The Capture of St Lucia was the result of a campaign by British land and naval forces to capture the island of St Lucia, which was a French Colony. Britain's actions followed the capture of the British controlled island of Dominica by French forces after a surprise invasion in September 1778. During the Battle of St. Lucia the British fleet defeated a French fleet sent to reinforced the island, and a few days later French troops were soundly defeated by British troops during the Battle of Morne de la Vierge. Realising that another British fleet would arrive shortly with reinforcements, the French garrison surrendered. The remaining French troops were evacuated and the French fleet returned to Martinique, leaving the island in the hands of the British.
France formally recognised the United States on February 6, 1778, with the signing of the Treaty of Alliance. Britain declared war on France on March 17, 1778, which led to the Anglo-French War (1778–83). On September 7, 1778, the French governor of Martinique, Marquis de Bouille, launched a surprise attack on the British held Island of Dominica, which resulted in its re-capture by the French.
On November 4, Commodore William Hotham was sent from Sandy Hook, New York, to reinforce the British fleet in the West Indies. Hotham sailed with "five men of war, a bomb vessel, some frigates, and a large convoy." The convoy consisted of 59 types of transport carrying 5,000 British soldiers under Major General Grant.
Admiral Samuel Barrington, the British naval commander stationed on the Leeward Islands, joined the newly arrived Commodore Hotham on December 10 on the island of Barbados. Grant's men were not permitted to disembark and spent the next several days aboard their transports. Barrington and Hotham sailed for the French island of St. Lucia on the morning of December 12, with the idea of capturing it and using it as a base for monitoring French activity in the area.
The French Admiral Jean Baptiste Charles Henri Hector Comte d'Estaing had also sailed for the West Indies from the port of Boston on November 4. However the French fleet was blown off course by a violent storm, preventing it from arriving in the Caribbean ahead of the British.
Upon the British ships' arrival on December 13, Major General James Grant ordered Brigadier General William Medows to land with a force of 1,400 at Grand Cul-de-Sac. This force consisted of the flank companies from several regiments and the 5th Foot. They quickly scaled the heights on the north side of the bay and captured an abandoned gun. Brigadier-General Prescott landed shortly afterward with the 27th, 35th, 40th, and 49th Regiments of Foot (approx. 2,000 troops) and guarded the bay.
On December 14, Medows' group took the fort at Morne Fortune and the capital, Castries, while Prescott's force remained in support. The third force of 1600 remained with the fleet under the command of Brigadier General Sir H. Calder.The French governor, Claude-Anne Guy de Micoud, had evacuated into the jungle without a ﬁght, allowing the British to occupy the Carénage Bay, three miles north of Cul de Sac, without losses.
On 13 December Admiral Barrington received news of the imminent arrival of the French Fleet. Barrington placed his transports inside the bay, but behind his battle line which took the entire evening of 14 December. By 1100 hours the next day, most of the transports were safely behind his line
By the evening of December 14, the French fleet under d'Estaing had arrived.
The Battle of St. Lucia or the Battle of the Cul de Sac was fought between the British invasion fleet and French relief fleet on December 15, 1778, for control of the Island of St. Lucia.
Admiral Barrington had organised his line of battle so that Isis and his three frigates (Venus, Aurora, and Ariadne) were close to shore guarding the windward approach, and he placed his flagship, Prince of Wales, toward the leeward. At 1100 hours 15 December Admiral d’Estaing approached St. Lucia with ten ships of the line, and was fired on by one of the shore batteries. D’Estaing then moved to engage Barrington from the rear, and a “warm conflict” raged between the two fleets, with the British supported by two shore batteries. D’Estaing was repulsed but succeeded in reforming his line of battle. At 1600 hours d’Estaing renewed his assault by attacking Barrington’s centre with twelve ships of the line. Again heavy fire was exchanged, but the French were repulsed for a second time.
On 16 December Admiral d’Estaing appeared to be preparing for a third assault against Admiral Barrington’s line, but then sailed away towards the windward. On the evening of 16 December d’Estaing anchored in Gros Islet Bay with "ten frigates and twelve sail of the line, &c."Admiral d’Estaing’s failure to break Barrington’s line on 15 December was a major setback for the French in their efforts to expel the British from St. Lucia.
On December 18, 1778 a force of 9,000 French troops was landed near Castries, St. Lucia to attack general Medows' smaller force of 1,400. Medows ordered his troops to entrench themselves on a hill located on the neck of the Vigie peninsula. The British force consisted of the grenadier and light infantry companies of the 4th, 5th, 15th, 27th, 28th, 35th, 40th, 46th, and 55th Regiments of Foot.
The French were relatively inexperienced soldiers and were unprepared to fight against experienced,entrenched British infantry who were veterans of fighting in America. They advanced in line on the British force several times. After the third French attack, the British commander, Brigadier General Medows, who had been wounded, realised that ammunition was low and fearing that they would be over-run, addressed his men "Soldiers, as long as you have a bayonet to point against an enemy's breast, defend the colours." But the French did not attack a fourth time.
Despite being heavily outnumber, the British had inflicted a stinging defeat on the French. French losses amounted to 400 killed and 1100 wounded, whereas British casualties were 25 killed and 255 wounded. After the battle, the 5th Foot took the white plumes worn by the French soldiers and wore them as battle trophies. Subsequently, the plumes became part of the uniform for the regiment.
Th French forces were now in the unenviable position of having been defeated at sea and on land, and faced the prospect of another British fleet arriving shortly under the command of John Byron. The French garrison surrendered on 28 December., and the remaining French troops embarked on their ships that same night. The French fleet had returning to Martinique by December 30.
St. Lucia became a crucial base for the British fleet for the rest of the war in the Lesser Antilles. It providing a critical resupply point for British ships, and was instrumental in the British success at the Battle of the Saintes in 1782, where the French suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of Admiral Rodney.
During the peace negotiations in 1893 the British used the island as a bargaining chip during negotiations with the French. Eventually it as decided that most of the territory captured would be returned, which meant that Dominica was returned to Britain, and St Lucia was returned to France in January 1784,