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Charlestown and the South, 1779-1780

A small British expedition captured Savannah, Georgia, and managed in the late autumn of 1779 to beat off a combined Franco-American attack [see Document 7] This greatly encouraged Clinton to press on with his plans for a major expedition to South Carolina, which left New York in December 1779, in normal weather, a passage of about a week. Almost within sight of their objective they were blown off course. After a detour to the West Indies they eventually landed on 11th February and slowly progressed towards Charlestown, which fell to the British on the 12th May.

The British lost about 265 killed and wounded, and in exchange captured a major American town, with a garrison of about 5,000 men and arms. Sir Henry Clinton has been severely criticised for taking so long over the operation. It was not a brilliant campaign, but it was successful and achieved for a very small loss of British soldiers. John Hayes had no doubt about the significance of the victory: '… a day of glorious memory which puts us in possession of the first town on this continent consequential to the rebellion ... O were you here to see the glorious sight you would feel with me on the occasion …'

Thereafter the campaign in the South appeared to go according to plan. Detachments of troops and loyalist militia established posts on the frontiers of South Carolina, and Sir Henry Clinton felt it safe to return to New York leaving the further conduct of the campaign in the hands of General Cornwallis.

Sir Henry returned to New York to his usual run of problems. The inability of the British navy under Admiral Arbuthnot to beat the French at sea meant that during the year some 8,000 French troops were landed at Rhode Island, and this, in Clinton's view, transformed both the nature of the war and his hopes of success. Once again the government seemed very dilatory, and he attempted to resign at the same time impressing on his friends the gravity of the new situation.

 

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