Letter from Charles Lee to George Washington
Lee, Charles, 1731-1782
Volume 10, Pages 618a-618c
Letter from General Charles Lee to General Washington.
Charlestown July 1, 1776.
My dear General: I have the happiness to congratulate you on a very signal success (if I may not call it a victory) which we have gained over the mercenary instruments of the British tyrant. I shall not trouble you with a detail of their manoeuvers or delays, but defer it to another time, when I have more leisure to write and you to attend; let it suffice that having lost an opportunity (such as I hope will never again present itself) of taking the town, which on my arrival, was utterly defenceless, the Commodore thought proper on Friday last, with his whole squadron consisting of two fifties, six frigates, and a bomb, (the rates of which you will see in the
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enclosed list) to attack our fort on Sullivan's Island. They dropped their anchors about eleven in the forenoon, at a distance of three or four hundred yards before the front battery. I was myself at this time in a boat, endeavouring to make the Island, but the wind and tide being violently against me, drove us on the main. They immediately commenced the most furious fire that I ever heard or saw. I confess I was in pain from the little confidence I reposed in our troops, the officers being all boys, and the men raw recruits. What augmented my anxiety was, that we had no bridge finished of retreat or communication, and the creek or cove which separated it from the continent is near a mile wide. I had received, likewise, intelligence that their land troops intended at the same time to land and assault. I never in my life felt myself so uneasy; and what added to my uneasiness was, that I knew our stock of ammunition was miserably low. I had once thoughts of ordering the commanding officer to spike his guns, and when his ammunition was spent, to retreat with as little loss as possible. However, I thought proper previous, to send to town for a fresh supply, if it could possibly be procured, and ordered my Aid-de-camp, Mr Byrd, (who is a lad of magnanimous courage), to pass over in a small canoe and report the state of the spirit of the garrison; if it had been low, I should have abandoned all thoughts of defence. His report was flattering, I then determined to maintain the post at all risks, and passed the creek or cove in a small boat, in order to animate the garrison in propria persona
; but I found they had no occasion for such encouragement. They were pleased with my visit, and assured me they would abandon the post but with their lives. The cool courage they displayed astonished and enraptured me; for I do assure you my dear General, I never experienced a hotter fire—twelve full hours it was continued without intermission. The noble fellows who were mortally wounded conjured their brethren never to abandon the standard of liberty. Those who lost their limbs deserted not their posts. Upon the whole, they acted like Romans in the third century. However, our works were so good and solid, that we lost but few—only ten killed on the spot, and twenty-two wounded; seven of whom lost their legs or arms. The loss of the enemy, as you will perceive by the enclosed list, was very great. As I send a detail to the Congress, I shall not trouble you with a duplicate; but before I finish, you must suffer me to recommend to your esteem, friendship, and patronage, my (though young) Aids-de-camp, Byrd
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and Morris, whose good sense, integrity, activity, and valour, promise to their country a most fruitful crop of essential services. Mr Jenifer, of Maryland, a gentleman of fortune, and not of the age when the blood of men flows heroically, has shown not less spirit than these youngsters. I may venture to recommend in these high terms because the trial was severe. Colonel Moultrie, who commanded the garrison, deserves the highest honors. The manifest intention of the enemy was to land, at the same time the ships began to fire, their whole regulars on the east end of the Island. Twice they attempted it, and twice they were repulsed by a Colonel Thompson of the South Carolina Rangers, in conjunction with a body of North Carolina Regulars. Upon the whole, the South and North Carolina troops, and the Virginia Rifle Battalion we have here, are admirable soldiers. The enemy are now returned to their old station on this side the bar. What their intention is, I cannot divine. One of the five deserters who came over to us this day, is the most intelligent fellow I ever met with. The accounts of their particular loss and situation are his, and I think they may be depended upon.