|Return to Setting for the War (first section)|
|Return to Onset of the War (second section)|
|Return to War (previous and third section)|
Now mad I be.
SURE I sign!
I bide my winter's time. (Haiku)
British Campaign in the South in 1778. The British again turned their attention to the subjugation of the far south, where they secured a foothold by taking Savannah. This marks the beginning of dark days for the south.
Fall of Savannah, 29 Dec. 1778. In 1778 the British decided to carry the war to the south and make an effort to conquer Georgia and the Carolinas. As the first step, Colonel Archibald Campbell sailed from New York with a heavy force to attack Savannah. General Augustine Prevost, Commander of the British army in Florida, sent two forces to assist Campbell, one under Lieutenant-Colonel Mark Prevost, by land, the other under Colonel Fuser by water. The two were ordered to join their forces at Sunbury, GA. Lieutenant-Colonel Prevost entered Georgia on 19 November 1778, taking captive all men found on plantations and plundering the people of anything of value. This type of warfare was a major miscalculation on the part of the British, as it tended to render the locals hostile to the Crown. Many little mistakes like this ultimately cost the British the Colonies. He was met near Midway Meeting-House in Liberty County by a small force of Georgian patriots under Colonel White, General Screven, and Major James Jackson. In the fight that followed, General Screven was killed and the Georgians were forced to retreat. Prevost kept on to Ogeechee Ferry, where he found such strong preparations for defense that he decided to return to Florida. Colonel Fuser, coming by water, did not arrive on time, and Prevost did not feel strong enough to proceed without him. Having laid waste the region about Midway, Prevost turned his face southward. Late in November Fuser reached Sunbury, but still did not find Prevost, and he was unwilling to attack the place without assistance, so he, too, returned to the St. John's River. The failure of these expeditions gave Georgia a short breathing spell. But on 6 December, news reached Savannah that Campbell's fleet was on the way from New York, and that General Prevost was marching from Florida. Campbell reached the Savannah River on 27 December with 2,000 regulars. Major-General Howe, commander of the American forces in the South, was encamped near Savannah, awaiting reinforcements. His entire force numbered only 672, and these were raw militiamen. He held a council of war and asked his officers whether it would be better to abandon Savannah or to resist the attack. He was advised to stand by the city to the last. General Howe was not a capable commander, did not choose a good position, and left several important points undefended. There was a private path by which the right wing of his army could be attacked, which he did not guard, though he had been informed of it by Colonel George Walton. This private way was pointed out to Campbell, who at once saw its importance. He sent a force of infantry along the path and was able on December 29 to attack Howe from the rear as well as the front. Completely defeated, the small American army retreated up the Savannah River and crossed into South Carolina. The American loss was eighty-three killed and drowned; while thirty-eight officers and more than four hundred men were captured. The British lost only three men killed and ten wounded. For his mismanagement of this battle, General Howe was court-martialed. Entering the town of Savannah, the British fearfully abused all patriots, robbing, insulting and imprisoning those who would not join the British side. This was a portent of what to expect in the south. This marked the beginning of a not so pleasant time in our beloved Southland.
British Conquest of Augusta and North Georgia. Leaving a small garrison in Savannah, Campbell marched up the Savannah River and took Ebenezer on January 2, 1779. Many Georgians, now oppressed in every way, professed loyality to the British rather than lose their property, if not their lives. About this time, General Prevost arrived at Sunbury from St. Augustine, bringing 2,000 men. The town was taken on January 10th. Prevost then took command of all British forces in Georgia. Augusta was now the only town remaining in the possession of the Americans. About the middle of January, Colonel Campbell sent a thousand men to take it. Some resistance was offered by small forces under Colonels John Twiggs, Benjamin and William Few, and General Elbert; but when the British reached Augusta, the American commander, Brigadier-General Williamson, surrendered without waiting for an attack.
Guerilla Warfare. Georgia was now completely in the hands of the enemy. After the fall of Augusta, the people of North Georgia fled towards South Carolina, taking with them such property as they could carry. For some time a sort of guerilla warfare was kept up between more or less independent bands of patriots and the "Tories," as the Americans who fought in the British army were called. I have taken Tory, Royalist, and Loyalist here as synonymous. If anyone wishes to take issue on this nomenclature, please give a shout. On the American side were to be found Georgians: Colonels Pickens, John Dooly, Elijah Clarke, John Twiggs, Captain McCall, and others. The Battle of Kettle Creek in February was the most important engagement, and was a decided victory for the Americans. In this battle the British force was 600 men, the American 400. This success encouraged many Georgians to return to the state; troops began to gather, the Tories in upper Georgia were routed, and Campbell decided to abandon Augusta. Modern guerilla warfare was virtually invented by Francis Marion, the "Swamp Fox." More on the Swamp Fox later.
Port Royal Island, 3 Feb. 1779. More or less a draw.
Battle of Briar Creek. In March, 1779, General Benjamin Lincoln, who had succeeded Howe as Commander of the Southern Department, determined to move to the assistance of Georgia. About 8,000 men were under his command. Patriot General Ash had about 2,300 men encamped where Brier Creek meets the Savannah River. At this point General Lincoln arranged to bring together all the troops that he could, and begin his operations for Georgia's relief. General Ash chose a poor location for his camp, failed to watch for the enemy, and weakened his forces by sending out too many detachments. Before Lincoln reached him, he was attacked and completely defeated by Colonel Prevost. This unfortunate affair dashed hopes of recovering Georgia. More Georgians and Carolinians joined the British out of desperation at this point. Before we condemn our ancestors for these acts, consider the situation as it looked to them. Britain had the appearance of overwhelming might, and the patriots were not winning a single battles, and could not look after non-combatants. Not to mention having all possessions confiscated or destroyed, and wives and children turned out at best. One's very life was at stake.
French and Patriots Attack Savannah, 16 Sept 1779. The King of France was no friend of the English, and was successfully convinced to help the Americans as a result. A fleet was sent over under the command of Count d'Estaing. In 1779, General Lincoln and d'Estaing made a joint attack on Savannah. Lincoln marched from South Carolina with 2,100 men with an advance guard led by General Lachlan McIntosh, a Georgian, and Count Pulaski, a Polish nobleman. The force of Count d'Estaing numbered 4,500 men. Savannah was defended by 2,500 British and Tories. The forces of Lincoln and d'Estaing were joined on 16 September 1779. On the day before, the French general had unwisely granted a 24 hour truce. Had he attacked at once, the British could not have defended the city, as their cannon were unmounted. In reply to d'Estaing's note demanding the surrender of the place, Prevost had asked for twenty-four hours, under the pretense that he wished to consider the matter. What he really wanted was time to mount his cannon, which was accomplished during the truce, and considerable reinforcements under Colonel Maitland reached the town. After besieging the city for about three weeks, a grand assault was made on October 9th. The French were formed into three columns, led respectively by Count d'Estaing, Colonel de Steding and the Viscount de Noailles. The Americans were in two columns, one led by Colonel Laurens of South Carolina, the other by General McIntosh. General Lincoln, by virtue of his rank, commanded the reserve; and the cavalry was led by Count Pulaski. General Isaac Huger, with a force of 500 men, opened the attack on the extreme left, intended to conceal the main attack. The columns hurled themselves against the breastworks with great dash and bravery, but with great slaughter and no avail. The British were skillfully directed, and their works too strongly constructed to be taken by the attacking armies. On the failure of this direct assault (had none of these people studied tactics?), Lincoln led his force to South Carolina, and d'Estaing sailed away. The American loss was 312; the French 821. The British lost 40 killed, 63 wounded, 4 missing and 48 by desertion. Sergeant Jasper, the hero of Fort Moultrie, and Count Pulaski, a distinguished Pole who had entered the American service, were among the killed. The patriots were now at low ebb. All the major cities of Georgia and South Carolina were held by the British, and the patriots were losing every battle, even when they had strong French allies!
Fall of Charleston, 12 May 1780. In December, Sir Henry Clinton sailed from New York to recover Charleston, still held by the patriots. Opposing his force of 11,000 men was General Lincoln with a force of about 7000 Americans. Lincoln and his troops became entrapped in the city by troops on the one side and ships on the other. The American forces held out for nearly two months, but on 12 May 1780, after a destructive bombardment, they were compelled to capitulate. The city of Charleston was pillaged by Hessians and British alike, and South Carolina suffered under a brutal warfare more than any other State. Clinton and Cornwallis outlawed all people who would not take an ironbound oath to actively support the British people, and the outlaws were cruelly treated.
The Fall of Charleston, as related by Simms (1844): In February Francis Marion was dispatched to Bacon's Bridge on Ashley river, where Moultrie had established a camp for the reception of the militia of the neighborhood, as well as those which had been summoned from the interior. The accumulation of troops at Bacon's Bridge was made with the view to the defense of Charleston, now threatened by the enemy. Many concurring causes led to the leaguer of that city. Its conquest was desirable on many accounts, and circumstances had already shown that this was not a matter of serious difficulty. The invasion of Prevost the year before, which had so nearly proved successful; the little resistance which had been offered to him while traversing more than one hundred miles of country contiguous to the Capital; and the rich spoils which, on his retreat, had been borne off by his army, betrayed at once the wealth and weakness of that region. The possession of Savannah, where British Government had been regularly re-established, and the entire, if not totally undisturbed control of Georgia, necessarily facilitated the invasion of the sister province. South Carolina was now a frontier, equally exposed to the British in Georgia, and the Tories of Florida and North Carolina. The means of defense in her power were now far fewer than when Prevost made his attempt on Charleston. The Southern army was, in fact, totally broken up. The Carolina regiments had seen hard service, guarding the frontier, and contending with the British in Georgia. They were thinned by battle and sickness to a mere handful. The Virginia and North Carolina regiments had melted away, as the term for which they had enlisted, had expired. The Georgia regiment, captured by the British in detail, were perishing in their floating prisons. The weakness of the patriots necessarily increased the audacity, with the strength, of their enemies. The loyalists, encouraged by the progress of Prevost, and the notorious inefficiency of the Whigs, were now gathering in formidable bodies, in various quarters, operating in desultory bands, or crowding to swell the columns of the British army. All things concurred to encourage the attempt of the enemy on Charleston. Its possession, with that of Savannah, would not only enable them to complete their ascendancy in the two provinces to which these cities belonged, but would probably give them North Carolina also. Virginia then, becoming the frontier, it would be easy, with the cooperation of an army ascending the Chesapeake, to traverse the entire South with their legions, detaching it wholly from the federal compact. Such was the British hope, and such their policy. There was yet another motive for the siege of Charleston, considered without reference to collateral or contingent events. Esteemed erroneously as a place of great security -- an error that arose in all probability from the simple fact of the successful defense of Fort Moultrie - it was crowded with valuable magazines. As a trading city, particularly while the commerce of the North remained interrupted, it had become a place of great business. It was a stronghold for privateers and their prizes, and always contained stores and shipping of immense value.
The temptations to its conquest were sufficiently numerous. Ten thousand choice troops, with a large and heavy train of artillery, were accordingly dispatched from New York for its investment, which was begun in February, 1780, and conducted by the Commander-in-Chief of the British forces, Sir Henry Clinton, in person. He conducted his approaches with a caution highly complimentary to the besieged. The fortifications were only field works, and might have been overrun in less than five days by an audacious enemy. The regular troops within the city were not above two thousand men. The citizen militia increased the number to nearly four thousand. For such an extent of lines as encircled the place, the adequate force should not have been less than that of the enemy. The fortifications, when the British first landed their `materiel', were in a dilapidated and unfinished state, and, at that time, the defenders, apart from the citizens, scarcely exceeded eight hundred men; while the small pox, making its appearance within the walls, for the first time in twenty years - an enemy much more dreaded than the British, -- effectually discouraged the country militia from coming to the assistance of the citizens. Under these circumstances, the conquest would have been easy to an active and energetic foe. But Sir Henry does not seem to have been impatient for his laurels. He was willing that they should mature gradually, and he sat down to a regular and formal investment.
It was an error of the Carolinians, under such circumstances, to risk the fortunes of the State, and the greater part of its regular military strength, in a besieged town; a still greater to do so in defiance of such difficulties as attended the defense. The policy which determined the resolution was a concession to the citizens, in spite of all military opinion. The city might have been yielded to the enemy, and the State preserved, or, which was the same thing, the troops. The loss of four thousand men from the ranks of active warfare, was the great and substantial loss, the true source, in fact, of most of the miseries and crimes by which the very bowels of the country were subsequently torn and distracted. It was the great good fortune of the State that Francis Marion was not among those who fell into captivity in the fall of Charleston. He very nearly did so.
The siege of Charleston, in consequence of the firm bearing of the besieged, and the cautious policy of the British Government, was protracted long after the works had been pronounced untenable. It was yielded unwillingly to the conqueror, only after all resistance had proved in vain. It fell by famine, rather than by the arms of the enemy. The defense was highly honorable to the besieged. It lasted six weeks, in which they had displayed equal courage and endurance. The consequences of this misfortune leave it somewhat doubtful, whether the determination to defend the city to the last extremity, was not the result of a correct policy; considering less its own loss, and that of the army, than the effect of the former upon the rustic population. Certainly, the capture of the army was a vital misfortune to the southern States; yet the loss of the city itself was of prodigious effect upon the scattered settlements of the country. The character and resolve of the capital cities, in those days, were very much the sources of the moral strength of the interior. Sparsely settled, with unfrequent opportunities of communion with one another, the minds of the forest population turned naturally for their tone and direction to the capital city. The active attrition of rival and conflicting minds, gives, in all countries, to the population of a dense community, an intellectual superiority over those who live remote, and feel none of the constant moral strifes to which the citizen is subject. In South Carolina, Charleston had been the seat of the original `movement', had incurred the first dangers, achieved the first victories, and, in all public proceedings where action was desirable, had always led off in the van. To preserve intact, and from overthrow, the seat of ancient authority and opinion, was surely a policy neither selfish nor unwise. Perhaps, after all, the grand error was, in not making the preparations for defence adequate to the object. The resources of the State were small, and these had been diminished woefully in succoring her neighbors, and in small border strifes, which the borderers might have been taught to manage for themselves. The military force of the State, under any circumstances, could not have contended on equal terms with the ten thousand well-appointed regulars of Sir Henry Clinton. The assistance derived from Virginia and North Carolina was little more than nominal, calculated rather to swell the triumph of the victor than to retard his successes. If the movements of the British were slow, and deficient in military enterprise, where Sir Henry Clinton commanded in person, such could not be said of them, after the conquest of Charleston was effected. The commander-in-chief was succeeded by Earl Cornwallis, whose career was certainly obnoxious in the extreme.
Charleston in possession of the enemy, they proceeded with wonderful activity to use all means in their power, for exhausting the resources, and breaking down the spirit of the country. Their maxim was that of habitual tyranny -- "might is right". They seemed to recognize no other standard. The articles of capitulation, the laws of nations, private treaty, the dictates of humanity and religion, were all equally set at naught. The wealth of private families, -- slaves by thousands, -- were hurried into the waists of British ships, as the legitimate spoils of war. The latter found a market in the West India islands; the prisoners made by the fall of Charleston were, in defiance of the articles of capitulation, crowded into prison-ships, from whence they were only released by death, or by yielding to those arguments of their keepers which persuaded them to enlist in British regiments, to serve in other countries. Many yielded to these arguments, with the simple hope of escape from the horrors by which they were surrounded. When arts and arguments failed to overcome the inflexibility of these wretched prisoners, compulsion was resorted to, and hundreds were forced from their country, shipped to Jamaica, and there made to serve in British regiments. Citizens of distinction, who, by their counsel or presence, opposed their influence over the prisoners, or proved themselves superior to their temptations, were torn from their homes without warning, and incarcerated in their floating dungeons. Nothing was forborne, in the shape of pitiless and pitiful persecution, to break the spirits, subdue the strength, and mock and mortify the hopes, alike, of citizen and captive. (Simms 1844)
Desperate Condition of the Patriots. The patriots in Georgia and South Carolina were now at rock bottom. The fall of Charleston, in May 1780, added to the general sense of despair, and the state had no financial or other resources remaining. Several brave spirits, Twiggs, Clarke, Dooly, Few, Jackson and others, kept together small bands of Georgians in the northern part of the state, protecting the inhabitants as best they could from the Indians and Tories. Of this sort of warfare, the Georgia historian, Charles C. Jones, says: "Merciless was the war waged between Royalists and Republicans. The former, inflamed with hatred and eager for rapine, spared neither age nor sex. Ruin marked their footsteps, and their presence was a signal for theft, torture, murder, and crimes without a name. Revenge and retaliation prompted the Republicans to many bloody deeds which can scarcely be excused even in a defensive war." The patriots were out of cash, out of men, and nearly out of options. The receipts issued by the states (and the Continental Congress) were essentially worthless, and those who took them must have been practically saints! The script (paper money) issued by the colonies, the "Continental," depreciated to the point that Samuel Adams supposedly paid $2,000 for a suit of clothes and a hat! The expression "Not worth a continental" was in use long after the cessation of hostilities. The inability of Congress or the states to pay the army or militia was, shall we say, unpopular! A mutiny nearly occurred with General Gates, but General Washington prevented serious trouble. A few discontented soldiers in Pennsylvania so frightened the feeble Continental Congress that it fled from Philadelphia to Princeton. The patriot cause was in very serious trouble at this point. Heaven help us, we almost remained British!
South Carolina. The British forces overwhelmingly controlled South Carolina, and the Patriots there were for a time left to their own devices. This was accomplished with surprising spirit and determination through the active operations of small bands of patriots led by men who later became famous in the romance of partisan warfare, men who worked one day and fought the next. Among those who thus distinguished themselves in numerous attacks upon the enemy were General Francis Marion (the much beloved "Swamp Fox"), Thomas Sumter, and Andrew Pickens, whose successful activities soon attracted volunteers from neighboring colonies. In Georgia patriots rallied under the standard of Elijah Clarke. Opposed to these American leaders were the dashing but cruel Tarleton, and Major Ferguson, leader of the Tories, also called Loyalists and Royalists. Francis Marion was anointed the "Swamp Fox," and Sumter as the "Game Cock," by British officers on account of their unique fighting qualities. Marion hid out in the swamps and made sudden raids on British supply trains, disappearing back into the swamps! Thanks to the Swamp Fox, the British simply could not supply their interior forts!
Huck's Defeat, July 1780, The Story of the Presbyterians, and The Presbyterian Rebellion. A glimmer of hope!
Gate's Disaster at Camden. Washington wanted to send General Nathanael Greene to take charge of the Continental forces in the south, but Congress instead sent General Horatio Gates because of his perceived success at Saratoga. Baron de Kalb and 2000 men were dispatched from Washington's depleted forces to assist the Patriots in the south. Gates met the enemy at Camden, South Carolina 16 Aug. 1780 and was disastrously defeated. Gates fled the field ahead of his troops, did not stop his four day flight until he reached a safe point 180 miles away! Baron de Kalb was killed in the battle. After this disastrous campaign, Congress at last gave up on Gates, and allowed Washington to put Greene in his place; but almost irreparable damage had been done to the American cause in the south. The war had now dragged along for a period of five years. The end seemed not in sight and the outlook at no period was more gloomy than at this time. The British seemingly controlled everything. The patriot soldiers were unable to support themselves on currency that was worth nothing, desertions were increasingly frequent, and recruits were hard to obtain. In addition to this, the country was startled and horrified over the treacherous conduct of one of its bravest leaders (Benedict Arnold).
There is an excellent U.S. Army web site on this battle. (off site, use your back arrow to return, or bookmark this site)
This was the darkest hour...
|Jump to Turning Point (concluding and fifth section)|
|Return to War (third section)|
|Return to Onset of the War (second section)|
|Return to Setting for the War (first section)|
|Return to SC Revolutionary War Outline Page|
|Return to Genweb South Carolina Home Page|
Copyright ©1999, Dr. Frank Oliver Clark. These documents may be freely used for private purposes, and included in your own genealogy. However, this document is copyrighted and may not be sold, nor given to anyone who may attempt to derive profit from same. Please send any errors, corrections, conjectures, updates, etc. to Dr. Frank O. Clark.
Please inform me of errors and corrections, and parts that may be improved.