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HE British General Howe, when he sailed from Boston, left some cruizers to watch the entrance of the bay, and to give notice of the evacuation to such British vessels as were destined for that port. Notwithstanding this precaution, however, several ships and transports sailed into the harbour, and became prizes to the Americans, who now began with the vessels, arms, and ammunition thus obtained to fit out privateers to act in some degree in the place of a regular naval force. Lieutenant-colonel Campbell of the British army, with about two hundred and seventy men, and a considerable quantity of military stores, was thus captured, while entering the harbour.
Anxious for the safety of New York, General Washington sent forward his whole army to that place except five regiments, which he left under the command of General Ward, for the defence of Boston. As soon as he was sure that the British vessels had certainly sailed from Nantasket Roads, where they had lain for ten days after the evacuation, he proceeded to join his army, and passing through Providence, Norwich, and New London, arrived in New York on the 13th of April. That city was but ill prepared for defence in case of the arrival of General Howe. The state troops were as deficient in arms as many of the citizens were in patriotism. Many of the most influential citizens were loyalists, and the city itself lay open to attack at any time, on the side of the ocean. Washington's first care, therefore, was to erect such forts as would command the approaches to the city, and in some degree overawe the inhabitants, while vessels were sunk in the North and East Rivers to obstruct the navigation.
Though it was soon ascertained that General Howe, instead of sailing to the southward, had steered for Halifax, Washington did not allow himself to lose time, or give his enemies an advantage which skill or activity could prevent. As the command of the Hudson River was necessary, as well to facilitate the transmission of supplies to the northern army, then under the command of General Schuyler, as to secure that intercourse between the northern and southern colonies which was of so much consequence to the Americans, he immediately began to fortify the passes in the Highlands bordering on that river. It was thus that the American army was actively employed until General Howe appeared with the British off Sandy Hook, about the end of June.
As early as December, 1775, the attention of the British was drawn to the importance of establishing a strong post in the south, with the double object in view of overawing the southern colonists, and distracting the attention of General Washington. For this purpose a large fleet was fitted out in Ireland, under the command of Admiral Sir Peter Parker, and General Clinton was detached from Boston with instructions to use the utmost diligence, so as to accomplish his object before the opening the next campaign at the north, when he was ordered at all events to join General Howe at New York. He sailed from Boston in December, and, after touching at New York, joined Governor Martin, near Cape Fear.
In the beginning of June, the British fleet, under Sir Peter Parker, came to anchor in the harbour of Charleston, where it was joined by General Clinton. Fortunately, an official letter had been inter
cepted early in the year, announcing the departure of this armament, and its destination against the southern colonies. This gave the colonists an opportunity to be prepared for its reception. On Sullivan's Island, at the entrance of Charleston harbour, a fort had been constructed of the wood of the palmetto tree, which in its nature very much resembles the cork. Major-general Lee had already been sent by Washington to take the command of any forces which might be collected in the neighbourhood. His popularity soon collected a force of from five to six thousand men; and his high military reputation gave confidence to the citizens as well as soldiers. Under him were Colonels Gadsden, Moultrie, and Thompson. Colonel Gadsden commanded a regiment stationed on the northern extremity of James Island; two regiments under Colonels Moultrie and Thompson occupied the opposite extremities of Sullivan's Island. The remainder of the troops were posted at various points. General Clinton landed a number of his troops on Long Island, separated from Sullivan's Island on the eastern side by a small creek. The fort on Sullivan's Island was garrisoned by about four hundred men commanded by Colonel Moultrie. The attack on this fort commenced on the morning of the 28th of June. The ships opened their several broadsides upon it; and General Clinton attempted to cross the creek from Long Island and attack it in the rear. The discharge of artillery upon this little fort was incessant, but Moultrie and his brave Carolinians returned the fire with such skill and spirit that many of the ships suffered severely; one of them ran aground and was burned the next morning. The British, after persisting in the attack until dark, were repulsed and forced to abandon the enterprise. Their loss amounted to about two hundred, that of the Americans to twenty. The palmetto wood, in this instance, proved an effectual defence, as the enemy's balls did not penetrate, but sunk into it as into earth.
In the course of the engagement, the flag-staff of the fort was shot away; but Serjeant Jasper leaped down upon the beach, snatched up the flag, fastened it to a sponge staff, and while the ships were incessantly directing their broadsides upon the fort, he mounted the merlon and deliberately replaced the flag. Next day, President Rutledge presented him with a sword, as a testimony of his respect for his distinguished valour. Colonel Moultrie, and the officers and troops on Sullivan's Island, received the thanks of their country for their bravery, and in honour of the gallant commander the fort was named Fort Moultrie.
The failure of the attack on Charleston was of great importance