« PreviousContinue »
General Prevost entered from Florida, reduced Sunbury, and taking upon himself the chief command, despatched Campbell against Augusta, the only remaining American post in the state. The fall of Augusta gave the British complete possession of Georgia.
Congress, in the mean time, had passed a resolution recalling General Howe, and General Lincoln was appointed to succeed him. He only arrived in South Carolina in time to cover that state against the advance of the victorious army under General Prevost. Soon after his arrival, a company of seven hundred Tory refugees, who had been compelled by the severities of their countrymen to take refuge among the Indians, attempted to rejoin the king's forces. They were met and attacked by a small body of militia under Colonel Pickens, their commander was killed, and upwards of three hundred of them were taken prisoners.
This success encouraged General Lincoln, who was daily receiving reinforcements, to send a detachment of fourteen hundred men under General Ashe across the Savannah river, to take post at its junction with Briar Creek, in the hope of cutting off the communication of the English at Augusta with the main army. On receiving information of this movement, General Prevost detached a party under the command of his brother, who, making a circuit of fifty miles, crossed Briar Creek, fifteen miles above its mouth, and coming unexpectedly on the rear of General Ashe's party, totally routed them; the regular troops, after a desperate resistance, being all either killed or taken.
Notwithstanding this disaster, Lincoln again reinforced, determined to proceed with his main body against Augusta. As he crossed the river above, Prevost crossed below, determined to recall him from Augusta by threatening Charleston. Intending only a feint, he proceeded very slowly at first, until he saw that his movement had not the desired effect upon Lincoln, and he heard of the defenceless state of the capital of South Carolina, when his feint was changed to a real invasion, and he advanced with celerity, driving Moultrie with the militia before him into the town. The alarm had been given as soon as he crossed the Savannah, and such active preparations had been made, that when he had crossed the Ashley river, advanced just beyond cannon shot from the walls, and summoned the governor to surrender, he did not venture an attack, but retired during the night to a safe distance, and finally, on the approach of the victorious Lincoln, took refuge on the islands on the coast, from and to which the British fleet formed an easy mode of conveyance. From these islands he began to transport his men
to Georgia, about the middle of June; but before he had entirely completed their removal, his post at Stono Ferry was attacked by General Lincoln, who, after a warm engagement of an hour in length, apprehensive of the arrival of a reinforcement to the British from St. John island, drew off his men, and retired in good order, carrying his wounded along with him. The British loss in killed and wounded was about one hundred and thirty; that of the Americans, one hundred and ninety. During the greater part of the engagement the British were covered by their works, which accounts for their smaller number killed and wounded. The midsummer heat causing a suspension of military operations, the British retired by their shipping to Georgia.
The Count d'Estaing, then in the West Indies, being strongly importuned by Governor Rutledge and General Lincoln to repair to Savannah and aid in driving the British from Georgia, arrived on the coast in the month of September, and surprised and captured a fifty gun ship, and some other British vessels.
General Lincoln, with about a thousand men, marched to Zubly's Ferry on the Savannah, and took up a strong position on the heights of Ebenezer, about twenty-three miles from the city. On the 16th, D'Estaing landed three thousand men, and summoned the place to surrender. General Prevost, on the first appearance of the French fleet on the coast, had ordered all the British detachments and garrisons in Georgia to concentrate in Savannah, and had commenced, and still continued actively employed in strengthening the defences of the town. At the time of the summons to surrender, the works were still incomplete, and a strong detachment which had been in garrison at Beaufort had not yet arrived. Such being the state of affairs, it was of the utmost consequence to the British general to gain time, and he accordingly requested a suspension of hostilities for twenty-four hours, to consider the subject of capitulation. During this critical interval, the expected detachment under Colonel Maitland arrived from Beaufort, and taking some by-road unknown to the besiegers, succeeded in entering the town. About the same time, General Lincoln, reinforced by the garrison of Augusta and Pulaski's legion, arrived before the town and formed a junction with the French.
Encouraged by the arrival of Maitland, Prevost, at the expiration of the twenty-four hours, informed D'Estaing that he had concluded to defend the place to the last extremity. The allies deemed it imprudent to attempt the works by storm, and were obliged to wait a few days until the heavy ordnance and stores could be brought
from the fleet. On the 23d of September, ground was broken in due form, and on the 1st of October, by regular approaches, they had advanced within three hundred yards of the walls; but the defence was prosecuted with such vigour and skill by the British engineer, Major Moncrieff, that it was supposed a long time would still intervene before the garrison could be compelled to surrender. D'Estaing, then strongly urged by his officers, refused any longer to adventure his fleet on the coast, as the tempestuous period was fast approaching, and, in the mean time, while he was spending time before Savannah, the French West Indies were left undefended to the mercy of the British. By continuing their regular approaches for a few days more, the besiegers would probably have made themselves masters of the place, and expelled or captured the only English army then in the Southern States; but these few days D'Estaing could not spare. No alternative seemed to remain but to raise the siege or storm the place. General Lincoln, rather than give up the expedition, after having advanced so far, in opposition to his own judgment, accepted the offer of the French forces to make the attempt before their departure. For that purpose, on the morning of the 9th of October, a heavy cannonade and bombardment opened on the town. A hollow way being discovered by which the troops could advance within fifty yards of the wall, three thousand French and fifteen hundred Americans were led to the attack in three columns by D'Estaing and Lincoln. The party pushed on with great vigour; they had even crossed the ditch, mounted the parapet, and planted their standards on the wall. Being here, however, exposed to a tremendous fire from works well-constructed and completely manned, they were checked. Count Pulaski, at the head of two hundred horsemen, galloped between the batteries towards the town, with the intention of charging the garrison in the rear; but he fell, mortally wounded, and his squadron was broken. The vigour of the assailants began to abate; and, after a desperate conflict of fifty minutes, they were driven from the works, and sounded a retreat.
The loss of the French in this unsuccessful attack was seven hundred; that of the Americans, two hundred and thirty-four killed and wounded. The British, being mostly under cover, lost only fifty-five. D'Estaing immediately embarked and sailed for the West Indies, and the campaign was ended, to the disadvantage of the Americans, though the British had accomplished but little in its prosecution, and they were now confined within the wall of one town, Savannah.
Campaign of 1780.
EANTIME the commander-in-chief of the British forces in America, Sir Henry Clinton, had determined to transfer the principal seat of war to the Southern States. Leaving, therefore, the command of the royal army in New York to General Knyphausen, he sailed from that city
on the 26th of December, 1777, under convoy of Admiral Arbuthnot, but did not arrive at Savannah till the end of January. The passage was tempestuous, some of the transports and victuallers were lost, others shattered, and a few taken by the American cruisers. Most of the cavalry and draught-horses perished. One of the transports, which had been separated from the fleet, was captured by the Americans and brought into Charleston on the 23d of January, and the prisoners gave the first certain notice of the destination of the expedition.
On the 11th of February, 1780, Clinton landed on John's Island, thirty miles from Charleston; but so cautious were his approaches that it was not till the 29th of March, that he broke ground at the distance of eight hundred yards from the American works, and commenced a formal siege.
The determination of the state authorities to defend the town was ill-advised. General Lincoln, who commanded the garrison, was not provided with sufficient means of defence; but the extreme reluctance of the citizens to abandon their capital to the enemy prevented him from availing himself of the ample opportunity afforded for evacuating it; and when, on the 9th of April, Clinton, having completed his first parallel, and mounted his guns in battery, sent him a summons to surrender, he answered: "Sixty days have passed since it has been known that your intentions against this town were hostile, in which time was afforded to abandon it; but duty and inclination point the propriety of supporting it to the last extremity."
The siege was now prosecuted with vigour, and on the 12th of May, General Lincoln found himself under the necessity of capitulating. The effective strength of the garrison had been only between two and three thousand men, while the besieging army consisted of nine thousand of the best of the British troops.
General Lincoln was loaded with undeserved blame by many of his countrymen; for he conducted the defence as became a brave and intelligent officer. The error lay in attempting to defend the town; but, in the circumstances in which General Lincoln was placed, he was almost unavoidably drawn into that course. It was the desire of the state that the capital should be defended; and Congress, as well as North and South Carolina, had encouraged him to expect that his army would be increased to nine thousand men; a force which might have successfully resisted all the efforts of the royal army. But neither Congress nor the Carolinas were able to fulfil the promises they had made; for the militia were extremely backward to take the field, and the expected number of continentals could not be furnished. General Lincoln was, therefore, left to defend the place with only about one-third of the force he had been encouraged to expect. At any time before the middle of April, he might have evacuated the town; but the civil authority then opposed his retreat, which soon afterwards became difficult, and ultimately impracticable.
The fall of Charleston was a matter of much exultation to the British, and spread a deep gloom over the aspect of American