What: Skirmish, Col. John Laurens vs. *MG Augustine Prevost, 4 May 1779
Where: 32.588402 -80.92697 Coosawhatchie River historical marker (JP)
Maps: [map notes]
- Coosawhatchie River
- Terry W. Lipscomb, Names in South Carolina, XXI, Pg 23, "South Carolina Revolutionary Battles: Part II", English Dept, Univ. of South Carolina, Winter 1974.
General Benjamin Lincoln, whom Congress had given command of Continental forces in the South, decided to move against Augusta with most of his army. General Prevost countered this move by crossing the Savannah River with the greater part of his own army and advancing toward Charleston. Thus commenced Prevost's Raid, an expedition as re-nowned in the Carolina low country as the later march of General Sherman, and for similar rea-sons. The British were again opposed only by William Moultrie, who at this time commanded a larger force containing two Continental regi-ments; he was nevertheless vastly outnumbered by Prevost's army. Moultrie determined to offer battle at Tullifinny Hill, in present Jasper County. However, Colonel John Laurens, who was en-trusted by Moultrie with the withdrawal of his rear guard at Coosawhatchie, crossed the river there on May 3, 1779, and engaged the British, contrary to his orders. The skirmish was a defeat for the Americans, in which Laurens himself and a number of his men were wounded. The morale of Moultrie's army was so affected by this reverse, that a retreat to Charleston was the only practical course.2 The site of this incident was on the west side of the Coosawhatchie River, at or near the present town of that name.
Footnote 2: Moultrie, Vol. 1, pp. 401-404; Ramsey, Vol. 2, p. 21; William Moultrie to Benjamin Lincoln, May 5, 1779, Lincoln Papers, Reel 3, p. 909; The South Carolina and American General Gazette, May 29, 1779.
- William Dobein James, A Sketch of the Life of Brig. Gen. Francis Marion, Chapter 1. Use Control-f and search for as sooon as.
As soon as Gen. Prevost heard of this movement, he availed himself of it, and immediately crossed over the Savannah, from Abercorn to Purysburgh, twenty-five miles below Black Swamp, with the intention of surprising Moultrie, but he, receiving intelligence of his crossing, retired to Coosawhatchie. At this place he left a rear guard, and pitched his head quarters on the hill to the eastward of Tulifinny, two miles in advance towards Charleston. (1st May.) After reconnoitring the fords of Coosawhatchie, and Tulifinny above the bridges, the general found so little water in the swamps, from the excessive drought which then prevailed,* that he determined not to risk an action at this post. He was about to send one of his aids to bring off his rear guard, when Col. John Laurens offered himself as a volunteer for that service; he was readily accepted, and captain, afterwards Major John James, with 150 picked riflemen, was sent to cover his flanks: these, with the rear guard, made near a fourth of the retreating army. Instead of bringing off the rear guard, Col. Laurens drew them over to the east side of the river, posted the riflemen at the bridge, threw off the planks, and engaged the enemy. The British occupied the houses on the west bank, from which they kept up a galling fire; a number of Laurens' men were killed and wounded, and, as he was very conspicuous on horse back in regimentals, with a large white plume, he was soon wounded himself, and his horse killed. Laurens then retired, and captain, afterwards Col. Shubrick, ordered a retreat. In the mean time Moultrie had decamped, and the riflemen were obliged, as the planks were thrown off, to pass Tulifinny and Pocotaligo bridges on the string pieces; and did not overtake the main body till they had passed Saltketcher bridge. Here let us pause for a moment, and take a view of the ground; twelve miles of country had been passed over in one morning, which was a continued defile of causeway, lined on both sides with either thick woods, or ditches and fences, and four rivers had been crossed; over which were high bridges, and only a slight skirmish had taken place. True, the swamps above the bridges were dry, but then they were so wide and thick, that the British would never have ventured into
them. It is likewise true that Col. Laurens said the militia would not fight, yet the riflemen stood till they were ordered to retreat, and their retreat had like to have been cut off. Laurens was not wrong in fighting, for it is always best to keep militia employed: but in engaging without orders, and in not burning down the houses near the river, he is blamed by Gen. Moultrie.
** However Moultrie himself was more to blame in suffering the enemy to pass over
- NBBAS:One p.272-274.
- May 1779 listing 5/4/1779 Coosawhatchie River. British victory.
Confidence level:: 3