Siege of Charleston
Siege of Charleston
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This article is about the siege during the American Revolutionary War.
For the 1776 British attempt to capture Charleston, see Battle of Sullivan’s Island.
For the American Civil War sieges, see Battle of Charleston (disambiguation).
Siege of CharlestonPart of the American Revolutionary War
Siege of Charleston 1780 by Alonzo ChappelDate March 29, 1780 – May 12, 1780
Location Charleston, South Carolina32°47′39.12″N 79°56′31.26″WCoordinates: 32°47′39.12″N 79°56′31.26″W
Result British victory
City surrendered to British
Belligerents Great Britain
Kingdom of Great Britain
Commanders and leaders
Kingdom of Great Britain
Sir Henry Clinton
Kingdom of Great Britain Lord CornwallisKingdom of Great Britain Alexander Leslie
Kingdom of Great Britain Mariot Arbuthnot
United States Benjamin Lincoln Surrendered
United States William Moultrie Surrendered
United States James Hogun Surrendered
United States William Woodford Surrendered
Abraham Whipple Surrendered
Kingdom of France Louis Duportail Surrendered
Strength12,847 regulars and militia
4,500 sailors6 ships of the line
4 armed galleys
90 transports 
6,577 regulars, sailors and militia
3 armed galleys 
Casualties and losses
76 killed,189 wounded:70 89 killed,138 wounded3,371 captured:70[show] v t e
The Siege of Charleston was a major engagement fought between March 29 to May 12, 1780 during the American Revolutionary War. The British, following the collapse of their northern strategy and their withdrawal from Philadelphia, shifted their focus to the American Southern Colonies.
After approximately six weeks of siege, Major General Benjamin Lincoln, commanding the Charleston garrison, surrendered his forces to the British, resulting in one of the worst American defeats of the war.
1 Background2 Siege3 Aftermath4 Order of Battle4.1 British forces4.2 Franco-American forces5 See also6 References7 External linksBackground
See also: Southern theater of the American Revolutionary War
By late 1779, two major British strategic efforts had failed. An army invading from Quebec under John Burgoyne, had surrendered to the Americans under Horatio Gates at the Battles of Saratoga, compelling the Kingdom of France and Spain to declare war on Great Britain in support of the Americans.
Meanwhile, a strategic effort led by Sir William Howe to capture the Revolutionary capital of Philadelphia had met with limited success. Having replaced his superior as Commander-in-Chief of the American Station, Sir Henry Clinton withdrew all his forces back to New York City to reinforce the city against a possible Franco-American attack.
Detail of a 1780 map drawn by a British engineer showing the Charleston defenses
Stymied by the Fabian strategy adopted by George Washington, and, under increasing political pressure to deliver victory, the British turned to launching their “Southern Strategy” for forcing a capitulation of the Americans. The British were persuaded that there was a strong Loyalist sentiment in the south. It was expected that these Loyalists would rise against the American Patriots in large numbers.
The opening British move was the Capture of Savannah, Georgia in December 1778. After repulsing an assault on Savannah by a combined Franco-American force in October 1779, the British planned to capture Charleston, South Carolina, intending to use the city as a base for further operations in the southern colonies.
Sir Henry Clinton evacuated Newport, Rhode Island in Oct. 1779, and left the substantial garrison of New York City under the command of Wilhelm von Knyphausen. In December, the day after Christmas 1779, Clinton and his second in command Charles Cornwallis, sailed southward with 8,500 troops and 5,000 sailors on 90 troopships and 14 warships.
After a very stormy voyage, the fleet anchored in Savannah River on 1 Feb. 1780. By 12 Feb., Clinton had landed his army 30 miles south of Charleston on Simmons Island. By 24 Feb., the British had crossed the Stono River onto James Island, and by 10 March, Lord Cornwallis had made it to the mainland. By 22 March, they had advanced to Middleton Place and Drayton Hall, and on 29 March 1780, crossed the Ashley River.:39-40,42,44
Charleston map showing the distribution of British forces during the siege
Cutting the city off from relief, Clinton began a siege of the city on April 1, 800 yards from the American fortifications located at today’s Marion Square. Whipple, deciding the bar was undefendable, ended up scuttling his fleet at the mouth of the Cooper River. Then Arbuthnot, on 8 April, brought his 14 vessels safely into the harbor, past the roaring guns of Fort Moultrie, the same day Woodford arrived with 750 Virginia Continentals.:46,52-53,55-57
In order to consolidate British control of the immediate area, Clinton dispatched Banastre Tarleton and Patrick Ferguson to capture Monck’s Corner on 14 April.
On 18 April, Lt. Col. Lord Rawdon arrived with 2,500 men, including the 42nd Highlanders, the Hessian von Ditfurth Regiment, the Queen’s Rangers, Prince of Wales American Volunteers, and the Volunteers of Ireland. Charleston was then completely surrounded.:60-64
Governor John Rutledge escaped on 13 April, before Cornwallis crossed the Cooper River and joined Webster in blocking escape from the left bank.
On 21 April, Lincoln requested a surrender with “Honours of war”, which was rejected by Clinton. On 25 April, civilians led by Christopher Gadsden prevented any action on Lincoln’s part in withdrawing the Continental regiments.
On 6 May, Tarleton won another engagement in the Battle of Lenud’s Ferry, while the British siege works had advanced far enough towards the Charleston fortifications to drain the canal in front.:66-67
On 7 May, Fort Moultrie surrendered without a fight. On May 8, Clinton called for Lincoln’s unconditional surrender, but Lincoln again attempted to negotiate for the honours of war.
On May 11, Gadsden and other citizens asked Lincoln to surrender. While on the same day, the British fired heated shot into the city, burning several homes, compelling Lincoln to call for a parlay to negotiate terms for surrender. On May 12, Lincoln formally surrendered 3,371 men to the British.:69-70
When word reached the back-country, the American troops holding Ninety-Six and Camden also surrendered to the British.
Prison hulks awaited the majority of the 2,571 Continental prisoners, while parole was granted to the militia and civilians who promised not to take up arms. However, this also meant there no longer existed an American army in the South.:70
The British captured some 5,266 prisoners, 311 artillery pieces, 9,178 artillery rounds, 5,916 muskets, 33,000 rounds of ammunition, 212 hand grenades, 15 Regimental colours, 49 ships and 120 boats, plus 376 barrels of flour, and large magazines of rum, rice and indigo.
Following the surrender, the captured ordnance was brought to a powder magazine. A Hessian officer warned that some of the guns might still be loaded, but he was ignored. One prematurely fired, detonating 180 barrels of powder, further discharging 5,000 muskets in the magazine. The accident killed approximately 200 people and destroyed six houses.
The prisoners of the siege were diverted to multiple locations, including prison shops, the old barracks where the College of Charleston is today, and the Old Exchange and Provost “Dungeon”.
The defeat was a serious blow to the American cause. It was the largest surrender of an American force under arms, until the 1862 surrender of Union troops at Harper’s Ferry during the Antietam Campaign. The surrender left no substantial army in the South, and the colonies were wide open for a British advance. The British troops consolidated their hold, and had driven the remaining Continental Army troops from South Carolina consequent to the May 29 Battle of Waxhaws.
During their surrender the American forces were denied honours of war, leading General George Washington to deny the same to the British during their surrender at the Siege of Yorktown, with Washington saying “The same Honors will be granted to the Surrendering Army as were granted to the Garrison of Charles Town.”
On June 5, Clinton sailed back to New York City, believing his presence necessary to defend against a potential Franco-American attack, leaving command of the southern theatre to Lord Cornwallis, with orders to reduce opposition in North Carolina. Though the effects of the surrender at Charleston was substantial, the British err in strategy soon became apparent. There was no popular uprising of Loyalists that the British command had been assured would happen, making control of the countryside difficult. Instead, resistance in South Carolina degenerated into a period of chaotic guerrilla warfare in the outlying areas.
Order of Battle
The joint British naval-army forces were led overall by Sir Henry Clinton, with his subordinate, Lord Cornwallis as his second-in-command. The British regular troops were led by Brigadier General Alexander Leslie.
The ground and naval forces were composed thus:[hide]British Order of Battle1st Battalion of Light Infantry, composed of the Light Companies of the 7th, 22nd, 33rd, 37th, 42nd, 54th, 63rd, 70th and the 74th Regiments of Foot (640).2nd Battalion of Light Infantry, composed of the Light Companies of the 23rd, 38th, 43rd, 57th, 64th, 76th, 80th, and the 84th Regiments of Foot (637).1st Battalion of Grenadiers, composed of the Grenadier Companies of the 7th, 17th, 23rd, 33rd, 37th, 38th, 42nd, and the 43rd Regiments of Foot (611).2nd Battalion of Grenadiers, composed of the Grenadier Companies of the 22nd, 54th, 57th, 63rd, 64th, 70th, and the 74th Regiments of Foot (526).7th Regiment of Foot (463).23rd Regiment of Foot (400).33rd Regiment of Foot (450).63rd Regiment of Foot (400).64th Regiment of Foot (350).2nd Battalion of the 60th Regiment of Foot (45).A Brigade of four battalions of Hessian Grenadiers (1,525).King’s American Regiment of Loyalists (167).A Corps of Hessian Jaegers (224).Royal Regiment of Artillery – No. 1 and 6 Companies of the 3rd Battalion, No 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 8 Companies of the 4th Battalion (200), and Hesse-Kassel artillery.A detachment of Royal Navy artillery with 47 guns.A detachment of Slaves employed in the Artillery batteries (154).A Corps of guides and Pioneers (72).A Brigade of Engineers and Black PioneersA Brigade of British reinforcements from Georgia, composed of;1st and 2nd Battalions of the 71st Highlanders (869).Light companies of the 16th and the 71st (243).Light company of the 3rd Battalion, New Jersey Volunteers.17th Regiment of Light Dragoons (73).A Brigade of Engineers and Black Pioneers (206).The British Legion Cavalry (211).The British Legion Infantry (287).Patrick Ferguson’s Battalion of American volunteers (335).Two battalions of The South Carolina RoyalistsSouth Carolina Loyalist (372).Royal North Carolina Regiment of Loyalists.A company of Georgia loyalist militia (32).A squadron of Georgia loyalist dragoons (40).New York volunteers.A Brigade of British reinforcements from New York City, composed of;Two Battalions of the 42nd Regiment of Foot.A Hessian regiment of Fusiliers.The Prince of Wales American Regiment (334).Queen’s Rangers Regiment of Loyalists (200).The Volunteers of Ireland Regiment of Loyalists (~423).The British naval forces that accompanied the invasion were commanded by Vice
Admiral Mariot Arbuthnot, and were composed thus:
4,500 personnelShipsHMS Europa (500 men, 64 guns)HMS Raisonnable (500 men, 64 guns)HMS Renown (350 men, 50 guns)HMS Romulus (280 men, 44 guns)HMS Rainbow (350 men, 44 guns)HMS Roebuck (280 men, 44 guns – Flagship)HMS Blonde (220 men, 32 guns)HMS Perseus (20 guns)HMS Camilla (160 men, 20 guns)HMS Raleigh (220 men, 32 guns)HMS Virginia (200 men, 28 guns)HMS Richmond (220 men, 32 guns)HMS Vigilant (160 men, 22 guns – later burnt as unfit)HM armed ship Germaine (125 men, 20 guns)Armed galleysHM galley Comet (40 men, 7 guns)HM galley ScourgeHM galley VindictiveHM galley Viper90 transport ships accompanied the fleet, including:HMS PollyAeolusApolloDianaRussia MerchantSilver EelFranco-American forcesThe Franco-American garrison of Charleston was overall led by Benjamin Lincoln. The Continental Army troops were nominally led by Brigadier General William Moultrie
The ground and naval forces were composed thus:[hide]Franco-American Order of BattleA brigade of South Carolina Continentals:1st South Carolina Regiment (231).2nd South Carolina Regiment (266).3rd South Carolina Regiment (302).Pulaski’s Legion of Infantry.A brigade of North Carolina Continentals:1st North Carolina Regiment (260).2nd North Carolina Regiment (244).3rd North Carolina Regiment (~94).A Corps of South Carolina light infantry (175).2nd Virginia brigade:1st Virginia Detachment (258).2nd Virginia Detachment (323).A squadron of the 1st and 3rd Continental Light Dragoons (31).A squad of Armand’s Legion (4).A squadron of the Georgia Regiment of Horse Rangers (41).A group of Georgia continental officers (6).A battalion of North Carolina Light Infantry (202).A detachment of North Carolina Light DragoonsA brigade of Continental Artillery consisting of 391 gunsA brigade of Engineers (7 men, 600 slaves)1st brigade of South Carolina militia:Beaufort District Regiment of Militia1st Battalion of the Charles Town District Regiment of Militia (302).2nd Battalion of the Charles Town District Regiment of Militia (485).Granville County Regiment of MilitiaColleton County Regiment of MilitiaBerkeley County Regiment of Militia2nd brigade of South Carolina militia:Camden District Regiment of MilitiaFairfield Regiment of Militia1st Spartan Regiment of Militia2nd Spartan Regiment of MilitiaNew Acquisition District Regiment of Militia3rd brigade of South Carolina militia:Upper Ninety-Six District Regiment of MilitiaLower Ninety-Six District Regiment of MilitiaLower District Regiment of MilitiaLittle River District Regiment of MilitiaOrangeburgh District Regiment of Militia4th brigade of South Carolina militia:Cheraws District Regiment of MilitiaGeorgetown District Regiment of MilitiaLower Craven County Regiment of MilitiaUpper Craven County Regiment of MilitiaKingstree Regiment of MilitiaA brigade of North Carolina militia:1st North Carolina Regiment of Militia2nd North Carolina Regiment of Militia3rd North Carolina Regiment of Militia4th North Carolina Regiment of MilitiaA brigade of Virginia militia:Amelia County MilitiaA company of the Chasseurs-Volontaires de Saint-Domingue (43).A Spanish company of militia (42).1st Virginia Brigade of Continentals, arrived as reinforcements on April 8:1st Virginia Regiment (336).2nd Virginia Regiment (306).3rd Virginia Regiment (252).
The Franco-American naval forces that accompanied the defence of the city were commanded by Commodore Abraham Whipple, and were composed thus:
Continental Navy ships:
USS Ranger (35 Marines, 20 guns)
USS Queen of France (50 marines, 28 guns)
USS Providence (16 marines, 32 guns)
USS Boston (50 marines, 30 guns)
South Carolina state ships:
Bricole (44 guns)
General Moultrie (20 guns)
Notre Dame (16 guns)
Marquis de Britigney (7 guns)
Lee (4 guns)
Revenge (7 guns)
French Navy ships:
L’Aventure (26 guns)
Truite (26 guns)
Zephyr (18 guns)
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