The Surrender of Fort Galphin

May 21, 1781 in Aiken County, South Carolina

Facts about the Surrender of Fort Galphin

  • Armies - American Forces was commanded by Lt. Col. Henry Lee and consisted of unknown number of Soldiers. British Forces was commanded by Capt. Samuel Rowarth and consisted of 173 Soldiers.
  • Casualties - American casualties were unknown. British casualties were unknown.
  • Outcome - The result of the surrender was an American victory.

Battle Begins

Fort Galphin, or as it was also known Fort Dreadnought and Silver Bluff, was the fortified plantation house of George Galphin, a veteran Indian trader. It was situated about twelve miles down river from Augusta on the northern bank of the Savannah.

The post was commanded by Captain Samuel Rowarth and contained 70 Kings Rangers (to which unit Rowarth belonged), 42 Georgia Loyalist militia, and 61 Blacks, many of them armed. While the siege of Augusta had been going on, Colonel Elijah Clark initially invested Fort Galphin.

On May 21, Clark was joined by Pickens (or Lee) with Major Samuel Hammond and his regiment minus one company, Col. William Harden, and the infantry of Lee’s Legion, under Captain Michael Rudulph. They had all moved down from Augusta after Lee (or Pickens) arrived with the main body of troops that morning, which Lee’s speaks of as being “sultry beyond measure.” The fort had recently received the present which the British made annually to the Indians made up of powder ball liquor salt, blankets, sundry small articles, including some fowling pieces and small arms.

Despite the account he gives of what happened, Lee himself, as Johnson reasonably demonstrates was not actually with the Ft. Galphin expedition, but remained with his cavalry, Eaton’s North Carolina light infantry, and the remainder of Pickens and Clark’s men at Augusta itself. Also according to Lee, British were tricked out of their fort into an ambush, which then allowed the Americans to enter the fort.

Again, Johnson disputes Lee’s claim saying that he possessed documents showing that Galphin had been surrendered after some negotiations between the besiegers and besieged. However, what may have happened was that a party was captured using the ruse described by Lee, but either this of itself did not take fort, or was preliminary to the fort’s formal surrender, which, incidentally took place in the evening.

Not counting the Blacks, 126 were made prisoners, about 70 of them Provincial regulars. The presents to the Indians, as well as the fort’s stores, were captured. Both Lee and Pickens request Greene to use some of the stores taken at Fort Dreadnought for the militia serving with them, which request Greene granted, though Lee later claimed the prizes taken were not all that considerable in quantity. Although it may be reasonable to dispute Lee’s actual presence at Fort Galphin, nevertheless, what is clear is that his swiftness in moving on Augusta made the surprise at Galphin possible, and thus quickened the fall of the main Augusta forts, Cornwallis and Grierson.

Tarleton Brown (who was with Col. William Harden): “….we marched for the siege of Augusta. On our way up, we learned that Colonel Brown's (a Tory) boats were going up the Savannah River. We went in pursuit of them, and attacked them about opposite the place of the late Stephen Smith, of Savannah River, but they got on the Georgia side, and we could do nothing with them. From this we marched to Augusta, where we met Generals Pickens and Twiggs, and commenced the work of extermination. The first attack that we made was on the fort at Silver Bluff, now the property of Governor Hammond, of South Carolina. Brown's boats had now arrived, and stowed away their goods in the fort. The British not being willing to yield without a struggle, we stove a cannon ball through the brick house in the fort, and they immediately marched out and surrendered, for fear we would serve them the like trick.”

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