Battle of Fort Sullivan
Battle of Fort Sullivan

In April 1775, the war had started in Lexington and Concord. In May, the British had taken Bunker Hill (actually Breed's Hill) in Boston after absorbing tremendous losses. The American campaign of 1775-1776 in Canada had peaked just prior to the Battle of Quebec and had ended in retreat, but the lower (Southern) Colonies had forced the royal governors to flee. Maj. General Sir William Howe evacuated Boston in March 1776 and relocated to Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Following Bunker Hill, the British now knew they had a real fight on their hands. New York City became the focus of British interest, because it would split New England from the rest of the colonies. However, the British decided to first make a quick campaign through the South. The British government back home had been convinced by the Royal Governors of the Southern colonies that there were great numbers of Tories ready to flock the King's banner if the British Army exerted its presence.

The British believed it would a simple matter to capture the Southern port cities of Savannah, Georgia and Charleston, South Carolina. This would eliminate the Rebels there, swell the army's ranks with Tory volunteers and leave only Virginia and New England to be subjugated. They would then capture New York City and control the Hudson River-Lake Champlain corridor and further isolate the Rebels.

In January 1776 before he had evacuated Boston, General Howe had ordered Maj. General Henry Clinton to sail south to Cape Fear, North Carolina. There, Clinton was supposed to rendezvous with Commodore Sir Peter Parker who was sailing from Cork, Ireland with seven regiments of the British Army commanded by Lt. General Charles Cornwallis. Tory forces were also expected to march from inland North Carolina to join Clinton at Cape Fear.

This combined force would then march into North Carolina and then sweep south to Charleston, South Carolina. However, at the Battle of Moore's Creek Bridge on February 27, 1776, a Tory force was defeated by Rebel militia and chased back home. This defeat also dissuade other Tories from turning out. On March 12, Clinton arrived at Cape Fear to find no Tory forces. Commodore Parker and his ships began to arrive in mid-April after being scattered by storms. The last ship finally straggled in May 31.

Now that their Tory support had not turned out, General Clinton and Commodore Sir Peter Parker had to decide what to do. They debated between Virginia by way of Chesapeake Bay or a naval approach to Charleston through the Harbor. Clinton seemed to favor Virginia, while Parker favored attacking Charleston.

Then intelligence was received that the fortifications at Fort Sullivan in Charleston Bay were incomplete and vulnerable. Parker now chose Charleston and Clinton went along. Fort Sullivan, which resided on Sullivan's Island, was commanded by Colonel William Moultrie and had been for several months. Included among his officers, were Francis Marion and Thomas Sumter, who had yet to gain their fame.

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