The Siege of Augusta
September 12-18, 1780 at Augusta, Georgia
The Siege of Augusta was also known as the First Siege of Augusta, also McKay’s Trading Post, and Relief of Augusta.
Facts about the Siege of Augusta
- Armies - American Forces was commanded by Col. Elijah Clarke and Lt. Col. James McCall and consisted of about 400-700 Soldiers. British Forces was commanded by Col. Thomas Brown and Col. Thomas Grierson and consisted of about 450 Soldiers.
- Casualties - American casualties were estimated to 60 killed/wounded and 27 missing/captured. British casualties were estimated to be 75 killed/wounded.
- Outcome - The result of the battle was a Draw.
Sometime in early September, Colonel Elijah Clark and Lieutenant Colonel James McCall assembled a corps of Backwoodsman, some 400 to 700 depending on the account, in upper Georgia.
On August 12, they he marched to attack the British post at Augusta. Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Brown, the post commander, called in some Indians allies to aid in defense. Some 200 Cherokees joined his 150 King’s Carolina Rangers and some militia. Augusta (i.e. Fort Cornwallis) was not adequately fortified at that time, and Brown attempted to moved his position to McKay’s [Indian] Trading Post (the "White House”), at Garden Hill, a plantation on the Savannah road.
However, Garden Hill was already possessed by the Whigs. Brown attacked them, and took Garden Hill. In the fighting, "great part of the Indians behaved with order and bravery." While away at Garden Hill, sick and invalids of the 3rd Battalion of the New Jersey Volunteers, under Major Robert Drummond, situated at unfinished Fort Cornwallis, were taken prisoner or killed and wounded in an attack by some of Clark’s men.
On August 14, Clark proceeded to lay siege to Brown, fortified at McKay’s Trading Post. Cruger at Ninety-Six, having received word of Brown’s situation marched from Ninety-Six with the 1st Battalion, DeLancey's Regiment; the 3rd Battalion, New Jersey Volunteers; and some loyalist militia to Brown’s relief.
On August 18, upon Cruger’s arrival, Clark was forced to retreat. Cruger pursued Clark, took some 29 prisoners, and retook a cannon. British losses were inconsiderable and fell mostly on the Indians. Tarleton states that Clark lost of killed and wounded as "near a sixth their number."
Clark's men promptly disbanded to their homes. Shortly after, however, he gathered 300 men and 400 or so women and children he was expected to lead to comparative safety of North Carolina. He moved west to the mountains, then headed north along the road net that skirted the foothills. This enabled him to stay as far as possible from Cruger at Ninety-Six and Ferguson's operating area without being forced into the mountains which were virtually impenetrable.
Cruger for a time tried to follow Clark, but finding himself too far from his base, gave up the chase. He then got the idea of sending Ferguson after Clark. Ferguson tried himself to make a move after Clark, but Clark was united with the forces of Sumter, and the women and children were sent over the mountains to safety.
Within a few days after Cruger chased Clark off from Augusta, while Brown and Cruger executed a number of Whigs. Captain Ashby and twelve others were hanged by Brown, another 13 (or 16) were given over to the Indians, who reportedly tortured and killed them. In addition, Brown sent raiding parties through the area that had not submitted, and burned 100 plantations or settlements of those who attacked Augusta.
After the close call at Augusta, says Coleman, a bill was passed by Governor James Wright that “allowed the drafting of slaves to work on the defenses and the arming of Negroes in time of extreme danger. The entire militia system was tightened. Wright immediately ordered out some 400 Negroes to work on the defenses of Savannah.”
Letter from Lieut. William Stevenson, with Ferguson at Gilbertown, to Lieut. Col. Barton, Staten Island, New York, dated 25 September 1780 :
”… The rebels rose in Georgia, and the 12th instant attacked Colonel Brown in Augusta. He being very weak was obliged to leave the town, and take shelter in a fort where he had his stores for the Indians; but on the approach of Colonel Cruger from Ninety-Six, and a body of Indians accidently coming down, the rebels fled, and Colonel Brown sallying out, they killed and took several hundred of them. Major Ferguson has just received a letter from Col. Cruger, who informs him that he has fallen in with the rebels and taken most of their plunder, killed a great number of them, hanged Several of the inhabitants, and has a great many more to hang; he likewise retook several brass field pieces…”
"Sunday, 24th…Received intelligence from Col. Cruger, that he had marched from Ninety-Six to Augusta, to the assistance of Col. Brown, who was besieged by six hundred Rebels, under the command of Col. Clark. Fortunately for Col. Brown, the Cherokee Indians, for whom he is agent, were coming to Augusta for their yearly presents. They met the Rebels just as they were going into the town, which obliged them to fight. The Rebels being too numerous, and the Indians unacquainted with field fighting, were obliged to make the best of their way to a fort on one flank of the town, where Col. Brown had retired to. He made a very gallant defence for five days, two of which he was without bread or water. On Col. Cruger's approach, the Rebels moved off with their plunder, of which they had a tolerable share. Col. Cruger arrived time enough to retake the cannon which they had taken from Brown, and about thirty prisoners."
“With this inadequate force [according to Lossing 430 men] they [Clark and McCall] marched toward Augusta. So secret and rapid were their movements, that they reached the outposts before the garrison was apprised of their approach [Sept. 14, 1780.]. The right was commanded by M'Call, the left by Major Samuel Taylor, and the center by Clarke. The divisions approached the town separately. Near Hawk's Creek, on the west, Taylor fell in with an Indian camp, and a skirmish ensued. The Indians retreated toward the town, and Taylor pressed forward to get possession of a strong trading station called the White House, a mile and a half west of the town. The Indians reached it first, and were joined by a company of King's Rangers, under Captain Johnson. Ignorant of the approach of other parties, Browne and Grierson went to the aid of Johnson and the Indians.
While absent, the few men left in garrison were surprised by Clarke and M'Call, and Forts Cornwallis and Grierson fell into their hands. A guard was left to take charge of the prisoners and effects in the fort, and Clark, with the remainder, hastened to the assistance of Taylor. Browne and Grierson, perceiving their peril, took shelter in the White House. The Americans tried in vain to dislodge them. A desultory fire was kept up from eleven o'clock in the morning until dark, when hostilities ceased. During the night the besieged cast up a slight breast-work around the house, made loop-holes in the building for musketry, and thus materially strengthened their position.
Early in the morning [Sept. 15.], Clarke ordered two field-pieces to be brought from Grierson's redoubt, to be placed in a position to cannonade the White House. They were of little service, for Captain Martin, of South Carolina, the only artillerist among the besiegers, was killed soon after the pieces were brought to bear upon the building.
No impression was made upon the enemy during the fifteenth. On that morning, before daylight, the Americans drove a body of Indians from the river bank, and thus cut off the supply of water for those in the house. Colonel Browne and others had been severely wounded, and now suffered great agony from thirst.
On the night of the fifteenth, fifty Cherokee Indians, well armed, crossed the river to re-enforce Browne, but were soon repulsed. Little was done on the sixteenth, and on the seventeenth Clark summoned Browne to surrender. He promptly refused; for, having sent a messenger to Colonel Cruger at Ninety-Six, on the morning when the Americans appeared before Augusta, Browne confidently expected relief from that quarter. Nor was he disappointed.
On the night of the seventeenth, Clarke's scouts informed him of the approach of Colonel Cruger with five hundred British regulars and Loyalists, and on the morning of the eighteenth this force appeared upon the opposite side of the river. Clarke's little army was greatly diminished by the loss of men who had been killed and wounded, and the desertion of many with plunder found in the forts. At ten o'clock he raised the siege, and departed toward the mountains.
The American loss on this occasion was about sixty killed and wounded; that of the British is not known. Twenty of the Indians were killed. Captain Ashby and twenty-eight others were made prisoners. Upon these Brown and his Indian allies glutted their thirst for revenge. Captain Ashby and twelve of the wounded were hanged upon the stair-way of the White House, so that the commandant might have the satisfaction of seeing their sufferings. Others were given up to the Indians to torture, scalp, and slay.”
Memorial of Lieut. Col. John Harris Cruger:
“In June 1780 Lord Cornwallis Commanding in the Southern District ordered your Memorialist with his Battn. and three other Regts. to take post so as to Cover the frontiers of Georgia and South Carolina which he did with such good effect, as to establish the tranquility of the Country this continued untill Sepr. following when a Body of Rebells consisting of between 1000 and 1200 Men composed Chiefly of fugitives from South Carolina and Georgia made a descent from the Mountains and attacked Augusta 130 miles above Savannah and 55 from your Memorialists post in South Carolina. The Critical Situation of that time not only of Augusta but of the whole province of Georgia, the rapid movements for its relief the raising the Siege of Augusta as well as driving the Enemy totally out of the province of Georgia by a pursiut of 60 Miles in consequence of which good order and Government were once more established in the province as a Circumstance which can be fully explained by his Excellency Sir James Wright and Lieut. Govr. Graham and for your Memorialists Conduct at that time he begs leave to refer to two Letters from Earl Cornwallis herewith delivered. That in order to derive proper advantages form this successful replusion of the Rebels your Memorialist used freuqent endeavours to conciliate the minds of the Inhabitants by personally going through the Country and so far reconciled the disaffected that with the greatest approbation of all Description of people Commissions of the peace were issued out to principal persons throughout the Country, who continued to Act under them untill the approach of Genl. Green with a numerous Army in April 1781.”
Extract of a letter from Lieut. Wm. STEVENSON to Mrs. Susannah KENNEDY, in New York, dated Gilbert Town, North Carolina, September 25, 1780:
The people of Georgia, finding the army marching towards North Carolina, took up arms and attacked Colonel BROWN in Augusta, who, being weak, was obliged to give way, and retreat into a fort where he had his stores for the Indians; in Augusta. He being very weak was obliged to leave the town, and take shelter in a fort where he had his stores for the Indians; about the same time, a party of Indians coming down found means also to get into the fort, which enabled Colonel BROWN to Sally out; he then drove them out of town, and in their retreat took two or three hundred of them. By this time, being joined by Colonels CRUGER and ALLEN of our brigade, they pursued them, and took a great many more, several of whom they immediately hanged, and have a great many more yet to hang. We have now got a method that will put an end to the rebellion in a Short time— by hanging Every man that has taken protection, and is found acting against us.
Extract of a letter from Lieut. Wm. STEVENSON, to Lieut. Col. BARTON, Staten Island, New York, dated Gilbert Town, North Carolina,
September 25, 1780:
The rebels rose in Georgia, and the 12th instant attacked Colonel BROWN in Augusta. He being very weak was obliged to leave the town, and take shelter in a fort where he had his stores for the Indians; but on the approach of Colonel CRUGER from Ninety Six, and a body of Indians accidently coming down, the rebels fled, and Colonel BROWN sallying out, they killed and took several hundred of them. Major FERGUSON has just received a letter from Col. CRUGER, who informs him that he has fallen in with the rebels and taken most of their plunder, killed a great number of them, hanged Several of the inhabitants, and has a great many more to hang; he likewise retook several brass field pieces.