Thursday, June 28, 2012

Happy Carolina Day

Carolina Day remembers important Revolutionary battle

  • Posted: Thursday, June 28, 2012 12:10 a.m.

Today marks the 236th anniversary of the Battle of Sullivan’s Island, a conflict that made Moultrie a local household name and set the British back considerably in their quest to tame the colonists.
“This was an early turning point,” said Doug MacIntyre, president of the Fort Sumter-Fort Moultrie Historical Trust. “We can only speculate as to what might have happened if the patriots had not prevailed.”
On June 28, 1776, when the Declaration of Independence was being hashed out in Philadelphia, the British Navy descended on Fort Sullivan at the south end of the island as thousands of ground troops simultaneously tried to cross Breech Inlet to take the island’s north end.
It was part of Britain’s southern strategy to mobilize loyalists in the South Carolina backcountry and control one of the colonies’ most important ports.
Commodore Peter Parker aimed the might of the British Navy at the palmetto-log fort guarding the harbor entrance while Gen. Henry Clinton tried to take the island with 3,000 troops that had landed on Long Island (now Isle of Palms).
The most famous detail of that day remains the spongy palmetto logs of Fort Sullivan repelling British cannon fire — a detail that guaranteed the palmetto its place as a state icon. But Mac-Intyre said the battle at Breech Inlet was perhaps even more impressive.
The inlet in those days was at least a mile wide, a dangerous obstacle course of rushing water, sandbars and oyster beds. And if that weren’t bad enough, Clinton had to face a formidable force assembled by Col. William Thomson.
Thomson and his back-country troops were joined by Indians from the Catawba and other tribes, as well as some slaves.
There were 780 men in all, but once the fight started, Clinton feared that he was facing an army of perhaps 4,000. Mac-Intyre said Clinton never got a foothold in Sullivan’s Island.
Meanwhile, William Moultrie repelled the British Navy so handily that, after the war, Fort Sullivan was renamed in his honor.
MacIntyre, who will speak today at the Carolina Day ceremony in White Point Garden, said new accounts of that day are still coming to light, and they paint a portrait of Charles Town as worried and anxious — just as it would be a few years later when the British had the city under siege again, this time more successfully.
Although the state celebrates Carolina Day every year, much of the rest of the country has forgotten what a pivotal moment it was in the Revolutionary War.
“It was an embarrassment for Peter Parker, a rising officer in the Royal Navy,” said W. Eric Emerson, director of the state Department of Archives and History.
“It’s the most powerful navy in the world, and they are beat by a gang of rebels in a palmetto-log fort. I think it’s pretty significant, and wish more people would recognize it.”
Reach Brian Hicks at 937-5561 or follow him on Twitter at @BriHicks_PandC.

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