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This Day in Georgia History

July 12, 1742

Oglethorpe Ruse Fooled Spanish

James Oglethorpe decided to launch a surprise night attack on the much larger Spanish force camped out on the south end of St. Simons Island. He marched a large force of soldiers, rangers, Indian allies, and volunteers from Frederica to within a mile and a half of the Spanish quarters. There, they waited while he went ahead to scout the situation. In his absence, a Frenchman in the group of volunteers fired his gun and deserted to the Spanish side. Knowing they had been discovered, Oglethorpe had to make a quick decision. His much smaller force would have no chance if the Spanish decided to take the initiative and launch an attack. So he took a gamble. Since it was dark and the Spanish sentries couldn’t see the size or location of his force, Oglethorpe divided his drummers up and positioned them at different locations around the northern perimeter of the camp. For a half hour, he then had them beat the grenadiers’ march so that it would appear that a large British force was about to attack. The ruse worked. The Spanish units were disorganized and decided to defend themselves rather than take the offense. Once he saw that the gamble worked, Oglethorpe signaled the drummers to stop. Under cover of darkness, they retreated in silence back to Fort Frederica. Although they suffered no casualties, Oglethorpe began to worry. By now, the French deserter surely had told Spanish officers about the size and composition of the island’s defense force. Would Gov. Manuel de Montiano now decide to marshal his infantry and naval flotilla for an all-out land and river attack on Fort Frederica? The answer would come the next day.