Perhaps The Siege Of Charleston Was The First Brexit.

by Daniel Russ on July 4, 2016

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There were about 30 major battles fought between the Colonial Army and the British Army during the Revolutionary War. They Colonials won 13 of them, which oddly made the armies look more evenly matched than they actually were. The fact of the matter is that the British Army was the world’s best trained, best equipped, and the most blooded. The reason America was born is not because we were whipping the asses of the British Expeditionary Forces. It was because it was becoming too expensive to occupy and subjugate the rebels. Rarely does the bullet end empire, rather,  it is the bill.

It’s also important to note that the French were engaging British Expeditionary Forces across the world. The French and Indian War, just fought before the revolution War was often considered The Seven Years War made manifest in North America. The French and British rivalry was a global war between two monarchs. In India, in North Africa and in Continental Europe, the forces of King George III were challenged by their eternal rivals for primacy in military and global commerce. Many in history would look at the loss of the Colonies as one of the greatest defeats for the British and something that would imprecate King George III and his legacy. Strangely King George III was one of the most successful British monarchs despite losing the Americas. He secured the British holdings in India and in Europe and held back the French expansion. That said, the majority of the British forces were spread over the globe. Had George II not been contesting the French in any one of these ventures, America might not have been.

It also little discussed that perhaps a little over half of the citizens in the colonies actually wanted to remain in the purview of the King. They were called loyalists for a reason. In fact it was the French and Indian War that helped midwife the Revolution. A little bit of this is just perspective. The French and the British were fighting in North America just trying to get control of the material and mineral rich lands around the St. Lawrence River. The French and Indian Wars cost the King’s treasury and he was looking for cover 3 million pounds the monarchy spent to keep the French and Indians from purloining Colonial trade routes. So the King brought on the Stamp Act to pay for it.

The Colonials said “What? You want us to pay to protect ourselves so we can produce raw goods for the King?”

Thusly the revolution (Brexit I) was born.

Still a large portion of the Colonial population wished to remain ensconced in the security of the British Empire and were happy to pay taxes especially should they one day find they needed the British Army again. Not unlike today. As the Revolutionary war wore on into it’s fourth year in 1780, British commanding general Clinton decided to move his armies southward, where most of the population were Torries, throwing their lot in with the Crown.

British Commander Cornwallis was sent to take Charleston now defended by General Benjamin Lincoln. Lincoln knows the full might of the King’s power would soon be upon him and despite being outnumbered and out gunned, he chose to organize and defend the city. Given the suggestion to recruit slaves and create Black regiments, he declined and said he will not arm slaves to defend Charlestown from the British. General Lincoln wrote to Washington, “We are unsupported by troops and unsupplied and what creates unhappiness is the prospect that our circumstances will not improve. ”

Unfortunately though Washington’s Army was stuck in New Jersey in one of the worst Winters in history. He could barely equip or clothe his forces. Looked at in retrospect, seeing the impecunious circumstances of the nascent Colonial army makes one wonder how this Revolution ever happened at all.

In February 1780, Clinton had sent 9000 British soldiers south by land and by sea to attack Charleston. They landed 20 miles south of the city and took James Island, and then proceeded to cross the Ashley River .

The Southern campaign was on full force.

On April 1st, 1780, just 800 yards west of the colonial fortification at Charleston, the British begin their offensive with trowels, digging a series of concentric ditches, often called parallels and these entrenchment allow the surrounding army to creep toward it all the while protecting the siege army and offering increasingly effulgence cannon fire into the city. It is a slow, structured siege of the town that Clinton wants to take whole. He fears that if he despoils the Jewel Of The South, the residents will revolt.

Interestingly, the idea was proffered to bring slaves into the battle against the Confederates entrenched in Charleston. General Benjamin Lincoln demurred, like many  of his cabinet that felt that could be suicidal. Giving arms to those they had enslaved….? No.

A declaration by John Earl of Dunmore, his Majesty’s Left-Tennant and Governor of the state of Virginia then posted his eponymous offer: Slaves that escape can join the King’s army in the fight and win freedom as well.

Thousands of slaves made a run for it and began digging parallel trenches and helped bring up cannon supplies the siege increased its tempo. Once they were within range British cannons opened up and fired indiscriminately into town for the next four weeks almost non stop. The opening volley killed someone on King Street.

General Lincoln had written plea after plea for reinforcements, and now he was finally being reinforced.  The winters deprivations having abated recently allowed 750 Colonial soldiers to make a March of 505 miles from Virginia in 30 days. Charleston greeted them with bells and flowers and champagne. In his closed office, the celebration well within earshot, General Lincoln was someone nonplussed. These were not the 3000 soldiers he had asked for, but 750. Far too short to make a different in his mind.

Outside the walls of the city loomed 10,000 Red Coats.

British commander General Clinton had also successfully invested a fleet into Charleston Harbor and turned his ships guns into active gun fire to counter the insurgents and essentially pound Charleston and it’s high minded but terrified residents into submission.

On April 10th, orders to surrender and terms offered go back and forth between commands but Benjamin Lincoln refused to surrender.  Lincoln needed to maintain some honor not just for himself but for his people. All the while the shelling continued to kill and the parallels got closer and closer to Charleston.

There was a back alley route in and out of Charleston into a little area called Moncks. An effete and cruel British General named Banister Tarleton daring led an assault on Charleston. Ambitious, and with no restraint. He planned a surprise attack under cover of night. The attack worked. The continental garrison ass caught off guard, no quarter given.  No prisoners are alive. He even managed to close off the back alley Moncks road from Charleston into the country so no one could escape his butchery.

After a little over a month, the South Carolina citizenry had had enough and wanted to surrender. A Colonials letter to his wife was intercepted and it told of the hardships facing the resisters and the low morale that infected the fighting corps.

On May 12th 1780, Benjamin Lincoln had surrendered to Clinton.

 

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