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Francis Marion, Chapter II, Campaign of 1780

Sir Henry Clinton arrives with an army of 12,000 men in South Carolina. The General Assembly sitting in Charleston, break up. Gen. Lincoln shuts himself up in the town, and Clinton lays siege to it. Before the town is entirely hemmed in, Marion dislocates his ankle, and retires into the country. The town capitulates. Tarleton’s career of slaughter. Defeat of Gen. Huger at Monk’s Corner and of Buford at the Waxhaws. Rising of the people in Williamsburgh, and at Pedee. Gen. Marion sent to them as a commander. Gates, defeat. Marion retakes 150 American prisoners at Nelson’s Ferry. Maj. Wemyss sent against him; he retreats to the White Marsh, in North Carolina. Returns and defeats the tories at Black Mingo and the fork of Black river. Attempt on Georgetown frustrated. Marion takes post at Snow Island. Sumter’s career. Ferguson’s defeat. Spirit of the whigs begins to revive.

The year 1780, was the most eventful one, in the annals of South Carolina. The late failure of the attack on Savannah; the little opposition which Gen. Prevost met with, in a march of more than one hundred miles through the state; the conduct of the planters, in submitting, to save their property; and the well known weakness of the southern army; all conspired to induce the enemy to believe, that Charleston, and South Carolina, would become an easy prey. Sir Henry Clinton, their commander in chief, meditating a formidable expedition against them; with this view sailed from New York on the 26th December, 1779, with an army, which, with subsequent reinforcements amounted to about 12,000 men. To oppose this great force, Gen. Lincoln had not more than two thousand, a great part of which was militia. His head quarters were in Charleston, where the general assembly were setting in calm deliberation, for they had not yet heard of the rising storm. Lieut. Col. Marion, had command of the out-post of this little army, at Sheldon, near Pocotaligo, where he had orders to watch the motions of Prevost, and prevent him from obtaining supplies of provisions, from the Carolina side of Savannah river. It was expected he was to remain here for some time, and great confidence was reposed in him, by Gen. Lincoln, as appears by his letters, at this period.

The British had a tedious passage, in which they lost part of their ordnance, most of their artillery, and all the horses, destined to mount their cavalry. On the 11th Feb. 1780, they landed about thirty miles from Charleston. The assembly sitting there, immediately broke up, after delegating, “till ten days after their next session, to John Rutledge, and such of his council as he could conveniently consult, a power to do every thing necessary for the public good; except the taking away the life of a citizen, without a legal trial.” This was nearly the same power, with which the senate of Rome, invested their dictators. But a resolution, fatal in its consequences, was unanimously adopted by this assembly: namely, to defend the town to the utmost extremity. The power, thus delegated to the governor and council, was carried into effect afterwards, with vigour, and with what would now be thought an infraction of private rights. But in the spirit of the times, and the public situation, such vigour was necessary. The governor’s council, was composed of upright and virtuous men, and John Rutledge was one of the most distinguished sons, to whom South Carolina has given birth. His eloquence was proverbial, both in congress, and at home. It was that of Demosthenes, concise, energetic, and commanding. There was something in his very manner, and the tone of his voice, that riveted the attention of his audience. They stood subdued before him. He swayed the councils of the state, he swayed the councils of the general who commanded the southern army: and if he erred, he erred with a good conscience, and from the purest motives.

The first order issued by Governor Rutledge, was, to call out the drafted militia, for the defence of the town, under pain of confiscation of property. This order was but partially obeyed; — the militia, who were friendly to the cause, had been much harassed in the last campaign, and it was generally known that the small-pox was in the town. At the same time, the governor sent out many influential officers, to secure the execution of his first order; and though intended only to operate for the present, this last order was in time productive of a fortunate result; as these officers afterwards headed the people. In the mean time, Gen. Lincoln had ordered Lieut. Col. Marion to select two hundred men, out of the three regiments with him, at Sheldon, and to march immediately to town. (31st Jan.) No troops were to be left in the field but two hundred light infantry, and the horse under Col. Washington. Marion repaired to town, according to orders; but before the garrison was hemmed in by the enemy, he, by accident, in attempting to escape from a drinking party, dislocated his ankle. Gen. Lincoln had issued an order, “that all supernumerary officers, and all officers who were unfit for duty, must quit the garrison, and retire into the country.” In consequence of this order, Marion retired to St. John’s. He was afterwards obliged to move about, from house to house, as favoured by friends, and often to hide in the woods, until he got better; but, as soon as he was able, he collected a few friends, and joined Gen. De Kalb, who was then advancing, with about fourteen hundred men, of the Maryland and Delaware troops, towards South Carolina. The correspondence of Gen. Horry here breaks off suddenly; and we hear no more of Marion for five months. But an accident, which must have appeared to him a great misfortune, at the time, was afterwards productive of the most happy effects. Another has been noted only a few pages back.

In the mean time, the enemy proceeded cautiously in the siege of Charleston. They formed a depot on James Island, and erected a fortification on it, and the main, near Wappoo cut. On the 28th of March they crossed Ashley river, near the ferry, and made a lodgement in Charleston neck. Col. Laurens, with the light infantry, skirmished with them; but, as they greatly exceeded him in numbers, he was obliged to retire within the lines. On the night of the 1st of April, Sir Henry Clinton commenced his first parallel, at the distance of eleven hundred yards from the American works. On the 7th, twelve sail of the enemy’s ships passed Fort Moultrie, under a heavy fire. The garrison had been assiduous in preparing for defence; the old works were strengthened, and lines and redoubts were extended from Ashley to Cooper river. A strong abbatis was made in front, and a deep, wet ditch was opened from the marsh on one side, to that on the other, and the lines were so constructed as to rake it. On the 10th, the enemy had completed their first parallel, and Gen. Lincoln was summoned to surrender; but refused.

All attempts at removing the force besieged, out of the town, had, while it was practicable, been opposed by the governor and council, and the officers of the South Carolina troops; and Gen. Lincoln, had not the resolution to counteract them. At length it was thought advisable, that the governor and three of his council should leave the town; and that Lieut. Gov. Gadsden and five others should remain. The ships of war, in the harbour of Charleston, being quite inadequate to oppose the force which had passed Fort Moultrie, were divested of their guns, to reinforce the batteries, and were sunk nearly opposite the exchange, to impede the passage of the enemy up Cooper river. Soon after this, Sir Henry Clinton, being reinforced by two thousand five hundred men, under Lord Cornwallis, pushed them over Cooper river, and enclosed the besieged on the side of St. Thomas’ parish and Christ church; and the town was now completely invested by land and water. About this time, the American forces in the field having been defeated, as hereafter to be narrated, and the British having completed their second parallel, an offer to capitulate was made by Lincoln, to Sir Henry Clinton, and rejected. The batteries of the besiegers, having now obtained a decided superiority over those of the besieged, when the third parallel had opened its cannonade, and the British having crossed the wet ditch by sap, they opened a fire of rifles within twenty-five yards of the Americans. The caution of Sir Henry Clinton, in advancing so slowly, had been extreme, and the unsuspecting security of the Americans was still great; but Gen. Duportail, a French officer of engineers, having arrived in town before the communication was closed with the country, declared, that the works of the besieged were not tenable, and might have been stormed ten days before. This disclosed his true situation, and induced Gen. Lincoln to listen to a capitulation, which was proposed to him on the 8th of May. From that until the 10th, the negociation was continued. On the 11th, the capitulation was agreed to, and, on the next day, the Americans marched out and grounded their arms. After a siege of a month and fourteen days, 2500 men submitted to an army of 12,000; and it was only surprising they held out so long. The continental troops and sailors were to remain prisoners of war until exchanged; the militia were permitted to return home as prisoners on parole, which, as long as they observed it, should secure them from being molested in their property.

On the morning, when the Americans had paraded to surrender, tears were seen coursing down the cheeks of Gen. Moultrie.

The loss of the Americans, in the siege, was not great; only five officers of distinction: Col. Parker, and Capts. Bowman, Moultrie, Templeton and Neyle, were killed. During the siege, Gen. Lincoln called two councils of war, to devise the means of retreating from the town, but all attempts of that kind were opposed, first by the civil authority, next by the South Carolina officers, and finally by the inhabitants. He ought not to have entered the town; he had the example of the illustrious Washington before him, who had declined to act in that manner, and had thus preserved the independence of his country. The American army acting in the country, would have kept up the spirits of the militia, and kept the British from mounting their cavalry, and gaining supplies of provisions, with such ease as they did. Although Lincoln’s force was small, it was at least equal to that of Gen. Washington, when he retreated over the Delaware, in 1776. The country was not so open, and more fit for a partisan warfare, than New Jersey, and in a few months the climate would have fought his battles. It was not intended by the author to narrate the particulars of the siege of Charleston; these have been detailed by the enlightened historian of South Carolina, Dr. Ramsay. But the effects of it upon the minds of the people in the country, come more particularly within his province; since they would hereafter be disposed to act according as they were affected, by passing incidents. There being now no force in the field, but the two hundred light infantry, under Gen. Huger, and the horse under Col. Washington; which were those mentioned in Lincoln’s order to Gen. Marion; the British were suffered to detach small parties through the country, and to take all the horses which were fit, either to transport their cannon and baggage, or to mount their cavalry. In one month after their landing, Col. Tarleton had his legion mounted, and began his career of slaughter. On the 18th March, he surprised a party of 80 militia, at Saltketcher bridge, killed and wounded several, and dispersed the rest. On the 23d, he put to flight another party at Ponpon, killed three, wounded one, and took four prisoners. On the 27th, near Rantowle’s bridge, he had an encounter with Col. Washington, at the head of his legion of 300 men; Tarleton was worsted in this affair, and lost seven men, prisoners.

On the 13th April, the American infantry and cavalry under Gen. Huger, lay, the infantry at Biggen church, and the cavalry under Col. Washington, at Monk’s corner. Col. Tarleton with Ferguson’s corps of marksmen, advanced on from the quarter-house to Goose Creek, where he was joined by Col. Webster, with the 33d and 64th regiments of infantry. There an attack upon the American post was concerted, and it was judged advisable to make it in the night, as that would render the superiority of Washington’s cavalry useless. A servant of one of Huger’s officers was taken on the road, and he agreed for a few dollars, to conduct the enemy through a by-road, to Monk’s corner. At three o’clock in the morning, they charged Washington’s guard on the main road, and pursued them into the camp. The Americans were completely surprised. Major Vernier, of Pulaski’s legion, and twenty-five men, were killed. One hundred officers, and dragoons, fifty waggons loaded with ammunition, clothing and arms, and four hundred horses, with their accoutrements, were taken. A most valuable acquisition to the British. Major Cochrane with the British legion of infantry, forced the passage at Biggen bridge, and drove Gen. Huger and the infantry before him. — In this affair, Major James Conyers, of the Americans, distinguished himself by a skilful retreat, and by calling off the attention of the enemy from his sleeping friends, to himself. The British had only one officer and two men wounded. The account of the loss of the Americans in this affair, is taken from Tarleton, who blames “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.” In this surprise, the British made free use of the bayonet, the houses in Monk’s corner, then a village, were afterwards deserted, and long bore the marks of deadly thrust, and much bloodshed.