The Battle of Monck's Corner
April 14, 1780 in Berkeley County, South Carolina
(Also Known as Battle of Biggin Bridge or Biggin Church)
||Missing / Captured
||Missing / Captured
Conclusion: British Victory |
Southern theater, 1775–82
In March 1780, Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton and Major Patrick Ferguson, with their cavalry, joined Lt. Gen. Sir Henry Clinton and the main British force in its thirty-mile approach to Charles Town. By April 2nd, 1780 the third British attempt to capture Charles Town was officially underway. To guard the upper reaches of the Cooper River, on April 12, 1780, Patriot Southern Department Commandant Maj. Gen. Benjamin Lincoln sent Brigadier Gen. Isaac Huger and all of the Patriot cavalry to guard Biggin Bridge, near Monck’s Corner, SC. This detachment consisted of the 1 and 3 Continental Dragoons, the remains of Pulaski’s Legion cavalry (decimated in their attack on the Spring Hill Redoubt at the Siege of Savannah in October 1779), Col. Daniel Horry’s South Carolina Dragoons, and North Carolina militia.
On April 12th, General Clinton ordered Lt. Col. Tarleton into the South Carolina countryside to defend his rear and cut Charles Town off from its lines of communication, reinforcement, counterattack and supply with the North and South Carolina backcountry. The Continentals had successfully reinforced Charles Town on April 8th and Col. Abraham Buford was approaching with more Continental reinforcements from Virginia. Tarleton’s first objective was to take possession of Monck's Corner and the nearby bridge over Biggin Creek, where Gen. Huger was stationed.
Maj. Patrick Ferguson and his Loyalist provincial troops, the American Volunteers, supported Lt. Col. Tarleton and his British Legion. On the April 13th, they were joined by Lt. Col. James Webster and the 33rd and 64th Regiments of infantry. The plan was for Tarleton and Ferguson to proceed ahead quickly and silently to Monck's Corner and take Gen. Huger by surprise at night. Along the way, they captured a messenger who was carrying a letter from Gen. Huger to Gen. Lincoln in Charleston, which told Tarleton how the Patriot troops were deployed.
From ten o'clock on the night of April 13, 1780, a swift silent march was undertaken along the road to Monck's Corner by Lt. Col. Tarleton and his men. They encountered no American scouts or patrols. When they reached Monck's Corner, they caught the Americans completely by surprise. Not only had there been no patrols, but Gen. Huger had placed his cavalry in front of his infantry.
Lt. Col. Tarleton, typical of his tactics, led a cavalry charge directly into the Americans; swamps on either side of the causeway leading to the bridgehead precluded a flank attack. The British easily dispersed the militia defending Biggin Bridge. Most of the Americans were able to escape, including Gen. Huger and Lt. Col. William Washington; however, Tarleton was able to capture wagons of supplies and a great many excellent cavalry horses of great value to the British as they had lost most of their horses on the voyage to the south.
The Patriots’ defeat at Monck's Corner left Gen. Lincoln without any lines of communication from Charles Town to the interior of South Carolina or with allies by sea. The defeat only hastened the surrender of Charles Town.
From William D. James’ Life of Marion
On the 13th April , the American infantry and cavalry under Gen. [Isaac] Huger, lay, the infantry at Biggen Church, and the cavalry under Col. [William] Washington, at Monck's Corner. [Lt.] Col. [Banastre] Tarleton with [Maj. Patrick] Ferguson's corps of marksmen, advanced on from the QuarterHouse to Goose Creek, where he was joined by [Lt.] Col. [James] Webster, with the 33d and 64th regiments of infantry. There an attack upon the American post was concerted, and it was judged advisable to make it in the night, as that would render the superiority of Washington's cavalry useless. A servant of one of Huger's officers was taken on the road, and he agreed for a few dollars, to conduct the enemy through a by-road, to Monck's Corner.
At three o'clock in the morning, they charged Washington's guard on the main road, and pursued them into the camp. The Americans were completely surprised. Major [Chevalier Pierre-Francois] Vernier, of Pulaski's Legion, and twenty-five men, were killed. One hundred officers and dragoons, fifty waggons loaded with ammunition, clothing and arms, and four hundred horses, with their accoutrements, were taken. A most valuable acquisition to the British. Major [Charles] Cochrane with the British Legion of infantry, forced the passage at Biggen [Creek] bridge, and drove Gen. Huger and the infantry before him. In this affair, Major James Conyers, of the Americans, distinguished himself by a skilful retreat, and by calling off the attention of the enemy from his sleeping friends, to himself. The British had only one officer and two men wounded. The account of the loss of the Americans in this affair, is taken from Tarleton, who blames "the injudicious conduct of the American commander, who besides making a false disposition of his corps, by placing his cavalry in front of the bridge, during the night, and his infantry in the rear, neglected sending patroles in front of his videttes." In this surprise, the British made free use of the bayonet, the houses in Monck's Corner, then a village, were afterwards deserted, and long bore the marks of deadly thrust, and much bloodshed.
Excerpt from Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton’s "Book A History of the Campaigns of 1780 and 1781":
Before this time (of the complete investure of Charleston in April 1780), the Americans had joined a body of militia to three regiments of Continental cavalry, and the command of the whole was entrusted to Brigadier General [Isaac] Huger. This corps held possession of the forks and passes on Cooper River, and maintained a communication with Charles Town; by which, supplies of men, arms, ammunition, and provision, might be conveyed to the garrison during the siege, and by which, the Continental troops might escape after the defenses were destroyed.
Sir Henry Clinton was thoroughly sensible of the inconveniencies that might arise from this situation of the enemy's light troops; and being lately relieved by a detachment of sailors and marines, from the charge of Fort Johnson, he directed his attention to dislodge them from their position. As soon as he received intelligence of the arrival of a number of waggons, loaded with arms, ammunition, and clothing, from the northward, he selected a detachment of one thousand four hundred men, whom he committed to Lt. Col. [James] Webster, with orders to counteract the designs of the Americans, and to break in upon the remaining communications of Charles Town.
Battle of Biggin Bridge [April 13, 1780]
On the 12th of April,  Lt. Col. [Banastre] Tarleton, being reinforced at the Quarter House by Major [Patrick] Ferguson's corps of marksmen, advanced to Goose Creek: Col. [James] Webster arrived on the following day at the same place, with the 33d and 64th regiments of infantry; Tarleton again moved on in the evening, with his own and Ferguson's corps, towards Monck's Corner, as had been previously concerted with the commander in chief, in order, if possible, to surprise the Americans encamped at that place: an attack in the night was judged most advisable, as it would render the superiority of the enemy's cavalry useless, andwould, perhaps, present a favourable opportunity of getting possession of Biggin Bridge, on Cooper River, without much loss to the assailants. Profound silence was observed on the march. At some distance from Goose Creek, a Negro was secured by the advanced guard, who discovered him attempting to leave the road.
A letter was taken from his pocket, written by an officer in Gen. Huger's camp the afternoon of that day, and which he was charged to convey to the neighborhood of Charles Town: The contents of the letter, which was opened at a house not far distant, and the Negro's intelligence, purchased for a few dollars, proved lucky incidents at this period. Lt. Col. Tarleton's information relative to the situation of the enemy was now complete. It was evident, that the American cavalry had posted themselves in front of Cooper River, and that the militia were placed in a meetinghouse, which commanded the bridge, and were distributed on the opposite bank. At three o'clock in the morning, the advanced guard of dragoons and mounted infantry, supported by the remainder of the [British] Legion and Ferguson's corps, approached the American post: a watch word was immediately communicated to the officers and soldiers, which was closely followed by an order to charge the enemy's grand guard on the main road, there being no other avenue open, owing to the swamps on the flanks, and to pursue them into their camp. The order was executed with the greatest promptitude and success. The Americans were completely surprised: Major Vernier, of Pulaski's Legion, and some other officers and men who attempted to defend themselves, were killed or wounded; Gen. [Isaac] Huger, Cols. [William] Washington and Maj. [John] Jamieson, with many officers and men, fled on foot to the swamps, close to their encampment, where, being concealed by the darkness, they effected their escape: four hundred horses belonging to officers and dragoons, with their arms and appointments, (a valuable acquisition for the British cavalry in their present state) fell into the hands of the victors; about one hundred officers, dragoons, and hussars, together with fifty waggons, loaded with arms, clothing and ammunition, shared the same fate. Without loss of time, Maj. [Charles] Cochrane was ordered to force the bridge and the meeting house with the infantry of the British Legion. He charged the militia with fixed bayonets, got possession of the pass, and dispersed every thing that opposed him. In the attack on Monck's Corner, and at Biggin Bridge, the British had one officer and two men wounded, with five horses killed and wounded. This signal instance of military advantage, may be partly attributed to the judgment and address with which this expedition was planned and executed, and partly to the injudicious conduct of the American commander; who, besides making a false disposition of his corps, by placing his cavalry in front of the bridge during the night, and his infantry in the rear, neglected sending patroles in front of his videttes; which omission, equally enabled the British to make a surprise, and prevented the Americans recovering from the confusion attending an unexpected attack.
From the Dairy of Lt. Anthony Allaire of Ferguson’s Corps:
Wednesday, 12th. [April, 1780] Received orders to march. The North Carolinians were ordered to join Col. Ferguson. We left Lining's plantation about seven o'clock in the evening, and marched to Bacon's Bridge [over the upper Ashley River, near Dorchester, SC], twenty-two miles, where we arrived at five o'clock on Thursday morning; very much fatigued. We halted to refresh till seven. Cool weather.
Thursday, 13th. Got in motion at seven o'clock in the morning. Marched through a small village called Dorchester. It contains about forty houses and a church. Continued our march to Middleton's plantation at Goose Creek, about fifteen miles from Bacon's Bridge, and ten from Dorchester. Here we met the Legion about one o'clock in the afternoon, and halted till ten at night. Then, in company with them, got in motion and marched eighteen miles to Monck's Corner, being informed that Col. Washington's, Pulaski's, Bland's, and Harry's Light Horse lay here. We arrived just as day began to appear on Friday morning, and found the above enemy here, in number about four hundred, including some militia that arrived the day before, commanded by Gen. Huger. Luckily for them, they were under marching orders, which made them more alert, when the alarm was given, than usual, which alone prevented their being all taken completely by surprise. They made off with great expedition. We pursued, overtook and killed Pulaski's [Legion] Major Vernier, wounded a French Lieut. Beaulait,* and one other officer; about sixty privates were taken, fifteen or twenty of whom were wounded. We had but one man wounded, and he very slightly. We took thirty wagons, with four horses in each. A number of very fine horses that belonged to their troops were likewise taken, and converted to British Light horses. Col. Washington and all their officers made but a narrow escape; their baggage, letters, and some of their commissions were taken.
Friday, 14th. Remained at Monck's Corner, collecting the stores, etc. About seven o'clock at night, accidentally a store house caught fire, in which were two casks of powder; was very much alarmed by the explosion, and all got under arms. This confusion was scarcely over when three ladies came to our camp in great distress: Lady Colleton, Miss. Betsy Giles, and Miss. Jean Russell. They had been most shockingly abused by a plundering villain. Lady Colleton badly cut in the hand by a broadsword, and bruised very much.
After my friend, Dr. [Uzal] Johnson, dressed her hand, he, with an officer and twelve men, went to the plantation, about one mile from camp, to protect Mrs. Fayssoux, whom this infamous villain had likewise abused in the same manner. There he found a most accomplished, amiable lady in the greatest distress imaginable. After he took a little blood from her she was more composed, and next morning come to camp to testify against the cursed villain that abused them in this horrid manner. He was secured and sent to Headquarters for trial.
Excerpt from Robert D. Bass, Green Dragoon :
The march and the passage across the Ashley were made without opposition, although Washington with a consideration force lay at Middleton plantation, near Goose Creek. Tarleton, with the 17th Light Dragoons and the British Legion, went into camp at the Quarter House, six miles above Charleston. On April 5 he led out 500 infantrymen and 50 horsemen in an attempt to surprise Washington, who still lay at Middleton's, but the surprise failed. Washington retreated to the 23 Mile House.
On April 12 Major Patrick Ferguson and his corps of marksmen arrived at Tarleton's camp at the Quarter House. Together they advanced ten miles up the neck to Goose Creek. Next day Lieutenant Colonel James Webster joined them with the 33rd and 64th Regiments of infantry. In the evening Tarleton and Ferguson moved on toward Moncks Comer, having intelligence that Colonel Washington had retreated from the 23 Mile House in order to join Brigadier General Isaac Huger, commanding Colonel Daniel Horry's cavalry, Count Pulaski's hussars, and other horsemen recently arrived from Virginia.
The advance guard of the Legion captured a Negro messenger bearing a letter from Huger's camp to Charleston. From the letter and the bearer Tarleton learned the disposition of the American troops at Moncks Comer. The cavalry had been posted in front of Cooper River and the militia stationed in Biggin Church, commanding Biggin Bridge. The rest of the forces had been distributed on the opposite bank of the river.
Tarleton moved his troops in silence, and at three o'clock in the morning of April 14 he struck. The Americans were completely surprised. Major Paul Vernier, commanding Pulaski's Legion, and some other officers and men who attempted to defend themselves were killed or wounded. General Huger, Colonels Washington and Jamieson, with many officers and men, fled on foot to the swamps. Major [Charles] Cochrane, commanding the infantry of the British Legion, routed the Americans from Biggin Church and seized the bridge over Cooper River. Horribly mangled by the sabers of the dragoons, Major Vernier was taken into a nearby house and thrown on a bare wooden table, where he lay bleeding and cursing. With his last breath he damned the Americans for their cowardice and God-damned the British for their barbarity in sabering him after he had surrendered and begged for quarter.
During the excitement after the battle three of Tarleton's dragoons broke into Fair Lawn, the plantation home of the distinguished Loyalist Sir John Colleton. Here women from surrounding plantations had taken refuge, and the soldiers singled out three of the fairest for rape. In the scuffle the wife of a Charleston physician received several slashes from sword. The women finally escaped and fled to the British for protection. Colonel Webster ordered the immediate arrest of their assailants. Major Ferguson, one of the most chivalrous men in the British army, demanded that they be instantly put to death. Finally the dragoons were sent to Charleston, court-martialed, and flogged without mercy. In the affairs at Moncks Corner and Biggin Bridge, the British had an officer and 2 men wounded, but the Americans had 15 ki11ed and 17 wounded. About 100 officers, dragoons, and hussars fell prisoner to the British Legion. More important to the British, because of the poor quality of their mounts, was the capture of 83 horses that had belonged to the American officers and their dragoons.