Battle of Savannah - Conflict & Dates:
The Battle of Savannah was fought September 16 to October 18, 1779, during the American Revolution (1775-1783).
Armies & Commanders:
French & Americans
Battle of Savannah - Background:
In 1778, the British commander in chief in North America, Major General Sir Henry Clinton, began to shift the focus of the conflict south as he believed Loyalist support in the region would be strong. Later that year, an expedition led by Brigadier General Augustine Prevost and Lieutenant Colonel Archibald Campbell began moving against Savannah, GA. Approaching the city, Campbell routed the American defenders on December 29. With this victory, he took control of Savannah and was later joined by Prevost. Establishing outposts in the region, Prevost also sought to recruit local Loyalists to the flag.
Battle of Savannah - Allied Movements:
Through the first half of 1779, Prevost and his American counterpart at Charleston, SC, Major General Benjamin Lincoln, conducted minor campaigns in the territory between the cities. Though eager to regain Savannah, Lincoln understood that the city could not be liberated without naval support. Utilizing their alliance with France, the American leadership was able to persuade Vice Admiral Comte d'Estaing to bring a fleet north later that year. Completing a campaign in the Caribbean which saw him capture St. Vincent and Grenada, d'Estaing sailed for Savannah.
Battle of Savannah - The Allies Arrive:
In support of the French fleet, Lincoln departed Charleston on September 11 with around 2,000 men. Caught off guard by the appearance of French ships, Prevost directed Captain James Moncrief to enhance Savannah's fortifications. On September 12, d'Estaing began landing around 3,500 men at Beaulieu's Plantation on the Vernon River. Marching north to Savannah, he was joined four days later by Lincoln. Contacting Prevost, they demanded that he surrender the city. Playing for time, Prevost recalled Colonel John Maitland's troops at Beaufort, SC.
Battle of Savannah - The Siege Begins:
Due to confusion among the allies, no American or French troops blocked Maitland's route and he reached the city safely. With his arrival, Prevost formally declined to surrender. On September 23, d'Estaing and Lincoln began siege operations against Savannah. Landing artillery from the fleet, French forces commenced a bombardment on October 3. This proved largely ineffective as its brunt fell on the city rather than the British fortifications. Though standard siege operations most likely would have ended in victory, d'Estaing became impatient as he was concerned about hurricane season and disease in the fleet.
Battle of Savannah - A Bloody Failure:
Despite protests from his subordinates, d'Estaing approached Lincoln regarding assaulting the British lines. Dependent on the French admiral's ships and men for continuing the operation, Lincoln was forced to agree. For the assault, d'Estaing planned to have Brigadier General Isaac Huger make a feint against the southeastern part of the British defenses while the bulk of the army struck further west. The focus of the assault was to be the Spring Hill redoubt which he believed to be manned by Loyalist militia. Unfortunately, a deserter informed Prevost of this and the British commander moved veteran forces to the area.
Advancing just after dawn on October 9, Huger's men were bogged down and failed to create a meaningful diversion. At Spring Hill, one of the allied columns became mired in a swamp to the west and was forced to turn back. As a result, the assault lacked its intended force. Surging forward, the first wave met heavy British fire and took significant losses. In the course of the fighting, d'Estaing was hit twice and American cavalry commander Count Casimir Pulaski was mortally wounded.
The second wave of French and American troops had more success and some, including those led by Lieutenant Colonel Francis Marion, reached the top of the wall. In fierce fighting, the British succeeded in driving the attackers back while inflicting heavy casualties. Unable to break through, French and American troops fell back after an hour of fighting. Regrouping, Lincoln later desired to attempt another assault, but was overruled by d'Estaing.
Battle of Savannah - Aftermath:
Allied losses at the Battle of Savannah numbered 244 killed, 584 wounded, and 120 captured, while Provost's command suffered 40 killed, 63 wounded, and 52 missing. Though Lincoln pressed to continue the siege, d'Estaing was unwilling to further risk his fleet. On October 18, the siege was abandoned and d'Estaing departed the area. With the French departure, Lincoln retreated back to Charleston with his army. The defeat was a blow to the newly established alliance and greatly encouraged the British in furthering their southern strategy. Sailing south the following spring, Clinton laid siege to Charleston in March. Unable to break out and with no relief expected, Lincoln was compelled to surrender his army and the city that May.