Treacherous Waters and Patriot Fire Foil a British Attack on Charleston Harbor
In Colonial times, this scenic waterway was wider, but the fast and shifting currents were just as treacherous as they are today. Here, on June 28, 1776, Patriot Colonel William “Danger” Thomson and his 780 troops — including local militia, as well as Pee Dee, Waccamaw and Cheraw Indian riflemen, and a company of 30 Catawba Indians — thwarted the British assault on Sullivan’s Island. While 435 Patriots under Colonel William Moultrie held the unfinished palmetto-log fort on the south side of Sullivan’s Island, Thomson fought here at the east end and prevented British troops from crossing over Breach Inlet to reach Moultrie’s vulnerable defenses.
As part of their strategy to capture Fort Sullivan and seize Charleston Harbor, the British intended to land troops on Long Island (now the Isle of Palms), have them wade across Breach Inlet to Sullivan’s Island, and launch an attack on Moultrie through the side and rear of the unfinished fort. The British navy would then proceed through the channel and assault Fort Sullivan from the water. However, the crossing here at Breach Inlet did not proceed as planned.
The inlet proved to be much deeper than British commander Sir Henry Clinton was led to expect. Even at low tide, the water was chest high, and the current was swift. With Thomson’s armed troops entrenched on the end of Sullivan’s Island, Clinton could not move soldiers through the inlet without severe loss of life. Clinton also attempted a series of amphibious crossings, but he was deterred by the rip currents and Thomson’s destructive fire.
The Patriots were ultimately victorious at Sullivan’s Island. You can visit nearby Fort Moultrie to learn more about the battle. Their success, coming so early in the war and over such a superior adversary, shocked the world and shamed the British Royal Navy. Charleston remained in Patriot hands until 1780.
June 28, 1776