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A Gallant Defense

The Siege of Charleston, 1780

Carl P. Borick

Publication Year: 2012

In 1779 Sir Henry Clinton and more than eight thousand British troops left the waters of New York, seeking to capture the colonies’ most important southern port, Charleston, South Carolina. Clinton and his officers believed that victory in Charleston would change both the seat of the war and its character. In this comprehensive study of the 1780 siege and surrender of Charleston, Carl P. Borick offers a full examination of the strategic and tactical elements of Clinton’s operations. Suggesting that the importance of the siege has been underestimated, Borick contends that the British effort against Charleston was one of the most critical campaigns of the war. Borick examines the reasons for the shift in British strategy, the efforts of their army and navy, and the difficulties the patriots faced as they defended the city. He explores the roles of key figures in the campaign, including Benjamin Lincoln, William Moultrie, and Lord Charles Cornwallis. Borick relies on an impressive array of primary and secondary sources relating to the siege and includes maps that depict the British approach to the city and the complicated military operations that led to the patriots’ greatest defeat of the American Revolution.

Published by: University of South Carolina Press


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pp. 1-7


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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-11

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pp. xi-xiii

On the afternoon of 26 December 1779, from his post in the hills of eastern New Jersey, Brigadier General Anthony Wayne of the Continental line watched through his spyglass as an immense fleet of British ships cleared Sandy Hook and then disappeared below the horizon.Wayne counted 106 vessels in the fleet; it was one of the largest that the...

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pp. xv-xvii

I am indebted to so many people for the completion of this work that it is impossible to list them all. I should begin with the staff of the Charleston Museum. If it were not for that institution and the wonderful employees there, I probably would not have been able to write this book. Brien Varnado, the museum’s former assistant director,...

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Chapter One: Early Threats

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pp. 1-15

The decision of the British high command to attack Charleston and shift their strategic focus in America to the southern colonies had its roots in the earlier operations of the conflict, specifically in the British failures. At the outset of the revolt, few on the British side anticipated that it would take long to subdue the rebels. But spirited resistance in...

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Chapter Two: A “Very Essential Business” Begins

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pp. 16-30

From his headquarters in New York City, Sir Henry Clinton expressed particular interest in events in the southern provinces in 1779. Prevost and Campbell’s success in Georgia encouraged Clinton, but he realized that the British force was large enough only to hold Georgia and that Prevost’s ability to undertake further offensive operations in South...

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Chapter Three: Reaction North and South

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pp. 31-48

On the afternoon of 11 February 1780, Major General Benjamin Lincoln sent a hurried note to the governor’s council informing them that a British fleet was off the coast of Charleston and that, to the misfortune of the town, the wind was “fair for them to come in.” Lincoln had no way of knowing that the British were merely preparing to ...

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Chapter Four: The British on the Sea Islands

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pp. 49-70

Sir Henry Clinton’s decision to disembark in the North Edisto River ensured that the navy would have a sheltered anchorage and the troops would get ashore unopposed, but the landing on Simmons Island left his army twenty miles from Charleston. The nature of the lowcountry terrain, laced with rivers, creeks, marsh, and swamps, heralded a ...

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Chapter Five: That Infernal Bar

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pp. 71-85

Although the Americans offered little resistance to the steady progression of the British army across Johns and then James Island, Lincoln was still counting on probably his most important defensive asset to impede further British operations: Charleston Bar. The topography of the South Carolina lowcountry had already tested the British army, but ...

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Chapter Six: The Defenders of Charleston

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pp. 86-95

While awaiting the outcome of British efforts to cross Charleston Bar, Lincoln and the Americans addressed the city’s defenses. Rather than risk his army in battle against a superior British force west of the Ashley River, Lincoln resigned himself to securing the city from behind its entrenchments. Almost two months had passed since Charleston’s ...

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Chapter Seven: Across the Ashley

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pp. 96-108

Once Admiral Arbuthnot led his ships across Charleston Bar, the momentum of action returned to Sir Henry Clinton and the British army. The advance guard had pushed over Wappoo Cut to the mainland and British troops had established batteries on Fenwick’s Point, but the bulk of Clinton’s army remained on James Island. With ...

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Chapter Eight: Siege Warfare

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pp. 109-120

While the popular conception of military action during the American Revolution is one of armies clashing upon open fields or of small parties skirmishing in the countryside, siege warfare also comprised much of the fighting during the war. Sieges took place in varying degrees in almost every year of the Revolution. The Americans’ lack of military ...

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Chapter Nine: Breaking Ground: The Siege Begins

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pp. 121-142

Under cover of darkness on the evening of 1 April 1780, 3,000 men marched from the British camp at Gibbes’s plantation and advanced toward Charleston. The force consisted of 1,500 laborers and an equal number of men to guard them against an attack from the garrison. The detachment proceeded to the site that Major James Moncrief, Clinton’s ...

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Chapter Ten: The Cooper River Communication [with Image Plates]

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pp. 143-160

Although Clinton’s army had constructed a line of entrenchments across Charleston neck and Arbuthnot’s ships had blockaded the harbor, the ease with which Governor Rutledge and his attendants departed Charleston clearly demonstrated that the British were far from surrounding the city completely. In the days following the Royal Navy’s entrance into the harbor, British officers and soldiers watched ...

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Chapter Eleven: The Noose Tightens on Charleston Neck

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pp. 161-181

In the days after their newly constructed batteries opened upon Charles - ton, British engineers edged their siege apparatus ever closer to the city. Lincoln and his officers, meanwhile, made what efforts they could to thwart the enemy advance. But with the British taking steps to cut off the garrison east of the Cooper, Lincoln recognized that they might ...

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Chapter Twelve: Investiture

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pp. 182-194

During the 20 April council of war, Lincoln informed his officers that the garrison had provisions on hand for only eight to ten days. The scarcity of provision became even more evident on 22 April, when Lincoln ordered the commissaries to reduce the daily ration of one pound of beef per man to three-fourths of a pound per man. Two days later, ...

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Chapter Thirteen: A Gallant Defense

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pp. 195-228

At the 26 April council of war, Lincoln and his officers vowed to fight on, but as the siege progressed, continued resistance became increasingly difficult. With British ships in control of the harbor, Clinton’s main army upon Charleston neck, detachments of British troops on James Island, west of the Ashley at Lining’s Landing, and ranging...

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Chapter Fourteen: Appearances in This Province Are Certainly Very Favourable

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pp. 229-245

News of Charleston’s fall reached Philadelphia by the end of May and incited great alarm among the patriots. The capture of Charleston and of Lincoln’s entire army provided the British a geographical and psychological springboard from which to launch an offensive against the Carolinas and possibly even Virginia. British commanders hoped, and...

Appendix A: Articles of Capitulation as proposed

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pp. 247-250

Appendix B: British and American Forces in the Siege of Charleston as of 30 April 1780

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pp. 251-252


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pp. 253-306


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pp. 307-316


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pp. 317-332

E-ISBN-13: 9781611171686
Print-ISBN-13: 9781611171396

Page Count: 360
Publication Year: 2012