At 4:00 on the morning of October 9th, 1779, the Revolutionary War was on the threshold of its bloodiest hour. Having besieged British held Savannah for the better part of three weeks, the Allied high command of French Admiral Comte d'Estaing and American Major General Benjamin Lincoln decided upon a direct assault before worsening weather further damaged the French fleet. As the Franco-American Allies approached the British right in the pre-dawn darkness many units lost their way while the skirl of Highland bagpipes pierced the morning stillness indicating that some of the best units in the British army lay unexpectedly in their path. Having lost the element of surprise d'Estaing considered countermanding the attack orders but felt he could not do so without losing face with the Americans. With a reputation for personal bravery he determined it was better to die than risk losing honor.
While diversionary attacks were launched at the British left and center, d'Estaing ordered an advance aimed straight at the Spring Hill redoubt that anchored the British right. The Bourbon battle cry, "Vive le Roi! Vive le Roi" echoed through the vapors of the morning mist.
Neither the French nor the British had time to reload their muskets. After an initial volley, they rushed at each other with bayonets in desperate fighting all along the entrenchments. Three times a wounded d'Estaing rallied his troops, and three times he sent forward en masse. For a moment the sheer fury and determination of the attack nearly overwhelmed the defenders. A timely counterattack, however, by British marines and grenadiers drove the unsupported platoons back.
Always impatient for action, the gallant Pulaski waited for signal to join the assault. He halted his Legion cavalry and their South Carolina and Virginia comrades at the edge of the woods, drew sabers, and lowered lances. Some 200 strong, the cavalry charge shook the ground. Carrying the banner of his Legion in his left hand and his sabre raised high in his right, Pulaski raced ahead of his column for a gap in the enemy line. In a moment he was struck down with canister shot. His second in command, Col. Horry, asked for instructions. "Follow my lancers," was the Pole's valiant reply, but it was already too late as murderous crossfire decimated the cavalry's ranks.
It was all over a mere hour after the initial charge. American columns under Laurens and McIntosh likewise failed to penetrate the British works and likewise sufferred heavy losses. Laurens, looking out over the carnage is reported to have said, "Poor fellows, I envy you."
Within one hour, more dead and wounded fell in the grand assault at Savannah than any other battefield of the American Revolution.
In the aftermath of the battle, the Allies lifted their siege. The French embarked their army while the Americans marched back to Charlestown. Strategically, the British would use their base at Savannah as the springboard for their southern campaign into the Carolinas in 1780 and 1781.