"The Siege of Charleston March 29 - May 12, 1780"
In 1778, the British Commander-in-Chief in America Lt. General Henry Clinton turned his attention to the South, where partisan fighting between Patriot militia and Tories had been heavy. Clinton had been there once before on June 28, 1776 when Colonel William Moultrie had defeated Clinton and Commodore Sir Peter Parker at the Battle of Fort Sullivan. The British had tried to approach Charleston by water and had failed to reach the city proper.
General Clinton and the British government back in London believed that if the British controlled the South, Tories would flock to support the British and Clinton would be able to overwhelm General George Washington in Virginia. In response to the loss of Georgia in December 1778, the Continental Congress replaced native North Carolinian Maj. General Robert Howe with Bostonian Maj. General Benjamin Lincoln as Southern Department Commander. Lincoln had proven to be an able motivator of militia. But that was New England militia, he would not have nearly as much success with Carolina militia.
In December 1779, General Clinton sailed himself sailed south bound for Charleston from New York City. The British fleet included ninety troopships and fourteen warships with more than 8,500 soldiers and 5,000 sailors. Storms delayed them and from March 11 until the 21st the British fortified their position which was located where the Wappoo Creek flowed into the Ashley River. They mounted artillery to shell American ships and keep the Ashley River secure. They then moved upstream and north, away from Charleston, slowly securing the plantations along the way while the Americans shadowed them from across the river.
Under the cover of fog on March 29th, the British crossed the Ashley River upstream from the heavily fortified Ashley Ferry and established themselves on Charleston Neck. When the Americans learned that the British were on the Neck, they abandoned their breastworks at Ashley Ferry. By April 1st, the British had moved down into position to begin their siege works.
On the evening of April 13, 1780, Lt. Colonel Tarleton gave orders for a silent march. Later that night, they intercepted a messenger with a letter from Huger to Lincoln and thus learned how the rebels were deployed. At three o'clock in the morning on the 14th, the British reached the American post, catching them completely by surprise and quickly routing them. Following the skirmish, the British fanned out across the countryside and effectively cut off Charleston from outside support.
On May 6th Fort Moultrie surrendered and on May 8th, Gen. Clinton called for unconditional surrender from Maj. Gen. Lincoln who tried to negotiate for honors of war. The final terms dictated that the entire Continental force captured were prisoners of war. On May 12th, the actual surrender took place with Gen. Lincoln leading a ragged bunch of soldeirs out of the city.
This was a severe blow to the colonies, virtually leaving no Continental Army in the south. It was the greatest loss of manpower and equipment of the war for the Americans and gave the British nearly complete control of the Southern colonies.