ExploreSouthernHistory.com - The Siege of Augusta, Georgia (1781)
ExploreSouthernHistory.com - The Siege of Augusta, Georgia (1781)
Site of Fort Cornwallis
Built in 1780 by the British, Fort Cornwallis was
the key objective of the attack on Augusta by
American Patriots in 1781.
Siege of Augusta (1781)
Beautiful St. Paul's Church
occupies once bloody ground
where the Siege of Augusta
was fought in 1781.
St. Paul's Church
The church was destroyed in
the siege and later rebuilt.
The monument marks the
grave of Col. William Few, a
signer of the U.S. Constitution.
The Siege of Augusta (1781) - Augusta, Georgia
American Revolution in Augusta
Copyright 2012 by Dale Cox
All rights reserved.
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Fort Cornwallis
This historic marker at St.
Paul's Church details the
history of the site and
explains in brief the Siege of
Savannah River at Augusta
The siege took place on the
waterfront of Augusta, which
is located at the natural head
of navigation of the Savannah
Historic Sites of Augusta, Georgia
The Siege of Augusta was a significant battle
of the American Revolution.

Fought for control of Fort Cornwallis, a British
fort in the Georgia city, the battle was a major
victory for the Patriot forces of Lighthorse
Harry Lee and a stunning reverse to the
British and Loyalist forces in the South.

Augusta had been taken by Southern
Loyalists under Lt. Col. Thomas Brown in
1780. When threatened by Patriot forces early
in 1781, he had built a bastioned fort of earth
and logs on the site of the earlier
Augusta. Named after Lord Cornwallis, the
British commander in the South, the fort was
supported by two smaller outposts: Fort
Grierson about one-half mile away and the
stockaded home of Loyalist trader George
Galphin about 12 miles away.

The Siege of Augusta began in a small way
on April 16, 1781. The famed Georgia leader
Elijah Clarke had contracted smallpox and
was sick in camp, so Lt. Col. Micajah
Williamson assumed command of his force
of militiamen. In company with the forces of
Colonels John Baker and LeRoy Hammond,
he arrived outside Augusta on April 16.

Williamson and the militiamen fortified a
position on the outskirts of Augusta and
hovered around the city, taking occasional
shots at the Loyalists holding Fort Cornwallis
and Fort Grierson.

The arrival of the Patriot militia from the back-
country created alarm in Augusta, where their
forces were greatly over-estimated. Col.
Brown sent out a call for help and Loyalist
militia companies from elsewhere began a
march to his relief.

To prevent support from reaching Augusta
from the British post of Ninety Six in South
Carolina, General Andrew Pickens placed
himself between the two points with 400 men.

Colonel Clarke recovered sufficiently from his
smallpox by May that he arrived in Augusta
with 100 additional men and assumed
personal command of the Patriots there. The
siege now began in earnest.

At the same time, General Nathaniel Greene
of the Continental forces was moving to lay
siege on
Ninety Six. Hoping to eliminate
Augusta in the meantime, he ordered the
famed Patriot horseman "Lighthorse" Harry
Lee (father of Robert E. Lee) to join forces
with Clarke. Lee drove his men at a rapid
pace, marching 75 miles in just three days.

The combined forces attacked the fortified
home of George Galphin 12 miles from
Augusta on May 21, 1781. After a fight in
intense heat, the British surrendered.

Pushing on into Augusta, the Patriots moved
on Fort Grierson next. As they formed to
encircle the small fort, its garrison panicked
and tried to escape to the safety of the larger
Fort Cornwallis. Eighty Loyalists under Col.
Grierson were captured, refused quarter and
slaughtered. Brown's forces had done the
same to Patriot forces in the past and now
they exacted their revenge.

The slaughter of Grierson's force completed,
Clarke and Lee, now joined by Pickens,
began their attack on Fort Cornwallis.
The Patriots had only one cannon and even
though they far outnumbered the Loyalist
forces holding Fort Cornwallis (300 militia
and 200 African Americans who joined
them), the fort was too strong for them to
carry by direct assault.

Lee suggested that the fort could be taken by
employing a tower similar to the one built by
Patriots during the Battle of Fort Watson in
South Carolina. From the top of the structure,
they would be able to fire down into the fort.

The 30-foot tower was assembled behind a
nearby home. Several times the Loyalists
tried to attack the project, but each time they
were driven back. The tower was finished to
a point from which the Patriot cannon could
fire down into the fort on June 1, 1781.

That night Brown led most of his men out of
Fort Cornwallis in a desperate attempt to
stop the project or break out. They were
driven back into the fort in a fierce night battle.

The Patriot's now began to systematically
destroy the interior of Fort Cornwallis from
above. Its cannon were dismounted and the
barracks and other structures knocked to
pieces. This continued for two more days.

Finally, on the morning of June 4, 1781, the
Patriot forces formed for an attempt to storm
Fort Cornwallis. A surrender demand was
sent in and Brown responded by asking for
an extra day as it was the birthday of King
George III. Pickens, Clarke and Lee agreed
and Brown surrendered the next day. Fearful
of that he would meet Grierson's fate, he
gave up to a detachment of Continental

The capture of Fort Cornwallis placed
Augusta firmly in American control and there
it remained. The fort stood on the grounds of
St. Paul's Church at 605 Reynolds Street and
a marker there commemorates the battle.
The churchyard is open daily.