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    Prevost's Expedition in Georgia

    British Manuscript Orderly Book. 52 pages, 7.5" x 6.25", disbound, [Various places, South Carolina], May 2, 1779 to June 15, 1779. A previously unknown and unpublished manuscript, kept in a variety of hands while in the field, that chronicles the movements of British and loyalists in South Carolina during Provost's failed attempt to capture Charleston.

    After years of inconclusive campaigning and outright failures in the north, most notably Burgoyne's' surrender at Saratoga, the British decided to focus on the south. There it was assumed more loyalists would rally to the King's standard. Savannah fell to the Crown on December 29, 1778 and soon the British had re-installed a royal governor in Georgia. In March 1779 Augustine Prevost marched first northward towards Augusta, and then doubled-back to move northeast toward Charleston. His force was composed of British regulars together with German mercenaries and loyalist volunteers from New York, all of whom are regularly mentioned in the orders. The books chronicle the daily orders of the army, recording the difficult logistical issues in operating an army in the swamps of tidewater South Carolina in the heat of midsummer.

    The earliest date noted is April 28, 1779, while Prevost's Army was still marching toward Charleston: "...Lt Colonel Provost and Lt. Colonel Maitland are appointed to the Rank of Colonels in the armey [sic] under the Command of Brigadier Genl Provost..." It is reccomended [sic] to the officer to have at hand exclusive of tomorrow, two Days provisions Cooked and Leiquor [sic] in proportion -- In case the Battn. should be ordered to march the women to remain at this post whence the Qur: Mr or Some Com[m]issioned officer employed by him will rec[e]ive provision for them all officers Servants to be under arms and fall in with there [sic] respective Companys [sic] when the Battn. is ordered to march..." Arriving near the Ashley River, the British occupied the plantation of Signer of The Declaration of Independence, Arthur Middleton: "...General O[rder]s H[ea]d Q[ua]r[ters] [Arthur] Middleton's plantation South Carolina, 2d. May 1779...all Cattle Drove in for the use of the armie [sic] to be paid for on Dollar per heade [sic] to those who Drove them..." Supply was always a concern, but the opportunities for soldiers to plunder the countryside were even a greater concern. On May 7, Prevost minded his army to make a "proper Distinction between them & those who Continue obsinsly [sic] in arms against his Majesty and expects that all officer will aid him in making it, and be always Vigilant & attentive for their own honours to being all marauters [sic] plunderers to justice, and he is Determine to make very severe one example..."

    On May 9, Prevost's army prepared to cross the Ashley. Originally intending to simply make a diversionary feint against Charleston in order to prevent Benjamin Lincoln from moving into Georgia, the army met so little resistance they decided to attempt to force the town's surrender. On May 10th, all soldiers were "to receive two days rice immediately, a troop of Dragoons & all the Light Horse, the Light Infantry, New York Volunteers under the command of Colonel Maitland to cross the [Ashley] river at 5 O'clock, the rest of the army to cross this evening at 6..." In response, American General Pulaski attempted to move against Prevost, but was badly beaten and withdrew back to Charleston. Prevost remained in the same place for several days. Then, learning of the approach of Benjamin Lincoln's army from Georgia, the British withdrew first to James Island then to Johns Island.

    One of the more effective tactics the British used in the southern campaign was the standing offer to slaves: freedom and wages if they fled their rebel masters. As British forces marched through the south, they found both a cheap source of labor as well as an increasing burden for the army... being depleted of critical food and supplies. Officers took advantage of the situation, taking on personal servants. At "Pinkenys house" on "22d May 1779" the general advised that " ... As the Number of Negroes & horses greatly increases & very soon will absorb all our provisions & forage, it is once more strictly Recommended to the Commanding officers of Corps & Departments not to suffer any more than has been ordered to abide about their Camp, But effectually to get Clear of them, not suffering Soldiers Wifes [sic] or any other who his [sic] not intittled [sic] to keep any, not even the Artillery men or Assistant followers of the Army, all the rest to be sent to the Engineer for the purpose of work..."

    Expecting an attack by Lincoln, Prevost tightened security "Head Qrs Rutledges house 16th May 1779... A piquet from the 71st Regt. N. Y. Volunteers and wellworth[?] move at one O clock this Day...The advanced Sentries not to suffer any persons whites or Blackes [sic] to pass out of the Camp without a pass from the commanding officer or Major of Brigade...the N. York Volunteers to form on there [sic] left and the Hissian [sic] Regt. Weellworth to form the left of the whole on the plain with there two field pieces in there front the Grenadiers being supposed to quite [sic] Rutledge house to make the reserve and to retreat in the rear by the road form the house, the Carolinians & volunteers to harass and Skirmish with the enemy while they are advanced and then to fall on there flank and Covering those of the army the Carolinians to occupy the right, the volunteers to take the left..." In this case, an attack did not materialize.

    Despite orders to the contrary, British and loyalist militia could not resist the urge to plunder, a recurring and vexing problem for British commanders throughout the struggle, that continually handicapped their attempts to win over colonial 'hearts and minds.' To make matters worse, marauders would rarely distinguish between rebel and loyalist, serving to alienate those who risked their reputations and lives upholding the authority of George III and Parliament. On May 28, on St. John's Island, Prevost warned that "persons Detached in floundering are to be Brought to an Immediate Trial...The Brigadier general Expects that the Commanding officers of Corps Will give him every assistance an order to Bring them to punishment, and to put an end to the Irrigularitys [sic] Dayly [sic] Committed by the troops, any person found to have in possession, any one thing Belonging to the Inhabitants who are at home peaceably shall on being Detected be Brought to Immediate trial, all the Negroes in Camp officers Waiting Servants, & the Comy's of pioneers Excepted, are to be forthwith Sent to the north Side of Stoney ferry, The provost Martial to Go the Rounds with a part of horsemen & to take up every negroes seeing straggling Without having a Regular Give him 200 Lashes, or 400 if Detected in Stealing..." Despite these threats, Prevost observed at Stono Ferry on the 29th of May...The Batlln is now become so notorious for marauding & plundering White & Negro women of all denominations, the men absenting themselves from Cap day & night without leave ask'd for or Given to the great disgrace of the Battn. & the Off:rs who commands it. The Commanding Offr. therefor[e] calls upon the commanding Officers of Comy's & others, to exert their Authority in support of their own Character & that of the Regt in brining villains so offending to Condign punishment & at last to preserve some part of that character given to Scotsmen on the field -- The Commanding Off:r Promises upon his honour that the men found guilty of such Malpractices shall be try'd at the Drum head immediately Punished in front of the Battn..."

    In June, Prevost moved the majority of his force by boat back to Savannah, leaving a rear guard under Colonel Maitland. On June 20, 1778, Benjamin Lincoln with 1,200 troops attempted to attack Mainland's 900. Lincoln's poorly planned attack failed; the assault only served to accelerate the full British evacuation to Savannah. The following year, a much larger British force would successfully besiege and capture Charleston, setting the stage for the climatic southern campaign of 1780-81 that culminated at Yorktown.

    Manuscript orderly books, both American and British, seldom appear on the market. And, considerably most of the extant volumes are from the northern campaigns. Of the recent British examples, most originate from the British headquarters in New York; none are known to have been examples kept in the field. Orderly books and records from the southern campaigns of 1778-81 are extremely rare. Disbound, marginal chips and tears with some losses, light toning and soiling, else very good.

    With a Manuscript Document. One page, 12.5 x 7.5", docketed on verso "Abstract The late Capt. Macintosh's Compy From 25 June 5o 24 Aug 1779 Settled with Leiut. B. Campbell commanding the Company--" Recto of account titled: "Dr. The Vacant Comy (lately Captn Angus McIntoshs) from 25 June to 26 Augt 1779" an account for £176.18.0 for provisions. Dampstains, marginal chips and losses, weak at folds, else good.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    June, 2008
    4th-5th Wednesday-Thursday
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