Robert Tomes.

Battles of America by sea and land. With biographies of naval and military commanders (Volume 01) online

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fences of the city. Stores on the wharves
were pulled down to make w r ay for breast
works ; barricades were thrown across,
and cannon planted in, the streets. Some
seven hundred negroes were ordered
down from the country, to assist in the
labor ; and so universal was the interest,
" that hoes and spades were in the hands
of every citizen" day and night, and men
willingly exchanged their beds and home



[PART n.

comforts for the ground and open air,
with nothing but "blankets and knap

General Lee had arrived, to assume the
chief command ; and " the great opinion
which was everywhere entertained of his
ability and experience, added to the spir
its of the troops and inhabitants." With
his usual fondness for swearing, Lee in
augurated his command by a proposition
to bind the militia by an oath. Governor
Rutledge had scruples about the legality
of the measure ; but the men themselves
were so ardent at that time, that they all
came forward, with the exception of two,
and volunteered to swear in accordance
with Lee s desire.

The orders of the general are charac
teristic. Each word in the following
snaps like a firelock:

" As it now appears almost a certainty
(from the intelligence of some deserters)
that the enemy s intention is to make an
attack on the city ; and as the general is
confident that the numbers and spirit of
the garrison will prevent their landing,
it only remains to guard against the in
jury which the city may receive from
their cannon.

" The continental troops, provincials,
and militia, are therefore most earnestly
conjured to work with no less alacrity,
than fight with courage. Courage alone
will not suffice in war ; true soldiers and
magnanimous citizens must brandish the
pickaxe and spade, as well as the sword,
in defence of their country : one or two
days labor, at this critical juncture, may
not only save many worthy families from
ruin, but many worthy individuals from

loss of limbs and life. On this principle
the general does not, simply in his capa
city of commanding officer, order, but en
treat the whole garrison (those on the
necessary duties excepted) to exert them
selves in forwarding the requisite works
of protection.

" The colonels, or commanding officers
of the corps, are to review their men s
arms this evening at roll-calling ; to take
care they are in as good order as pos
sible, and that they are furnished with
good flints. The officers commanding
the different guards are to do the same
with their respective guards.

" For the future it must be observed,
as an established rule, that no artillery-
officer fires a single cannon without pre
viously acquainting the general."

All seemed to be actuated by a very
determined spirit of resistance at Charles
ton, and the preparations to meet the
enemy were made with great energy,
and with as much skill as could be com
manded. The resources of the patriots,
however, were in some respects very de
ficient. Powder was so scarce, that each
soldier in the forts was allowed only a
limited number of rounds ; and lead so
scanty, that it became necessary to strip
the windows of the dwelling-houses in the
town of their weights, to melt and run
into bullets.

Lee was very anxious about the result,
for he had little faith in the steadiness
and discipline of the American troops,
most of whom were either raw recruits
or militiamen. He w r as particularly de
sirous to strengthen the works on Fort
Sullivan, which to his experienced eye




appeared by no means to satisfy the de
mands of military art. He accordingly,
after making a thorough personal inspec
tion, points out the deficiencies, and or
ders that " the screen behind the aperture
of the traverse be immediately begun and
finished with all possible expedition; that
a breastwork of timber, six feet high, be
raised on the rampart ; and that a ban
quet be raised behind the traverse, so as
to enable the musquetry to fire over;
the parapet to be made higher, the ditch
deeper and wider, a screen to be thrown
up behind the entrance, and a facade of
fascines or old timber to be constructed,
as necessary to keep up the light sand
of which the breastwork of the rear-guard
is composed." Lee was all astir, going
from fort to fort, and issuing these em
phatic orders.

Thirty-six of the English transports
finally came up, and all crossed the bar in
safety, with the exception of two,
one of which was got off, but the
other went to pieces. The vessels then
anchored off Long island, which is situ
ated to the northeast of Sullivan s, from
which it is only separated by a narrow
channel or creek. Sir Henry Clinton
here landed two thousand of his troops
and about five hundred sailors, with the
intention of passing over to Sullivan s
island, but was prevented by the depth
of the creek, which was no longer forda-
ble, in consequence of the large quantity
of water driven into it by the strong and
long-continued easterly winds. Clinton
was accordingly forced to raise two bai>
teries to secure his position upon Long
island, and to cover a proposed landing

June 7.

with his boats (to which he would now
be obliged to resort) upon the eastern
end of Sullivan s, where the Americans
principally riflemen, under the command
of Colonel Thompson had posted them
selves behind a breastwork.

General Lee was especially anxious
about this position, and says to Thomp
son, in a characteristic order for the day
" It is a certain truth that the enemy
entertain a most fortunate apprehension
of American riflemen. It is equally cer
tain that nothing can diminish this ap
prehension so infallibly as a frequent in
effectual fire. It is with some concern,
therefore, that I am informed that your
men have been suffered to fire at a most
preposterous distance. Upon this prin
ciple I must entreat and insist that you
consider it as a standing order, that not
a man under your command is to fire at
a greater distance than one hundred and
fifty yards, at the utmost ; in short, that
they never fire without almost a moral
certainty of hitting their obj ect. Distant
firing has a doubly bad effect : it encour
ages the enemy, and adds to the perni
cious persuasion of the American soldiers,
viz., that they are no match for their antago
nists at close fighting. To speak plainly, it
is almost a sure method of making them
cowards. Once more, I must request that
a stop be put to this childish, vicious, and
scandalous practice. I extend the rule
to those who have the care of the field-
pieces ; four hundred yards is the great
est distance they should be allowed to
fire at. A transgression of this rule will
be considered as the effect of flurry and
want of courage."




Some of Thompson s men. from fool-
nardiness or curiosity, had crossed the
creek to Long island; whereat Lee is
greatly inflamed, and asks, in a postscript
to his order : " Is this wise ? Is it soldier
like ? Is it to show the enemy where our
weakness is ?"

Sir Henry, while busy with his works
on L ong island, took occasion in the mean
time io issue a proclamation, appealing
to the loyalty of the people of Charles
ton ; but it only served to inflame them
to greater patriotism and to more active
efforts for defence. The British com
mander seemed in no haste to attempt
to cross over to Sullivan s island ; and in
the meantime his troops suffered greatly,
while laboring at the works, from the
sweltering summer heat,from which there
was no relief of shade on the sandy, des
ert island upon which they had landed.
Some of them became sun-struck, many
ill with dysentery, and all more or less
affected by the severe heat and the brack
ish water with which they were forced
to satisfy their burning thirst.

The admiral was less patient than Clin
ton, and hastened to take his position off
Sullivan s island, which he proposed to
make the object of his attack. He had,
soon after his arrival, moved the Bristol,
his own ship, a fifty-gun vessel,
opposite to the large fort on the
western extremity of the island. He ex
perienced some difficulty in crossing the
bar, but, by lighting the ship of some of
her cannon, finally succeeded in anchor
ing her in position. It was not until the
28th of June (when he was joined by a
large man-of-war of fifty guns, the arrival

June 10.

of which he had been awaiting) that he
determined to make his attack. On that
day accordingly, at eleven o clock in the
morning, he began to move his ships.
He brought the Experiment of fifty, the
Active of twenty-eight, and the Solebay
of the same number of guns, in line with
his own ship the Bristol, and moved them
all in close to the front of the fort; and
ordered the Action, Siren, and Sphinx,
each twenty-eights, to try to get inside,
within the western extremity of the isl
and, where the fort was known to be in
complete. These vessels, however, in at
tempting to get into position, got aground
upon a shoal called the Middle Ground.
The Actseon stuck fast, and all efforts to
move her proved ineffectual. The other
two got afoul of each other, and the
Sphinx lost her bowsprit in consequence ;
but they finally succeeded, in the course
of several hours, in getting off, although
in the meantime they were exposed to a
severe fire from the fort.

As the vessels were getting into posi
tion, the Thunder (bomb) was throwing
her shells upon the island, but not with
much effect, for most of them fell into a
morass, w r here the fuses were soon cxtin
guished. The Active was the first to
haul in and anchor in front of the fort.
As she approached, the Americans fired
a shot or two at her, to try, as it were,
the range of their guns. She was soon
followed by the other ships ; and when
they had fairly let go their anchors, they
began to pour in their broadsides, whicii
were returned by a deadly fire from the
forts. The vessels kept up an incessant
and well-directed cannonade ; but their



balls, although well aimed, did but little
mischief, as they sank into the spongy
palmetto-wood without causing injury to
the works. The American riflemen, in
consequence of their small allowance of
powder, did not fire rapidly, but always
with effect. Thus the struggle was kept
up, from noon till night. There was a
pause for a long time in the fire of the
fort, from a want of ammunition, and the
enemy began to think they had won the
day ; but Lee, who was stationed at Had-
drell s point, on the mainland, took care
to send a supply, and soon the riflemen
were enabled to renew their deadly shots.

Clinton in the meantime made an at
tempt to land from Long island with a
flotilla of small boats ; but Thompson and
his men, bearing in mind Lee s orders,
took care to wait till they reached with
in musket-shot, and then poured upon
them such a volley, that Clinton was
forced to retire. The struggle still con
tinued between the ships and Fort Sul

Lee was full of anxiety during this
prolonged contest. He knew that the
garrison was composed entirely of raw
troops ; he knew that their ammunition
was short; and as the bridge of boats,
which he had begun to construct between
the island and the mainland, was not yet
completed, by which he might send rein
forcements, he was fearful that all would
be lost. He attempted to reach the isl
and ; but his boat, carried adrift by the
wind and the tide, could not make the
place. His aid-de-camp w r as more fortu
nate, and came back from his visit with
the most inspiriting accounts of the tem

per of the garrison. Lee was for awhile
doubtful of the prudence of continuing
the conflict ; but, on hearing of the spirit
of those in the fort, " I determined," he
says, " to support it at all hazards. On
this principle I thought it my duty to
cross over to the island, to encourage the
garrison by my presence ; but I might
have saved myself that trouble ; for I
found, on my arrival, they had no occa
sion for any sort of encouragement : I
found them determined and cool to the
last degree : their behavior would, in fact,
have done honor to the oldest troops."
Another witness tells us that so little con
fusion and disorder existed in the fort
when General Lee visited it, in the height
of the action, that the " officers laid aside
their pipes in order to receive him with
proper respect."

The fight was continued from noon un
til eleven o clock at night, w r hen Sir Peter
Parker was forced to slip his cables and
draw off his ships. The havoc upon his
decks had been terrible. The fight has
been eloquently described by no less a
person than Edmund Burke, who at that
time edited the "Annual Register," of
Dublin : " Whilst the continued thunder
from the ships seemed sufficient to shake
the firmness of the bravest enemy, and
daunt the courage of the most veteran
soldier, the return made by the fort could
not fail of calling for the respect, as well
as of highly incommoding, the brave sea
men of Britain. In the midst of that
dreadful roar of artillery, they stuck with
the greatest constancy and firmness to
their guns ; fired deliberately and slowly,
and took a cool and effective aim. The




ships suffered accordingly; they were torn
to pieces, and the slaughter was dread
ful. Never did British valor shine more
conspicuous, nor never did our marine,
in an engagement of the same nature
with any foreign enemy, experience as
rude an encounter. The springs of the
Bristol s cable being cut by the shot, she
lay for some time exposed in such a man
ner to the enemy s fire, as to be most
dreadfully raked. The brave Captain Mor
ris, after receiving a number of wounds,
which would have sufficiently justified a
gallant man in retiring from his station,
still with a noble obstinacy disdained to
quit his duty, until, his arm being at length
shot off, he was carried away in a condi
tion which did not afford a possibility of

" It is said that the quarter-deck of the
Bristol was at one time cleared of every
person but the commodore, who stood
alone, a spectacle of intrepidity and firm
ness which has seldom been equalled,
never exceeded. The others on that
deck were either killed or carried down
to have their wounds dressed. Nor did
Captain Scott, of the Experiment, miss
his share of the danger or glory, who, be
sides the loss of an arm, received so many
other wounds, that his life was at first
de-spaired of."

Lord William Campbell, a brother of
the duke of Argyle, and the royal gov
ernor of the province of South Carolina,
served as a volunteer, and was mortally
wounded while directing a gun on the
lower deck of the Bristol. Sir Peter Par
ker exposed himself during the whole
fight with great courage, and continued,

although bleeding from a wound, to give
his orders calmly and discreetly. The
wags of Carolina amused themselves sub
sequently with writing verses on Sir Pe
ter s mishap, for the shot which struck
him had taken a direction which natural
ly provoked the humorous if it did not
inspire the poetical. Thus trolled one
of the newspaper versifiers of the day :

" If honor in the breech is lodged,

As Hudibras hath shown,
It may from hence be fairly judged
Sir Peter s honor s gone !"

The loss of the British was very heavy,
being nearly two hundred men in all,
killed and wounded. The vessels were
greatly damaged, particularly the two
fifty-gun ships, the Bristol and the Ex
periment, at which the fire of the garri
son was chiefly aimed. On the former, in
addition to the commodore, Lord Camp
bell, and Captain Morris, the two latter
mortally, sixty-nine men were wounded
and forty killed. On the Experiment,
her commander and seventy-nine of her
officers and men were among the killed
and wounded. This terrible havoc proves
how greatly these two vessels were ex
posed. Their masts and rigging were
cut up and riddled with shot, the Bristol
having had over seventy balls put into
her; their hulls were so battered and
broken, that several of the ports were
knocked into one. Moultrie, in the be
ginning of the engagement, had shouted
to his men, " Mind the commodore and
the fifty-gun ships !" We have seen how
w r ell they obeyed the word.

The Americans lost only thirty-five in
killed and wounded ; but the soft palmet-




to-wood of the fort was studded with balls
as full as a birthday-pudding with plums.
Almost every tree and hut on the island
was levelled to the ground ; and no less
than twelve hundred balls of different
weights, with a large number of shells,
were picked up next day in and about the
fort. All the Americans behaved them
selves with admirable steadiness through
out, and some of them showed great dar
ing. In the beginning of the action, the
flagstaff was shot away ; when Sergeant
Jasper, of the grenadiers, immediately
leaped over the parapet, and, picking up
the flag, which had fallen on the outside
upon the beach, fastened it to a sponge
staff He then mounted the merlon, and,
while the balls from the ships were fall
ing fast about him, coolly fixed the staff
in its place. Sergeant M Donald was mor
tally wounded, but, as he fell, exhorted
with his last words his comrades to con
tinue steady in the cause of liberty and
their country.

Next morning, all the men-of-war had
hauled off and anchored about two miles
from the island, with the exception of
the Actseon, which remained where she
first struck. The garrison began to fire
at her, and she returned several shots ;
but finally her crew set fire to her, and
took to their boats, leaving her colors
flying, guns loaded, and all the ammuni
tion and stores aboard. A party of Amer
icans then put off from the shore, and
boarded her These daring fellows, hav
ing hauled down the flag, taken posses
sion of the ship s bell, and filled their boats
with as many sails and stores as they
could hold, prepared to return. They,

however, though the flames were already
bursting through the deck and sides of
the burning ship, stopped to have a shot
at the commodore : so they pointed three
of her guns at the Bristol, and fired them,
before they took to their boats. They
had not been half an hour away, when
the fire reaching her magazine, the Ac-
tceon was blown up, and nothing left of
her but a shattered remnant of her hull.

The British admiral made no further
attempt upon the island. Clinton, how
ever, strove again, early in the morning,
to land, but was repulsed.

Colonel Moultrie came in for the chief
share of the honors of the victory. Lee,
in his despatch, awards great credit to
him, and all the officers and men. " I
beg leave," he says, "to recommend in
the strongest terms, to the Congress, the
commanding officer,Colonel Moultrie, and
his whole garrison, as brave soldiers and
excellent citizens ; nor must I omit at the
same time mentioning Colonel Thompson,
who, with the South-Carolina rangers and
a detachment of the North-Carolina regu
lars, repulsed the enemy in two several
attempts to make a lodgment at the other*
extremity of the island.

" Our loss, considering the heat and du
ration of the fire, was inconsiderable ; we
had only ten men killed on the spot and
twenty-two wounded; seven of whom
lost their limbs, but with their limbs they
did not lose their spirits, for they enthu
siastically encouraged their comrades nev
er to abandon the standard of liberty and
their country."

Lee had never, from his distrust of the
raw American troops, been very sanguine




of success. He wrote that Charleston
was "utterly defenceless/ and he had
been very anxious to secure a retreat
from Sullivan s island, by means of a
bridge of boats connecting it with the
mainland at Haddrell s point. During
the whole action he kept his men busy
at this work ; but he could not get boats
enough, and was forced to resort to the
expedient of fastening planks upon emp
ty hogsheads. This, however, proved
ineffectual, and the bridge was never
made practicable for the purpose intend
ed. Colonel Moultrie had more confi
dence in his men, and he knew them bet
ter than Lee. " For my part," says Moul
trie, " I never was uneasy in not having
a retreat, because I never imagined that
the enemy could force me to that neces-

Moultrie did not over-estimate the
steady courage and endurance of his
men ; but all their good conduct would
probably have proved vain, if the three
vessels-of-war which Parker had ordered
around the western extremity of the isl
and had succeeded in getting into posi
tion, for they would have poured their
broadsides upon a part of the fort which,

being unfinished, could not have with
stood the first cannonade.

The American colonel was fitly hon
ored by an act of the legislature of Caro
lina, changing the name of Fort Sullivan
to that of Fort Moultrie. Congress, too,
voted him, as well as Lee and Thomp
son, the thanks of the country. The
brave Sergeant Jasper was rewarded on
the day after the victory, by Governor
Rutledge, who presented him with the
sword from his own side. He offered
him, moreover, a lieutenant s commission ;
but the humble Jasper, who could neither
read nor write, refused, saying: "I am
not fit to keep officers company ; I am
but a sergeant."*

The British vessels anchored off Lon^


island to refit; and such was the dam
aged condition of the larger ships, that
they were detained a long time in getting
ready again for sea. General Clinton and
Lord Cornwallis, in the mean
while, sailed with the troops, in
a fleet of transports, under the escort of
the Solebay frigate, bearing the flag of
Commodore Parker, and bound for New

* Lossing.

June 30.





Washington s Troops busy with the Pickaxe and Spade on Long Island. The Bustling Mifflin. His Character. A
Military Dandy s Sneer at the Provincials. Takes the "Measure" of the Outward Man. Provincial Jealousies and
Quarrels. Washington rebukes the Quarrelsome. Is anxious about the Approach of the Enemy. The British ar
rive at Sandy Hook. Washington on the Lookout. Strengthens the Posts on the Hudson. Sir William Howe
awaits his Brother s Arrival. Washington expects a Struggle, and appeals to the Patriotism of his Army.


" TRUE soldiers and magnanimous

citizens must brandish the pickaxe
and spade as well as the sword," said Lee ;
and the army under Washington at New
York was now in full appreciation of this
military truth. The men were kept bu
sily at work digging, ditching, and in
trenching, on Long island, under Greene,
and at Kingsbridge, under the ever-active
Mifflin. The latter was a " bustler" who,
as one of the sufferers reports, " harassed
us unnecessarily, and, considering the un
avoidable severity of our duty, to the real
injury of the health of the troops." The
manners of Mifflin " were better adapted
to attract popularity than to preserve it.
Highly animated in his appearance, and
possessing in an eminent degree the tal
ent of haranguing a multitude, his ser
vices in giving motion to the militia"
were acknowledged. " He assumed a lit
tle of the veteran from having lain be
fore Boston," and was very fond of telling
his men that he would bring them into
" a scrape." " He was a man of educa
tion, ready apprehension, and brilliancy ;
had spent some time in Europe, particu
larly in France, and was very easy of ac
cess, with the manners of genteel life,

though occasionally evolving those of
the Quaker."

General THOMAS MIFFLIN, with all his
eccentricities, was undoubtedly one of the
most useful men of the Revolution. Af
ter serving, as we have seen him, at the
siege of Boston, as quartermaster-general,
with unsparing energy and inexhaustible
ingenuity of resource, he was appointed
by Congress a brigadier-general, and now,
at the early age of thirty-two, has com
mand of the forces engaged in the con
struction of the works at Fort Washing
ton and Kingsbridge.

The gentlemanly qualifications, and
his ease " of access, with the manners of
genteel life," if not the higher virtues of
Mifflin, were appreciated by the military
coxcombs of the day, one of whom* has
been very free in his revelations of the
graces and want of graces of his comrades
while with them engaged in brandishing
"the pickaxe and spade" about Fort Wash
ington, a duty certainly not very favor

Online LibraryRobert TomesBattles of America by sea and land. With biographies of naval and military commanders (Volume 01) → online text (page 38 of 126)