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Painted illustration of the Siege of Ninety Six

Ninety Six

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 Context

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.

Forces Engaged
2,050
American
1,500
British
550

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.

American
147
57 killed
70 wounded
20 missing & captured
Estimated Casualties
232
American
147
British
85
British
85
27 killed
58 wounded
0 missing & captured

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.

1. Where did the idea of the Maham tower come from during the siege?

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.

2. What role did the star-shaped fort play in the siege?

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.

All battles of the Southern Theater 1780 - 1783 Campaign

Rev War  |  Battle
Charleston
South Carolina  |  Feb 11 - May 12, 1780
Result: British Victory
Est. Casualties: 5,764
American: 5,506
British: 258
Rev War  |  Battle
Lenud's Ferry
Berkeley County, SC  |  May 6, 1780
Result: British Victory
Est. Casualties: 41
American: 41
Rev War  |  Battle
Waxhaws
South Carolina  |  May 29, 1780
Result: British Victory
Est. Casualties: 333
American: 316
British: 17
Rev War  |  Battle
Alexander's Old Field
Beckhamville, South Carolina  |  Jun 6, 1780
Result: American Victory
Rev War  |  Battle
Huck's Defeat
South Carolina  |  Jul 12, 1780
Result: American Victory
Est. Casualties: 96
American: 1
British: 95
Rev War  |  Battle
Rocky Mount
Fairfield County, South Carolina  |  Jul 30, 1780
Result: British Victory
Est. Casualties: 32
American: 12
British: 20
Rev War  |  Battle
Camden
South Carolina  |  Aug 16, 1780
Result: British Victory
Est. Casualties: 2,224
American: 1,900
British: 324
Rev War  |  Battle
Musgrove Mill
South Carolina  |  Aug 19, 1780
Result: American Victory
Est. Casualties: 149
American: 16
British: 133
Rev War  |  Battle
Kings Mountain
South Carolina  |  Oct 7, 1780
Result: American Victory
Est. Casualties: 1,108
American: 90
British: 1,018
Rev War  |  Battle
Blackstock's Plantation
Union, SC  |  Nov 20, 1780
Result: American Victory
American: 7
British: 192
Rev War  |  Battle
Rugeley's Mill
South Carolina  |  Dec 4, 1780
Result: American Victory
Rev War  |  Battle
Hammond's Store
Laurens County, South Carolina  |  Dec 30, 1780
Result: American Victory
Est. Casualties: 150
British: 150
Rev War  |  Battle
Cowpens
South Carolina  |  Jan 17, 1781
Result: American Victory
Est. Casualties: 1,017
American: 149
British: 868
Rev War  |  Battle
Guilford Courthouse
North Carolina  |  Mar 15, 1781
Result: British Victory
Est. Casualties: 1,842
American: 1,310
British: 532
Rev War  |  Battle
Beattie's Mill
Abbeville County, South Carolina  |  Mar 21, 1781
Result: American Victory
Est. Casualties: 76
British: 76
Rev War  |  Battle
Siege of Fort Watson
Summerton, South Carolina  |  Apr 15 - 23, 1781
Result: American Victory
Est. Casualties: 116
American: 2
British: 114
Rev War  |  Battle
Hobkirk Hill
South Carolina  |  Apr 25, 1781
Result: British Victory
Est. Casualties: 528
American: 270
British: 258
Rev War  |  Battle
Ninety Six
South Carolina  |  May 22 - Jun 19, 1781
Result: British Victory
Est. Casualties: 232
American: 147
British: 85
Rev War  |  Battle
Parker's Ferry
Colleton County, SC  |  Aug 30, 1781
Result: American Victory
Est. Casualties: 209
American: 4
British: 205
Rev War  |  Battle
Eutaw Springs
South Carolina  |  Sep 8, 1781
Result: British Victory
Est. Casualties: 1,461
American: 579
British: 882
Rev War  |  Battle
Wadboo Barony
South Carolina  |  Aug 29, 1782
Result: Inconclusive
Est. Casualties: 20
American: 3
British: 17
Rev War  |  Battle
Dills Bluff
James Island, SC  |  Nov 14, 1782
Result: British Victory
Est. Casualties: 15
American: 10
British: 5

Related Battles

South Carolina | May 22, 1781
Result: British Victory
Commanders
Forces Engaged
2,050
American
1,500
British
550
Estimated Casualties
232
American
147
British
85