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    "...their [sic] seems to be a great Dissensions among them, and Party runs very high to which it is thought General [Charles] Lee has contributed a great deal, as he has been very much disgusted at the treatment he met with from General Washington..."

    Siege and Capture of Charleston - Hildebrand Oakes (1754-1822) British officer, Governor of Malta. A Collection of Five Autograph Letters Signed. 16 pages total, 7.5" x 9", various places including Jamaica, New York and Charleston, South Carolina, [1778] - May 21, 1780 to prominent British opposition figure Henry Seymour Conway. Oakes, a future general officer in the British Army, was serving as a captain with the British Army and participated in the operations against Charleston, South Carolina.

    Remarkable correspondence detailing life in the British garrison at New York as well as the successful capture of Charleston, South Carolina. Oakes' letters offer a window into the life in the British Army in America, offering insights into how the British viewed the American Revolution. Oakes' first letter was written from Jamaica, Long Island, likely in late 1778 following the British retreat from Philadelphia and the Battle of Monmouth: "...Most of the Army are Hutted... which I think far more comfortable than if they were in Houses - Some of the Officers are in the Town but most of us in the Farms contiguous to it: upon the whole our Quarters would be very good, if it was not for the very great scarcity and Dearness of every kind of Provisions...from the Publications of the Revles, their [sic] seems to be a great Dissensions among them, and Party runs very high to which it is thought General [Charles] Lee has contributed a great deal, as he has been very much disgusted at the treatment he met with from General Washington...Every body here is [words lost] to know what will become of us in the Spring, as it is impossible for us to take the Field with the small Number of Troops we have at President. The two prevailing opinion are, that we shall abandoned this Part of the Country for Canada, or carry on the War by Excursions against their Sea Port Towns, and put the Threats of the Commissioners in Execution..." The following year, Oakes again wrote to Conway, still quartered in Jamaica, on the "30th No[vember 1779]." Although the northern campaign of 1779 was indecisive, prospects were looking sunny in the south with the successful capture of Savannah and the restoration of royal government in Georgia. Oakes sends congratulations "...upon our great Success in Georgia; which has been celebrated here by the Whole army firing a Few de Jose! a Mode of rejoicing, which has never been practiced by us before since the Commencement of the War: and it is now put upon the Footing of having gained a Victory over the French; assisted by the rebellious Colonys [sic]. We have also an Account from the West Indies, of Admiral Parker having taken and destroyed the whole of the Reinforcement consisting of twelve Sail of the Line, that was coming to D'Estaing, which joined to our Success in Georgia, seems to have totally changed the face of Affairs in this Part the World; which before wore a very gloomy Aspect. It is said that the Congress have taken great Offence at the Garrison of Savannah being summon'd [several words lost]...The Army have been in their Winter Quarters a fortnight, which are much the same as last Year; only more crowded on Account of the Rhode Island Garrison..."

    In 1780, Oakes accompanied a large expedition against South Carolina. The mission, designed to capitalize on the successes of 1779, was to capture Charleston, South Carolina, and set the stage Cornwallis' southern campaigns of 1780-81. Writing the day following the disastrous American surrender of Charleston, "Camp at [Charles] Town South Carolina", May 13, 1780, he describes the expedition beginning from its departure from New York in the late winter: "...The Fleet with eight thousand Troops on board destined for the taking of this Place, sailed from Sandy Hook on the twenty sixth of December, and after the most tempestuous and disagre[e]able Voyage I ever remember, which almost totally dispersed the fleet; the main Body got into Tybee Harbour on the first and second of February a good deal shattered...we [moved] for North Edisto River and arrived the four Days the whole of John's Island was in our Possession without a Shot being fired. On the twenty fifth we made a landing on James Island, and in three Days the greatest Part of the Army were got over; from this Place we got our first View of the Town, which from the Number and force of their Vessels of different kinds, and the Strength of their Batterys appeared very formidable... Unavoidable Delays now began to ensue, owing to the difficulty of the Navigation through the Creeks, by which we got up our Provisions, and the want of Horses to get up our heavy Artillery..." Oakes then describes the effort to secure "Charles Town Neck to lay Siege to the Place..." On April 1, the army was in place to begin the first trench 800 yards from the American positions. "Nine Days afterwards our Ships of War passed their invincible Fort and battery, on Sullivans Island with the small Loss of eight Men killed and fourteen wounded, and came to Anchor just out of Gun Shot of the Town; this Event alarmed and surprized them a good deal, or they thought it was next to an impossibility; they were soon after summoned to surrender but refused; On the eleventh of this Month finding they were compleately [sic]Blockaded, and that at we were proceeding by sure and regular Methods to take the Place...they sent out a Flag saying they would accept the Terms offered them two Days before, and yesterday they marched out Prisoners of War by the best Accounts I can get to the Amount of five Thousand..." Describing the scene during the siege, he writes, "...we had a constant fire of Canon and small Arms upon us..." Looking to the future campaign, he reports "We expect to march into the County immediately, and I am credibly informed that when we make our Appearance in North Carolina, there will be five Thousand Men in Arms who will join us; so that I hope I shall soon be able to tell your Lordship that the Southern Colonys [sic]are all ours. If our Fleet at Home are Successful I make no Doubt but the War will soon be brought to a Conclusion..." Writing a week later, on May 21, 1780, Oakes looks ahead to the pacification of the Carolinas and a swift end to the war: "...Every thing in this Part of the Country wears the most promising Appearances: Since the Surrender of Charles Town the Militia have come in great Numbers, and laying down their Arms; they all express their earnest Desires to accept of any Terms, or do anything towards the establishing Peace and good order in these Provinces that shall be proposed; and which I make not Doubt will be soon effected, as the only remaining Force they have to the Southward is at Camden, a Hundred Miles up the Country; which it is reported consisted of eleven Hundred Militia. Lord Cornwallis is marched that Way with a Corps of four Thousand Men to dislodge them, and to take their publick Stores...I believe these provinces will soon be completely ours. the spring of this Place, which was their principal trading Port, has certainly bear a very severe blow against them...a vast number of Deserters have come in from Washington's Army to New York, who all agree that the Reduction of Charles Town is the ultimatum of the War..."

    The fall of Charleston appeared to be a disaster for the American cause. Before getting the official news on it's fall, the continuing siege worried Washington. His army was in a precarious state in the spring of 1780: "...I confess I am infinitely anxious myself about the issue of the operations against Charles Town, and wish most cordially that we had it in our power to pursue means which would certainly relieve it. The unhappy state of our finance is opposed to this and lays us under every embarrassment that can be conceived. If we could once get this in a more favourable train, our affairs would look up and we might do a Thousand things which are now utterly impracticable..." (Washington to Anthony Wayne, May 18, 1780, quoted in Fitzpatrick.)

    These magnificent letters were written to prominent opposition politician Henry Seymour Conway as it was discovered among other related correspondence to him offered in this auction. Conway (1721-95), began his career as a British officer serving in the War of Austrian Secession and the Seven Years' War. Conway sat in the House of Commons from 1741 to 1774 and again from 1775 to 1784. A leading Whig, he opposed the King's actions to suppress John Wilkes in 1763. He was appointed Secretary of State for the Southern Department 1763-5, and for the Northern Department through 1768 where he promoted a policy of moderation toward the colonies supporting the repeal of the Stamp Act in 1766. For his efforts, several towns in America were named in his honor. Throughout the war, Conway opposed efforts to suppress the revolution and was partly responsible for the fall of North's government in 1782, paving the way for a peace settlement.

    All the letters bear some losses at top margin and along one part of vertical creases which affect text, otherwise good condition and still quite bright with dark distinct handwriting.

    Auction Info

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