Life of Major General Henry Lee
Cecil B. Hartley
Position of Fort Granby—Lee lays siege to it—Summons the garrison—Negotiations—Capitulation of Fort Granby—The garrison retires—Public stores surrendered—Lee apprises General Greene of his success—Greene visits him and commends the conduct of the legion—Lord Hawdon retreats to Monk's Corner, relinquishing his line of posts—Great success of the Americans—Two States recovered in one month.
FORT GRANBY was erected on a plain, which extended to the southern banks of the Congaree, near Friday's ferry. Protected on one side by that river, it was accessible in every other quarter with facility; but being completely finished, with parapet encircled by fosse and abattis, and being well garrisoned, it could not have been carried without considerable loss, except by regular approaches; and in this way would have employed the whole force of Greene for a week at least, in which period Lord Rawdon's interposition was practicable. Lee, apprized of the readiness with which the British general might attempt its relief, determined to press to conclusion his operations with all possible celerity, having detached, before he left Motte's, Captain Armstrong, with one troop of cavalry, to attend to the movements of Lord Rawdon.
As soon, therefore, as he reached the neighborhood of the fort, relying upon the information of his guides, he began to erect a battery in the margin of the woods to the west of the fort. The morning was uncommonly foggy, which fortunate circumstance gave time to finish the battery before it was perceived by the enemy.
Captain Finley, with his six pounder mounted in the battery, was directed as soon as the fog should disperse to open upon the fort; when the infantry, ready for action, would advance to gain the ground selected for the commencement of our approaches.
The garrison consisted of three hundred and fifty men, chiefly loyal militia, commanded by Major Maxwell, of the Prince of Wales' regiment, (a refugee from the Eastern Shore of Maryland,) represented to Lee as neither experienced in his lately adopted profession, nor fitted by cast of character to meet the impending crisis. He was the exact counterpart of M'Pherson; disposed to avoid, rather than to court, the daring scenes of war. Zealous to fill his purse, rather than to gather military laurels, he had, during his command, pursued his favorite object with considerable success, and held with him in the fort his gathered spoil.
Solicitous to hasten the surrender of the post, Lee determined to try the effect of negotiation with his pliable antagonist; and prepared a summons, couched in pompous terms, calculated to operate on such an officer as Maxwell was represented to be. The summons was entrusted to Captain Eggleston, of the legion horse, who was authorized to conclude finally upon the terms of capitulation, if he found the enemy disposed to surrender.
The fog ceasing, Finley announced our unexpected proximity, which excited much alarm and some confusion, evidently discerned from our position. The legion infantry, advancing at the same time, took possession of the desired ground without opposition; severing the enemy's pickets in this quarter from the fort. Eggleston now setting out with his flag, produced a suspension of our fire, which induced the pickets and patrols, cut off by our disposition, to attempt to gain the fort.
This effort was partially checked by the rapid movement of the cavalry; and an officer was despatched to Captain Eggleston, requiring him to remonstrate to Major Maxwell upon the impropriety of the conduct of his pickets and patrols, with a demand that he would order them to resume their station; it being never intended, by presenting him with an opportunity of avoiding the useless effusion of blood, to permit the improvement of his capacity to resist. Eggleston's remonstrance was duly respected; and Maxwell despatched his adjutant with the required orders, replacing the portion of his force on duty out of the fort in its original station. The negotiation was begun, and the British major testified a favorable disposition to the proposition submitted to him. After consulting with some of his officers, he agreed to deliver up the fort, upon condition that the private property of every sort, without investigation of title, should be confirmed to its possessors; that the garrison should be permitted to return to Charleston prisoners of war, until exchanged; that the militia should be held in the same manner as the regulars; and that an escort, charged with the protection of persons and of property, should attend the prisoners to the British army.
The first condition being diametrically repugnant to the course contemplated by Lee, as it prevented restoration of plundered property, Captain Eggleston did not think proper to act under the full discretion with which he had been so properly invested, but submitted by letter the enemy's demands to the lieutenant colonel, accompanied with one from Major Maxwell, requiring two covered wagons for the conveyance of his own baggage, free from search. In reply, Eggleston received directions to accede to the proposed terms, with the single exception of all horses fit for public service, and to expedite the conclusion of the business. This exception was illy relished by many of the officers, although not resisted by the commandant. Finding that the capitulation would be thus arranged, the Hessian officers came in a body to Eggleston, protesting against proceeding, unless they were permitted to retain their horses; a protest not to be overruled by the authority of Maxwell. The capitulation was suspended, and a second time Eggleston found it necessary to refer to Lee. About this moment a dragoon arrived from Captain Armstrong, commanding the detachment of horse near Lord Rawdon, communicating his lordship's passage across the Santee, and his advance towards Fort Motte. Had Lee determined to resist the requisition of the Hessian officers, this intelligence would have induced a change in his decision. He directed Captain Eggleston to make known to the officers, that he took pleasure in gratifying them, by considering all horses belonging to individuals in the fort as private property, and claiming only such, if any, belonging to the public.
This obstacle being removed, the capitulation was signed; and the principal bastion was immediately occupied by Captain Rudulph, with a detachment from the legion infantry. Before noon, Maxwell, with his garrison, consisting of three hundred and forty men, (sixty regulars, the rest loyalists,) its baggage of every sort, two pieces of artillery, and two covered wagons, moved from the fort; and the major with his garrison, protected by the stipulated escort, proceeded on their route to Lord Rawdon. The public stores of every sort, consisting chiefly of ammunition, salt, and liquor, were faithfully delivered, and presented a very convenient as well as agreeable supply to our army.
The moment Maxwell surrendered, Lee despatched an officer with the information to General Greene, who had pressed on with much expedition, and was within a few miles of Friday's ferry when he received Lee's despatch. The army continued its march to Ancran's plantation, near the ferry; and the general, crossing the river, joined his light corps.
Delighted with the happy termination which had just taken place, General Greene's satisfaction was considerably increased when he saw the strength of the fort, connected with that of the garrison. He testified with much cordiality, and in most gratifying terms, his obligations to the light corps; applauding as well the rapidity of its advance as the vigor of its operations.
Lord Rawdon made but one day's march towards Fort Motte; yielding up with much reluctance his anxious desire to defend his line of posts, already broken through in its weakest points, and about to be assailed throughout. Retiring to Monk's Corner, he there encamped; impatiently waiting for an accession of force to enable him to resume offensive operations.
Fort Watson, Fort Motte, Fort Granby, and that at Orangeburgh, had successively yielded: Marion was now before Georgetown, which was sure soon to fall. Thus in less than one month since General Greene appeared before Camden, he had compelled the British general to evacuate that important post, forced the submission of all the intermediate posts, and was now upon the banks of the Congaree, in the heart of South Carolina, ready to advance upon Ninety-six, (the only remaining fortress in the state, besides Charleston, in the enemy's possession,) and to detach against Augusta, in Georgia; comprehending in this decisive effort, the completion of the deliverance of the two lost states, except the fortified towns of Charleston and Savannah,—safe, because the enemy ruled at sea.