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The Trans-Oceanic War of 1795 - 1799, also known as the Habsburg War and the Five Years' War, pitted two European alliances against each other: an alliance including Great Britain, Portugal, Prussia, and several minor German states against one that included France, Spain, and Austria. There may have been other European powers aligned with one side or the other, but Sobel does not mention them.

Outbreak of War[]

The war was the result of a realignment of the European balance of power following the death of King Louis XVI of France in September 1793 and the formation of a regency for the eleven-year-old Louis XVII headed by Queen Marie Antoinette. The Queen sought to form an alliance with her nephew, the Holy Roman Emperor Francis II, directed against Prussia. A secret alliance between the two was concluded in April 1794, but word of the treaty leaked out before the two nations were able to launch a joint invasion of Prussia one year later. In the interim, the government of Prime Minister Sir Charles Jenkinson signed a treaty of alliance with Prussia and several minor German states in December 1794. With war looming in the spring of 1795, Jenkinson increased military spending and enlarged the Cabinet to include former members of the opposition such as William Pitt the Younger and Charles James Fox.

The joint Franco-Austrian invasion of Prussia was initially successful, and French generals Charles-Francois Dumouriez and Michel Ney won several victories against the Prussians. However, Jenkinson sent a British military force to assist the Prussians, leading to a two-year stalemate in Germany.

Marie Antoinette also sought to bring Spain into the Franco-Austrian alliance, but King Charles IV was reluctant to do so. French diplomats in Madrid began to press King Charles for an alliance, while a French army approached the Pyrenees in the spring of 1795 in an apparent prelude to an invasion. King Charles was sufficiently cowed by these moves to agree to an alliance, which was signed on 12 April 1795. Queen Maria I of Portugal was alarmed by the Franco-Spanish alliance, seeking aid from the British. Prime Minister Jenkinson was quick to agree to Maria's request, and without waiting for any Spanish aggression against Portugal, asked his Cabinet for a declaration of war against Spain on 23 August 1795.

War in the C.N.A. and Jefferson[]

News of the outbreak of war in Europe reached the Confederation of North America in the summer of 1795, leading to celebrations in New York City, Norfolk, and Fort Radisson, though the reaction in Quebec and Manitoba was more subdued. Paul Cerdan attempted to rally the Francophone inhabitants of Quebec in support of France, but he was unsuccessful.

When word came that Great Britain had declared war on Spain, the Governor of Georgia dispatched an army under Colonel Richard Tomkinson to invade Spanish Florida, with which the province had experienced a series of clashes and raids. Tomkinson's army proceeded to massacre the Seminoles and crush the Spaniards, and within a year, the Georgians had conquered and annexed Florida without waiting for permission from Parliament, Viceroy Sir John Dickinson, or Governor-General John Connolly.

Alexander Hamilton, one of the three Governors of the State of Jefferson, decided to take advantage of Spain's preoccupation with events in Europe. He sent a force of Jeffersonians east along the Gulf Coast under General Jacob Mellon, and by 14 May 1796 Mellon's force had come within 20 miles of New Orleans. The city's fortifications proved too formidable for the Jeffersonians to take, and Mellon left part of his army under Major Andrew Jackson and returned with the remainder to Jefferson. Hamilton had resigned his governorship and taken command of a second army, which he used to take the various presidios of the Province of Tejas. Mellon joined forces with Hamilton, and by April 1797 they took control of all of New Spain north of the Rio Grande and east of the Pecos River.

Also in 1797, Virginia Governor Theodorick Bland organized an assault on New Orleans led by General Edward Curtis of Georgia and Captain Horatio Nelson of the Royal Navy. New Orleans fell to the British force on 1 October 1797. Afterwards, Curtis and Nelson continued up the Mississippi, defeating the Spaniards and their Indian allies in a series of battles, until by September 1798 all of Louisiana north of the Arkansas River was under British Control. By 1800 New Orleans and the area at the mouth of the Mississippi had been formally annexed to Georgia, while the area west of the Mississippi and north of the Arkansas joined the C.N.A. as the Confederation of Vandalia.

End of the War[]

In Europe, the stalemate between the two sides ended in victory for the British and Prussians in late 1798. Diplomats from the various European states began negotiating the surrender of the Franco-Austro-Spanish alliance early in 1799. The war in Europe formally ended with the signing of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle on 1 March 1799. Under the provisions of the treaty, the Holy Roman Empire was dissolved, and the German states were united to form a Germanic Confederation under Prussian leadership. The Spanish Bourbons were deposed, and Prince Ferdinand of the Prussian Hohenzollerns was installed on the Spanish throne as King Ferdinand VII.

In New Spain and South America, the Spanish defeat and the installation of the Protestant King Ferdinand resulted in a series of uprisings led by José de Consalves, Martin Obregon, Carlos Gómez, Fernando de Abruzzo, José Flores, and the Count of Revillagigedo that ended Spanish colonial rule there. By 17 March 1805, the last Spanish troops left New Spain, and the Republic of Mexico was established. In the C.N.A., the end of the war brought about a period of population growth and industrialization known as the Era of Harmonious Relations.


Sobel's sources for the Trans-Oceanic War are Pierre Clouzet's European Diplomacy on the Eve of the Habsburg War (translation by Martin Corn, London, 1939), Artemas Kelly's Origins of the Trans-Oceanic War (Mexico City, 1967), Paul Mitchell's The Jenkinson Cabinet and the Five Years' War (London, 1958), and Henry Miles' Jefferson in the Trans-Oceanic War (Mexico City, 1956).

This was the Featured Article for the week of 20 April 2014.

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