SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — The Coastal Heritage Society honored soldiers that fought during the 1779 Battle of Savannah Wednesday during a battlefield memorial march.
“It’s important that we’re here as far as honor and to keep it alive for generations to come,” Steve Burke said, a member of the Sons of the American Revolutionary War.
“We honor it every year, not only here but in other parts of the country,” he said. “As long as we keep this history alive, our children and our children’s grandchildren will continue to do the honors.”
The Seige of Savannah was one of the most significant conflicts during Savannah’s Revolutionary War history and one of the war’s most pivotal battles.
“If you don’t know your history you’re going to repeat it, especially the bad parts,” U.S. Navy veteran Joe Barthamus said. “The United States is not a perfect nation but if we sit there and wipe away the bad parts it just doesn’t make any sense.”
The Battlefield Memorial March led guests through the footsteps of soldiers on that historic day in 1779, in celebration of the 240th anniversary. After the march, participants laid wreaths during a remembrance ceremony in Battlefield Park.
“You get back to the principle of what it was about,” U.S. Marines veteran Justin Childers said.
“The idea of self-governance and self-determination. To see where it comes from and to see where we’ve progressed to where we are now is very humbling.”
Childers says he participates in the traditional reenactment of the march because many of the lessons taught during the revolutionary war are still applicable to what he learned during his time in the military.
“But it’s not just homage. It’s used tried and true to instill that discipline into you. To see where it started with here with Von Steuben with the American Revolution and his creation of Von Stuben’s manual to train these backwoods American soldiers on how to face the most proficient military in the entire world,” Childers said.
“And we still use that today,” he added. “It’s a great honor to see where we came from and where we are now and see how much of it we still use today.”
This year, two stones have been commissioned by the Savannah chapter of the General K. Pulaski Committee, honoring soldiers who fought in the war. These honorary markers were placed by their descendants.
“I think it went really well,” Childers said. “We spent a couple of days out here in the sun drilling with the weapons so my arm is a little weary, but it’s nothing I haven’t been used to before. But it was a genuinely good time.”
Following the defeats in the northern states earlier in the American Revolutionary War, the British decided to conquer the southern colonies. Their first plan was to gain control of the southern ports of Savannah and Charleston.
The British troops were strong. The army consisted of about 6,500 men at Brunswick, another 900 at Beaufort and about 100 at Sunbury. The troops stationed at the base in Savannah were caught off guard when the French fleet arrived off of Tybee Island. The British troops stationed in Beaufort and Sunbury were called to help defend the city against the revolutionists.
The siege itself consisted of a joint Franco-American attempt to retake Savannah, from September 16 to October 18, 1779. 240 years ago on Oct. 9, a major assault against the British siege works failed.
During the attack, Polish nobleman Count Casimir Pulaski, leading the combined cavalry forces on the American side, was mortally wounded. With the failure of the joint attack, the siege was abandoned, and the British remained in control of Savannah until July 1782, near the end of the war.
This French-colonial force was established six months earlier and included hundreds of soldiers of color in addition to white soldiers and enslaved black men.
Reenactors leading the march Wednesday reminded the crowd that the untrained revolutionary army was up against the strongest military force in the world at the time.
The French launched the surprise attack against the British on the morning of Oct. 9. French nobleman Admiral d’Estaing was twice wounded, and Polish cavalry officer Casimir Pulaski, fighting with the Americans, was mortally wounded.
After an hour of carnage, d’Estaing ordered a retreat. On Oct. 17, Lincoln and d’Estaing abandoned the siege.
“The appearance of the town afforded a melancholy prospect, for there was hardly a house that had not been shot through,” wrote one British observer.
The Second Battle of Savannah was one of the bloodiest of the war. Franco-American losses are estimated at 244 killed, nearly 600 wounded and 120 taken prisoner. The British casualties were comparatively light: 40 killed, 63 wounded, and 52 missing.
Three currently-existing Army National Guard units are derived from American units that participated in the Siege of Savannah.