To The Last Extremity: The Battles for Charleston, 1776–1782

BOOK REVIEW: To the Last Extremity: The Battles for Charleston, 1776-1782 by Mark Maloy (El Dorado Hills, CA: Savas Beatie LLC, 2023)

“Walking through historic Charleston, the sight of hundreds of 18th- and 19th-century buildings will transport you back in time. The sound of horse hooves clopping on the city streets echoes off the buildings and sea breezes shake the fronds of the numerous palmetto trees. Tourists stop to read signs and placards that note the numerous historic sites, and they enjoy historic tours of the city. Although remembered for its history as the “Cradle of the Confederacy” and the site of the first shots of the American Civil War, the city’s Revolutionary War history is less well known.” (page xii)

Historian Mark Maloy’s book To the Last Extremity: The Battles for Charleston, 1776-1782 successfully relates some of the important moments of the American Revolution in Charleston, South Carolina. Whereas many people are more familiar with Revolutionary Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, Maloy shows that Charleston also has an exciting and notable history, making the city equal to the “big three.” Charleston was an important port for the British to attempt to capture, which they would try to do more than once before they were successful. Maloy’s book is not only a succinct history of Charleston, but it also includes descriptions of tours where tourists can go to see and learn about that history. Perfect for the travelling historian!

The story of the Revolutionary War in Charleston begins in 1775 when South Carolina responded in solidarity with the other colonies in their support for Massachusetts after the outbreak of war at Lexington and Concord, becoming an early advocate for independence. Henry Clinton and Charles Cornwallis led the first invasion of Charleston in June 1776, which became known as the Battle of Sullivan’s Island. Americans stationed at Fort Moultrie were victorious, and William Jasper became famous for replacing the Patriot’s flag after it had been knocked down by a British cannonball. The British returned to Charleston harbor in 1779, fighting the Americans at the Battle of Stono Ferry in June.

The British under Clinton invaded the area around Charleston between February and March 1780. Building parallels around the city, the British laid siege to Charleston. Patriot general Benjamin Lincoln surrendered the city in May, making it the largest defeat of the American army during the Revolutionary War. The British occupied Charleston for the remainder of the war, using the infamous prison ships to hold prisoners of war in Charleston harbor. Charleston was finally liberated on December 14, 1782 when the British left the harbor, carrying loyalists and freed enslaved African Americans to either Nova Scotia or across the Atlantic.

The cast of characters in Maloy’s brief narrative includes some of the most recognizable names from the American Revolution: George Washington, Charles Lee, Banastre Tarleton, Henry Clinton, John Rutledge, Lord Cornwallis, Nathanael Greene, Anthony Wayne, Benjamin Lincoln, and John Laurens. Elizabeth Hutchinson Jackson, whose young son Andrew would become the seventh president, was mentioned, and a small stone memorial dedicated to her is pictured.

There are two appendices in the book, one of which details the visit that President George Washington made to Charleston in 1791. Historical markers throughout the city plot his famous entrance and tour through the city. The last appendix focuses on how Charleston’s Revolutionary War past has been portrayed. Many glorify only the victory of the Americans at Sullivan’s Island in 1776, while the siege, surrender and occupation of the city are obviously not remembered with any sense of pride. Charleston’s role in the nineteenth century as the setting for the start of the Civil War made the city infamous, as some still see it today.

The truly unique aspect of To the Last Extremity is the description of several walking and driving tours through the city. Tourists can follow any one of three tours that Maloy guides the reader through: the northern side of the harbor, the southern side, and downtown Charleston. Just as many have tread upon the famous sites on the Freeedom Trail in Boston, people can walk along the routes taken by American and British soldiers, see the remains of the parallels dug by the British, and visit famous homes used by both sides. Maloy explains what people will see if they walk or drive through different parts of the city. As the title suggests, today’s historians can see that the Charleston Patriots were willing to defend their city “To the Last Extremity.” An excellent combination of historical narrative and guide book.

PLEASE CONSIDER PURCHASING THIS BOOK FROM AMAZON IN PAPER or KINDLE(As an Amazon Associate, JAR earns from qualifying purchases. This helps toward providing our content free of charge.)

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1 Comment

  • The DAR reports that the 14th Continental Virginia Line was sent by General George to Charleston. It’s commanding officers were Colonel John Neville and Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Dillard who were both wounded and captured at the battle of Charleston in 1780. They were both freed and paroled. General George ordered Colonel Dillard to Knoxville and Colonel Neville to Pittsburgh. Both had been also wounded at French Lick, as they were at Charleston in 1780, in the rear guard action in which Colonial Militia Commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Washington extracted what was left of General Braddock’s British Regulars in 1755. Among the fleeing British, was Captain Horatio Gates whose hatred of Washington inspired the famous Cabal to remove the Commander in Chief of all American forces. At the Battle of Camden the bragadocious Gates, was whipped by Lt.Gen. Cornwallis whom Gates referred to as a crude upstart.

    Hope this helps. I forget the DAR record number, but if need be Miss Melissa Dillard, historian, lives here in Copper Basin, and I can ask her for the number of her 9th Great Grand Lt.Col. Dillard if need be. (Old Tom) Dillard formerly of Essex County, Virginia Colony. Washington, Dillard, and Neville frequented the Tappannock Tavern where 6’4″ young George arm wrestled all comers, as an early form of juvenile delinquents in the 1740’s. I understand they were rather rowdy. The Neville family are described as being long time retainers of the Augustine Washington family.

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