Siege of Ninety Six
South Carolina | May 22 - Jun 19, 1781
From May to June of 1781, Patriot General Nathanael Greene besieged the vital South Carolina post of Ninety Six. By the middle of June, Greene decided to launch an all-out assault but could not capture the garrison.
How It Ended
British Victory. After learning that a relief party from the British garrison at Charleston was almost a day’s march away from Ninety Six, Greene decided to launch an all-out assault on the British fort on June 18th. In the resulting action, Greene’s forces failed to capture the town and withdrew the following day.
In April 1781, Lord Cornwallis moved his British army into Virginia. American General Nathanael Greene responded by launching a campaign to retake the Carolinas. Greene’s forces soon drove the British from Fort Watson and Camden. The American general then turned his attention to the outpost at Ninety Six so named as it was thought to be 96 miles from the Cherokee village of Keowee in western South Carolina.
By May 22nd, Greene’s army arrived on the outskirts of the town and found that it was defended by 550 Loyalists under Lt. Col. John H. Cruger. After surveying the area, Greene found that the town’s strongest defense was the star-shaped fort.
Following their arrival, Greene’s forces immediately began siege operations. Under the leadership of his chief engineer Thaddeus Kosciuszko, Greene’s forces focused their efforts on the star-shaped fort. Desperate to gain any sort of advantage, Greene constructed a Maham tower that his sharpshooters could fire into the fort when it was fully constructed. By June 11th, Greene learned that a British relief party, numbering nearly 2,000 men under the command of Lord Rawdon, was headed towards him. Realizing time was against him, Greene prepared to launch an all-out assault on the British garrison. On June 18th, the Patriot army launched its assault. The British, however, counterattacked and drove back Greene’s men.
After failing to take the British outpost, Greene learned that the British relief party was only thirty miles away. The following day, Greene retreated from the field, ended the siege, and fell back to the High Hills of the Santee below Camden.
In the summer of 1781, Patriot forces across South Carolina attacked and seized British forts. In April, famed partisan Francis Marion and “Light Horse” Harry Lee attacked Fort Watson. The Patriots constructed a tower that allowed them to shoot down onto the British garrison. With this tower, the Patriots forced the British troops to surrender. Facing similar obstacles during the Siege of Ninety Six, Greene used the same method.
British forces defended the vital town of Ninety Six. British engineers constructed a larger redoubt in the shape of a star. In addition, garrison commander John H. Cruger placed a ditch and abatis surrounding the fort to aid in its defense. When Greene’s force besieged the fort in the summer of 1781, they found it almost impenetrable.