Documenting the American South Logo
Colonial and State Records of North Carolina
Letter from Benjamin Lincoln to George Washington
Lincoln, Benjamin, 1733-1810
September 11, 1780
Volume 15, Pages 24-47

-------------------- page 24 --------------------
[From “Letters to Washington,” No. 40, pages 141-182.]

Endorsed: Major Genl. Lincoln's report of his Conduct as Commandt. of Charlestown—private.


Hingham, August 11, 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 Excellency's mind, and in order that I may write more intelligently I shall suppose and endeavor to answer such as follow:

First, why the defense of Charlestown was undertaken. Though I pretend not to plead an express order of Congress directing the defense 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 defense 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 defense of its harbour, and on my frequent representations to them that

-------------------- page 25 --------------------
succours were necessary for defending the town, they ordered them accordingly, and at no time intimated to me that my ideas of attempting the defense of it were improper.

That the measure was right in itself, 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 part of the country. In abandoning it we must have given up the Continental ships of war and all other 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 moved by water, and the waggons we had or could have procured would have been unequal to the transporation 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 inconveniences of an evacuation without our stores, when further opposition no longer availed.

2ndly, why the Army, Stores, &c., were not brought off when it appeared that the post could no longer be maintained.

The expectation that our succours, when arrived, would so cover our right as to render an evacuation, which should become expedient, practicable, had been an argument in leading us to attempt a defense. 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 and march, when called for, 2,000 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 favours of the 15th of December, 3d, 8th,

-------------------- page 26 --------------------
24, 29, & 31st Ultimo. I certainly should have done myself 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 my 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 ultimo, and those who have met are now about to disperse and leave 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 South Carolina, to the westward P. D., where they will be ready to march to your assistance if necessary, or to be employed in this State, as exigencies require.”

“I have written to General Rutherford to give you every assistance in his power, and not to 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 myself 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 Gen Scott's Brigade was ordered on, which amounted to about 400, and the Virginia State troops about 500 more, General Hogun's Brigade, the Virginia line, and Col. Washington's 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 number we received in Garrison of

South Carolina Militia
North Carolina Do.
General Hogun's Brigade
The Virginia line from the Main Army

The greatest part of the remainder we expected would soon

-------------------- page 27 --------------------
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 12th 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 Cainhoy, a strong commanding ground on the roads, nine miles from town, which was intended to be a deposit 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 Lanier's Ferry over the Santee to collect and secure the boats necessary with dispatch to cross our expected succours, and with facility to effect a retreat, should that become necessary.

On the 16th of April I was informed that our horse, which had been posted near Monk's 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 ourselves 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 of the Council of Officers on this head:

“At a Council of Officers held in garrison, Charles Town, 20 & 21st of April, A. D. 1780,
Major General Lincoln.
Brigadier Moultrie.
Brigadier McIntosh.
Brigadier Woodford.
Brigadier Scott.
Brigadier Hogun.
Colonel Laumoy, Engineer.
Beckman, of the Artillery.
Simmons, Commandant of the Charlestown Militia.
-------------------- page 28 --------------------

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 and 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 inconveniences, if not rendered altogether impracticable from the undermentioned causes, viz.:

1st. The civil authority were utterly averse to it, and intimated in council if it was attempted they would counteract the measure.

2d. It was to be performed, under this apprehension, in face of an enemy much superior to us, across a river three miles broad, in large ships & vessels, the movement of which must be regulated to 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 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 to an army wasted and worn down by action, fatigue and famine, & closely pursued, as we must be, by the enemy's Horse and infantry, who, from the delay we must inevitably meet, might be detached early enough 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.

-------------------- page 29 --------------------

The terms proposed, in consequence thereof, we rejected. We did not think proper at that time to recede 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 worth 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 Lampries. The better to effect a remove, should an opp'y 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 again attempting a retreat came again before a council of officers on the 26th of April. Present with me:

Brigadier Moultrie.
Brigadier McIntosh.
Brigadier Woodford.
Brigadier Scott.
Brigadier Duportail.
Brigadier Hogun.
Colo. Simmons.
Capt. Whipple.

I proposed to the Council whether, in their opinion, the evacuation of the garrison was an expedient and 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 himself, after garrisoning Haddrel's and Lampries, in St. John's Parish, his right towards the Cooper and 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, & 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,

-------------------- page 30 --------------------
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 must have landed at Lampries' 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 debarcation 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 until 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 to find boats where we wished them, viz.: Lynches' & Lancie'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 secrecy, 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 defense 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 next, 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

-------------------- page 31 --------------------
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, and the same quantity of pork only, to be put up, but on the failure of the expedition against Savannah, the Commissary received orders 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 ensuing campaign,—among other articles, two thousand barrels of beef and as many of pork. After the repulse of 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 and 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 expectation. And from this we were induced to attempt a defense 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,

4thly. Whether the State of the Department was from time to time represented to Congress and the necessary succours called for?

To evidence that every attention was paid to this matter would be easy for me if I could lay before your Excellency all my letters to Congress, the States of No. Carolina and So. Carolina; but to examine them now would engross too much of your time. I therefore shall transcribe one of them only, and that to the Committee of Congress, and remind you of the many the receipt of which has 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

-------------------- page 32 --------------------
at my request, and stated to them, viva voce, our weak and defenseless state, and solicited the necessary aid.

Charlestown, So. Carolina, October 27th, 1779.

To the Honble. Committee of Correspondence.

I did myself the honor to address you on the 22d by Major Clarkson. I gladly embrace this opportunity by Colonel Laurens, who is kind enough to repair to Philadelphia, and to General Washington's HdQuarters, to represent the particular and distressful 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 Indian Islands, from the want of which they now labor under many embarrassments; 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 strength for the disaffected will readily engage in her cause the Indians will be spirited, easily supplied, and without difficulty retained 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 anything which has already happened; for the expectation that it will at some future day be redeemed stamps it with value; as this is lessened, the value of it must decrease.

-------------------- page 33 --------------------

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 expense 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 induced me to believe that the enemy will reinforce their troops, already in this quarter, and attempt to extend and secure this conquest, 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 affect 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 last 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 neighboring 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, and 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

-------------------- page 34 --------------------
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 & will 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'Estaing's fleet being in Cheseapeake 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 other 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.,

5th. Whether the marine arrangement was such as best to answer the purposes intended by Congress in sending the frigates to Charlestown?

It was the general, if not universal, opinion that armed ships lying before the bar of Charlestown 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

-------------------- page 35 --------------------
of the United States; & I have no doubt of your zeal and that of the 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 broadside 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 shoal 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 entrance 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 Captains have enquired and considered the matter, you will be so good as to report your opinions.

I am, &c.,
Commodore Whipple.

In answer to the above the Commodore gave me the following letter addressed to him:


Having considered General Lincoln's requisition to you of the 30th ultimo, whether there is a possibility of the ships lying in such a manner as to command the passage at the bar of Charlestown Harbour, & leave their station if it should become necessary, after having sounded and buoyed the entrance & 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 this purpose,) there 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 enemy's ships under full sail the advantage of passing us;

-------------------- page 36 --------------------
should they effect that, the Continental ships cannot possibly get up to fort Moultrie as soon as the enemy's.

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:

Charlestown, Febry. 13th, 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 entrance of this harbour. I am much obliged to you and the Gentlemen for your attention to my request. I am fully convinced that at some particular times it may be difficult, if not impossible, to lie with the broadside 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 of the probable services they will render there should the enemy attempt to come over the bar, and the evils consequent on their getting into this harbour, that the attempt ought to be made, and that the measure can thereby bejustified, for the safety of this town lies in reducing the enemy's 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 lighten and 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 works on Haddrell's 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

-------------------- page 37 --------------------
town left uncovered. From these considerations I am induced to request that you, so soon as possible, station the Providence, Boston, Bricole & Truite, with such gallies as in your opinion may be serviceable, 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.,
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 entrance of it. This was so new an idea, and, if true, the ships would be rendered of so much less use than was expected, that I called upon the sea officers, with the Pilots, to make the most critical examination and report.

Headquarters, Charles Town, Feby. 26, 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 there 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, & 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

-------------------- page 38 --------------------
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, until you report, unless an opportunity should offer to act offensively against the enemy, as your own safety should make it necessary for you to remove; in either case you will judge.

I am, &c.,
Commodore Whipple.

I thought the importance of 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 myself 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 verified by my own observation:

Port of Charlestown, February 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 might swing in safety, they will lay within one mile & half of the shore.

If any batteries are thrown up to act in conjunction with the

-------------------- page 39 --------------------
ships, and the enemy's 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 the defense 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 of 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 and 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 enemy's 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 & a flood tide, and anchor to the leeward of them, it would have been impossible for them to have got out of reach of the enemy's 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 enemy's

-------------------- page 40 --------------------
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 in conjunction with aud support our ships? If it cannot, whether they can change their station so as to escape the enemy's fire?

3rd. 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.

Ans. to the 2d Q.:

Should the enemy pass us they can anchor to leeward of us, and we can not be protected by Fort Moultrie, nor shall we be able to run our ships out of the way.

A. to the 3rd Q.:

That we are also of opinion that we ought to leave our present station.

We beg leave to observe that when we recommended this as a suitable station it was at a time when the enemy's 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 Captain Whipple and all the others before mentioned.

Hereon I was induced to order the ships up to town, dismantle the heaviest of them, strengthen our batteries with their guns & man the forts with the seamen; and we attempted to incumber the channel between the town & Shute's 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?

-------------------- page 41 --------------------

The State of South Carolina was early & repeatedly called upon to bring in their blacks to finish the works, for little progress therein 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 show how far I interested myself in this business, I beg leave to insert the depositions of W. Cannon & W. Gamble 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.


Philadelphia, June 28, 1780.

I resided in Charlestown from the 5th day of Jany., 1778, to the 9th of April, 1780. On the evening of the last mentioned day, left it with General Lincoln's despatches; 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 General's family while his quarters were in Charlestown, I declare

That I had frequent opportunities of knowing the sentiments of the best-informed on the General's 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 in 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 defense, 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

-------------------- page 42 --------------------
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 enemy's 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.

Philadelphia, ss.

Before me, Plunket Tilerson, one of the Justices, &c., personally came Mr. James Cannon and made oath, and did depose, that the Contents of the foregoing declarations is just and true.

Sworn the 30th day of June, 1780.


Philadelphia, June 30, 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 in the public works in Charlestown I had the constant opportunity of marking General Lincoln's attention to the construction of every work necessary for the defence of the place. By his particular orders and direction, I fortifyed from the French Battery on Gibbes wharf to the Sugar house Battery on Savage's 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 Ferguson's beach to within about two hundred yards of Cummings Point Battery, rendering it impossible 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 completed under his sole inspection.

I was concerned in every work erected or repaired to the 7th of April, In which time the General was always one of the first at,

-------------------- page 43 --------------------
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.

Philadelphia, ss.

Before me, Plunket Tilerson, 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.


7th. Whether the defence of Charlestown was conducted with that military spirit and determination which justice to their country and themselves demanded of its garrison? This is a question delicate and important.

Charlestown is situated on a Peninsula formed by the conflux of the Cooper & the Ashley, having field works in its rear, the front and 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 John's Island, between twenty and thirty miles from Charlestown, with the Ashley & the Stono intervening. As I wish to waste as little of your Excellency's 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 the 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 in crossing the river, which they could do at different places, for our whole number

-------------------- page 44 --------------------
at this time in garrison amounted to 2,225 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 1,100 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 parallel, 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 thereto. In the evening of this day we received the following summons:

“Sir Henry Clinton, K. B., General and Commander in Chief of his Majesty's forces in the Colonies, lying on the Atlantic from Nova Scotia, &c., &c., &c., and Vice-Admiral Arbuthnot, Commander in Chief of His Majesty's ships in North America, &c., &c., &c., regretting the effusion of blood and the distresses which must now commence, deem it consonant to humanity to warn the town & Garrison of Charlestown of the havock & devastation with which they are threatened from the formidable force surrounding them by land and sea.

“An alternative is offered 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 commauder 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 forebode further reconciliation.”

Head Quarters, Chs. Town, April 10, 1780.


I have received your summons of this date. Sixty days have

-------------------- page 45 --------------------
passed since it has been known that your intentions against this town were hostile, in which time has been afforded to abandom it, but duty and inclination point to the propriety of supporting it to the last extremity.

I have the honour to be Your Excellencies' humble servant,

The answer was such as I hope will at all times meet your Excellency's 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 until the 20th, at which time their second parallel, within three hundred yards of our lines, was completed, 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 the 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 threon and drawing 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 your reach the terms I determined should not again be proffered.

“The fall 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 formed 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 defense.

“I shall expect your answer untill eight o'Clock, when hostilities will commence again, unless the town shall be surrendered, &c., &c., &c.

“Majr. Genl. Lincoln.”
-------------------- page 46 --------------------

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 qualification 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 ye 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—completely 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 & Myself from the 10th of April to the 12th of May, I do myself the honor to inclose.

Thus, Sir, in as concise a manner as possible, and perhaps too much so in justness to myself, I have given to your Excellency a state of matters relative to the defence and loss of Charlestown & the measures pursued by me for its safety.

Think it not, My dear General, the language of adulation when

-------------------- page 47 --------------------
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 and esteem,
Your most obedient Servant,
His Excellency General Washington.


Augt. 11th, 1780.

M. Genl. Lincoln's report of his Conduct as Commander of Charlestown.