George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Benjamin Lincoln, 11 August 1780


Hingham August 11th 1780

Could a consciousness of having the fullest intentions to serve my country and a sincere attempt to have executed such intentions have so availed me as to have discharged the debt of responsibility to the public for my conduct while their servant, and especially to you my dear General, as my commanding officer, I should have saved you the trouble of this long epistle, but as it cannot—I do with the greatest chearfulness give your Excellency the following short state of matters relative to Charlestown which will in some measure point you to the causes of the loss of that place and to the line of conduct pursued by me, as senior officer, before and at the time of its surrender.

Some questions on this subject, I think, will naturally arise in your Excellencys mind and, in order that I may write more intelligibly, I shall suppose and endeavour to answer such as follow.

First why the defence of Charlestown was under taken.

Though I pretend not to plead an express order of Congress directing the defence of that place Yet I can say from the following resolutions and the line of conduct pursued by Congress it appeared to me to be their intentions that the measure should be adopted and that circumstanced as we were it was right in itself.

As early as January 1st 1776 when Congress were informed that an attack was intended upon Charlestown, they immediately recommended that a vigorous defence should be made—In the beginning of the year 1779 when it appeared that the subjugation of South Carolina was an object which claimed the attention of the enemy—Congress sent Lieutenant Colonel Cambray, an Engineer, to South Carolina for the express purpose of fortifying the town of Charlestown (in which business he was employed until its surrender).

On the tenth of November following when the designs of the enemy no longer remained a doubt they ordered three of their continental frigates to Charlestown, for the defence of its harbour and on my frequent representations to them that succours were neicssary for defending the town they Ordered them accordingly—and at no time intimated to me that my ideas of attempting the defence of it were improper.

That the measure was right in it self, circumstanced as we were, will I hope appear when it is considered that Charlestown is the only mart in south Carolina, and the magazine of the State—That its natural strength promised a longer delay to the enemy’s operations than any other post in the country—In abandoning it we must have given up the continental ships of war, and all our stores, while there was yet a prospect of succour—for the harbour had been blocked up by a superior naval force previous to the debarkation of the troops—the stores could not have been removed by water and the waggons we had, or could have procured, would have been unequal to the transportation of our baggage and our field artillery—The place, abandoned, would have been garrisoned by an inconsiderable force, while the enemy’s army would have operated unchecked by our handful of troops, unable to oppose them in the field, or impede their progress through the country and, had our expected succours arrived, we could only have ultimately submitted to the inconvenienceis of an evacuation without our stores, when further opposition no longer availed.

2dly Why the army, stores, &c. were not brought off, when it appeared that the post could no longer be maintained.

The expectation that our succour, when arrived, would so cover our right as to render an evacuation, when it should become expedient, practicable—had been an argument in leading us to attempt a defence—that we had every reason to expect these succours is apparent from the assurances I received from the State of So. Carolina that they would call down 2,000 of their militia—That the Governor of North Carolina would send on the remainder of the draughts made the last fall amounting to 1,500, that he would order to embody & march, when called for, 2000 more, (they were called for,) and permit General Rutherford to march with all the volunteers he could collect—of these I was encouraged to expect 500—besides, his Excellency gave me reason to expect that, as soon as the assembly should meet, further aid would be given—This will appear by extracts of his letter to me of the 16th of Feby last—"I have been honored with your favors of the 15th of December 3d, 8th, 24, 29, & 31st Ultimo—I certainly should have done my self the pleasure of answering them long before this, if I had not waited in full expectation of the Assembly’s meeting, and taking them under consideration—my hopes and expectations in that particular, have been baffled, a sufficient number of members to constitute the general assembly have not appeared, though appointed to meet on the 25th Ulto and those who have met, are now about to disperse, and have the important matters for the next General Assembly to take up—A general election will take place on the 10th of March, and I shall convene the members as soon after as possible—In the mean time, I have issued orders to assemble two thousand militia on the borders of So. Carolina, to the Westward of P.D. where they will be ready to march to your assistance if necessary, or be employed in this State as exigencies require."

"I have written to General Rutherford to give you every assistance in his power and not wait for further orders from me to march himself, if need be, with such volunteers as can suddenly be collected."

"I have in the most earnest, & pointed terms written to the Brigadiers in the several Districts in the State to order on every man of the late draughts, and I flatter my self the present alarming accounts of the arrival of the British troops to the Southward will stimulate them and other officers to an immediate discharge of the duties of their respective stations, by which means we may hope to get the number voted by the State into the field."

The remainder of General Scotts Brigade was ordered on, which amounted to about 400, and the Virginia State troops, about 500 more. General Hogan’s Brigade, the Virginia line, & Colo. Washingtons Horse, amounting, as returned by Congress, to me, in the whole to three thousand & odd—thus, you see that the whole succours ordered were Nine thousand & Nine hundred men—Of this No. we received in Garrison—Of

South Carolina Militia.................. 300
North Carolina Do....................... 300
General Hogan’s Brigade................. 600
The Virginia line from the main army... 1750

The greatest part of the remainder we expected would soon arrive—but in that we were disappointed—On these orders, and assurances, were our hopes of succours founded. To facilitate their arrival, and to aid in procuring supplies for them, and the garrison, His Excellency Governor Rutledge was persuaded to leave the Town about the 19th of April—and take post in the country between the Cooper and the Santee—That we might derive the best services from these troops, a work was ordered to be thrown up at Cain [bay], a strong commanding ground on the Wando, nine miles from town, which was intended to be a deposite of our stores—another was directed, and partly thrown up at the point of Lampries to keep open the communication with the Town by boats—as no armed Vessels, if they should pass our obstructions in the river, could lay between the works of the town, and, those on the point—A post was also ordered at Lenier’s ferry over the Santee, to collect and secure the boats, necessary, with dispatch, to cross our expected succours, and, with facility, to affect a retreat should that become necessary.

On the 16th of April I was informed that our horse which had been posted near monks corner for the purpose of covering that part of the country and our succours who were marching in detachments) had been surprised—and the enemy had fallen down on the peninsula between the Cooper and the Santee with their Horse about 250 and about six hundred infantry—whether previous to this unhappy event while we were daily expecting succours we could have retreated with honor to our selves and in justice to our country your Excellency will judge and whether, hereby, the moment of doing it with a probability of success was not lost, or, at least that it could not then be attempted with propriety. I beg to offer to you the opinion the Council of officers on this head.

"At a Council of officers held in Garrison Charles town 20th & 21st of April A.D. 1780.

Present Maj. Genl Lincoln
Brigadiers Moultrie
Colonel Laumoy Engineer
Beckman, of the Artillery
Simmons Commandant of the
Charlestown Militia."

"General Lincoln laid before the Council the strength of the Garrison,—the state of the provisions—the situation of the enemy—the information he had received relative to reinforcements, and the state of the obstructions which had been thrown in the river, between the Exchange & Shute’s folly—He requested the opinion of the Council what measures the interest and safety of the country called us to pursue under our present circumstances—They advised, as a retreat would be attended with many distressing inconvenienceis, if not rendered altogether impracticable from the under mentioned causes."

"Viz. 1st The civil authority were utterly averse to it, and intimated in Council, if it was attempted, they would counter act the measure.

"2d It was to be performed, under this apprehension, in face of an enemy much superior to us, a-cross a river three miles broad, in large Ships & Vessels, the moving of which must be regulated by the wind and tide.

"3d Could these obstacles be surmounted, and the troops transported—we must force our way through a very considerable body of the enemy, who were in full possession of the passes on our rout to the Santee, the only road by which we can retreat.

"4th Supposing us arrived at that river, new, and dangerous difficulties are again to be encountered, from the want of boats to cross it with an army wasted and worn down by action, fatigue, and famine—& closely pursued, as we might be by the enemy’s Horse and infantry, who, from the delay we must inevitably meet, might be detached early enough from the lines to reach us.

"That offers of capitulation, before our affairs become more critical should be made to Genl Clinton, which would admit of the army’s withdrawing and afford security to the persons & property of the inhabitants.

Signed Willem Moultrie

Lachd McIntosh

W.M. Woodford

Charles Scott

James Hogan


B. Beckman

M. Simmons

The terms proposed in consequence thereof, were rejected—we did not think proper, at that time, to read from them, as there was a hope left that succours might arrive, open our communication, and give us an opportunity of retreating—and as finally we should be in no worse situation, when we had delayed the enemy as long as possible, which was an object worthy our attention, as it would give the people in the neighbouring States an opportunity to rouse & embody—and as delaying the operations of the enemy southward would afford the Northern States time to fill up their battalions, and be prepared for future service.

About the 19th of April the reinforcements from New York arrived which enabled the enemy to strengthen, with that force, the troops on the peninsula and to take post at Haddrel’s point which obliged us to abandon Lamprie’s—The better to effect a remove, should an oppy offer, two twenty gun ships were kept mantled, and all the other boats, and vessels in readiness to move at the shortest notice.

The propriety of attempting a retreat came again before a council of officers on the 26th of April. Present with me Brigadiers Moultrie

Colo. Simmons
Capt. Whipple

I proposed to the Council "whether in their opinion the evacuation of the Garrison was an expedient & practicable measure The council were unanimously of opinion that it was not expedient as being impracticable"—This was signed by the Gentlemen above named—No opportunity more favorable offered before the capitulation—for Lord Cornwallis posted him self, Garrisoning Haddrels and Lampries, in St Johns parish—his right towards the Cooper, & his left towards the Wando—His force, from the best information I could obtain exceeded two thousand men, besides the light Horse.

Under these circumstances, and the high assurances made me that I should be succoured, and reinforced, no person, will, I am persuaded (as I said before) suppose that the town could, with propriety, have been abandoned previous to the 16th of April when I received information that our Horse had been routed, and that the enemy had taken post between the Santee, & the Cooper—and, subsequent to that period, many were the difficulties which intervened and would have attended an attempt to retreat—The enemy’s approaches had been brought within three hundred yards of our lines. The troops must have embarked and have crossed the Cooper in full view of the enemy, on board large Ships and Vessels, regulated altogether by the wind & Tide. They might have landed at Lamprie’s point or up the Wando—from either of which places they had forty miles only to march before they reached the Santee, a large navigable river, between which, and the place of debarkation, lay the enemy—in Whose power it was to break down the bridges & encumber the roads, and to destroy the boats at the ferries, which would have effectually prevented our crossing the river, and delayed us untill the enemy, from the lines, had reached the Santee, which they would have been able to do nearly as soon as we could, by following us in their boats, and landing at Scott’s ferry—or, had they marched by land, and crossed the Cooper above, the means of which were in their power, they would have had but fourteen miles farther to march than we should—had we been so fortunate as to find boats when we wished them Viz: Lynche’s & [Laniee’s] ferries—but should we have been reduced, from the want of boats, to follow the river farther up, we must have marched across the enemy’s line—besides these obstacles, almost insuperable in themselves, we had a movement to effect, which required the utmost secresy, in opposition to the opinion and wishes of the civil authority.

3dly Whether the necessary supplies of provisions were in time ordered, and why the defence of the town was undertaken with so small a quantity in it. In the latter end of July last, at the close of the Campaign, I made an estimate of the supplies, which would probably be wanted for the post, estimating our force at six thousand men, and gave orders to the several departments accordingly.

As, from the warmth of the southern climate, it has been found difficult to cure and preserve salted provisions—and as the article of salt was not at all times to be obtained, in sufficient quantities, our dependence for meat has generally been on fresh beef, with which, the greatest part of the year, the country abounds, which, while the country was open to us, could always be procured, and, by which, the Army was with more ease supplied.

I was induced to order, in the first place, two thousand barrels of beef, & the same quantity of pork, only, to be put up—but on the failure of the expedition against Savannah, the Commissary received order to increase the quantity to five thousand barrels of each—the country did not afford us flour, but rice in plenty—As my papers, containing my orders on this head, are not here, I beg to recite an extract of a letter from Mr Rutledge, the Commissary of purchases, being in point—"The latter end of July when you did me the honor of appointing me to the office of purchasing Commissary, you sent me an indent of such provisions as would be necessary for the insuing campaign—among other articles two thousand Barrels of beef and as many of pork—After the repulse at Savannah, in consequence of a letter you wrote to the Governor, I was desired to provide in addition to your Order three thousand barrels of beef, & the same number of pork."

While our right flank was kept open, and our communication with the country preserved, ample supplies of provisions could be daily thrown into the Garrison—That our communication would be maintained, we had the highest expectations—and from this were induced to attempt a defence of the town, so that when it was found there was in garrison a sufficiency of provisions to supply the troops while they could maintain the post against the regular approaches of the besieging army, an evacuation, founded on the shortness of our supplies, could not have been justified.

4ly Whether the State of the department was, from time to time represented to Congress, & the necessary succours called for.

To evidence that every attention was paid to their matters would be easy for me, if I could lay before your Excellency all my letters to Congress, the States of So. Carolina, & No. Carolina—but to examine them now would engross too much of your time—I therefore shall transcribe one of them only—& that to the committee of Congress and remind you of the many, the receipt of which, have been acknowledged by his Excellency Governor Caswell, and the measures he pursued in consequence of them and that Colonel John Laurens & Major Clarkson waited on Congress at my request, & stated to them, viva voce, our weak & defencless state, & solicited the necessary Aid.

To the Honble Committee of Correspondence

Charlestown So. Carolina Octr 27 1779


I did myself the honor to address you on the 22d by Major Clarkson—I gladly embrace this opportunity by Colo. Laurens, who is kind enough to repair to Philadelphia, and to General Washington’s Hd Quarters, to represent the particular and distressed situation of these southern States, to solicit further reinforcements, and to aid in forwarding such as shall be ordered—That a respectable force of disciplined troops are necessary here, and, probably, will be more so, is too evident to be questioned, if we mean to secure these States, when we consider the advantages that would result to Britain, on her possessing them, and the disadvantages to the United States. Her policy must point to her the necessity and importance of subjugating them—for, hereby, she will secure their trade in general, a supply of lumber and provisions for the West India Islands, from the want of which they now labour under many embarassments, hereby, she will secure to herself many valuable harbours on the shores of the Continent, contiguous to her Islands, where she can secure her fleets sent for the protection of her own trade, and for the annoyance of her enemies hereby, she will secure a great acquisition of territory, and strengths, for the disaffected will readily engage in her cause—The Indians will be spirited, easily supplied, and, without difficulty, retrained in her service—They will open to themselves a communication through the lakes with Canada, and by the numerous tribes of savages on our inland frontiers, keep them constantly in war, destroy their growth, happiness, and prosperity, if not depopulate them—In the same proportion as they acquire strength, we are debilitated; besides, if the southern States are lost, we have not only their proportion of the common debt thrown upon the other States, who are now groaning under the idea of the weight of their own burthens: but it will give a fatal wound to our paper currency, and probably add more to the depreciation of it, than any thing which has already happened—for the expectation, that it will in some future day be redeemed, stamps it with value—as this is lessened the value of it must decrease—If the enemy are permitted to enjoy the extremes of the United States from which they can with ease enlarge their own limits, and circumscribe ours, we shall soon be in the most unhappy situation, encircled by land, and cooped up by sea—What more would they have to do than keep garrisons in the middle States, ruin their trade, and open a generous one southward and eastward. Besides the advantages which would accrue to the enemy by enjoying these States, which are, I think, sufficient inducements to attempt a subjugation of them. They will also be encouraged to the measure by considering what little expence and hazard they would obtain them with—Their rear is covered by their friends—their right by their marine, and their left by the disaffected, and the Indians. Indeed, if this town was in their possession from the natural strength of it; they commanding at sea, all the force we could bring against it, would be ineffectual to regain it—These are some among the many reasons which induce me to believe that the enemy will reinforce their troops, already in this quarter, and attempt to extend, and secure their conquests—and that it is of the first importance to the safety, and well being of the United States, effectually to counteract their designs. Such are the arguments which remind us of our interest. There are others which more immediately effect our feelings. Where shall we find an asylum for those who have hitherto lived in affluence and plenty, and who, by their exertions in the cause of their country, are become peculiarly obnoxious to the common foe? Shall we leave them the cruel alternative only of suffering the ignominious insults of an unfeeling enemy, and wearing, at least, those chains, which they have at so much hazard sought to shun, or foregoing their former happiness, and reduced to a situation little short of beggary and want force them to seek shelter in some neighbouring State. Honor and humanity both forbid it.

The necessity of sending troops will further appear when it is considered that the enemy have in this quarter about three thousand men, that they expect a large addition to that number, that the whole of our forces of Continental Troops, now in this State, is short of one thousand men. That 150 more may be expected from No. Carolina, andm about 800 from Virginia, by General Scott—the whole less than two thousand. What militia No. Carolina will send is yet uncertain. Most of those, which can be drawn out in this State, will be needed for the back parts of the Country, to restrain the unfriendly and the savages. To convince the people here that Congress have their safety at heart, and will support them, & to discourage every idea, that they are to make terms for themselves is of the utmost importance. I cannot help felicitating myself in the belief, that troops may be spared from the northward, as the campaign must be near over and as the return of General Sullivan may be shortly expected; and that they will be sent, especially as the objection to it formerly made of a long march &c. are now obviated; for part of Count d’Estaings fleet being in Chesapeak Bay, which with our frigates will be a sufficient cover to their passage by water and will give us speedy and certain reinforcements. If the troops come by water I have to request, that the Board of War be directed to send on with them the articles mentioned in the enclosed list. A duplicate I have sent to them, for we have failed to get them from the West Indias. Some of the vessels were taken and others carried to a bad market. For a more minute state of matters in this department and for a fuller representation of the miseries, that await us without prompt reinforcements, I beg leave to refer you to Colonel Laurens from whose knowledge in war and critical observation you may expect the most perfect intelligence. I have the honor to be &c.

B. Lincoln

5th: Whether the marine arrangement was such, as best to answer the purposes intended by Congress in sending the frigates to Charles town.

It was the general, if not the universal, opinion that armed ships lying before the bar of Charles town would effectually secure its pass; and it was some time after the arrival of the ships, before I had even an intimation, that to occupy a station near the bar would be attended with hazard; on a suggestion of this kind I wrote the following letter to Commodore Whipple.

Head Quarters Charlestown Jany 30th 1780

Dr Sir

By your instructions you will observe, that you were sent here with the frigates under your command as a protection to this part of the United States; & I have no doubt of your zeal & that of your officers in the common cause, or of your utmost exertions for the defence of this State. Your duty, will be, if possible, to prevent the enemy from entering the harbour; if that should be impracticable, you will in the next place oppose them at fort Moultrie. I have lately been informed, that with an easterly wind & flood tide it will be impossible for a ship to lye with her broad side to the entrance of the bar. To ascertain this matter is of importance; you will therefore as early as possible have the internal part of the bar and the adjacent shoals sounded and buoyed by some of your officers and the best pilots you can obtain, after that you will please in company with the Captains of the several Ships to reconnoitre the entirence of this harbour and see whether there is a possibility of the Ships lying in such a manner, as to command the passage and leave their station, if it should become necessary.

When you and your Capts. have enquired and considered the matter, you will be so good, as to report your opinions. I am &c.

B. Lincoln

Commodore Whipple

In answer to the above the Commodore gave me the following letter directed to him.


Having considered General Lincolns requisition to you of the 30th Ulto whether there is a possibitity of the shipping lying in such manner, as to command the passage at the bar of Charles town Harbour & and leave their station if it should become necessary; after having sounded & buoyed the enterence & made such observations, as appeared to us necessary—Do declare upon due deliberation, that it is in our opinion impracticable; our reasons are, that when an easterly wind is blowing and the flood making in (such an opportunity as the enemy must embrace for their purpose) then will be so great a swell in five fathom hole, as to render it impossible for a ship to ride moored athwart, which will afford the enemys ships, under full sail, the advantage of passing us; should they effect that, the continental ships cannot possibly get up to fort Moultrie as soon as the enemys. We are &c.

Signed by Capt. Hacker & a number other officers

Commodore Whipple

Notwithstanding this representation I was so fully convinced of the necessity and importance of the ships covering the bar; and having no information, that there was not a sufficiency of water at all times to float them—I wrote the following letter and orders to the Commodore

Charles town Feby 13 1780

Dr Sir

I have attentively read the letter from Captain Hacker and others to you on the subject of Anchoring the ships before the bar at the enterence of this harbor, I am much obliged to you and the Gentlemen for your attention to my request. I am fully convinced that at some perticular times, it may be difficult, if not impossible, to lie with the broad side of the ships to the channel, and that there will be a risque of losing the ships, should they take their station in and near five fathom hole—Yet I am so fully convinced, that the probable services they will render there, should the enemy attempt to come over the bar, and the evils consequent in their geting into this Harbour, that the attempt ought to be made, and that the measure can be thereby justified—for the safety of this town lies in reducing the enemys attempts on it to a land attack. If the mouth of the harbour is left uncovered by our ships, they can in the first place bring in their frigates, and cover their heavier ships, while they leghten & get them over the bar—this may be at a time, when it may be impossible, if our ships are within fort Moultrie, to get down to annoy them.

If sir the ships should take post to act in conjunction with Fort Moultrie, which would greatly support it, & while that remained in our possession the enemy might be checked in their progress to town: But if the enemy should by work on Haddrels point, reduce that fort, you must immediately leave your station before it, and should you be followed by the ships, which may be got over the bar, you must be driven into the rivers, and the front of the town left uncovered. From these considerations I am induced to request, that you, as soon as possible, station the Providence, Boston, Bricole, & Truite with such gallies as in your opinion may be servicable near the bar, so as best to command the entrance of it. I wish to have the pleasure of seeing you this morning. I am &c.

B. Lincoln

Commodore Whipple

The weather prevented the ships falling down immediately, and on an examination the Commodore found and reported to me that there was not a sufficient depth of water for the ships to lye so near the bar, as to command the enterence of it—This was so new an idea, and if true the ships would be considered of so much less use than was expected, that I called upon the sea officers with the Pilots to make the most critical examination into the matter & report.

Head Quarters Charles town Feby 26t 1780


I find by some observations I made yesterday difficulties with respect to the frigates under your command, anchoring near the bar, which from the representations made to me I did not expect. As the design of your being sent to this department was, if possible, to cover the bar of this harbour, a measure highly necessary, therefore an attempt to do it should be made but on the fullest evidence of its impracticability.

I have therefore to request, that you will, as soon as may be, report to me the depth of water in the channel, from the bar to what is called five fathom hole and what distance that is from the bar—Whether in that distance there is any place, where your ships can anchor in a suitable depth of water—If any place how far from the bar—Whether those you can cover it—and whether at this station you can be annoyed by batteries from the shore—whether a battery can be thrown up by us, so as to cover the ships, and the ships so cover that as to secure a retreat of the garrison if it should become necessary to bring off the garrison.

If you cannot anchor, so as to cover the bar, you will please to give me your opinion, where you can lie so as to secure this town from an attack by sea and best answer the purposes of your being sent here, and the views of Congress; and the reasons for such an opinion. In this matter you will please to consult the Captains of the several ships and the pilots of this harbour. You will keep your present station or one near thereto untill you report, unless an opportunity shall offer to act offensively against the enemy or your own safety should make it necessary for you to remove—in either case you will judge. I am &c.

B. Lincoln

Commodore Whipple

I thought the anchoring the ships near the bar, so as to cover it, of such importance that, although I could not doubt but from the officers and Pilots I should have a just and impartial representation, yet I did not content my self without spending two days in a boat on this business.

When it was found impracticable for the ships to anchor as was first expected & that they could not lye in five fathom hole beyond reach of batteries from the shore—it was determined that they ought to take such station, as to act in conjunction with fort Moultrie. As will appear by the following report, the truth of which was verifyed by my own observation.

Port of Charles town Feby 27 1780

Hond sir

Yours of yesterday we have received, and after having considered and attended to the several requisitions therein contained, beg leave to return the following answer—At low water there is eleven feet from the bar to five fathom hole—five fathom hole is three miles from the bar, where you will have three fathoms at low water—they cannot be anchored until they are at that distance from the bar—in the place where the ships can be anchored the bar cannot be covered or annoyed.

Off the north breaker head, where the ships can be anchored to moor them that they may swing in safety, they will lay within one mile and half of the shore.

If any batteries are thrown up to act in conjunction with the ships, and the enemys force should be so much superior, as to cause a retreat to be necessary, it will be impossible for us to cover or take them off.

Our opinion is that the ships can do more effectual service for defence and security of the town to act in conjunction with Fort Moultrie which we think will best answer the purposes of the ships being sent here, and consequently, if so the views of Congress.

Our reasons are that the Channel is so narrow between the fort & the middle ground, that they may be moored, so as to rake the channel and prevent the enemy’s troops being landed to annoy the fort.

The enemy we apprehend may be prevented from sounding & buoying the bar by the Brig. General Lincoln, the state Brig. Notre Dame, and other small vessels, that may be occasionally employed for that purpose. We are &c.

Signed by four Captains & five Pilots

General Lincoln

In consequence of the above report the ships were removed to act in conjunction with Fort Moultrie and an attempt was made to obstruct the Channel in front thereof but from the depth of water the width of the Channel & the rapidity of the tide the attempt proved abortive.

On the enemys getting over the bar a force far superior to what was expected, and with which our ships could by no means cope, and from a consideration, that if the enemy should pass the fort and our ships, with a leading wind & flood tide, and anchor to the leeward of them, it would have been impossible for them to have got out of reach of the enemys guns, or be protected by the fort—We were obliged to abandon the former idea of acting in conjunction with fort Moultrie, and to adopt a new one. After I received an answer to the following questions, which were proposed to the Captains Whipple, Hacker, Rathburne, Tucker, Simpson, Lockwood & Pyne—1st Whether in their opinion the obstructions which are now attempted to be laid across the channel in front of fort Moultrie, if effected, will be sufficient to check the progress of the enemys Ships, now in this harbor, if they should attempt to pass them, under the advantages of a leading wind and flood tide.

2d If the enemy should pass the Fort and the American Ships under the circumstances aforesaid, and should anchor to leeward of them, whether the fort could act inconjunction with and support our ships—If it cannot whether they can change their station so as to escape the enemys fire.

3d Whether they think from the present situation and force of the enemy, and the state of Charlestown our ships can take a station in which they can probably render more essential services than in their present and where.

Answer to the first Question.

We are fully of opinion that the present or even any obstructions we can throw in the way of the enemy will be insufficient to check such heavy ships, as the enemy now have in the harbor.

A. to the 2d Q. Should the enemy pass us, they can anchor to leeward of us and we cannot be protected by fort Moultrie, or shall we be able to run our ships out of the way.

A. to the 3 Q. That we are also of opinion that we ought to leave our present stations.

We beg leave to observe that when we recommended this as a suitable station it was at a time, when the enemys force off the bar did not exceed half what they now have in the harbour, and when we had every assurance, that a ship, larger than fifty guns, could not be got over the bar.

Signed by Capt. Whipple & all the others before mentioned.

Here on I was induced to order the ships up town, dismantle the heaviest of them, strengthen our battrees with their guns & man the forts with the seamen; and we attempted to encumbre the channel between the town, & Shutes folly as before mentioned.

I have been thus particular under this head, because the public supposed, that the ships could be so stationed, as to command the bar, and from this consideration I suppose Congress were induced to send them to south Carolina.

6th Whether the necessary exertions were made to compleat the works & fortifications of the town.

The State of south Carolina was early & repeatedly called upon to bring in their blacks, to finish the works, for little progress there in could be expected from our troops, whose number were too inconsiderable to promise much—they were however the greatest part of their time on duty. To shew how far I interested my self in this business I beg leave to insert the depositions of Mr Cannon & Mr Gambal on this head—I should have omitted them in this letter could I have been sure, that in any other way I should have had an opportunity of laying them before you; but of this I cannot be certain you will therefore, I trust, excuse it.

June 28 1780 Philadelphia

The declaration of James Cannon

I resided in Charlestown from the 5th day of Janry 1778 to the 9th of April 1780. On the evening of the last mentioned day left it with General Lincolns dispatches; and having the honor of being connected with some of the first men in Office in the State of So. Carolina, and frequently in the Generals family, while his Quarters were in Charlestown I declare.

That I had frequent opportunities of knowing the sentiments of the best informed on the Generals conduct, while commanding in the southern department, and that I uniformly found the ideas of his merit and abilities to rise in proportion to the degree of information.

That I have been witness to his pressing with much earnestness the certainty of an intended invasion, and the necessity of strenuous and timely exertions to provide against it.

That he lost no time in fortifying Charlestown, as well as the means put into his power and the skill of the engineer could accomplish it.

That he took every step, which prudence ability and zeal for the safety of the town could inspire, to call forth the utmost exertions of the State at large, and town in particular to put it into the best state of defence—Even turning out himself, not only to assist on the works, but to set an example of emulation that none might think it beneath him to give his assistance, but that all ought to turn out, when they saw their commander in Chief submit to the common duties of fatigue men to push on the works—And that this was not only the exertion of an hour to excite emulation, but his constant practice going out with the foremost in the morning, and returning with the last in the evening, untill the near approach of the enemy called him to other duties.

That I have been constantly and at all times in the day, round the works from the time of the enemys landing on James Island, and don’t recollect, ever to have been for an hour at any one part of them, without seeing the General ride round for the purpose of viewing them, and by his presence inspiring the fatigue men with ardour and industry. And that it is my opinion, that no man could have applied himself with more diligence & activity to put the place into the best possible state of defence, nor would it have been easy for any man to have done as much, and extremely difficult to have done more with the same means.

James Cannon



Before me Plunket Fileeson one of the Justices &c. personaly came Mr James Cannon and made oath and did dipose that the Contents of the forgoing declarations is just and true. Sworn the 30th day of June 1780

Planket Fileeson

Philadelphia 30 June 1780

Being from the 15th of February to the 17th of April 1780, when I became unfit for service by a contusion from a cannon shot, employed as a manager on the public works in Charlestown, I had the constant opportunity of marking General Lincolns attention to the construction of every work, necessary for the defence of the place. By his particular orders & direction, I fortifyed from the French Battery on Gibbes wharf to the sugar house battery on Savages Green, on the Ashley River side of the town, cutting a wet ditch 12 feet wide with a regular glacis, and a range of oblique pickets in front of the old line. I also by his orders cut the marsh from Fergusons beach to within a about two hundred yards of Cummins Point Battery, rendering it impassible for boats at High Water, and to infantry when dry by a drain and bank. Next at his command I stopped a creek 7 feet deep in front of our lines on the left. The whole compleated under his sole inspection.

I was concerned in every work erected or repaired to the 17th of April. In which time the General was always one of the first at and last from the works, giving directions to the overseers and encouraging the labourers; and in my opinion no man could have been more diligent in fortifying, more vigilant, more cautious or have behaved with more bravery in the defence of Charlestown than General Lincoln.

Archibald Gamble



Before me Plunket Fileeson one of the Justices &c. came Archibald Gamble and made oath that the contents of the within declaration is just and true.

Sworn the 30 day of June 1780

Plunket Fileeson

7th Whether the defence of Charles town was conducted with that military Spirit & determination which justice to their country & themselves demanded of its garrison. This is a question delicate and important!

Charlestown is situate on a peninsula formed by the conflux of the cooper and the ashley—having field works in its rear the front & flanks covered by lines batteries & Marshes—the whole extent little short of four miles.

The enemy landed the 12th of Feby in force on the south part of Johns Island between twenty & thirty miles from Charles town—with the Ashley & the Stono intervening, as I wish to waste as little of your Excellencys time as possible, I shall say nothing of their movements from the time of their debarcation untill they crossed the Ashley on the 29th of March, excepting that previous thereto they had employed themselves in erecting works on James Island, to cover their ships, some on the main near wappoo as a security to their grand deposite of stores established here, the stores having been transported from their Ships in Stono river.

They crossed the Ashley about two miles above the ferry, twelve miles from the town, with their grenadiers, light troops and two battalions of Infantry—On the 30th they appeared before our lines and encamped about three thousand yards in front of them—we had to lament that the state of our garrison would not admit of a sufficient force being detached to annoy them on crossing the river, which they could do at different places, for our whole number at this time in garrison amounted to 2225 only, besides the sailors in the batteries.

The 30th & 31st the enemy were employed in transporting their stores from the west to the east side of ashley, about two miles above our lines, in the morning of the first of April we observed that they had broken ground in several places about 1100 yards in our front; their next work appeared, the morning following on our left about nine hundred yards distance, the night after they opened a third work, about six hundred yards from our right. From the third to the 10th, the enemy were employed in finishing their first parrallel, their batteries thereon & mantling them, before which we had received only a few random shots from their Gallies in the mouth of wappoo, and from their battery near there to—In the evening of this day we received the following summons.

"Sir Henry Clinton K.B. General and commander in chief of his Majestys forces in the Colonies, lying on the Atlantic from Nova Scotia &c. &c. &c. and Vice Admiral Arbuthnot commander in chief of his Majestys Ships in North America &c. &c. &c. regreting the effusion of blood, and the distresses which must now commence; deem it consonant to humanity to warn the town & Garrison of Charles town of the havock and desolation, with which they are threatened from the formidable force surrounding them by land and sea.

An alternative is offerred at this hour of saving their lives and property contained in the town, or of abiding by the fatal consequences of a cannonade and storm.

Should the place in a fallacious security, or its commander in a wanton indifference to the fate of its inhabitants delay a surrender or should the public stores or shipping be destroyed, the resentment of an exasperated soldiery may intervene, but the same mild & compassionate offer can never be renewed.

The respective Commanders, who hereby summon the town do not apprehend so rash a part, as further resistance, will be taken; but rather, that the gates will be opened and themselves received with a degree of confidence, which will forbade further reconciliation."

Head Quarters Chas Town April 10 1780


I have received your summons of this date—Sixty days have passed since it has been known that your intentions against this town were hostile, in which, time has been afforded to abandon it—but duty and inclination point to the propriety of supporting it to the last extremity. I have the honour to be Your Excelllencies humble Servant

B. Lincoln

The answer was such, as I hope, will at alltimes meet your Excellencys approbation—We were left at that time without an alternative: an unconditional surrender was demanded—Firing on our side was immediately commenced, to retard and annoy the enemy in their approaches, as much as possible, and so continued until the 13th when they opened their batteries, and a constant fire was kept up by both parties untill the 20th at which time their second parrallel within three hundred yards of our lines was compleated—when terms as have before been mentioned were proposed; but being rejected hostilities again commenced on the 21st and continued with redoubled fury—On the twenty third the enemy commenced their third parallel from eighty to one hundred and fifty yards from our lines, from this to the 8th of May they were employed in compleating it, erecting three batteries there on & draining the ditch opposite our right—In the morning of the 8th I received the following letter from General Clinton "circumstanced as I now am with respect to the place invested, humanity only can induce me to lay within you reach the terms I determined should not again be proffered."

"The fate of Fort Sullivan, the destruction (on the 6th instant) of what remained of your Cavalry the critical period to which our approaches against the town have brought us, mark this as the term of your hopes of succour (could you have framed any) and as an hour, beyond which resistance is temerity."

"By this last summons therefore I throw to your charge whatever vindictive severity, exasperated soldiers may inflict on the unhappy people, whom you devote by persevering in a fruitless defence."

"I shall expect your answer until eight oClock when hostilities will again commence again, unless the town shall be surrendered &c. &c.

Signed H. Clinton

Maj. Genl Lincoln”

This I laid before a Council of General & field officers & the Captains of the Continental ships—It was the view of the Council, that terms of capitulation ought to be proposed—Terms were accordingly sent out but as so many of them were rejected others so mutilated and a quallification of them utterly denied us hostilities again commenced in the evening of the Ninth with a more incessant and heavy fire than ever, which continued until the 11th when having prior thereto received an address from the principal inhabitants of the town, and a number of the country militia signifying that the terms acceded to by General Clinton, as they related to them, were satisfactory and desired that I would propose my acceptance of them, and a request from the Lieutenant Governor and Council that the negotiations might be renewed—the militia of the Town having thrown down their arms—our provisions, saving a little rice, being exhausted—The troops on the lines being worn down with fatigue, having for a number of days been obliged to lay upon the banket—Our harbour closely blocked up—compleatly invested by land by nine thousand men at least the flower of the British army in America, besides the large force which, at all times, they could draw from their marine, and aided by a great number of blacks, in all their laborious employments—The garrison at this time, exclusive of the sailors, but little exceeding twenty five hundred men, part of whom had thrown down their arms—The citizens in general discontented and clamourous—The enemy being within twenty yards, of our lines, and preparing to make a general assault by sea and land—many of our cannon dismounted and others silenced from the want of shot—A retreat being judged impracticable, and every hope of timely succour cut off, we were induced to offer and accede to the terms executed on the 12th A copy of them, the several letters and propositions that passed between Sr Hy Clinton & my self from the 10th of April to the 12th of May, I do my self the honor to inclose.

Thus sir in as concise a manner as possible, and perhaps too much so in justice to my self, I have given to your Excellency a state of matters, relative to the defence and loss of Charles town, & the measures pursued by me for its safety.

Think it not My Dear General the language of adulation when I assure you, that your approbation of my military conduct will afford me the highest satisfaction, and prove my justification in the eyes of the world. I have the honor to be My Dr General with the highest regard esteem your most Obedient servant

B. Lincoln

DLC: Papers of George Washington.

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