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

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