The British take Charleston

May 12, 1780

In June 1776, the British navy tried to capture the Charleston Harbor but failed. After losing the Battles at Saratoga, the British concentrated on the Southern Colonies. The British believed there would be a lot of loyalists in the South In 1779. General Sir Henry Clinton decided it was time to make the strength of the British forces known in the South.

For the first time since being defeated in 1776, the British navy sailed toward Savannah, Georgia. They were able to force the small Continental Army there to retreat into South Carolina. After taking Augusta, the British had control of all Georgia.

This encouraged Clinton who decided on a heavier assault to take control of Charleston, South Carolina. He sent General Charles Cornwallis and 8,500 to Charleston where they landed in February of 1780. In two months they had increased their forces to 10,000 men.

The Patriots made up of both the Continental Army and militiamen only totaled about 5,000 men. They were led by General Benjamin Lincoln of Massachusetts.

When General Cornwallis' men attacked, the Patriots had no chance. Since the British had them surrounded, they could make no retreat and on May 12, 1780 General Lincoln surrendered to the British. The British took all the weapons, ammunition and supplies from General Lincoln. General Cornwallis let the colonists go free if they promised never to bear arms against the King or Queen of England again.

General Washington had sent the Continental Army from Delaware and Maryland to Charleston under the lead of Major General Baron de Kalb, but that group of men had only reached the northern border of North Carolina by the time General Lincoln surrendered to Sir Henry Clinton and General Cornwallis.

General Sir Clinton returned immediately to New York and left General Cornwallis in charge. The troops under Cornwallis were able to go out from the city of Charleston into the countryside. Since General Lincoln's men were the only Patriots in South Carolina, the British had no problem. They established bases in Camden, Cheraw and at Fort 96 near Greenwood.