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In describing the Revolutionary War, historians often neglect many events which have played important roles in the war. Such is the case with Fort Watson, a British post which became the object of conquest by Francois Marion and Henry Lee during the southern campaign of 1781. The method employed in this operation was unique; the consequences of the success which was achieved were crucial. After the victories of the colonist in 1776 at Moore’s Creek Bridge and Fort Sullivan, the southern colonies had been relatively free from British threat until the fall of 1778. Then British eyes turned southward. In the next two years American forces in the South suffered gradual defeat and Georgia and South Carolina fell into British hands. In October 1780, Major General Nathanael Greene took command of operations in the South. His task was great as his men were ill supplied, poorly trained, and outnumbered by the British. Through Greene’s strategy, the Americans were able to regain the initiative. Greene decided that it would be advantageous to return to South Carolina and strike at the British posts in the interior. While Greene moved toward Camden, he sent Henry Lee to join Francis Marion and strike at Fort Watson, located halfway between Charleston and Camden. This British outpost was important as it protected the British supply routes and lines of communication to the South Carolina interior. Fort Watson, a small wood post, was very strong. It stood upon a mound thirty feet high, the surrounding area bare a cover, and it had three rows of abates at its base. Against this fort, garrisoned by 210 men, was the American force, numbering 380, which reached the location on April 15, 1781. Without artillery or entrenching tools, the besiegers had a formidable task. A large British force nearby might arrive at any time to force the Americans to lift the siege, so immediate action was necessary. When an attempt to cut off the post’s water supply was thwarted, Marion summoned his officers for suggestions. Among the ideas was that of Major Hezekiah Maham who proposed to cut down a number of trees and erect a tower which would overlook the fort and from which riflemen could fire into the garrison. This unique idea was adopted and preparations were made for five days. The British tried to thwart the construction of the tower but this effort as futile. The tower was completed by the morning of April 23. Riflemen took position inside it and at the same time a detachment, under cover of the riflemen, ascended the mound and pulled away the abates. The British, overreached by the tower and their front controlled by the American infantry, were forced to surrender. Thus, this extremely strong post with its 120 men and valuable supplies fell into American hands because of the unique devise known as Maham’s tower. The consequences of the fall of Fort Watson were crucial. It was the first victory for Greene’s army since Cowpens and raised the hopes of the patriots in South Carolina. Maham’s tower was also used again on two occasions. Most important, once Fort Watson had fallen, a chain reaction resulted and, in the space of two months from its fall, every British post in the interior of South Carolina was free from the British stranglehold and the British were forced to retreat to the coast.

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First Committee Member (Chair)

William Miner Dabney

Second Committee Member

George Winston Smith

Third Committee Member

Gunther Eric Rothenburg



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