Saturday, July 4, 2009

Occupied South Carolina

[Minor revisions May 2, 2010]

On May 12, 1780, the American army in the Southern states, commanded by Major-General Benjamin Lincoln, surrendered at Charleston to a British army commanded by Lieutenant-General Henry Clinton. It was the worst American defeat of the war. Subsequently, Clinton left Lieutenant-General Charles Cornwallis with command in the South.

The British soon established a network of outposts across South Carolina. On the Atlantic coast, posts were established at Georgetown and Beaufort. The main base of operations was at Charleston. In the central part of the state, a post was set up at Camden. To defend the border with North Carolina, posts were established at Rocky Mount, Hanging Rock, and Cheraws. In the west, posts were established at at Ninety-Six, "Sennica Fort," and Fair Forest.

A Section of Henry Mouzon et al.'s 1775 An accurate map of North and South Carolina... (click to enlarge). 1 is "Sennica Fort," 2 is Fair Forest, 3 is Ninety-Six, 4 is Rocky Mount, 5 is Hanging Rock, 6 is Camden, and 7 is Cheraws.

Clinton left Cornwallis with six regiments of British infantry (the 7th, 23rd, 33rd, 63rd, and 64th regiments of foot), and two regiments of German infantry (Fusilier Regiment Ditfurth and Garrison Regiment von Huyn). Cornwallis generally did not place his regulars in the more vulnerable posts (although there are exceptions: the 23rd was at Hanging Rock for a short while in early July and the 71st was at Cheraws for a longer period). Rather, the northern and western posts were manned chiefly by regiments of provincials. For example, the 3rd battalion of New Jersey Volunteers, the 1st battalion of DeLancey's brigade, and the South Carolina Royalists were assigned to Ninety-Six, the American Volunteers were at Fair Forest, and the New York Volunteers were at Rocky Mount.

Cornwallis was concerned with establishing a Loyalist militia in the state, and 18 regiments were organized. The outposts were important to the formation of these militia regiments, because they provided places where Loyalists could gather in safety, and receive arms and instructions. The placement of provincials in these outposts was perhaps deliberate. The provincials, of course, were diehard Loyalists, and it may have been thought that their presence would have a good effect on the civilian population.

A South Carolina Loyalist militia backed up by provincial regiments would seem like an effective strategy for completing the subjugation of the state. The former were well acquainted with the countryside and knew the "rebel" leaders. The latter were well armed veterans. It's not unreasonable to believe that the Loyalists should have been able to track down the bands of American militia, even infiltrate their organizations, and, with the help of the provincials, wipe out the remaining resistance.

If Cornwallis' strategy was effective in South Carolina, it reasonably might have worked in some other parts of the United States (North Carolina most obviously being the next target). Therefore, events in the South Carolina backcountry in the summer of 1780 would provide a critical test of Britain's ability to win the war.


Letter from Brigadier-General Thomas Sumter to Major-General Johann de Kalb, July 17, 1780.

John A. Robertson et al.'s Global Gazetteer of the American Revolution.

William T. Sherman. (2009). Calendar and Record of the Revolutionary War in the South: 1780-1781. (pdf file).

Michael C. Scoggins. (2005). The Day It Rained Militia: Huck's Defeat and the Revolution in the South Carolina Backcountry, May-July 1780. (link to

Rodney Atwood. (2002). The Hessians. (link to

The On-Line Institute for Advanced Loyalist Studies. A History of the 3rd Battalion, New Jersey Volunteers.

The On-Line Institute for Advanced Loyalist Studies. A History of the 1st Battalion, DeLancey's Brigade

The On-Line Institute for Advanced Loyalist Studies. New York Volunteers Officers' Memorial.

No comments:

Post a Comment