Our Georgia History
 

The Second Florida Expedition

By Randy Golden
Exclusively for Our Georgia History

It had not been very long after the First Florida Expedition that the Florida Rangers returned to raiding Georgia south of the Altamaha. A group of these Rangers, along with a contingent of British Regulars moved deep into Georgia territory -- the Satilla River. The militia had built Fort McIntosh during the First Florida Expedition along the Satilla as a staging area to reach the Florida border. Captain Robert Winn tried to hold the larger force off for two days, but finally he surrendered his post on February 18, 1777.

With the assumption of power by Button Gwinnett, the Florida issue became the driving force in Georgia politics. East (and West) Florida worried him. For months, a string of Tories from Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia, made their way to the only British outpost in the South, East Florida. They brought with them weapons, food, and people, exactly what Gwinnett, and almost all the rest of Georgia did not want the British to the south to have. Reports from credible witnesses also had both the Creek and Cherokee siding with the British, reinforcing the garrison at St. Augustine and providing intelligence, especially about both southern coastal Georgia and the lightly populated backcountry.

March was to be a month where the expedition moved forward, but two incidents almost destroyed it. First, General Robert Howe left without committing any troops to Gwinnett, although he did leave a battalion of men in Sunbury, and George McIntosh, Lachlan's brother and a member of the Council of Safety, was charged with treason. An intercepted letter from East Florida Royal Governor Patrick Tonyn indicated that George was sympathetic to the loyalist cause. Gwinnett ordered George's arrest, and the rift between Gwinnett and Lachlan McIntosh grew that much wider. George McIntosh would be freed later, when Gwinnett was absent from a meeting of the Council of Safety.

Finally, on March 27, 1777, Gwinnett informed McIntosh of his plans and asked for his help. McIntosh realized that the only reason Gwinnett had told him anything about the planned expedition was because the Georgia recruitment had failed miserably. In fact, without McIntosh the Second Florida Expedition would have less than 200 men. McIntosh agreed to join the expedition, raising the total men to 600-800.

By the time The Second Florida Expedition was ready to leave in early April, East Florida governor Patrick Tonyn was already preparing the battleground. He had known of the expedition shortly after it had been approved. Coastal settlers north of the St. Mary's were raided by Creek and Cherokee Indians who had been rallied by British Indian Agent John Stuart. These attacks had one major goal:Food would be a requirement for the troops as they moved south; by burning the crops, Tonyn would increase the time it would take to get to Florida, thus increasing the chance of the mission failing.

Heading south from Savannah, McIntosh and Gwinnett repeatedly fought, mostly over Brigadier General McIntosh's failure to listen to President Gwinnett. Gwinnett held no military position, had no military training and little idea as to how to run an army, and Lachlan was chosen as the leader of the expedition, a fact that Gwinnett strongly resented. The fighting bordered on childishness, so when the expedition reached Sunbury orders were waiting for both men to return to Savannah and leave command of the land troops to Colonel Samuel Elbert.

Gwinnett had actually been losing two battles during the start of the Second Florida Expedition. On May 8, Austrian-born John Adam Truetlen became the first person to hold the title "governor of Georgia." He had been elected under the state constitution ratified on Feb. 5, 1777.

Tensions between Button and Lachlan did not subside, and after being called back to Savannah by the Council of Safety, Gwinnett tried to blame the expedition's problems on McIntosh. In the General Assembly (combined meeting of the Georgia House and Senate) on May 1, 1777, McIntosh rose and called Gwinnett a "scoundrel" and "liar", strong words at the time. Gwinnett challenged him to a duel, the normal response to such charges. On May 16, 1777 they met in Governor Wright's meadow in Thunderbolt, southeast of Savannah. McIntosh mortally wounded Gwinnett, who died three days later Gwinnett.

Meanwhile, Elbert advanced from Sunbury with his men. He divided them into two groups, putting Colonel John Baker in charge of the land-based advance while he took the rest of the men aboard seven vessels to plow the coastal waters to the St. Mary River. Baker arrived first, at a site on the St. John's River and made camp on May 12, and immediately began to prepare for Elbert's arrival.

Moving up the St. John's, a force of some 400 British regulars and Florida Rangers made camp not far from Colonel Baker. Thomas Brown, leading a combined force of the Florida Rangers and Creek Indians detached from the regular British infantry under the command of Major James Mark Prevost. Moving further inland in search of Baker's mounted Georgia militia, they found them about 12 miles inland along the St. John's. Brown ordered a small detachment of Creek Indians to steal the militia's horses. The attack was a limited success - a band of some 10-15 Indians made off with Baker's horses, which his men recovered. During this battle, according to a British source, the Americans killed a Creek and mutilated his body.

The Georgia militia, however, decided that if a small band of Creek were willing to be so bold, there must be a significant force of Rangers, maybe even some Regulars, behind them. Having waited a week for Colonel Elbert without a sign of his approach, and a body of troops, strength unknown, inside enemy territory, the Georgians opted to leave.

Unfortunately, this is exactly what Thomas Brown expected. He had strategically placed his men across the road that Col. Baker would use to return to Georgia. As the militia headed north they ran into some of Brown's Rangers. Baker ordered his men to dismount and return fire. Suddenly, Rangers and Indians appeared on the flanks and the militia line broke towards the rear, running headlong into Provost's Regulars. Fortunately, the Georgians were good horsemen and avoided a complete disaster, but the force was scattered. Some forty men were captured or surrendered, 24 of these were massacred by the Creek, according to a British officer.

One of the items recovered by the British were a complete set of plans for the invasion of Florida. It really didn't matter. Col. Samuel Elbert and his men were in no condition to fight. On the boats south they had been stricken by disease and decided to wait for Baker's men to meet them at Amelia Island. Baker's men straggled in. On May 25th the combined forces withdrew, arriving in Savannah on June 15. The Second Florida Expedition a complete failure.

 

Next:The Third Florida Expedition

Acts Of War
Georgia in 1763
Sugar Act; Stamp Act
Townshend Acts
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



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