Siege of Savannah or the Second Battle of Savannah was an
encounter of the
American Revolutionary War
American Revolutionary War (1775-1783), in 1779. The
year before, the city of Savannah, Georgia, had been captured by a
British expeditionary corps under
Campbell. The siege itself consisted of a joint Franco-American
attempt to retake Savannah, from September 16 to October 18, 1779. On
October 9 a major assault against the British siege works failed.
During the attack, Polish nobleman Count Casimir Pułaski, leading the
combined cavalry forces on the American side, was mortally wounded.
With the failure of the joint attack, the siege was abandoned, and the
British remained in control of Savannah until July 1782, near the end
of the war.
In 1779, more than 500 recruits from
Saint-Domingue (the French colony
which later became Haiti), under the overall command of French
nobleman Charles Hector, Comte d'Estaing, fought alongside American
colonial troops against the
British Army during the siege of Savannah.
This was one of the most significant, foreign contributions to the
American Revolutionary War. This French-colonial force had been
established six months earlier and included hundreds of soldiers of
color in addition to white soldiers and a couple black slaves.
1.1 British defenses
3 Aftermath and legacy
3.1 Battlefield archaeology
3.2 Influence on Haitian revolutionaries
4 See also
7 External links
Following the failures of military campaigns in the northern United
States earlier in the American Revolutionary War, British military
planners decided to embark on a southern strategy to conquer the
rebellious colonies, with the support of Loyalists in the South. Their
first step was to gain control of the southern ports of Savannah,
Georgia and Charleston, South Carolina. An expedition in December 1778
took Savannah with modest resistance from ineffective militia and
Continental Army defenses.
Continental Army regrouped, and by June 1779 the combined army and
militia forces guarding Charleston numbered between 5,000 and 7,000
men. General Benjamin Lincoln, commanding those forces, knew that he
could not recapture Savannah without naval assistance; for this he
turned to the French, who had entered the war as an American ally in
1778. French Admiral the
Comte d'Estaing spent the first part of 1779
in the Caribbean, where his fleet and a British fleet monitored each
other's movements. He took advantage of conditions to capture Grenada
in July before acceding to American requests for support in operations
against Savannah. On September 3—an uncharacteristically early
arrival as there was still substantial risk of seasonal hurricanes—a
few French ships arrived at Charleston with news that d'Estaing was
sailing for Georgia with twenty-five ships of the line and 4,000
French troops. Lincoln and the French emissaries agreed on a plan of
attack on Savannah, and Lincoln left Charleston with over 2,000 men on
British troop strength in the area consisted of about 6,500 regulars
at Brunswick, Georgia, another 900 at Beaufort, South Carolina, under
Colonel John Maitland, and about 100 Loyalists at Sunbury, Georgia.
General Augustine Prevost, in command of these troops from his base at
Savannah, was caught unprepared when the French fleet began to arrive
Tybee Island near Savannah and recalled the troops stationed at
Beaufort and Sunbury to aid in the city's defense.
Captain Moncrief of the
Royal Engineers was tasked with constructing
fortifications to repulse the invaders. Using 500–800
African-American slaves working up to twelve hours per day, Moncrief
constructed an entrenched defensive line, which included redoubts,
nearly 1,200 feet (370 m) long, on the plains outside the city.
The British Royale Navy contributed two over-age frigates,
HMS Foley and HMS Rose. They landed their guns and most of
their men to reinforce the land forces. In addition, the British also
deployed the armed brig Keppel and the armed ship Germaine, the latter
from the East Florida navy. There were two galleys, Comet and Thunder,
also from East Florida. Lastly, the British armed two merchant
vessels, Savannah and Venus. Also East Georgia
A map of the siege
D'Estaing began landing troops below the city on September 12, and
began moving in by September 16. Confident of victory, and believing
that Maitland's reinforcements would be prevented from reaching
Savannah by Lincoln, he offered Prevost the opportunity to surrender.
Prevost delayed, asking for 24 hours of truce. Owing to
miscommunication about who was responsible for preventing Maitland's
movements, the waterways separating South Carolina's Hilton Head
Island from the mainland were left unguarded, and Maitland was able to
reach Savannah hours before the truce ended. Prevost's response to
d'Estaing's offer was a polite refusal, despite the arrival of
On 19 September, as
Charles-Marie de Trolong du Rumain
Charles-Marie de Trolong du Rumain moved his
squadron up the river, he exchanged fire with Comet, Thunder,
Savannah, and Venus. The next day the British scuttled Rose, which was
leaking badly, just below the town to impede the French vessels from
progressing further. They also burnt Savannah and Venus. By
scuttling Rose in a narrow part of the channel, the British
effectively blocked it. Consequently, the French fleet was unable to
assist the American assault.
Germaine took up a position to protect the north side of Savannah's
defenses. Comet and Thunder had the mission of opposing any attempt by
the South Carolinian galleys to bombard the town. Over the next few
days, British shore batteries assisted Comet and Thunder in
engagements with the two South Carolinian galleys; during one of
these, they severely damaged Revenge.
The French commander, rejecting the idea of assaulting the British
defenses, unloaded cannons from his ships and began a bombardment of
the city. The city, rather than the entrenched defenses, bore the
brunt of this bombardment, which lasted from October 3 to 8. "The
appearance of the town afforded a melancholy prospect, for there was
hardly a house that had not been shot through", wrote one British
When the bombardment failed to have the desired effect, d'Estaing
changed his mind, and decided it was time to try an assault. He was
motivated in part by the desire to finish the operation quickly, as
scurvy and dysentery were becoming problems on his ships, and some of
his supplies were running low. While a traditional siege operation
would likely have succeeded eventually, it would have taken longer
than d'Estaing was prepared to stay.
Against the advice of many of his officers, d'Estaing launched the
assault against the British position on the morning of October 9. The
success depended in part on the secrecy of some its aspects, which
were betrayed to Prevost well before the operations were supposed to
begin around 4:00 am. Fog caused troops attacking the Spring Hill
redoubt to get lost in the swamps, and it was nearly daylight when the
attack finally got underway. The redoubt on the right side of the
British works had been chosen by the French admiral in part because he
believed it to be defended only by militia. In fact, it was defended
by a combination of militia and Scotsmen from John Maitland's 71st
Regiment of Foot, Fraser's Highlanders, who had distinguished
themselves at Stono Ferry. The militia included riflemen, who easily
picked-off the white-clad French troops when the assault was underway.
Admiral d'Estaing was twice wounded, and Polish cavalry officer
Casimir Pułaski, fighting with the Americans, was mortally wounded.
By the time the second wave arrived near the redoubt, the first wave
was in complete disarray, and the trenches below the redoubt were
filled with bodies. Attacks intended as feints against other redoubts
of the British position were easily taken.
The second assault column was commanded by the Swedish Count Curt von
Stedingk, who managed to reach the last trench. He later wrote in his
journal, "I had the pleasure of planting the American flag on the last
trench, but the enemy renewed its attack and our people were
annihilated by cross-fire". He was forced back by overwhelming
numbers of British troops, left with some 20 men—all were wounded,
including von Stedingk. He later wrote, "The moment of retreat with
the cries of our dying comrades piercing my heart was the bitterest of
After an hour of carnage, d'Estaing ordered a retreat. On October 17,
Lincoln and d'Estaing abandoned the siege.
Aftermath and legacy
The battle was one of the bloodiest of the war. While Prevost claimed
Franco-American losses at 1,000 to 1,200, the actual tally of 244
killed, nearly 600 wounded and 120 taken prisoner, was severe enough.
British casualties were comparatively light: 40 killed, 63 wounded,
and 52 missing. Sir Henry Clinton wrote, "I think that this is the
greatest event that has happened the whole war," and celebratory
cannons were fired when the news reached London.
It was perhaps because of the Siege's reputation as a famous British
Charles Dickens chose the siege of Savannah as the place
for Joe Willet to be wounded (losing his arm) in the novel Barnaby
Three currently-existing Army National Guard units (118th FA,
131st MP and 263rd ADA) are derived from American units that
participated in the
Siege of Savannah. There are only thirty current
U.S. Army units with lineages that go back to the colonial era.
In 2005, archaeologists with the Coastal Heritage Society (CHS) and
the LAMAR Institute discovered portions of the British fortifications
at Spring Hill, the site of the worst part of the Franco-American
attack on October 9. The find represents the first tangible remains of
the battlefield. In 2008, the CHS/LAMAR Institute archaeology team
discovered another segment of the British fortifications in Madison
Square. A detailed report of that project is available on line in pdf
format from the CHS website. CHS archaeologists are currently
finalizing a follow-up grant project in Savannah, which examined
several outlying portions of the battlefield. These included the
position of the
Saint-Domingue reserve troops at the Jewish Burying
Ground west of Savannah.
An archaeology presentation and public meeting took place in February
2011 to gather suggestions for managing Savannah's Revolutionary War
battlefield resources. Archaeologist Rita Elliott from the Coastal
Heritage Society revealed Revolutionary War discoveries in Savannah
stemming from the two "Savannah Under Fire" projects conducted from
2007 to 2011. The projects uncovered startling discoveries, including
trenches, fortifications, and battle debris. The research also showed
that residents and tourists are interested in these sites.
Archaeologists described the findings and explored ways to generate
economic income which could be used for improving the quality-of-life
of area residents.
Casimir Pułaski postage stamp, 1931 Issue, 2c
The battle is commemorated each year by Presidential proclamation, on
General Pulaski Memorial Day.
Influence on Haitian revolutionaries
The battle is much-remembered in Haitian history; the
Chasseurs-Volontaires de Saint-Domingue, consisting of some 545 gens
de couleur—free men of color from Saint-Domingue—fought with the
Henri Christophe, who later declared himself to be the king of
(northern) Haiti, while a republic was established in southern Haiti,
was 22-years old at the time and may have been among these troops.
Many other less-famous individuals from
Saint-Domingue served in this
regiment and formed the officer class of the rebel armies in the
Haitian Revolution, especially in the northern province around today's
Cap-Haïtien, where the unit was recruited.
Casimir Pulaski Monument in Savannah
^ Franco-American casualties total 800 (of which 650 are French) plus
120 prisoners. Marley pg. 323
^ Marley pg. 323
^ WHITE, HGEORGE (1 January 1854). "HISTORICAL COLLECTIONS OF
GEORGIA". Retrieved 24 July 2016 – via Google Books.
^ George P. Clark (1980). "The Role of the Haitian Volunteers at
Savannah in 1779: An Attempt at an Objective View". Phylon. 41 (4):
356–366. doi:10.2307/274860. JSTOR 274860.
^ a b c Sayen (1986).
^ Buker (1979).
^ Morrill, p. 60
^ American Swedish Historical Museum: Yearbook 1957, p. 34, at Google
Siege of Savannah During the American Revolutionary War".
historynet.com. Retrieved 2015-05-15.
^ Morrill, p. 64
^ Department of the Army, Lineage and Honors, 118th Field Artillery.
^ Department of the Army, Lineage and Honors, 131st Military Police
^ Department of the Army, Lineage and Honors, 263rd Air Defense
^ "The Greatest Event That has Happened The Whole War" (PDF).
Thelamarinstitute.org. Retrieved 2016-07-24.
^ "Savannah Under Fire, 1779" (PDF). Thelamarinstitute.org. Retrieved
^ "Sav Under Fire Boundaries 2011 Report.pdf" (PDF).
Thelamarinstitute,org. Retrieved 2016-07-24.
Buker, George E. and Richard Apley Martin (July 1979) "Governor
Tonyn's Brown-Water Navy: East Florida during the American Revolution,
1775-1778". Florida Historical Quarterly, Vol. 58, No. 1,
Morrill, Dan (1993). Southern campaigns of the American Revolution.
Nautical & Aviation Publishing. ISBN 1-877853-21-6.
Marley, David. Wars of the Americas: A Chronology of Armed Conflict in
the New World, 1492 to the PresentABC-CLIO (1998).
Reynolds, Jr., William R. (2012). Andrew Pickens: South Carolina
Patriot in the Revolutionary War. Jefferson NC: McFarland &
Company, Inc. ISBN 978-0-7864-6694-8.
Sayen, John J. Jr. (1986) "Oared Fighting Ships of the South Carolina
Navy, 1776-1780". South Carolina Historical Magazine, vol. 87, No. 4
(Oct., 1986), pp. 213–237.
French free colored participation in the
Siege of Savannah
Summary of Archaeological Finds at Springhill Redoubt
Pictures of the "Chasseurs Volontaires" monument, by James Mastin,
located in Franklin Square, Savannah, Georgia
J. E. Kaufmann (2004). Fortress America. Tomasz Idzikowski (illus.).
Da Capo Press. pp. 123–124. ISBN 978-0-306-81294-1.
Attack on British Lines