previous next

Chapter 13:

The war in the southern States.


The plan for the southern campaign of 1778 was
Chap. XIII.} 1778.
prepared by Germain with great minuteness of detail. Pensacola was to be strengthened by a thousand men from New York. On the banks of the Mississippi, near the channel of Iberville, a considerable post was to be established by the commander in West Florida, partly to protect property and trade, but more to preserve the communication with the Indian nations.1 From the army at New York men were to be detached, sufficient for the conquest and permanent occupation of Georgia and South Carolina, where the American custom of calling out the militia for short periods of service was to be introduced. The Florida rangers and a party of Indians were to attack the [284] southern frontier, while the British agent was to
Chap. XIII.} 1778.
bring down a large body of savages towards Augusta. A line of communication was to be established across South and North Carolina, and the planters on the sea-coast were to be reduced to the necessity of abandoning or being abandoned by their slaves. Five thousand additional men were at a later date to be sent to take Charleston; and, on the landing of a small corps at Cape Fear, Germain believed that ‘large numbers of the inhabitants would doubtless flock to the standard of the king, whose government would be restored in North Carolina.’ Then, by proper diversions in Virginia and Maryland, he said it might not be too much to expect that all America to the south of the Susquehanna would return to its allegiance.2 Sir Henry Clinton was no favorite of the minister's; these brilliant achievements were designed for Cornwallis. During the autumn of 1778, two expeditions were sent out by Prevost from East Florida. They were composed in part of regulars; the rest were vindictive refugees from Georgia and South Carolina, called troopers, though having only ‘a few horses that were kept to go plundering into Georgia.’ Brown, their commander, held directly from the governor of East Florida the rank of lieutenantcolonel, so that the general was prevented ‘from reducing them to some order and regulation.’3 One of these mixed parties of invaders summoned the fort at Sunbury to surrender. But when Colonel Mackintosh answered, ‘Come and take it,’ they retreated. [285] The other corps was stopped at the Ogeechee. On
Chap. XIII.} 1778.
their return they burned at Midway the church, almost every dwelling-house, and all stores of rice and other cereals within their reach; and they carried off with them all negroes, horses, cattle, and plate that could be removed by land or water. Screven, a gallant American officer, beloved for his virtues in private life, was killed by them after he became their prisoner.

Roused by these incursions into Georgia, Robert Howe, the American commander in the southern district, meditated an expedition against St. Augustine. This scheme had no chance of success. At St. Mary's river an epidemic swept away one quarter of his men, and, after slight skirmishes, he led back the survivors to Savannah.

Immediately after his return, on the twenty-third

Dec. 23.
of December, three thousand men, despatched from New York under Lieutenant-Colonel Campbell, arrived off the island of Tybee; and soon afterwards, passing the bar, approached Savannah. Relying on the difficulties of the ground, Howe offered resistance to a disciplined corps, ably commanded, and more than three times as numerous as his own. But on the twenty-ninth one party of British, guided by
a negro through a swamp, turned his position. A simultaneous attack on the Americans in front and rear drove them into a disorderly and precipitate retreat. With a loss of but twenty-four in killed and wounded, the British gained the capital of Georgia, four hundred and fifty-three prisoners, forty-eight pieces of cannon, several mortars, a field-piece, the fort with its military magazines, and [286] large stores of provisions. No victory was ever
Chap. XIII.} 1778.
more complete; but Germain was not satisfied, for no Indian parties had been called to take part in the expedition.4

Flushed with his rapid success, Campbell promised protection to the inhabitants, but only on condition that ‘they would support the royal government with their arms.’ In this way the people of the low country of Georgia had no choice but to join the British standard, or flee to the upland or to South Carolina. The captive soldiers, refusing to enlist in the British service, were crowded on board prison-ships to be swept away by infection. Moses Allen, the chaplain of the Georgia brigade, fervid in the pulpit and in battle, after a loathsome confinement of many months, was drowned in attempting to escape by swimming. The war was plainly to be conducted without mercy, and terror was to compensate for the want of numbers. Many submitted; but determined republicans sought an asylum in the western parts of the state.

Early in January, 1779, Brigadier-General Prevost

1779. Jan.
marched as a conqueror across lower Georgia to Savannah, reducing Sunbury on the way and capturing its garrison; and Campbell, with eight hundred regulars, took possession of Augusta. The province appearing to be restored to the crown, plunder became the chief thought of the British army.

From jealousy of concentrated power, congress kept the military departments independent of each other. At the request of the delegates from South [287] Carolina, Robert Howe was superseded in the south-

Chap. XIII.} 1779.
ern command by Major-General Benjamin Lincoln. In private life this officer was most estimable; as a soldier he was brave, but of a heavy mould and inert of will. Towards the end of 1776, he had repaired to Washington's camp as a major-general of militia; in the following February, he was transferred to the continental service, and passed the winter at Morristown. In the spring of 1777, he was completely surprised by the British, and had a narrow escape. In the summer he was sent to the north, in the belief that his influence with the New England militia would be useful; but he never took part in any battle. Wounded by a British party whom he mistook for Americans, he left the camp, having been in active service less than a year. He had not fully recovered when, on the fourth of December, 1778, he entered upon the command in Charleston.

Collecting what force he could, the new commander took post on the South Carolina side of the Savannah, near Perrysburg, with a force which at first scarcely exceeded eleven hundred. As neither party ventured to cross the river, the British, who were masters of the water, detached two hundred men to Beaufort. Moultrie, sent almost alone to counteract the movement, rallied under his standard about an equal number of militia. These brave volunteers, who were supported by but nine continentals, though they were poorly supplied with ammunition and though their enemy had the advantage of position, fought for their own homes under a leader whom they trusted, and on the [288] third of February drove the invaders with great

Chap. XIII.} 1779. Feb. 3.
loss to their ships.

The continental regiments of North Carolina were with Washington's army; the legislature of that state promptly called out two thousand of its people, and sent them, though without arms, to serve for five months under Ashe and Rutherford. The scanty stores of South Carolina were exhausted in arming them. In the last days of January, 1779, they joined the camp of Lincoln, whose troops thus became respectable as to numbers, though only six hundred of them were continentals.

Meantime the assembly of South Carolina, superseding Rawlins Lowndes by an almost unanimous vote, recalled John Rutledge to be their governor. They ordered a regiment of light dragoons to be raised, offered a bounty of five hundred dollars to every one who would enlist for sixteen months, and gave large powers to the governor and council to draft the militia of the state, and ‘do everything necessary for the public good.’

The British, having carried their arms into the upper country of Georgia, sent emissaries to encourage a rising in South Carolina. A party of abandoned men, whose chief object was rapine, put themselves in motion to join the British, gathering on the way every kind of booty that could be transported. They were pursued across the Savannah by Colonel Andrew Pickens with about three hundred of the citizens of Ninety-Six; and on the fourteenth of February

were overtaken, surprised, and completely routed. Their commander and forty others fell in battle, and many prisoners were taken. About two hundred [289] escaped to the British lines. The republican govern-
Chap. XIII.} 1779.
ment which, since 1776, had maintained its jurisdiction without dispute in every part of the commonwealth, arraigned some of them in the civil court; and, by a jury of their fellow-citizens, seventy of them were convicted of treason and rebellion against the state of South Carolina. Of these no more than five were executed: the rest were pardoned.

On hearing that Lincoln from ill health had asked of congress leave to retire, Greene, who was impatient of his position as quartermaster-general, requested of the commander-in-chief the southern command. Washington answered that Greene would be his choice, but he was not consulted. The army of Lincoln, whose offer to retire was not accepted, was greatly inferior to the British in number, and far more so in quality; yet he ventured to detach Ashe, with fifteen hundred of the North Carolina militia, on separate service. This inexperienced general crossed the Savannah at Augusta, which the British had abandoned, and descended the river with the view to confine the enemy within narrower limits. Following his orders, he encamped his party at Brier creek, on the Savannah, beyond supporting distance. The post seemed to him strong, as it had but one approach. The British amused Lincoln by a feint, while Lieutenant-Colonel Prevost turned the position of Ashe, who seemed never to have heard of military discipline or vigilance; and on the third day of March fell upon his party. The few con-

March 3.
tinentals, about sixty in number, alone made a brave but vain defence. By wading through swamps and swimming the Savannah, four hundred and fifty [290] of the militia were able to rejoin the American
Chap. XIII.} 1779.
camp; the rest perished or were captured or returned to their homes. So quickly was one-fourth of the troops of Lincoln lost. The British captured seven pieces of cannon, and more than one thousand stand of arms. After this success, General Prevost proclaimed a sort of civil government in Georgia.

Re-enforced from the South Carolina militia, of whom Rutledge had assembled great numbers at Orangeburg, Lincoln, who had neither the means of conducting a siege, nor a soldiery that could encounter veterans, nor the command of the river, undertook to lead his troops against Savannah by way of Augusta, leaving only a thousand militia under Moultrie at Perrysburg. The British general had the choice between awaiting an attack, or invading the richest part of Carolina. His decision was for the side which

April 28.
promised booty. On the twenty-eighth of April, when the American army was distant five days march, General Prevost, this time supported by Indians, crossed the river with three thousand men, and drove Moultrie before him. The approach of the savage allies, who spared neither child nor woman, and the waste and plunder of the plantations, spread terror through the land. Many of Moultrie's militia left him to protect their own families. Timid planters, to save their property, made professions of loyalty; and sudden converts represented to Prevost that Charleston lay defenceless at his mercy. After two or three days of doubt, the hope of seizing the wealthy city lured him on; and upon the eleventh of May, two days too late,
May 11.
he appeared before the town. While he hesitated, the [291] men of Charleston had protected the neck by sudden
Chap. XIII.} 1779.
but well-planned works; on the ninth and tenth Rutledge arrived with the militia, and Moultrie, with all of his party that remained true to him, as well as a body of three hundred men whom Lincoln had detached, and who had marched forty miles a day. While the British crossed the Ashley, Pulaski and a corps were ferried over the Cooper into Charleston.

The besiegers and the besieged were nearly equal in numbers; the issue of the campaign might depend on the slaves. No sooner was the danger of South Carolina known in the camp of Washington, than young Laurens was impatient to fly to his native state, and levy and command a regiment of blacks. Alexander Hamilton recommended the project to the president of congress in these words: ‘The negroes will make very excellent soldiers. This project will have to combat prejudice and self-interest. Contempt for the blacks makes us fancy many things that are founded neither in reason nor experience. Their natural faculties are as good as ours. Give them their freedom with their muskets: this will secure their fidelity, animate their courage, and have a good influence upon those who remain, by opening a door for their emancipation. This circumstance has weight in inducing me to wish the success of the project; for the dictates of humanity and true policy equally interest me in favor of this unfortunate class of men.’ Two days later, the elder Laurens wrote to Washington: ‘Had we arms for three thousand such black men as I could select in Carolina, I should have no doubt of success in driving the British out of Georgia, and subduing East Florida before the end of July.’ To this Washington [292] answered: ‘The policy of our arming slaves is in my

Chap. XIII.} 1779.
opinion a moot point, unless the enemy set the example. For, should we begin to form battalions of them, I have not the smallest doubt, if the war is to be prosecuted, of their following us in it, and justifying the measure upon our own ground. The contest then must be, who can arm fastest. And where are our arms?’

Congress listened to Huger, the agent from South Carolina, as he explained that his state was weak, because many of its citizens must remain at home to prevent revolts among the negroes, or their desertion to the enemy; and it recommended as a remedy, that the two southernmost of the thirteen states should detach the most vigorous and enterprising of the negroes from the rest by arming three thousand of them under command of white officers.

A few days before the British came near Charleston, young Laurens arrived, bringing no relief from the north beyond the advice of congress for the Carolinians to save themselves by arming their slaves. The advice was heard in anger and rejected with disdain. The state felt itself cast off and alone. Georgia had fallen; the country between Savannah and Charleston was overrun; the British confiscated all negroes whom they could seize; their emissaries were urging the rest to rise against their owners or to run away; the United States seemed indifferent; and Washington's army was too weak to protect so remote a government. Many began to regret the struggle for independence. Moved, therefore, by their insulation and by a dread of exposing Charleston to be taken by storm; and sure at least of gaining time by protracted [293] parleys,—the executive government sent a flag to ask

Chap. XIII.} 1779.
of the invaders their terms for a capitulation. In answer, the British general offered peace to the inhabitants who would accept protection; to all others, the condition of prisoners of war. The council, at its next meeting, debated giving up the town; Moultrie, Laurens, and Pulaski, who were called in, declared that they had men enough to beat the invaders; and yet against the voice of Gadsden, of Ferguson, of John Edwards, who was moved even to tears, the majority, at heart irritated by the advice of congress to emancipate and arm slaves, ‘proposed a neutrality, during the war between Great Britain and America; the question whether the state shall belong to Great Britain or remain one of the United States to be determined by the treaty of peace between the two powers.’ Laurens, being called upon to bear this message, scornfully refused, and another was selected. The British general declined to treat with the civil government of South Carolina; but made answer to Moultrie that the garrison must surrender as prisoners of war. ‘Then we will fight it out,’ said Moultrie to the governor and council, and left their tent. Gadsden and Ferguson followed him to say: ‘Act according to your own judgment, and we will support you;’ and Moultrie waved the flag from the gate as a signal that the conference was at an end.

The citizens of Charleston knew nothing of the deliberations of the council, and seemed resolved to stand to the lines in defence of their country; parleys had carried them over the only moment of danger. At daylight the cry ran along the line: ‘The enemy is gone.’ The British, having intercepted a [294] letter from Lincoln,—in which he charged Moultrie

Chap. XIII.} 1779.
‘not to give up the city nor suffer the people to despair,’ for he was hastening to their relief,—escaped an encounter by retreating to the islands. The Americans, for want of boats, could not prevent their embarkation, nor their establishing a post at Beaufort. The Carolina militia returned to their homes; Lincoln, left with but about eight hundred men, passed the great heats of summer at Sheldon.

The invasion of South Carolina by the army of General Prevost proved nothing more than a raid through the richest plantations of the state. The British forced their way into almost every house in a wide extent of country; sparing in some measure those who professed loyalty to the king, they rifled all others of their money, rings, personal ornaments and plate, stripped houses of furniture and linen, and even broke open tombs in search of hidden treasure. Objects of value, not transportable by land or water, were destroyed. Porcelain, mirrors, windows, were dashed in pieces; gardens carefully planted with exotics were laid waste. Domestic animals, which could not be used nor carried off, were wantonly shot, and in some places not even a chicken was left alive. A thousand fugitive slaves perished of want in the woods, or of fever in the British camp; about three thousand passed with the army into Georgia.

The southernmost states looked for relief to the French fleet in America. In September, 1778, the Marquis de Bouille, the gallant governor-general of the French windward islands, in a single day wrested from Great Britain the strongly fortified island of Dominica; but d'estaing, with a greatly increased [295] fleet and a land force of nine thousand men, came

Chap. XIII.} 1779.
in sight of the island of St. Lucia just as its last French flag had been struck to a corps of fifteen hundred British troops. A landing for its recovery was repulsed, with a loss to d'estaing of nearly fifteen hundred men.

Early in January, 1779, re-enforcements under Admiral Byron transferred maritime superiority to the British; and d'estaing for six months sheltered his fleet within the bay of Port Royal. At the end

of June, Byron having left St. Lucia to convoy a company of British merchant ships through the passages, d'estaing detached a force against St. Vincent, which, with the aid of the oppressed and enslaved Caribs, its native inhabitants, was easily taken. This is the only instance in the war where insurgent slaves acted efficiently. At the same time, the French admiral made an attack on the island of Grenada, whose garrison on the fourth of July surrendered at discre-
July 4.
tion. Two days later, the fleet of Byron arrived within sight of the French; and though reduced in number, sought a general close action, which his adversary knew how to avoid. In the running fight which ensued, the British ships suffered so much in their masts and rigging, that the French recovered the superiority.

To a direct co-operation with the United States d'estaing was drawn by the wish of congress, the entreaties of South Carolina, and his own neverfail-ing good-will. On the first day of September he

Sept. 1.
approached Georgia so suddenly that he took by surprise four British ships of war. To the government of South Carolina he announced his readiness to assist [296] in reducing Savannah; but as there was neither har-
Chap. XIII.} 1779. Sept.
bor, nor road, nor offing to receive his twenty ships of the line, he made it a condition that his fleet, which consisted of thirty-three sail, should not be detained long off so dangerous a coast. South Carolina glowed with joy in the fixed belief, that the garrison of Savannah would lay down their arms. In ten days the
French troops, though unassisted, effected their landing. Meantime, the British commander worked day and night with relays of hundreds of negroes to strengthen his defences; and Maitland, regardless of malaria, hastened with troops from Beaufort through the swamps of the low country.

On the sixteenth, d'estaing summoned General

Prevost to surrender to the arms of the king of France. While Prevost gained time by a triple interchange of notes, Maitland, flushed with a mortal fever caught on the march, brought to his aid through the inland channels the first division of about four hundred men from Beaufort. The second division followed a few hours later; and when both had arrived, the British gave their answer of defiance.

Swiftly as the summons had been borne through South Carolina, and gladly as its people ran to arms,

it was the twenty-third of September when the Americans under Lincoln joined the French in the siege of the city. On the eighth of October the reduction
Oct. 8.
of Savannah seemed still so far distant, that the naval officers insisted on the rashness of leaving the fleet longer exposed to autumnal gales, or to an attack, with so much of its strength on land. An assault was, therefore, resolved on for the next day, an hour before sunrise, by two feigned and two real attacks. [297]

The only chance of success lay in the precise exe-

Chap. XIII.} 1779.
cution of the plan. The column under Count Dillon, which was to have attacked the rear of the British lines, became entangled in a swamp, of which it should only have skirted the edge, was helplessly exposed to the British batteries, and could not even be formed. It was broad day when the party with d'estaing, accompanied by a part of the Carolinians, advanced fearlessly, but only to become huddled together near the parapet under a destructive fire from musketry and cannon. The American standard was planted on the ramparts by Hume and by Bush, lieutenants of the second South Carolina regiment, but both of them fell; at their side Sergeant Jasper was mortally wounded, but he used the last moments of his life to bring off the colors which he supported. A French standard was also planted.

After an obstinate struggle of fifty-five minutes to carry the redoubt, the assailants retreated before a charge of grenadiers and marines, led gallantly by Maitland. The injury sustained by the British was trifling; the loss of the Americans was about two hundred; of the French thrice as many. D'Estaing was twice wounded; Pulaski once, and mortally. ‘The cries of the dying,’ so wrote the Baron de Stedingk to his king, Gustavus the Third of Sweden, ‘pierced me to the heart. I desired death, and might have found it, but for the necessity of thinking how to save four hundred men whose retreat was stopped by a broken bridge.’ He himself was badly wounded. At Paris, as he moved about on crutches, he became the delight of the highest social circles; and at one of the theatres he was personated on the stage, leading a party [298] to storm. The French withdrew to their ships and

Chap. XIII.} 1779.
sailed for France; the patriots of Georgia who had joined them fled to the backwoods or across the river.

Lincoln repaired to Charleston, and was followed by what remained of his army; the militia of South Carolina returned to their homes; its continental regiments were melting away; and its paper money became so nearly worthless, that a bounty of twentyfive hundred dollars for twenty-one months service had no attraction. The dwellers near the sea between Charleston and Savannah were shaken in their allegiance, not knowing where to find protection. Throughout the state the people were disheartened, and foreboded its desolation.

The permanence of the power of the British in the southern Atlantic states depended on their treatment of the negro. Now that they held Georgia and Beaufort in South Carolina, they might have gained an enduring mastery by emancipating and arming the blacks. But the idea that slavery was a sin against humanity was unknown to parliament and to the ministry, and would have been hooted at by the army. The thought of universal emancipation had not yet conquered the convictions of the ruling class in England, nor touched the life and conscience of the nation. The English of that day rioted in the lucrative slave-trade, and the zeal of the government in upholding it had been one of the causes that provoked the American war. So the advice to organize an army of liberated negroes, though persisted in by the royal governor of Virginia, was crushed by the mad eagerness of the British officers and soldiers in America for plunder! [299]

In this they were encouraged by the cordial ap-

Chap. XIII.} 1779.
probation of the king and his ministers. The instructions from Germain authorized the confiscation and sale not only of negroes employed in the American army, but of those who voluntarily followed the British troops and took sanctuary under British jurisdiction.5 Many of them were shipped to the markets of the West Indies.

Before the end of three months after the capture of Savannah, all the property, real and personal, of the rebels in Georgia, was disposed of.6 For further gains, Indians were encouraged to catch slaves wherever they could find them, and bring them in. All families in South Carolina were subjected to the visits of successive sets of banditti, who received commissions to act as volunteers with no pay or emolument but that derived from rapine, and who, roaming about at pleasure, robbed the widely scattered plantations without regard to the patriotism or the loyalty of their owners. Negroes were the spoil most coveted; on the average, they were valued at two hundred and fifty silver dollars each. When Sir James Wright returned to the government of Georgia, he found several thousands of them awaiting distribution among their claimants. The name of the British grew hateful, where it had before been cherished; their approach was dreaded as the coming of ruin; their greed quelled every hope of the slave for enfranchisement.

1 Germain to the officer commanding in West Florida, 1 July, 1778.

2 Germain to Clinton, most secret, 8 March, 1778.

3 Prevost to Clinton, 25 Sept., 1778.

4 Germain to Prevost, 13 March, 1779. Compare Ibid., 8 March, 1779.

5 Compare Germain to Governor Wright, 19 Jan., 1780.

6 Tonyn to Under-secretary Knox, 29 March, 1779.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide People (automatically extracted)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: