This Day in History: May 12

On this day in 1780, following a siege that began on April 2 of that year, Americans suffer their worst defeat of the American Revolution, with the unconditional surrender of Major General Benjamin Lincoln to British Lieutenant General Sir Henry Clinton and his army of 10,000 in Charleston, South Carolina.

The British captured more than 3,000 Patriots and a great quantity of munitions and equipment, with 250 of their own killed and wounded in the process. Confident of British control in the South, Lieutenant General Clinton sailed north to British-occupied New York after having learned of an impending French expedition to the northern state. He left General Charles Cornwallis in command of over 8,000 British forces in the South.

South Carolina was a bitterly divided state, and the British presence unleashed the full violence of a civil war upon the population. The guerrilla warfare strategies employed by Patriots Thomas Sumter, Nathanael Greene, and Francis Marion throughout the Carolina campaign of 1780-81 eventually pushed the far more numerous British force into Virginia.

Having suffered the humiliation of surrendering to the British at Charleston, Major General Lincoln eventually witnessed Cornwallis surrender to General George Washington at Yorktown on October 20.

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