On February 4, 1780, a diversionary infantry force was put ashore in Georgia. 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. Lt. General Henry Clinton had chosen to land his forces thirty miles south of Charleston and approach overland.
The first men, English and Hessian Grenadiers and the 33rd Regiment of Foot, were put ashore on February 11, 1780, on the southern tip of John's Island. On February 14, these men set out in search of Stono Ferry, which was the crossing point to James Island. Later that day, they found the river, but the other bank with fortified and manned by militia. The British retreated without taking fire from the Americans. The next day they discovered that the Americans had since deserted their position.
On February 24th, fortifications were completed at Stono Ferry and the British crossed over to James Island the next day. There was a Continental presence on the island. French Chevalier Pierre-François Vernier commanded the cavalry, while Francis Marion commanded the American infantry. They had been observing the British movements for several days. On February 26th, they attacked a returning British scavenging patrol as it passed down a narrow way. The German Jägers came to their rescue and drove Vernier off.
In spite of the Continental presence and continued skirmishing with Chevalier Vernier and his cavarly, the British gained control of James Island by March 1st. After a month on March 10, 1780, General Clinton's second-in-command Lt. General Charles Cornwallis finally led the main force onto the mainland at Wappoo Cut. On March 11th, naval ships finally came up the Stono River and delivered much needed supplies.
From March 11 until the 21th the British fortified their position which was located where the Wappoo Creek flowed into the Ashley River. They mounted artillery to shell American ships and keep the Ashley River secure. They then moved upstream and north, away from Charleston, slowly securing the plantations along the way while the Americans shadowed them from across the river.
Under the cover of fog on March 29th, the British crossed the Ashley River upstream from the heavily fortified Ashley Ferry and established themselves on Charleston Neck. When the Americans learned that the British were on the Neck, they abandoned their breastworks at Ashley Ferry. By April 1st, the British had moved down into position to begin their siege works.
While the British slowly closed in, naval maneuvering in Charleston Harbor for the Americans was a disaster. In December 1779, four frigates had arrived under the command of Commodore Abraham Whipple and were joined by four ships from South Carolina and two French ships. There were 260 guns afloat and forty guns at Fort Moultrie. However, even before the British arrived, Whipple informed Maj. General Benjamin Lincoln that the flotilla could not defend the entrance to Charleston Harbor. General Lincoln questioned Commodore Whipple's conclusion, but Whipple was backed up by a naval board. Whipple chose to first withdraw to the mouth of the Cooper River. Meanwhile the British began their approach on March 20th. When Whipple saw the size of the British attack fleet, he scuttled the ships at the entrance of the river.
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