MILITARY ACTIVITIES 1776 - 1778
BEFORE fighting can be done, armies must be raised and supplied. In the American Revolution this was done by the Continental Congress and the individual states. The first consideration of the defense of South Carolina and Georgia by the Continental Congress culminated in an authorization on November 4, 1775, to raise three battalions of Continental troops for South Carolina and one for Georgia. The officers were to be designated by the South Carolina and Georgia Whig governments, and enlistments might be made in Virginia and North Carolina if there were insufficient men in South Carolina and Georgia.1 On January 29 and 30, 1776, the Georgia Provincial Congress elected Lachlan McIntosh, colonel; Samuel Elbert, lieutenant colonel; and Joseph Habersham, major, of the Georgia battalion.2 Recruiting was held up by lack of currency which could be used outside Georgia, the promised money from Congress not having arrived. McIntosh said that he expected few enlistments in Georgia and even fewer in South Carolina, which latter state paid larger bounties than Georgia. On April 28, McIntosh reported 286 men enlisted for the Georgia battalion, and a week later 400 were reported. The state was also raising two troops of horsemen to guard the southern frontier against cattle raids from East Florida and the western frontier against Indians. About 600 militia were reported on duty.3
On February 27, 1776, the Continental Congress created a Southern Military Department of Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia, commanded by Major General Charles Lee. Georgia and South Carolina were commanded by Brigadier General John Armstrong.4 In March and May Congressional committees recommended that additional troops be raised for South Carolina and Georgia, and General Lee added his plea for 2,000 men before he arrived in Charleston.5 State and Continental authorities in the spring and summer of 1776 agreed that more men were needed.
In considering Georgia’s defense it is necessary to picture a settled area from thirty to sixty miles wide from above Augusta down the Savannah River to the sea and down the coast to the Altamaha. From the Altamaha to the St. Marys, settlement was thin and near the coast. Highest estimates gave 4,000 white men capable of military duty, all members of the militia. No more than half of these could be used for military duty at once if the area was to continue to exist economically. The back country must have sufficient men present at all times to protect itself from the Indians. The coast with its islands, inlets, and river mouths had a number of good harbors and necessitated a considerable naval force to patrol it. There were from 500 to 1,000 British regulars at St. Augustine plus Indians and Tories from Georgia and South Carolina. All needed to be fed, and south Georgia was the most obvious source of food.
The Creek Indians, Georgia’s nearest red neighbors, outnumbered the Georgians in fighting men and were on fairly good terms with the British Indian Department. Georgia, being a frontier province, must bear the brunt of any attack from St. Augustine or from the Creeks, and her defense would also protect South Carolina and the colonies to the north. To secure and maintain the land and the naval forces necessary to protect Georgia made too formidable a task for the youngest and weakest colony, and it was only fair that she should receive help because of her frontier position.6
When General Lee arrived in Charleston in the summer of 1776, he called a conference of South Carolina and Georgia representatives to consider the military needs of the area. The Georgia delegates, headed by Colonel McIntosh, pointed out Georgia’s weakness, her importance to the union, and her fear of attacks from British troops. They said that Georgia needed men, fortifications, and an understanding with the Indians. Six battalions of Continental troops, which Georgia could not raise, were requested. The four troops of horsemen already raised could be turned over to Continental command, and another regiment of horsemen should be raised. Horsemen should be used to protect the Georgia and South Carolina frontier and to cut off the Indian contacts with the British in the Floridas. Congress was also asked to furnish funds to build forts on the frontier and to man war galleys on the coast. Finally, Congress was asked to furnish sufficient Indian presents to satisfy the Creeks and to pay for the cattle which Georgia could furnish the Indians.7
While Lee was not convinced on all these points, he was impressed with the importance of Georgia to the American cause and the impossibility of her defending herself. Lee and South Carolina urged Georgia to augment her frontier patrols and to send presents to the Indians at once, and assured her that Congress would pay for what she could not.8
In the last half of August, Lee came to Savannah for a personal inspection and for conferences. He reported that the state’s defense depended upon McIntosh’s battalion and some 2,500 militia. McIntosh and his battalion Lee praised very highly but said the Georgia troops should be exchanged for South Carolina troops because too many of the Georgians had Tory friends and relatives in East Florida who were continually raiding southern Georgia. The militia was unreliable for the same reason. Lee recommended a large number of row galleys to guard the inland passage and coast, and the building of forts south of the Altamaha to serve as places of refuge and refreshment to the horsemen patrolling that area. Lee personally favored abandoning all Georgia south of the Altamaha; but because he did not think it possible to persuade Georgians to do so, he was ready to defend this area. Lee’s report showed a good understanding of the Georgia situation and a well-formulated plan of action.9 Lee saw the difficulties in carrying out his plans, and he graphically described them to General John Armstrong, his South Carolina and Georgia deputy.
The people here are if possible more harum skarum than their sister colony [South Carolina]. They will propose anything, and after they have propos’d it, discover that they are incapable of performing the least. They have propos’d securing their Frontiers by constant patrols of horse Rangers, when the scheme is approv’d of they scratch their heads for some days, and at length inform you that there is a small difficulty in the way; that of the impossibility to procure a single horse—their next project is to keep their inland Navigation clear of Tenders by a numerous fleet of Guarda Costa arm’d boats, when this is agreed to, they recollect that they have not a single boat—Upon the whole I shou’d not be surpris’d if they were to propose mounting a body of Mermaids on Alligators. . . .10
Lee offended the council of safety by informing it that he was the best judge of what should be done and would merely requisition what he needed without explanation as to its intended use.11 The question as to the degree of authority Georgia had over Continental troops had already come up and was going to continue to cause trouble throughout the war.12 Lee recommended that tighter security measures be adopted, especially against leaks of military plans to East Florida, where Georgia plans were known almost as soon as they were known in Savannah.13
While Lee was making enemies in Savannah, Congress decided to augment the Continental establishment of Georgia by two additional battalions of foot troops, one to serve as riflemen, and a regiment of rangers to act as horsemen or foot soldiers. Virginia and North Carolina were asked to allow recruiting within their borders and to give the recruiting officers all possible help. Two companies of artillery to garrison forts at Savannah and Sunbury were also authorized. Four row galleys were to be built at Continental expense for coastal defense. In the fall another Georgia battalion was authorized.14 Congress appointed Colonel McIntosh as Brigadier General to head the Georgia brigade,15 and recruiting officers immediately began work in Virginia and North Carolina, where they secured considerable help from the state governments. Bounties of $70 and 100 acres of land were offered for recruits who would enlist for the duration of the war.16 By the end of 1776 McIntosh reported 538 men in the First Georgia Battalion, dispersed throughout the state on guard duty, and about forty men between the two companies of artillery. The regiment of light horse, doing patrol duty on the frontiers, had some 300 men; but its discipline was poor and would remain so as long as it was a separate unit. No recruits from Virginia and North Carolina had yet arrived for the second and third battalions. Georgia had little ordnance and almost no military stores.17
To help fill the Georgia and South Carolina units, General Lee gave authority in September to enlist troops from Virginia and North Carolina then serving in Georgia and South Carolina. This order so incensed North Carolina that she recalled all her Continental troops, but she sent them south again by the end of the year.18 North Carolina refused to allow the Fourth Georgia Battalion to recruit in North Carolina in the spring of 1777, but she did furnish supplies to troops who were recruited in Pennsylvania and were marching to Georgia.19 At the same time that Continental troops were being recruited outside the state, Georgia was trying to recruit state troops in other states as well.20
Early in 1776 the council of safety took steps to secure military supplies and arms. All available arms in Georgia were ordered collected and put into usable condition. Samuel Elbert, Edward Telfair, and Joseph Habersham were appointed to arrange for the importation of munitions and the exportation of Georgia produce to pay for them, a modification of the association allowed by the Continental Congress. Originally 400 stands of arms with bayonets, 20,000 pounds of gunpowder, 60,000 pounds of lead, and bullets and shot were authorized;21 but this was only a beginning. Munitions were secured from various West Indian islands—apparently the Bahamas and perhaps a few other British islands supplied some, and Captains Oliver Bowen and Job Pray carried on trade for munitions and tried to recruit seamen at Cape Francais and St. Thomas.22 Such trade was dangerous because of the possibility of capture by British vessels. There are records of at least one trader who worked for Georgia and East Florida at the same time. Thomas Young was appointed by Georgia to secure clothing for the Georgia Battalion and by Governor Tonyn of East Florida to supply the West Indies with provisions from Georgia. Young was later discovered by both sides to be dealing with the other. As a result he lost the clothing that he had imported to Georgia and his name was placed on the 1778 Georgia act of confiscation and banishment.23 There were probably others who professed loyalty to both sides for personal profit.
In November, 1776, the Continental Congress recommended to the states that they lay up magazines of munitions and provisions for the use of troops and militia. General Lee reported the establishing of food magazines on the Altamaha and the Ogeechee, at Augusta, and between Savannah and Augusta.24 Rice and salt meat could be collected easily in Georgia, but there were almost never enough munitions. General Lee recommended, and the council of safety approved, the removal of cattle from the sea islands in August, 1776, to augment the food supply and to prevent their falling into the hands of the British. Some cattle were removed and used to feed the army, but there were still cattle on the islands for the British to capture in 1777 and 1778.25
Before any troops were raised or supplied, there was much talk of marching against St. Augustine to capture it and wipe out the small British garrison (about 150 in the fall of 1775) and the headquarters of Georgia and South Carolina loyalists and of Indian Superintendent John Stuart. Refugees in St. Augustine were reported so afraid of such an expedition that they were fleeing to the West Indies.26
Under British rule East Florida between the St. Marys and St. Johns rivers had developed a plantation economy like that of the other Southern colonies, but it had not progressed far enough to feed the colony and garrison at St. Augustine. Ordinarily food was imported from Georgia. Many of the Southern loyalists who moved to East Florida in 1775 and 1776 began planting activities in this area and kept up contacts with friends and relatives who remained in Georgia and Carolina. With the augmented civil and military population in East Florida by spring of 1776, additional food was needed just when Georgia tried to stop all exportation to British areas. Many of the newly-arrived loyalists formed themselves into troops of horsemen known as the Florida Rangers, whose main duty seems to have been stealing cattle and otherwise harrying southern Georgia, which was so sparsely inhabited that it could do little to protect itself. Thomas Brown, tarred and feathered as a loyalist at Augusta, was the commander of this provincial troop and never forgot his desire for revenge on Georgia Whigs. The Florida Rangers and the Georgians who wanted to continue to sell their produce in East Florida made it impossible to stop the flow of provisions from Georgia to East Florida.
On January 1, 1776, the Continental Congress recommended to North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia that they undertake a joint expedition at Continental expense to capture St. Augustine.27 News of this recommendation reached St. Augustine almost as soon as it did Savannah and set off talk of an immediate expedition against Georgia. Governor Patrick Tonyn of East Florida suggested that he be made a brigadier to lead the 580 troops at St. Augustine against Georgia at the time of Sir Henry Clinton’s proposed attack against Charleston. Tonyn was sure that he could draw troops which would otherwise oppose Clinton and probably be able to overrun Georgia and return it to British allegiance.28
Border incidents in the vicinity of the St. Marys River did not await the opening of a formal expedition. South Georgia militia operated against Florida Rangers, and in May the Georgia Council of Safety ordered Captain William McIntosh and his troop of horsemen to destroy the forts and magazines near the St. Marys River and destroy or drive south all Florida troops found in the area. It was also suggested that forts be built for the Georgia troops and that vessels on the river be captured. Four days later Tonyn presented these Georgia plans to his council in St. Augustine.29 Throughout July preparations on both sides were intensified. There were reports of increasing cattle stealing. Florida expected reinforcements from the Carolina and Georgia back country. Tonyn protested the impossibility of protecting a 300-mile frontier and the plantations between the St. Marys and the St. Johns with a garrison consisting mainly of raw recruits.30 In July there was a false report of a British fleet on the Georgia coast and fear of an imminent attack. South Carolina refused any help despite Lee’s request and insistence that the best defense of South Carolina was on the Georgia-Florida frontier.31 Regardless of false rumors and future plans, the almost daily raids in the St. Marys area continued; cattle were driven off, and Georgia and East Florida troops of horsemen and militia met in small engagements.
By August Lee was planning an expedition to break up the settlements and plantations between the St. Marys and St. Johns rivers, though he doubted that he had sufficient troops and supplies to capture St. Augustine. The expedition should be able to stop the raids into south Georgia, help to wean the Creeks from their allegiance to Britain, and give the Georgians a sense of victory. Of the estimated 1,000 troops needed, Lee and Georgia could raise about 600 and must apply to South Carolina again for the rest. Just at this time Lee was notified that several South Carolina units had been put on the Continental establishment; so he could take them without fear of a South Carolina veto as in July.32 Lee collected the Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina troops in Charleston and set out for Georgia.33 As usual Tonyn in St. Augustine knew the American plans almost as soon as they were formulated and long before they could be put into operation.34
In early August Colonel McIntosh raided northern East Florida, broke up every settlement north of the St. Johns, and caused the withdrawal of the forces on the St. Marys which had been so troublesome to Georgians.35 On August 19 Lee asked the Georgia Council of Safety if the proposed expedition was needed since the area north of the St. Johns had been broken up and since it was impossible to collect or transport supplies for a reduction of St. Augustine. The council of safety thought that if the area north of the St. Johns was invaded in force all of its inhabitants would withdraw to St. Augustine where they could not be fed or housed and that the fort might surrender to the Americans upon their arrival. The old arguments about breaking up the country between the St. Marys and the St. Johns, stopping raids into south Georgia, and impressing the Indians were repeated. After such a raid in force, the council said one troop of horsemen should be sufficient to protect the Georgia border.36
The council of safety did not anticipate the transportation troubles that worried Lee but began the collection of boats and supplies.37 The Florida authorities were genuinely worried, especially for fear that Floridians would prove disloyal when an American army appeared.38 The expedition took place in September, and some American troops got as far as the St. Johns and laid waste the country. Certainly the majority of the troops did not get that far. Tonyn said they got no further than Sunbury, and none of them saw St. Augustine. Various reasons were given for this failure: sickness of the troops, hot weather, insufficient transportation, the size of the St. Augustine garrison (which had recently been reinforced), hostilities of the Cherokees against back settlements, the general inability of the Americans to get things done, and the lack of cooperation between Lee and civilian authorities.39
Cattle stealing from East Florida began again, and by October Georgians were calling for help against the Florida Rangers. The area south of the Altamaha was overrun, and it was impossible to raise militia just north of that river as the people were moving their families to places of safety. By November the raiders had penetrated north of the Altamaha.40 Sir William Howe recommended that Georgia and South Carolina should be the target of British winter expeditions,41 but nothing was done. Trouble from Florida loyalists continued throughout the winter.
During most of 1776 there were British naval vessels stationed off Savannah and St. Augustine. The vessels at the mouth of the Savannah River hurt trade and prevented any military reinforcements and supplies that might have come by water. However, the inland passage from South Carolina to the Altamaha was generally open.42 The British vessels were reported to have left the mouth of the Savannah early in October but there were constant rumors that they would return.43
Failure of the 1776 St. Augustine expedition did not restore peace to the Georgia-East Florida frontier. Raids into Georgia and talk of another expedition against St. Augustine continued. In January, 1777, St. Augustine was reported in a good state of defense with Indians coming in to help the garrison.44 On February 18 Captain Richard Winn surrendered Fort McIntosh, a small stockade fort on the Satilla River (between the Altamaha and the St. Marys), and its garrison of fifty men to British Regulars and Florida Scouts from St. Augustine.45 The fear that this attack might be prelude to a more extended operation against Georgia resulted in the sending south of the Continental troops in Savannah and the calling out of militia in several parishes. On February 22, just before the death of President Bulloch, the council of safety gave him the entire executive power for a period of one month because of the possibility that a council could not be assembled quickly enough to take action during the expected emergency.46
General Robert Howe, the new Continental commander in the South, came to Savannah early in March and conferred with the president and council. The Georgia regiment of light horse refused to do duty, and many disaffected people in the back country were not to be trusted. This left only the First Georgia Battalion of some 400 troops available for duty. Gwinnett and his council were sure that with proper help they could stop all supplies going from Georgia to St. Augustine, get many of the East Florida people to join them, capture St. Augustine, and end all the East Florida trouble. The militia was called out. Georgia’s navy of seven armed galleys was put in readiness. Georgia was ready, with Howe’s help, to blot St. Augustine off the map. Howe refused to send any troops from South Carolina to Florida, although he did order one battalion to Sunbury; he took the rest of his troops back to Charleston with him. “He came, he saw, and left us in low Estate,” said Gwinnett. Gwinnett did not think that Howe liked the idea of working with a civilian even though he was the head of the military forces of the state. It never occurred to Gwinnett that Howe might think him dictatorial and incompetent. Howe later explained that he lacked troops and supplies necessary to capture the fort at St. Augustine, that it was the wrong time of the year to undertake military operations in the South, and that the state officials wanted to dictate the expedition and had no conception of what was necessary to win.47
Gwinnett proceeded with his plans for the expedition but asked for no help from General McIntosh, who said that he was ready to cooperate but had not been informed of the plans for the expedition. The militia was slow in coming in. The arrest of George McIntosh came during March and interfered with any cooperation that might have been possible between McIntosh and Gwinnett. Not until March 27 did Gwinnett and the council of safety request aid from McIntosh; McIntosh said that this request came then only because so few (not over 200) militia could be raised.48
As usual, the plans of the expedition were known in St. Augustine in time to oppose them. Governor Tonyn asked Superintendent Stuart to call out Creeks and Cherokees to ravage the Georgia frontiers, and he redoubled his efforts to get disaffected people from the Georgia and Carolina back country to join his forces in St. Augustine.49
Militia and Continental troops set out in early April and reached Sunbury by the middle of the month. Here the old enmity between McIntosh and Gwinnett flared again, and cooperation was impossible. Each insisted that he should command the expedition, and neither would allow the other to do so. Upon the advice of the council of safety, both returned to Savannah and left command to Colonel Samuel Elbert, the ranking Continental officer.50 On May 1 Elbert embarked his troops and proceeded down the inland passage. A group of mounted militia, commanded by Colonel John Baker, went overland. Progress by water was slower than anticipated, and the militia reached the St. Johns before the Continentals did. Here the militia was attacked by British Regulars and Florida Rangers, and most of them fled at once. The progress of Elbert’s flotilla south was kept up with by the Florida authorities, but they made no attack against it. Provisions ran short, and the troops, hot and confined on the transports, became sick and disgusted. It was impossible to get the boats through Amelia Narrows just below the St. Marys, and Elbert was worried about the condition of his troops and the leakage of his plans to Florida. So on May 26 he decided to abandon the expedition and return to Savannah where he and his troops arrived on June 15. The only concrete result of the expedition was the collection of some 1,000 head of cattle by the Georgia troops.51
The ending of the expedition was the signal for the Florida Rangers to begin their raids into Georgia again. Tonyn reported that they got to within five miles of Savannah and went through Augusta. They seemed able to penetrate to the Ogeechee without any trouble and drove off much stock. These raiding parties were generally not over 150, and there was much complaint that the Georgia Continentals and militia were seldom able to give them any real opposition. Many Georgians feared a real attack from Florida in the fall.52
Not only must Georgia fight the British and Tories from East Florida, but she also had serious military recruiting, finance, and supply problems in 1777. Recruiting continued in North Carolina and Virginia for the Second and Third Georgia Battalions and extended into Pennsylvania for the Fourth Battalion. Returns of the first three Continental battalions, the regiment of horse, and the artillery companies in August, 1777, showed a total of 1,526 troops. However, in October only 600 were reported available for duty. Not over 2,000 militia could possibly be collected.53 Being unable to secure qualified engineer and artillery officers locally, the assembly, in May, 1777, sent blank Continental commissions to an agent in France to be issued to qualified personnel. The Continental Congress disapproved of this action when it heard of it, but the presence of artillery officers with French names in Georgia leads to the conclusion that some of the commissions must have been issued.54
Georgia’s military situation was considered at length by the Continental Congress in the summer of 1777. When Henry Laurens arrived in Congress he found an expedition against West Florida agreed upon but no men or money yet voted. He set to work to kill this expedition and to substitute for it defense of Georgia. A committee headed by Laurens recommended, and Congress approved, $600,000 for Georgia troops’ expenses and the appointment of Joseph Clay, a Savannah merchant and friend of Laurens, as deputy paymaster for Georgia.55 By the summer of 1778 the back pay due Georgia troops was largely paid, and Congress was induced to vote $1,000,000 additional for support of the Georgia troops.56 More Continental housekeeping officers were appointed for Georgia; and supply, on paper at least, was taken over entirely by the Continental authorities. In the spring of 1778 it was reported that no state funds were available to Continental troops and there was the old difficulty in getting sufficient funds to feed and supply the troops.57
General McIntosh left Georgia to assume his new command in the North on October 10, 1777, and was replaced by Colonel Samuel Elbert as commander of the Georgia brigade.58 When the Continental troops got back to Savannah in June, 1777, from the Florida expedition, they were sent into healthier locations as frontier guards. Garrison and guard duty proved disagreeable, or perhaps the troops tired of army life in Georgia. At any rate, desertions and poor discipline were much in evidence throughout the rest of the year, though Colonel Elbert made a determined effort to improve conditions.59
Early in 1778, Georgians began to plan their annual expedition against St. Augustine. On January 29 the assembly recommended to General Howe that he carry out an expedition against East Florida and promised all possible assistance. Howe and the Continental field officers considered the matter and decided that it would be unsafe to send troops to attack St. Augustine at that time. The 1,500 considered necessary to capture St. Augustine were not available and there were no other troops to protect Georgia during the expedition. It was recommended instead that strong bodies of troops be stationed along the Georgia-Florida frontier to make it secure. Howe said that if the assembly determined upon a Florida expedition anyway, he would be glad to be of whatever help he could. He questioned the use of militia at the season when militiamen were needed to look after farming operations.60
The assembly resolved that Howe’s letter was highly disrespectful to the governor. It was sure that there were sufficient supplies in Georgia for the proposed expedition and asked for specific recommendations of what further supplies were needed so that they could be acquired. Governor Houstoun was asked to call a council of war to consider the expedition, the council to be attended by the general and field officers of Continental and state troops, the governor, and a committee of the assembly. When the old trouble of civilian-military prestige came up, Howe refused to attend this council in his official capacity but offered to attend as a private citizen and give any advice he could. The assembly requested the governor to send a report of Howe’s insubordinate conduct to Congress.61
Cattle raids and other troubles from the Florida Rangers continued. On March 9 the executive council authorized any person who would raise fifteen or more volunteers to plunder at will in East Florida under a commission from Georgia. All Georgians who would settle for three months on lands between the St. Marys and the St. Johns (in East Florida) could have a grant of 500 acres in this area.62 Such offers may have gotten a few adventurous people to operate against East Florida, but to settle in that disputed area for three months was impossible. A state that had to fight its battles with volunteers who supplied themselves and were to be rewarded by being given what they personally captured, and which still insisted to the Continental authorities that it had ample men and supplies for an extended operation in that same area, was not being realistic.
Governor Tonyn, the Florida Rangers, and the British army in St. Augustine were not idle. In February, Tonyn sent German emissaries to try to influence Germans in the Georgia units to desert and come to East Florida. Tonyn was sure that the forces then in Florida were sufficient to capture Georgia but objected that Colonel Prevost, the British commander, would not move without orders from his commander. Prevost, like Howe, wanted more troops and cooler weather before he undertook any extended expedition.63
By mid-April Georgians were sure an attack was being planned from East Florida. A large band of disaffected people, estimated at from 400 to 700, from the South Carolina back country went to St. Augustine. These people were called Scoffellites or Scopholites after their leader, a Colonel Scophol, and had been roused through the efforts of Thomas Brown and his connections in the Carolina and Georgia back country. Continental troops and militia were sent to oppose their passage through Georgia but apparently did not make contact with them.64
A proclamation was issued by Governor Houstoun calling upon all friends of freedom to repair to a state camp established in Burke County. Houstoun was to command, provisions and ammunition were to be furnished by Georgia, but all plunder was to be retained by its captors.65 When Houstoun took the field, the executive council gave him full powers in regard to the campaign, saying that quick action was necessary in battle and that the constitution did not make consent of the council necessary in military matters. Houstoun said he had no desire to exercise power alone but he realized the difficulties of getting quick action otherwise and so would take the power. The assembly was to meet in ten days and could cancel this grant of power if it wished.66
By the end of April there were about 2,000 troops consisting of Georgia and Carolina Continentals under Howe, Georgia militia under Houstoun, South Carolina militia under Colonel Andrew Williamson, and naval units under Commodore Oliver Bowen.67 The old argument of command immediately appeared. Howe and Houtoun had already differed. Howe, the senior officer and the Continental commander of the Southern Department, claimed command by right. Houstoun, about thirty years old and with no military experience, refused to take orders from Howe. Colonel Williamson said his militia would not take orders from Howe but caused little trouble in the confused command picture. Bowen refused to take orders from either Houstoun or Howe as there was some dispute as to whether the galleys were Continental or state vessels. Howe, Houstoun, and Bowen held a council in the general’s tent on the Florida border but could not agree on a plan of action.
As the expedition approached the St. Marys on June 29, the Florida Rangers hastily destroyed their own supplies and their rendezvous, Fort Tonyn, on the Florida side of the river, and withdrew. Because of the confused command picture and the destruction of Fort Tonyn, Howe asked and received approval of the Continental officers to end the expedition. He and the Continentals started north in mid-July and were back in Savannah by the end of the month. Houstoun still wanted to proceed against St. Augustine, but he and Williamson decided an expedition was impossible without more troops, and returned to Savannah.
Thus ended the third and last attempt of Georgians to capture St. Augustine. It had gone no further than the Florida-Georgia border and had met no serious opposition. Some 1,200 Regulars, Florida Scouts, and Indians were reported to have marched out of St. Augustine; but Prevost, the British commander, had no intention of any serious opposition until the force reached the St. Johns, a river it did not see. The Whigs had about twice as many men as the British and certainly had a better chance of taking St. Augustine than on either of the earlier expeditions. The season was bad, but the inability to agree on a common commander or plan of action was the major cause of the failure of the expedition.68
As soon as the Georgians returned to Savannah, the cattle stealing raids from East Florida began again. Late in August the assembly ordered that families of many Florida Scouts, who had been left on the Ogeechee and who carried Georgia plans to Florida, be moved onto forfeited estates where they could be more easily watched and prevented from communicating with Florida.69
Both General Howe and Henry Laurens proposed another expedition against St. Augustine by fall. Congress authorized an expedition with specially enlisted troops, if necessary, for the winter of 1778-1779.70 But by the time this expedition could be got ready, Georgia Whigs had British troops closer than St. Augustine to worry them.
The three expeditions against East Florida were the major military effort of Georgia in the first phase of military activity and should be analyzed before the next phase of the fighting is considered. Throughout this fighting neither the Continental nor British military commanders thought they had sufficient troops to destroy or decisively defeat the other and never wanted to undertake the expeditions. It was the civilian authorities who were so anxious to defeat the enemy and who were sure that this could be done easily. The two greatest weaknesses of the Americans were the lack of strong executives, Continental or state, to carry out any unified program over any period of time and the divided command that a stronger executive and a state government less jealous of its prerogative might have eliminated. Because the major effort was left to the civilian authorities, it is possible to say that Governor Tonyn won with his Florida Rangers. This was a relatively small group of loyalists from Georgia and Carolina who were organized and supported by Tonyn and commanded by Thomas Brown, a man who knew what he wanted and how to get it. The military commanders at St. Augustine opposed the Rangers and would have little to do with them. But it was the Rangers who kept up continual raids into Georgia and never gave the state any peace. Brown and his loyalists all hated Whigs and were anxious to get even because of the loss of their property and the rough treatment they had received earlier. They knew well the area in which they operated. Georgians often said they needed such a force, but they never created one. Neither Continental nor state troops nor militia could equal the Florida Rangers, though they often outnumbered the Rangers. It is possible to say that Florida got the better of this three years of fighting because of superior administrative organization, wherein the early revolutionary governments in America were notably weak. Perhaps the administrator himself, Tonyn, should also be given much of the credit for this success.
Troop life in the Georgia Continental Line varied little during 1776-1778, and in many respects a description of it sounds strikingly modern. Garrison life was monotonous with a routine of guard, parades, drill, policing the barracks and surrounding area, orders to stay out of houses of ill repute, and admonitions to respect civilians. Colonel Elbert’s Order Book indicates that the concern of the army with the soldiers was almost entirely negative. Little or no effort was made by the army or civilians, except by the ones who could profit personally, to improve soldier morale. Discipline was bad among both officers and men. Death sentences for desertion were fairly common. Ten convictions for desertion on one day brought seven sentences of shooting, one of hanging, and two of 100 lashes. The most common punishment for desertion, 100 lashes, was also meted out for abusive language. One sentence of 400 lashes for desertion to the enemy is recorded.71
Army supply left much to be desired. On the 1778 Florida expedition a list of men without shoes was ordered made so that cowhide could be procured to make moccasins. At another time men who had never had blankets were ordered to apply for them.72 Near the end of the summer in 1778, barracks for the Savannah garrison were finished outside the town. These must have provided improvement over the previous arrangement of quartering the men in crowded billets. Often only a part of the Continental troops were kept in Savannah, and the rest were scattered over the frontier for guard duty.73
One of the greatest complaints of Continental troops in 1776 and 1777 was that they were paid in Georgia currency, which had considerably less value than Continental currency and was of no value outside the state. Many of the men did not live in Georgia and needed money that they could send to their families in other states. Both General Howe and Deputy Paymaster Joseph Clay made repeated attempts to get Continental funds to pay the troops. Howe said that there would be a mutiny unless such payments were made; and a majority of the desertions were blamed on the small value of the money paid to the troops, the lack of any pay at all, or the high cost of necessities that the troops had to buy.74 After funds were voted by the Continental Congress in the summer of 1777, it was still a year before the situation was corrected.75
Besides Continental troops, militia was often mobilized for independent action or cooperation with Continentals on operations like the Florida expeditions. When Continental troops were needed elsewhere, guard duty on the western frontier was usually assumed by the state. Militia was supposed to do this duty, but it was considered bad policy to give militiamen continuous duty during the summer months when they were needed for farm work. Often little or no militia could be assembled if there was no immediate danger obvious to the militiamen. To get more reliable troops and to relieve the militia during the planting season, the state resorted to various types of special troops. Invariably these units did not measure up to expectations and were abolished or they faded away and some other type of state troops was ordered raised. But the “other type” were never any better than the units they were supposed to replace. State troops either could not be raised in the desired number, or they began to desert before recruiting was finished, or there was insufficient equipment for them, or the discipline was so poor as to render them useless, or they could not be found when needed, or something else happened to render them useless. Often these troops were raised for a short period for some specific duty, but several attempts were made to raise frontier minute battalions to do duty for the duration of the war. In 1777 a company of frontier scouts to be composed of Indians was authorized, but it probably never materialized. In 1778 there were minute battalions, two troops of horsemen, five independent companies, special magazine and jail guards, a combination artillery and fire company for Savannah, and six companies given no special name. When the five independent companies were ordered disbanded, only six men were known to be on duty; and the clerk of the executive council was ordered to inform what officers he could locate that the companies were disbanded.76 State troops were more a hope than a reality. Georgia authorities throughout the war attempted to recruit both state and Continental troops outside the state. Because better bounties were usually given by other states and service in Georgia did not have a very good name, out-of-state recruitment was usually a false hope. But the state clung to it, perhaps because there were not enough men in Georgia to do the necessary military duty.
Besides the army action that has been described, there was naval activity along the Georgia coast. All early Whig defense plans emphasized the necessity of naval protection of the coast, and a navy grew up as an adjunct to the army and was never clearly separated from it. Oliver Bowen, its commander, was originally commissioned a captain in the Continental Battalion formed in February, 1776. In January, 1777, Bowen was elected by the assembly as “Commodore or Commander” of Georgia’s navy to rank as a colonel in the army.77 Ship carpenters were brought from Philadelphia to build vessels, and by spring of 1777 there were at least five galleys, eight row galleys, and two sloops belonging to the state.78 There was a naval board appointed by the executive council, presumably to handle supply matters. In April, 1778, the executive council noted that the galleys had originally been commissioned by the state to guard its coast. The fact that the ships had been taken over by the Continental establishment did not change the purpose or direction of their activities, all of which was still in the hands of state authorities. The state promised to supplement naval funds if the Continental Congress did not supply enough.79 Since Bowen refused to take orders from the governor on the Florida expedition of 1778, the executive instructed the captains of the vessels to take orders direct from the council and not from Bowen, and Bowen was suspended from his command because of contempt of the executive.80
The earliest Whig naval action, capture of powder vessels at Savannah, has already been described. There was a certain amount of naval action connected with the East Florida troubles, stemming mainly from the fact that most of the rice taken from south Georgia to East Florida went by small vessels that could go up the rivers and ply the inland passage. Sometimes Whig naval activity was directed by naval commanders and sometimes by army commanders. Though Bowen refused to cooperate during the 1778 Florida expedition, Colonel Elbert and other army officers were responsible for the capture of several British naval vessels along the Georgia-Florida coast.81 British men-of-war stationed on the Georgia coast never had any opposition from the Georgia navy because it had no vessels large enough to fight major British vessels.
The Continental Marine Committee appointed John Wereat its agent in 1776 and instructed him to supply all Continental vessels with provisions, stores, money, and other necessities. Wereat was to seize, libel, and sell all captured vessels brought into Georgia as prizes by Continental cruisers. He was to supply cargoes, public or private, for the Georgia Packet, a Continental vessel, which regularly sailed between Philadelphia and Savannah as a mail and supply boat.82
One thing that had always affected the military situation in Georgia was relations with Indians, especially the Creeks. As the struggle between the colonials and Britain intensified, the struggle for control and friendship of the Southern Indians also intensified. The British Indian Department got along well with the Indians and had an initial advantage in this struggle. In 1776 Superintendent Stuart had Indian gifts and trade items sent through the Floridas, and prevailed upon some Indian traders to remove from Augusta to Pensacola, where he intended to create a new center of the Southern Indian trade.83
The Georgia Council of Safety, in January, 1776, instructed local committees to be sure that nothing was done to antagonize the Indians and saw that some ammunition was distributed to the Creeks. An unsuccessful attempt was made to get the Creeks to apprehend and deliver to the Whigs David Taitt, Stuart’s deputy to the Creeks.84 Like Stuart, the Whig Indian commissioners wanted to prevent a general Indian attack on the frontier but wanted to get Indian cooperation when there was military activity.
In the late spring of 1776 the Continental Indian Commissioners held a conference of Creeks and Cherokees at Augusta, at which the British Indian Department was unable to prevent Indian attendance. Apparently the aim of this conference was to distribute presents and try to win the Indians away from British friendship.85 No definite results have been ascertained, but the meeting did illustrate the split Indian loyalties that worried both sides throughout the war. There were always Indians who would meet with representatives of either side, take their presents, and make promises of friendship. There were always other Indians of the same tribes or groups who would repudiate the first group and any promises it had made to the whites. The whites always tried to deprecate the number and importance of the Indians who attended the meetings of their enemies.
In the summer of 1776 the Cherokees began troubles, known as the Cherokee War, on the Carolina frontier. The British tried to get the Creeks to help the Cherokees; the Americans tried to prevent this, and few Creeks helped the Cherokees. Actual hostilities began between the Cherokees and South Carolina. The Continental Congress requested Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia to help South Carolina. Georgia militia around Augusta was already mobilized and some of it or state troops participated in the war, but most of the fighting was done by the other states. Georgia participated in the treaty of De Witt’s Corner, which ended the war, on May 20, 1777. The defeated Cherokees gave little additional trouble throughout the Revolution.86
The Continental Congress and the state government in Savannah always differed with frontiersmen on the subject of the Creeks and the Creek trade. While the council of safety was assuring the Creeks in the summer of 1776 that Georgians intended to begin the manufacture of goods to supply the Indians, the inhabitants of the frontier parishes were requesting that the Indian trade be stopped. George Galphin, the Continental Indian Commissioner, had his hands full preventing the people on the 1773 Indian cession from starting a war with the Creeks. Stuart likewise tried to prevent hostilities between the Creeks and the Whigs.87 The timely arrival of suitable Indian presents from the French West Indies and the defeat of the Cherokees assured Creek friendship in the summer of 1777. After a conference which Galphin held in June, Stuart said he had no hopes of Indian cooperation against the Whigs until fall.88 In September when Stuart had well-laid plans for white and Creek cooperation against the Whigs, Galphin held another conference in Charleston and was able to prevent the Creeks from carrying out Stuart’s plans.89
While Galphin and his colleagues were working so hard to maintain Creek peace, the people in upcountry Georgia were trying to begin a Creek war and in late summer almost succeeded in persuading the assembly to declare a war that the state could not possibly have won without outside help. At the request of General Howe, the Continental Congress urged the Georgia Assembly to try to cultivate Indian peace and to punish the people who sought a war with the Creeks.90 Throughout the fall and winter there were frontier incidents but no major trouble. In the summer of 1778 the Creeks were reported willing to settle their differences, but in August twenty whites were killed in Wilkes County. Georgia and South Carolina militia were called out for the expected war, but an uneasy peace was restored for the winter.91
This account of 1776-1778 Creek affairs makes it clear that the Creeks had returned to the situation which had existed before 1763 when two nations of whites competed for Creek friendship, and the Creeks could often play one against the other to their own benefit. South Carolina often took the initiative in diplomacy or military preparations, because Georgia was too poor and weak to buy the needed presents or to fight the Creeks on her frontier alone.
Because there were no major British military operations in the South during this period, British-Indian affairs were pretty much left to Stuart and the governors of East and West Florida. Stuart and his deputies usually deprecated the efforts of George Galphin, the leading Continental commissioner, but their concern about his actions showed that they knew he had more influence than they would admit. The Creeks tended to be mainly pro-British, but there was always a Galphin party in the nation. The Creeks were not willing to fight a full-scale war against Georgia because there were insufficient British troops available to cooperate. The Indians never took to Stuart’s idea of military cooperation with whites but preferred their old system of warfare which they understood. It is exceedingly doubtful that they seriously contemplated prolonged war against Georgia such as the British wanted. Regardless of how much Indian help could be got by either side, both sides continued to work hard for Indian friendship.