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C H A P T E R III.
SOUTH CAROLINA TEIREATENTED–ITS CONDITION AND POPULATIONSTORMY WOYAGE OF SIR HENRY CLINTON.—LOSS OF HORSES-CHARAOTER OF LIEUTENANT-COLONEL TARLETON.—FLEET ARRIVES AT TYBEE–SIR HENRY OLINTON ADVANCES UPON OHARLESTON-LINCOLN PREPARES FOR DEFENOE–COMMODORE WHIPPLE–GOVERNOR RUTLEDGE–FOREBODINGS OF WASHINGTON.—EMBARKATION OF BRITISH TROOPS AT NEW YORK–WASHINGTON SENDS DE KALB WITH REINFORCEMENTS.–HIS HOPEFUL LETTER TO STEUBEN.
THE return of spring brought little alleviation to the sufferings of the army at Morristown. All means of supplying its wants or recruiting its ranks were paralyzed by the continued depreciation of the currency. While Washington saw his forces gradually diminishing, his solicitude was intensely excited for the safety of the Southern States. The reader will recall the departure from New York, in the latter part of December, of the fleet of Admiral Arbuthnot with the army of Sir Henry Clinton, destined for the subjugation of South Carolina. “The richness of the country,” says Colonel Tarleton, in his history of the campaign, “its vicinity to Georgia, and its distance from General Washington, pointed out the advantage and facility of its conquest. While it would be an unspeakable loss to the Americans, the possession of it would tend to secure to the crown the southern part of the continent which stretches beyond it.” It was presumed that the subjugation of it would be an easy task. The population was scanty for the extent of the country, and was made up of emigrants, or the descendants of emigrants, from various lands and of various nations: Huguenots, who had emigrated from France after the revocation of the Edict of Nantz; Germans, from the Palatinate; Irish Protestants, who had received grants of land from the crown; Scotch Highlanders, transported hither after the disastrous battle of Culloden, Dutch colonists, who had left New York after its submission to England, and been settled here on bounty lands. Some of these foreign elements might be hostile to British domination, but others would be favorable. There was a large class too, that had been born or had passed much of their lives in England, who retained for it a filial affection, spoke of it as home, and sent their children to be educated there. The number of slaves within the province and of savages on its western frontier, together with its wide extent of unprotected sea coast, were encouragements to an Invasion by sea and land. Little combination of militia and yeomanry need be apprehended from a population sparsely scattered, and where the settlements were widely separated by swamps and forests. Washington was in no condition to render prompt and effectual relief, his army being at a vast distance, and considered as “in a great measure broken up.” The British, on the contrary, had the advantage of their 1780.] GENERAL LINCOLN AT CHARLESTON. 27
naval force, “there being nothing then in the American seas which could even venture to look at it.”” Such were some of the considerations which had prompted the enemy to this expedition; and which gave Washington great anxiety concerning it. General Lincoln was in command at Charleston, but uncertain as yet of the designs of the enemy, and at a loss what course to pursue. Diffident of himself, and accustomed to defer to the wisdom of Washington, he turns to him in his present perplexity. “It is among my misfortunes,” writes he, modestly (Jan. 23d), “that I am not near enough to your Excellency to have the advantage of your advice and direction. I feel my own insufficiency and want of experience. I can promise you nothing but a disposition to serve my country. If this town should be attacked, as now threatened, I know my duty will call me to defend it, as long as opposition can be of any avail. I hope my inclination will coincide with my duty.” The voyage of Sir Henry Clinton proved long and tempestuous. The ships were dispersed. Several fell into the hands of the Americans. One ordnance vessel foundered. Most of the artillery horses, and all those of the cavalry perished. The scattered ships rejoined each other about the end of January, at Tybee Bay on Savannah River; where those that had sustained damage were repaired as speedily as possible. The loss of the cavalry horses was especially felt by Sir Henry. There was a corps of two hundred and fifty dragoons, on which he depended greatly in the kind of
* Ann. Register 1780, p. 217.
guerilla warfare he was likely to pursue, in a country of forests and morasses. Lieutenant-colonel Banastre Tarleton, who commanded them, was one of those dogs of war, which Sir Henry was prepared to let slip on emergencies, to scour and maraud the country. This “bold dragoon,” so noted in Southern warfare, was about twenty-six years of age, of a swarthy complexion, with small, black, piercing eyes. He is described as being rather below the middle size, square-built and strong, “with large muscular legs.” It will be found that he was a first-rate partisan officer, prompt, ardent, active, but somewhat unscrupulous. Landing from the fleet, perfectly dismounted, he repaired with his dragoons, in some of the quartermaster's boats, to Port Royal Island, on the seabord of South Carolina, “to collect at that place, from friends or enemies, by money or by force, all the horses belonging to the Islands in the neighborhood.” He succeeded in procuring horses, though of an inferior quality to those he had lost, but consoled himself with the persuasion that he would secure better ones in the course of the campaign, by “exertion and enterprise,” —a vague phrase, but very significant in the partisan vocabulary In the mean time, the transports having on board a great part of the army, sailed under convoy on the 10th of February, from Savannah to North Edisto Sound, where the troops disembarked on the 11th, on St. Johns Island, about thirty miles below Charleston. Thence, Sir Henry Clinton set out for the banks of Ashley River opposite to the city, while a part of the fleet proceeded round by sea, for the purpose of block
1780.] CHARLESTON FORTIFIED. 29
ading the harbor. The advance of Sir Henry was slow and cautious. Much time was consumed by him in fortifying intermediate ports, to keep up a secure communication with the fleet. He ordered from Savannah all the troops that could be spared, and wrote to Knyphausen, at New York, for reinforcements from that place. Every precaution was taken by him to insure against a second repulse from before Charleston, which might prove fatal to his military reputation. General Lincoln took advantage of this slowness on the part of his assailant, to extend and strengthen the works. Charleston stands at the end of an isthmus formed by the Ashley and Cooper Rivers. Beyond the main works on the land side he cut a canal, from one to the other of the swamps which border these rivers. In advance of the canal were two rows of abatis and a double picketed ditch. Within the canal, and between it and the main works, were strong redoubts and batteries, to open a flanking fire on any approaching column, while an inclosed hornwork of masonry formed a kind of citadel. A squadron, commanded by Commodore Whipple, and composed of nine vessels of war of various sizes, the largest mounting forty-four guns, was to co-operate with Forts Moultrie and Johnston and the various batteries, in the defence of the harbor. They were to he before the bar so as to command the entrance of it. Great reliance also was placed on the bar itself, which it was thought no ship-of-the-line could pass. Governor Rutledge, a man eminent for talents, patriotism, firmness and decision, was clothed with dictatorial powers during the present crisis; he had