20 July 2008

Taking Back Carolina

Ok, this is the Santee Indian Mound, site of the British Fort Watson. The site is located in the Santee Wildlife refuge, south of Sumter, South Carolina. The Refuge was created in 1941 to create habitat for wildlife disturbed by the creation of the Santee-Cooper Hydroelectric Project (dam). It has four units all along the northern shore of Lake Marion, the westernmost unit being the home of the mound. The mound was built by the Santee Indians, part of the Mississippian culture of the southeastern US. It is the largest ceremonial site on the coastal plain, and at least sixtenn graves have been excavated here. The Santee Indians had around 3,500 members in 1650, but were reduced to around 500 by European diseases. It is believed that the mound had structures on top, made of posts in the ground that had small branches woven between them, then covered in mud or tree bark.

By the time of the Revolution, the site was abandoned by the Santee, but new occupants now came to town. The British built a series of fortifications across South Carolina, including on the mound, taking advantage of the platform's elevation, overlooking the Santee River and the road to Charleston. A stockade was built on the mound under the direction of Col John Watson, as well as a series of ditches and abatis around the mound. On February 28, 1781, General Thomas Sumter, the "Fighting Gamecock", led a group of partisans to take the post by storm. Without artillery and with the British advantage in height, the attack was unsuccesful and costly. A second attempt was not made until April, after the battle of Guilford Courthouse. With Cornwallis no longer a threat in the state, "Light Horse Harry" Lee was assigned to aid the famed partisan Francis Marion, the "Swamp Fox", in ridding the state of the British once and for all. Fort Watson was viewed as the best place to begin the campaign, and the Americans laid siege to it. Once the British dug a protected well for water, it became obvious that the fort could hold out for a while, and a new idea was sought. This new idea came from Major Maham, one of Marion's men. His simple idea was to build a tower high enough to fire into the elevated fort. The tower, made of wood, was built outside rifle range of the fort and then rolled into an attcking position. Lt. McKay, in charge of the British fort, said, "They likewise in the afternoon brought down a wooden machine that they had built, and were busy in raising a scaffold made of rails and mold, nearly level with the top of our works for their marksmen to pick off our sentinels..... We were reduced to the disagreeable necessity of capitulating, by the cowardly and mutinous behavior of a majority of the men. Having grounded their arms and refused to defend the post any longer, not withstanding every exertion made by the officers to encourage and force them to their duty." The Americans could now advance and take the fort under cover from the tower.

In the fort's surrender, regular British troops were allowed to march to Charleston under parole, meaning they could not fight again until exchanged for American prisoners. Partisan loyalists were made prisoners. The fort was then destroyed as the Americans did not want to occupy it, and they did not want the British to retake it. The fort's fall was a significant event as it was the first in a series of attacks that destroyed or captured the British outposts throughout the state, including the battle of Hobkirk's Hill.

No comments: