full company from Essex County just north of Boston.

Chapter - Castillo San Luis de Bocachica

Sprinting the last few yards, the grenadiers and volunteers of the Forlorn Hope leapt over the counterscarp onto the rubble pile inside the ditch. McLeod’s grenadiers jumped in seconds later and threw scaling ladders on the debris spilling from the breach. Colonel McLeod “ordered them to sling their muskets, Draw their Swords & Mount, which was performed with great intrepidity.” Scrambling over cracked stones and expended ironshot, the grenadiers clawed their way up the breach. “Nobody could climb it up without being Shoved on by those after him, and then only one at a time.” Crawling and slipping on the scrap heap, the lead grenadiers felt bewildered yet grateful that the defenders failed to fire at them in their exposed state. Soon a few agile soldiers, led by Lieutenant Bennett of the 15th Foot, reached the top of the breach and entered the castillo, where they confronted the Spanish drummer beating the chamade, “which some of Our soldiers, mistaking for an alarm, shot him dead.”

Chapter - Santiago

The great expedition dribbled into port through the first weeks of May after leaving a trail of flotsam that spanned the Caribbean Sea: the bodies of soldiers and sailors who had died of scurvy, the bloody flux, and yellow jack during the voyage. Deserting the land campaign in the tropical climate did not spare the army from disease, to the bewilderment of the generals and surgeons. Far from dissipating, the sickness had jumped to the naval crews. The mosquitoes and flavivirus savaged the convoys, though medical professionals remained oblivious to their destructiveness. The May musters counted 1,189 more deceased soldiers from the British regiments and another 400 Americans, a 279 percent jump in the mortality rate after the troops had escaped the supposed murderous rains, fluctuating diurnal temperatures, and ill humors endemic to Cartagena's environment.

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