Robert Tomes.

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

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ly of the native palmetto, which, from the
spongy nature of the wood, receives a ball
without a shock or a splinter. The in
terstices of the framework formed by the
trees were filled in with mud and sand.

A deep morass and the river gave se
curity to two sides of Savannah. Fields
surrounded the other parts of the town.
Here the allies were approaching, and
here were erected the enemy s defences.
So well prepared had the besieged now
become, that they eagerly wished their
works might be assaulted, for their fate
would otherwise be certain in time, un
less relieved by a British fleet., They ac
cordingly did not waste their strength
by attempts to impede the advances of
the allies ; and only made two cautious

sorties, more with a view to provoke as
sault than to strike a blow.

General Prevost calculated that the
French would resolve upon storming his
works, knowing the danger they would
consider themselves exposed to from the
approaching autumnal gales, besides the
chance of the arrival of a British fleet.
"He also counted upon the impatient
temper of the French, identified in the
character of their commander, not doubt
ing," says Henry Lee, "from his being
our voluntary assistant, he would take
his measures from and for himself. Lin
coln s Avisdom, Lincoln s patience, Lin
coln s counsel, would be very limited in
its effect."

The calculation of the British general
was well founded. D Estaing became im
patient, for he had already been delayed
a month by an enterprise which he had
been led to believe, when his aid was so
licited, could be readily accomplished in
ten days. His officers were still more im
patient than himself; and, being anxious
for the safety of the fleet which they
thought was imperilled by the approach
of the stormy season, and the probable
arrival of a British naval armament
they remonstrated against further delay.
The count accordingly declared to Gen
eral Lincoln that Savannah must be forth
with stormed, or the siege raised.

The cautious American leader would
have continued his slow but sure system ;
nevertheless, rather than abandon the
enterprise, he consented to the hazardous
expedient of a storm. The 9th of Octo
ber was the time appointed ; and when
the day dawned, the allied troops moved



to the assault. The chief point of attack,
which was supposed to be the most vul
nerable, was on the right of the enemy,
where Prevost, aware of its weakness, had
posted his choicest troops, under the com
mand of the gallant Maitland.

The allied forces were divided
Oct. 9, .

into three columns. l\vo, com
posed of three thousand live hundred
French troops and six hundred continen
tals, were to make the main assault, on
the right ; while the third, chiefly militia,
was to move upon the British centre and
left, to create if possible-a division of at
tention in that direction, or to act in re
serve. The first column, headed by D Es
taing and Lincoln jointly, led the attack ;
and the second, under Count Dillon, was
directed to follow. The approach to the
right of the enemy s works was along
some sunken ground, by which the ad
vance could be made almost to the ditch
without exposure to fire. Along this con
cealed way D Estaing and Lincoln now
pushed on, and, aided by the darkness of
the early morning, got close to the re
doubts unobserved. The assailants. ad
vanced gallantly, but were met by a heavy
and well-directed fire from the batteries
in their front, and iralled in their flank bv

o /

a sharp cannonade from the British armed
brig in the river.

The first fire from the works was ter
ribly fatal, and thinned the ranks of the
allies ; but they pushed forward resolute
ly, and, forcing the abaUis there in ad
vance, succeeded in planting a French
and an American standard on the para
pet. Before their comrades could come
to their support, however, the English,

strengthened at the point of attack by a
reserve force, came up impetuously, and,
tearing away the defiant standards, drove
back the assailants with their bayonets.

Count Dillon, in the meanwhile, had
lost his way, in consequence of the dark
ness of the morning, and thus failing to
bring his column up in time, weakened
the force of the assault. To this misfor
tune was added that of the death of the
brave Count Pulaski, at the head of his
troop of two hundred horsemen, while at
tempting to force his way into the rear
of the town. On his fall, his men retreat
ed, and an effort was thus arrested which
might have changed the issue of the day.
The body and the banner of the gallant
Pole were borne away by his faithful aid,
Count Litomiski.

Although the French and Carolina*
standards had thus been. torn down, yet
important breaches had been made, and
another assault promised a successful re
sult ; but D Estaing perversely refused to
renew the attack. The indignant Lin
coln concealed his wrath, and, being too
weak to resume the siege alone by regu
lar approaches, he at length consented to
abandon it. The siege was raised just as
victory lay within the grasp of the allies.
Thus a second time did the French admi
ral bitterly disappoint the just hopes of
the Americans.

After a struggle which had lasted for
nearly an hour, the allied commanders

* It was a point of honor that these colors should not ho
lost. Lieutenant Gray was mortally wounded in attempting
to remove them. Jasper, the brave man who replanted the
crescent flag at Fort Moultrie in 1776, hore them back from
the bloody heights and delivered them in safety to his com
rades, but lost his life in the chivalrous act, receiving a mor
tal wound, from which he died soon after. SIMMS.



[PART n.

drew off their troops, without an attempt
on the part of the British to harass them
in their retreat, beyond firing a few shots
from their cannon.

The loss of the allies was heavy. The
French killed and wounded amounted to
seven hundred men ; the American reg
ulars to two hundred and forty, and the
Charleston auxiliaries to seven. D Es-
taing, who, with Lincoln, braved every
danger, was slightly wounded. The ene
my, being well protected by their works,
lost only one hundred and twenty killed
and wounded. Their only officer killed
was Captain Tarves, of the provincials or
loyalists, who fell dead at the gate of the
redoubt, with his sword thrust into the
body of the third one of the assailants
whom he had slain. A few days after
the struggle, Colonel Maitland died of
the fever from which he had suffered ever
since leaving Beaufort. Friend and foe
alike spoke with admiration of his gal

In about ten days after the disastrous
assault upon Savannah, Count d Estaing
re-embarked his troops and sailed away
with his ships. They had hardly got to
sea, however, when the whole fleet w r as
scattered by a gale. The count, who had
met with an almost unbroken succession
of reverses from his first arrival on the
coast, soon took his farewell of the Amer
ican continent, and returned to France.
Lincoln s militia, almost to a man, went
back to their homes ; and the commander
himself, left with a small force of regulars,
marched into South Carolina and resumed
his post at Charleston.

During the siege of Savannah, a clever

ruse was executed by Colonel John White,
of the Georgia line A hundred British
were posted, under Captain French, near
the Ogechee. Five small English vessels,
fourof which were armed, with theircrews
(amounting in all to about forty men), lay
at anchor in the river. White determined,
with five other persons, one of whom was
his servant, to carry off the whole, soldiers
and arms, sailors and shipping. The colo
nel and his party accordingly lighted up
a series of fires not far from the enemy,
to impress them with an idea that there
was a large encampment in their neigh
borhood, and then boldly summoned Cap
tain French to surrender; threatening, if
he failed to comply instantaneously, to
cut to pieces his whole force ! The cap
tain, completely deceived, did not hesi
tate ; and thus a hundred and forty men,
a hundred and thirty stand of arms, and
five British vessels, were delivered to the
American colonel and his six associates.
The prisoners were safely conducted by
three of the captors for twenty-five miles
to an American post.

Thus ended the southern campaign of
1779. The most gloomy apprehensions
respecting their country took possession
of the southern people.* Still, although
so frequently victorious, the British could
boast of little material advantage from
their conquests. After overrunning the
whole state of Georgia, they were now
reduced to the limits of Savannah. Hav
ing been deceived in their reliance upon
the co-operation of the tories, they could
only secure what they were able to hold
by military possession.

* Ramsay.




Winter-Quarters at Morristown. A Severe Winter. A Tremendous Snow-Storm. Suffering. Wants. No Supplies
No Money. Valueless Paper. Clamorous Soldiers. Trials of Washington. An Incapable Army. A Winter
Enterprise. A Sleigh-Ride. Failure of Lord Stirling. Successes of the Enemy. The Neutral Ground. Sir Henry
Clinton moves to the South. The British Fleet scattered. Disembarkation near Charleston. Slight Opposition.
Deliberate Operations. Colonel Tarleton. His Life and Character. General Lincoln at Charleston. Spirit of the
Inhabitants. The Fortifications. Description. The American Squadron. The Disposition of the Enemy s Ships.
Sir Henry Clinton and his Parallels. Arrival of Reinforcements. Governor Rutledge astir. Tarleton leading a
Charge. A Run across the Country. A Dragonade. The British surround Charleston. The Country scoured.
An Offer of Surrender. It is refused. Fire opened. The Last Blow. Surrender of Charleston. Losses. Terms


THE heights of Morristown had
been selected by Washington for
the winter-quarters of his army, where the
troops were now engaged in constructing
log-huts, as before in Valley Forge. The
winter opened with great severity, and,
while the men were still in tents, the snow
fell until it was nearly six feet in depth
upon the ground !

" The weather for several days," writes
a suffering campaigner, " has been re
markably cold and stormy. On the 3d
of January, we experienced one of the
most tremendous snow-storms ever re
membered ; no man could endure its vio
lence many minutes without danger of his
life. Several marquees were torn asun
der, and blown over the officers heads in
the night; and some of the soldiers were
actually covered while in their tents, and
buried like sheep under the snow My
comrades and myself were roused from
sleep by the calls of some officers for as
sistance : their marquee had blown down,
and they were almost smothered in the
storm before they could reach our mar
quee, only a few yards, and their blankets

and baggage were nearly buried in the
snow. *We are greatly favored in having
a supply of straw for bedding; over this
we spread all our blankets, and with our
clothes and large fires at our feet, while
four or five are crowded together, pre
serve ourselves from freezing. But the
sufferings of the poor soldiers can scarce
ly be described. While on duty, they are
unavoidably exposed to all the inclemen
cy of storms and severe cold ; at night,
they now have a bod of straw on the
ground, and a single blanket to each
man. They are badly clad, and some are
destitute of shoes. We have contrived
a kind of stone chimney outside, and an
opening at one end of our tent gives us
the benefit of the fire within. The snow
is now from four to six feet deep, which
so obstructs the roads as to prevent out
receiving a supply of provisions.

" For the last ten days, we have re
ceived but two pounds of meat a man ;
and we are frequently for six or eight
days entirely destitute of meat, and then
as long without bread. The consequence
is, the soldiers are so enfeebled from him-



["PART n.

ger and cold as to be almost unable to
perform their military duty, or labor in
constructing their huts."*

The commissariat department was, as
usual, badly managed, and the financial
embarrassment of the country increased
the difficulty of obtaining supplies. The
continental money had so depreciated,
that a pair of shoes could not be purchased
for less than jive hundred dollars in the cur
rency which Congress was vainly striving
to force upon the acceptance of the peo
ple. With no supplies, and with a treas
ury-only filled with valueless paper, the
army was reduced almost to a state of
starvation. The troops were always on
short allowance of food, sometimes with
out meat, sometimes without bread, and
not seldom destitute of both. Under such
trials, the soldiers conducted themselves
so well, that they won from Washington
these words of praise : " They have borne
their sufferings with a patience that mer
its the approbation and ought to excite
the sympathy of their countrymen."

That men thus half starved and badly
clothed, however, during the rigor of the
coldest of winters, should occasionally be
come clamorous, riotous, and even muti
nous, was naturally to be expected. It
was the severest of all trials to the forti
tude of Washington when he was obliged
to enforce discipline in a camp where
there was so much temptation to irregu
larity. He was, nevertheless, inflexible
in his purpose of preserving order among
his troops, and plunderers as well as mu
tineers were punished with all the sever
ity of military law. The former were

* Timelier.

brought to the gallows, and the latter shot
down in the ranks.

By urgent appeals to the governors of
Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and forced
contributions from the inhabitants of the
latter, Washington was finally enabled tc
obtain some alleviation to the sufferine-a


of his troops. His army, however, was
never in a condition, during that winter,
to be of effective service. The number
of soldiers was hardly ten thousand, and
Washington considered these barely able
to defend their encampment, and much
less fit to carry on offensive operations.
The excessive vigor of the winter had, by
freezing over the rivers and the bay of
New York, offered an occasion for attack
upon the enemy, which it was desirable
to improve, but which the state of the
army rendered almost impossible.

" Circumstanced as things are men
half starved, imperfectly clothed, riotous,
and robbing the country-people of their
subsistence from sheer necessity I think
it scarcely possible to embrace any mo-
ment,howeverfavorable in other respects,
for visiting the enemy on Staten island ;
and yet, if this frost should have made a
firm and solid bridge between them and
us, I should be unwilling, indeed I can
not relinquish the idea of attempting it."
Thus wrote Washington, at the
opening of the j^ear; and, em
barrassed as he was, he succeeded, a few
days subsequently, in arranging an expe
dition against the British troops posted
on Staten island.

Lord Stirling was chosen to conduct
the enterprise, and he set out from the
American camp with twenty-five hundred

Jau, 9,




troops, conveyed in five hundred sleighs.
Having reached Dehart s point,
he crossed the ice, and arrived
early in the morning at Staten island.
On approaching the British forts, Lord
Stirling found the enemy (who had re
ceived timely intelligence of the expedi
tion) ready to receive him. It was also
discovered that the channel, which it was
supposed had been closed by the ice, was
still open to New York, whence reinforce
ments had reached the island. The at
tempt on the enemy s forts was therefore
abandoned, and the earl inarched back to
Elizabethtown, skirmishing during his re
treat with the British in pursuit. Two
or three were killed on each side, and a
few prisoners were carried away by the
Americans. All suffered greatly from the
excessive cold, and nearly five hundred
men were frost-bitten.

A few days afterward, General Knyp-
hausen ordered the British at Staten -isl
and to make in their turn an incursion
into New Jersey, in retaliation for the at
tempt of Earl Stirling. They succeeded
in surprising the picket-guard at Eliza
bethtown, wantonly burning the Presby
terian church, and carrying off a major
and forty privates.

Another successful attempt was made
by the British outposts upon " Young s
house," near White Plains, garrisoned by
three hundred Americans. This post was
on "The Neutral Ground" ns it was called,
embracing almost the whole of Westches-
ter county, and had been established to
obstruct the supplies which the enemy in
Mew- York city drew from the country

The British

bordering on the Hudson.

had been long provoked by the daring of
the "rebels" at Young s house, and now
determined to root them out. A large
force, consisting of British guards, Hes
sians, and yagers, started out from Kings-
bridge in sleighs, in the night, in order to
surprise the post. The snow, however,
was so deep, that the soldiers were forced
to abandon the sleighs and artillery, and
trudge on foot. The sun was up before
they arrived at Young s house, and the
Americans were on their guard ; but the
British, notwithstanding, pushed forward
to the attack, and, after a spirited resist
ance, succeeded in capturing the garrison.
Having secured ninety prisoners (among
whom were many of the yeomanry of
the country), and burnt the house, the
enemy returned to their lines, boasting
that they had lost but two men killed and
twenty-three wounded. Their prisoners
were thrown into loathsome jails in New

The British, however, had concentrated
their energies in an expedition against
the southern states. Sir Henry Clinton,
finding that Count d Estaing had sailed
away from the American coast with his
fleet, and that New York could be left in
security with but a small number of Hes
sian and British troops under the general
command of the vigilant Knyphausen, re
solved to proceed to South Carolina., and
there begin a campaign. On the arrival
of Admiral Arbuthnot with his ships, he
had the means of transport, and a safe

convoy : and he accordingly set

v Dec, 26,

sail from New lork with about

live thousand of his choicest troops and
two thousand marines.



[PART n.

The fleet, however, had hardly got to
sea, when a long and terrible storm scat
tered the vessels, and drove them far out
of their course. Some of the transports
were taken by the American privateers ;
others were lost, among which was one,
loaded with ordnance and heavy siege-
trains, that foundered ; and all were more
or less damaged. Nearly all the horses
belonging to the artillery and to Colonel
Tarleton s cavalry-legion died during the
voyage. It was not until the close of
January, that Sir Henry Clinton arrived
in Tybee bay, on the Georgia coast, with
the crippled remnant of the fleet. The
damaged ships having been refitted, the
squadron sailed for North Edisto sound,
in South Carolina, where it arrived on the
10 th of February. On the following day
the troops were disembarked on
John s island, within thirty miles
of Charleston. Here the British general
was reinforced by twelve hundred men,
sent by Prevost from Savannah.

Clinton proceeded with great deliber
ation in his movements. After a long


delay, he crossed the Ashley riv-
er on the south, and landed on
Charleston neck. He had been engaged
in the meantime fortifying the interme
diate posts, in order to secure a commu
nication with Admiral Arbuthnot s fleet,
and in obtaining horses for his artillery,
as well as to remount the dragoons of
Tnrleton, who had been dismounted by
the disastrous effects of the voyage from
New York. ,

The British commander, however, did
not succeed in making good his position
without some opposition, though slight.

Feb. 11,

When his van had reached the banks of
the Ashley, Colonel William Washington,
in command of a troop of American CLV
airy, made a successful attack upon Tarle
ton s newly-mounted dragoons, and car
ried off a few prisoners, among whom was
Lieutenant-Colonel Hamilton, of the Roy
al regiment of North Carolina. Again,
after passing the river, the British van
was gallantly attacked by Lieutenant-
Colonel James, in command of a corps of
lightrinfantry ; and the earl of Caithness,
aid-de-camp of Clinton, was wounded in
the skirmish.

Lieutenant-Colonel Tarleton s activity
in the southern campaign has made him
memorable. BANASTRE TAREETON was a
thorough soldier, who allowed no tender
sentiment of humanity to soften the hard
teachings of a military life. His personal
appearance accorded with his character.
He was rather below the middle stature,
strong and heavily made, with large, mus
cular legs, but was uncommonly active.
His complexion was dark, and his eye
small, black, and piercing.* His early
years had been spent in the study of law,
but his talents were evidently better suit
ed for the tragic conflicts of war than for
the bloodless wrangling of the bar; and
when Tarleton entered the army, he soon
proved himself equal to its most cruel
demands iipon his naturally severe dis
position. At about the age of twenty-six.
he came to America with Lord Cornwal-
lis, and was highly valued by that noble
man as the surest reliance in his most
merciless enterprises. Tarleton frankly
declared that " severity alone could otfect

* Watson.




the establishment of regal authority in
America," and did not fail to carry out
fully the opinion which he so freely pro
fessed. In the course of the southern
campaign we shall have occasion to re
cord the effects of the cruel energies of
this unscrupulous soldier, who had now
succeeded, by his forays on the surround
ing plantations, in mounting himself and
his dragoons.

General Lincoln held Charleston with
only fifteen hundred men, but was ex
pecting the arrival of the southern regi
ments sent by Washington from his camp
at Morristown. In the meantime, though
somewhat doubtful of the policy which
was urged upon him by the inhabitants,
of attempting to hold the city, Lincoln
was making every effort to strengthen
its defences, in which he was seconded
by the spirited co-operation of Governor
Rutledge, who had been invested by the
legislature of the state with every power
but that of life and death.

Charleston stands on the southern ex
tremity of a short and narrow neck of
land, with the Cooper river on the east
and the Ashley on the west. The bay
and harbor is formed by the junction of
the two streams, which, MS they flow to
gether to the sea, bend in their curves
among a number of fertile islands, on one
of which (Sullivan s) was Fort Moultrie,
under the command of Lieutenant-Colo
nel Pinckney, and on another (James s)
the ruins of Fort Johnson. In addition
to these defences seaward, a small Ameri
can squadron, commanded by Commodore
Whipple consisting of nine vessels, of
which the largest mounted only forty-

four guns was at anchor in the bay.
With the forts, the supposed difficulty of
large ships-of-war in passing the bank of
sand, or bar as it is called, and the Ameri
can squadron to dispute the passage, the
city was considered tolerably secure tow
ard the sea.

Every effort was now made to defend
the approaches by land. Governor Rut-
ledge, in the exercise of his ample pow
ers, called out the militia, and ordered
three hundred negroes from the planta
tions to labor upon the works. Soon a
canal was dug in the rear of the town,
from the marshy borders of one river to
those of the other. Beyond the canal
were two rows of deeply-laid abattis, and
a double picketed ditch ; while within,
toward the main works, deep holes were
dug, to interrupt the inarch of the enemy,
strong redoubts and batteries were raised
on the right and left, and in the centre
was an enclosed housework of masonry,
forming a kind of citadel. Other works
were erected at every point where a land
ing was practicable.

The great object of the American squad
ron was, to prevent the British fleet from
passing the bar; but Commodore Whipple
found that, in consequence of the shallow-
ness of the water, he could not anchor
near enough to dispute the passage. The
ships were accordingly moored abreast of
Fort Moultrie, by co-operation with which

Online LibraryRobert TomesBattles of America by sea and land. With biographies of naval and military commanders (Volume 01) → online text (page 93 of 126)