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The Gallant Old Ironsides And How She Captured The Guerriere
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The Last Naval Battle Of The Revolution

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The Sinking Of The Albemarle

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Old Ironsides
"Ay, tear her tattered ensign down! Long has it waved...

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How The Gloucester Revenged The Sinking Of The Maine

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The Moorish Pirates Of The Mediterranean

How Palmetto Logs May Be Used
In 1775, in Virginia, the patriots forced the royal governo...

Benedict Arnold The Soldier-sailor
A NOVEL FIGHT ON LAKE CHAMPLAIN WAS it not a dreadful pi...

How Palmetto Logs May Be Used

In 1775, in Virginia, the patriots forced the royal governor, Lord
Dunmore, to take refuge on board a British man-of-war in Norfolk
Harbor. In revenge, the town of Norfolk, the largest and the most
important in the Old Dominion, was, on New Year's Day, 1776, shelled
and destroyed. This bombardment, and scores of other less wanton acts
of the men-of-war, alarmed every coastwise town from Maine to

Early in the fall of 1775, the British government planned to strike a
hard blow against the Southern colonies. North Carolina was to be the
first to receive punishment. It was the first colony, as perhaps you
know, to take decided action in declaring its independence from the
mother country. To carry out the intent of the British, Sir Henry
Clinton, with two thousand troops, sailed from Boston for the Cape
Fear River.

The minutemen of the Old North State rallied from far and near, as
they had done in Massachusetts after the battle of Lexington. Within
ten days, there were ten thousand men ready to fight the redcoats.
And so when Sir Henry arrived off the coast, he decided, {37} like a
prudent man, not to land; but cruised along the shore, waiting for
the coming of war vessels from England.

This long-expected fleet was under the command of Sir Peter Parker.
Baffled by head winds, and tossed about by storms, the ships were
nearly three months on the voyage, and did not arrive at Cape Fear
until the first of May. There they found Clinton.

Sir Peter and Sir Henry could not agree as to what action was best.
Clinton, with a wholesome respect for the minutemen of the Old North
State, wished to sail to the Chesapeake; while Lord Campbell, the
royal governor of South Carolina, who was now an officer of the
fleet, begged that the first hard blow should fall upon Charleston.
He declared that, as soon as the city was captured, the loyalists
would be strong enough to restore the king's power. Campbell, it
seems, had his way at last, and it was decided to sail south, to
capture Charleston.

Meanwhile, the people of South Carolina had received ample warning.
So they were not surprised when, on the last day of May, a British
fleet under a cloud of canvas was seen bearing up for Charleston. On
the next day, Sir Peter Parker cast anchor off the bar, with upwards
of fifty war ships and transports. Affairs looked serious for the
people of this fair city; but they were of fighting stock, and, with
the war thus brought to their doors, were not slow to show their

{38} For weeks the patriots had been pushing the works of defense.
Stores and warehouses were leveled to the ground, to give room for
the fire of cannon and muskets from various lines of earthworks;
seven hundred wagons belonging to loyalists were pressed into
service, to help build redoubts; owners of houses gave the lead from
their windows, to be cast into bullets; fire boats were made ready to
burn the enemy's vessels, if they passed the forts. The militia came
pouring in from the neighboring colonies until there were sixty-five
hundred ready to defend the city.

It was believed that a fort built on the southern end of Sullivan's
Island, within point-blank shot of the channel leading into
Charleston Harbor, might help prevent the British fleet from sailing
up to the city. At all events it would be worth trying. So, in the
early spring of 1776, Colonel William Moultrie, a veteran of the
Indian wars, was ordered to build a square fort large enough to hold
a thousand men.

The use of palmetto logs was a happy thought. Hundreds of negroes
were set at work cutting down the trees and hauling them to the
southern end of the island. The long straight logs were laid one upon
another in two parallel rows sixteen feet apart, and were bound
together with cross timbers dovetailed and bolted into the logs. The
space between the two rows of logs was filled with sand. This made
the walls of the fort.

{39} The cannon were mounted upon platforms six feet high, which
rested upon brick pillars. Upon these platforms the men could stand
and fire through the openings. The rear of the fort and the eastern
side were left unfinished, being merely built up seven feet with
logs. Thirty-one cannon were mounted, but only twenty-five could at
any one time be brought to bear upon the enemy.

On the day of the battle, there were about four hundred and fifty men
in the fort, only thirty of whom knew anything about handling cannon.
But most of the garrison were expert riflemen, and it was soon found
that their skill in small arms helped them in sighting the artillery.

One day early in June, General Charles Lee, who had been sent down to
take the chief command, went over to the island to visit the fort. As
the old-time soldier, who had seen long service in the British army,
looked over the rudely built affair, and saw that it was not even
finished, he gravely shook his head.

"The ships will anchor off there," said he to Moultrie, pointing to
the channel, "and will make your fort a mere slaughter pen."

{40} The weak-kneed general, who afterwards sold himself to the
British, went back and told Governor Rutledge that the only thing to
do was to abandon the fort. The governor, however, was made of better
stuff, and, besides, had the greatest faith in Colonel Moultrie. But
he did ask his old friend if he thought he really could defend the
cob-house fort, which Lee had laughed to scorn.

Moultrie was a man of few words, and replied simply, "I think I can."

"General Lee wishes you to give up the fort," added Rutledge, "but
you are not to do it without an order from me, and I will sooner cut
off my right hand than write one."

The idea of retreating seems never to have occurred to the brave

"I was never uneasy," wrote Moultrie in after years, "because I never
thought the enemy could force me to retire."

It was indeed fortunate that Colonel Moultrie was a stout-hearted
man, for otherwise he might well have been discouraged. A few days
before the battle, the master of a privateer, whose vessel was laid
up in Charleston harbor, paid him a visit. As the two friends stood
on the palmetto walls, looking at the fleet in the distance, the
naval officer said, "Well, Colonel Moultrie, what do you think of it

Moultrie replied, "We shall beat them."

{41} "Sir," exclaimed his visitor, pointing to the distant
men-of-war, "when those ships come to lay alongside of your fort,
they will knock it down in less than thirty minutes."

"We will then fight behind the ruins," said the stubborn patriot,
"and prevent their men from landing."

The British plan of attack, to judge from all military rules, should
have been successful. First, the redcoat regulars were to land upon
Long Island, lying to the north, and wade across the inlet which
separates it from Sullivan's Island. Then, after the war ships had
silenced the guns in the fort, the land troops were to storm the
position, and thus leave the channel clear for the combined forces to
sail up and capture the city.

If a great naval captain like Nelson or Farragut had been in command,
probably the ships would not have waited a month, but would at once
have made a bold dash past the fort, and straightway captured
Charleston. Sir Peter, however, was slow, and felt sure of success.
For over three weeks he delayed the attack, thus giving the patriots
more time for completing their defenses.

Friday morning, June 28, was hot, but bright and beautiful. Early in
the day, Colonel Moultrie rode to the northern end of the island to
see Colonel Thompson. The latter had charge of a little fort manned
by sharpshooters, and it was his duty to prevent Clinton's troops
from getting across the inlet.

Suddenly the men-of-war begin to spread their topsails and raise
their anchors. The tide is coming in. {42} The wind is fair. One
after another, the war ships get under way and come proudly up the
harbor, under full sail. The all-important moment of Moultrie's life
is at hand. He puts spurs to his horse and gallops back to the
palmetto fort.

"Beat the long roll!" he shouts to his officers, Colonel Motte and
Captain Marion.

The drums beat, and each man hurries to his chosen place beside the
cannon. The supreme test for the little cob-house fort has come. The
men shout, as a blue flag with a crescent, the colors of South
Carolina, is flung to the breeze.

Just as a year before, the people of Boston crowded the roofs and the
belfries, to watch the outcome of Bunker Hill; so now, the old men
and the women and children of Charleston cluster on the wharves, the
church towers, and the roofs, all that hot day, to watch the duel
between the palmetto fort and the British fleet.

Sir Peter Parker has a powerful fleet. He is ready to do his work.
Two of his ships carry fifty guns each, and four carry twenty-eight
guns each. With a strong flood tide and a favorable southwest wind,
the stately men-of-war sweep gracefully to their positions.
Moultrie's fighting blood is up, and his dark eyes flash with
delight. The men of South Carolina, eager to fight for their homes,
train their cannon upon the war ships.

"Fire! fire!" shouts Moultrie, as the men-of-war come within
point-blank shot. The low palmetto cob house begins to thunder with
its heavy guns.

{43} A bomb vessel casts anchor about a mile from the fort. Puff!
bang! a thirteen-inch shell rises in the air with a fine curve and
falls into the fort. It bursts and hurls up cart loads of sand, but
hurts nobody. Four of the largest war ships are now within easy
range. Down go the anchors, with spring ropes fastened to the cables,
to keep the vessels broadside to the fort. The smaller men-of-war
take their positions in a second line, in the rear. Fast and furious,
more than one hundred and fifty cannon bang away at the little

But, even from the first, things did not turn out as the British
expected. After firing some fifty shells, which buried themselves in
the loose sand and did not explode, the bomb vessel broke down.

About noon, the flagship signaled to three of the men-of-war, "Move
down and take position southwest of the fort."

Once there, the platforms inside the fort could be raked from end to
end. As good fortune would have it, two of these vessels, in
attempting to carry out their orders, ran afoul of each other, and
all three stuck fast on the shoal on which is now the famed Fort

How goes the battle inside the fort? The men, stripped to the waist
and with handkerchiefs bound round their heads, stand at the guns all
that sweltering day, with the coolness and the courage of old
soldiers. The supply of powder is scant. They take careful aim, fire
slowly, and make almost every shot tell. The twenty-six-pound balls
{44} splinter the masts, and make sad havoc on the decks. Crash!
crash! strike the enemy's cannon balls against the palmetto logs. The
wood is soft and spongy, and the huge shot either bury themselves
without making splinters, or else bound off like rubber balls.

Meanwhile, where was Sir Henry Clinton? For nearly three weeks he had
been encamped with some two thousand men on the sand bar known as
Long Island. The men had suffered fearfully from the heat, from lack
of water, and from the mosquitoes.

During the bombardment of Fort Sullivan, Sir Henry marched his men
down to the end of the sand island, but could not cross; for the
water in the inlet proved to be seven feet deep even at low tide.
Somebody had blundered about the ford. The redcoats, however, were
paraded on the sandy shore while some armed boats made ready to cross
the inlet. The grapeshot from two cannon, and the bullets of Colonel
Thompson's riflemen, so raked the decks that the men could not stay
at their posts. Memories of Bunker Hill, perhaps, made the British
officers a trifle timid about crossing the inlet, and marching over
the sandy shore, to attack intrenched sharpshooters. Thus it happened
that Clinton and his men, through stupidity, were kept prisoners on
the sand island, mere spectators of the thrilling scene. They had to
content themselves with fighting mosquitoes, under the sweltering
rays of a Southern sun.

All this time, Sir Peter was doing his best to pound the fort down.
The fort trembled and shook, but it stood. Moultrie and his men, with
perfect coolness and with steady aim, made havoc of the war ships.
Colonel Moultrie prepared grog by the pailful, which, with a negro as
helper, he dipped out to the tired men at the guns.

"Take good aim, boys," he said, as he passed from gun to gun, "mind
the big ships, and don't waste the powder."

The mainmast of the flagship Bristol was hit nine times, and the
mizzenmast was struck by seven thirty-two-pound balls, and had to be
cut away. In short, the flagship was pierced so many times that she
would have sunk had not the wind been light and the water smooth.
While the battle raged in all its fury, the carpenters worked like
beavers to keep the vessel afloat.

{46} At one time a cannon ball shot off one of the cables, and the
ship swung round with the tide.

"Give it to her, boys!" shouts Moultrie, "now is your time!" and the
cannon balls rake the decks from stem to stern.

The captain of the flagship was struck twice, Lord Campbell was hurt,
and one hundred men were either killed or wounded. Once Sir Peter was
the only man left on the quarter-deck, and he himself was twice

The other big ship, the Experiment, fared fully as hard as did the
flagship. The captain lost his right arm, and nearly a hundred of his
men were killed or wounded.

In fact, these two vessels were about to be left to their fate, when
suddenly the fire of the fort slackened.

"Fire once in ten minutes," orders Colonel Moultrie, for the supply
of powder is becoming dangerously small.

An aid from General Lee came running over to the fort. "When your
powder is gone, spike your guns and retreat," wrote the general.

Moultrie was not that kind of man.

Between three and five o'clock in the afternoon, the fire of the fort
almost stopped. The British thought the guns were silenced. Not a bit
of it! Even then a fresh supply of five hundred pounds of powder had
nearly reached the fort. It came from Governor Rutledge with a note,
saying, "Honor and victory, my {47} good sir, to you and your worthy
men with you. Don't make too free with your cannon. Keep cool and do

How those men shouted when the powder came! Bang! bang! the cannon in
the fort thunder again. The British admiral tries to batter down the
fort by firing several broadsides at the same moment. At times it
seemed as if it would tumble in a heap. Once the broadsides of four
vessels struck the fort at one time; but the palmetto logs stood
unharmed. A gunner by the name of McDaniel was mortally wounded by a
cannon ball. As the dying soldier was being carried away, he cried
out to his comrades in words that will never be forgotten, "Fight on,
brave boys, and don't let liberty die with this day!"

In the hottest of the fight, the flagstaff is shot away. Down falls
the blue banner upon the beach, outside the fort.

{48} "The flag is down!" "The fort has surrendered!" cry the people
of Charleston, with pale faces and tearful eyes.

Out from one of the cannon openings leaps Sergeant William Jasper.
Walking the whole length of the fort, he tears away the flag from the
staff. Returning with it, he fastens it to the rammer of a cannon,
and plants it on the ramparts, amidst the rain of shot and shell.

With the setting of the sun, the roar of battle slackens. The victory
is Moultrie's. Twilight and silence fall upon the smoking fort. Here
and there lights glimmer in the city, as the joyful people of
Charleston return to their homes. The stars look down upon the
lapping waters of the bay, where ride at anchor the shadowy vessels
of the British fleet. Towards midnight, when the tide begins to ebb,
the battered war ships slip their cables and sail out into the
darkness with their dead.

The next day, hundreds came from the city to rejoice with Moultrie
and his sturdy fighters. Governor Rutledge came down with a party of
ladies, and presented a silk banner to the fort. Calling for Sergeant
Jasper, he took his own short sword from his side, buckled it on him,
and thanked him in the name of his country. He also offered him a
lieutenant's commission, but the young hero modestly refused the
honor, saying, "I am not fitted for an officer; I am only a

For several days, the crippled British fleet lay in the harbor, too
much shattered to fight or to go to sea. In {49} fact, it was the
first week in August before the patriots of South Carolina saw the
last war ship and the last transport put out to sea, and fade away in
the distance. The hated redcoats were gone.

In the ten hours of active fighting, the British fleet fired
seventeen tons of powder and nearly ten thousand shot and shell, but,
in that little inclosure of green logs and sand, only one gun was

The defense of Fort Sullivan ranks as one of the few complete
American victories of the Revolution. The moral effect of the victory
was perhaps more far-reaching than the battle of Bunker Hill. Many of
the Southern people who had been lukewarm now openly united their
fortunes with the patriot cause.

Honors were showered upon the brave Colonel Moultrie. His services to
his state and to his country continued through life. He died at a
good old age, beloved by his fellow citizens.

Next: The Patriot Spy

Previous: A Midwinter Campaign

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