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.
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.