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America First—100 Stories from Our History by  Lawton B. Evans

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BLOODY MARSH

WHEN Georgia was settled by an English colony under Oglethorpe, and the town of Savannah was begun, the enterprise was met with protest from the Spaniards in Florida, because Spain claimed all the territory of America, clear to the Arctic Ocean. She had founded only one colony, that of St. Augustine, in Florida, but still she claimed the whole land.

Ten years after Georgia was settled, the Spaniards resolved to wipe out the colony, then march to Charleston, and so on as far north as possible. We shall see that they did not get very far.

A great fleet of thirty-six ships, with five thousand men on board, appeared off the coast of St. Simon's Island in Georgia. The Spaniards raised the red flag of war and landed their troops on the southern end of the island. Oglethorpe had hastily collected all the men he could, but at best he had only six hundred and fifty to oppose the great army confronting him.

[73] Oglethorpe posted his scouts, and awaited the coming of the Spanish forces. He was determined to make his little army check the advance of the enemy as long as he could. One day a scout came into camp, and announced that the Spaniards were within two miles of Oglethorpe's camp. The General hastily called for a body of his own troops, skirted through the woods, and fell upon the advance forces with such fury that they were nearly all killed or captured. Oglethorpe took two prisoners with his own hands.

"That is a good beginning," he said to one of his captains. "Now for the rest, before they can rally. We will lie in ambush for them." And so he did, along the road by which the Spaniards had to march.

Before long the enemy came in sight, halted in the defile where the ambush was, and stacked their guns. Some began to cook, while others lay down to rest, for it was July and the day was very hot. One of their horses noticed a strange uniform in the bushes, and by rearing and pitching gave the alarm. The Spaniards sprang to their guns, but it was too late. A deadly fire poured into them from an unseen foe,—how many or how few they did not know! They fled in all directions, but were met by the bayonet of the English soldier and the [74] scalping knife of the Indian. The ground was covered with their dead. Because of this victory and the great slaughter of the Spaniards, the place has ever since been called "Bloody Marsh."

The defeat drove back the advance force, but there was still the main body to be accounted for. Oglethorpe resolved to surprise it by night. He knew these soldiers were not accustomed to Indian warfare, or to fighting in the tangled forests, and he was trying to demoralize them with fear before they could attack his small army.

He advanced within a mile of their camp, late in the night, and was making ready to attack, when one of his soldiers, a Frenchman, fired off his gun and ran into the Spanish lines. He was a deserter, and had fled to the enemy to give the alarm. Oglethorpe hastily retreated to save his little army.

He knew the deserter would tell the enemy of his real strength, and he at once devised a plan to thwart this purpose. He wrote a letter in French, urging this man by all means to persuade the Spaniards to attack, to speak of the smallness of his forces and the exposure of his position. He must not, however, mention the reinforcements which had arrived, but must induce the Spaniards to stay on the island so Oglethorpe could attack them in a few days.

[75] Of course this was a decoy letter. He handed it to a Spanish prisoner, and said to him, "Take this letter to the man whose name is on it. He is a friend of mine in the Spanish camp. Say nothing about it to any one, and I will give you your liberty."

The man agreed, was handed the letter, and was set free. The deserter put the paper in his pocket, where it was found by the Spanish Commander, when he ordered the deserter examined. The Commander read the letter with alarm, and was at a loss to know what to do. He called a council of his officers and laid the facts before them. He said, "This deserter is a spy in our camp, and this letter is the opposite of the truth. I believe the English are on us in great force." Thereupon he ordered his great army to get on their ships and sail away. It was a very cowardly thing to do, but the Spaniards were not very anxious to fight any way, and, besides, they were frightened at what might happen.

Thus did General Oglethorpe, with a few hundred men, outwit a force nearly ten times as large as his, and save the southern colonies from invasion by the Spaniards.


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