In the minds of many people the surrender at Yorktown in the fall of 1781 brought the Revolutionary War to a close. However, the war in the South was not over. Charleston and Savannah were occupied by the enemy. Physical possession and control of territory would be important in any peace negotiations. In consequence, Major General Nathanael Greene, Commander of the Southern Department, sent Brigadier General Anthony Wayne to Georgia to oust the British from Savannah.
It was a difficult assignment as Wayne would not have a force capable of assaulting the defenses of Savannah. Greene warned him not to risk his little army in a major engagement where a defeat would destroy him. Rather, he was to clear the countryside and keep the British bottled up within the city. He was also to endeavor to win over the hearts and minds of the Tories to encourage desertion and defection. At the same time Wayne was to “soften the malignity [and] deadly resentments” between the Whigs and the Tories. The Indian allies of the British had to be controlled and encouraged not only to leave the area but also to withdraw from the war. The returning government of the state of Georgia had to be propped up as well. The mission was to be carried out with only a few hundred troops, many of whom were unreliable, and there were few supplies. It was a complex task. In the end, Wayne was remarkably successful.
Wayne crossed the Savannah River into Georgia on January 19, 1782. He camped at the Two Sisters Ferry. He was unaware of what Georgia troops would be available for his use and sent a messenger to Governor John Martin in Augusta to inquire. Wayne estimated the enemy at 900 regulars at Savannah plus 50 dragoons and 250 infantry at Gibbons’ farm where they were foraging.
Wayne’s command initially consisted of 100 Continental dragoons under Colonel Anthony White, 300 South Carolina State Troops, and a detachment of artillery. It is difficult to reconstruct Wayne’s forces as they are not well documented and were transitory in nature. The South Carolina State dragoons arrived on the evening of January 26 but their term of service expired on February 6; so they were soon gone. Other units of the South Carolina dragoons, commanded by Captain James Gunn and Captain Archibald Gill, arrived later. Wayne complained that his “whole force are the few Continental dragoons I brought with me, except twenty five of the Georgia State Infantry.” On February 11 Wayne wrote, “we have at last received a reinforcement of forty horse and sixty foot from this State, they promise us a few more but that an expedition against the Cherokees intervenes for the present.” The expedition he refers to is Colonel Elijah Clarke’s across the Oconee River. Wayne’s force was so small that he wrote that he “can’t attempt to bring the artillery or any part of our baggage across the Savannah until we are reinforced.” On March 4 Wayne, in a letter to Greene, enclosed a return of the dragoons and infantry under his command. Regrettably, this return has been lost. Wayne was plagued by desertions from his Continental units as well as the militia and state units. He utilized whatever manpower was available. Among those under his command were deserters from the enemy, organized militia, and “volunteers” who apparently were less organized than militia. In addition, Wayne utilized “reclaimed citizens” and “out layers.” The “reclaimed citizens” were Tories who, in an effort to regain their citizenship, agreed to fight for the Patriot forces. The “out layers” were quasi-bandits who plundered both Whigs and Tories. He also had the services of the Georgia State Legion. His mainstay was his Continental dragoons and Continental Infantry. Wayne explained to Greene that this “extraordinary medley of troops” was all he had available with “the State of Georgia not being able to furnish more than a Company of Militia.” He begged Greene for veteran infantry but Greene had none to spare.
The Georgia Legislature passed an ordinance confiscating all personal property of any who had joined the British, or were killed defending the royal government. Wayne wrote that the Assembly has “been rather vindictive, at a time when common policy, independent of any other considerations, ought to have opened a wide door for the repenting sinner.”
In response, Greene urged Wayne to “hold out encouragement to the Tories to abandon the enemy’s interest and though you cannot promise positively to pardon them you may promise to do all in your power to procure it which will be nearly to the same amount.”
Wayne wrote to Greene from his headquarters at Ebenezer describing the situation. The area just north of Savannah, from Mulberry Grove and Mrs. Gibbons’ plantations, north to Briar Creek and between the Ogeechee and Savannah Rivers was a “perfect desert.” No supplies or forage could be found; so Wayne had to be supplied from Augusta and the South Carolina side of the River. He was pleased that defectors were coming into his lines. A Tory officer and fifteen privates came in and enlisted for the duration of the war, until the enemy surrendered or the enemy was forced to abandon South Carolina and Georgia.
Wayne’s force did not allow him to lay formal siege to Savannah nor attack the fortified city. His only recourse was to conduct small, sometimes very small, raids, and ambushes. Sometimes troop movements were effective for forcing the enemy to retreat for fear of being cut off. The goal of Wayne’s operations was to cut off Savannah’s supplies of men and war materiel as well as encourage desertions. Many of the actions involved very few men and casualties could often be counted on the fingers of one hand.
Wayne wasted no time in taking action. The South Carolina Dragoons arrived on January 26 and immediately occupied Mrs. Gibbons’ plantation close to the Savannah lines. The following morning Lt. Colonel William McCoy, commanding the Georgia volunteers, was detached to intercept a band of Creek Indians who were marching to Savannah. McCoy, presented himself and his men to the Indians as Tories, then led the deceived Indians to Wayne’s command saying that they were British dragoons. Twenty six Indians were surrounded and disarmed without a fight. A week or so later these Indians, while guarded by Lt. Colonel James Jackson’s Georgia State Legion, escaped from Ebenezer. Some of them were recaptured by Colonel Anthony White and his dragoons. Wayne spoke to the Indians and attempted to impress upon them his peaceable intentions.
Learning of 300 Choctaw Indians on the far side of the Ogeechee River, who were moving toward Savannah, Wayne detached Major John Habersham of the Georgia Continental Line with a large party of dragoons and mounted volunteers to prevent the Indians from reaching the enemy lines. Habersham was ordered to keep the men as hostages and send the women and children home. The Indians were to be well treated and convinced that the enemy was deceiving them and promoting war between the Choctaws and the peaceable Patriots. The Indians would be told they had a choice of either war or peace but that Wayne would much prefer peace. The Indians were to be reminded that the British controlled only Savannah and were no longer able to support them. The same talk would be given to the Creeks if the opportunity presented itself.
Greene was delighted with Wayne’s success in gaining so much territory without engaging in risky actions. He applauded the idea of not provoking the Indians by cruelty. However, Greene advised “hostages are the best security.”
Wayne advanced to meet Major Habersham between the Savannah and Ogeechee Rivers as he was concerned that Habersham might have been caught by enemy forces from Savannah on Habersham’s return. Habersham was successful in convincing the Choctaws that the enemy was not able to support their Indian allies and that the Indians’ best interests lay in returning to their “country.” Habersham, however, did more than talk. Apparently, he “told Wayne that his dragoons had tied an Indian to a tree in an effort to gain information, shot him, and cut him to pieces.”
On or about the 27 of February Wayne conducted an operation to destroy forage accumulated within a half mile of the enemy. Forage was collected on former Royal Governor James Wright’s plantation just outside the east defenses of Savannah. Forage was also located on Hutchison Island opposite Savannah. Colonel Barnwell was to cross to the island by boats from the Carolina side and Colonel Jackson was to destroy the forage at Wright’s plantation. As a diversion, Major Moore with Jackson’s infantry, some militia, and dragoons under Colonel White were to make a false attack on the northern defenses of Savannah itself.
Barnwell was to initiate the operation at 1:40 AM and at 2 AM land on the island. However, he was discovered and fired upon by the enemy. To cover his retreat and distract the enemy, Wayne ordered the other units to immediately commence their part of the plan. Barnwell lost 6 men missing who may have turned up later. On the Georgia side no losses were suffered at all. Wayne gleefully noted that Savannah “was highly illuminated at the expense of Sir James Wright.” Forage for the enemy cavalry would be in short supply. Wayne asserted that if Barnwell had been successful destroying the forage on Hutchinson Island the enemy’s cavalry would have been “annihilated.”
Greene may have enjoyed reading Wayne’s report, as he concluded a letter to Wayne writing, “Your maneuver in the destruction of the enemies forage was capital. How strange to tell that the enemy are hounded with less than one third their numbers.”
Governor John Martin, of Georgia, issued proclamations designed to induce defections from the enemy ranks. One proclamation was written in German and aimed at producing Hessian desertions. A full pardon and protection, plus 200 acres of land, a cow and two breeding swine were offered to anyone who had joined the British or sought protection with them on condition that they surrender to General Wayne and agree to serve under him until the enemy either surrendered or left Georgia. Wayne “found means to diffuse a number” of copies of the proclamations within Savannah.
The proclamations produced immediate results. Thirty eight mounted militia came out and enlisted. The British “filled the swamps around their works with Tories, Indians, and armed Negroes, to prevent desertions.” However, men kept coming through the lines, especially Hessians. The Hessians were so prone to desertion that they were not trusted to stand guard except in the center of Savannah.
Reminding Greene of his lack of reliable troops Wayne wrote that “the whole of the militia and Colonel Jackson’s Legion don’t amount to one hundred and thirty men, officers included, and as these are a class of soldiery, not always guarded against the attempts of an enemy – the duty falls severe upon the few Continental dragoons unsupported by infantry.” Greene, however, had no Continental troops to send.
An angry Wayne wrote Greene to inform him that the British were doing all they could to encourage the Creeks and other Indians to join them in Savannah and wage war against the Whigs. A Whig dragoon was killed and scalped by Choctaws on the 22 of March “under the eye and countenance of the British officers and troops, who were out in force, but retreated with precipitation.” Wayne’s aide, Captain Benjamin Fishbourne wrote that the dragoon was “killed and scalped in a most barbarous manner, under the eyes and Inspection of a British officer, cut off his upper lip and nose, and cut his face, most barbarously, for which the Lieutenant Governor gave an entertainment, to those wretches a little while after. The few negroes whose humanity was affected, at the spectacle, buried the body….” The Lieutenant Governor offered a reward for information on who buried the dragoon.
Two days later Wayne wrote, “we have since taken a Chickasaw chief, …we shall hold him, who, with the first British officer that falls into our hands will eventually be sacrificed to the manner of that brave unfortunate dragoon.” Clearly outraged Wayne continued, “Would you believe it possible, that a British Governor attended by British officers, should be so lost to every feeling of humanity as to parade the streets of Savannah with the scalp, giving out to the citizens, that it was taken from the head of Major Habersham, and then entertaining the savages with a ball etc. on the occasion.” Greene’s comment on this incident was, “Governor Wright is worse than a savage.”
White Fish, a chief of one of the Lower Creek towns, escaped from the Whigs during the last week of March. He made his way to an Indian encampment at the forks of the Cawanooche River arriving two hours ahead of a pursuing force commanded by Major Moore. White Fish and the Indians immediately set out for the Altamaha River, returning to their own territory. Had Moore come upon them he may have suffered a defeat as the Indians numbered about 300 men. Before leaving their camp the Indians killed several Tory guides who they felt had betrayed them with false information that the road to Savannah was open. Greene’s aide William Pierce wrote a friend that this Indian withdrawal was a significant break in Indian-British relations.
Wayne ordered Moore to take up a position where he could strike White Fish’s band should they attempt to go by water from Frederica on the west side of the Altamaha River to Savannah. Moore’s force was made up of volunteers, “out layers” and “reclaimed citizens.” Moore was also to attempt to intercept a band of Choctaws providing an escort for a shipment of ammunition and presents being sent by the British to the upper Creek country. While Moore was on the Altamaha Wayne would be “bullying the enemy at their lines” with Jackson’s Legion and “a few Crackers and other species of Tories who have lately surrendered themselves and joined our army.”
April 7 brought reinforcements in the form of Colonel Thomas Posey’s Virginia Continentals. “I believe both officers and men are second to none in the American Army!” declared Wayne.
The reports of combat close to the Savannah defenses made Greene very uneasy. He wrote Wayne saying he did not want him taking up positions near the enemy unless he had a force large enough to lay siege to the city, which he did not. Greene also made the sage observation, “if you expect to find desertion greater by [taking a position near the enemy] you will be mistaken for….you will find it far less. Drawing nearer the enemy will make them more vigilant, and besides which a soldier always feels his pride roused in the approach of an enemy. Men can bear almost any thing better than a charge of cowardice.”
Wayne explained his actions to Greene, writing:
“I have long adopted the opinion of those military writers, who lay it down as a maxim, that an officer never ought to hazard a battle, where a defeat would render his situation much worse than a retreat without it, (unless numbers and circumstances rendered success almost certain). A retreat in our situation would have the effect of a defeat, there is nothing but a howling desert in our rear, and the pass of the Savannah is rendered impracticable by an inundation [The Savannah River was high and over its banks making it impassable]. I have therefore constantly been in readiness to advance to meet the enemy, and leaving no object in my rear, I have always had it in my choice, to give them battle, or to maneuver them into their works, the latter we have more than once effected, but I never had an idea of taking a position within striking, but such a one as would tend to circumscribe [restrict] the enemy, without committing myself, such a position is about six miles in our front, and if I am joined by a corps of riflemen under Col. Clarke [Elijah Clarke, Georgia Militia] agreeable to promise, I shall take it.”
Wayne also informed Greene that “in numbers the Enemy have the advantage of us…and I have received information, of a very large body of Savages, being on their march from the Indian Country, to cooperate, with their more savage employers.” He followed that observation with the comment, “I have only to request you not to be too uneasy, on our account, for although committed, & far outnumbered. If caution, maneuver, or prowess will prevent disaster, or secure success, it will not be wanting.” This probably did not make Greene less uneasy.
On May 1 or 2 Captain Carr engaged in a skirmish with Choctaws near Frederica forcing the Choctaws to return to their boats which they had taken from Savannah. The same Indians attempted on May 3 to cut through to their own territory by land and were intercepted three miles from Savannah by Lieutenant Miller of Jackson’s Legion leading twelve men. The Whigs waited in ambush until the Indians were within ten yards, then opened fire and followed with a bayonet charge. They routed the force of seventy Indians leaving five dead and many wounded.
About the same time a Captain Bryce received information that a party of Tories was driving a herd of cattle to Savannah on the South Carolina side of the river. Operating on his own initiative and not waiting for support Bryce mounted three of his artillerymen and, accompanied by two or three guides, pursued and caught the “caitiffs” four miles from Savannah. Bryce captured three Tories and one hundred seventy head of cattle. Wayne ordered that the area be cleared of cattle as part of his continuing efforts to deny supplies to the Savannah defenders.
Wayne learned on May 21 that the enemy had come out of Savannah in force. He immediately sent Colonel Anthony White’s dragoons and Colonel Thomas Posey’s Virginia Continental Infantry to Mrs. Gibbons’ plantation just upriver from Savannah. In the late afternoon Lt. Col. Jackson reported the enemy was in force at Harris’s bridge on the Ogeechee Road seven miles from Savannah. Another party was at the Ogeechee ferry. Jackson intended to attack the enemy at the ferry.
The force at the ferry was probably Captain James Ingram and 100 militia of the Volunteers of Augusta sent by Colonel Thomas Brown to clear the way for the expected arrival of Chief Emistisiguo’s band of Indians. The Indians were coming to reinforce the Savannah defenders. Jackson was forced to take defensive positions. Ingram joined Brown who was on his way to the Ogeechee with 80 Rangers and 260 Infantry.
The only way for Wayne to reach the midpoint of the Ogeechee Road between Savannah and the ferry to intercept Ingram and Brown was through four miles of a thick swamp. This march would have to be accomplished in the nighttime. Wayne recognized that such a march would be dangerous and that he would also be putting his forces “between the whole of the enemy’s force in Georgia.” Perhaps remembering his success at Stony Point in 1779 Wayne concluded that “the success of a nocturnal attack depended more upon prowess, than numbers.” He ordered the dangerous operation. Upon receipt of Wayne’s letter Greene replied with cautioning advice, “Night attacks are always attended with success, where they are unexpected. But you must be a little careful for a time how you attempt another lest the enemy prepare an ambush for you.”
The vanguard of Wayne’s forces arrived at the Ogeechee Road four miles Southwest of Savannah at midnight. The road was a narrow causeway through the swamps. At the same time the enemy appeared, coming down the road. The main body of troops had not yet caught up with the vanguard but Wayne ordered a bayonet charge. Wayne claimed a total defeat of the enemy forces as Lt. Col. Posey’s light company under Captain Parker and dragoons under Capt. Hughes and Lt. Bayer, routed the forces of Brown. Brown’s force contained parts of the 7th Regiment, Hessians, Fanning’s and Brown’s regulars, Tories and the Choctaw Indians.
The enemy dispersed into the swamps in its effort to get away. The night and the swamp prevented effective pursuit. Brown and most of the party made their way to Savannah. Large numbers of arms and horses were captured. The Whig troops that were able to engage “introduced the American Sword and bayonet with such effect as to kill many and wound some.” Prisoners were also captured. Whig losses amounted to five privates killed and two wounded. The troops returned to Mrs. Gibbons’ to rest, then the following day paraded before Savannah in an unsuccessful attempt to entice the enemy out. They then returned to Ebenezer.
Perhaps feeling confident and flushed with victory Wayne suggested to Greene, “Do let us dig the caitiffs out; it will give an éclat to our arms.” Greene threw cold water on this scheme with a more realistic view, “…nothing would give me greater pleasure than to dig out those caitiffs at Savannah, but our force is really too small for the attempt.”
Colonel Elijah Clarke, who had recently joined Wayne’s command, attacked and dispersed a band of 500 Indians attempting to join forces with the British in Savannah. Clarke killed three Indians and two white men. Two guides were taken prisoner “which he hanged after obtaining what intelligence he could draw from them.” Intelligence advised that three hundred Cowetas were still on the march to Savannah and Wayne was determined to stop them.
The last major engagement in Georgia took place at 3 AM the night of June 23-24, 1782. Emistisiguo, Upper Creek chief and friend of Tory Colonel Thomas Brown, surprised Wayne’s main force encamped at Sharon, Mrs. Gibbons’ plantation. Almost instantly the Indians overran the camp of the sleeping Patriots. The officers and men responded well. Wayne formed his infantry and led a bayonet charge. Emistisiguo along with several of his men was killed.
Pleased, Greene wrote, “I congratulate you on your success in the dispersion of the savages… Nothing requires greater fortitude or more discipline than to stand firm in a night attack.
Under a flag of truce a delegation of Savannah merchants came out to talk with Wayne on July 1. The formal surrender took place on July 11. Lt. Colonel James Jackson was given the honor of accepting British General Alured Clarke’s surrender. The regular troops shipped out to Charleston. The Tory civilian refugees, consisting of about 4,000 blacks and 2,500 whites, waited for transportation to St. Augustine on Tybee Island twelve miles south of Savannah.
Greene feared that the arrival in Charleston of the enemy troops, who had withdrawn from Savannah before the surrender, would give the garrison in Charleston a military advantage over his forces. Greene ordered Wayne to return to Charleston as soon as the surrender was final. Wayne was reluctant to leave as Thomas Brown and his Rangers were on Tybee Island and could, within a day, march to Savannah where the Georgia Legislature was gathered. After the evacuation of the Tories and their Indian allies to St. Augustine was well underway Wayne left Georgia for Charleston on August 9.
Wayne unintentionally summarized the entire campaign when he wrote Greene, “the duty we have performed in Georgia was much more difficult than that of the Children of Israel, they had only to make brick without straw, but we had provision, forage and almost every article of war to provide without money; boats, bridges etc. to build without materials, except what we took from the stump and what is yet more difficult than all, to make Whigs of Tories, in opposition to every lot and hindrance thrown in our way by an [illegible] banditti, all which we have effected, and wrested this State (except the town of Savannah) out of the hands of the enemy with the help of a few [Continentals].” [FEATURED IMAGE AT TOP: Engraving (detail) of Anthony Wayne. View full size. Source: Library of Congress]
 It is with difficulty that one can locate reliable information about the 1782 Savannah campaign. One is presented with generalities and broad statements of events in secondary sources. Many of these statements conflict regarding dates and some descriptions of events may be a mixture more than one event. Primary source materials are scarce and do not give us all the details that we would wish concerning actions, units involved, dates of actions or locations. The researcher should take care.  Greene to Wayne, January 9, 1792. The bulk of the Nathanael Greene-Anthony Wayne correspondence is in the William L. Clements Library of the University of Michigan. Many of these have been published Howard H. Peckham, ed., Sources of American Independence, Selected Manuscripts from the Collections of the William L. Clements Library, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974). The definitive source is the multi-volume edited by Dennis M. Conrad, The Papers of General Nathanael Greene, (Chapel Hill, The University of North Carolina Press), especially volumes X and XI (1998, 2000) which provide the best single source for the correspondence involving the Savannah Campaign. Hereafter, citations will give only the name of the correspondents and the date.  Wayne to Greene, June 13, 1782. Wayne writes, “On the 19th Jan, we passed the Savannah River in three little canoes, swimming the horses, …”  Two Sisters Ferry, 10 miles up River from Ebenezer, near the present town of Clyo.  Mrs. William Gibbons’ plantation, known as “Sharon”, was just north of Savannah, on the River.  Wayne to Greene, March 4, 1782. Patrick O’Kelley, Nothing But Blood and Slaughter, volume 4, (Booklocker.com 2005), this valuable work is apparently inaccurate in its list of Patriot forces in 1782 Georgia. Work needs to be done to determine what units, with how many men, were available for service at any given time during the campaign. Wayne to Green, April 1, 1782.  Wayne to Greene, January 26, 1782.  Wayne to Greene, January 26, 1782.  Greene to Wayne, February 4, 1782.  Ebenezer, is located on the River 25 miles north of Savannah. It would be Wayne’s headquarters for most of the campaign. Wayne to Greene, January 23, 1782.  Wayne to Greene, February 1, 1782.  Wayne to Greene, February 11, 1782.  Wayne to Greene, February 11, 1782.  Greene to Wayne, February 9, 1782.  Wayne to Greene, February 11, 1782.  Edward J. Cashin, The King’s Ranger, Thomas Brown and the American Revolution on the Southern Frontier, (New York, Fordham University Press, 1999) , p. 151, cites letter of Habersham to Wayne February 8, 1782.  Wayne to Greene, February 28, 1782.  Greene to Wayne, March 6, 1782.  Wayne to Greene, March 11, 1782. Cashin, The King’s Ranger, 148.  Wayne to Greene, March 11, 1782.  Wayne to Greene, February 22, 1782.  Wayne to Greene, March 25, 1782.  Fishbourne to Greene, March 25, 1782. The Lt. Governor was John Graham. “Corroborating accounts of this incident have not been found,” Papers of Nathanael Greene, vol. X, 540.  Wayne to Greene, March 25, 1782.  Greene to Wayne, April 6, 1782.  Wayne to Greene, April 1, 1782.  Pierce to St. George Tucker, April 6, 1782.  Wayne to Greene, April 1, 1782. “Crackers” were southern frontiersmen.  Wayne to Greene, April 9, 1782.  Greene to Wayne, April 21, 1782.  Wayne to Greene, April 28, 1782.  Wayne to Greene, May 4, 1782.  Wayne to Greene, May 7, 1782.  Caitiffs, definition: base, mean, despicable.  Wayne to Greene, May 7, 1782.  Wayne to Greene, May 24, 1782.  Cashin, The King’s Ranger, 151  Wayne to Greene, May 24, 1782.  Greene to Wayne, May 28, 1782.  Wayne to Greene, May 24, 1782.  Cashin, The King’s Ranger, 151.  Wayne to Greene, May 24, 1782.  Wayne to Greene, May 27, 1782. Greene to Wayne, June 1, 1782.  Wayne to Greene, June 15, 1782.  Perhaps more than any other action in the campaign this skirmish is described at various geographic locations and in various levels of detail and conflicting detail. See Wayne to Greene, June 24, 1782; O’Kelley, Nothing But Blood and Slaughter, vol. IV, 76-77; William Moultrie, Memoirs of the American Revolution, (New York, David Longworth, 1802), 338-339; R. E. Lee, ed., Henry Lee, The American Revolution in the South, (New York, University Publishing Company, 1869), 556; Mark M. Boatner, Encyclopedia of the American Revolution, (Mechanicsburg, Pa., Stackpole Books, 1994), 421; Cashin, The King’s Ranger, 152; Hugh McCall, The History of Georgia, (Atlanta, A.B. Caldwell, 1909), 544-545; “The Virginia Gazette, or The American Advertiser,” August 31, 1782, p. 2. cited in J.H. O’Donnell, “Alexander McGillivray,” Georgia Historical Quarterly, vol. 49, 1965, 181.  Greene to Wayne, June 28, 1782.  Cashin, The King’s Ranger, 153.  Cashin, The King’s Ranger, 154.  Wayne to Greene, February 28, 1782.