Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Battle of Stono Ferry June 20th, 1779 Part 1

         The Battle of Stono Ferry is an end result of the second battle of Charleston. The second battle of Charleston has not drawn much attention as the first Battle of Charleston with the heroic siege of the fort built out of palmetto logs has in history with names such as Marion, Jasper, and Moultrie that now grace the history books. The story of the heroic little fort standing up to the might of the British army and navy during the first battle of Charleston and thus giving the United States even before the Declaration of Independence was signed their first great victory against the British. This historic victory is still celebrated in South Carolina unofficially as Carolina Day in Charleston with a parade and other events. The third battle of Charleston was one of sorrow and disgrace as the entire American army of the South under the leadership of General Lincoln surrendered to Cornwallis and his army without honor. This third battle stripped the South of any Continentals until Gates came South for his ill fated battle at Camden. Of course this battle did allow South Carolina’s heroes such as Marion, Pickens, and Sumter to come to center stage, which is a discussion for a different day.

       The Battle of Stono Ferry was basically a major rear guard action as the British General Prevost was heading back to Savannah after his failed attempt to bluff Charleston into surrendering which almost worked. While General Lincoln and the Southern Continental Army were near Augusta trying to bring that area into Continental control Prevost saw an opportunity to relieve the pressure on Augusta by driving his force into South Carolina from his base in Savannah and towards Charleston. His thoughts were that once Lincoln saw this threat he would leave his Augusta operations and race back to Charleston for its defenses which were very light consisting primarily of General Moultrie with a few Continentals and local militia. On this initial feint against Charleston to relieve pressure on Augusta, Prevost came to a realization on the march. Lincoln was not doing as expected; instead he was staying around Augusta and not racing back to Charleston. This lack of interest by Lincoln gave Prevost a great opportunity if he was daring enough to take it. The opportunity was to take Charleston while the primary defense force was too far away to assist. To Prevost credit, he took the chance and started to race towards Charleston with all speed capturing other smaller ports such as Beaufort and Port Royal along the way. Once at the gates of Charleston with no siege equipment or significant forces to storm Charleston, General Prevost did what had gotten him to the gates of Charleston, he tried to bluff the city into surrender. Sadly enough this almost worked since the city leaders were willing to put Charleston into a sort of neutrality until the war of Independence was decided. This has been debated by many as either this was a ruse to stall for Lincoln and his force to raise the siege or a real proposal for neutrality to save the business of Charleston. The bottom line is that the debate inside the walls was real and heated between the local government and General Moultrie the hero of the first battle of Charleston to decide the fate of the city. The good news was that the decision was made for them once General Lincoln and his army started to race towards the relief of Charleston. This was the result of Lincoln finally and almost too late to rescue the crown jewel of the South from British control. So after two days Prevost lifted the siege and decided to return to Savannah with his army in tow. The only question now was how he was going to accomplish this. He had two main ways to accomplish this, the first was to return the way he had come or by the islands that dot the coast of South Carolina and Georgia all the way to Savannah. There were two problems that caused him to not choose the first option. The first was the Continental army which was now bearing down on him with the militia turning out in force to extract him and his force out of South Carolina by force of battle. Prevost could not risk losing his army in a major battle because as a result Savannah would be lost back to the Americans and the British Southern strategy would be lost. The other problem was that on the way from Savannah to Charleston he had stripped the land he passed of food and material to keep his army moving towards Charleston. On the way back this way he would have little food stuffs to feed his army since they had just travelled this way. So the choice he made was a daring one, he would retreat back to Savannah with his army via the coastal islands using the water ways as a means to transport his troops through as General MacArthur during World War Two would refer to as “island hoping”. The second result of this route was that he could use the water ways as defensive positions to help keep the American Army in check since they did not have any real navel support as he to interfere with the crossings. The other advantage of this move was that it allowed the Royal Navy to help keep him supplied and protected. Thus we are now at the battle of Stono Ferry.

1 comment:

  1. There were major and minor battles, skirmishes, raids, and feints going on constantly. Thanks for the info on Stono Ferry. I just posted a couple of first hand accounts of the action at The History Carper