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Letter from Benjamin Lincoln, August 3, 1781

TRANSCRIPT GLC 2437.06.179
Benjamin Lincoln. Letter (copy): Camp, to George Washington, 1781 August 03. 7 p. + addr.

Camp. August 3d. 1781.

I have, my dear General, agreeable to your wishes, made some observations on the situation of Charlestown, the Strength of its works, the number of men necessary to garrison it, and the point or points by which it may be approached.

The town of Charlestown is situated on a peninsula formed by the Cooper and the Ashley, the former about two and an half miles wide, the other about one and a quarter. These rivers are navigable between twenty and thirty miles inland. The town has in its front, and partly on its right, James Island, (which is separated from the main by Wappoo cut, which is the communication between the Stone and the Ashley at two thousand yards distance. It extends upon a sandy plain, from East to West about eight hundred yards, and about double that distance, from South to North. At about twelve hundred yards, from the South point, the Salt marshes inject East and West, until the points of injection are within about eight hundred yards of each other, which affords a very advantageous spot for an internal line of works, as the marshes are impassable for any thing but light troops, and can easily be rendered more difficult for those. The conflux of the Ashley [inserted: and Cooper] is just in front of the town, in a large bared harbour, formed by Hadrels point, Sulivans Island, and the head of Long Island, on the East, and James Island and Coffin Island, on the West. Within the harbour there is a sufficient depth of water for any ship, but about sixteen feet on [2] the bar a fifty gun ship is the largest ever brought into the harbour, and that was effected by taking out her guns. On the East of the town, from it about nine hundred yards, lies a body of marsh called Shute’s folly. Between this and the town the vessels generally pass up the Cooper, though they may pass on the East of it, through a crooked, narrow and difficult passage.

That Your Excellency may at one view see the situation of the town, harbour, neighbouring rivers, and adjacent country I have annexed a small plan of them. I think it is true in general, and have marked thereon the places I have refered to in these observations.

As your Excellency has in your possession a plan of the several works and a particular description of them, I need only observe that they are generally composed of a sandy, loose soil, easily penetrated and thrown down. The town is in two points uncovered; and exposed to an attack by water. Almost the whole extent on the East side from the governors bridge to a work on the flank; near the front line, is open; as also the extent from Harl<loss>on’s green to the work near the sugar house, on the West. Some difficulty would attend a landing at either of the points, as the marshes in front, which have been thought a cover, are interspersed with creeks and canals; but determined troops [inserted: with a few hurdles] would probably subdue every difficulty and make their landing good, provided there should be a feint made at some and real attacks at other points. These are the only two posts at which you might attempt a landing, without being under the [3] fire of some of the enemy’s works.

From the extensiveness of the lines, I suppose six thousand men are necessary to man them, provided they loose the command of the harbour, and [strike-out] may be attacked on every side.

Troops must be landed, prior to the Ships entering the harbour, and take possession of James Island. Otherwise, they would find no asylum in any part of the harbour, or any place where they would land the stores so as to be of use.

The troops may land either on North or South side of the harbour, some of the advantages of each I will mention. There are several inlets, North of the harbour and of Long Island, where the troops and stores may be put on shore and the vessels lye with safety. The troops may be marched to the head of Wandoo river, to or near the head of the Cooper, and then down to the lines before Charlestown. The whole of this route will be a good road and about seventy miles travel. Your Excellency may land the troops and take possession in the first instance of Lamprie’s point, where the Wandoo falls into the Cooper, fifteen miles. This would be a convenient place for a grand deposit and easily fortified. The troops might then march to the head of Cooper river, or where they might find means to cross it, and take possession of the ground in front of the enemies lines. This will put into your hands a piece of high ground near Cooper river, opposite to Daniel’s Island. A work on this ground, and another on the island, will secure the navigation of the Cooper and keep open a communication between your left and Lampries point, so that the stores will be trans[4]ported by land about fifteen miles, and three by water. I think that it would add to the safety of the stores to pass the head of Wandoo with them, and deposit them on the banks of the Cooper, North of Lampries point, but it would much increase the land carriage.

Stono Inlet, South of Charleston bar, is the most convenient harbour for the transports and where the troops and stores might be landed with the greatest ease, provided the enemy have not erected works on the banks of the river, on James and John’s Islands. The stores might be landed near Hudson’s house, on James Island, not far from the west mouth Wappoo cut, or taken into boats and landed on the North side of the cut, near the Ashley, where they must be covered by strong works or a large number of men; for the enemy may otherwise destroy them by throwing their troops suddenly across the river. From this deposit they can be carried, across land, two or three miles to a creek which empties into the Ashley, opposite to Gibb’s plantation, a good landing and a little in the rear of the ground on which the enemy encamped when they were before the lines. After the stores are well covered at these points by good works – a work erected on James Island, to cover the shipping, should they enter the harbour – passing, subidng hurdles and every necessary article provided for a speedy operation against the enemy’s works, as soon as you arrive before them, and when a suitable number of negroes and other laborers, if to be had, are collected, to assist the troops in carrying forward the approaches, – the Army should be marched to [5] the head of the Ashley, unless they can find means to cross it before, and move down in force.

I think the enemy would not advance works far from those already made. If they should attempt it, they will expose their left flank and give an opportunity to throw troops across the river, between their two lines, which would not be a very difficult movement, if, at the same moment it should be attempted, the enemy were attacked in front by the troops which should cross the river high up. If the enemy should not advance their works, all our stores may be landed at Gibbs’s plantation, if they should; we must cross them farther up the river, until we can command the communication below.

Stono river is beyond a doubt the most eligible to harbour the transports, and the most convenient place from which to land the men and the stores. But if the enemy have so possessed themselves of the banks of the river as to forbid this, the fleet may anchor in North Eddisto, the troops, put onshore on the main and on John’s Island, march near the banks of Stono and cover their boats to Wappoo. With them the troops may be thrown over to James Island, for the purpose of reducing the enemy’s works there, which will open a safe port for the fleet in Stono river, and give a convenient landing for all our Stores.

But if it should be though this attempt would cause a delay and expend too much of our time, which I do not believe would be the case, the troops might be landed at Ponpon or Jackson’s borough, and [6] march to the enemy’s lines by the head of the Ashley, a route of about forty miles; a long distance to transport ordnance and ordnance stores, in a country where teams are scarce. This, though long, is preferable to the one I first mentioned, over the head of the Cooper; but the second, by Lamprie’s point, is vastly more eligible than either of the three – Stono is undoubtedly the one which is to be chosen before either, if to be possessed.

The numbers in Town, and our knowledge of their supplies, must always determine the number necessary to besiege it. It is fully garrisoned and supplied, nothing short of a regular siege will reduce it –, for there are so many embarassments which would attend the approach of the town, that it would be difficult, if not impossible to surprize it.

If troops should be set down before the Town, they must take post on a plain, in front of the enemy’s works, no part of which has Nature made suitable for a strong encampment. Therefore, the camp must be covered by lines, or at some considerable distance, otherwise it will be constantly annoyed by the enemy’s fire.

Numbers will be essential. For heavy detatchments must be made, to cover the several deposits and to keep open a communication; and the approaches should be as rapid as possible, to prevent the enemy’s throwing up a second line, where the marshes indent, as I mentioned before should they effect this, a possession of their first [7] line will be but the first parrallel from which to approach their second. Because the climate is unhealthy, and a long siege would be injurious to the troops – because the heavy ships which are to cover the siege cannot enter any of the harbours south of Cheesapeake, and must therefore anchor in the ocean, or ply off and on during their whole stay on the coast; both of which are dangerous if near in shore, especially in the Spring and in the months of September and October. In the Winter it could not be attempted with any degree of safety –, for these and many other considerations, it is necessary the siege should be conducted with vigor and the approaches made with the greatest rapidity. In order to effect this fully, I think the besiegers should exceed the besieged, as three to one.

I have the honor to be
& ca.
(Signed)
B. Lincoln

His Excellency General Washington
(Copy)

[address]
<loss> in cheif 3 Aug 1781.

Notes: The address appears on page four of the letter copy. For consistency, it has been noted at the conclusion of the letter.