IT MUST have been horrific.
On Oct. 9, 1779, 8,000 soldiers from three different armies fought for control of Savannah. By the battle’s end, after about an hour’s time, 800 of them were wounded, dead or dying.
The Battle of Savannah was the second bloodiest battle of the American Revolution. For many years, this sacred ground at the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and the Louisville Road lay covered in weeds. Just a simple stone marker denoted its presence.
Yet over those same years, many groups and individuals worked diligently to create a fitting memorial to the soldiers who died that day. That dream has finally been realized.
On Oct. 6 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Battlefield Park will open to the public with the Battle of Savannah Living History Day. It will feature musket and cannon fire demonstrations and portrayals of life during the Revolutionary War.
The Allied attack on the Spring Hill Redoubt will be reenacted several times throughout the day. About 2,500 British troops were entrenched in Savannah, determined to keep the city under English control.
They faced down 4,500 American and French troops who were just as determined to free Savannah. There also were soldiers from Haiti, Germany, Scotland, Ireland, Sweden and Poland fighting that day.
Yet not long after the battle, people’s interests turned elsewhere. In 1833, the Central Railroad was chartered and a depot was begun in the area of the Battle of Savannah. Several buildings were built by the railroad, which used the site until 1963.
The City of Savannah purchased the battlefield from the Norfolk Southern Railway in 2003. The nonprofit Coastal Heritage Society has been working to create a memorial at the site since that time.
CHS archaeologist Rita Elliott and her team found evidence of the original Spring Hill Redoubt, a small, earthen fortification used by the British, in August 2006. They also found musket balls, gun parts and traces of the original trench. Steps have been taken to ensure the safety of the archaeological site.
The Spring Hill Redoubt has been reconstructed not far from the site where the original redoubt was found. A group of granite markers has been placed to the west of the redoubt, and a large “Betsy Ross” American flag flies on a 60-foot flagpole just beyond the stones.
There are exactly 800 stones. “One for each of the 800 killed or wounded here,” says Michael Jordan, CHS Public Relations Director. “People can stand on the stones and get a feel for how many people died here.”
Eventually, each stone will bear the name of a Revolutionary War soldier. In time, the stones will provide funding to maintain the Battlefield Park.
“The stones can be commissioned for $1,779, paid over a three-year period of time,” says Samantha Pogorelsky, Director of Development for the Coastal Heritage Society. “(Honorees can come) from any aspect of the Revolution, including ancestors, heroes, famous figures, and so on.
“After construction costs are met, funds from the stones will be placed into interest-bearing accounts in order to provide maintenance and programming funds,” Pogorelsky says. “We anticipate that stones will be commissioned over a period of many years.”
A local organization, the Edward Telfair Chapter of the Georgia Society of Sons of the American Revolution, has donated money to honor patriot Samuel Elbert. A native of Savannah, Elbert served as commander of both Georgia’s militia and Continental Line during the Revolutionary War.
He later commanded a brigade under Gen. George Washington at Yorktown, and he was promoted to the rank of brigadier general in November 1783. In 1785, Elbert became the governor of Georgia.
Norman Hoffman spearheaded that effort. “The Battlefield Park is certainly a valuable piece of historic real estate,” he says. “Because of it, Savannah will be recognized for years to come.”
Hoffman wanted to support the Coastal Heritage Society and recognize Elbert, who lived from 1740 to 1788. “I think it’s fitting to have a monument for a man of his caliber, “ Hoffman says. “It’s going to be a really wonderful park.”
Believing the CHS had a leg up on preserving a historic site, Hoffman appealed to both the state and national SAR organizations for money to honor Elbert, and they agreed. “We were very pleased to be able to do that,” Hoffman says. “It’s the first time the Edward Telfair chapter has ever gotten anything funded.”
As a member of the SAR, Hoffman is himself descended from a patriot of the American Revolution. To qualify to join, members must prove they have an ancestor who was a patriot, fired a gun during the American Revolution or signed a vote of allegiance during the period of the Revolution.
“It’s a long and arduous process for some,” Hoffman says. “Sometimes it takes years to do. But you learn a lot about your family and their place in history. You find out you have many more cousins than you realized.”
Hoffman says the staff at Coastal Heritage Society deserves praise for work on the battlefield. “Scott Smith, the executive director, and Rita Elliott, the archaeologist, have done a tremendous job,” he says.
The Edward Telfair Chapter will participate in the Battle Anniversary March on Oct. 9. At 7 a.m., participants will gather in the Savannah History Museum/Visitors Center parking lot at 303 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. then form loose columns and march behind drummers and an honor guard.
They will proceed in the footsteps of those American, French and Haitian soldiers of so long ago to the battlefield. Wreaths will be lain on the battlefield during the ceremony.
Project Manager Eric Davenport is head of the team that has been doing work at the park. “We started the redoubt on Halloween 2005,” he says. “We started placing the stones about nine months ago.”
The redoubt reconstruction was the most difficult project of all, Davenport says. “We were building with earth and the weather didn’t cooperate,” he says. “If was definitely challenging, but in the end, it was doable.”
The crew was always on the lookout for archaeological artifacts, not just from the battle, but from the railroad years, as well. “We didn’t come across any bones, but we did find musket balls and gun flints,” Davenport says.
In an effort to protect the site, the granite markers were placed above the ground, then surrounded by a compound of crushed granite. “Everything we did was cleared with the archaeologists,” Davenport says. “We designed the monument above grade to avoid damaging anything below, to protect it for future investigations.”
The battlefield site originally was a garden lot, Jordan says. After the battle, the ground was quickly put to other uses.
“The battlefield, railroad, residential and industrial are layered here,” Jordan says. “I shouldn’t say layered, because sometimes older things are found above the newer.
“George Washington came here after the war and said he wouldn’t recognize the ground,” Jordan says. “That was just a few years after the battle.”
In a sense, the Battle of Savannah could be considered the first world war. “We have a special responsibility because soldiers from so many nations were here,” Jordan says.
The final result of all the hard work done by the CHS is a stately monument that moves the soul. “We didn’t want it to be littered with monuments like Gettysburg,” Jordan says. “We wanted to keep it certain and simple.”
A Battle of Savannah Living History Day will be held Oct. 6, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., at Battlefield Park at MLK Jr. Boulevard and Louisville Road. Musket and cannon fire demonstrations and portrayals of life during the Revolutionary War will be presented. The Allied attack on the Spring Hill Redoubt will be reenacted several times throughout the day.
A Battle Anniversary March will be held at dawn Oct. 9, in which participants will form loose columns in the Visitors Center parking lot and march behind drummers and an honor guard to Battlefield Park, then proceed in the footsteps of the French, Haitian and American soldiers who attacked the British fortifications.
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