Siege of Charleston 

 

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Charleston Siege

Charleston In the Revolutionary War.—In the spring of 1776 a considerable fleet, under Admiral Sir Peter Parker, sailed from England with troops, under Earl Cornwallis, to operate against the coasts of the Southern provinces. This armament joined that of Sir Henry Clinton at Cape Fear. After some marauding operations in that region, the united forces proceeded to Charleston Harbor, to make a combined attack by land and water upon Fort Sullivan, on Sullivan's Island, and then to seize the city and province. The Southern patriots had cheerfully responded to the call of Governor Rutledge to come to the defense of Charleston, and about 6,000 armed men were in the vicinity when the enemy appeared. The city and eligible points near had been fortified. Fort Sullivan was composed of palmetto logs and earth, armed with twenty-six cannon, and garrisoned by about 500 men, chiefly militia, under Colonel William Moultrie. It commanded the channel leading to the town. General Charles Lee, who had been ordered by George Washington to watch the movements of Clinton, had made his way southward, and arrived at Charleston on June 4, but was of no service whatever. Late in the month Clinton had landed troops on Long Island, which was separated from Sullivan's Island by a shallow creek. There he erected batteries to confront those on Sullivan's Island, and awaited the signal for attack by Parker. It was given on the morning of June 28, and a terrible storm of shot and shell was poured upon the fort, with very little effect, for the spongy palmetto logs would not fracture, and the balls were embedded in them. The conflict raged for almost ten hours between the fort and the fleet, and the latter was terribly shattered.

Meanwhile Clinton had endeavored to pass over to Sullivan's Island with 2,000 men, but was kept back by the determined troops under Colonel Thompson with two cannon and deadly rifles. The fire from the fleet slackened at sunset, and ceased at nine o'clock. The admiral's flagship, Bristol, and another were nearly a wreck. The flagship was pierced by not less than seventy balls. All but two of the vessels (which were destroyed) withdrew. The British lost in the engagement 225 men killed and wounded, while the Americans lost but two killed and twenty-one wounded. Three days afterwards the British all departed for New York; and the fort, so gallantly defended, was called Fort Moultrie in honor of its commander.

Sir Henry Clinton sailed from New York on Christmas Day, 1779, for the purpose of invading South Carolina. He took with him the main body of his army, leaving General Knyphausen in command in New York. The troops were borne by a British fleet, commanded by Admiral Arbuthnot, who had 2,000 marines. They encountered heavy storms off Cape Hatteras, which scattered the fleet. One vessel, laden with heavy battery-cannon, went to the bottom. Another, bearing Hessian troops, was driven across the Atlantic, and dashed on the shore of England. The troops landed on islands below Charleston, and it was late in February before the scattered British forces appeared on St. John's Island, in sight of the wealthy city, containing a population of 15,000 inhabitants, white and black. The city was then defended by less than 2,000 effective troops, under General Lincoln, who cast up entrenchments across Charleston Neck. Commodore Whipple had sunk some of his armed vessels in the channels of the harbor, after transferring the cannon and seamen to the land fortifications. Fort Moultrie was well garrisoned. The invading troops appeared before the defenses of Charleston March 29, and the fleet entered the harbor, unmolested, April 9.

On the following day Clinton and Arbuthnot demanded the surrender of the city, which was promptly refused, and a siege began. On the 13th Lincoln and a council of officers considered the propriety of evacuating the city to save it from destruction, for the American troops were too few to hope for a successful defense. It was then too late, for cavalry, sent out to keep open communications with the country, had been dispersed by the British troopers. The arrival of Cornwallis (April 19) with 3,000 fresh troops rendered an evacuation impossible. The siege continued about a month. Fort Moultrie surrendered on May 6, when a third demand for the surrender of the city was made and refused. Late on the succeeding evening a severe cannonade was opened upon it from land and water. All night long the thunder of 200 heavy guns shook the city, and fiery bombshells were rained upon it, setting the town on fire in different places.

At two o'clock on the morning of the 12th Lincoln proposed to yield, and on that day the city and garrison were surrendered, and the latter, as well as the adult citizens, became prisoners of war. The latter were paroled; and by this extraordinary proceeding Clinton could boast of over 5,000 captives. The city was given up to pillage by the British and Hessian troops. When the whole amount of plunder was appraised for distribution, it aggregated in value $1,500,000. Clinton and his major-generals each received about $20,000. Houses were rifled of plate, and slaves were seized, driven on board the ships, and sent to the West Indies to be sold, so as to swell the money-gains of the conquerors. Over 2,000 men and women, without regard to the separation of families, were sent at one embarkation; and only upon the promise of unconditional loyalty to the crown was British protection offered to citizens. In utter violation of the terms of surrender, a large number of the leading men of Charleston were taken from their beds (August) by armed men, and thrust on board filthy prison-ships, under the false accusation of being concerned in a conspiracy to burn the town and murder the loyal inhabitants. The evacuation of the city took place on December 14, 1782. GENERAL ALEXANDER LESLIE had leveled the fortifications around the city, and demolished Fort Johnson, on St. John's Island, near by, on the morning of the 13th. The American army slowly approached the city that day, and at dawn the next morning the British marched to Gadsden's wharf and embarked. An American detachment took formal possession of the town. At 3 P.M. General Greene escorted Governor Mathews and other civil officers to the town-hall, the troops greeted on their way by cheers from windows and balconies, and even from housetops. Handkerchiefs waved, and thousands of voices exclaimed, "God bless you, gentlemen! Welcome! welcome!" Before night the British squadron (about 300 vessels) crossed the bar, and the last sail was seen like a white speck just as the sun went down.

 

 

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