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Operations in the South – British Account

From Diary of the American Revolution, Vol II. Compiled by Frank Moore and published in 1859.

May 29.—A correspondent in Charleston, South Carolina, gives the following account of the late movements of the two armies at the southward:—”On the twenty-eighth of April, a party of the British army, under the command of Major Fraser, landed nine miles below Purysburg, and on the next morning, Lieutenant-Colonel Maitland, with the light infantry of the line and a battalion of the 1st, landed four miles higher up Savannah River. Colonel Mclntosh, who commanded at Purysburg, having only two hundred men, the major part of whom were militia, (after calling in all his outposts,) was obliged to retire as the enemy advanced towards the town, of which they took possession that afternoon.

“General Moultrie was at this time posted at Black Swamp, with about eight hundred men. The enemy’s drawing more of their forces on this side the river, and advancing higher up, evidently indicated an intention of attacking the general before he could be joined by Colonel Mclntosh. General Lincoln, with the main body of the army, being then eighty miles further up the country, should the enemy have succeeded in the attempt, there would be no obstacle in their march to Charleston, and as their force was treble General Moultrie’s, the worst was to be apprehended. These considerations induced the general to retire on the thirtieth, and that night he met Colonel Mclntosh on his march to join him at Black Swamp. The event proved the propriety of the movement, as next morning the British were in possession of the ground the Americans had evacuated.

“The general halted at Coosawhatchie that night, and having marched over the bridge, before daylight next morning proceeded to Tulifinny, and took post there. A field-officer’s guard was left at the bridge.

“Early in the morning of the second of May, advice was received that the enemy were in motion, and about two o’clock in the afternoon an attack was commenced by their advanced party of light infantry at the bridge, where the guard had been reinforced by one hundred and fifty riflemen. Their superior numbers rendered it impossible to stop their progress. Little other loss was sustained in this skirmish than Colonel John Laurens being wounded in the right arm, which deprived the army of that gallant officer’s services.

“The general’s army being chiefly composed of militia, whose families and effects lay in the way of the enemy, was every moment diminishing, and laid him under the necessity of retiring, which he did by the Saltketcher road, having destroyed the bridges of Tulifinny and Pocotaligo in his way. The army halted for a few hours at the meeting-house, and then marched to Ashepoo. They passed the bridge in the forenoon of the fourth, and took post for the rest of the day on the high grounds near Mr. Pinckney’s houses. Intelligence was this night received that the enemy’s advanced party had reached Godfrey’s, near Savannah, and that their main body had found means to cross Saltketcher River, notwithstanding the Americans had taken the precaution to destroy the bridge; this, joined to the inferior number of our army, which was considerably less than when it left Black Swamp, and the nature of the country, which rendered it impossible to make a stand without being exposed, obliged the general to quit Ashepoo between three and four o’clock in the morning of the fifth.

“At night the enemy halted at Mr. Ferguson’s plantation, called Spring Grove, having destroyed Jacksonborough Bridge on their way, and reached Bacon’s Bridge next night, when General Moultrie left the army, and proceeded to Charleston.

“Major Butler, who joined the army at Jacksonborough, with a party of horse, on the sixth, fell in with a foraging party of the enemy, sixteen miles to the southward of Parker’s ferry. Three of them, belonging to the 71st light infantry, were taken prisoners, and a few horse killed and wounded.

“Part of Count Pulaski’s legion arrived on the eighth; on the ninth, Colonel Mclntosh, with the troops left at Bacon’s Bridge, and a detachment from Orangeburgh, arrived in town. And next day, Colonel Harris, who had been detached by General Lincoln, with two hundred Continental troops, to reinforce General Moultrie, and Colonel Neal, with three hundred men from Orangeburgh, also arrived.

“In the evening of the tenth, intelligence was received of the royal army being encamped on the south side of Ashley ferry, where they appeared so suddenly as to prevent the ferry boats being destroyed. The troops stationed in town, regulars and militia, were under arms the whole night.

“The enemy began to cross Ashley ferry at ten in the forenoon of the eleventh. Their advanced party, composed of light infantry, cavalry, and savages, took post half a mile from the ferry. General Pulaski, after reconnoitring them, left a detachment to watch their motions, and repaired to town in order to confer with the council. During this interval, the enemy had completed their passage of the river, and were advancing in three columns towards the town. Their advanced guard consisted of two hundred horse, four hundred Highlanders, and some Indians; their rear guard of cavalry.

“At the distance of five miles from town, some of the count’s party were ordered to fire, principally with a view of announcing the enemy’s approach. The enemy made frequent halts in order to explore the ground over which they were to pass.

“The count, who had ordered the infantry of his corps to form an ambuscade, and directed a detachment of volunteer horse which he fell in with to second his infantry, advanced and made his disposition for inducing the enemy to detach their cavalry from the head of their column. A close fire began, when both our cavalry and infantry charged; but the latter were exceedingly embarrassed and confined in their movements by the volunteer horse, owing to a misapprehension of orders. Notwithstanding these difficulties, and the superiority of the enemy’s numbers, the ground was obstinately disputed. But at length the order for retreat became necessary, and the enemy, by their prudence in not advancing, escaped the fire of the artillery from our works. The British loss was forty-five soldiers and officers, and ours thirty in all.

“About ten o’clock at night, an alarm being given by one of our sentinels, occasioned a general fire of cannon and musketry from the lines and armed vessels stationed on the flanks. Major Benjamin Huger, who has been sent out with a party to fill up a gap in the abbatis, and three privates, were unfortunately killed. He was a gentleman whose memory will be ever dear to all those who had the happiness of knowing him; and whether considered as a citizen, as a soldier, as the father of a family, or as a friend, is universally regretted. The enemy had several men killed, they say chiefly from the shipping. “On the morning of the twelfth, Major Gardner, of the 60th regiment, was met with at some distance from the lines, bearing a flag from General Prevost. Several others passed and repassed, but in the afternoon all further intercourse of that kind was discontinued, and every preparation made for vigorously repelling a general assault, expected at night, which, however, was never attempted.

“Early in the morning of the thirteenth, Count Pulaski went out with a small party of horse to reconnoitre; and the surprise was scarcely to be conceived which was occasioned by his sending intelligence of the enemy having decamped and recrossed Ashley River. Eleven deserters, and about as many prisoners, were brought into town during the course of the day. The sudden departure of the enemy gave rise to a variety of conjectures. The most probable appeared to be their being misinformed respecting the strength of the garrison and works, and their having some intimation of General Lincoln’s approach. They were, for several days after their retreat, encamped in different places in the neighborhood of Ashley ferry, and on James’ Island. On General Lincoln’s coming to Ashley ferry, they drew in force towards Wappoo, and it was imagined meant to hazard an action; but they suddenly decamped on the night of the twenty-seventh, and passed over to John’s Island, where, by the last accounts, they are at present. Some are of the opinion that they intend proceeding through the islands to Port Royal.

“As some movements of the enemy gave reason to imagine they intended attacking Fort Johnson, and the greater part of the forces then in this neighborhood being required for the defence of the works in town, that fortification was blown up on the twelfth. Great part of the ball, &c., have been since brought off. Thirty of Captain Matthew’s company of the Charleston militia being sent down to cover a party employed in bringing off some more of the iron work, were attacked on Saturday by Major Gardner, with a superior number of men, but were fortunate enough to escape with the loss of seven wounded and one taken prisoner.”1

An officer of distinction in the British army gives the following “authentic account” of the foregoing operations in South Carolina:—”The success which his Majesty’s army has met with in South Carolina, by penetrating, without any loss of men, to the very gates of Charleston, and obliging the enemy to burn its beautiful suburbs, will hardly be credited. The natural difficulties of the country were thought a sufficient barrier, with General Moultrie’s army, to stop us from penetrating any distance into the province, but the spirit shown by the troops, their patience and perseverance under the severest fatigues, were such as would have surmounted greater obstacles than the resistance of the enemy.

“We arrived before Charleston on the eleventh, in the evening, after almost totally destroying or taking that famous legion of Pulaski’s, by forty-five of our gallant dragoons, under the command of the brave Captain Tawes. Amongst the killed of the enemy, was Count Pulaski’s colonel, and several privates, besides a great number of prisoners taken. The enemy sent next morning to know what terms we would grant. Four hours were allowed them to surrender prisoners of war, or take the oaths of allegiance to his Majesty, and be protected in their persons and property, and return to the class of peaceful citizens. But an express having arrived in the mean time from General Lincoln, with an account of his approach, and that a reinforcement would be in town that day, the enemy grew more confident, and began to talk in higher terms; however, they proposed a neutrality for the province until the war between Great Britain and America was determined; but it being a proposition2 which the general could not agree to, they were informed that nothing could be granted but the most favorable terms, as to security of persons and property if the place was surrendered; this they declined on the encouragement received from General Lincoln, the arrival of their armed vessels to flank their works, and the number of guns mounted on them. The storming of the place was the next point to be considered, but though it was not doubted but it might be carried in that way, yet, as it would probably have been attended with the loss of a considerable number of men, which may be avoided by proceeding on another plan, (where the success will be at least equally certain, and the risk less,) it was therefore determined to keep the field, as we were so situated as to insure a communication with our shipping, receive the necessary supplies, and from thence act as circumstances should require. This measure is now pursued, and the army are in possession of James’ and John’s Islands, the enemy having precipitately abandoned the very strong fort situated on the former island, called Fort Johnson.”3


1 Copied from a “Rebel Paper” into Gaine’s Mercury, July 26.
2 The following is the proposition made by Colonels Smith and Mclntosh to Colonel Provost and Captain Moncrief, at a conference at Charleston, May 12, 1779:—

That Carolina should remain in a state of neutrality during the war, and the question whether Carolina should remain an independent State, or be subject to Great Britain, be determined by the fate of the war.”

This proposition shows in a clear point of view, with what ease the people of Carolina can throw off and break their most solemn engagement with the Continental Congress and France, on the approach of real danger, or whenever they think it will suit their private views. Such is the much boasted virtue and honor of the inhabitants of South Carolina.

Some time ago the State of South Carolina made a requisition to the Continental Congress for a supply of troops in South Carolina; the Congress sent young Mr. Laurens to recommend it to them to arm their domestics, and at the same time recommending Mr. Laurens as a proper person to head them. This is said to be the cause of Carolinians being willing to remain in a state of neutrality. —Gaine’s Mercury, July 12.

3 Georgia Gazette, June 10, and Gaine’s Mercury, July 12.