The Papers of General Nathanael Greene


From Colonel Henry Lee, Jr.

I have the honor to advise You of the complete surprise of the Post at George Town, this morning by the Infantry of the Legion. Captain Carns who conducted this enterprize, has claim to great merit, for the address exhibited on the occasion.
The officers & Soldiers under him distinguished themselves by their gallantry & firmness. Destitute of the expected assistance my force was inadequate to the assault of the Enemy's inclosed works, nor was the possession equivalent to the certain loss to be expected from such a measure.
I therefore determined to pursue my principal objects by Means more certain, & less destructive to my Troops.
The blunders of the guides prevented a full correspondence in the movements of the Cavalry & Infantry: by which mistakes, we were in some degree baffled in the important consequences; which the prowess of the Infantry gave a right to expect.[1]
Many were killed, few taken; among the former is Major Irvine, among the latter Lieut Col Campbell, the commander of the garrison.
Disposed on all occasions to alleviate misfortune, I have indulgd Col. Campbell & the captured officers with their paroles.
The Legion has suffered very little on this expedition; one killed, two wounded & two horses disabled, make up our whole loss.[2] I have the honor to be sir with the most perfect respect

your most obt serv

Henry Lee Jun' r

Autograph letter signed (MiU-C)
    [1.] The attack on Georgetown was an ingenious, complicated undertaking on the part of Lee and Gen. Francis Marion, but was only partially successful. Using boats that Marion had collected, the Legion infantry under Capt. Patrick Carnes and Capt. John Rudulph were sent down the Pee Dee River to spend the day of 24 January hiding in rice fields near Georgetown. That night, they landed inside the British garrison's abatis and palisades to launch their attack. Carnes's party captured Col. George Campbell, the post's commander, whose quarters were in town. Most of the garrison's troops were also in dispersed quarters outside the fort, and it was expected that they would head for the brick redoubt— "their chief point of safety on annoyance"— once the alarm was sounded; Rudulph positioned his men to intercept them. (Lee, Memoirs, 1: 249-50) The attack was a complete surprise, but "to the astonishment of" the Americans, "not a British soldier appeared; not one attempted either to gain the fort, or repair to the commandant." (Ibid., p. 251) Instead, the British barricaded themselves in their various quarters and prepared to make a defense. Without rams or "implements" for "scaling windows"— and with the possibility of being caught in a cross fire between enemy troops in their quarters and those in the fort— Lee and Marion decided to withdraw as daylight approached. (Ibid.) In this letter to NG, Lee blamed the late arrival of the cavalry for the Americans' failure to capture the fort. In his memoirs, he speculated that if Rudulph, instead of waiting to "intercept the fugitives," had been ordered "to carry the fort by the bayonet," the "success would have been complete." (Ibid.) Lee's failure to mention Marion's role in the operation is inexplicable.
    [2.] Nisbet Balfour, the British commandant at Charleston, assessed the attack on 31 January for Sir Henry Clinton: "they [Lee and Marion] failed in their Object, made Prisoners of Lt Colo Campbell & one or two other Officers of Fannings Corps, who they immediately Paroled— in other respects the loss was inconsiderable, & nearly equal, Two or three being Killed on each side." (PRO 30/11/109) The capture of Campbell, moreover, may have given Balfour an opportunity to replace an unpopular commander without causing controversy. One Loyalist remembered years later that Campbell had been the source of such "great divisions" among the garrison's officers that some of the troops were "nearly in a state of Mutiny" at the time he was taken. (Jarvis, "Sketches," p. 40)