By Charles C. Jones
Volume II - Revolutionary Epoch, 1888
Submitted by: Dena Whitesell
Moved by the sufferings and the privations to which American prisoners were subjected, and anxious to alleviate
the miseries of all who were confined both on land and in ships, General Lincoln addressed a communication to Colonel
Campbell, then en route for Augusta, proposing a conference at Zubly's ferry with a view to arranging a cartel
for the exchange of prisoners, and the parole of commissioned officers pending the consummation of that contemplated
exchange. Consent for a negotiation having been signified by the British commander, Lieutenant-Colonel James M.
Prevost was nominated on the part of the English authorities to confer on this subject with Major Thomas Pinckney
selected in behalf of the Americans. They met on the 81st of January, 1779.
The proposition advanced by Colonel Prevost was that not only the regular troops and the militia captured with
arms in their hands should be deemed proper subjects for exchange, but also " men found on their farms without
regard to age, and all males who had taken the oath of allegiance and applied to the Crown for protection. To this
Major Pinckney responded that continental officers and soldiers, and all militiamen who were willing to bear arms
again in the service of the Confederated States, were fit subjects for exchange for officers and soldiers in the
British army of corresponding rank; but that the aged, and those who desired to retire from active strife and lead
peaceful lives on their farms, acknowledging allegiance to the British government, could only be paroled.
For five days was the negotiation prolonged. It was found impossible to arrive at a definite agreement, and thus
the matter ended. Prisoners refusing to enlist in the British service were sent by Sir Hyde Parker to New York.
So rigorous was the confinement in which they were placed, and so scant were the necessaries doled out to them,
that about one third of their number pined away and died in captivity. With this sad and unjustifiable result the
Americans were not chargeable.
While Colonel Campbell was seeking to extend the supremacy of the king in the upper portions of Georgia, General
Prevost attempted to effect a lodgment in South Carolina. For this purpose Major Gardiner, with two hundred men,
was detached to take possession of Port Royal Island. Early in February he was attacked by General Moultrie and
forced to abandon the enterprise.
Upon the retreat of Colonel Campbell from Augusta General Ash, with some twenty-three hundred men, crossed the
Savannah River at that point and pursued the enemy as far as Brier Creek. There he halted and encamped in the angle
formed by that stream and the Savannah River.
General Lincoln was still at Purrysburg where he had gathered about him between three and four thousand troops.
General Rutherford, with some seven or eight hundred men, was encamped at Williamson's house on Black Swamp. General
Williamson, with his division of twelve hundred, was at Augusta. Finding himself in command of an army about eight
thousand strong, Genera] Lincoln resolved to inaugurate an offensive movement in order either to expel the enemy
from Georgia or toconfine him within very narrow limits along the coast. A council of war was called at General
Rutherford's quarters on the 1st of March, 1779, to concert suitable measures for future operations. Generals Lincoln,
Moultrie, Ash, and Rutherford were present. It was agreed that with the exception of a guard left at Purrysburg
to watch the movements of the enemy, all the available troops of the army should be rapidly concentrated upon the
position then occupied by General Ash with a view to an onward march for the recovery of Georgia. In this council
General Ash expressed himself as being entirely safe: asserting that his camp on Brier Creek was secure; that the
enemy appeared to be afraid of him, apprehending that his numbers were greater than they really were; and that
all he required was a detachment of artillery with one or two field-pieces. This want was immediately recognized
by General Lincoln who ordered Major Grimkie, with two light guns and sufficient cannoneers, to proceed to his
Aware of the intentions of General Lincoln, Colonel Campbell determined, by a rapid blow, to defeat the purposed
concentration of the American forces and to frustrate these plans for circumscribing the king's troops in their
occupation of Georgia soil. It was resolved at once to dislodge General Ash.
Major McPherson, with the first battalion of the 71st regiment, some irregulars, and two field-pieces, was ordered
to advance towards Brier Creek bridge to attract the notice of the Americans and mask the main movement, which
Lieutenant Colonel Prevost was to conduct in person. That officer taking with him the second battalion of the 71st
regiment, Sir James Baird's corps of light infantry, three grenadier companies of the 60th regiment, Captain Tawe's
troop of light dragoons, and about one hundred and fifty men of the Florida Rangers and militia, numbering in all
about nine hundred men, made a detour of between forty and fifty miles to cross Brier Creek above the point occupied
by Ash and fall upon his rear. Having moved up the south side of Brier Creek, Colonel Prevost, early on the morning
of the 2d of March, reached the point where he expected to cross that stream. Finding that the bridge had been
destroyed, he was forced to construct another. Considerable delay occurred, and evening came on before the light
infantry and cavalry effected a passage. They were ordered to advance and cut off all communication with the American
camp. By daylight the next morning the rest of the troops and the artillery crossed the creek and proceeded in
the direction of Ash's army. Unconscious of Prevost's approach, General Ash detailed Major Ross, of South Carolina,
with three hundred horsemen, to cross Brier Creek and reconnoitre the enemy's position at Hudson's ferry, thirteen
miles distant. He was expecting to be reinforced by General Rutherford, and his intention was to attack the enemy
at an early moment if Major Ross should report the scheme feasible. Ross caught sight of a part of McPherson's
command, but did not deem the matter of sufficient importance to report the movement to the general.
Colonel Leonard Marbury, who, with his dragoons, was guarding the upper passes of Brier Creek, exchanged shots
with the enemy as they passed at Paris9 Mill. An express was sent to acquaint General Ash with this circumstance,
but he fell into the bauds of the enemy. Through General Elbert was intelligence of Marbury's rencontre conveyed
to the American camp.
The first positive information which Ash received of Prevost's demonstration in his rear was transmitted by a courier
from an advanced party of Williamson's command. This was quickly confirmed by a messenger from Colonel Smith who
was in charge of the baggage guard.
General Ash's command in camp had been so reduced by detachments on duty at other points and upon special service
that it did not exceed eight hundred men. A mile in advance of his camp, and at the bridge where the main road
crossed Brier Creek, a guard of one hundred men was posted. Within supporting distance was the light infantry with
one four-pounder gun.
Cognizant of the near approach of the British, General Ash ordered the long roll to be beaten. As the men fell
in it was discovered that even at that late hour the militia had to be supplied with ammunition. Miserably were
they equipped, some appearing with rifles, others with shot guns, a few with muskets, and some without arms. Line
of battle was formed in three divisions; the right under the command of Colonel Young, the centre under General
Bryant, and the left, consisting of sixty continental troops, one hundred and fifty Georgia militia, and a field-piece,
under the command of General Elbert assisted by Lieutenant-Colonel John Mclntosh. The vanguard of the enemy having
driven in the American pickets at three o'clock in the afternoon, Prevost prepared for action. His light infantry,
with two field-pieces, was formed on the right with instructions to follow a road leading to the American camp.
His centre, composed of the second battalion of the 71st regiment and some Florida Rangers and Carolina loyalists,
was preceded by a section of light artillery. His left, consisting of one hundred and fifty dragoons, was directed
to turn the American right. Three companies of grenadiers and a troop of fifty dragoons were held in reserve four
hundred yards in the rear. At a pass by which it was feared the Americans might attempt to turn the British left
and gain their rear fifty riflemen were posted in ambush.
His line of battle having been formed, General Ash advanced to a position about a quarter of a mile in front of
his encampment and there awaited the enemy's attack, his left resting upon Brier Creek and his right extending
to within eight hundred yards of the Savannah River swamp. At four o'clock Colonel Prevost, when within one hundred
and fifty yards of the Americans, opened the engagement with his artillery and pressed forward. Ash's centre, which
was thrown a little forward, did not withstand the shock five minutes. It broke and fled in wild confusion. The
right, so soon as it was attacked, followed suit. The left alone remained, and, under General Elbert, fought so
stubbornly that Prevost found it necessary to order up his reserves to support his right which was opposed to this
gallant body of men. Notwithstanding the great disparity in the contending forces, Elbert prolonged the conflict
until nearly every man of his command was either killed, wounded, or captured. Those constituting the American
centre and right took refuge in the deep swamp bordering upon the Savannah River. Such of them as could swim escaped
to the Carolina shore. Many were drowned in the attempt. Colonel Prevost says one hundred and fifty Americans were
killed upon the field and in the adjacent swamp, and that Brigadier-General Elbert, "one of their best officers,"
twenty-seven other officers, and two hundred men were taken prisoners. In this estimate he does not include "
officers and men drowned in attempting to save themselves from the slaughter by plunging into a deep and rapid
river." The British loss, marvelous to relate, amounted to only five privates killed and one officer and ten
Seven pieces of field artillery, a considerable quantity of ammunition, provisions, and baggage, and one thousand
small arms] fell into the hands of the victors. The number of &lain would seemingly claim credence for the
report, which has been handed down, that in their pursuit of the fugitive Americans Sir James Baird cried aloud
to his light infantry, " Every man of you that takes a prisoner shall lose his ration of rum." Not a
few of the militia seeking refuge in the Savannah swamp were cruelly bayoneted by the exultant British soldiery.
Never was encampment more injudiciously located or command held in such wretched plight for action. The only ray
of light amid the gloom of the whole affair is shed by the gallantry of Colonel Elbert and his command. From Matthew's
Bluff, on the evening of the day on which this catastrophe occurred, General Ash, who appears to have been outstripped
by none in rapid flight from the scene of conflict, penned this unsatisfactory dispatch to Major-General Lincoln
" Sir,—I am sorry to inform you that at 8 o'clock P. M. the enemy came down upon us in force; what number
I know not. The troops in my division did not stand fire five minutes. Many fled without discharging their pieces.
I went with the fugitives half a mile, and finding it impossible to rally the troops I made my escape into the
river swamp and made up in the evening to this place. Two officers and two soldiers came off with me. The rest
of the troops, I am afraid, have fallen into the enemy's hands as they had but little further where they could
fly to. Luckily Major Grimkie had not got the artillery out of the boat, so that I shall keep them here with Gen:
Rutherford's brigade to defend this pass until I receive further orders from you. This instant Gen: Bryant and
Col: Perkins arrived. Col: Eaton2 was drowned crossing the river.
" Since writing the above a number of officers and soldiers have arrived. We have taken a man who says he
was taken by them and would not take their oath and was formerly under Lee to the northward. He informed there
were 1,700 Red coats in the action, also a number of new levies from New York, Georgia militia, and Florida scouts:
that 1,500 men had marched up to Augusta to fortify that place: that they are fortifying Hudson's very strongly:
that the day before they marched off, 7,000 men had arrived from New York. Gen: Bryant and Rutherford are of opinion
that it is better to retreat to your quarters: therefore I am inclined to march to-night when we get all our fugitives
After this fashion does General Moultrie allude to and comment upon this most unfortunate occurrence: " Gen.
Ash's affair at Brier-Creek was nothing less than a total rout. Never was an army more completely surprised, and
never were men more panic struck as Gen. Ash's letter and the evidences at the Court show. The poor fellows! Most
of them threw down their arms and ran through a deep swamp 2 or 3 miles to gain the banks of a wide and rapid river,1
and plunged themselves in to escape from the bayonet. Many of them endeavoring to reach the opposite shore sunk
down and were buried in a watery grave, while those who had more strength and skill in swimming gained the other
side, but were still so terrified that they straggled through the woods in every direction. A large body of them
were stopped early the next morning at Bee's Creek bridge, about 20 miles, by a detachment of the second regiment
under Captain Peter Horry, marching to camp, who told me he had just heard of the affair at Brier-Creek and saw
a large body [2 or 300] of the fugitives coming in a hasty and confused manner, most of them without their arms,
and Gen. Ash and Bryant with them. He drew up his men at the bridge. Gen. Ash rode up to him and requested that
he would stop those men, that they were running away. Gen. Bryant said they were not running away. Gen. Ash insisted
they were. Capt. Horry then asked of the two generals who was the commanding officer? It was answered Gen. Ash.
Then, sir, I will obey your orders, and presented fixed bayonets and threatened to fire upon the fugitives if they
attempted to come forward, which stopped them. Afterwards Capt. Horry proceeded to camp with his detachment, and
Gen. Ash and Bryant brought back the fugitives.
" We never could ascertain the number of men that were lost in this unfortunate affair, as many of them made
no stay anywhere until they got to their own homes in North Carolina. The loss of arms was almost total, and it
was a very serious consideration with us at that time as we could not replace them. Col. Elbert, with a few Continentals
and a field-piece or two, fought some little time, but they were soon surrounded and made prisoners of.
" This unlucky affair at Brier-Creek disconcerted all our plans, and through the misfortunes of Gen. Howe
and Ash the war was protracted at least one year longer, for it is not to be doubted that had we have crossed the
river with our army and joined Gen. Ash, which we were preparing to do, we should have had a body of- 7000 men:
besides strong reinforcements were marching to us from every quarter sufficient to drive the enemy out of Georgia;
and all the wavering and all the disaffected would have immediately joined us: and it is more than probable that
Carolina would not have been invaded had this event not taken place."
On the 13th of March a court of inquiry, consisting of Brigadier-General Moultrie, president, General Rutherford,
Colonel Armstrong, Colonel Pinckney, Colonel Locke, and Edmund Hyrne, deputy adjutant-general, judge advocate,'
convened at Purrysburg " to examine into the affair of the 3d instant at Brier Creek, and the conduct of Maj.
Gen. J. Ash relative to his command there." After hearing the statement of General Ash and weighing the evidence
of many witnesses who testified, the court, on the 16th inst., gave expression to this opinion: " The court
having maturely considered the matter before them are of opinion that Gen. Ash did not take all the necessary precautions
which he ought to have done to secure his camp and obtain timely intelligence of the movements and approach of
the enemy, but they do entirely acquit him of every imputation of a want of personal courage in the affair at Brier
Creek, and think he remained in the field as long as prudence and duty required."
Most lenient truly was this finding when we consider the frightful calamity which had overtaken the American arms
in consequence of the imprudence and incompetency of this officer. Ash's defeat changed the entire aspect of affairs,
and converted the offensive policy which Lincoln was about to inaugurate into one of observation and defense. The
effect upon the militia of Georgia and Carolina was most prejudicial. Many who were on their way to join the American
standard, dispirited at the news of this disaster, returned home. Others, undecided in their views and anxious
to ally. themselves with the stronger party, no longer hesitated to seek the protection of the king's forces.
The British troops within the limits of Georgia now numbered some four thousand, and consisted of the first and
second battalions of the 71s tregiment, Sir James Baird's light infantry, De-lancey's New York corps, volunteers
from New York and New Jersey, Carolina Royalists, portions of the 16th and 60th regiments, two battalions of Hessians,
Brown's rangers, and the Florida and Georgia militia. At Paris' Mill they formed a strong encampment defended by
the guns captured at Brier Creek and by two additional field-pieces. On the left of the road, as one comes up from
Savannah, a stout fort had been builded to guard the crossing at Sister's ferry. Here two six-pounder guns, two
howitzers, and some other field-pieces were in position. Heavy pickets were on duty at Pace's. The hill commanding
the Savannah River was fortified,—both artillery and infantry being present for its retention and to guard the
passage. Three miles south of Ebenezer were a rail battery and a picket At the town of Ebenezer appeared "
a redoubt on the water on the north side, a strong picquet at the bridge, two strong redoubts, another round the
little house near the tavern, another down at the ferry, another on the hill at the south side of the south pass,
and a very strong picquet. This place has a good train of artillery and is very strong, more so than Savannah."
Redoubts, armed with eighteen-pounder guns, connected by curtains and protected by abattis in front, guarded the
approaches to Savannah. Prevost was resolved upon the retention of Georgia; and Lincoln, staggered by the blow
delivered at Brier Creek, was, for the time being, unable to undertake his dislodgment.
Influenced by Stuart and Cameron the Creek and Cherokee Indians exhibited a threatening attitude. For the patriots
the present was dark indeed and the future fraught with apprehension.
That he might utilize in the interest of the Crown all real and personal property owned by rebels, and in order
to render productive such as had been captured or abandoned, Colonel Campbell, on the 15th of March, appointed
John Pereman, Martin Jolie, James Robertson, William Telfair, and Roger Kelsall commissioners of claims, with instructions
to open an office in Savannah and take possession of all lands and negroes belonging to those who had been active
in their opposition to the king's government. Persons having any effects or property belonging to absconding rebels
were enjoined, under severe penalties, to make prompt return and surrender to the commissioners. Overseers and
managers were to be named " not only for the care and employment of the negroes, stock, and effects on the
confiscated plantations of the American adherents, but also for the improvement and cultivation of them."
These overseers and managers were required to submit monthly reports of the stock and negroes employed, of the
agricultural operations conducted on the plantations entrusted to their supervision, and of every disbursement
made in cultivating, harvesting, and transporting the crops to market. All expenses having been paid, the net proceeds
of the crops produced were to be applied, under the direction of the royal governor and council, to the use of
the king's troops and the discharge of obligations connected with the prosecution of the war. Deluded by this scheme,
which soon proved chimerical and incapable of remunerative results, the inhabitants who had eagerly submitted themselves
to the dominion of the Crown vainly hoped for freedom from taxation.
Encouraged by the signal defeat of Boyd at Kettle Creek, and the subsequent abandonment of Augusta by the king's
forces, the Georgians who had fled to South Carolina for security soon returned with their families and property
to Wilkes County. "Scarcely had they reoccupied their forts and plantations when they were alarmed by the
approach of a body of Creek 'Indians under the command of Tate and McGillivray, — Indian agents in the employ of
the British. Colonel Pickens, with two hundred men of his regiment, quickly came to the assistance of the Georgians.
Colonel Dooly was already in the field with one hundred mounted men. Colonel Elijah Clarke, with his command, guarded
the frontier. Every male inhabitant of sixteen years and upwards appeared with arms in his hands. At Wrightsborough
Colonels Pickens and Dooly were reinforced by detachments from the regiments of Colonels Few and Leroy Hammond,
and by two troops of horse under the command of Major Ross. The Indians were encamped near Fulsom's Fort. Approaching
under cover of the night, Lieutenants Alexander and Williamson, who had been detailed for the purpose, made a re-connoissance
which led them to estimate the force of the enemy at eight hundred. Upon receiving their report Colonel Pickens,
to whom the command of the united American troops was confided, marched his column rapidly forward in the hope
of reaching the Indian camp and surprising it before daylight. Some treacherous rascal advised the enemy of his
approach. Unwilling to breast the attack the Indians, breaking up into small parties, fled in every direction.
In the pursuit which ensued some of the savages were overtaken and slain. Major Ross, Captain New-om, and Lieutenant
Bentley were killed. Quiet was restored, and the enemy was utterly expelled from the territory.
General Lincoln, after Ash's defeat, retained his headquarters at Purrysburg and maintained a close watch upon
the enemy who was in force on the right bank of the Savannah River. Two British galleys, the Comet and the Hornet,
commanded by Lieutenants Stone and McKenzie, were lying near Yemassee Bluff, below Purrysburg. On the night of
the 20th of March the American galleys Congress and Lee, in charge of Captains Campbell and Milligan, were ordered
to attempt their surprise and capture. Forty militia were detailed to proceed by land and take possession of a
house just opposite the point where the enemy's galleys were at anchor, that they might assist in the attack which
was to be opened at daylight the next morning. They occupied the house in due season, but the American galleys
in descending the river got aground. It was nine o'clock before they reached a position whence they could bring
their guns to bear upon the enemy. The British galley Thunderer, commanded by Lieutenant Terrill, promptly advanced
from below to the assistance of the Comet and the Hornet galled by the fire from shore as well as by the cannon
of the American galleys. The militia were quickly dislodged by the Thunderer's battery. After an engagement, which
lasted an hour, the British manned their boats with the intention of boarding the Congress and Lee. Knowing that
they could not successfully contend against this demonstration, the crews of the American galleys took to their
boats and made their escape, leaving their vessels and some of their companions to the mercy of the enemy. On the
part of the Americans Captain Campbell and three men were killed, six were wounded, and ten captured. The British
loss was represented by one slain and one wounded. The capture of these American galleys left the Savannah River
entirely open to the navigation of the enemy's armed vessels.
While Lincoln's army was daily decreasing in consequence of the desertion of the militia, General Prevost was so
materially reinforced by accessions from New York and Florida that he found himself in command of more than five
thousand men. In consequence of the loss of provisions and cattle sustained at the hands of the enemy, the families
of not a few of the militiamen in camp were almost in a starving condition. Under these distressing circumstances,
as there was no general movement of the army in immediate contemplation, they applied to General Lincoln for leave
to return to their homes and endeavor to repair their fortunes until such time as he might be able to cross the
Savannah River in force and redeem the country from the dominion of the enemy. Permission was granted, and many
departed. It was also understood that, if pressed by the enemy, they might, to insure a peaceful residence on their
own farms, take the oath of allegiance to the Crown. Displeased at the inactivity of the army, Governor Rutledge
on the 5th of April issued orders to General Williamson to make an incursion into Georgia, harass the enemy, and
destroy all cattle, horses, provisions, and carriages which should be found in his line of march.
These instructions were displeasing to General Lincoln for two substantial reasons. In the first place, they were
not addressed to him as the commanding officer of the army of which General Williamson's force formed a component
part; and, in the second place, the execution of them would seriously impair the understanding existing between
himself and the militiamen whom he had permitted to return to their homes. An unpleasant complication was imminent
when General Moultrie, with his well-known sagacity and in the exercise of bis sound judgment, took the matter
in hand and, by a proper representation of facts, secured from Governor Rutledge a prompt recision of his order.
In March occurred an exchange of prisoners. Those returned to Georgia were in a wretched plight. Says Captain McCall,
they " were so much emaciated when they arrived in camp that they were obliged to be carried from the boats
in which they were brought from the prison-ships. They complained highly of the ill treatment which they had experienced
on board these filthy, floating dungeons, of which their countenances and emaciated bodies exhibited condemning
testimony. They asserted that they had been subsisted on condemned pork which nauseated the stomach, and oat meal
so rotten that swine would not have fed on it: that the staff-officers and the members of Council from Savannah
shared in common with the soldiery. Even the venerable Bryan was obliged to partake of such repasts or die of hunger.
The Jews of Savannah were generally favourable to the American cause, and among this persuasion was Mordecai Shef
tall, commissary general, and his son, who was his deputy. They were confined in common with the other prisoners,
and, by way of contempt to their offices and religion, condemned pork was given them for the animal part of their
subsistence. In consequence of such food, and other new devices of mal-treatment, five or six died daily, whose
bodies were conveyed from the prison ships to the nearest marsh and trodden in the mud from whence they were soon
exposed by the washing of the tides, and at low water the prisoners beheld the carrion crows picking the bones
of their departed companions." Well might General Moultrie exclaim at sight of such misery: " Does not
this demand retaliation and a prison ship? " Earnestly did General Lincoln protest against these inhumanities,
but both General Prevost and Sir Hyde Parker were deaf to the voice of justice and mercy. Savage in the main was
the temper of the king's servants toward the Revolutionists.
On the 19th of April, 1779, Captain Morgan having arrived from St. Eustasia with a fresh supply of arms and ammunition,
General Lincoln called a council of general officers at his headquarters at Black Swamp. Besides, Major-General
Benjamin Lincoln, Brigadier-Generals William Moultrie, Isaac Huger, and Jethro Sumner, were present. Having informed
the council that the number of men in camp, including those under General Williamson, five hundred promised from
Orangeburg, and seven hundred from North Carolina who were already within the State of South Carolina, amounted
to five thousand, the commanding general desired the opinion of the officers present upon the question whether,
after leaving one thousand troops at Black Swamp and at Purrysburg, it would not be advisable with the remainder
to cross the Savannah River near Augusta and occupy some strong position in Georgia to prevent the enemy from receiving
supplies from the back country, circumscribe his limits, and forbid a junction with the Indians. All present regarded
the measure as " rational" and advised that it be carried into effect. In conformity with this conclusion
General Moultrie, with twelve hundred men, was left at Purrysburg and Black Swamp to guard the passes over the
Savannah River and check any demonstration the enemy might seek to make against Carolina.
On the 20th of April General Lincoln, with two thousand light infantry and cavalry, set out for Augusta. His baggage
and artillery were ordered to follow. From Silver Bluff, where he arrived on the 22d, he directed General Moultrie
to send forward to that place the continental troops, with the exception of the second and fifth South Carolina
regiments, and all the artillery save one two-pounder gun. All possible dispatch was enjoined. Should the royal
forces manifest an inclination to move towards Charlestown, General Moultrie was instructed to possess himself
of the important passes in their front and to interpose every obstruction so that General Lincoln might have an
opportunity of coming up.
On the 23d a party of Indians and white men disguised as Indians, numbering about thirty, crossed the Savannah
River at Yemassee, four miles below Purrysburg, and surprised the American guard. Pursued by Colonel Henderson,
they took refuge in the swamp and succeeded in making their escape.
Two days afterwards General Prevost put his troops in motion for Carolina. Some crossed the Savannah River at other
points, but the heaviest column was thrown over at Purrysburg, whence an effort was made to surprise General Moultrie
at Black Swamp. That officer, with a command of not more than a thousand men, retired in the direction of Charlestown,
disputing, as opportunity offered, the advance of Prevost who pressed on with an army of two thousand regulars
and seven hundred loyalists and Indians. General Lincoln, from his headquarters at Silver Bluff, as late as the
2d of May was apparently in doubt whether Prevost contemplated a serious attack upon Charlestown or was merely
demonstrating to draw him off from his purposed advance into Georgia. Soon becoming convinced that the capital
of South Carolina was in serious peril he abandoned for the present his scheme for the relief of Georgia and marched
rapidly for the protection of Charlestown. With the military operations in the vicinity of that city we have at
present so special concern, save to state that they resulted in a complete discomfiture of the plans of the enemy.
Retreating by the sea islands, Prevost returned to Savannah, having established a post at Port Royal where he left
Lieutenant-Colonel Maitland and a detachment of eight hundred men. General Lincoln, with the continental forces,
established his headquarters at Sheldon. While General Prevost failed to capture the city of Charlestown, by this
invasion of South Carolina he completely thwarted the purposes of General Lincoln and inflicted upon the Americans
losses and demoralizations grievous and well-nigh insupportable.
Behold the picture painted by Dr. Ramsay: " This incursion into South Carolina and subsequent retreat contributed
very little to the advancement of the royal cause, but it added much to the wealth of the officers, soldiers, and
followers of the British army, and still more to the distresses of the inhabitants. The forces under the command
of General Prevost marched through the richest settlements of the State, where there are the fewest white inhabitants
in proportion to the number of slaves. The hapless Africans, allured with hopes of freedom, forsook their owners
and repaired in great numbers to the royal army. They endeavored to recommend themselves to their new masters by
discovering where their owners had concealed their property, and were assisting in carrying it off. All subordination
being destroyed, they became insolent and rapacious, and in some instances exceeded the British in their plunderings
and devastations. Collected in great crowds near the royal army, they were seized with the camp-fever in such numbers
that they could not be accommodated either with proper lodgings or attendance.
" The British carried out of the State, it is supposed, about three thousand slaves, many of whom were shipped
from Georgia and East Florida and sold in the West Indies: but the inhabitants lost upwards of four thousand, each
of whom was worth, on an average, about two hundred and fifty Spanish dollars.
" When the British retreated, they had accumulated so much plunder that they had not the means of removing
the whole of it. The vicinity of the American army made them avoid the main land and go off in great precipitation
from one island to another. Many of the horses which they had collected from the inhabitants were lost in ineffectual
attempts to transport them over the rivers and marshes. For want of a sufficient number of boats a considerable
part of the negroes was left behind. They had been so thoroughly impressed by the British with the expectations
of the severest treatment and even of certain death from their owners in case of their returning home that in order
to get off with the retreating army they would sometimes fasten themselves to the sides of the boats. To prevent
this dangerous practice, the fingers of some of them were chopped off, and soldiers were posted with cutlasses
and bayonets to oblige them to keep at proper distances. Many of them, labouring under diseases, afraid to return
home, forsaken by their new masters, and destitute of the necessaries of life, perished in the woods. Those who
got off with the army were collected on Otter Island, where the camp-fever continued to rage. Without medicine,
attendance, or the comforts proper for the sick, some hundreds of them expired. Their dead bodies, as they lay
exposed in the woods, were devoured by beasts and birds, and to this day the island is strewed with their bones.
" The British also carried off with them several rice-barrels full of plate, and household furniture in large
quantities, which they had taken from the inhabitants. They had spread over a considerable extent of country, and
small parties visited almost every house, stripping it of whatever was most valuable, and rifling the inhabitants
of their money, rings, jewels, and other personal ornaments. The repositories of the dead were in several places
broken open, and the grave itself searched for hidden treasure. What was destroyed by the soldiers was supposed
to be of more value than what they carried off. Feather-beds were ripped open for the sake of the ticking. Windows,
china-ware, looking-glasses, and pictures were dashed to pieces. Not only the larger domes-tick animals were cruelly
and wantonly shot down, but the licentiousness of the soldiery extended so far that in several places nothing within
their reach, however small and insignificant, was suffered to live. For this destruction they could not make the
plea of necessity, for what was thus killed was frequently neither used nor carried off. The gardens, which had
been improved with great care and ornamented with many foreign productions,' were laid waste, and their nicest
curiosities destroyed. The houses of the planters were seldom burnt, but in every other way the destruction and
depredations committed by the British were so enormous that should the whole be particularly related, they who
live at a distance would scarcely believe what could be attested by hundreds of eye-witnesses."
Although the planters on the Georgia coast were not as rich as their Carolina neighbors, the losses inflicted upon
them were proportionately just as serious. The ever-present greed of the victory permanently established in their
neighborhood, stripped such of the inhabitants as were pronounced disloyal to the royal cause not only of the luxuries
but even of the bare necessaries of life, engendering extreme poverty and suffering. The demoralization of the
slave population was also pronounced and annoying.
While General Lincoln was defending Carolina against the incursion inaugurated and maintained by Prevost for her
subjugation, Colonels Dooly and Clarke, with watchful eyes and tireless arms, were protecting the frontiers of
Georgia about which hostile Indians and treacherous loyalists were constantly hovering. Colonels Twiggs and Few
and Jones hung about the outposts of the enemy, cutting off their supplies, attacking whenever a forced opportunity
presented itself, and encouraging the inhabitants with the hope of ultimate deliverance. Private armed vessels,
flying the American flag, cruised along the coast, guarding the exposed plantations, capturing marauding parties,
and occasionally overhauling merchantmen in the service of the king.
Ascertaining that some British officers had accepted an invitation from Mr. Thomas Young to dine with him at Belfast
on the 4th of June, 1779, Captain Spencer, commanding an American privateer, determined to surprise and capture
the party. For this purpose, proceeding up Midway River in the evening, he landed between eight and nine o'clock
at night, and, with twelve of his men, entering the house, made Colonel Cruger and the English officers at the
table prisoners of war. Intending to carry off some negroes Captain Spencer kept his prisoners under guard until
morning when, having taken their paroles, he permitted them to return to Sunbury. Colonel Cruger was soon after
exchanged for Colonel Mclntosh who had been captured at Brier Creek.
Colonel Twiggs, with seventy men, marched down the south side of the Great Ogeechee River and halted at the plantation
of Mr. James Butler, called Hickory Hill. On the 28th of June he received information that Captain Muller, with
forty mounted grenadiers conducted by three militia guides, was advancing to attack him. Major Cooper of Marbury's
dragoons, and Captain In man with thirty men, were thrown forward to meet the enemy. Forming across a rice dam
along which Captain Muller was approaching, their first fire was so well delivered that several British saddles
were emptied. Shot through the thigh, the British commanding officer bravely supported himself by means of his
sword as he formed and encouraged his men.
Soon, however, he was knocked over by a ball which, passing through his arm, lodged in his body. Within a few moments
Lieutenant Swan-son, second in command, was prostrated by a wound. Observing the confusion occasioned in the ranks
of the enemy by the fall of their officers, Colonel Twiggs ordered ten men to gain their rear and cut off their
retreat. This was done, and of the entire detachment the three militia guides, who fled at the first fire, were
the only ones who escaped. Seven of the British were killed and ten wounded. Colonel Maybank and Captain Whitaker
were wounded on the part of the Americans.
The wounded requiring assistance, and Savannah-being the nearest point where the services of a surgeon could be
secured, William Myddleton was sent thither with a flag. While he was in General Prevost's quarters a British officer
requested him to narrate the circumstances attending.the skirmish. Having done so, the officer responded that "
if an angel was to tell him that Captain Muller, who had served twenty-one years in the King's Guards with his
detachment, had been defeated by an equal number of rebels, he would disbelieve it." Middleton requested the
officer's address, and observed that although they were not then on equal terms he hoped to have it in his power
at some future time to call him to account for his rudeness. Colonel Prevost rebuked his officer for using such
improper language to the bearer of a flag. Captain Muller died of his wounds before the arrival of the surgeon.
While this affair was transpiring on the Great Ogeechee, Major Baker, with thirty men, attacked and defeated at
the White House, near Sunbury, a party of Georgia Royalists under the command of Captain Goldsmith, killing and
wounding several of them. Among the slain was Lieutenant Gray whose head was almost severed from his body by a
sabre wielded by the daring Robert Sallette (he appears to have been a sort of roving character, doing things in
his own way. The Tories stood very much in dread of him; and wll they might, for never had they a more formidable
foe. On one occasion, a Tory, who possessed considerable property, offered a reward of one hundred geineas to any
person who would bring him Sallette's head. This was made known to our hero, who provided himself with a bag, in
which he placed a pumpkin, and proceeded to the house of the Tory and told him that, having understood he had offered
one hundred guiness for Sallette's head, he had it with him in the bag (at the same time pointing to the bag),
and that he was ready to deliver it, provided the money was first counted out for him. The Tory, believing that
the bag contained Sallette's head, laid down the money, upon which Sallette pulled off his hat, and, placing his
hand upon his head, said, 'Here is Sallette's head.' This answer so frightened the Tory that he immediately took
to his heels, but a well-directed shot from Sallette brought him to the ground.")
On the 3d of August Captain Samuel Spencer sailed into Sapelo Sound. He was attacked by one of the enemy's vessels
armed with six guns. After an engagement of fifteen minutes he succeeded in boarding and capturing her.
McGirth and his followers finding no field for their operations in the eastern portion of the State commenced pillaging
the western settlements. Assembling one hundred and fifty men, Colonel Twiggs started in pursuit of these land
pirates. Overtaking them at Isaac Lockhart's plantation on Buckhead Creek, he charged upon and fought them so stoutly
that within a quarter of an hour they were put to flight, with a loss of nine killed, an equal number wounded,
and four captured. McGirth, shot through the thigh, escaped into a neighboring swamp, thanks to the fleetness of
Although overrun by the enemy and paralyzed by the onerous regulations imposed by the British, it is nevertheless
true that Georgia did not wholly cease from resistance. It was by these and kindred partisan exploits that the
English troops and Tories were held in check at various points, and the drooping spirits of the oppressed inhabitants
revived from time to time.