The Papers of General Nathanael Greene


From Colonel Stephen Drayton[1]

On Monday evening the 12th Ultimo, the enemy's fleet appeared off, on Tuesday part got in, and the Thursday following the whole of them reached the first flatts; The inhabitants of Wilmington then held a consultation on the propriety of meeting their foes with a flag, and concluded on it, in consequence they insisted on Col [Henry] Young who commanded the Militia to withdraw the few [he] had; (not more than 50) and leave the town to make their own terms.[2] This he did, and on Saturday a flag was sent wherein they offered to surrender as prisoners of war untill exchanged. This the british answered, (as the Inhabitants I believe on my soul wished) by taking possession of the town with two Gallies and about 200 Infantry on Monday 29th at 12 O'Clock. The first bridge about 1 1/2 miles from the Town on Smith's Creek, Col Young destroyed and retreated to the great bridge on the N. E River hoping there to make a stand having first concluded to destroy that bridge also. However the enemy pushed upon Tuesday night: and got possession of the great bridge at about 12 O'Clock which was neither defended or destroyed. Consequently a precipitate retreat on our side took place and all our Stores, arms and ammunition fell a prey.[3]
Extract (PCC, item 172, vol. 1: 69, DNA). NG enclosed this extract in his letter to Washington of 9 February (PGNG, 7: 267-270).
    [1.] For more on Drayton, see Howe to NG, this date (PGNG, 7: 237-239).
    [2.] The expedition that sailed from Charleston was commanded by Maj. James Craig and consisted of three warships and 300 men. It was intended to support Lord Cornwallis's invasion of North Carolina by providing a supply depot at Wilmington, a port near the mouth of the Cape Fear River. Craig's expedition sailed on 21 January and arrived at the Cape Fear River on 25 January, but the troops did not land at Wilmington until 28 January. The thoroughly cowed residents surrendered without a fight. Despite the ease with which he had captured Wilmington, Craig was unable to carry out another part of his orders: to secure the Cape Fear River as far as Cross Creek. The shallowness of the river and the arrival a short time later of an American militia force of 400 to 500 men commanded by Gen. Alexander Lillington prevented him from establishing a line of supply and communication to Cross Creek. A stalemate developed, with the militia unwilling to attack Craig inside his fortifications and Craig unable to dislodge them and secure the river. This continued until Cornwallis marched into the area in early April. (Massey, "British Expedition to Wilmington," pp. 388-96)
    [3.] The British easily dispersed a militia force at Heron's Bridge, ten miles from Wilmington on the North East Cape Fear River. They then returned to Wilmington after destroying the bridge and capturing or destroying a number of vessels loaded with ammunition, stores, and rum. (James Craig to Nisbet Balfour, 4 February, Davies, Documents, 20: 54-55) Lillington's North Carolina militiamen later reoccupied and repaired the bridge. (Massey, "British Expedition to Wilmington," p. 393)