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American Revolution: The War Moves South

A Bitter Struggle


American Revolution: The War Moves South

General Nathanael Greene

Photograph Source: Public Domain

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Fall of Charleston

In early 1780, Clinton again moved against Charleston. Blockading the harbor and landing 10,000 men, he was opposed by Lincoln who could muster around 5,500 Continentals and militia. Forcing the Americans back into the city, Clinton began constructing siege line on March 11 and slowly closed the trap on Lincoln. When Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton's men occupied the north bank of the Cooper River, Lincoln's men were no longer able to escape. Finally on May 12, Lincoln surrendered the city and its garrison. Outside the city, the remnants of the southern American army began retreating towards North Carolina. Pursued by Tarleton, they were badly defeated at Waxhaws on May 29. With Charleston secured, Clinton turned over command to Major General Lord Charles Cornwallis and returned to New York.

Battle of Camden

With the elimination of Lincoln's army, the war was carried on by numerous partisan leaders, such as Lieutenant Colonel Francis Marion, the famed "Swamp Fox." Engaging in hit-and-run raids, the partisans attacked British outposts and supply lines. Responding to the fall of Charleston, Congress dispatched Major General Horatio Gates south with a new army. Promptly moving against the British base at Camden, Gates encountered Cornwallis' army on August 16, 1780. In the resulting Battle of Camden, Gates was severely defeated, losing approximately two-thirds of his force. Relieved of his command, Gates was replaced with the able Major General Nathanael Greene.

Greene in Command

While Greene was riding south, American fortunes began to improve. Moving north, Cornwallis dispatched a 1,000-man Loyalist force led by Major Patrick Ferguson to protect his left flank. On October 7, Ferguson's men were surrounded and destroyed by American frontiersmen at the Battle of King's Mountain. Taking command on December 2 at Greensboro, NC, Greene found that his army was battered and ill-supplied. Splitting his forces, he sent Brigadier General Daniel Morgan west with 1,000 men, while he took the remainder towards supplies at Cheraw, SC. As Morgan marched, his force was followed by 1,000 men under Tarleton. Meeting January 17, 1781, Morgan employed a brilliant battle plan and destroyed Tarleton's command at the Battle of Cowpens.

Reuniting his army, Greene conducted a strategic retreat to Guilford Court House, NC, with Cornwallis in pursuit. Turning, Greene met the British in battle on March 18. Though compelled to give up the field, Greene's army inflicted 532 casualties on Cornwallis' 1,900-man force. Moving east to Wilmington with his battered army, Cornwallis next turned north into Virginia, believing that the remaining British troops in South Carolina and Georgia would be sufficient to deal with Greene. Returning to South Carolina, Greene began to systematically re-take the colony. Attacking British outposts, he fought battles at Hobkirk's Hill (April 25), Ninety-Six (May 22-June 19), and Eutaw Springs (September 8) which, while tactical defeats, wore down British forces.

Greene's actions, combined with partisan attacks on other outposts, compelled the British to abandon the interior and retire to Charleston and Savannah where they were bottled up by American forces. While a partisan civil war continued to rage between Patriots and Tories in the interior, the large-scale fighting in the South ended at Eutaw Springs.

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