The American Revolution in South Carolina

The British Forces, their Allies, and the Loyalists


The British Army in South Carolina

The South Carolina Loyalists
           

British and Loyalist Ground Forces at the Siege of Charlestown
           
 

Others Helping the British Cause in South Carolina
 

Thanks to existing laws for the creation and maintenance of militias within the Province, by early 1775 the Patriots had a significant army well in place within South Carolina before the British really knew what was going on. For over two years, the Province had managed quite well without an official Royal Governor, with William Bull, Jr. acting on behalf of the Crown. He was a capable administrator, and his allegiance was to the Crown, but no one paid him any attention after the first Continental Congress met in 1774.

Although the early posturing and skirmishing took place in the northern colonies immediately after that fateful day in April of 1775 at Lexington, Massachusetts, the citizens of South Carolina knew full well that it would not be long before the British set their sights on the wealthiest city of the South - Charlestown. Militias were now re-inforced with Provincial Troops. The only British soldiers on South Carolina soil was a small garrison of five men located at Fort Johnson on James Island - they were seized by the Patriots and escorted off the island without a shot being fired by either side.

The final Royal Governor, Lord William Campbell, did not arrive until June 18, 1775. He was immediately unpopular with the people and soon took refuge aboard the man-o-war Tamar in Charlestown harbor. From there, he attempted to intensify Loyalist sentiments across the Province and to stir up troubles with the Cherokees in the upcountry. Lord Campbell also communicated with other exiled royal governors from other provinces and they all attempted to come up with measures that would maintain peace as well as ties to the mother country. All their attempts failed.

Clearly recognized as the masters of the sea, the British Navy continued to cruise just outside of Charlestown harbor, picking off unlucky privateers and generally harassing all shipping into and out of the primary port of the South. The provincials quickly struck back - South Carolina established its own navy, and these intrepid sailors not only defended the coast but also went on the offensive all over the Caribbean.

As of the beginning of 1776, the nearest British land forces were in St. Augustine, Florida. The next closest land forces were in Pennsylvania or New Jersey, and the British were clearly focusing on the northern states. However, the British army was having very little success in those northern states, and their attention quickly changed to the South, just as was anticipated a year earlier. In June, General Henry Clinton came to Charlestown with over 2,800 land forces and ten gunships - they were repelled by a combination of good strategy and good luck.

The British in Florida were ordered to take Savannah, Georgia as a stepping stone to obtaining Charlestown - which of course would theoretically ensure that the entire southern arena would be toppled soon thereafter. Savannah did fall to Brig. Gen. Augustine Prevost, who soon decided to invade South Carolina with his British Regulars, Hessians, Loyalists, and Creek Indian allies. His march through the lowcountry in the Summer of 1779 wreaked havoc upon the fretful citizens and legislators in Charlestown, and it even raised a few doubts among the military within the state at that time.

In the Spring of 1780, General Henry Clinton returned - having learned of Prevost's recent march and employed his own lessons learned from his last attempt to take Charlestown in 1776 - he returned this time with over 12,000 ground forces, including a significant amount of cavalry, to "shock and awe" the South Carolinians. Charlestown surrendered on May 12, 1780, the largest American force to be captured during the entire war, with over 5,000 men imprisoned as a result.

General Clinton left South Carolina in the care of Lt. Gen. Charles, Lord Cornwallis and returned to New York. Cornwallis employed the usual suspects in his attempt to occupy South Carolina - plenty of British Regulars, Hessian troops, Loyalist militias from other states, Creek and Cherokee Indians, as well as the British Navy, when appropriate. He maintained a healthy number of reserves in and around Charlestown, then proceeded to establish "outposts" all across the state - truly expecting a large tide of local Loyalists to swarm to his beck and call and to keep the Patriots easily subdued.

There were plenty of Loyalists within the boundaries of South Carolina, all waiting timidly for the time to be ripe for them to expose themselves to their Patriot neighbors. The Fall of Charlestown and the establishment of British outposts across the state showed them that the time was now ripe - and they quickly assembled into companies and even regiments of Loyalist militia in every section of the state. What the British failed to recognize was - the Patriots had brought their militias together for now over five years, and they had worked out the organizational issues and communications problems during those five years. The newly-founded Loyalist militias did not have five years to work out their problems - they were soon about to be pitted against a seasoned Patriot army that was not too happy with how things just went down - at Charlestown.

Lord Cornwallis once again whupped the Americans at Camden in August of 1780, and it did seem that the British could not be beaten in the South. Savannah and Augusta were clearly occupied by the British, as were now Charlestown, Camden, Georgetown, Ninety-Six, and other important outposts in the backcountry. Next would be North Carolina, then Virginia, then who knows?

But, those stubborn and pesky Patriots simply would not let it happen. The Patriots, knowing that this was their lives on the line, quickly realized that fighting the British and their allies on their own terms would always result in British wins. The Patriots knew that they had to adopt "unconventional methods" if they were going to prevail in the long run - so, the Patriots did just that - they switched to guerrilla warfare, put most of their forces on horseback instead of as infantry, and decided that they did not need to "win every skirmish" but to continually annoy the enemy such that he never rested and his forces were steadily dwindling to the point of ineffectivity.

The enemies of the Patriots were many and numerous, and they came from across the ocean as well as from their own backyards. They fought hard; some fought "mean" and some fought "dirty." But, their cause was not just and their hearts were not pure - it was only a matter of time before the Patriots prevailed. It was manifest destiny.



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