Siege of Fort Watson

A nineteenth century engraving depicting the siege tower designed by Maj. Hezikiah Maham.

The Siege of Fort Watson on the Santee River April 15 - 23, 1781

Great Britain's "southern strategy" for winning the American Revolutionary War appeared in some ways to be going well after the Battle of Guilford Courthouse in March 1781. General Lord Cornwallis had defeated General Nathaniel Greene, but his army was short on supplies and had suffered significant casualties, so he decided to move to Wilmington, North Carolina to resupply and refit his troops. Greene, while he had lost the battlefield, still had his army intact. After shadowing Cornwallis for a time, he turned south, and embarked on an expedition to recover Patriot control of South Carolina and Georgia, where British and Loyalist forces were thinly distributed, and smaller outposts were subject to attack from larger forces under the command of Greene or one of the Patriot militia commanders in the area.

He first ordered Colonel Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee to continue shadowing Cornwallis so that his southward movement was screened. Once he was on his way into South Carolina, he ordered Lee to abandon Cornwallis and instead join forces with militia Colonel France Marion in the eastern part of the state. Lee and Marion met on April 14, and first targeted Fort Watson, a small stockaded fort on the east side of the Santee River.

John Watson, the commander of the fort, had gone to Lord Rowdon at Camden, and left Lieutenant James McKay in command of 120 men. When Marion and Lee first approached the fort on April 16, their thought was to cut off the fort's water supply, as there was no decent cover near the fort for attack or sniping. While they successfully denied the fort access to the nearby lake, the garrison dug a well, frustrating that plan.

One of Gen. Marion's subordinates, Major Hezikiah Maham, then came up with the idea of building a log tower of green pine with sufficient height and thickness to allow protected sharpshooters in the nest up top to fire into the fort. After several days' preparation off-site, the approximately 30-foot-tall (9.1 m) tower was brought within effective firing range and erected on the night of April 22. The next day the Americans attacked, with riflemen shooting into the fort, forcing the defenders off the walls. Simultaneously, two forlorn hope parties attacked and successfully scaled them, forcing the surrender of the garrison shortly thereafter.

The remarkable success of the "Maham Tower" resulted in its being employed in a number of subsequent actions, most notably at the Siege of Ninety Six the following month. The fort's site, which is also the site of a Santee Indian burial mound, is a historic site listed on the national register of Historic Places as the Santee Indian Mound and Fort Watson in Clarendon County, SC.

The South Carolina Society
of the
Sons of the American Revolution

The South Carolina Society was organized April 18th, 1889 in a room at the State Capital in Columbia. After the election of officers, the organizing group appointed delegates to the proposed National Convention in New York City to be held later in the month. The National Society was organized April 30th, 1889. Those descendents of our brave ancestors, whose vision and courage gave us our great nation, formed a fraternal, patriotic, and civic organization to perpetuate the basic principles of freedom to honor our founding fathers. The name adopted by the organization was the Sons of the American Revolution. The South Carolina Society began granting charters to chapters in 1923. Currently twenty chapters promote the American spirit through fraternal meetings, commemorative observances of events and battles, educational materials, projects, lectures, tours and publications. South Carolina is rich in historical events of the American Revolution. From the mountains to the coast, South Carolina experienced the most battles and skirmishes of the war. The twenty chapters of our society sponsor annual anniversary ceremonies of many of the battles and events.

Relics of the Revolution may be found throughout the state in some federal and state parks, museums, and libraries. Markers are found in our countryside reminding us of the sacrifice of our ancestors. The Society seeks to mark graves of our Revolutionary ancestors. Since the organization of the South Carolina Society, over 3,000 have filled the membership ranks. As of December 31, 2015 membership was 889.

The South Carolina Society of the American Revolution joins in effort with the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Children of the American Revolution, and all patriotic and historical groups in keeping alive the ideals of our ancestors who gave us our United States of America.