Fall of Charleston - 12 May 1780

Fall of Charleston-12 May 1780

After General Henry Clinton sent about 10,000 of his Redcoats to Charleston, in early 1780, General Benjamin Lincoln and his Patriots (who were defending the city and repairing its defenses) were trapped.  The most important American port, south of Philadelphia, was under a very effective siege. 

Then the shelling began.  With British bombardments hitting their targets, people inside the city had little with which to fight back.  General Lincoln offered to give up the city if he and his men could leave.  Clinton’s answer was more shelling. 

A hopeless situation became an utter nightmare on the 9th of May, 1780, when Clinton ordered a non-stop barrage on the city.  Charleston erupted in flames.  The people could endure no more.  Seven months after he gave up Savannah, Lincoln surrendered Charleston. 

It was a devastating loss, and not just in personnel (5,400 men and seven American generals) or armament (ten war ships, four hundred cannon and lots of ammunition).  The people’s faith in the cause of independence itself began to falter. 

Loyalists in the Carolinas began to openly support the Crown (since they no longer feared reprisals).  Leaders in the North began to think about a peace treaty (in which Britain would retain Georgia and the Carolinas.)

Few historians dispute that the fall of Charleston was the Patriots’ lowest point in the war. 

Media Credits

Image online, courtesy the U.S. Library of Congress.


Linked in the above description:  Attack on Savannah, Oct. 8,1779.  Illustration by A.I. Keller. U.S. National Archives, image148-GW-1120.

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