Forces at Breach Inlet
BRITISH ATTACKING ACROSS BREACH INLET Major General Henry Clinton, Lord Charles Cornwallis, and Brigadier General John Vaughan planned to attack Sullivan’s Island from Long Island (now Isle of Palms). This historical marker is at 120 Charleston Blvd on Isle of Palms.
General Clinton reported his force totaled 3,000. This included 2200 British regulars and loyalists and 600-700 marines and sailors as well as support personnel. They had 10 pieces of field artillery including four cannons, four mortars and two howitzers. The assault troops also were supported by floating batteries, an 8-gun schooner, two 8-gun sloops, and 15 armed flat-boats for amphibious troop landing. Initially, the army intended to wade across Breach Inlet and overwhelm the American defenders at the shore, then march three miles and storm the incomplete rear of Fort Sullivan. Click for more detail: Force on Long Island – British
In early June, the army disembarked from ships on the far (north) end of the wilderness island. They moved to the southern tip of Long Island across from Sullivan’s Island and set up camp in woods beyond the beach. They scouted the area and took soundings to find the depth of water in the creeks and inlet. They soon discovered that the channel through the inlet was seven feet deep, not 18 inches as previously reported. Wading across was not an option. Instead, they would have to cross by boat.
PATRIOTS DEFENDING BREACH INLET Colonel William “Danger” Thomson formed his 780 men into an Advanced Guard at this location. The force was spread about a mile across the island to keep the British from crossing the inlet. They hastily built fortifications of palmetto logs and sand and dug two lines of entrenchments in the dunes and myrtles on the bank overlooking the inlet. They were provided two cannons, an 18 pounder and a 6 pounder, which they aimed at the likely British avenues of approach.
The men who thwarted the British assault across Breach Inlet were a diverse collection of continentals, state troops, militia and Indians fighting for the Americans. Some were seasoned troops with battlefield experience. Others were raw recruits assigned when patriots arrived to defend Charles Town. The main force of 780 included:
- 300 rangers of Thomson’s 3rd South Carolina Regiment
- 200 regulars of the 1st North Carolina Regiment
- 200 South Carolina state troops and militia
- The “Raccoon” company of some 50 militia including PeeDee, Waccamaw and Cheraw Indian riflemen. Notes – Raccoon Company
- A company of 30 Catawba Indians
After repulsing the British assault on June 28, they were reinforced with at least 500 troops of the 8th Virginia Regiment. This helped deter further attempts by the British to establish a beachhead on Sullivan’s Island. For a more complete list of units and commanders, see Force at Breach Inlet – Patriot
The Battle of Sullivan’s Island illustrates the variety of Americans who fought on the patriot side during the Revolution.
- CONTINENTALS were regular troops in the standing army. They typically joined for three years or the duration of the war. Most were issued weapons and uniforms. They were the best trained and best led American troops, similar to the British regulars or “redcoats”. Moultrie’s 2nd Regiment and Thomson’s 3rd Regiment of South Carolina (Rangers) began as provincial/state troops and joined the Continental Line shortly after this battle.
- PROVINCIAL OR STATE TROOPS were similar to today’s National Guard. They enlisted for a specific timeframe and often were issued uniforms by their state. South Carolina’s units involved in the Battle of Sullivan’s Island were state or provincial troops at this early stage of the Revolution, before they were incorporated in the Continental Line. The reinforcements from Virginia were state troops adopted into the Continental Line as they marched to Charles Town.
- MILITIA were civilians called to duty for specific purposes. They usually wore civilian clothes and were expected to furnish their own weapons. The local militia mustered and trained only occasionally, yet they were instrumental in success of the Revolution. Many patriot military leaders such as Colonel Thomson and Colonel Moultrie were militia officers before the Revolution. Militia units from all sections of South Carolina rushed to defend Charles Town in 1776.