When 29 December 1778
Strength British – 3,100
Americans – 850
Following defeat at Saratoga, Lord Germain, Secretary of State for the American Colonies, devised a new plan to win war. Germain believed that the British enjoyed great support in the Southern colonies where Patriots had wrested control of government away from- and then suppressed Loyalists there. If the army could defeat Patriots in the South, Loyalists could then take control, allowing the army to focus on ending the rebellion in the North. For the plan to work, the port city of Savannah in southern Georgia would have to be captured first to bring in men, weapons, and supplies.
At the start of the Southern Campaign, men from the Continental army and colonial militia defended Georgia. Following numerous British raids in Georgia, Continental army General Robert Howe, led 550 men south from Charleston, SC to Savannah on 18 November. On 23 December, the British fleet was spotted off Tybee Island near the mouth of the Savannah River. At a war council, the Americans decided to mount a defense of the city, hoping reinforcements would arrive in time. Due to the large number of possible landing points, the Americans were forced to hold most of their army in reserve until the British landed.
A small British force put ashore captured two local civilians who revealed much about the size and position of the American force in Savannah. On 28 December, the British sailed up the Savannah River and landed their forces outside the Girardeau Plantation which guarded the road to Savannah and was being held by a small force of Americans. The plantation was quickly captured despite heavy fire.
General Howe led his Continentals out of the city and positioned them on the road knowing the British were coming toward him. Swamps flanked the road on both sides. The Americans dug a trench and destroyed the bridge that carried the road over a small rivulet. Redcoats marched up the road, halted 100 yards from the American line, and paused while their commander, Lieutenant Colonel Archibald Campbell, deliberated what to do next. An African-American Loyalist informed Campbell of a path through the swamp leading to a point behind the Americans. Campbell decided to split his force and sent a party to circle around behind the Continentals.
After Major Sir James Baird led his force through the swamp, he attacked the Americans in the rear at which point Campbell advanced on the American front with his force. The Continental army immediately collapsed. Upon realizing that the British had flanked him, Howe ordered an immediate retreat. Most of the Americans surrendered without firing a shot. Most were captured but some drowned trying to escape through the various creeks and swamps.
While Sir James Wright was able to return as Royal Governor of Georgia, the British army struggled to control the countryside in Georgia. In January 1779, Lt. Col. Campbell led an expedition to capture the frontier town of Augusta which failed. Although Augusta was taken in June 1780, the British lost it again by May 1781, which shows that Britain would struggle to end the Revolution in the South.
British – 7 killed / 17 wounded
Americans – 83 killed / 11 wounded / 453 captured