Today, the Georgia State Quarter Coin remembers one of the last attacks of the War of 1812 that occurred on the coast of the state 202 years ago.
For contrast, let’s look at two descriptions of the attack from an American perspective and one from the British side.
The first American viewpoint is from the Sketches of the War between the United States and the British Isles: intended as a faithful history of all the material events from the time of the declaration in 1812, to and including the Treaty of Peace in 1815, etc., by Gideon Minor Davison – United States, published in 1815:
On the 13th of January, 1815, about 1500 of the enemy attacked by land and water, a small fort at Point-Petre, at the mouth of St. Mary’s river, in Georgia, which they succeeded in carrying; the garrison (consisting of 36 men) having previously effected its retreat after a few fires.
During the movements of the land troops of the enemy against the Point, they were severely harrassed by a small but brave corps, consisting of 60 riflemen and infantry, under command of Capt. Massias of the 1st U. S. rifle corps. The enemy’s loss was considerable, while ours was but trifling.
The enemy afterwards entered the town of St. Mary’s, about 6 miles up the river, where they committed many acts of plunder. After continuing there for 8 or 10 days, they retired to Cumberland Island, having burnt the barracks and blown up the fort at Point-Petre.
On the 24th of February, six of the enemy’s barges, containing 250 men, attempted to ascend the St. Mary’s river, with the view, as was supposed, of burning mills lying on the river. They were attacked by a party of 20 men under Capt. Mickler, aided by 30 of the Patriots of Florida under Col. Dill, and were compelled to retire with great loss, being so completely cut up as not to be able to work their barges with the usual complement of oars…..
Their loss in killed and wounded was stated to have been from 100 to 160. Our loss was only 1 man severely wounded, our men having been aided by a cover of woods, which screened them from the sight of the enemy.
The second American description can be found in An Impartial and Correct History of the War between the United States of America and Great Britain; declared … June 18, 1812, and concluded … Feb. 17, 1815 … Carefully compiled from official documents. Attributed to Thomas O’Connor – United States, published in 1816:
The enemy, after being defeated near New Orleans, turned his attention to the state of Georgia; and, from appearances, intended a visit to Savannah. The unprepared state of Georgia, and the dreadful character of the enemy, caused a great alarm among the inhabitants of the state.
On the 11th January, 1815, the enemy, to the number of 1500 or 2000 men, effected a landing on Cumberland island.
On the 13th, Point Petre was carried by storm; and, on the following day, St. Mary’s capitulated, in consequence of a flag sent from the inhabitants of the town.
The enemy evacuated Point Petre and St. Mary’s, the 21st January, after burning the barracks, and blowing up the fort.
Had the enemy attempted Savannah, he would have met a reception similar to that experienced at New Orleans. No people ever turned out more generally, or with more alacrity, than the men of Georgia.
The militia, in every part of the state, were in motion, when the news of peace, and retreat of the enemy, reached them.
While the enemy was marching against Point Petre, Capt. Massias, of the 1st.U. S. rifle corps, at the head of 60 men, attempted to oppose 1000, committed considerable havoc among the enemy, and retreated, with the loss of 1 killed, 4 wounded, and 9 missing.
The British point of view differs slightly.
From The Naval History of Great Britain, from the Declaration of War by France, in February 1793, to the Accession of George IV, in January 1820, by William James, published in 1826:
Early in the month of December rear-admiral Cockburn, in the Albion, from Bermuda, bringing with him the Orlando frigate and some smaller vessels, arrived in the Chesapeake, but merely to carry away the colonial marines; with whom, on the 14th, the rear-admiral steered towards Amelia Island, in East Florida; having left orders for captain Barrie to follow, with the Dragon, Hebrus, and Regulus.
Captain Barrie accordingly departed soon afterwards, leaving a few frigates and sloops in the Chesapeake; and, on the 10th of January, arrived off Cumberland Island, the southernmost of the chain along the coast of Georgia, and separated by Cumberland Sound from Amelia Island.
Rear-admiral Cockburn not having yet arrived, captain Philip Somerville of the 38-gun frigate Rota, as the senior officer, determined upon employing the two companies of the 2d West-India regiment, and the detachments of royal marines which had recently arrived on that coast, in a combined attack upon the frontier-town of the state of Georgia, St. Mary’s, situated a few miles up the river of that name, dividing the United States from East Florida.
On the 13th an attack, with about 700 troops, marines, and seamen, under the command of captain Barrie, was made on the fort, or key to the entrance of the river, at Point Petre.
This fort mounted two 24, two 18, one 9, and two brass 6, pounders; from which, however, scarcely a single discharge was made, ere the garrison abandoned the post, and fled to the woods in the rear.
On the 14th, the combined forces, accompanied by the bomb-vessels Devastation and Terror, captains Thomas Alexander and John Sheridan, ascended the river to St. Mary’s.
Contrary to expectation, here, also, no resistance was made; and the town, the shipping in the harbour, and the merchandise in the stores, were taken quiet possession of.
Soon afterwards an expedition of boats went a considerable distance further up the river, and brought down the Countess-of-Harcourt indiaman, which had been captured and carried in there by a Charlestown privateer; also a beautiful gun-boat, named the Scorpion, a present from the town of St. Mary’s to the United States.
On the 15th of January rear-admiral Cockburn, who had been blown off the coast by strong northwest gales, arrived and took the command; and on the 22d, after removing the guns, and destroying the fort and barracks, at Point Petre, the British descended the river to Cumberland island; of which immediate possession was taken.
The troops and marines were here encamped; and the rear-admiral established his head-quarters at a very large house, surrounding it with the ordnance brought from Point Petre.
On the 22d of February eight launches, two pinnaces, and one gig, containing 186 officers, seamen, and marines, under the command of captain Phillott, of the Primrose, assisted by captain Bartholomew, of the Erebus, ascended the St. Mary’s river, without opposition, 120 miles, when a heavy fire of musketry, opening upon them from each side, compelled the British to retreat.
While daylight lasted, a spirited fire was kept up by the boats; but, unfortunately, after dark, the men could not be restrained from firing, by which they exposed themselves to the view of the enemy.
The river, in some parts, was so narrow, that a couple of stout trees, many of which were on the banks, felled and thrown across, would have completely cut off the retreat of the boats.
That not having been done, the boats got back to the island, with four killed, and 25 wounded, including among the latter the two captains; also lieutenant of marines John Fraser, and midshipmen James Everingham and Jonathan Haworth Peel.
Rear-admiral Cockburn remained at his fortified house on Cumberland island, awaiting the arrival of some troops, to aid in making an attack upon the town of Savannah in Georgia; when, on the 25th of February, the American general in the vicinity apprized him, that peace had been concluded between the United States and Great Britain.
Such of the was the fact. The treaty had been signed at Ghent on the 24th of December, 1814, and was ratified by the president at Washington on the 18th of February, 1815.
The Georgia State Quarter Coin shows with an image of General Nathaneal Greene’s cottage on Cumberland Island, built of tabby just after the Revolutionary War and before the British occupation.