June 28, 1776 ~ The Battle of Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina
June 28, 1776, nearly 2-weeks before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, an independent state of South Carolina took on the might of the British empire at the Battle of Sullivan’s Island near Charleston, and won. The battle was fought at a fort built with Palmetto logs and manned by State Militia during the first siege of #Charleston and is considered by many historians as the first significant American victory over the British during the #AmericanRevolution. The battle and the actions COL William Moultrie and SGT William Jasper that day will be forever immortalized in the annals and lore of South Carolina.
By early 1776, the British military was looking for a new plan of attack against American rebels in North America.
British army forces \had been primarily tied up with the Siege of Boston in 1775. General Henry Clinton and Admiral Sir Peter Parker began seeking bases of operations where they had more control, so they began planing an expedition to the southern colonies.
Parker sent ships on scouting expeditions up and down the east coast. Reports on the partially finished condition of the Charleston defenses were sufficiently promising. The decision was made to send the fleet to South.
South Carolina had declared independence in early 1776 and established a provincial congress: 3-months before the Declaration of Independence was signed.
John Rutledge, recently elected president of the South Carolina’s General Assembly organized a defense force under the command of 46-year-old Colonel William Moultrie, a former militiaman and Indian fighter.
Moultrie’s forces comprised three infantry regiments, two rifle regiments, and a small artillery regiment; and were supported by the arrival of Continental Army regiments from North Carolina and Virginia as well as militia numbering 2,700 from Charleston and the surrounding backcountry.
Moultrie saw Sullivan’s Island, a sandy spit of land at the entrance to Charleston Harbor as a place well suited to build a fort that could protect the entrance from intruding enemy warships.
Moultrie and his 2nd South Carolina Regiment set about constructing a fortress built out of palmetto logs to defend the island.
When the British fleet arrived in early June, they landed, troops on Long Island (now called Isle of Palms), in preparation for a naval bombardment and land assault.
Then on June 28th the British assault on Sullivan’s Island began.
British frigates bombarded the garrison’s wall with twenty four and thirty two pound shot and explosive shells; But the tough, pliable palmetto logs dampened the initial blow by absorbing the shot and thereby lessening the damage.
The Americans slowly and purposely aimed their big guns at the anchored ships and poured shot after shot into the ships’ hulls. The devastation to the British fleet was massive.
During the battle, the fort’s flag was shot away and fell outside the fort, disheartening both the soldiers fighting and the citizens of Charles Town lining the harbor to observe the battle.
Many within the town assumed the end was near and the fort was about to fall.
But soon after, the flag once more reappeared fluttering over the fort’s rim, reviving the defenders spirits.
Sergeant William Jasper had leapt up from behind the fort’s wall and retrieved the flag. He fixed it to a temporary staff, and held it under fire until a new staff was installed. The flag once more waved in the air, reviving drooping spirits.
Defeat on that fateful day would have given British troops control over the vital port of Charleston and, essentially, the entire state of South Carolina at a critical time. Despite an overwhelming advantage in cannon, the British ships were unable to silence the guns in Fort Sullivan. Unable to force entrance into the harbor and taking significant damage, the British fleet withdrew and sailed north.
President John Rutledge recognized SGT Jasper”s braverr during the battle with the gift of his personal sword. One militiaman had helped turn the tied of the battle.
Jasper, however would not see the end of the war. He would die at the Siege of Savannah in 1779…still fighting for freedom.
COL Moultrie would survive the war and go on to serve as Governor of South Carolina. In his later years he would write his memoirs of the war. He died in Charleston, South Carolina in 1805 at 74 years of age.
The Battle of Sullivan’s island was over. And for the moment the City of Charleston and South Carolina remained free of British dominance.