The American Revolution in South Carolina

Prevost's March of 1779

April 29 - July 8, 1779

On April 20, 1779, Major General Benjamin Lincoln moved the bulk of his Patriot forces from Purrysburg towards Augusta, in an attempt to get into Savannah from the back door. He took with him 3,000 men, leaving roughly 1,200, mostly South Carolina Militia, under Brigadier General William Moultrie in the Beaufort District. Moultrie's command was scattered - he was at Black Swamp with half the South Carolina Militia forces, while Col. John Stewart of the SC 5th Regiment remained at Purrysburg with the other half.

British Brigadier Geeral Augustine Prevost recognized the Patriots' weaknesses and on the night of April 28th, he crossed the Savannah River "at a spot so difficult as to completely surprise the enemy." This proved successful. Lt. Col. Marion quickly retreated out of Purrysburg, and Brigadier General Moultrie joined up with him at Coosawhatchie on May 1st. He moved the bulk of his army to Tullifinny Hill and left about 100 men at the Coosawhatchie Bridge.

When word arrived that Brigadier General Prevost was approaching, Brigadier General Moultrie dispatched 350 men to protect the retreat of those at the Coosawhatchie Bridge - Lt. Col. John Laurens volunteered to lead this detachment, with Maj. John Barnwell, Jr. and Capt. William Hazzard Wigg along with a cavalry detachment from the Beaufort District Regiment of Militia.

May 3 - Battle of Coosawhatchie.

May 4 - Battle of Tullifinny Hill.

Brigadier General Moultrie accepted the fact that Brigadier General Prevost had him greatly outnumbered and sent word to Major General Benjamin Lincoln to quickly return to South Carolina and assist him in preventing Charlestown from falling. Brigadier General Moultrie crossed the Combahee River at the Salkehatchie Bridge and made camp at the Salkehatchie Chapel in Colleton County. Brigadier General Moultrie reported that the local militia was so discouraged that they had deserted his command "to take care of their families and property which is a very natural consequence."

Brigadier General Moultre began retreating further, felling trees and destroying bridges to slow Brigadier General Prevost's pursuit. Repeated messages to Major General Lincoln went unanswered. Brigadier General Moultrie estimated that his dwindling command was opposing more than 3,000 British troops. On May 6th, he retreated to Jacksonborough, and by May 8th had reached the edge of Charlestown.

May 7 - Fishpond Bridge.

Brigadier General Augustine Prevost's march through the lowcountry was particularly destructive. His regulars of the 71st Regiment and the 60th Regiment were accompanied by a large group of Loyalist militia and swarming bands of Indians. His army managed to induce hundred, perhaps thousands, of lowcountry slaves to leave their plantations with false promises of freedom.

On May 8th, Brigadier General Kasimir (aka Casimir) Pulaski and his Legion of cavalry arrived from the north. Lt. Col. Francis Marion moved his regiment out of Fort Moultrie to the west side of Charlestonw. On May 9th, Governor John Rutledge and 600 backcountry Militia arrived from Orangeburgh.

By the time that Brigadier General William Moultrie left Fort Dorchester and arrived near Charlestown on May 9th, he barely had 600 men with arms. Among them were Capt. Robert Barnwell, commanding the remnants of the Beaufort District Regiment of Militia, and Maj. John Barnwell, in command of twenty horsemen, the only cavalry remaining in Brigadier General Moultrie's command. Fully half of the South Carolina Militia had abandoned the Patriots on the retreat. But, Brigadier General Moultrie's stalling tactics proved a godsend.

British Brigadier General Augustine Prevost crossed the Ashley River Ferry on May 10th, and arrived at Charlestown Neck on May 11th. Governor John Rutledge sent a delegation to Brigadier General Prevost " to discuss terms" - a mere stalling tactic on the Patriot's side - but Brigadier General Prevost wanted nothing of it. Via a different route, Major General Benjamin Lincoln made a hasty march with over 4,000 men and arrived at Brigadier General Moultrie's position on Charlestown Neck the evening after Brigadier General Prevost had arrived. Brigadier General Prevost soon realized that his retreat may be in jeopardy, and he decided to withdraw from his precarious position.

On May 11th, Major Benjamin Huger and many of his twelve-man team from the SC 5th Regiment were accidentally killed by friendly fire while attempting to close a gap in the abatis around Charlestown.

Since Brigadier General Prevost had such a large number of men, his retreat would not be a quick one, and he too had to use stalling tactics.

May 20 - Matthew's Plantation.

June 20 - Stono Ferry.

Brigadier General Prevost decided to abandon John's Island and retire down the coast to Beaufort. He was now faced with difficult logistical problems, a shortage of supplies, and his troops hadn't been paid in months. Brigadier General Prevost repeatedly urged General Sir Henry Clinton to provide naval support to assist in withdrawing his men, but it was not to come at this point in time.

He began to retreat through the sea islands to Beaufort, a remarkable military maneuver. Brigadier General Prevost had to transport his army, including cavalry and artillery, across four large tidal rivers in addition to the broad and treacherous St. Helena Sound. The British Army had to cross the North Edisto River to Edisto Island and the South Edisto River to Otter Island. From there, they traversed the broad St. Helena Sound. Half of his forces went directly across the sound to Coffin Point to secure St. Helena's Island. The other half proceeded up the Coosaw River to Sam's Point and thence across Lady's Island to the Whitehall Ferry. There, they crossed the Beaufort River and occupied the town of Beaufort on July 8th.

While retreating through the sea islands, the soldiers and their auxiliaries continued to plunder the neighboring plantations, and the weight of the booty slowed their movements. In addition, thousands of runaway slaves had attached themselves to the British Army in hopes of freedom.

Brigadier General Augustine Prevost found the quiet town of Beaufort to his liking. Besides having easy access to Savannah, his headquarters, the sea islands were considered the most favorable part of the lowcountry. Brigadier General Prevost decided to leave Lt. Col. John Maitland and the light infantry for the defense of Beaufort and the other sea islands, and he boarded a ship for Savannah. His march through southern South Carolina was complete.

© 2008 - J.D. Lewis - PO Box 1188 - Little River, SC 29566 - All Rights Reserved