Our Georgia History

There Comes a Reaper

By Randy Golden
Exclusively for Our Georgia History

Holding Savannah against a force of superior numbers seemed to renew interest in the "Southern strategy" that had been proposed in 1778. In fact, the British had been preparing additional troops from the north prior to the successful British stand. Royal governor James Wright felt he needed more than 4,000 regular troops to maintain control of Georgia until the British could gain control of South Carolina. No one in the military hierarchy accepted this figure, especially since Commander Benjamin Lincoln had withdrawn the remaining Continentals from the state. Now in Charleston, South Carolina, Lincoln's Army had concentrated for battle.

Opposing them were men moving from New York, virtually every soldier from East Florida and backcountry Georgia, and Loyalist militia from the Southeastern states. Sir Henry Clinton, along with Major General Charles "Lord" Cornwallis went South, weighing anchor at Tybee Roads. From Tybee, which Clinton used as a staging area, the British launched a combined army-navy operation up coastal South Carolina. After investing Charleston, they forced Benjamin Lincoln to surrender the city and a force of some 5,500 men, including many Georgians, on May 12, 1780. The loss was a stunning blow to the United States and is generally considered the greatest British victory during the American Revolution.

Clinton returned north, leaving Cornwallis and a fighting force of some 7,500-8,000 men against little more than militia. Andrew Pickens and others accepted defeat and arranged agreements with the British to lay down their arms and returning to their farms. It was against this curtain that Patriots like Francis Marion and Thomas Sumter got their respective nicknames: The Swamp Fox and The Gamecock.

Lord Cornwallis advanced into the interior intent on conquering the rest of the South, but his fate was sealed by a basic British misunderstanding of both the American psyche and the American continent. What had begun as a revolt of the educated, the coastal wealthy and smugglers had coalesced American resistance thanks to Britain's blatant disregard of the rights of citizens. Cornwallis was defeated at King's Mountain and again at Cowpens, ending up retreating across the land he had come to conquer, as much a victim of his own arrogance as a victim of American ingenuity. He would be trapped on the peninsula of Yorktown by the Marquis de Lafayette and the French fleet. Six weeks later George Washington appeared and forced the surrender of Cornwallis' troops.

While all this was occurring, the United States essentially forgot about Georgia with the defeat at Savannah. The state appealed to neighboring South Carolina, who held Augusta for awhile, but then had to withdraw to deal with their own problems. Whigs began to take the Loyalist oath, seemingly more out of necessity than desire, and the only area of settlers not actually under the Tories where the extreme northwest of the state, roughly north of Augusta west to Wilkes County. What little access the Rebel Americans had to coastal Georgia was gone.

Individual commanders led small groups of Rebel militia whose major job was to see that the backcountry did not fall into anarchy. James Jackson, William Few, Elijah Clark and John Dooly commanded the largest and best organized of these militia. They were so despised by Governor James Wright that a force of Regulars was sent to dispatch the leaders. They did find Dooly, who was murdered in his home in front of his two young sons.

Myth - A story which embodied some facts that are, or have been, received as historical.
Nancy Hart, frequently ascribed the nickname "Warwoman," a cross-eyed backcountry woman now enters the story. Nancy is easily the most mythical figure in Georgia history. When speaking of her supporters cite newspaper articles that do not exist and modern incidents that did not happen. Most of her story was first told in 1849, at the start of the Women's Movement in America, more than 70 years after it happened. There is no contemporary reference to the following incident and no extant copy of the cited article, from the 1825 Milledgeville Southern Recorder:

One day six Tories paid Nancy a call and demanded a meal. She soon spread before them smoking venison, hoe-cakes, and fresh honeycomb. Having stacked their arms, they seated themselves, and started to eat, when Nancy quick as a flash seized one of the guns, cocked it, and with a blazing oath declared she would blow out the brains of the first mortal that offered to rise or taste a mouthful! She sent one of her sons to inform the Whigs of her prisoners. Whether uncertain because of her cross-eyes which one she was aiming at, or transfixed by her ferocity, they remained quiet. The Whigs soon arrived and dealt with the Tories according to the rules of the times.

In support of this, believers quote a 1912 article from the Atlanta Constitution citing the discovering of 6 Tory skeletons on property own by Nancy Hart. No extant copies of this article exist. That Nancy Hart actually lived is given, yet virtually no proof of her exploits can be historically documented.

Georgia militia were called on by Col. Isaac Shelby of North Carolina to assist in driving the British from an encampment at Musgrove's Mill on the Enoree River. Elijah Clarke answered this call with some 300 men, and helped Shelby rout the British foes on August 17, 1780. Clarke suffered a serious wound during the battle. His return trip took him through South Carolina, where he meted out justice to the Tory occupiers. Clarke returned home and after a brief rest reformed his brigade to attack Augusta. Clarke nearly succeeded in taking Augusta from Loyalist Thomas Brown, but was stymied when British Regulars arrived from Ninety-six in support of Brown's militia.

Since the defeat of the Continental Army at Savannah the British had been trying to make inroads with the farmers in the Georgia backcountry. Repeated attempts to disarm those not trusted by the British and Tories met with little success. These soldiers and militia met Whig resistance with force, killing men, assaulting women and children, and destroying property. As Clarke returned from his near victory at Augusta he stumbled upon a group of some 400 backcountry women and children who were fleeing the ravages of these British and Tory soldiers. He and his men escorted them to the Watauga Valley of North Carolina (now Tennessee), firmly in the control of the Whigs whom he had aided at Musgrove's Mill. Clarke's militia then joined Thomas Sumter to win the battle of Blackstock (variously described as a ferry, a plantation or a farm), defeating Tarleton Banistre on November 20, 1780. Returning to Georgia his men dispersed for Winter. Spring would bring better news.

Next: The Liberation of Georgia

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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