Sunday, September 19, 2010

June 28th, 1776 Battle of Sullivan's Island; Part 14 Battle of Sullivan's Island

         On the morning of June 28th, 1776 we find Col. Moultrie with Col. Thomson at the advance guard going over the situation there, when they hear a cannon fired and start to see the British Fleet making preparations to weigh anchor. Once they realize what was happening, Moultrie jumps on a horse and begins his short three mile ride to the unfinished fort at the other side of the island where Lt. Col. Isaac Motte  and Major Francis Marion where sounding to quarters  inside the fort to prepare for the British fleet. When Moultrie left Thomson he left him in charge of the Third South Carolina Regiment, a detachment of the Fourth South Carolina Artillery manning the two guns, South Carolina Militia, the First North Carolina Continentals under the command of Colonel Clark, a group of Catawba Indians, and the Raccoon Company of Riflemen totaling around 770 men with two pieces of artillery an 18 pounder and six pounder dug in. At the fort, the Second South Carolina and  a detachment of the Fourth South Carolina Artillery Regiment totaling around 435 men where now at their guns reading for action as Moultrie rode up to the fort.

On Mount Pleasant, at Haddrell’s Point, General Armstrong was at full alert waiting to see if Clinton on Long Island was going to assault Sullivan’s Island or at Mount Pleasant so he had his troops consisting of South Carolina Militia, the Fifth South Carolina under Col. Isaac Huger, Sixth South Carolina under Lt. Col. Thomas Sumter, North Carolina Continentals, and the Eighth Virginia totaling around sixteen hundred troops. They were placed near the fortification at Haddrell’s point and at other points where Clinton could possibly make an attempt of landing at. At this point to reinforcements were sent to Sullivan’s Island because General Lee wanted to make sure the main land was protected first and of his worries of the fort being undependable as discussed before. If Lee was to order Armstrong to send troops to Sullivan’s Island they would have to be carried over in boats as the bridge that General Lee had long sought was not deemed safe for usage. 

On James Island, Fort Johnson, was manned by the First South Carolina commanded by Christopher Gadsden. They were now at battle station inside the fort and at the new battery built a little ways from the fort covering the harbor.

In the town proper of Charlestown General Lee had the rest of the South Carolina Militia, North Carolina Continentals, and the Fourth South Carolina under the command of Lt. Col. Owen Roberts prepared to defend the city proper against any attack there.

The South Carolina Navy was in port for the most part with its sailors being distributed among the new fortifications in Charlestown and along with its powder and guns.  The big exception to this was the Defence, the hero from the Battle of Hogg’s Island which was stationed in the cove behind the fort, placed there in the original defense plans of Charleston Harbor by the Patriots. Its purpose was to try to prevent the British ships from getting behind the fort if possible.

General Clinton was on Long Island with his First Brigade under the command of Cornwallis and his Second Brigade under the command of Vaughn. They had procured as many boats as possible for their amphibious assault across Breech Inlet and were now prepared to go over once the fleet began its bombardment. They had fitted some of the boats with 3 pound cannon to help with the keep the Patriots busy as they rowed across the inlet. Also HMS Lady William and HMS Raven were moving up Hamlin Creek to in range of the Advance Guard to give cover to the boats as they made their attempt across the inlet with HMS Ranger on the Atlantic side also trying to maneuver into range. 

The Royal Navy under the command of Admiral Parker had fired the signal shot from the HMS Bristol at 10:30 AM and was now trying to move from Five Fathom Hole to within range of the fort. This process took over an hour for the first hot at the effort did not occur until 11:30 AM when HMS Thunder began to fire thirteen inch mortar shells towards to the fort. As the bombardment began in earnest from the rest of the fleet joining in General Lee’s nightmare of British ships getting behind the fort on Sullivan’s Island began to come to fruition. HMS Actaeon, HMS Syren, and HMS Sphinx began to maneuver towards the cove behind the fort. We can only imagine the fear that the Patriots had as they had no real way to stop these British ships as they moved closer and closer towards their objective of cutting off the fort and firing at it from three sides with the British heavy navel guns. When the times are their darkest that’s when the Lord always seems to shine through. At this point the three ships which were now almost at a point of cutting off the fort ran hard a ground in the harbor unable to free themselves for some time and totally removing themselves from influencing the battle. As these ship’s crews worked feverishly to free their ships from the sand bar, the bombardment continued with HMS Bristol, HMS Experiment, HMS Solebay, and others  pounding the fort with their heavy guns.

With the bombardment going in full force General Lee was in Charlestown desperate for information to figure out the plan of British attack. We recall he never wanted to defend Sullivan’s Island for which the British would have been grateful for since their main objective was the island in order to close the harbor to shipping. With this in mind Lee is now waiting to see where the British blow will come with their infantry on Long Island destine to try to make an attempt somewhere to gain a foot hold. With Clinton’s plan not being clear to Lee and the fact he felt that the fort could not with stand the bombardment of the Royal Navy he did not send powder or troops to the island when the fight first began as he felt they could be lost when the island.

To see surprise of General Lee the fort was doing just fine with the troops inside it very well protected by their sixteen foot high walls that were filled with eight foot of sand in the finished sections. The cannon balls that the British were firing was doing little damage to the fort proper because of their range they were firing from, because of fear of grounding and the fact that palmetto logs are flexible enough to withstand the force of impact without splintering or breaking. As the Patriots returned fire they were starting to inflect damage on the fleet but with their limited powder supply they could not fire without the possibility of running out of powder so they fired very slowly to conserve powder. At this point when the firing was the most it was now time for Clinton to as he put it find some way for the army to assist in the assault with no clear point of attack in place.

General Clinton now decided it was time for the army to make its amphibious assault attempt across the inlet. Under the cover of HMS Lady Williams, HMS Raven, and HMS Ranger the special units of the 15th, 28th, 33rd, 37th, 46th, 54th, and 57th regiments of foot began to lad in the boats for their dash across the inlet in boats. What a far cry this was from the original plan of splashing across the inlet at low tide. HMS Lady Williams and HMS Raven moved past the troops loading on the boats to take up position to cover them and to bring their cannons into range of the Patriot advance guard.  Also at this point the Royal Artillery that Clinton had brought with him to the island began to fire from Long Island, Green Island, and an oyster bank where they had placed some cannon at. As the navy moved into position Thomson’s eighteen pound cannon roared into action and began to fire at these two ships in Hamlin Creek to great effect, causing damage to the ships and fear among the sailors. At this point in the cannon dual, Clinton chooses to send his boats loaded with troops to start across the inlet. The ships which had been sent to cover the landing where trying to counter the Patriot artillery when they went aground trying to maneuver in the creek. This no left Clinton's exposed troops to the mercy of the Patriots whose dug in position had given them ample protection from the British army and navy. Once the British troops came into range the patriot’s cannon they began to fire grape shot from their eighteen pounder and six pounder leaving the exposed troops in an awful fire. With the Royal Navy unable to cover the landings anymore and with his troops defenseless to the patriot cannon fire he calls the boats back to Long Island to await further developments.  With this, the land battle part of the Sullivan’s Island ended with the hope of the British now relying on the Royal Navy’s cannon to force the Patriots out of their fortifications and into the open.

At the height of the battle between the fort and the British Navy one of the greatest stories of South Carolina heroism in the American Revolution occurs. The flag staff of the fort was cut in half by a cannon fired by the British. This was important because once a force lowered its flag it showed they were not going to continue the fight. At this moment a sergeant in the Second South Carolina by the name of William Jasper saw what had happened and grabbed the flag and an artillery staff placed the flag on the staff and stood fully exposed to British fire at the top of the wall until a make shift flag pole could be made to place the flag on so that the British and those watching from elsewhere knew the fort was fighting on.

Around 4PM General Lee decided to go to Sullivan’s Island to see for himself how the fort was holding up. He finally arrives at the fort at 5PM from Charlestown at the same time two hundred pounds of desperately needed powder arrives from the South Carolina Navel ship Defence. Also around 5PM the 8th Virginia arrived at the advance guard with a detachment of South Carolina troops to bolster the troops there under Thomson. After a short inspection of the fort and talking with Moultrie and his staff, Lee returns to Charlestown in order to hurry powder and other supplies to the fort.

By night fall, no advantage had been gained by Parker or Clinton on Sullivan’s Island. Parker had failed to destroy the fort on the island and Clinton had not obtained a foot hold on it for his troops. The fleet had taken a beating from the slow and steady fire from the fort and needed time for repairs. Also the three ships which had grounded in the inner harbor two had managed to get free with HMS Actaeon still not able to free herself. The British Army was on Long Island secure from counter attack, but was also smarting from their attempted attack across the inlet. Also the time was drawing near for the British to sail north to join Howe on his New York Campaign. With little chance of success now possible the British after a few days decided it was best to sail north to join Howe without any more loss of men or ships.

Thus the Patriots of South Carolina gained the first major victory of the American Revolution even before the Declaration of Independence is signed. 

Next up, after action report