The Battle of Alligator Bridge
June 30, 1778 Near present day Callahan, Florida
The Battle of Alligator Bridge was the only major engagement in an unsuccessful campaign to conquer British East Florida during the Revolutionary War. A detachment of Georgia militiamen, under the command of Brigadier General James Screven, chased Thomas Brown's Loyalist company into a large position of British regulars established by British Major Mark Prevost and were turned back.
Facts about the Battle of Alligator Bridge
- Armies - American Forces was commanded by Col. Elijah Clark and consisted of about 300 Soldiers. British Forces was commanded by Maj. Marc Prevost and consisted of about 800 Soldiers.
- Casualties - American casualties were estimated to be 9 killed and unknown wounded. British casualties was approximately 5 killed and unknown wounded.
- Outcome - The result of the battle was a British victory. The battle was part of the Southern Theater 1775-82.
General William Howe reluctantly agreed to support the third East Florida expedition, and in early April, Georgia's 400 Continental troops began to move south, occupying the site of Fort Howe on April 14. Over the next month, this force grew as Georgia militia and South Carolina Continental arrived, swelling the force to some 1,300 men by early May.
On May 10, Howe arrived at Fort Howe and began organizing the march south. The conditions in the camp were unpleasant: the weather was hot, and there were frequent desertions. The expedition force finally began crossing the Altamaha on May 28, but moved very slowly, crossing the Satilla on June 21 and reaching the St. Marys River on June 26.
Governor Tonyn and General Prevost were aware of the American progress. Brown and Indian forces continued to perform reconnaissance, occasionally skirmishing with the Americans and testing the security of their camps. Prevost moved some of his troops forward, placing most of them on the main route to St. Augustine.
At this point, the expedition almost broke down because Howe and Governor Houstoun could not agree on how to proceed. Houstoun wanted to march directly toward St. Augustine, forcing a confrontation with the main British force, while Howe wanted to first capture Fort Tonyn. With the two leaders at an impasse, Howe ordered forces he commanded toward Fort Tonyn, while the Georgia militia under Houstoun's command stayed put.
Brown, alerted to this movement, abandoned and burned the fort, retreating into the swamps toward the Nassau River. Howe occupied the ruins of Fort Tonyn on June 29.
The way south from the fort led to a bridge across Alligator Creek, a Nassau River tributary about 14 miles away, at which Prevost had placed detachments of the 16th and 60th Regiments and some Loyalist rangers led by Daniel McGirth. They had constructed a redoubt of logs and brush to defend the bridge. These forces, numbering about 200, were under the command of Prevost's younger brother, Major James Marcus Prevost.
On June 30, Howe sent a force of 100 cavalry under James Screven south to locate Brown. Brown ordered a company of men to circle around behind them while the rest of his men hid along the road heading south from the fort. The men Brown sent to flank the Continentals were betrayed by deserters and ambushed, with most of them captured or killed.
Brown began moving down the road toward the Alligator Bridge, but was overtaken by Screven's company shortly before he got there. As a result, Brown's men were chased directly into the established British position at the bridge.
There was some initial confusion, because neither Screven's nor Brown's forces had regular uniforms, so the British regulars thought all of those arriving were Brown's men. This changed quickly however, and a firefight broke out. Prevost's regulars quickly took up positions and began firing on Screven's men, while some of Brown's men went around to come at their flank.
In pitched battle, men on both sides went down, Screven was wounded, and some of the Patriot militia narrowly escaped being trapped before Screven ordered the retreat.
On July 1, Major Prevost moved out with his, Brown's and McGirth's men, and surprised a Patriot crew repairing a bridge. Rather than extending themselves, they then decided to retreat, felling trees across the road as they went. The divisions in the American camps, however, meant that there would be no further advance. The Continental forces were out of rice, and appealed to the Georgia militia for supplies.
On July 6, the militia finally crossed the Saint Marys River, adding some strength to the Continental force, which had been reduced by disease and desertion to only 400 effective soldiers. The shortage of food and the ongoing command disagreements spelled the end of the expedition, which began its retreat on July 14.
This effectively ended the idea in Georgia of gaining control of East Florida and left the area firmly under British control.