American History Tidbits

Battle of Alligator Bridge

The Battle of Alligator Bridge, also known as the Skirmish of Alligator Creek, took place on June 30, 1778, near present day Callahan, Florida, and was the only major engagement in an unsuccessful campaign to conquer British East Florida during the American Revolution. A detachment of Georgia militiamen under the command of General James Screven chased Thomas Brown’s Loyalist company into a large position of British regulars established by British Major Mark Prevost and were turned back.

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Artist’s depiction of the Battle of Alligator Bridge

In the spring of 1778 an invasion of East Florida was organized by Georgia Governor John Houstoun and Continental Army General Robert Howe. However, the two men could not agree on overall command of the expedition, and Houstoun refused to share his plans with Howe, leading to organizational and logistical difficulties.

Howe, in command of 1,100 regulars was waiting for Georgia and South Carolina militia companies to arrive when he learned on June 18 that Loyalist Thomas Brown and 300 men were at Fort Tonyn on the Florida side of the St. Mary’s River. On June 28 his men crossed the St. Mary’s in a move that was observed by Brown’s scouts. Brown decided to retreat from the fort, which he burned after removing everything he could take with him.

Brown ordered a company of men to circle around behind the Continentals while the rest of his men hid along the road heading south from the fort. British Major Mark Prevost had established a defensive position at Alligator Bridge, about 17 miles south of the fort. Howe sent General James Screven and about 100 cavalry south on this road. The men Brown sent to flank the Continentals were betrayed by deserters and ambushed, with most of them captured or killed.

Howe then sent General James Screven and about 100 militia cavalry to find Brown, who retreated before Screven’s advance. The leading edge of Brown’s men entered Prevost’s camp relatively casually, but his rear was chased in by Screven. Prevost’s regulars quickly took up positions and began firing on Screven’s men, while some of Brown’s men went around to come at their flank. In pitched battle, men on both sides went down, Screven was wounded, and some of the Patriot militia narrowly escaped being trapped before Screven ordered the retreat.

Howe’s army eventually withdrew from East Florida, effectively ending the idea of gaining control of the province. James Screven was killed in a surprise attack led by Brown in November 1778.

The site of the bridge has long been supposed to be in central Callahan, where a marker has been placed, but some historians believe that the actual site of the bridge was somewhat farther east.

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