Stono Ferry, South Carolina

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Stono Ferry, South Carolina

STONO FERRY, SOUTH CAROLINA. 20 June 1779. General Augustine Prevost withdrew from Charleston, 11-12 May, and headed toward Savannah. When he reached Johns Island he left Lieutenant Colonel John Maitland in command of a 900-man rear guard to cover Stono Ferry, which connected Johns Island with the mainland. Maitland hastily built three redoubts and an abatis on the mainland side of the ferry to cover the position. On his left he placed his German troops with the North and South Carolina Loyalists holding the redoubts to the left and the center under Lieutenant Colonel John Hamilton, while the right consisted of his Seventy-first Highlands Regiment commanded by Major Duncan McPherson. He had six artillery pieces.

General Benjamin Lincoln had about 6,500 troops in Charleston and decided to attack this isolated British outpost with a force of 1,200. He personally led the main effort, which crossed the Ashley River about midnight and undertook an eight-mile approach march to hit the enemy position on James Island around dawn. General William Moultrie was supposed to support this operation by a secondary attack against Johns Island to keep Maitland from moving reinforcements across Stono Inlet to the bridgehead, but he failed to cross the river. Lincoln's main body was organized into a right wing of South and North Carolina militia troops under General Jethro Sumner with two cannon and General Casimir Pulaski's Legion, a left wing of Continental troops and four cannon under General Isaac Huger, a Virginia militia force with two cannon under Colonel David Mason in reserve, light infantry companies covering each flank (Lieutenant Colonel Francis Malmedy on the right and Lieutenant Colonel John Henderson on the left), and a rear guard of Lieutenant Colonel David Horry's South Carolina cavalry.

Henderson's flank patrol made contact first. Maitland thought these forces were just more of the skirmishers who had harassed his line for the past two days and sent two companies of Highlanders to drive them away. Henderson ordered a bayonet charge that killed or wounded nearly half their number and drove them back into their defenses. The rebels advanced to within sixty yards of the abatis on the right when the British opened fire. Disobeying orders to press forward with their bayonets, the Patriots began exchanging fire with the British. On the British right, the Germans broke before a fierce assault and fled. Maitland shifted part of the Seventy-first to stop the advancing rebels and rallied the Germans to return to the fight. Maitland then started bringing reserves over from Johns Island; Lincoln ordered a retreat, which was effectively covered by his cavalry and the Virginia militia.

American losses in this poorly conceived operation were heavy: 146 killed or wounded (including 24 officers) and 155 missing. Most of the latter were deserters, since the British apparently took no prisoners. The British lost 26 killed, 103 wounded, and 1 missing.

The only thing Lincoln achieved by his attack was to speed up the course of action already agreed on by the British commander. Prevost returned with the main body of troops to Savannah while Maitland abandoned his bridgehead on 23 June and retreated to Beaufort (Port Royal Island), where he established a defensive position.

SEE ALSO Charleston Raid of Prevost; Lincoln, Benjamin; Maitland, John; Prevost, Augustine.

                              revised by Michael Bellesiles