Academic journal article South Carolina Historical Magazine

South Carolina and the American Revolution: A Battlefield History

Academic journal article South Carolina Historical Magazine

South Carolina and the American Revolution: A Battlefield History

Article excerpt

South Carolina and the American Revolution: A Battlefield History. By John W. Gordon. (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2003. Pp. xix, 238; $29.95, cloth.)

Gordon's treatment of the American Revolution in South Carolina succeeds on several levels. First, as the subtitle indicates, he gives a comprehensive chronology of the military action that careened across South Carolina during the eight years from 1775 through 1782. The focal point of the military campaign was, of course, Charleston. The British lost control of the capital of South Carolina in 1776 in the Battle of Sullivan's Island when William Moultrie's fort held the day. Four years later they retook the city after an unsuccessful attempt in the summer of 1779, and it was over a year after Cornwallis's surrender at Yorktown, in December of 1782, before the British finally marched the last of their garrison troops from the Hornwork to their ships waiting at Gadsden's Wharf for the trip back to England. Control of Charleston held enormous symbolic importance for both sides, but most of South Carolina's battlefield history was written across the length and breadth of the state. Gordon's vivid accounting of these actions, along with his detailed maps of the most significant engagements, will satisfy most military historians.

Upon bringing the war back to South Carolina in 1780, the British became enmeshed in a very different kind of warfare than that to which they were accustomed. The nature of military engagement in South Carolina was influenced by both typography and demography. From the swamps of the lowcountry to the expansive forests of the midlands and on to the foothills of the frontier, Carolina's natural landscape gave precious little opportunity for conventional European-style land warfare with long lines of infantry deployed in set-piece battles.

South Carolina in the early 178Os was an ideal venue for frontier fighting, and it served as a proving ground for what has come to be called guerilla warfare, which, as Gordon notes, is Spanish for "little war." The essence of this style of combat is captured in a quote Gordon shares from von Clausewitz's On War: "[A]bove all, the most characteristic feature of an insurgency in general will be constantly repeated in miniature: the element of resistance will exist everywhere and nowhere" (p. 96).

Demography likewise played a role in defining the nature of the conflict in South Carolina. While the British were not greeted with the outpouring of Loyalist support they had anticipated, there were still many in the colony who maintained allegiance to the Crown. Thus, this guerilla war became essentially a civil war-far more so than the one fought eight decades later-since the American Revolution in South Carolina divided families and communities within and throughout the state. …

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