Posted on June 28, 2015
What happens when an unfinished American fort made out of palmetto logs and sand – a fort with just 31 cannons – was attacked by the British Royal Navy with their 270 cannons?
The Americans withstood the attack and held onto the fort!
On this date in 1776 – just a week before the Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Continental Congress – a fort on Sullivan's Island in South Carolina was attacked from the sea by a fleet of British ships and from the land by 2,000 British soldiers.
How-oh-how, you might ask, did the greatly outnumbered Americans win?
The American forces had 780 sharpshooters to defend the fort. The channel between Long Island, where the British troops had landed, and Sullivan Island was too deep for the land forces to wade across. And they couldn't come across by small boat without getting picked off by sharpshooters.
In the meantime, the British had miscalculated the depth of the water, so some of their ships ran aground. With those ships stuck or damaged, the others couldn't organize a proper attack.
Finally, the ships that fired cannons at the fort made very little impact, because the palmetto logs were sort of spongy; they absorbed the impact of the cannon balls without affecting the fort or its occupants. On the other hand, the cannon fire by the Americans badly damaged the British fleet.
After about nine hours, the British withdrew. They didn't attack any harbor or city in South Carolina again until 1780.
By the way, the Liberty Flag used during this battle to rally the troops later served as the inspiration for South Carolina's state flag. It makes a lot of sense to me, now, that the palmetto tree appears on the flags – because the palmetto really did safeguard the Americans against the British attack!
The anniversary of this first American victory in South Carolina, during the Revolutionary War, was celebrated the next year as Palmetto Day. Eventually, it became Carolina Day.
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