Our Georgia History

Britain Attacks Georgia

By Randy Golden
Exclusively for Our Georgia History

On March 8, 1778 Sir Henry Clinton was put in charge of British troops in the United States. In the same letter, the council of war outlined a "Southern Strategy." General Augustine Prevost, military commander of British East Florida headquartered in St. Augustine, communicated to his new commander that the winter would be the best time to make a move into Georgia, so while Thomas Brown had been turning back the Third Florida Expedition, the British Regulars in East Florida were preparing to invade Georgia.

Prevost chose to advance as two units, under two independent commanders. Lt. Colonel L. V. Fuser would move north along the coast while Augustine's brother, Lt. Colonel Mark Prevost moved a few miles inland. This made their resupply by ship an easy task. As Prevost moved north he would be joined by Fuser, who would make a direct assault on Sunbury and Fort Morris. They expected to meet a contingent of troops reassigned to the Southern front from New York City. As Prevost moved north, along the King's Road, the infantry's advance was impeded by a series of skirmishes with what were small groups of plantation-based Patriots.

On November 22, 1778, about 1.5 miles south of Midway (Liberty County), 100 Continentals under the command of Colonel John White and Major James Jackson met the 700 seasoned British troops under Prevost. Both White and Jackson realized they had virtually no chance of defeating the superior force, but they might be able to delay the British advance until relief could arrive from Savannah. When Colonel James Screven did appear he had but 20 militia with him. During the battle Screven received serious wounds and was captured by the British. Screven died while a prisoner of war. Col. White withdrew to a previously prepared defensive line around Midway Church.

As the British advanced White prepared a ruse to scare Prevost. He composed a battle plan that called for a combined force of Continentals and militia from Savannah to join White's embattled Regulars at the Ogeechee Ferry on the King's Road and make a stand. As he retreated from Midway Church, White left the letter in a conspicuous place. Whether it was the letter, or Prevost's assessment of his position that made him pulled back may never be known. Deep in enemy territory, Prevost had not been in contact with Fuser, whose coastal force he depended on for supplies. Additionally, Col. Prevost was aware that the anticipated arrival of the British force had not occurred, and he knew that there would be additional troops available the closer his position was to Savannah. After consideration, Prevost withdrew.

On November 25, 1778, Col. Fuser finally made shore at Sunbury. His force of 500 Regular British troops were opposed by a force of about 200 Patriots at Fort Morris under the command of John McIntosh. When Col. Fuser demanded the surrender of the fort, McIntosh replied, "Come and take it." Fuser, reasoning along the same lines as Prevost, decided the prudent action was to withdraw. The first British invasion of Georgia was over.

Being a prisoner of war changed British Lt. Colonel Archibald Campbell. He was deeply concerned for the men who had been captured by the Patriots. He worked with the future President of the United States in Congress Assembled Elias Boudinot to exchange more prisoners after his exchange for American hero Ethan Allen. When Henry Clinton accepted the plan of South Carolina Loyalist Henry Kirkland to successfully occupy the southern colonies, he put Col. Campbell in charge of a force of some 3,500 men who set sail in September, 1778.

Campbell arrived at Tybee Island (after some serious problems with weather) on December 23 and came ashore without any resistance. After questioning two islanders, he surmised that the force in Savannah could easily be defeated, even without the support of his new commander, Augustine Prevost in British East Florida. With the arrival of the final ship on December 27, Cambell was prepared to take Savannah. He ordered his men to sail up the Savannah River to a plantation landing, then began to advance on what was a poorly formed perimeter.

General Howe had deployed his 670+ men in a semi-circle facing west along the road east of Savannah. It was anchored on the north by swamp speading south of the road on easily defended rolling hills and looping back. Howe fortified his right (the southern end of his defensive line) so Campbell decided to attack from the north. According to Campbell, a group of Highlanders advanced along a road through the swamp and came out behind the Patriot line. Howe's left flank crumbled as British troops launched a broad-based attack against the seriously weakened line.

Soon, the Patriots were fleeing from Campbell's superior force. Escape was difficult because recent rains made crossing streams difficult. Campbell occupied Savannah, then set out to capture the other major towns in Georgia, specifically Ebenezer (January 2, 1779) and Augusta (January 30, 1779). Augusta was defended by a group of Whig militia under the command of Samuel Elbert. Opposed by Lt. Col. Thomas Brown, an Augusta Loyalist at the head of the Florida Rangers and British Regulars under the command of Campbell, Elbert's men engaged British forces in three firefights, McBean's Creek, Spirit Creek and Cupboard Swamp, as the Patriots fell back into Augusta. By this time Elbert realized he was facing a greatly superior force and withdrew to the South Carolina side of the Savannah River to join forces with Patriot Militia leader Andrew Williamson. Augustine Prevost captured Fort Morris on January 10, 1779, after a four day siege. With the help of the Creek Indians to the west, most of Georgia was now under British control.

Next:Georgia Fights Back

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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