Sir Peter Parker
DESCRIPTION: "Sir Peter Parker" relates how he attacked Sullivan's Isle outside Charleston. He receives no support from his superior, Clinton, so the rebels are able to beat off his ship Bristol. Parker decides it's time to return to base
EARLIEST DATE: 1977 (Philadelphia Advertiser) (Source: Lawrence)
KEYWORDS: rebellion war humorous injury
June 28, 1776 - Clinton and Parker's failed assault on Charleston
FOUND IN: US
REFERENCES (3 citations):
Scott-BoA, pp. 64-66, "Sir Peter Parker" (1 text, 1 tune)
Lawrence, p. 70, "A NEW WAR SONG by Sir Peter Parker" (1 text, tune referenced)
cf. "At Sullivan's Isle" (subject)
A New War Song by Sir Peter Parker
NOTES [567 words]: The setting is, of course, the American revolution. Having been completely blocked by the colonials in 1775, the British decided on a two-part strategy in 1776. Most of the troops in Boston were shifted to New York (via Halifax), while a second force was sent to attack Charleston, South Carolina. It was to be a fiasco.
To be fair, the whole thing had been directed from London, and handled at too great a distance. According to Cook, p. 245, "orders were issued in December... to embark the Irish regiments at Cork and head across the Atlantic to rendezvous with a fleet in the American waters off Cape Fear, North Carolina. General Clinton would meet them at the end of February with additional reinforcements from Boston, and the combined armies would head for Charleston." Sir Henry Clinton was to head the army in the Charleston assault, while Sir Peter Parker was in charge of the naval forces. Since Clinton was already in America, and Parker was coming from England in nine ships spearheaded by the 50-gun Bristol, the two did not cooperate well (Stokesbury, p. 83).
The first problem was the timing. Atlantic weather saw to it that Parker's fleet, somewhat depleted, arrived in April, not February. This had the unfortunate effect of seriously weakening the troops, who had been at sea for eighty days (Weintraub, pp. 61-62). Some didn't even arrive for the campaign; the ships went back to Ireland (Stokesbury, p. 83).
Clinton, who had been on the scene, learned that no one even had an accurate map to use when planning the landing. It took a week just to get past the outer bar (Stokesbury, p. 84). So bad was the British information that, when they tried to bombard Charleston, most of the mortar shells landed in unfortified bogs, or at best in soft spots in the forts where they did no damage (Weintraub, p. 62). And as all this was going on, the Americans were bringing in defenders, including three regiments from out of state, as well as Charles Lee, one of the senior officers in the American army (Sstokesbury, p. 84).
Clinton got his troops ashore, but did not attack the crucial colonial position in Fort Moultrie. Indeed, the channels and low islands meant that he couldn't join in Parker's assault; he was stuck on land that had no access to the forts that Parker wanted to attack! (Stokesbury, p. 85). Clinton opposed the final plan, but Parker was in charge and ordered the assault to go ahead. Even this was delayed, by five days, by adverse winds (Stokesbury, p. 85). To get into the harbor, Parker had to try to batter the fort into submission. He failed (Kraus, p. 226), and in the process a colonial shot blew off his breeches (producing the reference to "the wind in my tail," and a sour joke beginning "If honour in the breech is lodged"; Weintraub, p. 62). Other losses were more significant than Parker's pants: Three frigates aground (two would escape, but one had to be destroyed), three ships damaged; the captain of the Bristol lost his right arm. 225 British soldiers and sailors were killed or wounded, compared to just three dozen American casualties (Stokesbury, p. 85).
Clinton and Parker returned to New York. It is likely that both should bear responsibility for the failure, but Parker seems to have borne the brunt of it; when General Howe was recalled from his post as commander of British forces in America, Clinton was chosen to succeed him. - RBW
Last updated in version 4.3
- Cook: Don Cook, The Long Fuse: How England Lost the American colonies 1760-1785, Atlantic Monthly Press, 1995
- Kraus: Michael Kraus, The United States to 1865, University of Michgan Press, 1959
- Stokesbury: James L. Stokesbury, A Short History of the American Revolution, Quill, 1991
- Weintraub: Stanley Weintraub, Iron Tears: Amerca's Battle for Freedom, Britain's Quagmire: 1775-1783, Free Press, 2005
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