The American Revolution in South Carolina

Georgetown

January 24-25, 1781


Patriot Cdr:

Brigadier General
Francis Marion
British Cdr:

Lt. Col. George Campbell
Killed:

1
Killed:

1
Wounded:

2
Wounded:

Unknown
Captured:

0
Captured:

3
Old District: 

Georgetown District
Present County:

Georgetown County

In the late night of January 24th, Lt. Col. Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee and the recently-commissioned Brigadier General Francis Marion made a two-pronged surprise attack on Georgetown, Marion’s men coming by land; and the other group, Lee's Legion Infantry under Capt. Patrick Carnes and Capt. Michael Rudolph, which made up the advanced attack, approaching the town by boat, coming from an island in the river where they had hidden themselves in the wee early morning hours of January 24th.

The Georgetown garrison was made up of about 200 to 300, commanded by Lt. Col. George Campbell, including some King’s American Regiment, at least fifteen (15) Queen’s Rangers cavalry and twenty (20) other mounted infantry. The town was protected by a small redoubt with cannon, but most of the men were quartered in nearby houses.

On January 25th, during the early morning hours, Lt. Col. Lee's men in the flatboats slipped undetected from their hiding place in Winyah Bay and landed on Georgetown's undefended waterfront at Mitchell's Landing. Their two squads split up: Capt. Carnes led one party to seize Lt. Col. George Campbell in his headquarters near the parade ground - this was easily accomplished; Capt. Rudolph led the second party into positions from which they could cut off the garrison as they moved to their defenses or to rescue Lt. Col. Campbell.

Brigadier General Marion's partisans and Lt. Col. Lee's Cavalry charged through the light defenses on the land side to link up with Lee's Infantry. The Patriots were astounded to find that none of the British troops had taken any action to man their defenses. Furthermore, the Loyalists barricaded themselves in their houses. Had they assaulted the redoubt, Lt. Col. Lee and Brigadier General Marion might then have taken the cannons there and used them on the houses. However, they did not want to risk unnecessary losses.

Lt. Col. George Campbell and the other officers taken were paroled, and the attackers withdrew, subsequently camping at Murry’s Ferry on the Santee River. The losses were about equal. The Americans reported their losses as three killed, and the British reported their own as about the same.

Lt. Col. Nisbet Balfour wrote to General Sir Henry Clinton, on 31 January:

“[Lee and Marion] failed in their Object, made Prisoners of Lieut. Col. Campbell & one or two other officers of Fanning's Corps [the King’s American Regiment], who they immediately Paroled -- in other respects the loss was inconsiderable and nearly equal. Two or three being killed on each side."

Henry Lee later wrote:

“[Lt.] Colonel [George] Campbell commanded in this town, with a garrison of two hundred men. In his front he had prepared some slight defence, better calculated to repel a sudden, than resist a determined assault. Between these defences and the town, and contiguous to each, was an enclosed work with a fraise and palisade, which constituted his chief protection. A subaltern guard held it. The rest of the troops were dispersed in light parties in and near the town, looking toward the country. The plan of assault was found upon the facility with which the assailant might convey down the Pedee a part of his force undiscovered, and land in the water suburb of the town. After this body should have reached the wharves, it was to move in two divisions. The first was to force the commandant’s quarters, known to be in the place of parade, then to secure him, and all who might flock thither on the alarm. The second was to be charged with the interception of such of the garrison as might attempt to gain the fort, their chief point of safety or annoyance. The militia and cavalry of the Legion, under Marion and Lee, were to approach near the town in the night; and when the entrance of the infantry, passed down by water, should be announced, they were to rush into it for cooperation and support.”


In Lt. Col. Henry Lee's official report of the engagment, he blamed the failure to successfully take Georgetown on the late arrival of his own cavalry. The capture of Lt. Col. George Campbell gave the British leaders in Charlestown the opportunity to replace the unpopular commandant of Georgetown. Some of his officers had written to Charlestown complaining that they were already in a near state of mutiny at the time of his capture, which may explain why none ventured forth to rescue him.

News of the defeat at Cowpens and the fairly successful attack on Georgetown revoked the orders of the Queen's Rangers. Capt. John Saunders was ordered to ride to Georgetown and assume command of the garrison there, while Major James Grant of the King's American Regiment was recalled back to Charlestown.


This engagement was the first under a recently-commissioned new Brigadier General, Francis Marion. For the first time, some of the regiments shown below began collaborating with Brigadier General Marion because they now fell under his authority as defined by Governor John Rutledge. The newly-created SC 2nd Brigade of Militia was just gaining cohesive traction since it had someone highly skilled and highly qualified to lead it.

As the year 1781 continued, this new collaboration of mis-matched militia units would grow into an extremely well-used organization of men and materiel that caused great concern to the Loyalists in the Pee Dee and lowcountry sections of South Carolina, and to the British army that was losing more frequently than they ever imagined. And as the year 1781 continued, other regiments in other parts of the state were attracted to the leadership style and qualities of Brigadier General Francis Marion, so this organization only got better and stronger.

This "brigade of militia" took Francis Marion most of the latter months of 1780 to bring together, with plenty of arm twisting and pleading to bring more qualified leaders into the battlefield arena. What began at Kingstree in mid-August of 1780 grew by "fits and starts" across that Fall and Winter, thanks to the persistence and patience of its leader - Francis Marion. And, thanks to the many smart men of South Carolina who believed in him and followed him into battle after battle.

Known Patriot Participants 

Known British/Loyalist Participants

Brigadier General Francis Marion - Commanding Officer

Lee's Legion (VA Continentals) led by Lt. Col. Henry Lee with 260 men in the following known units:
- 1st Mounted Troop - Capt. James Armstrong
- 2nd Mounted Troop - Maj. Joseph Eggleston
- 3rd Mounted Troop - Capt. Michael Rudolph
- 4th Dismounted Troop - Capt. Allen McClane
- 5th Dismounted Troop - Capt. Patrick Carnes
- 6th Dismounted Troop - Capt. James Tate

SC 2nd Brigade of Militia led by Brigadier General Francis Marion with the following known units:

Kingstree Regiment of Militia led by Col. Archibald McDonald, Lt. Col. Peter Horry, with eight (8) known companies, led by:
- Capt. William Allston
- Capt. John Baxter
- Capt. Daniel Conyers
- Capt. James McCauley
- Capt. John Postell
- Capt. Samuel Price
- Capt. Thomas Waties
- Capt. James Witherspoon

Cheraws District Regiment of Militia led by Col. Abel Kolb, Lt. Col. Lemuel Benton, and Major Tristram Thomas, with seven (7) known companies, led by:
- Capt. John Butler
- Capt. Guthridge Lyons
- Capt. Alexander McIntosh
- Capt. Moses Pearson
- Capt. Daniel Sparks
- Capt. William Standard
- Capt. Daniel Williams

Berkeley County Regiment of Militia detachment led by Col. Richard Richardson, Jr., Lt. Col. Hugh Horry, with five (5) known companies, led by:
- Capt. William Dukes
- Capt. Robert McCottry
- Capt. William McCottry
- Capt. John Neilson
- Capt. Gavin Witherspoon

Georgetown District Regiment of Militia detachment of one (1) known company, led by:
- Lt. Col. Alexander Swinton

Lower Craven County Regiment of Militia detachment led by Col. Hugh Giles, with one (1) known company, led by:
- Capt. James Weathers

Kershaw Regiment of Militia detachment led by Col. James Postell, with one (1) known company, led by:
- Capt. John Singleton


Total Patriot Forces - 350 (?)

Lt. Col. George Campbell - Commanding Officer

King's American Regiment detachment led by Major James Grant with 283 men in the following units:
- Lt. Col. Campbell's Company - Lt. Dugald Campbell
- Col. Edmund Fanning's Company - Ensign Thomas Barker
- Capt. Isaac Atwood
- Capt. Thomas Chapman
- Capt. Peter Clements
- Capt.-Lt. James DePeyster - Grenadier Company
- Capt. Robert Gray's Company - Lt. Leonard Reed
- Capt. John William Livingston - Artillery with 3 guns

Queen's Rangers:
- Capt. John Saunders - Troop of Cavalry, with 12 men

Ensign James Place - Prince of Wales American Volunteers, Brigadier General Brown's Company, with 62 men

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