The Sacking of Panama City
by Henry Morgan and his Buccaneers...
The attack was difficult because of the city's
location - on the far side of the mountainous jungle-covered isthmus. Morgan
had planned to feed his army with stores of food captured from the Spanish or foraged from
the jungle. But, the Spaniards retreated before them taking their supplies with
them. Morgan's men were reduced to "stewing" bits of leather, and eating
leaves and tree bark. Snakes, mosquitoes, ticks and insects assailed them... More than a
week after they had entered the jungle, Morgan's army bivouacked in sight of Panama
City. The next day the Spanish army marched out to meet them. At his command, the
Spanish governor, Don Guzman, had 2,000 infantry and 500 calvary, but most of the infantry
consisted of slaves and ill-trained militia. The governor's secret weapon, by which he set
great store, was a herd of several hundred cattle, which he planned to drive thru Morgan's
lines at a critical juncture in the battle. The battle proved short. The
governor first ordered the calvary to make a frontal attack on the buccaneers ... a couple
of salvos from the English and French muskets decimated the charge and the attack
collapsed. The infantry put up a half-hearted resistance until a detachment of
Morgan's men appeared over a small hill and attacked their flank. The cattle
scattered in all directions and soon every Spaniard was running for his life.
Morgan triumphantly entered Panama City with a gang of half-starved men waving banners and blowing horns. Unfortunately the city was set ablaze by the Spaniards or accidently by the privateers themselves. In order to collect enough booty to make the expedition worthwhile, theyharried the countryside around the dead city relentlessly and brutally.
After the buccaneers had racked Panama with a month of extortion and foul murder, Morgan judged they had reached a point of diminishing returns. Late in February 1671, with a train of 175 mules laden with modest spoils and with the remaining unransomed prisoners, Morgan and his men left the scene of their crimes.
Between fire and sword, Panama City had been totally destroyed and its population dispersed, captured or slain. So complete was Panama's undoing that its site was abandoned. Healing green growth soon covered the terrible scar. Later, Panama La Nueva was built at a more defensible location farther along the coast.
As the buccaneers marched back to San Lorenzo, mutinous murmurs arose blaming the small amount of booty on deceitful withholding by Morgan and his captains. It seemed to many unbelieveable that the legendary treasures of Panama had eluded them. To allay suspicion, Morgan ordered an immediate search of everything and everyone... starting with himself. No personal cache was discovered and Morgan was absolved. At San Lorenzo, the expedition found the buccaneer garrison at the end of its resources. The men, having consumed everything edible, had resorted to shooting and eating the loathsome buzzards, which still fed upon the unburied festering corpses of the Spanish killed during Bradley's assault.
Appraisal and division of the spoils was done at San Lorenzo. After all deductions for bonuses, injury compensation and the like, the standard seaman's share came to only 200 pieces of eight. This was practically nothing at all considering the hardships endured and was much less than that of previous voyages. Nevertheless, the expedition was ended; there was no more to be said or done, at least not by Morgan. Without notice, he and some of the British captains and crews sailed before dawn for Jamaica, leaving the rest to recriminate and fend for themselves.
King Charles re-commissioned Morgan, with the style of Colonel, as Lieutenant-Governor of Jamaica and shortly before Morgan sailed back to Port Royal in December 1674, quietly knighted him. Sir Henry Morgan appears to have remained in Jamaica until his death in 1688. The Panama raid had been his last exploit.
Compiled from various resources in print and on the Internet.