Nearly 30 people filled the narrow rows of wooden benches at the Richmond Hill Museum Thursday evening to hear historian Christopher Hendricks speak about the 1779 Battle of Savannah during the Revolutionary War and its effect on local history.
Hosted by the Richmond Hill Historical Society, the lecture was intended to educate residents about the area's history during the late 18th century. It explored Savannah's role in events ranging from the imposition of the Stamp Act to the British surrender at the Battle of Yorktown.
"When talking about Savannah, people tend to forget about Colonial and Revolutionary War history and jump right to the antebellum era," said Hendricks, who teaches history at Armstrong Atlantic State University in Savannah. "Except for Oglethorpe and maybe John Wesley, It's almost as though they forget anything happened between the 1730s and the Civil War."
The way in which the city's most significant conflict of the period played out might account for the gap in Savannah's collective memory.
The Second Battle of Savannah, also referred to as the Siege of Savannah, was a failed attempt in 1779 by Franco-American forces to retake the city of Savannah, captured one year earlier by the British under Lt. Col. Archibald Campbell.
"If you wanted to sum up the Battle of Savannah from an American perspective in one word, that word would be ‘confusion,'" said Hendricks, who earned his doctorate from the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
Flawed leadership, miscommunication and disorganization plagued the Franco-American army, led by the French Comte d'Estaing and American Gen. Benjamin Lincoln.
According to Hendricks, it took only an hour for the British to decimate the allied army, and the battle marked the second bloodiest day of the American Revolution. Only the Battle of Bunker Hill was bloodier.
"British accounts place their figures at 18 killed and 39 wounded, while the allies suffered somewhere between 750 and 1,100 casualties," he said.
Casimir Pulaski, a Polish nobleman who is hailed as the father of the American cavalry, was among those killed on the American side.
Despite high casualties, however, the Battle of Savannah might have actually laid the groundwork for America's eventual victory in the war, said Hendricks.
"After the battle, the British may have been lulled into the belief that continued loyalist support would propel them to victory in the South, and possibly, all of the colonies," he said. "They moved into South Carolina. Seven months later, they captured Charleston. Then, they began a long march through the Carolinas' backcountry, constantly harassed by American patriots, which ultimately forced Lord Cornwallis to seek refuge in a little Virginia port called Yorktown.
"There, possibly because of the poor coordination between the Americans and the French in Savannah, the American and French militaries worked together seamlessly, finally bringing about American independence, which, after all, was the whole point."
Richmond Hill Historical Society vice president Christy Sherman said she enjoyed Hendricks' lecture and appreciated his message.
"I thought he did a great job," she said. "We tend to focus on Civil War history here, so it's nice to hear a little bit about Revolutionary War history."
The historical society's next lecture is scheduled for April 5. Filmmaker Michael Jordan will discuss Colonial cemeteries in the area.