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This Day in History: Battle of Burke County Jail

On this day in 1779, a group of American patriots holds off a contingent of British soldiers at the Burke County Jail in Georgia, despite being badly outnumbered.

By this point in the Revolution, the British were frustrated with the status of the war in the North. They decided to pursue a new strategy: A fair number of Loyalists lived in the South. The British hoped to win a few significant southern victories, thus helping these Loyalists to regain control of the southern state governments. The British would then establish a southern base from which they could work to crush the remaining rebellion in the North. They got off to a good start with a victory in Savannah, Georgia, in late 1778. Their next target was Augusta.

In mid-January, a group of Patriots gathered at the Burke County Jail, just south of Augusta. They wanted to plan their next move.

Unfortunately, the British heard of the meeting. A detachment of roughly 230 British soldiers was sent to deal with the 120 Patriots at the jail. (The British may also have wanted to free Loyalists being held in the jail.) The British attacked on the morning of the 26th, maybe while the Americans were still sleeping. Amazingly, the Patriots nevertheless managed to hold the British off for the entire duration of the day. The British soldiers ended up withdrawing and rejoining the main British army, which was on its way to attack Augusta.

The Battle of Burke County Jail was not exactly a victory. Perhaps it was a draw? The British still managed to capture Augusta a few days later, and the war was not great for the Patriots in the South for a while afterwards. (The Battle of Cowpens, two years later, was one turning point! See January 17 history post.)

This battle was a relatively small one in the grand scheme of things, which admittedly makes details on it kind of difficult to find. And yet it remains a good example of the determination that characterized so many of our ancestors, even in the face of an imposing British army.

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