Friday, September 3, 2010

The last preperations of the Patriots; Part 12 Battle of Sullivan's Island

By June 18th General Lee knew that Clinton had landed on Long Island with several thousand troops and was planning to attack Charlestown at either Sullivan’s Island or the main land at Mount Pleasant. As a result of this development, General Lee tried to desperately finish the fortifications on Sullivan’s Island and to send more troops to Mount Pleasant to assist with its defense since its coast line could be attacked at several different points. On June 15th Lee had appointed General Armstrong the overall commander of the Patriot forces on Mount Pleasant and Sullivan’s Island and had sent a letter to Col. Moultrie for him to report to Armstrong directly to help unify the available forces in this area of the Charlestown defenses. To help defend Mount Pleasant General Lee and General Armstrong had agreed to pull troops from Col. Thomson’s command at the advanced post since they felt his area was smaller to defend and that the troops could be put to better use on Mount Pleasant. These troops could also be sent back to Sullivan’s Island if they were needed in an attack if enough boats were available or the bridge that Lee had ordered built between Sullivan’s Island and Mount Pleasant could be completed between the cove that separated them on the southern part of the island.

General Lee had ordered the construction of a floating bridge between the island and main land on June the 10th. The purpose of the bridge was the movement of troops to Sullivan’s Island and for an escape route if needed. However you must remember that Lee did not want to defend Sullivan’s Island even calling the unfinished fort a “slaughter pen” and had come in direct conflict with Gov. Rutledge over it. Lee did back down and left Col. Moultrie and Col. Thomson on the island, but with as limited amount of men and powder as he could. The bridge was Lee’s top concern in letter after letter to Moultrie, Armstrong, Rutledge, and others about its completion being vital for an escape route for the troops if the British began to overrun the island. This obsession with an escape route seemed to make the South Carolinians cautious of Lee and his plans. There was such a concern about Lee ordering the troops off of the island, that Gov. Rutledge sent a letter to Moultrie telling him to only leave his post if he ordered it and him alone. Please remember that when Rutledge gave Lee control of the South Carolina troops on June 9th that it was before the Declaration of Independence and Lee was in South Carolina to help coordinate the troops and had no real power unless the state gave it to him. The state did so, but they could also remove the South Carolina troops at their pleasure from his command at a moment’s notice, an item that would become a hindrance to all later in the American Revolution. The bridge took hours of man power and material to try to build that could have been used finishing other fortifications around the harbor. Instead man and material was poured into its construction at the insistence of Lee. After two weeks of construction being ordered, the Patriots tried to send Col. Horry’s regiment across it on the 25th and they refused to go across because they were in fear of their lives. The work continued on the bridge after this to make it more stable, but it was not resolved before the battle. As a result, the main way of moving troops from the main land to the island would continue to be the limited amount of boats that were available. So if assistance was needed quickly or an evacuation of the island ordered it would take precious time.

In the mean time another concern for Lee was the amount of powder that Col. Thomson and his troops were using to keep the HMS Lady Williams and HMS Raven at bay with on Hamlin Creek. The two Royal Navy ships were trying to sound the creek to check for depths and Col. Thomson let lose his 18lb cannon on them to keep them at bay and even according to his men hitting the British ships a couple of times before they withdrew back up the creek on June 22nd. This exchange of cannon fire caused alarm in Charlestown as they felt it might signal the start of the battle. Once Lee found it what the cause of the firing was he sent a letter to tell those on Sullivan’s island to save the powder they did have for the real attack. The day after this exchange of cannon fired occurred the last of the Continental troops arrived in Charlestown that would participate in the battle with entrance of Col. Muhlenberg and his 8th Virginia who were sent to Mount Pleasant.

Lee continued to grow frustrated with the leadership of Moultrie on the island for Lee in letters worries Moultrie is not pushing hard enough for the completion of the bridge or the fortifications. When Moultrie is asked if he can hold his position he says he can, but Lee is not satisfied and on the 27th orders Col. Nash of the 1st North Carolina to report to him on the 28th. His purpose was to give orders to Nash to take command of the unfinished fort on Sullivan’s island. However on the morning of the 28th Nash hears cannon fire as he was making his way to Lee’s headquarters and returns to his command to prepare for the battle which has now began on Sullivans Island.

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