Friday, July 7, 2017

275 years ago today

Georgia colonists gave the Spanish Empire a bloody nose:

The British advance party, in pursuit of the defeated Spanish force, engaged in a skirmish, then fell back in face of advancing Spanish reinforcements. When the British reached a bend in the road, Lieutenants Southerland and Macoy ordered the column to stop. They took cover in a semi-circle shaped area around a clearing behind trees and palmettos, waiting for the advancing Spanish having taken cover in the dense forest. They watched as the Spanish broke rank, stacked arms and, taking out their kettles, prepared to cook dinner. The Spanish thought they were protected because they had the marsh on one side of them and the forest on the other. The British forces opened fire from behind the cover of trees and bushes, catching the Spanish off-guard. They fired multiple volleys from behind the protection of dense forest. The attack killed roughly 200 Spaniards. The ferocity of the fighting at Bloody Marsh was dramatic, and the battle took its name from the tradition that the marsh ran red with the blood of dead Spanish soldiers. The floor of the forest was strewn with the bodies of the dead and dying. A few Spanish officers attempted in vain to reform their ranks, but the Spanish soldiers and their allies fled, panic stricken, in multiple directions as they were hit with volley after volley of musket fire from behind the foliage. Barba himself was captured after being mortally wounded. The Battle of Bloody Marsh blunted the Spanish advance, and ultimately proved decisive.

There's a plaque at the site commemorating the battle:

This battle was an important one for Georgia.  The first European explorers here were Spanish, and the British didn't set up their colony until 1733.  By the time the War of Jenkins' Ear broke out, the colony's border with Florida was still disputed, and it wasn't certain whether the recently settled city of Savannah and its surrounding lands would remain British or fall to the Spanish.  Most of Savannah's Jewish community fled to Charleston, South Carolina, fearing the Spanish Inquisition.  They would later return to Savannah, though, and are still there today, one of the oldest Jewish congregations in America.

After the Revolution was won, and the national focus on the British had subsided a bit, some of the old hard feelings towards the Spanish returned.  France and Spain went to war with one another, and French ambassador GenĂȘt wanted America to invade Spanish Florida.  General Elijah Clarke, one of Georgia's heroes of the Revolution, was only too happy to oblige, and he raised an army of local militia for the purpose.  President Washington caught wind of the plot and promptly expressed his disapproval.  Georgia's governor sided with Washington and told Clarke to knock it off.  Clarke was disappointed, but he obeyed.  He took his army and invaded Creek Indian country instead, setting up the short-lived Trans-Oconee Republic.

The threat from the Spanish Empire ended for good in 1821 when Spain ceded Florida to the United States.  But the turning point for Georgia was the Battle of Bloody Marsh, fought 275 years ago today on St. Simon's Island.

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