The War in Georgia: the Siege of Savannah

by A. Mims Wilkinson, Jr.
Atlanta Chapter, Georgia Society
Sons of the American Revolution

The two major seaports in the Southern States were Savannah and Charleston. The United States held Charleston until 1780, but Savannah fell to British attack in December 1778, and remained in British hands throughout the war. British forces also held Augusta and virtually the entire State of Georgia which was the only state of the Union after the Declaration of Independence, where a legislative body was convened under the authority of the King. Other than the fighting at Savannah, the Battles of Kettle Creek and Brier Creek, primarily militia engagements between Americans and Tories, were the major engagements in Georgia. American leaders in those battles were Colonel Andrew Pickens of South Carolina, General John Ashe of North Carolina and Colonel Samuel Elbert, Captain John Dooley and General Elijah Clarke, all of Georgia.

In the summer of 1779, Governor Rutledge and General Moultre of South Carolina decided to attempt to capture British-held Savannah. With that in mind, they sent messages to French Admiral d'Estaing, whose fleet was in the West Indies, asking his aid. He accepted the invitation and sent messages to Charleston to announce the coming of his fleet, bringing with him twenty large warships, thirteen smaller warships and troop transports carrying approximately 6,000 soldiers. On September 8, he arrived off Tybee Island, near Savannah. An American Army commanded by General Benjamin Lincoln marched sixty miles south from Charleston and arrived at Savannah on September 16th, joining the French forces.

If Savannah had been attacked immediately, there is little doubt that it could have been taken without difficulty for at that time there were not more than twenty-three cannon mounted on its incomplete defenses. By the time of the final attack by American forces, the British defenses had been completed and more than one hundred cannon were in position to defend the city. In early October 1779, the American siege of Savannah culminated in a frontal assault on the fortified city. It failed. Count Casimir Pulaski, a Polish officer leading the American calvary detachment, was killed, with nearly eight hundred other officers and men. "It had been the most severe fight of the war since Bunker's Hill -- a magnificent attack and a superb defense."

After the battle, General Lincoln wanted to continue the siege operations, but French Admiral d'Estaing would remain no longer and sailed away, forcing Lincoln's army to return to Charleston. The South was sadly disheartened by this defeat and much feeling against the French was aroused. Confidence in their value as allies was severely shaken. Throughout the country, there was a great depression of spirits and a corresponding depression in the already nearly worthless Continental paper currency. Among the British and their American friends there was much elation. The Southern Tories were emboldened to become more openly active against the American cause and never again was there a major attempt to take Savannah from the British.

Reference: The War of the Revolution (2 vols),
by Christopher Ward (MacMillan Co., New York, 1952).