When we think about where the Revolutionary War was fought, we usually think of places like Lexington, Concord, Bunker Hill and Boston. If we paid attention to American history classes, we might be able to add Valley Forge, New York, and even Saratoga. Most of us, however, would not be able to describe the two theaters of the war (north and south) or to name a single battle in the southern theater.
The northern theater is the more famous staging area for the Revolutionary War. From Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775 until Savannah fell on December 29, 1778 – three and a half years – the battles of the Revolutionary War were fought almost exclusively in the north. George Washington and the Continental Army figured prominently in most of these battles. You may have heard about some of them and you can click these links to learn more about these battles:
Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts, April 19, 1775
Fort Ticonderoga, New York, May 10, 1775
American invasion of Canada, December 1775
Campaign for New York and New Jersey, July 3, 1776 – January 3, 1777
Brandywine, Pennsylvania, September 11, 1777
Germantown, Pennsylvania, October 4, 1777
Saratoga, New York, September – October 1777
Monmouth, New Jersey, June 28, 1778
Cherry Valley, New York, November 11, 1778
In 1776, believing that many loyalist supporters lived in the south, the British took the Revolutionary War south. They thought that if they sent part of their army to this area, the besieged loyalists would take up arms and support the British, leading to better success than the British were having in the north. On June 28, 1776, an ill-advised attack was made on Charleston, South Carolina, then the richest city in the colonies. The attack on the fort on Sullivan’s Island was quickly repulsed, and the British left the south and wouldn’t return for three years.
In December of 1778 the British were ready to take the Revolutionary War south again. They started with the siege and defeat of Savannah, Georgia and then headed overland to Charleston to besiege that city. This second attack on Charleston was better designed and less well defended. With pressure from the leaders of the city of Charleston, the commander of the fort in Charleston, Benjamin Lincoln, surrendered the city and his force of 5,500 soldiers on May 12, 1780. This was the worst defeat of the American Army during the Revolutionary War. More than 5,000 soldiers were taken as prisoners of war.
With Charleston firmly in the control of the British and Loyalist forces, General Charles Cornwallis, commander of the British Army in the south, prepared for a firm and quick strike through South Carolina to North Carolina and Virginia. There was no longer a Continental Army anywhere in the south. How would the Patriots be able to combat soldiers trained in the greatest army in the world? Was the fall of Charleston a prelude to the defeat of all Patriot forces in the south? Would Cornwallis be victorious throughout the Carolinas? How would the status of the Revolutionary War south determine the future of the United States?
Now that you know the Revolutionary War was fought in the south as well as the north, you will have to read next week’s installment of The Revolutionary War in a Nutshell for the answers to these questions.