Women of Washington

Communicating America’s Founding Principles

Women of Washington is an educational organization with a focus on understanding local, national, and global issues that are critical to our world today.



By Judy Leithe

British General Henry Clinton wanted to turn his defeats, at West Point and the northern Colonies, into what he considered certain victories in the Colonies in the South. He knew that both Savannah and Augusta, Georgia had already fallen to British forces and that many people in the south were forced to pledge their allegiances to the Crown. Clinton’s new battle plan was to lay siege to Charleston, South Carolina and the rest of the South. Along with his control of New York City, Clinton could now bring the whole of the American Colonies back under the control of the King of England. In the spring of 1780, Clinton and his force of 13,500 men, sailed southward, anchored their war ships near Savannah then, marched inland toward Charleston.

Three years earlier, in the spring of 1777, the Continental Army’s, Major Benjamin Lincoln found that half of his fighting force decided to go home after fulfilling their one-year contract. Lincoln and his unit of now 500 troops were guarding a mountain pass in New Jersey to monitor the nearby British force of 4,000 men, should they decide to attack their camp. The attack came soon enough, however, Lincoln and his unit were able to escape to safety. The British officer in charge was General Henry Clinton.    

Once again, in 1780, Benjamin Lincoln, now a general, commanded an American Army of 5,466 men just outside of Charleston, when in a surprise attack, General Clinton over-powered the American position with a force of more than twice that of the Continentals. Seriously outnumbered, the Americans held out for as long as possible, however this time, Lincoln had to surrender and, on May 12, 1780, 4,650 Continental soldiers were captured and taken prisoner. Over the entire course of the Revolutionary War, this was the largest number of Americans taken prisoner in one battle, leaving the Southern Colonies vulnerable to a British takeover.

Satisfied with his progress, Clinton put General Charles Cornwallis in charge of finishing the Southern Campaign, while he sailed back up the coast to New York. Cornwallis and his army were having many battlefield successes as they marched through the South, giving every indication of restoring royal authority over its population.

In the meantime, still encamped with his army in the North, General Washington was anticipating the long-awaited fleet of French ships and ground troops due to arrive off the coast of Rhode Island.