Book Review: To the Last Extremity: The Battles for Charleston, 1776-1782


by Mark Maloy

El Dorado Hills, Ca.: Savas Beatie, 2023. Pp. xxiv, 168. Illus., maps, appends., notes, biblio. $16.95 paper. ISBN: 1611216435

The Protracted Struggle for Charleston

The sixth volume in Savas Beatie’s "Emerging Revolutionary War" series, To the Last Extremity offers an overview of events in and around Charleston, S. C. on the eve of the war and then looks at the conflict around the city “during the war, including the Battle of Sullivan’s Island, Prevost’s 1779 invasion, the 1780 Siege of Charleston, and the occupation and liberation of the city.”

Malloy, who teaches history in St. Louis, opens with some background on Charleston and the coming of the Revolution, noting that into 1775-1776 it was a city divided in its loyalties, between the crown and the Patriots, who would soon opt for independence.

Malloy discusses the city's role in the war, and then points out that, “thousands fought, bled, and died in the battles for Charleston,” but those events were largely overshadowed by developments elsewhere; Sullivan's Island, in June 1776, by the imminent British assault on New York. This neglect has been reinforced by the fact that George Washington – around whom much writing about the War for Independence revolves – was not present at either siege, and finally, of course, because the fall of Charleston in 1780 was an embarrassing Patriot defeat.

Malloy covers both major operation around Charleston in some detail. During the British attempt to take the city in 1776, Maj. Gen. Charles Lee preferred not to fight the enemy on Sullivan’s Island, but Col. William Moultrie was adamant that they could be stopped there, and did so in an heroic stand, earning him a promotion to brigadier general, and was widely regarded as the hero of Sullivan’s Island.

After briefly discussing British general Augustine Prévost's unsuccessful raid on the city and its environs in 1779, Malloy moves on to the British siege of the city the following year.

Maj. Gen. Benjamin Lincoln faced an extremely challenging situation in defending Charleston, exposed to attack from the sea as well as land, with limited manpower and resources, but refused to abandon the city. The British arrived with a very large fleet, and more than twice as many troops as Lincoln had. The siege began on March 29, 1780. Despite stout resistance and efforts at relieving the siege, Lincoln surrendered on May 12, 1780. Over 5,000 troops were taken prisoner, plus an enormous amount of equipment and stores. Some of the prisoners were paroled, but thousands were housed in prison ships in Charleston Harbor, about 800 of whom died from illness, exposure, and starvation, their bodies thrown into the harbor.

Patriot resistance continued in the back country, as the British attempted to capture the southern colonies, while Charleston and its environs suffered under a heavy-handed occupation. Ultimately the Patriots were successful in holding the south, but the British held out in Charleston until virtually the end of the war.

As with other volumes in the "Emerging Revolutionary War" series, this includes a tour guide for those wishing to visit the sites of note in the struggle for Charleston.

An important story, this wonderfully written book is highly recommended for students of the Revolution, and particularly for those seeking to learn more about Charleston and “appreciate its rich history.”


Our Reviewer: David Marshall has been a high school American history teacher in the Miami-Dade School district for more than three decades. A life-long Civil War enthusiast, David is president of the Miami Civil War Round Table Book Club. In addition to numerous reviews in Civil War News and other publications, he has given presentations to Civil War Round Tables on Joshua Chamberlain, Ulysses S. Grant, Abraham Lincoln, the Battle of Gettysburg, and the common soldier. His most recent previous reviews here include Lieutenant General James Longstreet, Count the Dead, All Roads Led To Gettysburg, Unhappy Catastrophes, The Heart of Hell, The Whartons' War, Gettysburg’s Southern Front , Civil War Monuments and Memorials, The Tale Untwisted, The Confederate Military Forces in the Trans-Mississippi West, The Civilian War, The Carnage was Fearful, The Civil Wars of Joseph E. Johnston, Confederate States Army, Vol. I, Navigating Liberty: Black Refugees and Antislavery Reformers in the Civil War South, Gettysburg In Color, Vol 1, "The Bullets Flew Like Hail", John Brown's Raid, Searching For Irvin McDowell, A House Built by Slaves, They Came Only To Die, General Grant and the Verdict of History, Gettysburg In Color, Vol 2, and Man of Fire.



Note: To the Last Extremity is also available in e-editions.


StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium

Reviewer: David Marshall   

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