Episode 052

Leave No Stono Unturned – Battle of Stono River

American General Benjamin Lincoln, recovering from his defeat at Briar Creek, reorganizes and reengages the British outside of Charleston, SC in June of 1779

I think my listeners liked learning the southern phrase “He got a whuppin’”, I got lots of feedback and comments on that one, but in “he” in that statement, American Continental General Benjamin Lincoln didn’t find his whuppin at the Battle of Briar Creek on the 3rd of March 1779 that much fun.

However, by mid-April 1779 Lincoln felt strong enough to move in force with the goal of tightening the cordon around Savannah, cutting the British off from local resources. He marched from Purrysburg on April 23 toward Augusta. Lincoln was apparently unaware that the British supply situation was somewhat desperate, in part because American privateer activity had been successful in capturing British supply ships destined for Savannah and diverting them. His movement toward Augusta left the rich lands of coastal South Carolina protected by a minimal militia force.

When British General Augustine Prevost learned of this movement, he decided to counterthrust against the militia forces at Purrysburg, marching 2,500 men out on April 29. The militia, about 1,000 men under the command of General William Moultrie, fell back toward Charleston rather than engaging Prevost, and Moultrie sent messengers to Lincoln warning him of the British movement. As Moultrie retreated, local men deserted his force in order to protect their homes and plantations. Prevost decided to pursue Moultrie, and chased him to the gates of Charleston.

On May 10, companies from the two forces skirmished near Ashley Ferry, about seven miles (11.3 km) from Charleston. Two days later Prevost intercepted a message from which he learned that Lincoln was rapidly marching back to Charleston, and decided to retreat. His army was slowed by having taken supplies en route, so he decided to leave a rear guard at Stono Ferry, between Johns Island and the mainland, removing most of his army to Savannah by boat on June 16. Prevost placed Lieutenant Colonel John Maitland in charge of the rear guard, which numbered about 900 men. A bridgehead was established on the north side of an area now known as New Cut Church Flats; this was meant to cover Stono Ferry. Three strong redoubts were built, circled by an abatis and manned by Highlanders from the 71st Foot, Hessians from the Regiment von Trumbach, and companies of Loyalists from North and South Carolina.

Lincoln, on his arrival in Charleston, decided to mount an attack on this outpost. Even though he commanded five to seven thousand men, he was only able to raise about 1,200 men, primarily from the poorly trained local militia, for the expedition. General Moultrie led a smaller secondary effort to the east against a small group of British soldiers on Johns Island.

Lincoln deployed his troops after a night march of eight miles (13 km) from the Ashley Ferry, located in the present village of Drayton Hall. Immediately upon their arrival at dawn, they began struggling through thick woods. The Americans advanced in two wings; General Jethro Sumner led his Carolina militia on the right, carrying two guns, while their right flank was covered by a company of light infantry, commanded by the Marquis de Malmady. Continental Army troops, under General Isaac Huger, made up the left wing; they carried four guns into battle. With Huger was a group of light infantry under John Henderson, and it was these troops who, shortly before sunrise, made first contact with the enemy.

On May 23rd, the British under Lt. Col. John Maitland had established their defenses at Stono Ferry, located on the Stono River. The British troops were camped on one side with a detachment of Hessians camped on the other side. A British galley was anchored in the river to provide covering fire for the Hessians.

The British rear guard force was attacked by Patriot forces under the command of Major General Benjamin Lincoln on June 20th. The battle lasted for about one hour and the Patriots had taken the British redoubts. Most of the British and Hessian troops were falling back and had taken many causalities and the Patriots were on the verge of victory when fresh British reinforcements came up. Major General Lincoln, realizing that his men were running short on ammunition, fell back. A British pursuit force was cut off by the quick action of Brigadier General Kasimir (aka Casimir) Pulaski and his cavalry force, which stopped the British.

As the Patriots attacked the Hessian camp they immediately came under fire from the galley. The Patriots opened fire on the ship and forced it to withdraw from the fight. Being on the high ground, the Patriots overshot the Hessians when they opened fire on them. The British had gathered all the boats they could, and crossed over the river to reinforce the Hessians. The British troops charged after the Patriots.

Unknown to the British, the South Carolina Navy schooner Rattlesnake had come down the river. It began to fire into the rear of the British and Hessain forces. They both turned from the Patriot force and fired upon the Rattlesnake. The Rattlesnake fired back at them, and repulsed the attack with heavy losses.

The American loss in the battle was 34 killed, 113 wounded and 155 missing. Among the dead was Hugh Jackson, brother of future President Andrew Jackson, who was felled by heat and exhaustion. Huger was severely wounded. The British casualties were 26 killed, 93 wounded and 1 missing.

Maitland had decided almost a week prior to the battle to withdraw from the site, but his movement was delayed by a lack of water transportation. He finally began moving on June 23 towards Beaufort, although with little prompting from Lincoln’s attack.

Another significant event, although more political than military took place 2 days prior to Maitland’s move to Beaufort. On June 21 of 1779, Spain declared war on Great Britian, which created an unofficial alliance with America against Great Britian

Spain’s King Charles III would not consent to a treaty of alliance with the United States. For one imperial power to encourage another imperial power’s colonies in revolt was a treacherous game, and he was unwilling to play. However, French Foreign Minister Charles Gravier, comte de Vergennes, managed to negotiate a treaty with Spain to join their war against the British. As the ally of the United States’ ally, Spain managed to endorse the revolt at a critical diplomatic distance.
The American Revolution had already spawned a world war between the two international powers of Britain and France. Spain’s entry into the imbroglio ensured that the British would have to spread their resources even thinner. King Charles wanted to reclaim Gibraltar for Spain and secure Spanish borders in North America and the Spanish immediately laid siege to Gibraltar at the mouth of the Mediterranean Sea. The British managed to drive the Spanish from Gibraltar on February 7, 1783, having constructed an 82-foot-long tunnel into the north face of the rock of Gibraltar, known as the “Notch,” in order to supply it with cannon. However, King Charles succeeded in his North American goals. The Spanish took West Florida by force and attained East Florida by cession when the War for Independence ended; they were also able to secure the Gulf of Mexico.

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  • American Revolution and Civil

    I liked this podcast. Wasn’t the city called Charles Town?

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