Third Florida Expedition

  • Time Period: March- July, 1778
  • Area: Georgia and Florida areas
  • Explanation: ??

With the return of the Second Florida Expedition to Savannah, the Florida Rangers resumed their activities, more aggressive than ever. East Florida Royal Governor Patrick Tonyn reported at one point that the Rangers were within five miles of Savannah and had actually entered the city of Augusta. They now controlled the area south of the Altamaha River, and could raid as far north as the Ogeechee River without retaliation.

In Savannah the bitter factionalism of the past few months grew worse as the friends of Button Gwinnett tried to prove that Lachlan McIntosh was responsible for his murder. McIntosh had been cleared in the death of Gwinnett. Powerful friends of Gwinnett seemed destined to cause serious problems for McIntosh and his supporters, were it not for John Wereat. Realizing that the factionalism being created by Gwinnett supporters might cause problems for the state, Wereat asked that George Walton use his influence to have McIntosh reassigned. Walton did not waste time; he personally requested McIntosh's transfer.

On August 6, Lachlan McIntosh was ordered to report to Gen. George Washington, before a vote in the General Assembly on a petition to censure Gen. McIntosh. He left Georgia on October 7, 1777, heading for Valley Forge. Over the duration of the war, McIntosh would prove himself to be an able and responsible commander, and a man who served with honor and courage. As the New Year approached, the rift between the Gwinnett forces and the McIntosh forces subsided.

Preparation for the Third Florida Expedition technically began on January 29, with the formal notification of Southern Department commander Gen. Robert Howe by the Georgia legislature that plans for the project should progress. Howe brought the plans under scrutiny and pointed out that the militia's might not be a good idea since the attack would come as the men were most needed back on the farm. The assembly considered Howe's statement as disrespectful. After further discussions the assembly would request that Howe be reported for insubordination.

During the winter the Florida Rangers won an easy victory at Fort Howe on the Altamaha River. Established as Fort Barrington in the 1730's as a defense against the Spanish and Creek Indians, it had been renamed to Fort Howe to honor the commander of the Southern Department, Howe. On March 12, Florida Rangers under the command of Thomas Brown advanced under cover of night and stormed the fortifications before sunrise. Caught completely off-guard the men were forced to surrender. Brown, engaging a force of equal strength in a fortified position, 50 miles behind enemy lines won a decisive victory!

This 50 miles may not seem like much today, but the victory gave the Florida Rangers a vital link to Tories in South Carolina and an advanced position by which the Rangers could raid developed areas in the northern part of the state. Although the Georgia militia could be counted on stopping large groups of Tories, they were virtually ineffective against the smaller groups. Now even large groups could travel the backcountry unopposed. Against the curtain of near anarchy in the backcountry, preparations for the Third Florida Expedition continued. Finally, as word arrived of a large force of Whig Georgians making their way to Fort Howe, the Florida Rangers burned the fort and left.

It doesn't seem possible, but as the Third Florida Expedition headed south from Sunbury it was more fractious than either of the previous expeditions. Instead of one or two leaders, this expedition claimed four individual leaders without an established chain of command. Leading the Continentals was General Robert Howe. Commodore Oliver Bowen led a small fleet of boats that plowed the coastal waters. Governor John Houstoun was the de facto head of the Georgia militia, while Col. Pinckney commanded the South Carolina militia.

Things were not that much better in Florida. Governor Patrick Tonyn and General Prevost were fighting each other over control of Thomas Brown and his Florida Rangers. Prevost, whose Regulars had been in a supporting role for Brown's Rangers withdrew in mid-April. Brown would have to fight the force advancing from Georgia on his own. To help the Rangers do this Governor Tonyn called on the Creek Indians, who were less than responsive to his plea.

After making camp along the King's Road near recently destroyed Fort Howe, the combined forces began to move south. Bowen and his naval force moved south from Sunbury. The army reached the Satilla River on June 17, where they apparently unwittingly, came upon a group of Brown's Rangers and Creek Indians. From a captured Ranger they learned that Brown's men were well-supplied and numbered in the hundreds. On June 28, the force began to cross the St. Mary's River. Brown's men, who were well aware of the approaching force, burned Fort Tonyn. Now the Florida Rangers began to fight a guerilla war.

Skirmishing occurred on June 29-30 on the flanks of the advancing Whigs. Then, on July 1, a significant force of British Regulars surprised a group of Americans that were, essentially, rear echelon support. This was the biggest battle of the Third Florida Expedition. As the days wore on, the food ran out and expected relief never showed up. Over a period of days in the middle of July the Whig forces began the long trip back to Savannah.

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