by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
November 22, 2006
MORNING COFFEE AT BLOODY MARSH
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- My morning routine starts with an "aquacize" class at the fitness center and this morning's air was bracing, to say the least. Stepping into and out of the heated pool, despite my thick terrycloth robe, I was shivering. I fell into line at McDonald's drive-thru and decided I would rather drive out to avoid the fumes-filled parking lot to relish my favorite brew.
After settling the steaming hot coffee into the cup holder, I
drove down the road for less than a mile and pulled into the parking
area at the site of The Battle of Bloody Marsh. It's not a parking lot,
really, just a wide circle around some trees with other tall oaks
around the asphalt ring.
I was alone, as I usually am. I pulled up to the railroad-tie barrier and turned off the motor. The sun was high enough in the sky to warm the car and as I looked out across the marsh I was struck with the utter peacefulness of a place little changed from July 1742, when a fierce musket-to-musket battle took place.
Until we moved here a dozen years ago, I was basically unaware of anything special in American history between the landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock and the hop, skip and jump to the Midnight Ride of Paul Revere. Yet this morning, with hot coffee fogging up my windshield, I took notice of the day the battle took place. As these men fought and died for the land beneath my wheels, Paul Revere would have been seven years old; George Washington was 10 - no doubt busy chopping down a cherry tree.
In 2003, a bill before Congress made this piece of land and the marshes around it part of the Fort Frederica National Monument. Nothing had to be done to preserve it because it hasn't changed. Oh, the oaks have grown taller and multiplied, but the marshes are the same. There are times when the tides affect the rise and fall of the water, but basically, the marsh looks like an acre of waving green grass.
Fort Frederica is actually six miles away, but it was protected here from Spanish invaders hell-bent on taking Georgia the same way they'd secured Florida for the King of Spain. The historical record, briefly:
"A British colony was established in Savannah in 1733. Three years later they settled Fort Frederica and Fort St. Simons, both on St. Simons Island under the leadership of James Oglethorpe. Another three years passed and the British declared war on Spain. Not to be outdone, the Spanish showed up at St. Simons with 52 ships and more than 3,000 men. With only 630 men, Oglethorpe with bravery and cunning drove off the entire Spanish force. The long-term result of this battle, the Battle of Bloody Marsh, was that the territories northward would be British and the English language would be spoken instead of Spanish." The sopurce provided for those observations was one "Schoettle, H.E. Taylor."
The ambush lasted only about an hour before the Spanish retreated. They lost 50 men. The area where the fatally wounded fell is small, so the marsh did indeed run red from blood shed there.
To my knowledge, no one has ever suggested changing the name of the place to something less graphic. It's enough for all concerned that this battle is credited as General James Oglethorpe's most important victory - and, in fact, this battle determined that Georgia would be English rather than Spanish. Oglethorpe's small army was made up of farmers and soldiers from Fort Frederica, a small number of Scottish Highlanders and some American Indians.
As I came to the end of my coffee, I started the car and slipped out of my reverie, but I had started thinking about the meaning of allegiance. In 1742, I would definitely have been cheering the British in their battles to keep the Spaniards from invading our shores. But in 1775, I could have been on Lexington Green in Massachusetts to fire "the shot heard round the world" at the beginning the American Revolution.
I found an interesting link, in the end, between the Bloody Marsh of 1742, when Oglethorpe vowed, "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."
Then, in July 1775, our Continental Congress defended the taking up of arms against the British in a declaration that fiercely stated, "Americans are resolved to die free men rather than live as slaves."
As I reviewed those dates before committing my thoughts to print, I was struck by the similarity between the thoughts and expressions heard then and now.
The common link in the olden times is the word "Resolved" - "not to suffer defeat" in 1742, and to pursue freedom, no matter what the cost, in 1776.
There was great resolution in President Abraham Lincoln's 1864 Gettysburg Address, and it shines in his ringing words, "We cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. ... We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain."
In his Inaugural Adress in 1961, President John F. Kennedy spoke in defense of human rights with high resolve, too, as he said, "We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution. Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans, born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage..." Although the word "resolve" didn't appear in his speech, he surely felt it.
In the cool media world of 2006, few are so fierce as those first true patriots, so eloquent as Lincoln, or so resolved as Kennedy; perhaps because of that, however, we are very surely in a swamp once again.