Today, the Georgia State Quarter Coin remembers the thousands of soldiers that overtook Savannah on December 29, 1778.
In the Diary of the Revolution, published in 1876, Frank Moore included two accounts of the events. The first came from the New Jersey Gazette of February 10, 1779 and the second from a Philadelphia correspondent.
Early yesterday morning [December 29, 1778] the British, under the cover of several armed vessels, landed at Brewton’s plantation, about a mile from Savannah.
The Continental troops were drawn up on an eminence about half a mile from the town, near Tatnal’s gate, their right extending to the swamp and river, their left across the road; and a morass, crossed by the road, in their front.
The morass was thought impracticable for near two or three miles up.
The militia were near the barracks, meant to cover the right of the regulars; their whole force scarcely amounting to five hundred men.
The British, under feint of attacking us by the main road, filed off to the left, and found means to cross the morass, about a quarter of a mile above our right; this, as soon as it was known, obliged our regulars to retreat, which was effected at the same time that the militia were attacked, and obliged to retire through the town.
Our troops sustained a very hot fire on their retreat between the town and barracks; but by that means gained the road which leads out by the spring house; while the only alternative left the militia was to surrender or swim McGilvray’s Creek.
Those who could not swim were made prisoners, among whom were Colonel Walton of the militia (wounded in the action) and Major Habersham of the Georgia regulars.
Colonels Elbert and Harris saved themselves by swimming.
At present our loss cannot be ascertained ; and I am inclined to think it not near so considerable as many apprehend.
Colonel Roberts, with four pieces of artillery, was posted near the Continental troops, and made good his retreat, with the loss of one of his pieces.
All accounts agree that the Georgians are the most considerable sufferers.
A correspondent in Philadelphia, gives the following account of this affair: —
“Scarcely had the enemy retired from the back parts of Georgia, when a fleet and armament entered Savannah River, and on the 29th of December, about three thousand men landed within two miles of the town of Savannah.
“A proper disposition of the few Continental troops (about six hundred, under Colonel Elbert) we had there, was made to oppose them, but the same day, about noon, the enemy doubled the colonel’s right flank, and very near cut off his retreat, which, however, he effected through a very heavy fire of the enemy for near a mile, but with the loss of many men either killed or taken.
“Colonel Elbert and a Colonel Grimke escaped by swimming a creek.
“The enemy soon after took possession of Savannah.
“The last accounts from the above quarters say, that our troops had retired to a place called Ebenezer, forty miles up the river above Savannah, where they were waiting for reinforcements, which were on their march from the Carolinas to join them.
“It is impossible to ascertain the design of the enemy in this expedition so late in the season —whether to take up their quarters for the winter, to procure provisions, or to be joined by the force from Florida.
“But certain it is, that the inhabitants of the State of Georgia will be greatly distressed by this visit. — L. W. Elliot.”
The Georgia State Quarter Coin shows beside a picture of Samuel Elbert in a locket owned by his direct descendent, Richard Elbert Whitehead.