Sunday, June 26, 2022

ARP249 Saint Louis

In our last episode, we covered the fall of Charleston, which began the southern campaign that would occupy most of the fighting for the rest of the war.  It’s important, however, to remember that fighting remained a constant danger all over the continent, and even in other parts of the world.  Once Britain was battling France and Spain, colonies and territories of all combatant countries were up for grabs whenever the opportunity presented itself.

Cumberland Compact

The war also presented an opportunity for Americans to push westward once again.  Under the King, the Proclamation of 1763 prevented colonists from moving west of the Appalachian Mountains.  Not only would pioneers have to contend with angry Indian tribes who objected to encroachments on their land, London could opt to send in regulars to clear out illegal squatters on western lands.

St Louis attack as portrayed on Mo. Capitol
Recall that back in Episode 102, I discussed efforts by colonists to establish claims in what would later become Tennessee.  In 1772, the Watauga Association had negotiated a ten-year lease with the Cherokee, and in 1775 made an outright purchase of the land in what became known as the treaty of Sycamore Shoals.  Many Cherokee chiefs refused to recognize the treaty and argued that the other chiefs had no authority to sell this land.

British officials in London did not recognize the legality of this purchase, and still required colonists to remain east of the mountains.  But since the purchase took place about a month before the battle of Lexington, British attention was focused elsewhere.  The British did encourage Cherokee attacks led by Dragging Canoe.  The colonists defeated the Cherokee, who were forced to accept the sale of lands from the treaty of Sycamore Shoals in another treaty in 1777.  

James Robertson
A group of North Carolinians under the leadership of James Robertson traveled into what is today central Tennessee and established Fort Nashborough along the Cumberland River.  It was named after Francis Nash, a Continental general from North Carolina, who had just been killed at Germantown.  Robertson had lived in western Tennessee.  He had made earlier trips over the Appalachians to explore the region.  In 1769 he had made such a trip with Daniel Boone.  Robertson was not a fan of the North Carolina government, having fought at the Battle of Alamance in 1771. 

It was after Alamance that Robertson moved his first group of families over the mountains, with the hope of settling outside the reach of the colonial government.  In 1779 after North Carolina had its independent patriot government, Robertson briefly took on a post as the state’s agent with the Cherokee, but he soon resigned that post.  

With others, Robertson formed the Watauga Association as a somewhat informal governing body. These early settlers, along with others who had violated the British prohibition on settling west of the mountains, later became known as the Overmountain men.

Robertson’s community at Fort Nashborough was one of several tiny outposts in the region, still surrounded by Cherokee, many of whom were hostile to their presence.  In May of 1780, these families agreed to the Cumberland Compact.  Signed by 256 colonists, the Compact established a governing council of 12 judges, elected by free men aged 21 or older.  It allowed voters the right to remove judges at any time.  It also paid the judges and a few other officials in animal skins.  The primary purpose of the Compact was to establish a system of defense.  All males 16 or older were obliged to be members of the militia.  Crimes that could involve the death penalty would require the accused to be transferred to the east, where he could be judged by North Carolina Courts.

The Cumberland Compact created a relatively simple government, but it remained in place until Tennessee became an independent state many years later.  The British army never sent any regulars into the region during the war, but many of the militia would later march east and participate in the Battle of King’s Mountain.

Saint Louis

Of greater interest to the British was control of the Mississippi River.  In earlier episodes, I noted that the land west of the Mississippi was under the control of Spain.  France had turned over this territory to Spain at the end of the Seven Years War.  Although Spain had nominally taken control of the Louisiana Territory in 1763, St. Louis was founded within that territory by French settlers from Canada and named in honor of a former King of France.  Although Louis XV was king at the time, the city was named after King Louis IX, who had led France during the Crusades and who had been declared a saint in the Catholic Church.  

Much like the American settlers in Tennessee, the French settlers at St. Louis were mostly left to fend for themselves.  They established their own government and ran the area under French legal traditions. Spanish officials did not bother to arrive in the city until 1770. Even after they did, the town mostly spoke French and retained much of its French culture, giving only a nominal nod to Spanish rule.  The Spanish sent Don Pedro Piernas to be the lieutenant governor of upper Louisiana.  Piernas established residency at St. Louis with a small garrison of Spanish soldiers.

In 1775, Piernas was replaced by Francisco Cruzat, another Spanish military officer.  He, in turn, was replaced by Fernando de Leyba in 1778.  Governor de Leyba was aware of fighting between British and American forces on the other side of the river, and wanted to be prepared for the war to spill over into Spanish territory.  

Fort San Carllos
He began to build up defenses at St. Louis including Fort San Carlos - named in honor of King Carlos III of Spain. The plans for the fort included four large stone towers, and a large trench around the entire village perimeter.  Although Spain declared war on Britain in June 1779, de Leyba did not receive word of this until February of 1780, only a few months before the attack began. He realized Saint Louis would not have time to build the entire stone fort that he wanted.  He had one of the towers ready and put up log walls.  He distributed five canons at various points to discourage any direct land attack.

Several weeks before the attack, de Leyba received intelligence that a raid was coming soon, but he never got detailed information about exactly when it would strike or how large a force he would face.

British Plan of Attack

In the early years of the war, both Americans and British did all they could to respect Spanish authority along the river.  Neither side wanted to push neutral Spain into joining the enemy. With Spain’s entry into the war in 1779, that drastically changed British attitudes toward Spanish possessions.  Britain hoped to take control of the Mississippi River, although since Spain controlled the mouth of the River at New Orleans, the British never devoted much resources to this goal.

Up until this time, British efforts along the Mississippi had not gone very well.  Recall back in Episode 210, I talked about British Lieutenant Governor Henry Hamilton’s efforts to secure the region from his base in Detroit.  Hamilton had contended with Virginians under the command of George Rogers Clark during the winter of 1778-79, and had ended up being taken prisoner that spring.

After Hamilton’s capture, another British Lieutenant Governor, Patrick Sinclair of Michilimackinack assumed responsibility for retaking the region.  Sinclair was also an experienced military officer, having served under Amherst in America during the French and Indian war.  He remained in Canada after the war, gaining experience as a young officer exploring the wilderness areas around the Great Lakes.

Peacetime, however, was not a time for advancement.  At age 36, Sinclair retired from service as a captain in 1772.  His career took on a new chapter three years later when in 1775, he was appointed lieutenant governor and superintendent of Michilmakinack, then part of the Quebec territory.  He attempted to travel to Canada soon after his appointment, but several failed voyages left him still in England in 1778.  He finally managed to make it to Halifax, but then took another year getting to Quebec.  He did not present his credentials to Governor Haldimand until late 1779, over four years after receiving his commission.  He spent the next couple of years relocating a poorly positioned fort onto Mackinac Island.

As a civilian officer, Sinclair was not in command of military forces in the area.  That fell to Major Arent Schuyler DePeyster, who outranked Captain Sinclair in the British army.  DePeyster was soon transferred to Detroit, giving Sinclair command authority over the small military garrison.

Following Spain’s entry into the war, London dispatched orders to the British leadership in Canada from Secretary of State Lord Germain.  The instructions called on local leaders to plan and execute attacks on Spanish possessions.  Sinclair focused his sites on St. Louis.

Sinclair only had command of a tiny garrison at Michilimackinac, and he was not going to get any reinforcements.  An attack by regulars was out of the question.  Instead, it would consist of local volunteers supplemented by native warriors.  Sinclair offered local fur traders opportunities to control the fur trade along the territory as an incentive to participate in the campaign.  Native warriors were always up for the opportunity for plunder and also received generous gifts from Sinclair to encourage participation.

Command of this local military force was given to Emanuel Hesse, an experienced fur trader who had good relations with the native tribes and also had some experience as a militia captain.  There seems to be little in the way of exact numbers or written records for this campaign, but it appears that Hesse was joined by about two dozen other fur traders, lured by opportunities to control the fur trade in the captured territories.

The bulk of the fighting force would be native warriors.  About 200 Sioux (aka Dakota) warriors commanded by a war chief named Wahpasha made up the largest single contingent.  The Sioux, however, were not really British allies.  They had been staunch allies of the French for many years and had been rather stand-offish once the British took control of Canada.  It’s not clear exactly why they joined this campaign, but likely it was based on the relationships they had with the French speaking fur traders who recruited them.

Warriors from quite a few other tribes also joined the campaign.  Warriors from the Chippewa, Menomminee, Winnebago, Sac, and Fox nations all participated.  Because the British did not entirely trust the Sioux, their Chief Wapasha had to cede overall command of the Indian force to Matchekewis, a Chippewa Chief.  The Sioux and Chippewa were traditional enemies, but the two chiefs managed to establish an understanding during the course of the campaign that allowed the warriors to remain on good terms.  In total there were probably around 1000 native warriors from at least ten different tribes joined together on the campaign.

St. Louis Raid

The mostly native force marched for a little over three weeks before reaching the vicinity around St. Louis.  Captain Hesse sent out scouts to get a look at the Spanish defenses, but could not get close enough.  He wanted to maintain the element of surprise, and there were too many farmers in the area for a group to get close enough to the village undetected.

On May 26, Hesse deployed his warriors.  He opted to divide his warriors in order to attack the American controlled town of Cahokia on the eastern bank and St. Louis on the Western Bank.  Cahokia was under the command of George Rogers Clark.

Raid on St. Louis
Despite wanting the element of surprise, the attackers launched their raid around mid-day.  The Spanish defenders fired a warning shot from their stone tower to let them know they had been spotted.  The Sioux and Winnebego warriors led the attack, backed up the Sac and Fox warriors. The French fur traders, including Captain Hesse, made up the rear.  The battle raged over several hours. 

The Spanish defenders were well outnumbered, with only about 200-300 men to defend the village, most of them inexperienced militia.  The attacking warriors attempted to draw out the Spanish defenders into open combat.  This included executing some captives in front of the enemy.  The natives hoped the defenders would rush to the aid of their friends and family, so that they could be attacked by the warriors in an open field.

Some of the defending militia asked to make a sortie and rescue the captives, but de Lebya refused, knowing it was a trap.  The defenders remained behind their defenses.  They used their cannons effectively to discourage a frontal attack by the enemy.

The Spanish commander later reported that the defenders took about 100 casualties, the majority of whom were captured as prisoners by the attacking force.

Cahokia Raid

At the same time Hesse launched the raid on St. Louis, one of his other associates, Jean-Marie Ducharme launched the raid against Cahokia, with a force of about 300 warriors.  Cahokia did not have cannons but had set up defensive barriers in anticipation for an attack.  Clark had traveled to St. Louis to coordinate with Spanish authorities over a defense strategy ,and lobby for a joint offensive against the British.  Clark and his officers rushed back to Cahokia after receiving word that the enemy was close.  They arrived shortly before the attack began.

The defenders stood their ground, behind defensive barricades.  Clarke’s arrival with reinforcements shortly after the attack began discouraged the attackers.  Clark’s combined force was about 400 men.  The attack did not last long.  Clarke reported the loss of only one Virginia officer, three soldiers, and five of his men taken prisoner.  The attack was poorly organized and was quickly repulsed.  The attackers gave up and began to retreat north.


The attackers gave up on taking either town and moved back toward British lines to the north in a rather scattered and disorganized movement.  Native raiders sacked all the farms and isolated homes they came across, murdering the inhabitants.  In some stories, those captured were burned alive.  Warriors stole what they could and burned whatever they could not take with them.

George Rogers Clark

A few weeks after the attacks Clark organized an offensive raid with about 350 men, mostly Virginians.  They attacked Indian villages at Rock River and Prairie du Chien, burning crops and homes, and paying back the same sort of devastation that the warrior force had inflicted on their people.  The Spanish, who had relied almost entirely on local militia for defense, opted to remain in St. Louis, and did not conduct any retaliatory raids by land.  The Spanish did, however, later send gunboats up the Mississippi, raiding villages of natives who were friendly with the British they seized furs and other valuable supplies, 

The Sac  tribe, which was within the Spanish sphere of influence, tried to make up for participation in the raid.  In June, they sent a delegation to St. Louis, bringing six prisoners, three French-speaking militia and three slaves.  The Fox would also soon try to repair their relationship with Spanish authorities.  Other tribes, particularly the Sioux, remained in active warfare against the Spanish.

Because of the hostile environment, de Leyba sent letters to Governor de Galvez in New Orleans, stating that unless the Spanish could complete a defensible fort at St. Louis with a garrison of at least 200 regulars, they might have to abandon the region as too dangerous.  This threat to leave was probably more of an attempt to get the military support he wanted.  

Death of de Leyba

We don’t know if de Leyba would have made good on his threat to withdraw, because he died in late June from an illness.  The King sent congratulations for his defense of St. Louis, and granted him a promotion to lieutenant colonel, but those honors did not arrive until after his death.

His successor, Lieutenant-Governor Cartabona took a different tact, blaming much of the losses on de  Leyba’s inability to build proper defenses quickly enough.  This was during a period of panic since the Spanish defenders had pretty much used up all their available ammunition and were receiving reports that the Sioux might launch an even larger raid on the city very soon.

Governor Galvez was too busy with his campaign against West Florida to provide much of anything to St. Louis.  He did send Fransisco Cruzat back to take command of St. Louis. Cruzat had been de Leyba’s predecessor in command of the region.  He would take command by September.  Fortunately, none of the rumors of a second major Indian attack proved true before his arrival.

Cruzat spent most of his time trying to secure alliances with all of the local tribes, to ensure they would hot join another attempted raid on the region, and perhaps would be part of any Spanish attempt should the British instigate another raid from northern tribes.  He also continued construction of a better fort at St. Louis.

Despite receiving continued rumors that the British might encourage another Indian attack, St. Louis would never again face a large-scale attack on the city.

Next Week: John Johnson and Joseph Brant lead attacks into the Mohawk Valley.

- - -

Next Episode 249 Mohawk Valley Raids 

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Further Reading


James Robertson:

James Robertson:

Dick, Jimmy “The Battle of St. Louis” Journal of the American Revolution, February 10, 2014:

Battle of St. Louis:

Battle of St. Louis:

Battle of Fort San Carlos:

Drumm, Stella M. “The British-Indian Attack on Pain Court (St. Louis).” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society (1908-1984), vol. 23, no. 4, 1931, pp. 642–51. JSTOR,

Nasatir, A. P. “The Anglo-Spanish Frontier in the Illinois Country during the American Revolution 1779-1783.” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society (1908-1984), vol. 21, no. 3, 1928, pp. 291–358. JSTOR,

Peterson, Charles E. “Notes on Old Cahokia: Part Two: Fort Bowman (1778-1780).” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society (1908-1984), vol. 42, no. 2, 1949, pp. 193–208. JSTOR,

Free eBooks
(from unless noted)

James, James Alton (ed) George Rogers Clark Papers, Springfield, Ill., Trustees of the Illinois State Historical Library, 1912. 

Matthews, Thomas E. General James Robertson, Father of Tennessee, Nashville: Parthenon Press, 1934.  

McDermott, John Francis (ed) Old Cahokia: a narrative and documents illustrating the first century of its history, St. Louis : St. Louis Historical Documents Foundation, 1949. 

Putnam, A.W. History of Middle Tennessee; or, Life and Times of Gen. James Robertson, Nashville: self-published, 1859. 

Snyder, Ann E. On the Watauga and the Cumberland, Nashville, M.E. Church, 1895. 

Spencer, Thomas E. The Story of Old St. Louis, St. Louis: 1914. 

Books Worth Buying
(links to unless otherwise noted)*

Bays, Bill, James Robertson, Father of Tennessee and Founder of Nashville, West Bow Press, 2013. 

Goodstein, Anita S. Nashville, 1780-1860: From Frontier to City, Univ. Press of Florida, 1989. 

Harrison, Lowell H. George Rogers Clark and the War in the West, Univ. Press of Kentucky, 1976. 

Kling, Steven L. Jr. (ed) The American Revolutionary War in the West, THGC Publishing, 2020.

Kling Stephen L. Jr., Kristine Sjostrom & Marysia T. Lopez The Battle of St. Louis, the Attack on Cahokia, and the American Revolution in the West, THGC Publishing, 2017. 

Nester, William R. George Rogers Clark: I Glory in War, Univ. of Okla Press, 2012. 

* As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Sunday, June 12, 2022

ARP248 Charleston Falls

In our last episode, we left the British having positioned themselves around Charleston.  General Henry Clinton, along with General Cornwallis and Admiral Arbuthnot, had positioned their forces around the city - ready, by the end of April 1780 to blast the American defenses and take Charleston for the king.

Monck’s Corner

The American Commander, General Benjamin Lincoln, remained in Charleston, awaiting the British attack.  Lincoln had assigned Lieutenant Colonel William Washington to command the light infantry forces outside of the city, to skirmish with the advancing British and Hessians.

William Washington
Colonel Washington was from Virginia, a distant cousin of the Commander-in-Chief.  He had some combat experience, one of the few Americans wounded at Trenton during a daring cavalry charge.  In 1780, Washington was still in his late twenties.  General Lincoln believed he would serve as an effective commander of the light infantry around Charleston.

Also outside of Charleston was Brigadier General Isaac Huger.  Although Huger was a Continental General, he was given command of about 500 South Carolina militia who had been called up to oppose the British attack. 

With these forces, Huger secured a position at Monck’s Corner, a crossroad along the Cooper River, a little more than 30 miles north of Charleston.  American control kept supply lines and communications lines from Charleston open to the north.  

Despite the importance of this position Huger found that his militia were woefully inadequate to face any attack.  He reported that two of his companies did not even have muskets.  A third company had muskets but no ammunition.  These men were largely untrained and untested in battle.  Huger put his militia in reserve on the far bank of the river, relying on Colonel Washington to engage with the enemy with his Continentals, and on the militia as backup.  

British General Clinton wanted to take Monck’s Corner, as a way of further isolating the American defenders inside Charleston.  He deployed Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton, still in command of a loyalist cavalry that did not have enough horses for all of the men.  With them was a loyalist infantry regiment commanded by another regular officer Major Patrick Ferguson.  Both men were experienced combat officers. Tarleton had gained a reputation during the fighting around New York and Philadelphia as an aggressive commander.  Ferguson, inventor of the Ferguson rifle, had been badly wounded at Brandywine, but had returned to service.  With them Lieutenant Colonel James Webster led two regiments of British regulars.  Although Colonel Webster was the senior officer, he kept his regulars in reserve and gave Colonel Tarleton order to lead the strike on the enemy.

On the evening of April 13, Tarleton’s legion and Ferguson’s volunteers moved forward in a night march, planning to attack the Americans before dawn.  During their advance, they captured an American courier with a letter from Huger to Lincoln, which described the deployment of the American defenses at Monck’s Corner.  Tarleton moved quickly, advancing 18 miles in a five hour night match. At around 3:00 AM, the British reached the American Camp.

Isaac Huger

The Americans were taken completely by surprise.  General Huger and Colonel Washington fled into the nearby swamps with some of their men, abandoning their horses and equipment.  One French officer with the Americans, Chevalier Pierre-Francois Vernier attempted to surrender but was struck down by the British attackers and killed.  The Americans put up almost no defense as they fled in terror.  One company of Americans simply fell in line behind the British and pretended to march along with them as allies until they had an opportunity to flee into the swamps before first light.

The British managed to kill or wound thirty-three Americans, and captured another 63, with the remainder fleeing into the swamps.  The British suffered only three wounded among the attackers.  It was a complete route. The British captured the camp and all of its contents.  Charleston was now cut off from the north.  Colonel Tarleton also happily reported that he had captured enough horses that he could finally mount his entire cavalry regiment.

Tarleton, never one to rest on his laurels, moved his cavalry back toward the coast, along the eastern side of Charleston, where he managed to capture nine sloops carrying patriot supplies, including twenty canons.

Defense of Charleston

The British had spent months slowly encircling Charleston, giving its defenders time to react.  Up until this time, General Benjamin Lincoln, commander of the southern army, had been frustrated by the lack of cooperation that he had received from the local political leaders. But with the threat of British invasion literally staring at them from across the river, the political leaders finally fell in line and gave the Continental general the support he needed to defend the city.  I’m joking of course.  The political leadership in South Carolina continued to bicker with the military commander and even with disaster on the horizon, refused to make certain compromises.

Gov. John Rutledge

South Carolina leaders had repeatedly rejected any plans to arm slaves for defense of the state. Lincoln had called on state leaders to raise 2000 white militia.  But if they could not, then fill the ranks with black soldiers.  The response was… nothing.  The President of South Carolina, John Rutledge, refused even to respond to the request.  Allowing blacks to use guns, even if they were freed afterwards, would put a dangerous element in the state that could eventually harm them. Those soldiers could form the core of a future slave uprising to liberate their fellow laborers.  So with armed blacks off the table, Lincoln suggested at least created a pioneer force from slaves.  Pioneers would handle the dirty work of digging tunnels and entrenchments.  It was common labor that slaves were used for all the time.  These men would not learn to fire guns, or even touch combat weapons.  Again, the answer was no.  Even training black people to work as a unit and giving them any sort of training was simply unacceptable.

A frustrated Lincoln told officials that if he could not get support of local militia, either black or white, that he would have to abandon the city to the British.  Rutledge’s response was that Lincoln was bluffing.  Charleston was too important to the cause of the United States and he would never abandon the city.  The state could not raise enough white soldiers, would not provide any black soldiers, and Lincoln would have to find a way to make the defense of the city work anyway.

Rutledge was correct.  Lincoln had direct orders from Congress to hold Charleston at all costs.  Any attempt to abandon the city without a fight would have meant an ignominious end to this military career, much like it did for Generals Phillip Schuyler and Arthur St. Clair, who had abandoned Fort Ticonderoga without a fight a few years earlier.  Beyond that, Lincoln has spent a year building up the defenses around the city.  The British force outnumbered his by about two to one. If Lincoln retreated now, he would likely have to face the British in the open field. It was better to engage from behind their entrenchments.  The arrival of 750 Virginia Continentals in April had boosted spirits, but that only gave Lincoln about 2500 regulars, supplemented by another 3000 or so militia and sailors from the wrecked ships.

British General Clinton commented on the arrival of American reinforcements as good news - more prisoners when the Americans surrendered.  The British navy had established itself in the inner harbor.  British artillery was poised to decimate the city, and British infantry and cavalry was well on its way toward surrounding the city.  

Lincoln advised Governor Rutledge to leave the city with the rest of the civilian leadership.  Rutledge left town with three councilmen, but Lieutenant Governor Christopher Gadsden and others remained in Charleston.  Gadsden, you may recall, had been appointed a brigadier in the Continental Army, but resigned his commission when he grew frustrated at his inability to give orders to major generals in his state.  As acting governor, however, Gadsden believed could use his civilian leadership to instruct the army on the defense of Charleston.

Lincoln called a council of war to discuss an attack on a relatively isolated post of 750 enemy soldiers near Wappetaw.  His officer unanimously opposed the action, and instead suggested consideration of evacuating the city.  General Lachlan McIntosh argued for immediate evacuation of the Continental Army, so that it could survive to fight another day, preferably further inland - once the British army was more spread out and unsupported by its navy.  Delay meant the likelihood that they would be surrounded.  Lincoln, however, could not bring himself to abandon the city without even a fight.

A few days later, on April 18, 2600 British and Hessian reinforcements arrived from New York, only increasing the imbalance of forces.  Lincoln gathered a council of war a few days later on April 20, to once again consider their options.  McIntosh still believed that evacuation was possible.  Other officers believed Lincoln should simply ask for terms of surrender.  

Christopher Gadsden

Gadsden joined the council for a time, asked that they not take any action until he could discuss the situation with South Carolina’s Privy Council, and left. As the officers continued their discussions, Gadsden returned with several Privy Council members.  The exact words exchanged were not recorded but one witness noted that the civilians “used the council rudely” and insisted that they not try to abandon the city.  They claimed that the South Carolina militia, most of whom had never stood in battle before, were willing to fight to the last man, and that the Continentals should be willing to do so as well.  One member of the Privy Council even threatened that if the Continentals attempted to abandon the city, that Charleston would throw open the gates to the British and help them capture the Continentals.

Lincoln did not make any final decision that night.  But the next morning, he summoned his officers once again.  They agreed to ask the British for terms of surrender.  The Army would be slaughtered if it attempted to retreat across waterways that the British had already blocked.  On April 21, Lincoln ordered a soldier to go to the British lines under a flag of truce to request a six-hour cessation of hostilities so that the Americans could propose terms of surrender.  

Lincoln proposed that the Continental Army be permitted to leave the city with its arms and equipment, and march north for at least ten days unmolested, that Continental ships be permitted to depart the harbor, and that all citizens be protected in their persons and property.  Clinton countered with the proposal that they all surrender unconditionally, so that the British would not have to kill them and level the city.  Unable to agree on terms, the two sides continued the siege.

Both sides kept up fire on each other day and night.  On the morning of April 24, two hundred Continentals attacked a Hessian work party that was digging advanced works close to the enemy lines.  The Americans managed to kill about 15 of the enemy with bayonets, and take almost as many prisoners.  However, General Moultrie’s brother Thomas was killed in the attack.

General Louis Duportail arrived from Washington’s headquarters the following day.  The experienced French engineer who had taken a commission in the Continental Army years earlier.  He had arrived too late, however, to assist with the Charleston defenses.  He also arrived with the bad news that Washington would not be sending any more reinforcements.  The Continental leaders once again considered a risky evacuation, but decided against it.

The siege continued for another couple of weeks.  The Americans had to slow their rate of fire to conserve ammunition.  The British pounded away at the American defenses and slowly moved their lines closer together.  The Americans could no longer bring food into the city and could not even send couriers.


On May 7, Fort Moultrie, on Sullivan’s Island, surrendered to the British. The following day, Clinton called on Lincoln, once again, to surrender, adding that failure to do so would mean that any “vindictive severity” that fell on the city after its capture, would be Lincoln’s fault.  In further discussion, the Americans requested, while the Continentals would be prisoners of war, they be allowed to keep their baggage and side arms, and that the militia be allowed to go home on parole. Clinton refused the terms.

Charleston, SC
Inside the city, the situation only grew more desperate.  Food and ammunition was running out.  The British began firing hot shot into the city, setting dozens of houses on fire.  The South Carolina militia still in the city, petitioned General Lincoln to accept any terms of surrender.  Many militia simply abandoned their posts and tried to slip away.  Even Gadsden agreed it was time to negotiate a surrender.

On May 8, General Lincoln informed General Clinton that he would accept the term Clinton had offered in his last letter, and the guns fell silent on both sides.  On May 12, the defenders marched out of Charleston.  Clinton had denied them the honors of war and prohibited them from flying their regimental flags.  The defenders stacked the muskets and marched off to their fates as prisoners of war.  Only 500 militia surrendered with the army. The remainder had fled or hid inside the city, hoping to blend in with the civilians.  

Clinton appointed General Alexander Leslie to serve as military governor of Charleston.  Leslie’s threat to have grenadiers search private homes encouraged many more militia to turn out and surrender their arms.  Moultrie noted that it seemed more militia surrendered than had ever appeared under arms during the siege. Apparently, many older or infirm residents surrendered as militia in order to protect younger men.

In total, more than 5000 Americans surrendered in the city, the largest American loss of the entire war.  Roughly half were Continental soldiers, many of whom were doomed to die in British captivity.  The Americans also surrendered 391 artillery pieces, 6000 muskets, and 33,000 rounds of ammunition.  During the siege, the Americans had suffered 89 killed and 138 wounded.  The British suffered 76 killed and 189 wounded.  The surrender had kept the battle deaths rather light, but the loss of the army was devastating to the American cause.


Charleston’s fall to the British was seen as a great victory in London and among loyalists in America.  Even if there were still difficulties in the northern states, the fall of Charleston seemed to foretell that at least the southern colonies would return to crown authority.  

Unlike the fall of northern towns, where the capture of a city seemed to have little impact on the surrounding countryside, the fall of Charleston seemed to mean that the fall of all of South Carolina was close at hand.  Garrisons in other parts of the state surrendered without a fight.  Ninety-six, Camden Beaufort, and Georgetown all surrendered without a fight.  South Carolina General Andrew Williamson gave his soldiers the choice of surrendering, or retreating to the mountains to continue the struggle.  His men opted for surrender.

Under the terms of surrender, militia were given immediate parole and permitted to return home.  They only had to promise never again to take up arms against the king. Clinton attempted a carrot and stick policy in a series of decrees after the fall of Charleston.  Anyone who continued to bear arms against the king’s troops, or convince others to do so, would suffer imprisonment and confiscation of all property.  On the other hand, a separate decree declared that anyone taking an oath of allegiance would receive a full pardon, despite any past participation in the rebellion.  The offer of a pardon and fear of losing property led many in South Carolina to return to the fold as loyal colonists.

Several leading citizens of around Georgetown even sent a note to  to General Cornwallis stating 

that as the original cause of the disputes between Great Britain and her colonies was our being taxed without being represented -- and by a Proclamation of the 1st June last issued by His Excellency Sir Henry Clinton Knight of the Bath General and Commander in Chief of his Majesty's Forces in America, and Mariot Arbuthnot Esquire Vice Admiral of the Blue and Commander in Chief of his Majesty's Ships, We are assured that we shall not be taxed but by our representatives in General Assembly, We are therefore desirous of becoming British Subjects in which capacity we promise to behave ourselves with all becoming fidelity and loyalty.

General Clinton wrote confidently to Lord Germain in London that South Carolina had been secured.  He stated that “there are few men in South Carolina who are not our prisoners or in arms with us.”  Within a few weeks General Clinton granted parole to General Lincoln allowing him to report to Philadelphia to brief Congress on the loss. Then, under the terms of his parole, he would be restricted to New England until properly exchanged.  Other top generals, including Georgia native Lachlan McIntosh, remained in custody.  North Carolina General James Hogan refused parole, preferring to stay in prison with his men, ostensibly to prevent them from joining loyalist regiments in an attempt to get out of prison. Hogan would die in prison a few months later.

Clinton himself returned to New York, leaving Charleston in early June.  He turned over command to General Cornwallis. Although the two men did not really get along, Cornwallis’ rank and experience made him the obvious choice for the command. Clinton had accomplished his goal of taking Charleston.  Any remaining campaign would be left up to subordinates.

Clinton had not gotten along well with Cornwallis ever since he found out that Cornwallis had betrayed his confidence by telling then-commander General Howe that Clinton had expressed frustration at serving under Howe.  Clinton left Cornwallis with instructions to keep South Carolina secure, but also gave him authority to move into North Carolina if he could do so without putting South Carolina at risk.  Clinton also took more than a third of the army he had brought south, back to New York, along with Arbithnot and the bulk of the naval fleet.  Cornwallis had his independent command to do with it what he could.

Next Week: we head west as the war comes to St. Louis, in present day Missouri

- - -

Next Episode 249 Saint Louis Raid

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Further Reading


Free eBooks
(from unless noted)

Lincoln, Benjamin Original papers relating to the siege of Charleston, 1780,  Charleston, S.C., Press of Walker, Evans & Cogswell Co. 1898.

Peck, John Mason Lives of Daniel Boone and Benjamin Lincoln, Boston : C.C. Little and J. Brown, 1847. 

Smith, Paul Hubert, Gephart, Ronald M. Letters of delegates to Congress, 1774-1789, Vol 14, Washington: Library of Congress, 1987. 

Books Worth Buying
(links to unless otherwise noted)*

Buchanan, John The Road to Guilford Courthouse: The American Revolution in the Carolinas, Wiley, 1999. 

Edgar, Walter B. Partisans and Redcoats: The southern conflict that turned the tide of the American Revolution, New York: Morrow, 2001 (or borrow on

Ferling, John Winning Independence: The Decisive Years of the Revolutionary War, 1778-1781, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2021.

Mattern, David B. Benjamin Lincoln and the American Revolution, Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1998  (borrow on

Russell, David Lee. The American Revolution in the Southern Colonies, McFarland & Company, 2000.

Ward, Christopher The War of the Revolution, Macmillan Company, 1952 (borrow on 

Willcox, William B. Portrait of a General; Sir Henry Clinton in the War of Independence, Knopf, 1964 (borrow on 

Wilson, David K. The Southern Strategy: Britain’s Conquest of South Carolina and Georgia 1775-1780, Univ. of S.C. Press, 2005. 

* As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.