Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Francis Marion enters the picture: Part 8 Battle of Sullivan's Island

With this blog being named after Marion’s Brigade you would figure it would be about Marion. Well to be honest it is, but we had to set the tone for Marion to enter the picture and there are lots of interesting stories about the revolution in South Carolina that we want to share also. So we will try to blend the two at times and concentrate on one or the other at other times.

Francis Marion by the fall of 1775 was a respected elected official in South Carolina politics which had voted for independence and was an officer in the 2nd South Carolina. He was also an experienced militia soldier who had served as an enlisted member of South Carolina Provincial Calvary with his brother and as a lieutenant in the infantry fighting the Cherokee in the back country of South Carolina and Eastern Tennessee in two different wars serving with such men as William Moultrie, Andrew Pickens, and Peter Horry. This military experience served him well in the inner circles of planter aristocracy in Charleston where they selected him to become a captain in the 2nd South Carolina, serving under his old commander from fighting the Cherokees, William Moultrie.

He first is to see action when he was chosen along with two other highly recognized militia military leaders who had join the line infantry Captain Charles Cotesworth Pinckney and Captain Barnard Elliot to take Fort Johnson from the British on June 21st, 1775 by the South Carolina Council of Safety. However, Marion and his men did not take part on the assault against Fort Johnson, which was not defended, since Lord Campbell had already left it earlier and spiked the cannons to keep them out of Patriot use. Marion and his men were still off loading at the transport when the others decide to attack because of  fear of alerting the fort to their presence. With Marion being selected for this assignment it shows just how highly he was thought of in early South Carolina military circles.

After the taking of Fort Johnson the Patriots started to build up defenses in the harbor proper to eject Lord Campbell and the two British ships which he maintained in the harbor to try to keep some control of the colony and to rally Loyalist support to the crown which never materialized. As a result a military depot to store powered, munitions, cannons, and important papers was established at the old fort at the town of Dorchester thirty miles up the Ashley River from Charleston. This fortification  was built in 1757 to protect a brick powder magazine and surrounded by a tabby wall for extra protection during the French and Indian War. As the supplies built up the fears of Loyalist coming from the back country of South Carolina to take the material there increased. As a result Moultrie sent Marion on November 19th, 1775 to Dorchester with command of his company and Captain Huger’s to secure the tabby fort there and make it ready for any possible attack. This was accomplished by Marion without incident and he remanded at Dorchester for some months protecting the very valuable material stored at this site.

The order reads as follows

Dated: November 19, 1775

"To Captain Francis Marion

     You are to proceed with all expeditions with yours, and Cap. Huger's companies to Dorchester, to reinforce the troops there, and to take specialcare in guarding and defending the cannon, gunpowder, and public records at that place. you are to take command of the whole of the troops at that place, till further orders. You are to apply to the commottee in Dorchester, for a sufficient number of negroes in the public service, to remove the cannon lying by the water-side to a spot more safe, and convenient, near the fort or bacrraks, etc.

Willaim Moultrie"

In late January or early February Marion and his detachment was ordered to Fort Johnson on James Island and then to Haddrell’s Point where a battery was nearing completion by the Continental forces while Moultrie and most of the 2nd South Carolina was starting in earnest to build the main fortifications on Sullivans Island. While at the fortifications at Haddrell’s Point, Marion was promoted to Major in the 2nd South Carolina and took his place as second in command to Moultrie. Once this occurred he along with his detachment transferred to Sullivans Island to help with the work on the fortifications there.

So in early June 1776, we find Francis Marion, a Major in the 2nd South Carolina and second in command of the major fortification on the South Eastern side of the island ready to meet their fate against the British Empire.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

South Carolina’s Navy at the Battle of Sullivan's Island part 7

South Carolina Navy Jack

                                                                                           Defence in action by Conner
On September the fifth, 1775 the South Carolina Provincial Congress ordered three ships for the defense of Charleston Harbor. The ships would provide the back bone for the newly formed South Carolina Navy. This was a time period where each state still provided for its own defense with assistance from other states. As a result each state provided its own army and navy, thus the South Carolina Navy was born in Charleston to defend the harbor. The South Carolina Navy went into action with three ships at first the Defence, Hibernia, and Hawke with a forth Prosper coming on line in December of 1775. These ships provide escort, helped with troop movements, patrolled the South Carolina coast looking for prize opportunities, and helping to secure the harbor. On November the 12th, 1775 the Defence got into the first navel fight of the short history of the South Carolina Navy when it was trying to sink old hulks as obstacles near Hog Island channel to block British ships from attempting to enter the harbor through this channel. The SC Navy Defence traded shots with the HMS Cherokee and HMS Tamar for three hours as she helped place the hulks for sinking in the channel. Fort Johnson with the First South Carolina tried to join the battle but the distance was to far for its cannons and it stopped firing after the shots if fired were not able to reach its targets. These are the same ships that Royal Gov. Campbell was on trying to keep royal control over South Carolina through. The exchange causes no real harm to either of the forces with Defence taking three minor hits, but it did show South Carolina was not ready to back down.

Defence vs Tamar and Cherokee by Conner
On January 10th, 1776 the Defence was the ship selected to carry the troops selected to form the battery on Sullivans Island to the island. After she got the men and material off board safely she then stayed near the island to provide protection to the work force as they began to build the first primitive battery on the island.

Also in the spring of 1776, the Defence and a newly commissioned ship in the South Carolina Navy the Comet began patrolling the coast of South Carolina collecting some prizes for the new navy. This was accomplished while they were also watching out for the British Fleet that was rumored to be heading from Boston to the South. In late May, both of the ships returned to Charleston at different times bring with them captured prizes. Defence was able to bring her prize into the port safely while Comet ended up with her prize grounded as two British ships gave her chase. 

This action in late May ended the open ocean role of the South Carolina Navy as the British Fleet blockaded the harbor on June 2nd. Upon their arrival closing up the harbor until the battle was decided. The new role of the fleet was to help with troop movements around the harbor, to become floating batteries, and to refit while they were in port if supplies were available. Two of the ships that would play a role in the defense of Sullivans Island would be the Defence and Prosper.

The unified defence plan of Charleston which included the harbor and the town called for the navy to place the Defence and the Prosper in key positions in the harbor to offer support to the main two forts. The Prosper would be placed close to James Island near Fort Johnson and the Defence would be placed near Hog Island channel to offer support to the battery on Haddrell's Point and the fort on Sullivans Island.

Thus, once the Royal Navy shows up outside the harbor, the unified defence plan is put into action and the South Carolina Navy gets ready for action.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The British finalize their plans; Battle of Sullivans Island part 6

At the start of June, General Clinton and Admiral Parker had made their way to Charleston harbor with their combined task force of navy and army personnel. This was an impressive force with over 50 ships of all sizes descriptions preparing for their attack on Charleston. The fleet included 52 ships including HMS Bristol (Flagship, 50 guns), HMS Experiment (50 guns), HMS Actaeon, HMS Active, HMS Solebay, HMS Syren, HMS Sphinx, HMS Friendship, HMS Lady Williams, bomb vessel HMS Thunder, transports, supply ships and others with totaling around 300 heavy navel guns. The ground component of the task force was divided up into 2 brigades. The First Brigade was commanded by Lt. Col James Webster with the Light Infantry Companies of the 4th, 15th, 28th, 33rd, 44th, 46th, 54th, 57th, and the 28th and 37th full regiments of the line.

The Second Brigade was commanded by Col. Charles Earl Cornwallis with the 15th, 33rd, 46th, 54,  57th Regiments of the Line, the 1st Royal Marine Regiment, and the 84th also referred to as the “Young Highlanders” or “Royal Highlander Emigrant Regiment”, a provincial regiment that was supposed to come to full strength in North Carolina until the Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge ended that hope with the defeat of the Scottish provincial recruits there. The British Army had committed over 2,800 men to this expedition, first against New Bern in North Carolina and now against Charleston in South Carolina, once the North Carolina expedition was cancelled. The artillery component of the army was manned by the Number 1, 2, and 4 companies of the Royal Artillery manning ten guns.

With this combined task force, Admiral Parker and General Clinton along with thier staffs went over possible plans of attack to take Sullivans Island and to seal Charleston Harbor off to the outside World with a mighty blow from the King’s Army and Navy. As early as middle May Admiral Parker had been getting reports from the ships he had sent to Charleston Harbor to gather intelligence about the harbor and its defenses that the harbor was being fortified. In these reports he received information about Fort Johnson and other works being built up by the rebels. The one that got the most attention was the fortification being built on Sullivans Island, where it was being reported that a substantial fortification was being built there to control the northern entrance to the harbor. Clinton and Parker agreed that if Sullivans Island could be taken that they could shut down Charleston Harbor to all trade and could tie down a large rebel force that would have to either try to remove the British from Sullivans Island if they took it or would have to act as a holding force to prevent the British from attacking other points on the coast from a base on Sullivans Island. The key to this is, understanding that taking Charleston was never an option for the British. They did not have the man power to take Charleston proper nor the ability to raise Loyalist to come to their aid in the initial fight in trying to take the town proper. One of the key advisers for this plan of shutting down the harbor was Royal Gov. Lord Campbell who was able to with two Royal ships the HMS Tamer and HMS Cherokee to prevent shipping in the harbor until he left in the fall of 1775. If the British were able to accomplish this it would have been a major blow to the commerce of the Patriots but also the production and distribution of war material.

The initial plan was being ironed out once the British Fleet moved into Five Fathom Hole in Charleston Harbor a safe part of the harbor out of range of Patriot artillery and summer storms on the open sea. Admiral Parker wanted to do a combined attack with the Royal Navy and Royal Army affecting a “coup de main” against the unfinished fortifications on the island. To accomplish this he was going to use the heavy artillery of the fleet to reduce the fort while General Clinton used the flat boats of the fleet to land on the Northern side of the island during the navel bombardment. After the army landed in the small boats under Parker's plan they were to fight their way across the island to the back of the fort and gain entrance from the unfinished part of the fort. Thus taking control of the fort and sealing off the harbor for the British. General Clinton had another idea of how to take the fortification on Sullivans Island. His plan was to land his men on Long Island and have them charge over from Long Island to Sullivans Island across Breach Inlet which according to his intelligence or lack thereof was only 18 inches deep at low tide. Thus he would be able to deploy his field artillery to cover his advance against the rebels across the inlet as his troops splashed across the water and towards the unfinished fort. This would reduce the risk of boats over turning in the surf full of troops during an attack and would allow his men to first disembark from the fleet with little trouble and allow organization on the beach before the attack. Once across the inlet as with Parkers' plan they would head to the back of the unfinished fort and take it from the rear. The plus and the minus of the each plan were discussed by the staffs of each officer and by the two primary officers at some length once the fleet was anchored in the harbor. The final decision was made to go with Clinton’s plan of landing at Long Island and attacking from a base camp there.

On June the 9th the plan was put into action as General Clinton with elements of his army began to land on Long Island securing it against no resistance and establishing a temporary camp there to prepare for the assault against Sullivans Island.

  The next article will be on the thunder before the storm

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The final touches to the Charleston Defense; Part 5 Battle of Sullivan's Island

At the end of May 1776 the British fleet began to move down the coast of North Carolina into South Carolina towards Charleston. As they did this they did not try to hide their movements as they proceeded southward staying alongside the coast most of the way. As a result the Patriots were able to send riders to the capital with the size of the British Fleet and updates of its location along the coast. Examples of this coastal watch program are noted by Gov. Rutledge in written exchanges between himself and patriot officers in the harbor such as Col. Moultrie and Brigadier General John Armstrong who had been named the head of the defenses of Charleston. General Armstrong was an experienced soldier from Pennsylvania who had won praise in the French and Indian War as a commander of Pennsylvania troops and was also an engineer who had began to organize and build the defenses in Charleston. The information gathered and shared by these men told of the British fleet being around forty ships and their location as they came past each parish and safe harbor such as Bulls Bay near Georgetown, North of Charleston.

As the news spread of the impending British Fleet movement’s people began to flee Charleston and head inland to other homes and anywhere where they could safely move their families to. Charleston began at the first of June to resemble a military post rather than one of the busiest commercial harbors in North America with most of the foreign and commercial vessels leaving port and going to safe harbors in the Caribbean and towards Savannah to await the outcome of the impending battle. Also at the start of June, Gov. Rutledge ordered all of the outlying Parish Militia to turn out and to report to Charleston with all speed. This call to the county side was headed by the local and backwoods Parish militia and they started to report in piecemeal to the capital for its defense. For most of this militia it was their first time to Charleston and they were greeted with open arms for the by the Low Country rice gentry who had previously always had looked down on their unwashed cousins from the woods such as the Scotch-Irish, Dutch, and German settelers. You can only imagine what the scene was on the roads to and from Charleston as the town folks from Charleston were heading inland on their buggies and carts with their valuables as the back woods men with their buckskin shirts and hunting rifles passed each other on the roads.

Also starting at the first of June with the sighting of the fleet moving toward Charleston every slave and able body man went to work around the clock on the defenses in Charleston. This building of additional fortifications or finishing fortifications was on the Islands of James and Sullivans, the town proper, and other key points in the harbor.

By June the 7th most of the British fleet had moved into Charleston Harbor and was heading to an anchorage known as Five Fathom Hole in the outer harbor. From this point they could clearly see the fortifications on James and Sullivans Island and began to finalize their plan of attack on Charleston without fear of Patriot interference.

On June the 8th General Charles Lee arrives in Charleston from Williamsburg, Virginia with troops from Virginia and North Carolina and took command of its defense from General John Armstrong who then became the second in command. This change of command was made with the British sitting in the outer harbor with an attack emanate to the Patriots at any moment that the tides and winds were favorable to the British. Charles Lee was born and raised in England and came to the American causes with vast military experiences with the British Army having served in the French and Indian War as a lieutenant and with the 44th Regiment of Foot as a captain. He also has served as a soldier of fortune for the King of Poland before moving to America in 1773 to settle in Virginia. He was considered a military treasure by most of the Patriots from New England to the South. His vast military knowledge made him on par with Washington in the eyes of his new country. So with his arrival in Charleston it made its defenders feel even more confident than before knowing they had a commander with vast amounts of knowledge and experience to help defend their city. Also behind General Lee were a few more troops making their way through North Carolina from Virginia to further aid the defense.

Once General Lee meet with Gov. Rutledge and the Council he took over the defense of Charleston officially and began to examine the defenses. During this process he had some defenses torn down, some built up, and others moved to better effect a defense in Charleston. His biggest issue was with the fortification on Sullivans Island that Col. Moultrie and the 2nd South Carolina along with slaves and other workers were trying to finish with work around the clock under the direction of French engineer Baron Massenbourg . When Lee went to Sullivans Island he found the fort unfinished and his mind undependable. He went so far as to utter a now famous description of the fort as a “slaughter pen” and wanted to remove the troops and cannon from Sullivans Island to be disbursed in other defense positions in the harbor. This idea was floated to Gov. Rutledge and his council where the answer came back a resounding no to leaving the fortification on Sullivans Island. You must remember the Continental Army was still in its infancy and it needed the states support to exist. The states wrote the checks for the army under the Articles of Confederation, but they did not give up their rights. So the first political question came up to General Lee should he try to order the troops off the island or should he give into local authorities? General Lee chose to give in to Gov. Rutledge, but with strings. He ordered as many troops off the island as he could without alarming the local government and removing as much powder as he could also. Thus if the British were able to overrun the island and fortification Lee would limit his initial loses in men and material. Another concern for Lee was the plan for evacuation of the fortification and other island defenses if the British were able to land successfully on the island. While all of this political move and counter move was happening in the city the British Fleet was making preparations for their attack of Charleston just outside of the harbor, but still visible to the Patriots.

General Lee found out that there were not enough boats that could be left on stand by ready for an evacuation of the Sullivans Island or any plans for doing so. As a result Lee ordered a floating bridge from Mount Pleasant be built using barrels as the floating bases for boards to be put across for the troops to escape or reinforce as needed. This bridge was not stable or safe and troops asked to cross over it refused to on the grounds they were in fear for their lives.

Another defense position that Lee found on Sullivans Island was a small fortification being built by a French engineer who had donated his services to the American cause, Captain Ferdinand de Braham that would play a major role in the battle. This fortification was made out of palmetto logs, sand, and some say tabby structure was located on the North East side of the island and it was guarding Breach Inlet which stands between Sullivans Island and Long Island (later renamed Isle of Palms). The purpose of this fortification originally was to prevent small British ships from entering the harbor through Breach Inlet thus getting behind Sullivans Island and making their way into the harbor proper. The ships that could get through this breach would have to be very shallow drafted ships to make it clear and were not considered much threat from this point, however a defensive position was placed there for safety sake. This position was commanded by Col. William Thomson of the 3rd South Carolina Ranger Regiment. This regiment was formed for the defense of the back country of South Carolina by the men of this region. It was formed as a mounted regiment that would fight on foot so that its members could carry a fight to the natives, Loyalist, or other threats with all the speed they could muster. This regiment was accompanied by a detachment of the 4rth South Carolina lead by a Lt. Mitchell (the artillery regiment) to man the 18lb and 6lb guns, Col. Clark with his 1st North Carolina Regiment, Col. Daniel Horry with South Carolina militia, a company of Catawba Indians and other local tribes which had joined this company lead by Captain Boykin, and a company of riflemen calling themselves the Raccoon Company lead by Captain Allston bringing the total to around 750 men at this point. The men at this position also had a 6lb cannon and an 18lb cannon for the defense of Breach Inlet. Fortifications of some type were built to shield the men and the cannon from the expected British attack by ship. This position was referred to as the “Advance Guard” by the Patriots. Just a quick note this position was built before the British landed on Long Island as a deterrent to ships so please keep this in mind as we look at events as they unfold.

On June the 8th the entire British Fleet had entered the outer parts of Charleston Harbor and was resting in Five Fathom Hole. It was at this point that General Clinton sent a message to the defenders of Charleston to surrender. This was rejected by Gov. Rutledge without any discussion and thus the stage is set for the Battle of Sullivans Island in Charleston Harbor.

On June the 9th the British started to land in large numbers on Long Island and began to set up camp and to put pickets across Breach Inlet form the Patriot Advance Guard position on Sullivans Island. The two enemies were now separated by Breach Inlet which the Americans knew to be at least seven feet deep at low tide and which the British were about to learn the same.

According to Chief Justice of South Carolina at the time of the attack William Henry Drayton through his noted that his son John Drayton published at the time of the British attack o Charleston was defended by “6,500 men coming from 1,400 Continentals from North Carolina; 500 Continentals from Virginia; 1,950 Continentals form South Carolina; 700 Charleston militia; 1,972 Parish militia.” It will become very interesting to see how very few of these troops though never fired a shot in the battle to defend Charleston.

The next article will be the British plan of attack.