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Chap. vi. the post intrusted to his care with a military 1776. eye, Lee was disinclined to hazard his army by engaging it deeply in the defence of either the fort or the town. The works on Sullivan's island though strong towards the water, were almost open in the rear, and consequently incapable of being defended against an attack by land, to which they were exposed from the troops on Long island, who might cross the creek between them; or from others who might be landed on Sullivan's island. They also admitted of being raked by the guns of any vessels which might gain their western flank. He apprehended too that the ships would pass the fort, and station themselves out of the reach of its guns, between Sullivan's island and Charleston; and that the land forces already on Long island, would cross over to the main land, and place the garrison in a situation of extreme hazard. The great solicitude, however, of the South Carolinians to maintain their capital, aided by the hope that a vigilant attention to the movements of the enemy would enable him to extricate his troops before they should be enclosed, at length prevailed; and he determined to attempt its defence.
Two regular regiments of South Carolina, commanded by colonels Gadsden and Moultrie, garrisoned fort Johnson, on the northern point of James' island, and fort Moultrie. About five hundred regulars, and three hundred militia under colonel Thompson, assisted by an Chap.vi. eighteen pounder, and a field piece, were sta- 1776. tioned in some works which had been thrown up on the northeastern extremity of Sullivan's island, for the purpose of opposing the passage of the British from Long island; and the remaining troops were arranged on Hadrell's point, and along the bay in front of the town. General Lee remained in person with the troops, encamped on the continent at Hadrell's point, in the rear, and to the north of Sullivan's island. A bridge of boats had been commenced in order to keep open the communication between fort Moultrie and the main land, but had not been completed. His position was chosen in such a manner as to enable him to observe and support the operations in every quarter, and particularly to watch and oppose any attempt of the enemy to pass from Long island to the continent, a movement which he seems to have dreaded more than any other.
Every preparation having at length been juntas. made, the fleet consisting of the Bristol and Experiment, two fifty gun ships; the Active, Solebay, Acteon, and Syren, of twenty-eight guns each; the Sphynx of twenty guns, an armed ship of twenty-two guns, and the Thunder bomb-ketch, weighed anchor and sailed for the stations assigned them. The Thunder bomb covered by the armed ship took her station, and about half past ten, began the
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Chap.vi. attack by throwing shells at the fort, as the 1776. fleet advanced. About a quarter past eleven
J^tfat1 o'clock, the Bristol, Active, Experiment, and
*«Mouitrie. Solebay> brought up directly against the fort, and commenced upon it a most furious cannonade. The Sphynx, Acteon, and Syren, had been ordered to the westward to take their station between the end of the island and Charleston, partly to enfilade the works of the fort, partly to cut off, if possible, the communication between the island and the continent, and partly to prevent any attempt which might be made by fire ships, or otherwise to interrupt the grand attack. These vessels were, by the unskilfulness of the pilot, entangled in the shoals called the middle grounds, where they stuck fast until it was too late to execute the intended service. The Acteon being unable to get off was scuttled and burnt next morning by the officers and crew, to prevent her falling into the hands of the Americans/
The cannonade from the ships was incessant and heavy, but was not attended with the expected effect on the fort. This was attributable to its form and the materials with which it was built. It was very low, with merlons of great thickness, and was constructed of earth, and a species of soft wood common in that country called the Palmetto, which, on being struck
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with a ball does not splinter but closes upon it. Chap.vi. The beds of the mortars in the bomb-ketch, 1776. were loosened by being overcharged, and they soon became entirely useless.0
The fire from the fort was slow, was directed with great skill, and did vast execution. The springs of the Bristol's cable being cut by the shot, she was for a short space of time unmanageable, and was so raked by the fort, that at one time the commodore is said to have remained alone on the deck. The Experiment was also roughly handled, and her captain very dangerously wounded.
In the course of the action all the powder in the fort was at one time expended, and for a short interval the guns were silent! Great hopes were then entertained of success, but these hopes were soon blasted by a fresh supply of powder, and a consequent recommencement of the same terrible fire, under which the British ships had already so greatly suffered. The garrison united the cool determined courage of veterans, to the enthusiastic valour of youth. General Lee crossed over to them in a boat, during the action, to determine whether he should not endeavour to withdraw them, and was enraptured with the ardour they displayed. They assured him they would only lose the fort with their lives, and the mortally
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Chap.vi. wounded breathed their last, exhorting their 1776. fellow soldiers to the most heroic defence of the place.
Although the British troops had been landed on Long island, for the purpose of attacking the fort on the land side, no attempt was made to execute this part of the plan. Why it was not made, or whether, if made, it would have been successful, cannot be ascertained. General Clinton asserted that the water between the islands, which he had understood to be only eighteen inches deep, was in reality seven feet, and consequently impassable. This effect is said to have been produced by a long series of eastern winds.
The engagement continued until the darkness of the night compelled a suspension.of it. The - ships were by that time evidently in such a condition, as to be unfit to renew the action the next day. The Bristol had lost one hundred and eleven men, and the Experiment seventy-nine. Captain Scott of the one lost his arm, and captain Morris of the other was mortally wounded. Lord Campbell, late governor of the province, who served as a volunteer on board one of these vessels, was also mortally wounded; and both ships were so shattered as to inspire the hope that they would be unable to repass the bar. About nine o'clock, they slipped their cables and moved off. A few days afterwards, the troops were re-embarked, and all further designs against