Our Georgia History

The Liberation of Georgia

By Randy Golden
Exclusively for Our Georgia History

As Cornwallis moved further from his base in the South, it became easier for guerillas to operate effectively. Colonel Isaac Shelby raided Georgia, killing some forty Loyalists. Colonel Thomas Brown and Colonel James Grierson, Loyalists in charge of Augusta, could not mount a retaliatory offensive against the agitators. Shelby, though, was not the Augusta commanders major problem.

Elijah Clarke reformed his brigade in the Spring of 1781 and joined with a group of South Carolina militia under the command of Micajah Williamson to invest the city of Augusta. If it seems that Clarke was obsessed with freeing Augusta he was. The city was an outpost connected to Savannah by the 80 mile River Road. The few British troops in the state remained in Savannah and Ebenezer, where they guarded vital outposts such as Hudson's Ferry on the River Road.

On May 20, 1781, Clarke and Williamson got welcome support from General Andrew Pickens, in command of a group of South Carolina militia and Lieutenant Colonel Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee, who had learned tactical cavalry support under Casimir Pulaski. Colonel Lee commanded the first Continentals to make it to Georgia in a year and a half. A second group of Continentals, under the new Commander of the Southern Department Nathanael Greene was laying siege to Ninety Six not far from Augusta. Clarke and the other Georgia commanders were greatly relieved at Lee's arrival. On May 21, Lee and Pickens raid Fort Galphinton on Silver Bluff, securing a significant amount of British stores including munitions. On May 25 they took Fort Grierson, and on June 5 the patriots secured Augusta. Grierson, who had been so abusive to the upcountry Whigs, was killed after the surrender of the city.

Now that Augusta was freed Elijah Clarke decided to address a problem that had plagued Wilkes County for years. Living somewhere in the Cherokee Nation, a group of white men had been raiding the farms in the county since the British had taken the state, preying on the weakened conditions of the upland farmers. Clarke did not know exactly where these raiders were living, but he figured it had to be in the southeastern corner of the Nation. Joining with General Andrew Pickens just east of the Georgia-South Carolina border in extreme northwestern South Carolina (just east of Traveler's Rest in Georgia), they raided Tugaloo Old Town, Nachoochee Valley (near Helen, Georgia) and headed west to Long Swamp Creek, the major settlement of the area. Here Clarke and Pickens engaged and defeated the Cherokee, forcing them to surrender the men who had been raiding the white settlements and a large portion of land.

With the fall of Augusta the British concentrated their forces in Savannah. On June 15 Greene reported that every major post on both sides of the Savannah River had been evacuated except for Ninety Six. This would be abandoned on July 3, 1781, allowing both Georgia and South Carolina to claim control of most of their colonies for the first time in almost 2 years. Loyalists now fled to British areas, creating serious shortages in Savannah. The stage was set for the arrival of General Anthony Wayne.

Widely regarded as one of the best American general during the Revolution, Wayne joined George Washington at Valley Forge and fought in the battles of Brandywine, Paoli, and Germantown and led the American attack at Monmouth. After a supporting role in Cornwalis' surrender at Yorktown Wayne headed south to assist the patriots of Georgia. Although outnumbered two to one, Wayne soundly defeated his British opponents in Georgia, culminating what was one of the most brilliant campaigns of the Revolution.

From Yorktown, Wayne took 500 men south with orders to free Savannah. The hope was that with Savannah in American hands the British in Charleston would be forced to withdraw or surrender. Wayne faced three major problems: lack of naval support, the 1,000 British regulars stationed in Savannah, and the loss of Clarke, Pickens, and the Whig militia under their command.

Wayne's major advantage:Himself. During his initial engagement with British forces near Ebenezer, he aggressively attacked a British force of superior numbers that had been sent to probe his strength. These Regulars withdrew when Wayne positioned two groups with small arms as if they were trying to enfilade the British forces. Using tactics similar to those used by Nathan Bedford Forrest during the Civil War, Wayne fooled the garrison in Savannah, making them believe they were surrounded by a much larger force. He had black slaves working the perimeter of the British line, getting Hessians and some English to desert, all the while convincing the British of his numerical superiority. At Ebenezer, he maintained his position in spite of continued British probes and Creek attacks.

In March, when word of Creek Indians from the Altamaha traveling to Savannah reached General Wayne, he attacked the Ogeechee Bridge on the King's Road, defeating a small British force. When the Creek Indians arrived his men accepted the gifts they were bringing to the British in Savannah. These gifts included much needed food. Then on June 23, 1782, a band of some 100 Creek warriors Coming to the aid of the British trapped in Savannah attacked Wayne's line from the rear. Since these were seasoned Regulars, the line did not break as one might expect, but fought back, initially with return fire, then in hand-to-hand combat before reinforcements arrived. Unknown to Wayne at the time, his men killed the chief of the Creek tribes, Emistesigo.

Finally, after some five months under near-siege conditions the British withdrew, the Regulars and government to Charleston, the loyalist militia to Florida. Wayne deferred entering the town, letting Lt. Col. James Jackson retake the town he had given up three years earlier. Almost as quickly as the British withdrew from Savannah Anthony Wayne was called to Charleston to support Nathanael Greene force. Greene was concerned that the additional troops from Savannah might encourage the besieged British to try an offensive maneuver. They did not.

Meanwhile, Jackson headed south along the Georgia, chasing the loyalists and a few British regulars towards St. Augustine. On July 25, 1782 Jackson encountered a small group of British Marines on Skidaway Island on the coast of Georgia. This is the last encounter of U.S. troops and British troops anywhere within the present-day boundaries of the state of Georgia. A small battle occurred in the vicinity of present-day Chattanooga that did involve farmers that lived within the current boundaries of the state. British agitated Chickamauga Cherokee led by Skyuka met a loose-knit band of settlers under the command of John Siever on the north face of Lookout Mountain. This is sometimes characterized as the last battle of the Revolution, but British agitated Indian-settler conflicts continued through November.

In September of 1779 the Spanish, who had joined the war on the American side, retook British West Florida. After the loss of Savannah the Spanish walked into St. Augustine and claimed the city with little resistance from the British. February, 1783, marked the official cession of hostilities and on September 3, 1783 the Treaty of Paris was signed, ending the Revolution. The 13 colonies had defeated the most powerful nation in the world.

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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