At dawn, October 9, 1779 thousands of French and Americans attacked the British positions and were slaughtered. It was the bloodiest hour in the Revolution. American hero, Sergeant Jasper, was killed on the ramparts trying to save his unitís battle flag. During the attack both díEstaing and Polish patriot Casimir Pulaski, fighting for the American cause, were shot. While the admiralís wound was less serious, Pulaskiís proved to be fatal. He was moved to the American ship Wasp, where he died. Black troops from Haiti in the French reserve came forward to cover the retreat of the shattered attackers. In an hour a thousand casualties resulted. During a four hour truce, hundreds of French and American soldiers were buried in a mass grave in the vicinity of what is now a visitorís center. From an initial force of 5000 men, by the end of the day over 800 French and American soldiers lay dead. The city was held by the British until 1782.
In September 1778, some 3,000 British and Hessian soldiers under the Command of Lt. Colonel Archbald Campbell sailed from New York harbor for the southern colonies, focusing a new military campaign where loyalist sympathies were known to be strong. Their destination was thought to be St Augustine, Florida to join forces with General Augustine Prevost. However secret orders charged Campbell with landing his forces on the coast of Georgia for an attempt to capture Savannah.
The first shipload of British troops landed on Tybee Island on December 23, 1778, and found the island deserted. The remaining ships arrived several days later and Campbell proceeded to move his force to Savannah on December 29th. Colonial General Robert Howe was not prepared to engage this force and within hours the British captured Savannah with a loss of fewer than ten soldiers. Howe retreated in disorder and quickly ordered the evacuation of the remainder of the State, giving the British an excellent port and stronghold from which to operate.
Count Charles Henri díEstaing, General and Admiral of the French navy had assembled a large force of French soldiers in the West Indies and on September 8, 1779, 42 ships of the line were sighted off the shore of Tybee. DíEstaing arrived with nearly 4,000 soldiers to capture Savannah. Cut off from reinforcements by the Americans on one side and water on the other, the British had fewer than a thousand men under arms. Two days later there was no opposition as the French landed on American soil.
On September 12 the 71st Highlanders under command of Lt. Colonel John Maitland evacuated Beaufort, South Carolina, the only British stronghold between Savannah and New York. On September 16, despite the fact that the French fleet blocked the mouth of the Savannah River, Maitland used a tidal creek to enter the garrison of Savannah with his force of 800 soldiers. Earlier, Count Casmir Pulaskiís Continental forces had joined the French outside Savannah and General Benjamin Lincolnís American forces began arriving on September 16 from Charleston.
On September 16, díEstaing called upon Prevost to surrender to the armies of the King of France, and Prevost was granted a 24-hour truce to consider the question of surrender. During this time the British used nearly five hundred slaves to improve the cityís defenses, increasing the four redoubts to thirteen, and eventually mounting over one hundred cannon. Prevost refused to surrender, notifying dĒEstaing the evening the 17th.
On September 22, entrenchments were begun by the French that in ten days reached to within 200 yards of the British lines. American and French artillery batteries were put into place and on October 3, the siege began with shelling from both the artillery batteries and from French ships in the River. In five days over a thousand shells fell in Savannah, doing extensive damage to the city, killing citizens and soldiers, but doing little harm to the British defenses. By October 7 it was apparent that Savannah would have to be attacked.
At 2 AM the morning of October 9, French forces, American Continentals, militia, and Count Pulaskiís Legion prepared to attack the British defenders stationed in redoubts protecting the city. The weakest point was the Spring Hill Redoubt, protecting the right flank of the British line. Feint attacks were made by the allied forces on the center and the left flank of the British works but both were easily repulsed. Led by South Carolina forces, the main attack on the Spring Hill Redoubt was met with the sound of the bagpipes of the 71st Highlanders. The allies were repulsed after nearly an hour of fighting. The British counterattacked as the allies retreated but French reserves made a strong stand and protected the retreat. The allies suffered 800 casualties while the British lost only 18 killed and 39 wounded. Count Pulaski was among the allied dead and Count díEstaing was wounded twice during the battle.
On October 18 the Americans abandoned the siege and returning to Charleston and by the 21st, the French returned to their ships anchored on the coast. On November 2 the last French ship departed Georgia.
Had the French attacked Savannah upon their arrival the outcome of this important battle might have been different. Attacking before the British had time to reinforce their works, the successful capture of the British garrison might have ended the American Revolution sooner, avoiding the two years of struggle that eventually led to Allied success at Yorktown, Virginia. Historians believe that the lessons of mounting an international allied force learned at Savannah helped to lead to success in October 1781. General Benjamin Lincoln, who was unsuccessful in Savannah and surrendered his American forces at Charleston, had the honor of receiving British General Cornwallisí sword at Yorktown.