Battle of San Francisco (1881)
Part of The Second Mexican War
Date 1881
Location San Francisco
Result British victory
34Stars.jpgUnited States Britain.jpgUnited Kingdom
Commanders and leaders
USArmySeal.pngWilliam Sherman



The Battle of San Francisco was an attack launched by the British Royal Navy on United States' Pacific City of San Francisco during the Second Mexican War in 1881. The attack caught the US Pacific Squadron off guard and resulted in its defeat. After this, the Royal Navy launched a daring day time raid by the Royal Marines in which they successfully attacked the US Mint and made off with as much silver and gold as they could carry. The raid was a success and the US Pacific Squadron was confined to waters around the coast, resulting in the RN achieving total navy supremacy in the Pacific.


San Francisco was the major port city on the United States West Coast as the US Tran-continental railroad connected here. The port was also home of the US Pacific Squadron, and the US Mint. In 1881, the Second Mexican War erupted, and San Francisco was left isolated when Utah's Mormons rebelled, cutting off the West from the East. Although cut off, the city and it's inhabitants believed that they were in no danger, though the US Army commander, Colonel William Sherman, prepared accordingly with what little he had at his disposal.

As the war progressed and turned against the US, the British Royal Navy sought to bring about a quick end to the war with a naval blockade of the US coastal cities. As they tightened the noose on the Great Lakes, and the East Coast, they then began operations against the West Coast. In conjunction with the French Navy, whose ships sailed up from Mexico, they attacked the city of Los Angeles with impunity. The Royal Navy's Pacific Squadron sailed from Pearl Harbour, Sandwich Islands to attack San Francisco.

The Battle[]

The Naval Battle[]

The Royal Navy struck first, their ironclads firing off into the harbor and city, while the guns of Presidio and Fort Point returned fire. The RN was sitting off the coast, past the Cliff House, shooting across the peninsula at anything that was within range.

The bombardment lasted for little over an hour, destroying the Cliff House in the process. While the city's own guns were of little effect, the enemy seemed unable to reach the harbor with their guns, most of their shells were falling short. Because of this, the Pacific Squadron was able to move out to engage the enemy. However, years of neglect had left the US Pacific Squadron a hollow force, as it consisted of nothing more than a handful of antiquated gunboats. Against the British Ironclads, they did not last long. Many ships were destroyed, and what remained was forced to withdraw into the safety of the Golden Gate.

The Raid on the US Mint[]

It soon became clear that all of this was a distraction. The RN had landed its Royal Marines on Ocean Beach and began to advance into the city. The US Army hadn't bothered to place lookouts along the ocean front opposite the built-up areas of the city and the marines were able to land and catch the city by surprise. Volunteers were quickly mobilized, but they proved unable to stand against the highly trained and motivated Marines. They pushed their way through the city up Market Street towards the US Mint. The marines' task was made easier by the panic caused by both the Royal Navy bombardment and the fires they were spreading.

Making it to the Mint, they blew open the doors with dynamite and proceeded to steal as much silver and gold as they could carry, setting off fires with incendiaries in order to cover their withdrawal. Again, the US volunteers proved unable to stop them as many had lost their nerve. Half an hour after the marines departed, the regular army finally showed up to restore order.


The raid had been a massive embarrassment to the US Army, Navy and Government. With the US Pacific Squadron unable to dislodge them, the Ironclads of the Royal Navy sat off the coast of the city, blockading the port for the duration of the war. Confident that they had the US Pacific squadron contained that they detached a small fleet to sail north and bombard Seattle.

The exact amount of what was stolen from the US mint was never clarified, as reports ranged from a quarter of million, to 50 million dollars. Although Colonel Sherman was able to restore order rather quickly, and brought in many more guns to defend the city, he was greatly ridiculed by all of San Francisco's newspapers for his inability to stop the Marines.

In the years following the war, the US Navy began to adopt a strategy for dealing with the Royal Navy in the Pacific. Since the British Pacific Fleet had sailed from the Hawaiian Islands, US admirals constructed a daring strategy of conquering the British held Sandwich Islands in order to prevent another enemy fleet from ever blockading the US West Coast again. This would later pay off during the opening days of the Great War in 1914.