On this day in 1779, French Commander Charles Count d’Estaing captures two British frigates and two British supply ships in the Savannah River.
After completing a total blockade of Savannah, Commander d’Estaing’s 5,000 French troops, along with General Benjamin Lincoln’s 5,000 American troops, surrounded the British-held city of Savannah. While awaiting the arrival of the remaining forces of the Continental Army, Commander d’Estaing ordered the surrender of General Augustine Prevost and the British forces occupying the city. General Prevost delayed answering the call for surrender long enough to strengthen British defenses of the city. The allies’ failure to immediately attack Savannah proved to be a serious mistake as the British used the extra time to sneak in reinforcements. When General Prevost finally answered d’Estaing, he proclaimed that the British would defend Savannah to the last man.
The siege of Savannah would continue through the end of October 1779, when the French and American forces finally withdrew their forces after losing 800 men; the British lost only 140. Savannah remained in British control until the Redcoats left of their own accord on July 11, 1782.
The French troops included 500 free Haitians of African descent, calling themselves the Chasseurs-Volontaires de Saint-Dominigue. Soldiers of African descent fighting for the Patriots was an anomaly during the southern campaign–most American slaves attempted to flee and join British forces, as they had no desire to defend their Patriot masters’ right to enslave them. Many of the Volontaires themselves later went on to rebel against French control of Haiti. In fact, the Volontaires’ 12-year-old drummer, Henri Christoph, commanded Haiti’s revolutionary army and later became that country’s king.