On December 29, 1778, the city of Savannah, Georgia fell to the British. Under the command of Lt. Colonel Archibald Campbell, roughly 3,000 men (British regulars, Hessian conscripts, and some colonial Loyalists) had set sail from New York in late November, landing near Savannah just before Christmas.
The move south marked a change in strategy for the King’s military. To this point, the war had been concentrated in the northern Colonies. But the fighting, by mid-1778, was approaching a stalemate, and the British felt a campaign in the south might be to their advantage. But just as important was the British territory in the Caribbean, which was threatened by Spanish and French aggression. A Royal Navy presence in the southern Colonies would serve as an additional deterrent.
The defense of Savannah was left to General Robert Howe (shown above), and his was a pretty uneviable position. With fewer that 1,000 men under his command and no authority to command the state militia, he was badly outnumbered. Furthermore, the British advance on the port city was aided by their ability to find an unguarded path through the swampy areas just outside Savannah that served to flank Howe’s positions. Situated badly and at a significant numerical disadvantage, the battle was over before it even began.
Howe ordered his forces to withdraw from Savannah, and the Redcoats took control, having barely broken a military sweat, suffering only a handful of killed and wounded. They captured the fort, its ammunition and artillery, and more than 450 prisoners. General Howe would be forced to retreat into South Carolina, and would later be court-martialled (and acquitted) for the loss of the city.
The Continental Army (with French assistance) would try unsuccessfully to recapture Savannah the following year, and it would remain in British hands until they left after the Revolution ended.
Recommended Reading: From Savannah to Yorktown: The American Revolution in the South