The winter campaign opened at Savannah by Lieutenant-Colonel Campbell at the close of December, continued until late in the spring, and resulted in the complete subjugation of Georgia to British rule. The British authorities had planned this campaign with great care. Troops were to take possession of Savannah and subdue Georgia. Five thousand additional troops were to be landed at Charleston. The Indians in Florida and Alabama were to be brought upon the frontier settlements, and these were to be joined by warriors to be sent down from the northwest by the commandant at Detroit. A force sufficient to protect the Loyalists and restore government in North Carolina were to be landed on the banks of the Cape Fear River. Then by judicious operations in Virginia and Maryland, Germain confidently expected to bring all Americans below the Susquehanna River to allegiance to the British crown.
In the autumn of 1778, General Prevost, who was in command of some British regulars, Tories and Indians, in East Florida, sent from St. Augustine two expeditions into Florida. One of these made an extensive raid, carrying off negro slaves, grain, horses, and horned cattle; destroying crops and burning the village of Midway; the other appeared before the fort at Sunbury, and demanded its surrender. Colonel Mackintosh, the commander of the garrison, said, "Come and take it," when the invaders retreated. These incursions caused General Robert Howe to lead an expedition against St. Augustine. On the banks of the St. Mary's River, a malarious disease swept away a quarter of his men. After a little skirmishing, he led the survivors back to Savannah, and these composed the handful of dispirited men who confronted Campbell at Brewton's Hill. The expulsion of Howe from Savannah was soon followed by the arrival of Prevost, who came up from Florida, captured the fort at Sunbury on the way (January 9, 1779), and assumed the chief command of the British troops in the South. The combined forces of Prevost and Campbell numbered about three thousand men.
In the meantime General Benjamin Lincoln of Massachusetts, appointed in September to the chief command of the patriot troops in the Southern States, had arrived in South Carolina, and on the 6th of January (1779), made his headquarters at Purysburg, twenty-five miles above Savannah. There he began the formation of an army to oppose the British invasion. It was composed of the remnants of Howe's troops, some Continental regiments, and some raw recruits.
Campbell, elated by his easy victory, began the work of subjugation with a strong hand. He promised protection to the inhabitants provided all their able-bodied men would "support the royal government with their arms." They had the alternative to fight their own countrymen or fly to the interior uplands or into South Carolina. Howe's captive troops, who refused to take up arms for the king, were thrust into loathsome prison-ships, where many perished with disease. It was evident that the war was to be waged without mercy, and this conviction gave strength to the determined patriots in the field, for they were fighting for their lives and the welfare of those whom they loved most dearly.
Prevost sent Campbell up the Georgia side of the Savannah, to Augusta, with about two thousand men, for the purpose of encouraging the Tories, opening communication with the Creek Indians in the west, and subduing the Whigs into passiveness. At about the same time a band of Tory marauders, led by Colonel Boyd, desolated a portion of the South Carolina border while on their way to join the royal troops. They were pursued across the Savannah River by Colonel Andrew Pickens, with some militia of the District of Ninety-Six, so named from a fort there ninety-six miles from Charleston. In a sharp skirmish with a part of Pickens' men, Boyd lost a hundred of his followers; and on the 14th of February (1779) he was defeated by that officer in a skirmish on Kettle Creek, within two days march of Augusta. Boyd and seventy of his men were killed, and seventy-five were made prisoners. The latter were convicted of high treason, but only five of them were executed by order of the civil authorities of South Carolina.
Campbell was alarmed and Lincoln was encouraged by the defeat of Boyd. The latter then had three thousand men in camp. He sent General Ashe, of North Carolina, with almost two thousand men, consisting of a few Continentals and the remainder of militia, with some pieces of cannon, to drive Campbell from Augusta, and confine the invaders to the low and unhealthful regions near the sea, where, it was hoped, the deadly malaria from the swamps during the heats of summer, would decimate the regiments of the enemy. Ashe crossed the Savannah near Augusta, when Campbell fled sea-ward. Ashe pursued him forty miles to Brier Creek, near its confluence with the Savannah, in Severn county, Georgia, and there encamped in a strong position, his flanks thoroughly covered by swamps. Prevost, marching up with a considerable force to assist Campbell, discovered Ashe. Making a wide circuit, he gained the North Carolinian's rear, surprised him; and after a brief and sharp resistance (March 3, 1779), defeated and dispersed his troops. They fled in every direction, wading the swamp and swimming the river. Many perished, others returned to their homes, and only about four hundred and fifty rejoined Lincoln. By this disaster that general lost one-fourth of his army. It led to the temporary re-establishment of royal government in Georgia, which Prevost proclaimed. Meanwhile the British had suffered a reverse on the coast of South Carolina. Major Gardiner (one of the managers of the Mischianza), who had been sent from Savannah with some troops to take possession of Port Royal Island, about sixty miles south of Charleston, preparatory to a march upon that city, had been defeated by the Charleston militia under General Moultrie, in a skirmish there on the 3d of February. Almost every British officer, excepting the commander, and many private soldiers, were killed or made prisoners. Gardiner and a few men escaped in boats; and Moultrie, crossing to the main, joined Lincoln at Purysburg.
Return to Our Country, Vol II