Fort Watson

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Fort Watson

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In late December of 1780 or early January 1781, Lieutenant Colonel John Watson ordered the construction of a fort to help defend the British supply chain from Charles Town (modern day Charleston, SC) to Camden, South Carolina. He chose to build this fort on top of an old Santee Indian Burial and Ceremonial Mound that had been abandoned by the Santee as their numbers dwindled from diseases brought by the Spanish.  

The fort was built on the top of the mound with three rows of abatises flanking the base. Abatises are sharpened logs and branches that are roped together to form a barrier that is difficult for opposing foot soldiers to cross. This barrier proved successful when General Thomas Sumter tried and failed to attack the fort in February of 1781.  

On April 15th of that same year, Brigadier General Francis Marion made another attempt to capture the stronghold. The first skirmish resulted in the fort’s hospital being set ablaze but did not significantly weaken the main fortification. Marion ordered the fort’s water supply via the Santee River to be cut and requested artillery to be sent from troops stationed near Camden. Undeterred, Lieutenant James McKay dug a well within the fort’s walls and waited for British reinforcements. 

The requested artillery never materialized, and Lieutenant Colonel Hezekiah Maham proposed to build a wooden siege tower. This wooden tower would allow a vertical advantage over the British and allow riflemen to shoot directly into the foot. Over the course of the next five days, patriots cut down trees for the 40-foot tower. This technique would be named “Maham Tower” in honor of the Lieutenant Colonel and would be used again that June to capture Fort Cornwallis in Augusta, Georgia.    

On April 23, 1781 the tower was erected, and one contingent fired on the British from above as another started dismantling the abatises. Lieutenant McKay quickly surrendered the fort. Then, once the British forces had been removed, the fort was subsequently destroyed by the patriots.  

Battle Facts

COMMANDERS
Forces Engaged
514

American

400

British

114
Total Estimated Casualties
116

American

2
2
killed
0
wounded
0
missing & captured

British

114
0
killed
0
wounded
114
missing & captured