Siege of Charleston
Background: Southern Theatre
In 1778, the British Commander-in-Chief in America Lt. General Henry Clinton turned his attention to the South, where partisan fighting between Patriot militia and Tories had been heavy. Clinton had been there once before on June 28, 1776 when Colonel William Moultrie had defeated Clinton and Commodore Sir Peter Parker at the Battle of Fort Sullivan. The British had tried to approach Charleston by water and had failed to reach the city proper.
General Clinton and the British goverment back in London believed that if the British controlled the South, Tories would flock to support the British and Clinton would be able to overwhelm General George Washington in Virginia. During the winter of 1778-1779, the British took control of Georgia including the cities of Savannah and Augusta. They soon began planning the capture of the important port city of Charleston, South Carolina.
In response to the loss of Georgia in December 1778, the Continental Congress replaced native North Carolinean Maj. General Robert Howe with Bostonian Maj. General Benjamin Lincoln as Southern Department Commander. Lincoln had proven to be an able motivator of militia. But that was New England militia, he would not have nearly as much success with Carolina militia. Lincoln's first task was to retake Georgia.
On May 11, 1779, General Lincoln reoccupied Augusta, Georgia. In September, he was joined by French Admiral d'Estaing in laying siege to Savannah. The British held out for a month. In October, D'Estaing abandoned the siege and sailed south to the West Indies for the winter. Without naval support, Lincoln was forced to give up the siege and return to Charleston, South Carolina.
Background: The British Sail South
In December 1779, General Clinton sailed himself sailed south bound for Charleston from New York City. The British fleet included ninety troopships and fourteen warships with more than 8,500 soldiers and 5,000 sailors. Because they had been delayed several months in leaving, the fleet now sailed through stormy seas. The first storm hit on December 27 and lasted three days. On January 1, 1780 another storm hit and lasted six days. This pattern continued and the fleet was separated.
After having been separated by constant storms about two-thirds of the British fleet had regrouped. However, they found themselves off the coast of Florida and had to sail back north. They went as far as Georgia where a diversionary infantry force was put ashore on February 4, 1780. The cavalry commanded by Lt. Colonel Banastre Tarleton and including Major Patrick Ferguson also went ashore to find new mounts. During the voyage the horses had to be put overboard, because of serious injuries like broken legs.
General Clinton then continued sailing north with the main body of his force. Back in 1776, Clinton had deferred to Admiral Sir Peter Parker whose choice of approach directly into Charleston Harbor had been a disaster. Clinton had learned his lesson from that defeat and chose to land his forces thirty miles south of Charleston and approach overland. While the army marched overland, the ships would sail up the rivers delivering provisions as necessary. The first men were put ashore on February 11, 1780.
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