by Howard Clemens
Charleston, South Carolina has a rich history, beginning in the Revolutionary War era and pre-dating it. The Ashley and Cooper Rivers converge to create an inland harbor, making it one of the most prosperous and perfectly formed and located port cities in Early America. Seen as a ‘crown jewel’ city by the British Navy, Charleston was attacked twice in the Revolutionary War: once in 1776, when it was defended by General Moultrie successfully, and again in 1780, when the main peninsula and harbor were commandeered by the British and no ships besides theirs were allowed into port.
Students of history and social studies and even military history can learn much through the active study of Charleston. Since its inception in 1670, Charleston has always been a strategic coastal settlement and bustling port city – and remains so to this day.
While the army of Patriots in the North fought off the British and dealt with traitors (Tories) and espionage, the South was also faced with inconstancy in allegiances. In Georgia, prosperous landowners and businessman aligned with the British, so the state was easily taken over by the British. Some of these sentiments spread to the landowning class in South Carolina. In South Carolina the entire population was not so easily converted to ‘Tories,’ especially in the upstate, the rural areas and the backcountry, where resistance to British rule was strong. So the Revolutionary War resembled a civil war in the South because these open alliances with the British divided families, neighborhoods and towns.
1776: Charleston is Bombarded & Defended During Revolutionary War
The first shots of the American Revolution may have been heard in Massachusetts – but they also resounded in the south in Charleston’s harbor on June 28, 1776. With some foresight, Americans built fortifications at Sullivan’s Island, which sits at the mouth of the harbor. An assault force of nearly 3,000 British soldiers and seaman were repelled by Patriot General Charles Lee in 1776, protecting the city from harm. By engaging the British forces here, the Patriots were able to save Charleston from falling. This important first battle for Charleston encouraged many to join the Patriots and fight for a new united country.
1780: Charleston Under Siege and Occupation
Recalling the battle of 1780, when the British once again attempted to lay siege to Charleston, is a far darker episode in the Revolutionary War. Overwhelmed by the nearly 10,000 British troops in the harbor – the Patriots fought valiantly. The second time the British Naval forces entered the Charleston harbor, they passed Sullivan’s Island and laid siege upon the City. The British successfully captured the Peninsula and the entire city of Charleston fell into British hands on May 12, 1780. Over 5,000 Patriot soldiers were imprisoned and British troops occupied Charleston until the Revolutionary War concluded. Over a year later, the surrender of General Cornwallis at Yorktown, Virginia on October 19, 1781 would free Charleston’s occupants from British rule and captivity.
Knowing the history of Charleston’s struggle with Patriotism, it’s no wonder the movie, The Patriot, was filmed in Charleston and in some of its historic homes and estates. Some sites student groups will want to tour include Fort Moultrie, Fort Sumter, the Heyward-Washington House and Middleton Place House Museum. All of these sites date to the Revolutionary War era.
Trip leaders may want to take shorter trips west, into South Carolina, where the Revolutionary War continued. In Camden, South Carolina British troops were met with strong resistance that spread into other battles across Clarendon County. A tour bus can easily take student groups out to selected battlefield destinations. Work with a student travel company to determine which sites work best for Revolutionary War studies and are accessible at the time of year Charleston is visited.
Learn more about a student tour based on Revolutionary War sites in South Carolina. Request a Quote for more information.