The Siege and Battle of Savannah
On July 22, 1779,
royal governor James Wright returned to Savannah, charged with maintaining
the peace. His first act was to roll back all laws to 1775,
essentially ending the established revolutionary government and
the state of Georgia, at least as far as the Loyalists were concerned.
With him were an entire staff of supporters including a vice-governor
and justice of the courts.
Major General Benjamin Lincoln, recently appointed
Southern commander of the Continental Army, realized that the loss
of Savannah was key and set out to regain the coastal Georgia port.
His first task was to raise 5,000 men. Second, since raising a navy
was out of the question, he tried to contact Admiral Valerie D'estaing,
whose French fleet had been raiding British outposts in the Carribean
Sea. D'estaing's naval support, comprised of some twenty-two line
ships, about half that many support ships and 4,000 men was the
only way to ensure that British ships could not arrive to supply
and support the town.
While Lincoln was preparing his troops, Revolutionary
Georgia continued its organization of a government in exile. From
Heard's Fort (now abandoned, in Wilkes County) John Wereat was selected
to head the executive branch of government. This was really a safety
measure so that if the council could not form a quorum decisions
could be made. Meanwhile, it was as if the loss of Savannah woke
the American government to the danger of losing the South. Washington
dispatched General Casimir Pulaski and his "Polish Legion"
to the southern front. Pulsaki had been busy rewriting the book
on cavalry tactics and training American cavalry officers. The term
"Polish Legion" has all but been abandoned by modern historians
because it is viewed as misleading.
Savannah proper lay on a low plateau, some 40 feet
above the Savannah River. On both the left and right sides marshes
created tough obsticles through which to advance. In front of the
city a cleared plain of small rolling hills made it impossible for
a large group of men to advance without being seen from the redoubts
that encircled the city. These were the very reasons that James
Oglethorpe chose the site in 1733. It was easily defended by a relatively
small group of men against attacks by the Spanish or the Creek Indians.
Defenses, in some cases dating back almost 50 years could be
used by the British to protect themselves.
On September 1, 1779, D'estaing arrived east of
Savannah. Had he been as bold as Lt. Col. Archibald Campbell had
been less than a year earlier, he probably could have captured the
city by himself. Instead, he formed a line and waited for the Continental
Army. General Prevost also set to work on the city's defenses, ordering
boats grounded along the bank of the river, then manned defensively.
He also ordered a group of 800 men under the command of Col. John
Maitland in Beaufort, South Carolina to hold their position, but
be ready to advance in support of the city if needed.
Benjamin Lincoln left Charleston and joined General
Lachlan McIntosh at Ebenezer. From here the Continental Army advanced
and began to take position around the city on September 9. With
the arrival of the opposing force, Governor James Wright ordered
able-bodied men to assist in building Savannah's defenses. Both
Lincoln and D'estaing knew that the siege would not be of long duration,
for Britain would find out about the naval blockade and send enough
ships to break through D'estaing's line. It was the belief of the
American commanders that the British would surrender if their escape
routes were cut.
Finally, on September
16, 1779, General Lincoln and Commander
D'estaing met at D'estaing's headquarters in Thunderbolt and work
began on "completing the encirclement." Admiral D'estaing
issued a surrender demand to General Augustine Prevost. As Prevost
considered the demand (which he eventually rejected), his men worked
feverishly on improving Savannah's defenses. The city of Savannah
was fully invested on September 23, although Prevost did call for
the troops from Beaufort, who apparently got through the Patriots
with little difficulty.
Actual siege preparations were completed on September
23. For the next 2 weeks British troops, Loyalist Tories and Negro
slaves continued to work on the defenses of Savannah while Benjamin
Lincoln did little to improve his position. By October 4th no progress
had been made towards a British surrender, so Admiral D'estaing
moved his ships into position and began a naval bombardment of the
city. This did not deter the British, who continued their task of
improving the city's defenses. Finally Lincoln and D'estaing agreed
to attack the British positions across a broad front on October
9th. Admiral D'estaing's plan called for five groups would move
forward, concentrating on a salient in the British line at Spring
Hill (present-day vicinity of Louisville Rd., MLK Boulevard and
Liberty St., near the Savannah Visitor's Center), where a group
of South Carolina militia appeared to be holding the line.
The day broke cool, with a morning breeze from the
ocean. Some of the finest American officers were now involved including
Lincoln, McIntosh, Count Casimir Pulaski, leader of the Polish Legion,
and Lt. Col Francis "The Swamp Fox" Marion. Pulaski had
earned his Brigadier star after the battle of Brandywine, where
his combined cavalry and light infantry legion saved the Continental
Army from disaster. General Pulaski and Col. Marion expressed strong
disagreement with the plan proposed by Admiral D'estaing, but obeyed
orders. As the five units attacked the British resistance stiffened.
Still, Continental soldiers broke through the redoubt in at least
two places near Spring Hill. As the Americans carried the wall of
the redoubt, the colors were planted to show the soldiers the breach
in the line. Suddenly, British Regulars under the command of Col.
John Maitland (the reserves called up by General Prevost) advance
and turn back the combined French and Continental Army.
Sgt. William Jasper, trying to rally his men to
hold the line against the British grabbed the colors from the wall
of the Spring Hill redoubt. He was struck and mortally wounded by
British fire. The American line at the redoubt began to crumble
under the intense pressure of Maitland's Regulars. General Pulaski,
seeing the line pull back, rode up and tried to rally the men as
well when he was mortally wounded by cannister. Pulaski and Jasper
are carried back by retreating Americans, but the colors remained
in British hands.
Pulaski was taken to The Wasp and was buried
at sea on October 15, 1779. Both the American and the French remained
in the area until October 16, when Lincoln began an orderly withdrawal
to Charleston. D'estaing set sail for France over a two day period
begining October 19. Lt. Colonel John Maitland, who had advanced
from Beaufort, South Carolina in support of General Augustine Prevost
died on October 22, not the victim of the battle but because of
Comes a Reaper
Acts Of War
Georgia in 1763
Sugar Act; Stamp Act
The House dissolved
Radicals Gain Power
Georgia joins the Continental Congress
A Colony at War
A State and Union Formed
The First Florida Expedition
A Leader Dies
The Second Florida Expedition
The Third Florida Expedition
Britain Attacks Georgia
Georgia Fight Backs
The Siege and Battle of Savannah
There Comes a Reaper
The Liberation of Georgia