Monday, August 23, 2010

Clinton’s Decision on Long Island; Part 11 Battle of Sullivan's Island

On June 18th, Clinton was sitting on Long Island trying to figure out how to attack the rebels on Long Island with boats instead of dashing across the inlet at low tide on foot. The fact that the inlet was seven feet deep at low tide, instead of eighteen inches deep at low tide was a fact that totally scrapped the plans of Parker and Clinton for a joint attack. Now Clinton was trying to come up a feasible new plan that would not risk his entire force in attacking Sullivan’s Island. He also knew that he and his force would soon be expected to report back to General Howe to help in the planned invasion of New York. The key question is what he could do now to deploy his troops to secure Sullivan’s Island with the smallest risk.

This was still going to be a joint army and navy operation with the main objective being the capture of Sullivan’s Island, but the question now is how to best pull it off with the clock ticking to get the mission accomplished. With the new intelligence in hand, Clinton had several factors to look at to make the new plan of attack. The first of these factors being the intelligence of the area that his forces would be landing on. Clinton knew the northern end of the island had heavy surf which would make landing difficult at best under the best conditions. Landing in open boats full of men and their equipment at the northern end of the island that was guarded by two artillery pieces and dug in infantry would be suicide. His boats full of men would have to pass this rebel position to attack Sullivan’s Island at a different landing area exposed to artillery and rifle fire as they rowed pass to a different landing site further south on the island. The second would be the location of the rebels on the island so as to discern where to best land his troops against the least resistance. By now the information he had was of the position across Breach Inlet, the unfinished fort at the southern end of the island, and a new earth work being built half way across the island manned by in his estimation thousands of troops. The third would be the rebel’s response time to his landing so as to get his troops ashore before the rebels could mass to meet the British as they came ashore. The fourth would be how many men he could land at one time on shore and start their attack on the fort as the Navy bombarded it. The answer to that question is that at the absolute most he could get at one time were seven hundred men on shore and then the boats would have to leave to get a second wave, leaving those troops exposed until the second wave could be rowed back. The fifth question being; how to best use his artillery assets and the Royal Navy to cover his landing in open boats. On land he had six cannon, four mortars and at sea he had three warships with HMS Ranger being on the Atlantic side and HMS Lady Williams and anther sloop being on Hamilton Creek with sixteen cannon among them. The problem with his artillery being that he could gain no advantage against the dug in rebels across the inlet even with placing artillery on Green Island and an oyster bank for better angles to fire at them. Also the Royal Navy could do no better because of the limited movement on the creek.

The more Clinton and his staff went over the options of attack the less Clinton liked his chances at getting across to Sullivan’ Island from Long Island. He and his staff even started looking at trying to land on the main land at Mount Pleasant to try to different rebel attention from the main action by the Royal Navy hoping to cause the rebels to abandon the fort and leave the island without a direct assault. This plan was also difficult because of the marshes and pluff mud that surrounds Mount Pleasant on the coast. Time and again Clinton sent letters to Admiral Parker and aides to try to come up with a plan of coordinated attack. This occurred for several days until Clinton decided on a course of action that finalized the plan of attack on Sullivan’s Island.

He decided that the army would wait and seek whatever opportunities that came available to them during the navel bombardment of the fort. In other words, if he could attack he would, but he would give no formal plans of how or where until he saw how the bombardment was going. He did ask for the Royal Navy to get some ships behind the fort in the cove behind Sullivan’s Island to cover his boats from that side if practical, to cover his amphibious force better. Thus he shifted the success of the operation to the Royal Navy and their ability to rain down lead on the fort and destroy it from the sea which Admiral Parker took on with pleasure.

Thus on June 21st the Royal Crown has a new plan of attack and are waiting to spring it on the rebels who have been bringing in more troops and quickly building up their defenses as the British were debating on how to redesign their attack against Charlestown.

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