‘Battle of Sullivan’s Island’ celebrated each June with special events, reenactments
By Tim Lowry
Photos by the National Parks Service
All the nation will celebrate Independence Day on July 4. However, South Carolinians, and Charlestonians in particular, will begin the festivities a week earlier, on June 28 which has been known for over 200 years as Carolina Day.
It was on this date in 1776 that South Carolina achieved the first decisive victory of the American Revolution at the Battle of Sullivan’s Island, encouraging all of the colonies to mutually pledge their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor in the fight for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Church bells will ring out across the historic city of Charleston and there will be a commemorative service at St. Michael’s Anglican Church. Following the service, citizens, dignitaries and costumed Revolutionary reenactors will gather in Washington Park at the corner of Meeting Street and Broad Street and process with all the pomp and circumstance that bagpipes and flags afford to nearby White Point Gardens for a ceremony of speeches and commemorations.
Additionally, Fort Moultrie, located at 1214 Middle Street on Sullivan’s Island, will hold its annual special event on Saturday, June 25 from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. and Sunday, June 26 from 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. Living history groups in period uniform, cannon firing demonstrations, musket drills and other programming will be held throughout the day to commemorate the victory over the British troops. Park fees will be waived on Saturday.
Battle of Sullivan’s Island
Many in congress doubted whether independence from Great Britain could actually be achieved…not until the battle was won at a humble palmetto log fort in the Charleston Harbor, that is.
It was audacious, some even claimed it to be foolhardy, to challenge such a great power as the British crown with its very capable army and unstoppable navy. However, audacity came naturally to the people of South Carolina.
The men of South Carolina, under the leadership of Colonel William Moultrie, prepared for the inevitable arrival of British troops by constructing a small fort on Sullivan’s Island at the mouth of the Cooper River.
From this vantage point, Moultrie and his men could monitor for British ships endeavoring to enter the Charleston Harbor. When a flotilla flying the Union Jack came over the horizon, the unfinished fort—which was little more than earthworks made of sand and palmetto logs stocked with fewer than 40 guns—seemed a ridiculous defense against nine powerful ships of war carrying nearly 300 cannons and British troops to boot.
However, this humble construction contained a group of volunteers who were made of a grit and determination that proved superior to British pride and arrogance.
Details of the fiery engagement state that when the British Admiral Peter Parker was offered the opportunity to sail away and preserve his ships, he refused to remove His Majesty’s navy for a bunch of “ragtag ruffians” from South Carolina.
Instead, he proceeded to pound the little palmetto log fort with a barrage of cannon fire that should have reduced the structure to ruins.
However, the men inside the fort returned fire in a deliberate and “exceedingly well-directed” fashion. The battle resulted in minor damage to the fort and less than 40 American casualties compared to the complete loss of one ship, extensive damage to several others, and over 200 casualties on the British side.
A Wild Rumpus
The humiliation of Admiral Peter Parker is particularly noteworthy as one of those “exceedingly well-directed” shots tore his pants right off his body. He elected to gloss over this detail in official documents by simply saying that he had suffered minor injuries that were not worth mentioning. But other eyewitness accounts gleefully report that he was “exposed to the elements in a most embarrassing fashion.”
In fact, one balladeer, taking his inspiration from Boston’s already famous Yankee Doodle song, sang that Parker’s “guns made a terrible rumpus, but his pride took a fall when a well-aimed ball propelled him along on his bumpus.”
An official report of South Carolina’s complete victory over superior British forces was written up and sent post haste to the congress in Philadelphia. When the account was read to the representatives of the different colonies, many of the men who had been doubters and were “on the fence” so to speak, decided to vote for independence and proceeded to sign the declaration. And the rest is, as they say, history!
In order to preserve this story and many others that make up the incredible events of that day, the Palmetto Society was founded for the purpose of marking the anniversary of the Battle of Sullivan’s Island “Carolina Day.”
All South Carolinians are encouraged to join in the festivities. More information about the downtown event can be found at www.palmettosociety.org.
Celebrate the 245th annual Carolina Day with a free one-hour tour on June 28 led by Southern storyteller and raconteur Tim Lowry, “The Sweet Tea Commentator.” Beginning at 8:45 a.m. at the gazebo in White Point Gardens, the tour will conclude at St. Michael’s Church in time to attend the annual Carolina Day commemorative service and join the celebratory processional. The stroll is free, but space is limited. Call 843-324-1366 to reserve your spot.