An American debacle at Charleston

[Banastre Tarleton] / William Faden, PLAN of the SIEGE of CHARLESTOWN in South Carolina. London, March 1, 1787.
Engraved map on very heavy laid paper, 10"h x 11 ¾"w plus very wide margins, spot color

A fine example of Banastre Tarleton’s plan of the Siege of Charlestown, one of the greatest American setbacks of the Revolution. Offered here on excellent, heavy paper with very wide margins.

The siege
This map depicts in great detail the siege of Charleston, conducted by the British forces in early 1780 at the beginning of their Southern Campaign. A massive force of 14,000 men led by Sir Henry Clinton, the British commander-in-chief in North America, landed at the estuary of the Edisto River and marched quickly northward to take the southern bank of Charleston harbour on March 6th. The American garrison was led by General Benjamin Lincoln and numbered only 5,500. Lincoln should never have attempted to hold the town, since British troop superiority and control of the sea essentially ensured that the Americans would be cut off.

As the map shows, Clinton outgeneraled Lincoln by crossing the Ashley River well upstream from Charleston, where his troops could land unopposed. They proceeded to build siege works across Charleston Neck, while a British squadron entered the harbor and severed the town’s access to the sea. Clinton offered Lincoln the chance to surrender, but the Americans refused, and on April 10th the British began to bombard the town. The next day, a force under Tarleton defeated an attempt by Major-General Isaac Huger to break the British lines at Monk’s Corner near the Cooper River. Running low on provisions and ammunition, Lincoln finally surrendered to Clinton on May 12th. Clinton returned to New York in June, leaving Lord Cornwallis in command, with instructions to reduce the Carolinas.

Banastre Tarleton
This battle plan was produced for Tarleton’s memoir A History of the Campaigns of 1780 and 1781, in the southern provinces of North America. After squandering a large inheritance Tarleton had enlisted in the British Army and distinguished himself as a cavalry officer in fighting against the Americans. He excelled at frontier warfare and worked well with American Loyalists. Chosen by Sir Henry Clinton to head the cavalry forces, now called “Tarleton’s Raiders,” in the Southern campaign, Tarleton distinguished himself not only at Charleston, Camden and Guilford Courthouse. Though his force was nearly decimated at the Battle of Cowpens, he survived and continued to fight until the British capitulation at the siege of Yorktown.

He was loathed by the Americans, having gained a reputation for gratuitous violence towards his military opponents and acts of cruelty towards the civilian population. When George Washington invited the senior British officers to a banquet following Yorktown, Tarleton was the only officer excluded from the guest list. When he returned to England, he wrote his memoirs of the campaign, which included generous measures of self-adulation and a scathing attack on Lord Cornwallis, whom he blamed for the ultimate British defeat in America. He was later elected an MP, made a Baronet and a General, and served as a military administrator in Ireland.

The plan seems to have been issued at least four, possibly five times:

–1787 and possibly later: Presumed separate issue
–1787: In Tarleton’s History of the Campaigns
–1793: In William Faden’s Atlas of Battles of the American Revolution
–1794: In Stedman’ History of the Origin, Progress and Termination of the American War (possibly from the same plate, though with changes to the imprint)
–1796: In the second edition of Tarleton’s History

The map is not at all rare, but the vast majority of impressions are inferior examples printed on thinner paper and folded for inclusion in Tarleton’s or Stedman’s histories. The example offered here is on very heavy laid paper and was never folded, suggesting that it was either separately issued or edge-bound in a copy of Faden’s Atlas of Battles of the American Revolution.

Nebenzahl, Atlas of the American Revolution discusses Burgoyne’s expedition on pages 165 and 169. Nebenzahl, Bibliography of Printed Battle Plans, #83. Sellers & Van Ee, Maps and Charts of North America and the West Indies, #1561.