Conquest of Georgia and South Carolina
Lt. Gen. Earl Charles Cornwallis, British
commander in the South, 178081.
Courtesy Clements Library, University of Michigan.
The ports of Savannah and Charleston were vitally
needed to support the new invasion and the British set out first to
capture them. At the direction of Sir Henry Clinton, the first British
landing was made in Georgia, and Savannah fell on December 29, 1778. By
February 1779, Augusta and other key points in the State were captured,
and by summer the British dominated Georgia. Their first move against
Charleston ended in failure in June 1779, but they successfully
forestalled a combined French and American attempt to recapture Savannah
in the fall of that year.
The fortunes of war turned further against the
southern patriots in 1780. Returning to Charleston in the spring of
1780, Clinton besieged the city with overwhelming numbers and forced the
surrender of Gen. Benjamin Lincoln's American garrison on May 12. The
loss of this large, well-equipped army was a marked disaster for the
patriot cause in the South and greatly strengthened the British position
in South Carolina. Soon Clinton could depart for New York by sea,
leaving Lord Cornwallis in command of a large British force which in a
few months quickly occupied fortified points in much of the State.
British campaign in the Carolinas during 1780 before the Battle
of Kings Mountain.
Gen. Horatio Gates, American commander in the
South during most of 1780.
Courtesy Emmet Collection, New York Public Library.
Believing South Carolina to be largely subdued,
Cornwallis now began a northward march for the purpose of invading and
over running North Carolina. His plans were upset temporarily by the
advance of a new American army under the command of Gen. Horatio Gates,
the patriot victor at Saratoga. Appointed by Congress to succeed General
Lincoln as American commander in the South, Gates had reached North
Carolina in July. Moving southward to capture the important British post
of Camden, S. C., he commanded an army composed of veteran Delaware and
Maryland continental troops and raw Virginia and North Carolina militia.
In a surprise meeting for both forces near Camden on August 16, 1780,
Gates' tired and disorganized army was crushingly defeated by
Cornwallis. The last large organized American army in the South had been
destroyed, and the British, more than ever before, appeared to be
invincible. Their triumph at Camden opened the way for the resumption of
Cornwallis' triumphant march and the invasion of North Carolina in