Long Cane, 1780: Disheartened and defeated, fall of Charleston

By Terri Burgin


On December 26, 1779, British General Henry Clinton sailed south from New York to enact what the British called "the Southern Strategy." Having been thoroughly frustrated by Washington's actions in the North, the British believed that by taking the Carolinas and Georgia that they could return north through a backdoor and recapture the rebellious colony.


Clinton left with 8,500 troops, 500 sailors and over 100 ships. After a stormy voyage, the British landed at the Savannah River on February 1st. They began walking inland and reached Charleston in April, where they proceeded to carry out a siege. Meanwhile, Patriot forces had begun to march in from the backcountry of the Carolinas to try and rescue Charleston.


Among the Patriots marching was the Little River regiment under General Williamson, which included the Long Cane Militia. Along the way, the militiamen began to hear rumors that the Indians were attacking the Upstate in their absence. Many began to desert the rescue effort, wanting to return home to defend their houses and families. The pressure was so great that by the time the Patriots neared Charleston, most had turned back.


This was not so with the troops under Andrew Pickens, however. Pickens had managed to keep his men together despite their obvious trepidations for what may be happening back home. He reminded them of their shared honor and duty to the present task and that they must trust in Providence for the care of their loved ones.


Their efforts proved to be in vain. On May 12, General Benjamin Lincoln surrendered all American hands to the British. The situation came as a large blow to the Patriots. The Continental Army in the South no longer existed.


American-captured officers were traded for British-captured officers. Others were sent to prison ships or the Provost Dungeon. Especially horrible treatment was awarded to clergymen. They were blamed by the British for much of the "rebellion" and treated far worse than the common soldier. Some were sent to St. Augustine and some to New York. Patriot families living in Charleston were separated; men sent in one direction, families in another.


Due to lack of space to hold any more prisoners, the militiamen were given the option of signing a Parole. The conditions of the Parole were to swear to put down arms and obey the Crown in exchange for freedom. Some were made to say they would fight for the British, which they refused to do.


Long Cane Militia had additional problems. The rumor that the Cherokee were attacking their homes in their absence proved to be true. Pickens requested that he take his volunteers and return to Long Cane in defense, which was granted to him. After chasing the Indians off, Pickens laid down his arms and returned to farming for a time.


Long Canes was much changed during the militia's absence. Having been burned down and plundered, the returned militiamen now had to contend with a populace made up mostly of Tories. They were taunted for their failure by neighbors and threatened with violence. Many of the militia immediately regrouped and rejoined the fight, disregarding their Parole. Others headed further north to try and escape the constant danger. Patriot hopes were at their lowest.

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