Monday, August 9, 2010

General Clinton on Long Island; Battle of Sullivan's Island Part 10

On June the 9th, 1776 General Clinton and his advance force of between 500-700 men land on Long Island. When they set foot on Long Island they were the first British troops to try to bring the British Southern Strategy to life. As they landed they began to secure the island and to prepare for their assault against Sullivan’s Island across Breach Inlet at low tide as they planed aboard their ships.

As the troops fanned out across the island they found no resistance to their landing and securing the island for the Crown. General Lee of the patriot forces in Charleston upon hearing of the British initial landings late in the day sent orders to General Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island to send over troops to harass the landing. Since General Moultrie did not receive the orders till after 8PM he decided that it would be best to wait until the next morning on the 10th before sending troops over to Long Island. During the night of the ninth the troops of the Fifth South Carolina under Col. Isaac Huger and the Sixth South Carolina under Thomas Sumter rifle regiments left their camps at Haddrell’s point on Mount Pleasant and went over to Sullivan’s Island to prepare to go attack the British on Long Island on the morning of the tenth. However General Lee had a change of heart and cancelled the previous orders to send troops over to Long Island and had them return to Haddrell’s point instead on the tenth.

On the tenth of June the British threat to Charleston had became all too real to the local government and military officials. On this date the South Carolina government ordered buildings destroyed at the port to make way for artillery placements and for other obstructions that could slow the British if they were to reach the city of Charleston. The town was in uproar and all those who could leave and had not done so on this date made their exit. Rutledge and the Council of Safety had declared martial law and it was in effect in full force now in Charleston. Also General Lee was at this point making a mad dash tour of the defenses of Charleston to try to make them as ready as possible for the coming British attack. His biggest concern was still the fort on Sullivan’s Island where he was trying to still convince the locals to abandon at this point. Also riders were sent out to hurry along any other regiments that were on the road to Charleston to make all speed to its defense such as the 8th Virginia under the command of Col. Muhlenberg.

Once the British Army and the British Marines finished securing the island they started to prepare for the rest of the army to land on Long Island. The main force landed between June 16th and 18th riding in long boats through the surf with men, cannon, and other military supplies. This build up was watched very carefully by the Patriots at Breach Inlet at the Advance post under the command of Lt. Col. Thompson. As the British began the buildup of troops and stores they began to send observation parties to different parts of the island to observe Patriot movements and defenses. Once such party was assigned getting intelligence back to General Clinton about the Patriot defenses across the Breach where they reported back that they had two cannon and defensive land works up across Breach Inlet. This Patriot force directly across from the British at Breach Inlet guaranteed it would be no walk in park as the British splashed across the inlet at low tide as planned.

The Royal Artillery had landed its cannon and were no doubt preparing to provide cover fire for the troops as they dashed through the inlet and raced across Sullivan’s Island to take the unfinished fort as the Royal Navy pounds the fort with its big guns.

All  was going according to plan for Clinton and Parker as the troops on Long Island prepared for the assault under Clinton and the Fleet under Parker was making ready for a massive bombardment with some of the Royal Navies biggest cannons. Then the unthinkable happened to the entire operation. While doing the last minute reconnaissance of the inlet and the surrounding area it was found that the key information that the entire planned was based on was entirely and whole heartedly wrong. To Clinton’s disbelieve it was accurately discovered that Breach Inlet was not 18 inches deep at low tide, but instead seven to ten feet in certain points at low tide. If as the British planned to dash across the inlet on foot their men would be swallowed up in their heavy uniforms with their equipment. Also to make matters worse it was also discovered that very fast currents with a terrible undertow were present at the inlet making navigating it in a boat very difficult in good conditions, but under enemy fire even that more difficult.

So now the entire operation was up in the air, as Clinton with his top commanders Lord Cornwallis and General Vaughn began to develop a plan B on how to best take the fort on Sullivan’s Island with Admiral Parker. Also keep in mind that the entire expedition against Charleston is on a time table, because General Howe was expecting Clinton and his forces to return to him soon for Howe’s planned conquest of New York.

At this point the geography of Sullivan’s Island and Long Island that Clinton found so horrifying should be explained in some detail so that it is easier to understand the decisions made by the British in Formulating plan B. Long Island has the Atlantic Ocean on its east shore, Hamlin Creek which was navigable by ships to its west coast, Spence’s Inlet to its north coast which ships could pass though to Hamlin Creek, and Breach Inlet to the South divided it from Sullivan’s Island. Between Sullivan’s Island and Long Island is a small piece of land called Green Island just to the west of Long Island before you reach Breach Inlet. It would also play a role in the upcoming battle as an artillery placement area for the British. Sullivan’s Island has the Atlantic Ocean to its east coast, with Hamlin Creek boarding its west shore, Breach Inlet to the north, and Charleston Harbor proper to its south. Also between the southern part of the island and the main land of Mount Pleasant was a cove that could hold ships of various sizes. The main land of Mount Pleasant was separated from the islands of Long, Green, and Sullivans by Hamlin Creek and a vast area of salt marsh and pluff mud which is a substance that smells awful and has the same consistency as quick sand.

With this new correct intelligence in mind; Clinton and Parker have to come up with a new plan of attack on Sullivan’s Island. While they were formulating a new plan the Patriots in Charleston were using this time to try to hurriedly finish their defenses with every precious moment the British were giving them.

Part 10 will be up next Monday


  1. The account is shaping up nicely.

  2. Thank you, the research has been very fun.

  3. A minor quibble: the British Marines, as they are in so many sources, are referred to as Royal Marines here. That is in error. The Marines would not be given the honorific "Royal Marines" until 1802.

  4. RFULLER thanks for the correction!!! I have fixed it now and will be sure to keep that in mind in future post and I will go back for corrections in other post as soon as possible.