Colonel Koscuiszko’s Southern Campaign

By 1778, British and American combatants in the north were stalemated, and a quick end to the Revolutionary War was doubtful. The British now rekindled a plan for putting down the rebellion by first controlling the southern colonies and then sweeping north to total victory. The strategy began well. Savannah was captured in late 1778, and Charleston fell in 1780. Lord Cornwallis, the British commander in the south, then planned to move his troops through the Carolina backcountry providing encouragement to loyalists there. Cornwallis' intent was to enlist a strong loyalist militia which, supported by British regulars, would control the backcountry. This proved successful as loyalist militia units formed and maneuvered throughout the area. By the summer of 1780, British control of South Carolina seemed assured, especially after Cornwallis' crushing defeat of American forces at Camden in August, 1780. Cornwallis was ready to begin his march northward.

Standing in Cornwallis’s way was General Nathaniel Greene, commander of General Washington’s Southern Army, and Greene’s chief engineer, Koscuiszko. Greene who liked to move his troops swiftly preferred to use water transportation when possible. This kept his engineer busy exploring rivers in the wilderness of the western Carolinas, finding campsites, and superintending construction of fleets of small boats.

Lord Cornwallis began constructing outposts throughout the Carolinas, but Greene was successful in capturing them one by one. Only the British fort at Augusta and a town named Ninety-six withstood the Patriots forces. (This frontier town got its name because it was ninety six miles to the next trading post.) In the spring of 1781 Greene split his army sending troops to Augusta while he and 1,000 patriots laid siege to the British fort at Ninety-six. During the month long siege, Koscuiszko directed the day by day construction of a geometric pattern of trenches which enabled the attackers slowly to approach the fortress without exposure to gunfire. The siege was not successful, however, and had to be abandoned when British reinforcements arrived. 225 plus years later one is still able to see the remains of a tunnel or “mine” with which Koscuiszko hoped to blow up the main redoubt.

With the fall of the British fort at Augusta and stinging defeats at Cowpens and Kings Mountain, Cornwallis was forced out of the back country and became trapped at Yorktown, Virginia. His surrender in October 1781 signaled the end of the American Revolution. However, Charleston, Savannah and other places remain in British hands and sporadic action continued for two more years. General Greene put Koscuiszko in command of a small detachment of infantry which figured in the capture of James Island near Charleston. Here the last gunfight of the war was waged and when the British abandoned Charleston in December of 1782, Koscuiszko led a parade of his men into the city.

Released from the Army service in June 1783, Koscuiszko came to Philadelphia to wind up his affairs in America. He was promoted to Brigadier General and voted a special resolution of thanks by Congress. He was in New York towards the end of 1783 when Washington made a triumphal entry into the city and was at Faunces’ Tavern to hear the Commander-in-chief’s final farewell address to his army. Thaddeus Koscuiszko received two gifts from Washington; an engraved sword and a handsome pair of pistols. Along with other officers of Washington’s army, Koscuiszko became an original member of the Society of the Cincinnati at the age of 37 along with George Washington who was then 51.