Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER 4: War in the South; the Declaration of Independence (November 1775 to July 1776) - The Life of George Washington
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CHAPTER 4: War in the South; the Declaration of Independence (November 1775 to July 1776) - John Marshall, The Life of George Washington 
The Life of George Washington. Special Edition for Schools, ed. Robert Faulkner and Paul Carrese (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2000).
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War in the South; the Declaration of Independence (November 1775 to July 1776)
Transactions in Virginia.—Action at the Great Bridge.—Norfolk burnt.—Transactions in North Carolina.—Action at Moore’s creek Bridge.—Invasion of South Carolina.—British fleet repulsed at fort Moultrie.—Transactions in New York.—Measures tending to Independence.—Independence declared.
While the war was carried on thus vigorously in the north,Nov. 1775 the southern colonies were not entirely unemployed.
Lord Dunmore, the Governor of Virginia, who was joined by the most active of the disaffected, and by a number of slaves, had collected a small naval force with which he carried on a predatory war, and at length attempted to burn the town of Hampton.
Intelligence of this design having been obtained, preparations were made for his reception, and the assailants were compelled to retreat to their vessels with some loss.
In consequence of this repulse, his lordship proclaimed martial law, summoned all persons capable of bearing arms to repair to the royal standard, or be considered as traitors, and offered freedom to all indented servants and slaves who would join them.
Intelligence of these transactions being received at Williamsburg, the committee of safety1 ordered a regiment of regulars, and a battalion of minute-men, to march into the lower country for the defence of the inhabitants.2
Hearing of their approach, Lord Dunmore selected a position on the north side of Elizabeth river, at the Great Bridge, where it was necessary for the provincials3 to cross in order to reach Norfolk, at which place his lordship had established himself in some force. Here he erected a small fort on a piece of firm ground surrounded by a marsh, which was accessible on either side only by a long causeway.4 Colonel Woodford encamped at the south end of the causeway, across which, at its termination, he erected a breast-work.5
After remaining in this position for a few days, Lord Dunmore sent orders to Captain Fordyce, the commanding officer of the fort, to storm the breast-work. Between daybreak and sunrise on the morning of the 9th of December, Fordyce, at the head of about sixty grenadiers6 of the 15th regiment, who led the column, advanced along the causeway with fixed bayonets against the breast-work, which was immediately crowded with the bravest of the Americans, who kept up a heavy fire on the front of the British column. It was also taken in flank7 by a party which occupied a small eminence on its right. Captain Fordyce pressed forward under this destructive fire, until he fell dead within a few steps of the breast-work. The column immediately broke and retreated, but, being covered by the artillery of the fort, was not pursued.
In this rash attack, every grenadier was said to have been killed or wounded. The Americans did not lose a man.
The following night the fort was evacuated. The provincials proceeded to Norfolk, under the command of Colonel Howe of North Carolina, who had arrived with his regiment after the battle; and Lord Dunmore took refuge on board his vessels.
The American soldiers were in the habit of firing into the vessels from the houses near the water. To relieve himself from this1776 practice, Lord Dunmore, on the night of the first of January, landed a body of troops under cover of a heavy cannonade, and set fire to several houses near the river. The provincials, who entertained strong prejudices against this station, made no attempt to extinguish the flames. After the fire had continued several weeks, and had consumed about four-fifths of the town, Colonel Howe, who had waited on the convention to urge the necessity of destroying the place, returned with orders to burn the remaining houses; which were carried into immediate execution.8
Lord Dunmore continued for some time a predatory war on the rivers, distressing individuals, and increasing the detestation in which he was held. At length his wretched followers were sent to Florida.
In North Carolina, an extensive settlement had been made by emigrants from the highlands of Scotland, who adhered to the royal cause. By a union between them, and the numerous disaffected on the western frontier, Governor Martin, who had taken refuge on board a ship of war in Cape Fear river, hoped to make a successful struggle for the province. His confidence was increased by the assurances he had received, that a considerable amount was destined for the southern colonies.
To prepare for events, he sent commissions to the leaders of the highlanders, and granted one to a Mr. M’Donald, their chief, to act as their General. He also sent a proclamation, to be used on the proper occasion, commanding all persons, on their allegiance, to repair to the royal standard. This was raised by M’Donald at Cross creek, about the middle of February, and nearly fifteen hundred men arranged themselves under it.
Upon the first advice that the loyalists were assembling, Brigadier-General Moore,9 with a provincial regiment and a few militia, took a strong position within a few miles of them. M’Donald sent a letter to Moore, inclosing the Governor’s proclamation, and inviting him to join the King’s standard. Moore protracted the negotiation in the hope that the numerous bodies of militia who were assembling might enable him to surround his adversary. M’Donald at length perceived his danger, and endeavored by forced marches to extricate himself from it, and to join Governor Martin who had been encouraged to commence active operations by the arrival of General Clinton10 in the colony.
The provincial parties, however, were so alert that he found himself under the necessity of engaging Colonels Caswell and Lillington, who, with about a thousand minute-men and militia,Feb. 27, 1776 were entrenched directly in his front, at Moore’s Creek bridge. The royalists, who were compelled to cross the bridge in the face of the entrenchments occupied by the provincials, attacked with great spirit: but Colonel M’Clean, who commanded them in consequence of the indisposition of M’Donald, with several of their bravest officers, having fallen in the first onset, they fled in great disorder, leaving behind them their General and several of their leaders, who fell into the hands of the provincials.
General Clinton remained with governor Martin until the arrival of Sir Peter Parker with several ships of war. Fortunately for the province, the unsuccessful insurrection of M’Donald, had previously broken the strength and spirits of the loyalists, and deprived them of their most active chiefs. The operations which had been meditated against that colony were deferred, and Clinton determined to make an attempt on the capital of South Carolina.
Early in April, a letter from the Secretary of State to the Governor of Maryland, disclosing the designs of government against the southern colonies, had been intercepted in the Chesapeake, and communicated to Mr. Rutledge the President of South Carolina.11 Thus apprized of the danger, preparations were made to meet it.
In the beginning of June, the fleet came to anchor off the harbor of Charleston. The bar12 was crossed on the 20th, and it was determined to silence a fort on Sullivan’s Island.
During the interval between passing the bar and attacking the fort, reinforcements were received from Virginia and North Carolina, which augmented the American army commanded by General Lee,13 to five thousand men, one half of whom were regulars.
The signal for the attack was given to the fleet by Sir Peter Parker, at half-past ten in the morning of the 28th of June, and a furious cannonade was commenced on the American works, which was continued without intermission until it was terminated by night. Its effect was not such as had been anticipated. The fort was constructed of earth and of palmetto, a soft wood, which, on being struck, does not splinter, but closes on the ball. The fire from the fort did vast execution. The Bristol and the Experiment were nearly wrecks. The first lost one hundred and eleven men, and the last seventy-nine. Several officers of distinction were killed or wounded. The Acteon frigate ran aground and was burnt. The loss of the Americans in killed and wounded was only thirty-five men.
The British did not renew the action. In a few days the troops who had been landed on Long Island14 previous to the attack on the fort were re-embarked, and, on the 25th of July, the fleet sailed for New York.
Great and well-merited praise was bestowed on Colonel Moultrie who commanded the fort, and on the garrison. The thanks of the United Colonies were voted by Congress to General Lee, Colonels Moultrie and Thompson, and the officers and men under their command.
Even before the evacuation of Boston, it had been foreseen that New York must become the seat of war. The fortifications which had been commenced for the defence of its capital, and those to be erected in the passes through the highlands up the Hudson, were, after the arrival of the commander-in-chief, objects of his unremitting attention.
The difficulty which had been experienced in expelling the British from Boston, had determined Congress to make great exertions for the preservation of New York. The execution of this determination was difficult and dangerous. It required an army capable of meeting the enemy in the open field, and of acting offensively both on York15 and Long Islands. Congress had not raised such an army. The letters of the commander-in-chief, urging measures which might bring the whole strength of the colonies into operation, had not been disregarded, but many circumstances combined to prevent such a military establishment as the exigency required.
Hopes had been long cherished that the differences between the mother country and her colonies might be adjusted; and when, at length, a conviction that the appeal must be made to arms was forced on Congress, that body, unaccustomed to the arduous duties of conducting a war of vast extent, could not estimate rightly the value of the means employed, nor calculate the effect which certain causes must produce. Opinions of the most pernicious tendency prevailed, from which they receded slowly, and from which they could be forced only by melancholy experience.
The most fatal among these was the theory that an army could be created every campaign for the purposes of that campaign. They relied too confidently on being able, on any emergency, to call out a force equal to the occasion; and on the competency of such a force to the purposes of war.
Under these impressions, the determination to form a permanent army was too long delayed; and the measures required by the object were deferred until their execution had become extremely difficult.
It was not until June 1776, that the representations of the commander-in-chief could obtain a resolution directing soldiers to be enlisted for three years, and offering a bounty of ten dollars for each recruit. The time when this resolution would certainly have accomplished its purpose had passed away. The regiments voted by Congress were incomplete; and that bounty which, if offered in time, would have effected its object, came too late to fill them.
The American army was not only inferior to its adversary in numbers, but was deficient in arms, ammunition, tents, and clothes. Yet both the government and commander-in-chief were determined to defend New York. Congress passed a resolution to reinforce the army with thirteen thousand eight hundred militia; and to form a flying camp16 on the Jersey shore, to consist of ten thousand militia, to be furnished by Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland. They were to serve till the first of December, and the commander-in-chief was also authorized to require such additional temporary aids as circumstances might make necessary.
Great and embarrassing as were the difficulties already noticed, they were augmented by the disaffection of the city of New York, and of the adjacent islands. Governor Tryon, who had taken refuge on board some ships lying in the harbor, had been permitted to continue an open intercourse with the inhabitants. This intercourse was broken off upon the arrival of the commander-in-chief: yet a plot was formed through the agency of the Mayor, to rise in favor of the British on their landing, and to seize and deliver up General Washington himself. It extended to the American army, and even to the General’s guards. It was fortunately discovered in time to be defeated, and some of the persons concerned were executed. About the same time, the plan of an insurrection was discovered in the neighborhood of Albany; and there, too, executions were deemed necessary.
Although the original and single object of the war on the part of the colonies was a redress of grievances, the progress of public opinion towards independence, though slow, was certain; and measures were necessarily adopted which tended to that object. Among the first of these was the establishment of temporary governments in place of that revolutionary system which followed the suspension of the pre-existent institutions. Still, the most anxious desire to re-establish the union between the two countries on its ancient principles was openly and generally declared. However sincere these declarations might have been in the commencement, the operation of hostilities was infallible.17 To profess allegiance and attachment to a monarch with whom they were at open war, was an absurdity too great to be of long continuance. The prejudices in favor of a connexion with England and of the English constitution, gradually but rapidly yielded to republican principles, and to a desire of independence. New strength was every day added to the opinions that a cordial reconciliation had become impossible; that reciprocal jealousy, suspicion, and hate, would take the place of that affection which could alone render such a connexion beneficial; that even the commercial dependence of America on Great Britain was greatly injurious to the former; and that the government of a distant nation or sovereign, unacquainted with and unmindful of their interests, would, even if replaced in their former situation, be an evil too great to be voluntarily borne. But, victory alone could restore them to that situation; and victory would give independence. The hazard was the same; and since the risk of everything was inevitable, the most valuable object ought to be the reward of success.
It was also urged with great effect, that the probability of obtaining foreign aid would be much increased by holding out the dismemberment of the British empire to rivals of that nation, as an inducement to engage in the contest.
American independence became the common theme of conversation; and, as it became more and more the general wish, the proceedings of Congress took their complexion from the temper of the people.
At length a measure was adopted which was considered generally as deciding the question. The affairs of the several provinces had hitherto been conducted by temporary institutions; but on the 6th of May, a resolution was offered recommending the adoption of governments adequate to the exigency, to such colonies as had not already established them. This resolution was referred to Mr. John Adams, Mr. Rutledge, and Mr. Richard Henry Lee, all zealous advocates for independence, whose report in favor of the measure was adopted on the 15th of May.18
The provincial conventions acted on this recommendation, and governments were generally established. Some hesitation was at first discovered in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New York; but public opinion was in favor of it, and finally prevailed. In Connecticut and Rhode Island, the executive as well as legislature had been elected by the people, and in those colonies no change had been thought necessary.
The several colonies now exhibited the novel spectacle of matured and enlightened societies devising political systems of self-government.
The institutions received from England were admirably calculated to lay the foundation for temperate and rational republics. The materials in possession of the people, as well as their habits of thinking, were adapted only to governments in all respects representative; and such governments were universally adopted.
The provincial assemblies, under the influence of Congress, took up the question of independence; and many declared themselves in favor of an immediate and total separation from Great Britain.
On the 7th of June a resolution to that effect was moved by Richard Henry Lee, and seconded by John Adams. It was referred to a committee, who reported it in the following terms: “Resolved, that these United States are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states; and that all political connexion between them and the state of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.”
This resolution was debated on Saturday the 8th and Monday the 10th of June; when, it appearing that some of the states were not yet matured for the measure, the question was adjourned to the 1st of July. In the mean time a committee* was appointed to draw the declaration of independence, which was reported on the 28th of June, and laid on the table. On the 1st of July the debate on the original resolution was resumed. The question was put on the evening of that day, and carried in the affirmative. The report of the committee was postponed till the next day, when itJuly 4, 1776 was agreed to. Congress then proceeded to consider the declaration of independence, which, after some amendments, was approved and signed.
This declaration was immediately communicated to the armies, who received it with enthusiasm. It was also proclaimed throughout the United States, and was generally approved by those who had opposed the claims of the British Parliament. Some few individuals who had been zealous supporters of measures having for their object a redress of grievances, relinquished with regret their connexion with Great Britain. It was also an unfortunate truth, that in the country between New England and the Potomac, which was now to become the great theatre of action, a formidable minority existed who were opposed to the revolution.
[1. ]The societies which sprang up in 1765 in each of the colonies to protest and nullify the British Parliament’s Stamp Act, and which led the colonies toward revolution, assumed various names and roles throughout the Revolution. In each colony, Sons of Liberty (from 1765) and Committees of Correspondence (from 1773) organized protests against and frustrated various British administrative measures deemed violations of liberty, and were led by such men as Samuel Adams, Patrick Henry, and Thomas Jefferson. From 1775, the various Committees of Safety had authority to mobilize the militia and seize military stores, and until 1776, when new state constitutions were adopted after the Declaration of Independence, the committees acted as state governments (having received the sanction of the Second Continental Congress in 1775); these were also called “conventions,” e.g., the Massachusetts Convention.
[2. ]Both the British and American armies consisted mainly of companies, battalions, and regiments, with a battalion normally composed of ten companies and a regiment consisting of two battalions; but during the American Revolutionary War regiments often consisted of only one battalion and the two terms were used synonymously. Regiments or battalions were commanded by colonels or lieutenant colonels and their official size ranged, on the American side, from 780 to less than 600 men during the war; companies were commanded by captains. Other terms of tactical organization include a brigade (two or more regiments), a division (two or more brigades), and a corps (two or more divisions).
[3. ]Marshall means soldiers from Virginia fighting for the revolutionary or American cause, i.e., militia. This meaning must be distinguished from his later use of the British term “Provincials,” the Loyalist units formed in America during both the French and Indian War and the War of the Revolution, officially so termed by the British to distinguish them from British regulars.
[4. ]A raised road traversing low or wet ground.
[5. ]A temporary defensive structure, usually a few feet high. From September 1775 Major Thomas Marshall and his son, Lieutenant John Marshall, were officers in the Culpeper Minutemen, the battalion of Virginia militia which took part in the battle at Great Bridge under Colonel Woodford. See Albert J. Beveridge, The Life of John Marshall, 4 volumes (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1916–19) I, pp. 69–70, 76–77. See appendix A below, “Note on Further Reading and Editorial Sources,” for other biographies of John Marshall.
[6. ]Elite troops in the British army, often in a distinct company, detached from their regiments for important or hazardous combat missions.
[7. ]From the side.
[8. ]The American commander, Colonel (later Major General) Robert Howe of North Carolina, waited on or petitioned the revolutionary government of Virginia (Marshall variously terms these a committee of safety or a provincial convention) to destroy completely the Loyalist stronghold of Norfolk; he received the orders he had requested.
[9. ]James Moore (1737–77) of North Carolina, leader of the Sons of Liberty in North Carolina and Colonel in the militia, later appointed Brigadier General in the Continental army.
[10. ]Sir Henry Clinton (1738?–95), British Commander in Chief in North America from 1778 to 1782; in early 1776, he has just been promoted to the rank of full General and is second in command of the British army in the thirteen colonies.
[11. ]John Rutledge (1739–1800) of South Carolina, President of the South Carolina Assembly (1776–78), later Governor of South Carolina (1779–82), and Congressman (1782–83); older brother of Edward Rutledge (see note 18 below).
[12. ]A bank of sand (or a rock) at the entrance to a harbor or river opening on the sea, over which ships cannot pass at low tide.
[13. ]Charles Lee (1731–82), English-born British soldier, soldier of fortune, and ultimately resident of Virginia; from 1775 Major General in the Continental army. Having been detached from Boston in January 1776 by Washington to defend New York City, in March Lee was placed in command of the Southern Department of the war.
[14. ]In Charleston Harbor, adjacent to Sullivan’s Island.
[15. ]Manhattan Island, which at the time of the Revolution was also called City Island, New York Island, and York Island.
[16. ]In the military doctrine of the day, a mobile, strategic reserve of troops; Congress and Washington chose this strategy after the British army evacuated Boston in ships, so as to defend widely scattered points where a British amphibious force might strike.
[17. ]I.e., the consequence of hostilities was certain.
[18. ]John Adams of Massachusetts, later Vice President and President of the United States; Edward Rutledge of South Carolina, later U.S. Congressman and Governor of South Carolina (younger brother of John Rutledge, note 11 above); Richard Henry Lee of Virginia, later U.S. Senator.
[* ]Mr. Jefferson, Mr. John Adams, Mr. Franklin, and Mr. R. R. Livingston. Mr. R. H. Lee, the mover of the resolution, had been compelled by the illness of Mrs. Lee to leave Congress, the day on which the committee was appointed. [Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, main drafter of the Declaration of Independence, later Governor of Virginia, then Secretary of State, Vice President, and President of the United States; John Adams of Massachusetts; Benjamin Franklin of Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, later ambassador and peace negotiator for the United States and important delegate at the 1787 Constitutional Convention; Robert R. Livingston of New York, later ambassador and peace negotiator for the United States.]