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Chapter 14:

The siege of Charleston.


South Carolina moved onward to independence
Chap. XIV.} 1779.
through the bitterest afflictions of civil war. Armies ere encouraged by the government in England to pillage and lay waste her plantations, and confiscate the property of the greatest part of her inhabitants. Families were divided; patriots outlawed and savagely assassinated; houses burned, and women and children driven shelterless into the forests; districts so desolated that they seemed the abode only of orphans and widows; and the retaliation provoked by the unrelenting rancor of loyalists threatened the extermination of her people. Left mainly to her own resources, it was through bloodshed and devastation and the depths of wretchedness that her citizens were to bring her back to her place in the republic by their own heroic courage and self-devotion, having suffered more, and dared more, and achieved more than the men of any other state. [301]

Sir Henry Clinton, in whose mind his failure be-

Chap. XIV.} 1779.
fore Charleston in 1776 still rankled, resolved in person to carry out the order for its reduction. In August, an English fleet commanded by Arbuthnot, an old and inefficient admiral, brought him reenforce-ments and stores; in September, fifteen hundred men arrived from Ireland; in October, Rhode Island was evacuated, and the troops which had so long been stationed there in inactivity were incorporated into his army. It had been the intention of Clinton to embark in time to acquire Charleston before the end of the year. The appearance of the superior fleet of d'estaing and the uncertainty of its destination held him at bay, till he became assured that the French had sailed for Europe.

Leaving the command in New York to the veteran Knyphausen, Clinton, in the extreme cold of the severest winter, embarked eight thousand five hundred officers and men; and on the day after Christmas, 1779, set sail for the conquest of South Carolina. The admiral led the van into the adverse current of the gulf stream; glacial storms scattered the fleet; an ordnance vessel foundered; American privateers

1780. Jan.
captured some of the transports; a bark, carrying Hessian troops, lost its masts, was driven by gales across the ocean, and broke in pieces just as it had landed its famished passengers near St. Ives in England. Most of the horses perished. Few of the transports arrived at Tybee in Georgia, the place of rendezvous, before the end of January. After the junction of the troops, Clinton had ten thousand men under his command; and yet he instantly ordered [302] from New York Lord Rawdon's brigade of eight reg-
Chap. XIV.} 1780. Jan.
iments, or about three thousand more.

Charleston was an opulent town of fifteen thousand inhabitants, free and slave, including a large population of traders and others, strongly attached to England and hating independence. The city, which was not deserted by its private families, had no considerable store of provisions. The paper money of the province was worth but five per cent of its nominal value. The town, like the country, was flat and low. On three sides it lay upon the water; and, for its complete investment, an enemy who commanded the sea needed only to occupy the neck between the Cooper and the Ashley rivers. It had neither citadel, nor fort, nor ramparts, nor stone, nor materials for building anything more than field-works of loose sand, kept together by boards and logs. The ground to be defended within the limits of the city was very extensive; and Lincoln commanded less than two

Feb. 3.
thousand effective men. On the third of February, 1780, the general assembly of South Carolina intrusted the executive of the state with power ‘to do all things necessary to secure its liberty, safety, and happiness, except taking away the life of a citizen without legal trial.’1 But the calls on the militia were little heeded; the defeat before Savannah had disheartened the people. The southern part of the state needed all its men for its own protection; the middle part was disaffected; the frontiers were menaced by savage tribes. Yet, without taking counsel of his officers, Lincoln, reluctant to abandon public property which he had not means to transport, [303] yielded to the threats and urgency of the inhabi-
Chap. XIV.} 1780. Feb. 26.
tants of Charleston, and remained in their city, which no experienced engineer regarded as tenable.

On the twenty-sixth, the British forces from the eastern side of St. John's island gained a view of the town, its harbor, the sea, and carefully cultivated plantations, which, after their fatigues, seemed to them a paradise. The best defence of the harbor was the bar at its outlet; and already on the twenty-

seventh, the officers of the continental squadron, which carried a hundred and fifty guns, reported their inability to guard it. ‘Then,’ wrote Washington, ‘the attempt to defend the town ought to have been relinquished.’ But Lincoln was intent only on strengthening its fortifications. Setting the example of labor, he was the first to go to work on them in the morning, and would not return till late in the evening. Of the guns of the squadron and its seamen he formed and manned batteries on shore, and ships were sunk to close the entrance to the Ashley river.

Clinton, trusting nothing to hazard, moved slowly along a coast intersected by creeks and checkered with islands. The delay brought greater disasters on the state. Lincoln used the time to draw into Charleston all the resources of the southern department of which he could dispose. ‘Collecting the whole force for the defence of Charleston,’ thought Washington, ‘is putting much to hazard. I dread the event.’2 But he was too remote to be heard in time. [304]

The period of enlistment of the North Carolina

Chap. XIV.} 1780. April 7.
militia having expired, most of them returned home. On the seventh of April, the remains of the Virginia line, seven hundred veterans, entered Charleston, having in twenty-eight days marched five hundred miles to certain captivity.

On the ninth, Arbuthnot, taking advantage of a

gentle east wind, brought his ships into the harbor, without suffering from Fort Moultrie or returning its fire. The next day, the first parallel being com-
pleted, Clinton and Arbuthnot summoned the town to surrender. Lincoln answered: ‘From duty and inclination I shall support the town to the last extremity.’

On the thirteenth, the American officers insisted

that Governor Rutledge should withdraw from Charleston, leaving Gadsden, the lieutenantgover-nor, with five of the council. On the same morning, Lincoln for the first time called a council of war, and, revealing to its members his want of resources, suggested an evacuation. ‘We should not lose an hour,’ said Mackintosh, ‘in attempting to get the continental troops over the Cooper river; for on their safety depends the salvation of the state.’ But Lincoln only invited them to consider the measure maturely, till the time when he should send for them again.3 Before he met them again, the Amercan cavalry, which kept up some connection between the town and the country, had been surprised and dispersed; Cornwallis had arrived with nearly three
thousand men from New York; and the British had occupied the peninsula from the Cooper to the [305] Wando; so that an evacuation was no longer pos-
Chap. XIV.} 1780. May 6.
sible. On the sixth of May, Fort Moultrie surrendered without firing a gun. That field intrenchments supported a siege for six weeks, was due to the caution of the besiegers more than to the vigor of the defence, which languished from an almost general disaffection of the citizens.4

On the twelfth, after the British had mounted can-

non in their third parallel, had crossed the wet ditch and advanced within twenty-five yards of the American works, ready to assault the town by land and water, Lincoln signed a capitulation. A proposal to allow the men of South Carolina, who did not choose to reside under British rule, twelve months to dispose of their property, was not accepted. The continental troops and sailors became prisoners of war until exchanged; the militia from the country were to return home as prisoners of war on parole, and to be secured in their property so long as their parole should be observed. All free male adults in Charleston, including the aged, the infirm, and even the loyalists, who a few days later offered their congratulations on the reduction of South Carolina, were counted and paroled as prisoners. In this vainglorious way Clinton could report over five thousand prisoners.

Less property was wasted than in the preceding year, but there was not less greediness for plunder. The value of the spoil, which was distributed by English and Hessian commissaries of captures, amounted to about three hundred thousand pounds sterling, so that the dividend of a major-general exceeded four [306] thousand guineas. There was no restraint on private

Chap. XIV.} 1780. May.
rapine; the silver plate of the planters was carried off; all negroes that had belonged to rebels were seized, even though they had themselves sought an asylum within the British lines; and at one embarkation two thousand were shipped to a market in the West Indies. British officers thought more of amassing fortunes than of reuniting the empire. The patriots were not allowed to appoint attorneys to manage or to sell their estates. A sentence of confiscation hung over the whole land, and British protection was granted only in return for the unconditional promise of loyalty.

For six weeks all opposition ceased in South Carolina. One expedition was sent by Clinton up the Savannah to encourage the loyal and reduce the disaffected in the neighborhood of Augusta; another proceeded for the like purpose to the district of Ninety-Six, where Williamson surrendered his post and accepted British protection; Pickens was reduced to inactivity; alone of the leaders of the patriot militia, Colonel James Williams escaped pursuit and preserved his freedom of action.5 A third and larger party under Cornwallis moved across the Santee towards Camden. The rear of the old Virginia line, commanded by Colonel Buford, arriving too late to re-enforce the garrison of Charleston, had retreated towards the north-east of the state. They were pur-

sued, and on the twenty-ninth of May were overtaken by Tarleton with seven hundred cavalry and mounted infantry. Buford did not surrender, yet gave no order to engage. He himself, a few who [307] were mounted, and about a hundred of the infantry,
Chap. XIV.} 1780. May.
saved themselves by a precipitate flight. The rest, making no resistance, sued for quarter. None was granted. A hundred and thirteen were killed on the spot; a hundred and fifty were too badly hacked to be moved; fifty-three only could be brought into Camden as prisoners. The tidings of this massacre carried through the southern forests mingled horror and anger; but Tarleton received from Cornwallis the highest encomiums.

The universal panic consequent on the capture of Charleston had suspended all resistance to the British army. The men of Beaufort, of Ninety-Six, and of Camden, had capitulated under the promise of security. They believed that they were to be treated as neutrals, or as prisoners on parole. There remained to them no possibility of flight with their families; and if they were inclined to take up arms, there was no American army around which they could rally.

The attempt was now made to crush the spirit of independence in the heart of a people of courage and honor, to drive every man of Carolina into active service in the British army, and to force the dwellers in the land of the sun, which ripened passions as fierce as the clime, to become the instruments of their own subjection.

On the twenty-second of May, confiscation of prop-

erty and other punishments were denounced against all who should thereafter oppose the king in arms, or hinder any one from joining his forces. On the first
June 1.
of June, a proclamation by the commissioners, Clinton and Arbuthnot, offered pardon to the penitent, on [308] their immediate return to allegiance; to the loyal,
Chap. XIV.} 1780. June 1.
the promise of their former political immunities, ineluding freedom from taxation except by their own legislature. This policy of moderation might have familiarized the Carolinians once more to the British government; but the proclamation was not communicated to Cornwallis; so that when, three weeks later, two leading men, one of whom had been in a high station and both principally concerned in the ‘rebellion,’ went to that officer to surrender themselves under its provisions, he could only answer that he had no knowledge of its existence.

On the third of June, Clinton, by a proclamation

which he alone signed, cut up British authority in Carolina by the roots. He required all the inhabitants of the province, even those outside of Charleston ‘who were now prisoners on parole,’ to take an active part in securing the royal government. ‘Should they neglect to return to their allegiance,’ so ran the proclamation, ‘they will be treated as rebels to the government of the king.’ He never reflected that many who accepted protection from fear or convenience did so in the expectation of living in a state of neutrality, and that they might say: ‘If we must fight, let us fight on the side of our friends, of our countrymen, of America.’ On the eve of his departure for New York, he reported to Germain: ‘The inhabitants from every quarter declare their allegiance to the king, and offer their services in arms. There are few men in South Carolina who are not either our prisoners or in arms with us.’

1 South Carolina, Statutes at Large, IV. 505.

2 Washington to Steuben in Writings of Washington, ed. Sparks, VII. 10.

3 Simms's South Carolina in the Revolution, 122.

4 John Laurens to his father, 25 May, 1780.

5 Fanning's Narrative, 11 and 12.

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