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This Day in Georgia History

July 07, 1742

Battle of Bloody Marsh

This day marks the anniversary of the Battle of Bloody Marsh, which has long been credited as General James Oglethorpe’s most important victory - and, in fact, the battle that determined that Georgia would be British rather than Spanish. However, the full story is more complex. Having occupied Fort St. Simons the previous day, Gov. Montiano’s Spanish invasion force took the offensive on St. Simons Island on July 7. However, he did not commit his entire force against the British troops at Fort Frederica. Rather, he sent two infantry columns to check out the fort’s defenses. About a mile from Frederica, a small contingent of Oglethorpe’s rangers encountered the advancing Spaniards. The two sides exchanged fire, and then the rangers hurried to Fort Frederica to tell Oglethorpe, who quickly assembled a force of soldiers from his regiment, Highlanders, rangers, and Indian allies and marched down the Military Road to meet the Spanish invaders. Gen. Oglethorpe led this diverse military force to attack the Spaniards in what was later known as the Battle of Gully Hole Creek, where his men were victorious. The routed Spanish columns retreated southward down the Military Road towards Fort St. Simons and the safety of Montiano’s main forces. Oglethorpe pursued them until reaching the edge of a clearing where the road crossed the western edge of a marsh. Here, he stopped and positioned his men behind bushes and trees to defend the road in case the main Spanish force advanced on Frederica. Fearing that Montiano has launched a river attack on Fort Frederica, Oglethorpe returned to prepare the defense of the fort against attack by ship. However, there was no river attack. Instead, Montiano sent three infantry companies back up the Military Road towards Frederica. As the lead company reached the edge of the marsh, Oglethorpe’s men opened fire. A brief and heavy fire fight followed. Eventually, the Spanish fell back - but so did some British soldiers who thought the Spaniards had prevailed. Hearing the gunfire from Frederica, Oglethorpe rode as fast as he could to reach the battle. Riding south on the Military Road, Oglethorpe saw retreating British soldiers, who mistakenly told him the Spanish had been victorious. Nevertheless, he turned them around and hastened with them to join the battle. By the time they arrived, the Battle of Bloody Marsh was over - and the Georgia defenders had held the day. There had been two important skirmishes this day - both won by Georgia’s defenders. However, unlike the popular tradition, the results of July 7 were not the sole factors that convinced Montiano to call off his invasion. A week would pass before that decision was reached. Two centuries later, the Georgia Society of Colonial Dames and the Georgia Society of Colonial Wars erected a marble monument at the site of the Battle of Bloody Marsh. The plaque’s brass plaque includes a quotation of Oglethorpe stating his resolve in face of the Spanish invasion: “We are resolved not to suffer defeat. We will rather die like Leonidas and his Spartans - if we can but protect Georgia and Carolina and the rest of the Americans from desolation.”