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The Siege of Charleston

From Diary of the American Revolution, Vol II.  Compiled by Frank Moore and published in 1859.

Siege of Charleston

May 12.—This morning the garrison of Charleston, after sustaining a siege of over a month’s duration, surrendered prisoners of war to the combined fleet and army of Great Britain. The following is a journal of the siege, from the day previous to the British fleet’s crossing the bar, to the present hour:—”

March 19.—The British, under General Clinton, now encamped on James Island, seem to wait for the shipping which lay off the bar, and have been disappointed at the last springs by south-west winds, which kept down the tides so that they cannot get over. This day the springs are at the highest, but the weather so hazy that they will scarcely attempt it, and it will probably clear up with unfavorable winds. We begin to hope that Providence has interposed a second time to prevent their getting over until we are ready. If they should get over either now or hereafter, there will probably be the hottest contest that has happened this war, just off Fort Moultrie. The British ships destined to come in are said to be the Renown, fifty guns; Roebuck, forty-four; Blond, thirty-two; Perseus, twenty, and Camilla, twenty. These, and some say another frigate with some galleys, are to force their way past the town, and cut off the communication between Charleston and the country. To oppose their passing the fort, the Americans have thrown a boom of cables across the channel at the fort, and stationed the Providence, of thirty-two guns; Boston, twenty-eight; Bricole, twenty-eight; Adventure, twenty; French vessel, twenty; Queen of France, eighteen; Truite, twenty, and three galleys, (seven guns;) so that either the fort or they must rake the enemy as they pass, and with the boom they hope to detain them so long as to do it effectually.

“As the enemy’s chance of success depends entirely on getting up their shipping, and the American hopes of defending the town greatly depend on preventing it, they seem determined to sell the passage immensely high. The commodore, in sailor language, swears if he cannot defeat them he will run both them and himself ashore, and all shall perish together; and every officer in the navy is ready to second his resolution. Colonel Laurens commands the marines on board the Providence.

British Ships Cross Charleston Bar
March 20.—This morning the British got their ships over the bar. They consist of ten vessels of force, from twenty guns to a sixty-four, as some say, others a fifty. However, ours appeared so inadequate to oppose them by Fort Moultrie, that they were all ordered up to town. On the first alarm of the arrival of the enemy, the Eagle pilotboat was despatched to the Havannah to solicit assistance from Spain. Colonel Tonant went with the despatches, and has this evening returned. Report says that he has succeeded, and that we may expect three seventy-fours and thirteen frigates every hour, with three thousand land forces. Nothing has yet transpired from authority. I am just come from the general’s, but can learn nothing without being too inquisitive. It is now left to a stand in the town, which I trust will remain until Woodford arrives with the Virginia line. The enemy have not yet summoned the town, nor made any movement indicating an immediate attack. It is said that Lord Cornwallis is against it entirely, and that the army seems much dispirited; but Clinton is bent on it. This is the most of our present intelligence. Our lines round the whole town are nearly completed, except by Gadsden’s wharf, where the works on the bay should join those on the land. Our people are hard at work there now, as we dread the enemy’s shipping on that quarter. We have on the Ashley River, or south side of the town, six batteries—some ten guns, some six, some four, none less, so that no vessel can lay before them. Four of them cross-fire the only landing-place on that quarter, besides field-pieces at proper distances all along the line. On the bay side we have four batteries of Palmetto, and a line of Palmetto. On the Neck we have seven batteries along the line, some redoubts to the left, a regular fort to the right, and a horn work by the gateway. In front of the line is a good line of abattis, a canal, most of it filled with water, and the side of the canal is abattied also. Only the north-east corner, rather than a side, by Gads-den’s wharf, is unprovided with proper defence. This, I trust, we will have time to fortify. Four pieces of cannon scour the canal in front of the lines.

Colonel Washington’s Adventure.
March 27.—This morning Colonel Washington, with a party of horse reconnoitring, came up with a light party of the British, on which an engagement ensued, when the Americans took a Colonel Hamilton of the North Carolina refugees, a Doctor Smith, and seven privates, and it is said they had seven killed. The Americans had only one man badly wounded. This action happened within one hundred yards of the British flying army, consisting of light infantry and grenadiers, whose marching across the field to get in the rear of the Americans obliged Colonel Washington to order a retreat; otherwise their whole party would have been cut to pieces.1

Colonel Laurens’ Skirmish.
March 30.—Yesterday, a large body of British grenadiers and infantry crossed Ashley River, and to-day they appeared before the American lines, where they are now encamped. As the enemy approached, Colonel John Laurens, with a small party, had a brush with the advance body, in which Captain Bowman, of the North Carolina forces, fell, much lamented; Major Herne and two privates were wounded. The enemy’s loss is reported to be from twelve to sixteen killed. A French gentleman, who was volunteer in the action, says he counted eight and a Highland deserter says a Colonel St. Clair was mortally wounded.2

April 7.—This afternoon, about three o’clock, General Woodford and his brigade arrived in town, after a most rapid march of five hundred miles in thirty days, in perfect health, and high spirits.

Charleston in 1780

Charleston, South Carolina, in 1780

British Fleet off Fort Johnson.
April 8.—This afternoon, between three and five o’clock, the British fleet passed Fort Moultrie, in a heavy gale, and anchored between Fort Johnson and Charleston, just out of reach of the guns from the town, where they now continue. They were so covered with the thunder storm as to be invisible near half the time of their passing. One of their frigates had a fore-topmast shot away by a cannon at the fort, and a store ship was so injured, in her rudder, as to be incapable of working, and the gale being fresh she went on shore, under the guns of our half-moon battery, on the point of the island, which obliged them to burn her, to prevent her falling into our hands. After burning a while she blew up. We had not a man hurt at the fort, though they kept up a brisk fire as they passed.

“Our garrison is in good health and high spirits, the town well fortified and defended by a numerous artillery; Sir Henry approaching very slowly, and our men longing for the hour in which he may afford them the opportunity of teaching the temerity of the present expedition.3

April 12.—Day before yesterday, the British having completed their first parallel, summoned the town to surrender, of which General Lincoln took no notice; and to-day Clinton opened his batteries, which are answered by the Americans with spirit, but not with the effect that will insure success, the enemy’s fire being far superior to ours. Governor Rutledge has taken post in the country between the Cooper and Santee Rivers. A work is ordered to be thrown up on the Wando, nine miles from town, and another at the point at Lamprieres, to preserve the communication with the country by water.4

April 18.—The cannonading on both sides still continues. General Clinton received a reinforcement from New York yesterday, and it is probable he will make a further advance on us soon. He is very cautious, and moves with all the care and deliberation of an old Roman, which he certainly is not. Our men are in good spirits, although it seems to be the general opinion that we must at last succumb; not without a hard fight, however.

“Last Friday, (14th,) the party of Americans, posted to preserve the communication between the country and the town, were surprised at Monk’s Corner by a body of British under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Tarleton.5 A negro slave, for a sum of money, conducted the British from Goose Creek, in the night, through unfrequented paths. Although the commanding officer of the American cavalry had taken the precaution of having his horses saddled and bridled, and the alarm was given by his videttes, posted at the distance of a mile in front; yet, being entirely unsupported by the infantry, the British advanced so rapidly, notwithstanding the opposition of the advanced guard, that they began their attack upon the main body before the men could put themselves in a posture of defence.

April 21.—The British have completed their second parallel, which is within three hundred yards of the American lines. At a council of war held this morning, it was decided that offers of capitulation should be made to the British commander, ‘which may admit of the army’s withdrawing, and afford security to the persons and property of the inhabitants.’

April 24.—Sir Henry Clinton rejects the American offers of capitulation, and is actively pushing forward his third parallel, which is not more than three hundred feet from our lines. This morning Lieutenant-Colonel Henderson led out a party of Americans, and attacked the advance working party of the British, killed several, took eleven prisoners, and returned to the lines victorious. In this sally, Captain Moultrie, a brother of the general, was killed.6

May 6.—This afternoon, the garrison at Fort Moultrie was summoned to surrender by Captain Charles Hudson, commander of his Majesty’s ship Richmond. The commander of the fort answered, ‘ it should be defended to the last extremity;’ but the officer carrying the refusal had proceeded but a little way on his return, when he was called back and told that the storm which was threatened by Captain Hudson must prove a very serious affair, and therefore the garrison had consented to submission.7

The Capitulation.
May 12.—Yesterday the British advanced within thirty yards of the American lines, and commenced preparations for a combined assault by sea and land. The reduced state of the garrison, the urgent solicitations of the inhabitants, and the clamors of the soldiery, compelled General Lincoln to renew negotiations with the British commanders; and to-day the articles of capitulation have been signed. It is stipulated that the Continental troops and sailors shall remain prisoners of war until exchanged, and be supplied with good and wholesome provisions, in such quantity as is served out to the British troops. The militia are to return home as prisoners on parole, which, as long as they observe, is to secure them from being molested in their property by British troops. The officers of the army and navy are to keep their swords, pistols, and baggage, which is not to be searched, and are to retain their servants. The garrison, at an appointed hour, is to march out of the town, to the ground between the works and the canal, where they are to deposit their arms. The drums are not to beat a British march, nor the colors to be uncased. All civil officers and citizens who have borne arms during the siege, are to be prisoners on parole, and with respect to their property within the city, they are to have the same terms as the militia. All persons in the town, not described in any article, are, notwithstanding, to be prisoners on parole. It is left to future discussion whether or no a year shall be allowed to all such as do not choose to continue under the British government, to dispose of their effects real and personal, in the State, without any molestation whatever, or to remove such part thereof as they choose, as well as themselves and families, and whether, during that time, they, or any of them, shall have it in their option to reside occasionally in town or country. The French consul, the subjects of France and Spain, with their houses, papers, and other movable property, are to be protected and untouched; but they are to consider themselves as prisoners on parole.”8

 

1 Pennsylvania Packet, April 25 and May 2.
2 Extract of a letter from Charleston, in the Pennsylvania Packet, April 23.
3 Pennsylvania Packet, May 2.
4 Clift’s Diary; and Gordon, iii. 47.
5 Elliot Manuscript.
6 Gordon, iii. 48.
7 Rivington’s Gazette, May 31. The same paper says:—We are informed a great quantity of silver plate was found in the fort on taking possession of it. The inhabitants of Carolina in general, buried their plate in Charleston, thinking it a safer depositum than risking it underground on their plantations, where, from the curious and nefarious disposition of their negroes, resident on the spot, it should be discovered and stolen; and by preferring this method of concealment, they have all secured their effects.
8 Gordon’s American Revolution, iii. 49.

2 Comments

  1. Hi there is it possible to use the picture with the ships in a book? I am writing a small book about hessian soldiers in the american independence war and this picture would be great fitting in – many thanks for your help

  2. Hi Horst. All of the pictures I used on this page (excepting advertisements) are in the public domain, so you are welcome to use them. Just make sure you copy the image file to your book or to your own server instead of linking it so it doesn’t eat up my bandwidth. A link back to this page would be welcome, of course.

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