Tuesday, April 22, 2014


Charles Town South Carolina was one of the busiest ports and the fifth largest city in the Colonies during the Revolutionary War.  The British tried to take the city in 1776 but failed and moved on to Savannah Georgia.  Three years later on December 26 1779 Lt. General Henry Clinton left New York with 90 transports, fourteen warships and more than 8,000 troops to gain control of the busy port city.  Six weeks later, on February 11, 1780, British Royal troops were within thirty miles of Charles Town.  In command of the much smaller rebel forces was Major General Benjamin Lincoln of Massachusetts who began preparing the town for a siege. His forces consisted of 3,600 men, 1,100 who were Continental soldiers and 2,500 state militia, and 10 ships including two French ships.  Commodore Abraham Whipple positioned his ships behind a log jam at the entrance to the Cooper River, removed the guns and scuttled the ships to further block the river.  Fifteen hundred additional Continental soldiers arrived on April 7 from Virginia, but more British troops under command of Lord Rawdon swelled their forces by more than 2,000.  The rebels were outnumbered almost 3 to 1.   
On March 29 a heavy fog rolled across the city and the British crossed the Ashley River and within a few days were constructing siege lines.  One week later they passed Ft. Moultrie and were in Charleston harbor. Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton defeated a small rebel force at Monck’s Corner on April 14, securing the north banks of the Cooper River for the British. The bombardment of the city and the blockade cut off supplies to both the Continental troops and the general population.  Lincoln sent word to Clinton he would evacuate if his men were allowed to leave.  The offer was refused and the battle resumed with heavy artillery booming.  The British began shelling the dam holding water in the defensive line and by May 6 it was nearly empty. The British captured Ft. Moultrie and Clinton called for unconditional surrender of the rebels.
Lincoln again asked for and was again refused evacuation.  The British began even heavier bombardments and the use of “hot shot” that set the city on fire as well as lack of food and water   
forced Lincoln to reconsider terms of surrender.  On May 1, after almost 40 days of fighting, he marched out of Charleston to surrender to Clinton. The Americans suffered 92 deaths, 148 wounded and more than 5,000 soldiers captured, including three men who had signed the Declaration of Independence.  The majority of the prisoners were send to prison barges set up in the harbor, where hundreds died and others suffered disease and malnutrition It was the largest defeat of the War.  Only two other surrenders of American forces are larger, the Fall of Bataan in 1942 and the 1862 Battle of Harpers Ferry.  The British lost 76 men and suffered 182 wounded.  The Battle of Charles Town ended the efforts of the regular Continental forces in the South and gave way to the tactics of men like Francis Marion, Thomas Sumter and Nathanael Greene.  The British sailed back to New York leaving 8,300 troops in the South under the command of General Charles Cornwallis.  On October 19, 1781 General Cornwallis surrendered his troops at Yorktown, sending his second in command, General Charles O’Hara to present his sword.  Refusing to personally accept Washington sent his own deputy, General Benjamin Lincoln, the man who had been forced to accept defeat some 18 months before at Charles Town.
In December 1782 British forces completely withdrew from Charles Town and in early 1783 the city was renamed Charleston.

Posted by Dar member Diane Price

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