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[p1] Effect of D'Estaing's attack upon Savannah. -- Rhode island evacuated. -- Embarkation of a body of troops. -- Sir Henry Clinton sails from New York, and arrives at Savannah. -- Difficulties to encounter before the siege of Charles town. -- The army cross Ashley river. -- The Admiral passes the Bar, -- and fort Moultrie. -- Charles town summoned. -- Americans surprised at Monk's Corner. -- Charles town completely invested. -- Earl Cornwallis takes the command in the country. -- Americans surprised at Lenew's. -- Fort Moultrie surrenders. -- Charles town capitulates. -- Proclamations. -- Effect of proclamations. -- Part of the army embark. -- Earl Cornwallis passes the Santee river. -- Action at Wacsaw. -- Sir Henry Clinton sails from Charles town.
This short history commences at a time, when the whole aspect of the American war experienced a change the most critical and [p2] interesting; when prospects, big with the utmost importance, sprung up in a variety of shapes, and gave birth to those decisive events which so speedily followed. Whilst several European powers privately assisted the colonies, in opposition to the mother country, they undoubtedly injured the interests of Great Britain, without allowing her the advantage of reprisal; but when France and Spain threw off the mask, and openly embraced the cause of American independence, the nature of the war underwent a manifest alteration. From that epoch, different political, as well as naval and military measures, might have been adopted. The magnitude of the confederacy was evident; and fortunate would it have been for England, had she attacked the vulnerable situation of her avowed enemies at that momentous and critical period. An immediate attention to the West Indies, and an early evacuation of New York, might have produced such important consequences, as would in all human probability, have given a different termination to the war: Her blood and treasures might then have been saved; her natural enemies might then have been humbled; and America would have resorted again to the protection of her parent state, after Great Britain had vindicated her own dignity, and established that pre-eminence, which she had acquired in her late contest with the house of Bourbon. But as it is intended only to enter into a detail of occurrences which took place in the southern provinces, during the campaigns of 1780 to 1781, and not to deviate into political disquisitions, it will be sufficient to point out the primary cause upon which the principal events were hinged, and then proceed to the narrative of military operations.
In the autumn of the year 1779, Congress was considerably advanced in credit and power by the military combination in Georgia. [p3] The appearance of the French, although the attack upon Savannah was not crowned with success, re-animated the expiring vigour of the desponding Americans, and confirmed the attachment of the unsteady. The loss of the naval superiority presented an unexpected scene to the British commander in chief, counteracted the promise of the minister, (1.) and equally deranged the intentions of both. After that event, Administration could never hope for a fortunate period to the American war, except in full confidence that the fleets of England could prevent the ships of France, from giving interruption to the military operations in that quarter of the globe: And undoubtedly, the success of the commander in chief on the western continent, and the future expectations of the loyalists, could only be founded on the permanent superiority of the British navy.
During the siege of Savannah, Sir Henry Clinton withdrew the garrison from Rhode Island, and by concentrating his force, he prepared for a vigorous defence, if attacked at New York, or for offensive operations, after the departure of the French from the American coast. The failure of D'Estaing in Georgia, and the approach of December, caused the numerous levies of militia to disperse, and the continental army to retire to winter quarters in the Jersies and upon Hudson's river.
Upon receiving intelligence of these events, Sir Henry Clinton ordered a number of transports to be fitted up for the reception of a corps of about eight thousand five hundred men; likewise, horse, ordnance, and victualling vessels, requisite for such an army. South [p4] Carolina suggested itself as the grand object of enterprize; the mildness of the climate, the richness of the country, its vicinity to Georgia, and its distance from General Washington, pointed out the advantage and facility of its conquest. As soon (a.) as the commander in chief had certain intelligence of the return of the French fleet to the West Indies, he arranged the public business at New York, committed the command of the King's troops during his absence to Lieutenant-general Knyphausen, and embarked with four flank battalions, twelve regiments and corps, British, Hessian, and Provincial, a powerful detachment of artillery, two hundred and fifty cavalry, and ample supplies of military stores and provisions.
Vice-admiral Arbuthnot, with a naval force competent to the purpose, and which was superior to any thing in the American seas, prepared to convoy this expedition to the place of its destination. On the 26th of December 1779, the whole fleet got under way, and without difficulty cleared the ice in New-York harbour. For a few days the weather proved favourable; the admiral led the van, and kept in shore; but this gleam of good fortune was not sufficiently permanent to give a fortunate termination to the voyage: a succession (b.) of storms dispersed the fleet; few ships arrived at Tybee in Georgia before the end of January, some were taken, others separated, one ordnance vessel foundered, most of the artillery, and all the cavalry horses perished. These accidents greatly deranged and impeded the intended attack upon Charles town. The loss of stores, cavalry, and military equipage, would have been sensibly felt in any situation; but in the present, nearly proved destructive to the expedition. The commander in chief, with the assistance of the admiral, the generals [p5] and other officers, sought with indefatigable ardour to remedy these misfortunes. The troops who had so gallantly defended Savannah against the joint efforts of the French and Americans, welcomed the arrival of the royal army, and contributed their endeavours to alleviate present difficulties, and to participate in future glory. According to American accounts, (a.) the delay occasioned by the damage sustained on the voyage, yielded the continentals, the state troops, and the militia, a favourable opportunity to augment the fortifications of Charles town, and by the united exertions of art and labour to render them formidable. From this circumstance it may be inferred, that the crosses and accidents which had hitherto befallen the King's troops, did not in the end prove a real calamity; as the period consumed in reparation of the losses sustained, allowed time to the Americans, enabled them to assemble their forces, and collect provisions and other stores necessary for the garrison, and finally, by affording them an opportunity to perfect their fortifications, gave them confidence (b.) to hazard their lives and fortunes upon the event of a siege.
Sir Henry Clinton lost no time in forwarding the original intention of the expedition. On the 10th of February 1780, the transports, with great part of the army on board, convoyed by a proper force, sailed from Savannah to (c.) North Edisto, the place of debarkation, which had been previously appointed. They had a favourable and speedy (a.) passage; and though it required time to have the bar explored, and the channel marked, by the activity of the navy, these difficulties were surmounted, the transports all entered the harbour the next day, and the army immediately took possession of John's island and Stono ferry: James' island, Perreneau's landing, [p6] Wappo cut, and other adjacent places, were soon afterwards obtained; and by a bridge thrown over the canal, the necessary communications were secured, and the advanced part of the King's army occupied the bank of Ashley river, opposite to Charles town: This position, for the present, was the most eligible that could be established; the air was healthful, and provisions were plentiful; its situation equally covered the Wappo cut, through which the boats and gallies were to pass for the crossing the troops over Ashley river, and protected the corps which was to march under the command of Brigadier-general Patterson from Savannah.
When the commander in chief quitted that place, to proceed to the neighbourhood of Charles town, many of the transports were not arrived from the voyage; the loss of men and stores, made it necessary to dispatch an order to New York for reinforcements of both, from that garrison. Intelligence was now daily obtained, that the defences of Charles town increased very fast, and that the troops who were to maintain them, received hourly additions from Virginia and the two Carolinas. In consequence of this information, the general did not hesitate to make preparations, to assemble in greater force than appeared requisite at the first view of the expedition; in addition, therefore, to the order conveyed to the northward, commands were forwarded to Major-general Prevost, to send a detachment of twelve hundred (d.) men, the cavalry inclusive, from the garrison of Savannah. The order reached its destination, before Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton with the principal part of the dragoons, arrived in Tybee harbour. He found the condition of his corps mortifying and distressing; the horses of both officers and men, which had been embarked [p7] in excellent order were destroyed, owing to the badness of the vessels employed to transport them, or to the severity of the weather on the passage; and unfortunately there was no substitute to be found in Georgia to remedy such a catastrophe. In this forlorn condition, Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton requested the use of some of the quartermaster-general's boats, to transport his men and furniture to Port-Royal island, in order to collect at that place, from friends and enemies, by money or by force, all the horses belonging to the islands in the neighbourhood. This demand was complied with, as there was no other chance of obtaining horses to carry the dragoons and their appointments to Brigadier-general Patterson's corps, which was soon to march in the vicinity of that quarter, on its route to the main army.
About the middle of March, General Patterson crossed the Savannah river, and on his march towards the Cambayee, through swamps and difficult passes, had frequent skirmishes with the militia of the country: A casual engagement likewise took place between Majors Ferguson and Cochrane, the former with his own corps, the latter with the infantry of the British legion; in which, the intrepidity and presence of mind of the leaders prevented any fatal extremity. These active officers, with their light troops, moved on the flanks of Brigadier-general Patterson's command, and each receiving intelligence of a corps of the enemy in the front, thought to surprise the Americans, and by an attack in the night deliver the main body from molestation. Ferguson marched, and arrived early in the night near the post from which he meant to dislodge the enemy; he found they were decamped, and he took their position, as the King's troops were to pass near it in the morning: Cochrane reached the place before day, and judging by the fires that the enemy were still in possession, he led his men to the attack with fixed bayonets, when the two commanders, [p8] in front of their respective corps, recognized each other's voice, and suppressed a conflict which might have been both mortifying and destructive. Officers of this enterprising description, removed the difficulties which occurred to General Patterson, on his march through a country intersected with creeks and morasses, and facilitated his approach to the neighbourhood of Port-Royal island; from whence, he dispatched an order to Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton, to join him with the cavalry, then lying at Beaufort, if he had assembled a sufficient number of horses to remount the dragoons; the number was complete, but the quality was inferior to those embarked at New York by the detachment of the 17th light dragoons, and by the legion. The corps felt not discouraged by this circumstance, but instantly joining General Patterson, sought for occasion to acquire better horses by exertion and enterprise. The inhabitants of Carolina having heard of the loss of the cavalry horses at sea, had flattered themselves that they could not be speedily recruited. In order to confine the British troops as much as possible to the line of march, and to prevent their collecting horses in the country, some of them accoutred themselves as cavaliers, and a few days after the junction of the dragoons from Beaufort, ventured to insult the front of General Patterson's corps, which was composed of his cavalry, who made a charge, unexpected by the Americans, and without any loss took some prisoners, and obtained a number of horses. This affair was nearly counterbalanced in the neighbourhood of Rantol's bridge, where a body of the continental cavalry, consisting of Washington's and Bland's light horse, and Pulaski's hussars, carried off Lieutenant-colonel Hamilton, of the North-Carolina provincial regiment, with some other prisoners; and owing to the imprudence of the officer who commanded the advance guard of the British dragoons, sent in pursuit, was on the point of gaining advantage over that corps. The error was rectified, and the [p9] affair ended with equal loss to both parties. Nothing material occurred from this period, and General Patterson soon after joined Sir Henry Clinton, who was occupied in establishing magazines, and erecting works to defend the communications, near the banks of (a.) Ashley river.
Captain Elphinstone of the navy, having stationed the gallies to protect the boats on their passage with the troops to the neck, twelve miles above Charles town, the main body of the forces moved from their ground, embarked, and crossed the river on the 29th of March without opposition. (b.) On the following day, Sir Henry Clinton ordered the light infantry and yagers, supported by the grenadiers, and the other corps and regiments, to gain the principal road, and move on towards the lines of the enemy. A few scattered parties of the Americans skirmished with the head of the column, and after wounding the Earl of Caithness, acting aid-de-camp to the commander in chief, and a few private men, fell back to their fortifications. The royal army, without farther molestation, took a position across the neck, about a mile and half from Charles town, and effectually invested it, between the rivers Ashley and Cooper.
Great part of Brigadier-general Patterson's command was left near Wappo cut, in order to guard the magazines, till the main body should gain the neck; when a passage across Ashley river was to be sought for, nearer the town, for the conveniency of transporting all the requisites for a siege. Captain Elphinstone soon discovered a landing place, which shortened the trouble and delay attendant upon land carriage, and by which the King's troops received supplies of cannon, stores, provisions, and baggage, with facility and expedition.
[p10] The general and his engineers having fixed upon the point and mode of attack, a large working party broke ground, under cover of an advanced detachment, on the night of the 1st of April: (c.) Two large redoubts were thrown up within eight hundred yards of the American lines, and were not discovered before day-break, when the fire from the town had very inconsiderable effect. The next evening, another redoubt was added, and for five successive days and nights, the labour of the artificers and soldiers was directed to the construction of batteries, which on the (d.) eighth day were completed with artillery.
In the mean time, Admiral Arbuthnot had been fully occupied in accomplishing the general's wishes; heavy cannon (b.) were collected from the line-of-battle ships, and conveyed to the magazines; detachments of seamen were furnished to act on shore, under the command of Captains Elphinstone and Evans; and preparations were made for passing Charles-town bar, to second more effectually the operations of the army: For this latter purpose, he shifted his flag from the Europe, of the line, to the Roebuck of forty-four guns, which with the Renown and Romulus, were lightened of their (c.) guns, provisions, and water; the smaller frigates being capable of passing the bar, without that previous exoneration. The bar was passed on the 20th of March without any accident, notwithstanding the enemy's galleys attempted to prevent the boats from sounding the channel. The Americans had a considerable marine force in Charles-town harbour, from which, powerful assistance to their defences, and great obstruction to the approach of the British fleet, might be equally apprehended: It consisted of an American ship, built since the commencement [p11] of the war, and pierced for sixty guns, but mounting only forty-four; of seven frigates, of the same country, from thirty-two to sixteen guns; with a French frigate of twenty-six guns, and a polacre of eighteen: These at first adopted the plan of disputing the passage up the channel, by mooring with their gallies at a narrow pass between Sullivan's island and the middle ground, in which station they could have raked the British squadron on its approach to fort Moultrie; but this design was abandoned for a less judicious operation: The French and American armament retired to the neighbourhood of Charles town, without yielding any assistance to the fortifications on Sullivan's island, where being furnished with chevaux (d.) de frise, the ships were sunk to block up the passage of Cooper river, between the town and Shute's folly.
On the (e.) 9th of April, the admiral, by signal, discovered his intention to the navy and army, of passing Sullivan's island, on which was constructed a formidable fort, with batteries of heavy cannon. The Roebuck, Richmond, Romulus, Blonde, Virginia, Raleigh, Sandwich, and Renown, weighed about one o'clock, and exhibited a magnificent and satisfactory spectacle to the royalists, by steadily effecting their passage, under the fire of the American batteries, with the trifling loss of twenty-seven men, killed and wounded: The Acetus, a storeship, in following the squadron, grounded, and was burnt; otherwise the navy suffered less than could have been expected from so severe a cannonade. The frigates now taking a position under James' island, blocked up the harbour, and Charles town was debarred from all communication with the country, in every point of its circumstance, except in that quarter which faced the river Cooper.
[p12] Previous to the admiral's passing fort Moultrie, the commander in chief had ordered Major André, acting adjutant general, to direct Brigadier Patterson to send the cavalry, (a.) with two light companies and the legion infantry, to the main army, by a circuitous march up the banks of Ashley river: this movement was accomplished without any opposition from the American corps of cavalry and infantry which lay at Middleton's plantation, near Goose creek, no great distance from the route of the British troops. A large quantity of forage, and some horses, were collected on the march, by the detachment of the 17th light dragoons, and by the British legion, previous to their arrival at the quarter house; where, Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton received orders to take post with his own corps, and to send the light infantry forwards to the army.
At this period of the siege, and before the batteries opened, Sir Henry Clinton and Admiral Arbuthnot thought it advisable to send a summons (a.) to Major-general Lincoln, who commanded in Charles town, representing the dangerous consequences of a cannonade and storm, stating the present as the only favourable opportunity for preserving the lives and properties of the inhabitants, and warning the commander, that he should be responsible for all the calamities which might be the result of his temerity and obstinacy. General Lincoln answered, (b.) that the same duty and inclination which had prevented him from abandoning Charles town, during sixty days knowledge of their hostile intentions, operated now with equal force in prompting him to defend it to the last extremity.
The defences (e.) of Charles town, on the land side, consisted of a chain of redoubts, lines, and batteries, extending from one river to [p13] the other, and furnished with eighty cannon and mortars; the front works of each flank were strengthened by swamps, originating from the neighbouring rivers, and tending towards the center, through which they were connected by a canal passing from one to the other: Between these outward impediments and the redoubts, were two strong rows of abbatis; the trees being buried slanting in the earth, with their branches facing outwards, formed a fraize work against the assailants; and these were farther secured by a ditch double picketted: In the center, the natural defences were inferior to those on the flanks; to remedy this defect, and to cover the principal gate, a horn work of masonry had been constructed, which being closed during the siege, formed a kind of citadel. The fortifications facing the two rivers and the harbour had been erected with uncommon labour and expence: Ships with chevaux de frise, connected by spars and booms, were employed to block up the channels, in order to hinder a near approach of the King's frigates; and piles and pickets were fixed in the ground, at all the landing places, to prevent any debarkation from boats: The whole extent was likewise covered by batteries, formed of earth and pimento wood, judiciously placed, and mounted with heavy cannon.
The garrison, under the orders of Major-general Lincoln, was composed of ten (f.) weak continental and state (2.) regiments; of militia, drawn from the Carolinas and Virginia; and of inhabitants of the town; amounting in the whole to near six thousand men, exclusive of the sailors. The body of regular troops destined for this service, though assisted by the militia and by the inhabitants, were scarcely [p14] adequate to the defence of such extensive fortifications, and could have been more usefully employed in the field; where, judicious operations, assisted by the resources to be found in the country, and by the approaching heat of the season, would have protected the greatest part of the fertile province of South Carolina, would have soon overbalanced the present superiority of the British forces; and would effectually have prevented the co-operation of the royal navy and army. General Washington adopted this line of action, when he abandoned New-York island for the Jersies, when he yielded Philadelphia to the English arms, and in many other instances, where a contrary conduct, to all human appearance, would have unavoidably established the sovereignty of Great Britain.
On the rejection of the summons, the batteries (g.) were opened, and soon obtained a superiority over those of the town. The offensive operations of this siege were advanced under the inspection of Major Moncreiffe, the principal engineer, whose fame was so justly acknowledged in the late defence of Savannah: The attacks were planned with judgement, and the works were pushed forward with industry. Soon after the middle of April, the second parallel was carried within four hundred and fifty yards of the enemy's main works, new batteries were constructed, and all the communications were secured.
Before this time, the Americans had joined a body of militia to three regiments of continental cavalry, and the command of the whole was intrusted to Brigadier-general Huger: This corps held possession of the forks and passes on Cooper river, and maintained a communication with Charles town; by which, supplies of men, arms, ammunition, [p15] and provision, might be conveyed to the garrison during the siege, and by which, the continental troops might escape after the defences were destroyed. Sir Henry Clinton was thoroughly sensible of the inconveniencies that might arise from this situation of the enemy's light troops; and being lately relieved by a detachment of sailors and marines, from the charge of fort (h.) Johnson, he directed his attention to dislodge them from their position. As soon as he received intelligence of the arrival of a number of waggons, loaded with arms, ammunition, and clothing, from the northward, he selected a detachment of one thousand four hundred men, whom he committed to Lieutenant-colonel Webster, with orders to counteract the designs of the Americans, and to break in upon the remaining communications of Charles town.
On the 12th of April, Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton, being reinforced at the quarter house by Major Ferguson's corps of marksmen, advanced to Goose creek: Colonel Webster arrived on the following day at the same place, with the 33d and 64th regiments of infantry; Tarleton again moved on in the evening, with his own and Ferguson's corps, towards Monk's Corner, (i.) as had been previously concerted with the commander in chief, in order, if possible, to surprise the Americans encamped at that place: An attack in the night was judged most advisable, as it would render the superiority of the enemy's cavalry useless, and would, perhaps, present a favourable opportunity of getting possession of Biggin bridge, on Cooper river, without much loss to the assailants. Profound silence was observed on the march. At some distance from Goose creek, a negro was secured by the advanced guard, who discovered him attempting to leave the road. A letter was taken [p16] from his pocket, written by an officer in General Huger's camp the afternoon of that day, and which he was charged to convey to the neighborhood of Charles town: The contents of the letter, which was opened at a house not far distant, and the negro's intelligence, purchased for a few dollars, proved lucky incidents at this period: Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton's information relative to the situation of the enemy was now complete. It was evident, that the American cavalry had posted themselves in front of Cooper river, and that the militia were placed in a meeting house, which commanded the bridge, and were distributed on the opposite bank. At three o'clock in the morning, the advanced guard of dragoons and mounted infantry, supported by the remainder of the legion and Ferguson's corps, approached the American post: A watch word was immediately communicated to the officers and soldiers, which was closely followed by an order to charge the enemy's grand guard on the main road, there being no other avenue open, owing to the swamps on the flanks, and to pursue them into their camp. The order was executed with the greatest promptitude and success. The Americans were completely surprised: Major Vernier, of Pulaski's legion, and some other officers and men who attempted to defend themselves, were killed or wounded; General Huger, Colonels Washington and Jamieson, with many officers and men, fled on foot to the swamps, close to their encampment, where, being concealed by the darkness, they effected their escape: Four hundred horses belonging to officers and dragoons, with their arms and appointments, (a valuable acquisition for the British cavalry in their present state) fell into the hands of the victors; about one hundred officers, dragoons, and hussars, together with fifty waggons, loaded with arms, clothing and ammunition, shared the same fate. Without loss of time, Major Cochrane was ordered to force the bridge and the meeting house with the infantry of the British [p17] legion: He charged the militia with fixed bayonets, got possession of the pass, and dispersed every thing that opposed him. In the attack on Monk's corner, and at Biggin bridge, the British had one officer and two men wounded, with five horses killed and wounded. This signal instance of military advantage, may be partly attributed to the judgment and address with which this expedition was planned and executed, and partly to the injudicious conduct of the American commander; who, besides making a false disposition of his corps, by placing his cavalry in front of the bridge during the night, and his infantry in the rear, neglected sending patroles in front of his videttes; which omission, equally enabled the British to make a surprise, and prevented the Americans recovering from the confusion attending an unexpected attack.
When the news of this success reached Colonel Webster, he commenced his march for Biggin bridge, with the two British regiments under his command, as there were other difficulties to be surmounted before the general's plan was fully accomplished. On his arrival at Monk's corner, he detached Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton to seize the boats, and take possession of Bonneau's ferry; a necessary, but easy operation, whilst the country felt the influence of the late unexpected defeat. This passage over another branch of Cooper river was secured, and by the subsequent movement of the Kings troops into the district of St. Thomas, (k.) Charles town became completely invested. The corps under Lieutenant-colonel Webster had a large space to guard, and a number of points to watch, in the present situation of the town and the country. The garrison possessed a sufficient quantity of boats to throw over the river, in a very short period, a body of troops infinitely [p18] superior to Webster's command: Vigilance to guard against surprise, and judgement to occupy advantageous ground, were equally requisite. The cavalry were constantly kept in motion, to gain intelligence of the enemy's designs, and to learn the situation of the country. Not long after the arrival of the British troops at the Wando, a detachment of continentals from Charles town took possession of Lamprey's point, a peninsula on the east side of Cooper river: Colonel Webster, with the principal part of his command, marched towards the neck, which the Americans had fortified with indefatigable ardour since their arrival, and in all probability would have ventured an attempt to dislodge them, if a masked battery of eighteen pounders had not, fortunately for the English, opened upon a reconnoitering party; which circumstance, together with the flank fire of a galley and an armed vessel, demonstrated the impracticability of the design. Colonel Webster judiciously reassumed his former position in the country, until the junction of a powerful reinforcement from the army.
A considerable corps of troops, recently arrived from New York, (l.) enabled Sir Henry Clinton to strengthen the detachment under Webster: The importance of the command, and critical situation of the enemy, induced him to request Lieutenant-general Earl Cornwallis to direct the future operations of the army on the east side of Cooper river. The intention of General Lincoln in fortifying Lamprey's point, seems to have been counteracted by the arrival of Lord Cornwallis with additional troops, as it was evacuated soon after that event; and from this period, no enterprise was undertaken in that quarter by the garrison of Charles town. The army (a.) in St. Thomas's made various movements to occupy different positions, for [p19] the conveniency of forage and provisions, and to frustrate the designs of the enemy, both in the town and in the country.
The American cavalry began to assemble on the north of the Santee river, towards the latter end of April, under the protection of two Virginia regiments of infantry and the militia of Carolina: Colonel White had brought some dragoons from the northward, and had collected those who escaped from Monk's corner; he was soon after joined by a detachment from George town, and by Colonel Horry's regiment of light horse. On the 5th of May, he crossed the Santee at Depui's ferry. Fortune favored his first attempt. He suddenly surrounded a detachment of an officer and seventeen dragoons, who were foraging the next morning at Ball's plantation, and made them prisoners without resistance: From thence he directed his march towards Lenew's ferry, with an intention to recross the river, under the protection of two hundred continental infantry, ordered by Colonel Buford to meet the cavalry at that place. Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton, without any knowledge of the misfortune which it happened to the detachment of light-infantry cavalry, was proceeding on the same day with the patrole of one hundred and fifty dragoons, to gain intelligence at Lenew's ferry, of the force and motions of the enemy: On the road, the British were overtaken by a loyal American, who had been a witness to the success which attended Colonel White in the morning, but had luckily escaped his power. The description of the troops, the assurance of their intention to pass the river at Lenew's, and the hope of retaking the prisoners, stimulated Tarleton to push forward his patrole with the greatest expedition: At the same time, the distance of Lord Cornwallis's camp, (3.) the fatigue [p20] of the march, the heat of the weather, and the sight of their infantry on the opposite bank, threw the Americans quite off their guard. At three o'clock in the afternoon, the advanced dragoons of the English arrived in presence of their videttes: (m.) Tarleton instantly formed his troops, ordered them to charge the enemy's grand guard, and to pursue them into the main body. The corps being totally surprised, resistance and slaughter soon ceased. Five officers and thirty-six men were killed and wounded; seven officers and sixty dragoons were taken prisoners; and the whole party of the light infantry were rescued, as the boat was pushing off to convey them to the opposite shore. All the horses, arms, and accoutrements of the Americans were captured. Colonels White, Washington, and Jamieson, with some other officers and men, availed themselves of their swimming, to make their escape, while many who wished to follow their example perished in the river. The British dragoons lost two men and four horses in the action; but returning to Lord Cornwallis's camp the same evening, upwards of twenty horses expired with fatigue.
This success was closely followed by the reduction of fort Moultrie. The admiral having taken the fort at Mount Pleasant, acquired from it, and the information of deserters, a full knowledge of the state of the garrison and defences of fort Moultrie, on Sullivan's island. In pursuance (f.) of this intelligence, and wishing not to weaken the operations of the army, which became every day more critical, he landed a body of seamen and marines, under the command of Captain Hudson, to attempt the fort by storm, on the west and north-west faces, whilst the ships of the squadron battered it in front. The garrison, consisting of continentals and militia, to the amount of [p21] two hundred men, seeing the imminent danger to which they were exposed, and sensible of the impossibility of relief, accepted of the terms offered by a summons on the 7th of May; and by capitulation, (g.) surrendered themselves prisoners of war.
During these operations, the besieging army finished their third parallel, (n.) which they had carried close to the canal, and by a sap pushed to the dam which supplied it with water on the right, drained it in several parts to the bottom. On the 6th and 7th of May, the artillery was mounted in the batteries of this parallel, and the traverses and communications were perfectly completed. Thus enclosed (4.) on every side, and driven to its last defences, Sir Henry Clinton wishing to preserve Charles town from destruction, and to prevent that effusion of blood which must be the inevitable consequence of a storm, opened a correspondence on the 8th with General Lincoln, for the purpose of a surrender: But the conditions demanded by the American commander being deemed higher than he had a right to expect from his present situation, they were (c.) rejected, and hostilities renewed. The batteries on the third parallel were then opened, and by the superiority of fire, both of artillery and small arms, the British troops were enabled to gain the counterscarp of the outwork which flanked the canal; which they likewise passed, and then pushed on their approaches directly towards the ditch of the place. The present state of danger now urged the citizens and militia, who had formed the objections to the late conditions, to acquiesce (d.) in their being relinquished: General Lincoln accordingly proposed to surrender on the terms lately offered. The commander-in-chief and the admiral, [p22] besides their dislike to the cruel extremity of a storm, were not disposed to press to unconditional submission an enemy whom they wished to conciliate by clemency. They now granted the same conditions which they had before prescribed as the foundation for treaty. The (p.) capitulation was signed the 11th of May, and on the 12th, Major-general Leslie, by the order of Sir Henry Clinton, took possession (q.) of Charles town.
As the siege was not productive of sallies, or desperate assaults, which were in a considerable degree prevented by situation and the nature of the works, the carnage was not great on either side, and was not unequally shared. The loss (r.) of the King's troops during the siege, before the town and in the country, amounted to seventy-six killed, and one hundred and eighty-nine wounded; and that of the Americans, in the town, to eighty-nine killed, and one hundred and forty wounded.
By the articles of capitulation the garrison were allowed some of the honours of war; they (e.) were to march out of the town, at an hour appointed for that purpose, to the ground between the works of the place and the canal, where they were to deposit their arms; but the drums were not to beat a British march, or the colours to be uncased: The continental (f.) troops and seamen were to keep their baggage, and to remain prisoners of war until they were exchanged: The militia (g.) were to be permitted to return to their respective homes, as prisoners on parole; and while they adhered to their parole, were not to be molested by the British troops in person or property: The citizens [p23] (h.) of all descriptions, to be considered as prisoners on parole, and to hold their property on the same terms with the militia: The officers (i.) of the army and navy to retain their servants, swords, pistols, and their baggage unsearched: They were permitted to sell their horses, but not to remove them out of Charles town. A vessel (k.) was allowed to proceed to Philadelphia with General Lincoln's dispatches, which were not to be opened.
Seven general officers, (a.) ten continental regiments, and three battalions of artillery, became prisoners upon this occasion. The whole number of men in arms who surrendered, including town and country militia, and French, amounted to five thousand six hundred and eighteen, exclusive of near a thousand seamen. A considerable quantity of artillery (b.) was taken; the total exceeded four hundred pieces. (5.) Three stout American (h.) frigates, one French, and a polacre of sixteen guns, of the same nation, which escaped the operation of being sunk to block up the channel, fell likewise into the hands of the victors.
After the surrender of the town, the commander in chief, without loss of time, adopted measures which appeared both judicious and necessary. He returned thanks to the army (r.) in general, and expressed himself in the language of gratitude when he particularized those officers and men, whose attention, toils, and courage, had contributed [p24] to his success. He dispatched the Earl of Lincoln to Europe, with intelligence of the important advantage which had attended His Majesty's arms; and he circulated proclamations amongst the inhabitants of South Carolina, well calculated to induce them to return to their allegiance, and to manifest their loyalty by joining the King's troops. (6.) It was stated, that (a.) the helping hand of every man was wanted to re-establish peace and good government: And that as the commander in chief wished not to draw the King's friends into danger, while any doubt could remain of their success; so now that this was certain, he trusted that one and all would heartily join, and, by a general concurrence, give effect to such necessary measures for that purpose as from time to time might be pointed out. Those who had families were to form a militia to remain at home, and occasionally to assemble in their own districts, when required, under officers of their own chusing, for the maintenance of peace and good order. Those who had no families, and who could conveniently be spared for a time, it was presumed, would cheerfully assist His Majesty's troops in driving their oppressors, acting under the authority of Congress and all the miseries of war, far from that colony. For this purpose it was said to be necessary, that the young men should be ready to assemble when required, and to serve with the King's troops for any six months of the ensuing twelve that might be found requisite, under proper regulations. They might chuse officers to each company to command them, and were to be allowed, when on service, pay, ammunition, and provisions, in the same manner as the King's troops. When they joined the army, each man was to be furnished with a certificate, declaring that he was not only engaged to serve as militiaman for the time specified; [p25] that he was not to be marched beyond North Carolina and Georgia; and that when the time was out, he was freed from all claims whatever of military service, excepting the common and usual militia duty at the place of his residence: He would then, it was said, have paid his debt to his country, and be entitled to enjoy, undisturbed, that peace, liberty, and property, at home, which he had contributed to establish.
The proclamations issued by the general produced great effect in South Carolina: In most of the districts adjoining to Charles town, great numbers offered to stand forth in defence of the British government, and many did voluntarily take up arms, and place themselves under the direction of Major Ferguson, who was appointed to receive and command them. A general revolution of sentiment seemed to take place, and the cause of Great Britain appeared to triumph over that of the American Congress. (7.) Two hundred and ten of the inhabitants of the town, signed an address to the commander in chief and the admiral, soliciting to be re-admitted to the character and condition of British subjects, the citizens having been hitherto considered as persons on parole, declaring their disapprobation of the doctrine of American independency, and expressing their regret, that, after the repeal of those statutes which gave rise to the troubles, the overtures made by His Majesty's commissioners had not been regarded by the general assembly of the United States of America. Sir Henry Clinton, in one of the manifestoes issued at this period, declared, (b.) that if any persons should thenceforward appear in arms, in order to prevent the establishment of His Majesty's government in that country, or [p26] should, under any pretense or authority whatsoever, attempt to compel any other person or persons so to do, or who should hinder the King's faithful and loyal subjects from joining his forces, or otherwise performing those duties their allegiance required, such persons should be treated with the utmost severity, and their estates be immediately seized for confiscation.
The commander in chief having established order in Charles town, and having marked the general line of conduct to be observed throughout Carolina towards the friends and enemies of Great Britain, began to make arrangements for his return with part of the army to New York; which had been particularly exposed to the attempts of General Washington, owing to an uncommonly severe winter. Previous to his embarkation, he planned several (a.) expeditions to march into the interior parts of the country: One, to move up the Savannah river in Georgia; another, to pass the Saluda to Ninety Six; and a third, under the command of (a.) Earl Cornwallis, to cross the Santee river, and by marching up the north-east bank, to endeavor to strike at Colonel Buford's corps, which was retreating to North Carolina, with artillery, and a number of waggons, containing arms, ammunition, and clothing.
Earl Cornwallis left his ground near Huger's bridge on the 18th of May, and directed his march to Lenew's ferry, with five pieces of cannon, and upwards of two thousand five hundred men: Boats were collected with some difficulty to pass the troops; the Americans having concealed or destroyed all within their reach, to retard the progress of the royal army: By the information of negroes, who discovered [p27] where some were secreted, and by the assistance of carpenters, who repaired others that were damaged, the light troops were not long prevented from crossing the river. As soon as the legion and the detachment of 17th dragoons had passed, Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton received instructions to march to George town, in order to chase away, or take prisoners, all the violent enemies to the British government, and to receive the allegiance of the well affected. The service was performed without any opposition, during the passage of the other troops. On (b.) the 22d, the army moved forwards upon the same road by which Colonel Buford had retreated ten days before: The infantry marched to Nelson's ferry with as much expedition as the climate would allow. From this place, Earl Cornwallis thought proper to detach a corps, consisting of forty of the 17th dragoons, and one hundred and thirty of the legion, with one hundred mounted infantry of the same regiment, and a three pounder, to pursue the Americans, who are now so much advanced, as to render any approach of the main body impracticable. Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton, on this occasion, was desired to consult his own judgment, as to the distance of the pursuit, or the mode of attack: To defeat Colonel Buford, and to take his cannon, would undoubtedly, in the present state of the Carolinas, have considerable effect; but the practicability of the design appeared so doubtful, and the distance of the enemy so great, that the attempt could only be guided by discretional powers, and not by any antecedent commands. The detachment left the army on the 27th, and followed the Americans without any thing material happening on the route, except the loss of a number of horses, in consequence of the rapidity of the march, and the heat of the climate: By pressing horses on the road, the light troops arrived the next day [p28] at Camden, where Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton gained intelligence, that Colonel Buford had quitted Rugeley's mills on the 26th, and that he was marching with great diligence to join a corps then upon the road from Salisbury to Charlotte town in North Carolina.
This information strongly manifested that no time was to be lost, and that a vigorous effort was the only resource to prevent the junction of the two American corps. The two o'clock in the morning, the British troops being tolerably refreshed continued their pursuit: They reached Rugeley's by day light, where they learned that the continentals were retreating above twenty miles in their front, towards the Catawba settlement, to meet their reinforcement. At this period, Tarleton might have contented himself with following them at his leisure to the boundary line of South Carolina, and from thence have returned upon his footsteps to join the main army, satisfied with pursuing the troops of Congress out of the province; but animated by the alacrity which he discovered both in the officers and men, to undergo all hardships, he put his detachment in motion, after adopting a stratagem to delay the march of the enemy: Captain Kinlock, of the legion, was employed to carry a summons (a.) to the American commander, which, by magnifying the number of the British, might intimidate him into submission, or at least delay him whilst he deliberated on an answer. Colonel Buford, after detaining the flag for some time, without halting his march, returned a defiance. (b.) By this time many of the British cavalry and mounted infantry were totally worn out, and dropped successively into the rear; the horses of the three pounder were likewise unable to proceed. In this dilemma, Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton found himself not far distant from the [p29] enemy, and, though not to the suitable condition for action, he determined as soon as possible to attack, there being no other expedient to stop their progress, and prevent their being reinforced the next morning: The only circumstance favorable to the British light troops at this hour, was the known inferiority of the continental cavalry, who could not harass their retreat to Earl Cornwallis's army, in case they were repulsed by the infantry.
At three o'clock (a.) in the afternoon, on the confines of South Carolina, the advanced guard of the British charged a serjeant and four men of the American light dragoons, and made them prisoners in the rear of their infantry. This event happening under the eyes of the two commanders, they respectively prepared their troops for action. Colonel Buford's force consisted of three hundred and eighty continental infantry of the Virginia line, a detachment of Washington's cavalry, and two six pounders: He chose his post in an open wood, to the right of the road; he formed his infantry in one line, with a small reserve; he placed his colours in the center, and he ordered his cannon, baggage, and waggons, to continue their march.
Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton made his arrangement for the attack with all possible expedition: He confided his right wing, which was composed of sixty dragoons, and nearly as many mounted infantry, to Major Cochrane, desiring him to dismount the latter, to gall the enemy's flank, before he moved against their front with his cavalry: Captains Corbet and Kinlock were directed, with the 17th dragoons and part of the legion, to charge the center of the Americans; whilst Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton, with thirty chosen horse [p30] and some infantry, assaulted their right flank and reserve: This particular situation the commanding officer selected for himself, that he might discover the effect of the other attacks. The dragoons, the mounted infantry, and three pounder in the rear, as they could come up with their tired horses, were ordered to form something like a reserve, opposite to the enemy's center, upon a small eminence that commanded the road; which disposition afforded the British light troops an object to rally to, in case of a repulse, and made no inconsiderable impression on the minds of their opponents.
The disposition being completed without any fire from the enemy, though within three hundred yards of their front, the cavalry advanced to the charge. On their arrival within fifty cases, the continental infantry presented, when Tarleton was surprised to hear their officers command them to retain their fire till British cavalry were nearer. This forbearance in not firing before the dragoons were within ten yards of the object of their attack, prevented their falling into confusion on the charge, and likewise deprived the Americans of the further use of their ammunition: Some officers, men, and horses, suffered by this fire; but the battalion was totally broken, and slaughter was commenced before Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton could remount another horse, the one with which he led his dragoons being overturned by the volley. Thus in a few minutes ended an affair which might have had a very different termination. The British troops had (b.) two officers killed, one wounded; three privates killed, thirteen wounded; and thirty-one horses killed and wounded. The loss of officers and men was great on the part of the Americans, owing to the dragoons so effectually breaking the infantry, and to a report amongst the cavalry, [p31] that they had lost their commanding officer, which stimulated the soldiers to a vindictive asperity not easily restrained. Upwards (c.) of one hundred officers and men were killed on the spot; three (d.) colours, two six-pounders, and above two hundred prisoners, with the number of waggons, containing two royals, quantities of new clothing, other military stores, and camp equipage, fell into the possession of the victors.
The complete success of this attack may, in great measure, be ascribed to the mistakes committed by the American commander: If he had halted the waggons as soon as he found the British troops pressing his rear, and formed them into a kind of redoubt, for the protection of his cannon and infantry against the assault of the cavalry, in all probability he either would not have been attacked, or by such a disposition he might have foiled the attempt: The British troops, in both cases, would have been obliged to abandon the pursuit, as the country in the neighborhood could not immediately have supplied them with forage or provisions; and the continentals might have decamped in the night, to join their reinforcement. Colonel Buford, also, committed a material error, in ordering the infantry to retain their fire till the British dragoons were quite close; which when given, had little effect either upon the minds or bodies of the assailants, in comparison with the execution that might be expected from a successive fire of platoons or divisions, commenced at a distance of three or four hundred paces.
The wounded of both parties were collected with all possible dispatch, and treated with equal humanity. The American officers and soldiers who were unable to travel, were paroled the next morning, [p32] and placed at the neighbouring plantations and in a meeting house, not far distant from the field of battle: Surgeons were sent for from Camden and Charlotte town to assist them, and every possible convenience was provided by the British. This business being accomplished, Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton gained intelligence, that the American reinforcement had fallen back upon the report of the late affair; therefore, on the evening of the 30th, he commenced his march towards Earl Cornwallis. The main army (e.) had not moved more than forty miles from Nelson's ferry, when the first express arrived with the news of the advantage obtained by the light troops. A few days afterwards, Lord Cornwallis was joined at Camden by the detachment under Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton, with the addition of the American cannon, royals, and waggons, which were delivered to the artillery and quarter-master-general's departments.
On the fifth in June, Sir Henry Clinton left Charles-town harbour, on board the Romulus. Before he sailed, he had the agreeable intelligence of the defeat of the Americans at Wacsaw; a circumstance that evinced the total extirpation of the continental troops within the provinces of Georgia and South Carolina. This event tended to increase the satisfaction he had before experienced, on account of the favourable reports (f.) from Augusta and Ninety Six; where the inhabitants had manifested their peaceable intentions, and some thousands of militia men had flocked to the royal standard.
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(1.) Lord George Germain. [ back ]
(2.) State regiments, troops engaged by the different states, for a stipulated period of twelve or eighteen months. [ back ]
(3.) Then at Huger's bridge, twenty-six miles from Lenew's ferry. [ back ]
(4.) Annual Register 1780, page 221. [ back ]
(5.) A number of small arms were likewise collected in the town, for the use of the friends to the British government in the province of South Carolina; but they were unfortunately destroyed by the magazine taking fire a few days after the capitulation, together with Captain Collins, a valuable officer, and several men of the royal artillery. [ back ]
(6.) Annual Register, year 1780, page 74. [ back ]
(7.) Annual Register, 1780, page 75. [ back ]
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