Thursday, April 12, 2012

Siege of Augusta, Georgia - A Battle of the American Revolution

Monument marking site of Fort Cornwallis
Augusta is a charming and beautiful city nestled along the Savannah River. And while the Georgia city is known for its historic and scenic riverfront, few visitors realize that it also was the scene of a major battle of the American Revolution.

The Siege of Augusta began on April 16, 1781, when Patriot militia companies from the backcountry of Georgia arrived on the outskirts of the city. Augusta was then held by a Loyalist force commanded by the notorious Lt. Col. Thomas Brown.

Gen. Andrew Pickens
The militia, led first by Lt. Col. Micajah Williamson and later by the famed Col. Elijah Clarke, hovered around the edges of Augusta, creating the impression that their force was much larger in size than it really was. Col. Brown withdrew his forces into three strong points: Fort Cornwallis at St. Paul's Church, Fort Grierson about 1/2 mile away and the fortified home of Indian trader George Galphin 12 miles outside of town.

Clarke's militia was reinforced in May by hundreds of South Carolina militiamen under Gen. Andrew Pickens and Continental regulars under Lt. Col. "Light Horse Harry" Lee, the father of Confederate general Robert E. Lee.

The combined forces struck first at Galphin's place, taking it on May 21, 1781. The battle was found in intense heat and one Patriot soldier died from heat stroke.

St. Paul's Church

The Patriot army moved on Fort Grierson next. As the American soldiers came into Augusta and began to surround the fort, its commander Col. Grierson tried to lead 80 men in a desperate retreat to larger and stronger Fort Cornwallis. They made it as far as the banks of the Savannah River before they were cut off by the Patriot militia and slaughtered to a man. The massacre was frontier-style retribution for similar tactics used by Lt. Col. Brown in previous battles.

The main siege of Fort Cornwallis now began. For days the two forces battled in smoke and fury along the riverfront of Augusta. Finally, at the suggestion of Lee, the Patriots resorted to the construction of a 30 foot tower from which they could fire their single cannon down into the fort. A desperate breakout was attempted by Brown's men, but failed.

As Pickens, Clarke and Lee were positioning their men for an attempt to storm the fort on June 4, 1781, Lt. Col. Brown agreed to surrender. His only condition was that the capitulation be delayed by one day so he would not be forced to surrender on the birthday of King George III. The Americans agreed and the next the U.S. flag was raised over Fort Cornwallis.

To learn more about this remarkable battle and see additional photos of the scene, please visit

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