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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Honoring Carolina Day - June 28th

The Battle of Fort Moultrie by John Blake White (1826).

On this day, June 28th, the State of South Carolina honors Carolina Day in commemoration of the Battle of Sullivan's Island, the first decisive victory for the Southern Continental forces in the American Revolutionary War (1775 - 1783). 

On Friday, June 28, 1776, a small Continental force of 435 men of the 2nd South Carolina Regiment under the command of Colonel William Moultrie defeated an invading British Naval Force of 9 warships commanded by Commodore Sir Peter Parker and General Sir Henry Clinton that was attempting to take the city of Charleston, South Carolina. 

The Continentals were stationed in an unfinished earthen fort on the southern tip of Sullivan's Island at the mouth of Charleston harbor. The fort - named in honor of Moultrie by his men - was little more than a long square-shaped pen about 500 feet long made largely of sand and 16 foot logs cut from Palmetto trees. 

The entrance to Charleston Harbor was protected by sandbanks, a navigational grounding hazard for large naval ships. The channels thought these sandbanks led directly to the end of Sullivan's Island where Fort Moultrie sat with it's 31 cannons and nervous, but determined, Patriot defenders. 

The British fleet sailed to the mouth of the harbor and attacked Fort Moultrie at about 10 AM. The fleet consisted of 9 ships: Parker's flagship the HMS Bristol, Experiment, Active, Actaeon, Solebay, Sphinx, Siren, Friendship, and Thunder. These ships carried a combined complement of 260 naval guns that began to launch broadsides into the sand and log fort. 

The spongy palmetto logs that were used in Fort Moultrie's construction and placed outside of the fortifications with sand between them, actually absorbed the impact of the cannon balls instead of splintering. The sand and palmetto log fort quivered with every broadside, but held. The Continentals inside the fort fired back with their 31 guns with deadly accuracy at the British ships inflicted heavy damage over the course of the nearly 12 hour battle.

Sgt. Jasper and the Liberty Flag.
At one point in the battle, the fort's flag, a blue banner designed by Colonel Moultrie himself with a white crescent moon and the word "Liberty" embroidered on it, was shot away by British cannon fire and fell outside of the fort. A sergeant of the 2nd SC Regiment, William Jasper, at great risk to his life, jumped down the side of the fort even as the British warships continued to bombard the fort and retrieved the flag still attached to the broken staff. Jasper tied the flagstaff to another pole and placed it back upon the rampart. 

The battle ended after 9 PM that evening when the surviving but broken British ships limped away. A little over a week later, the people of Charleston learned of the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The news of their victory, along with the newly declared independence of the 13 former British colonies - now independent and united States - was a huge morale boost for the Patriots and Continental forces. 
The anniversary of the victory was celebrated annually starting in 1777 when it was known as Palmetto Day. The anniversary later became known as Carolina Day for the first time in 1875. Carolina Day remained popular until the mid-20th century, but is still highly regarded today in the City of Charleston. 

Perhaps the most lasting legacy of Carolina Day and the Battle of Sullivan's Island is the Liberty Flag that flew over Fort Moultrie and saved by Sgt. Jasper. This flag would become the basis for the State flag of South Carolina. In honor of the palmetto logs that protected the walls of the sandy fort, the Palmetto tree was added to the current State Flag adopted on January 28, 1861.  
The Liberty Flag, also known as the Moultrie Flag and later as Jasper's Flag.

The State Flag of South Carolina. Adopted in 1861 to present day.

According to South Carolina Code Ann. sec. 53-3-140, "June twenty-eighth of each year, the anniversary of the Battle of Sullivan's Island in 1776, is declared to be 'Carolina Day' in South Carolina." Carolina Day remains a State Holiday in South Carolina, though it is not marked with State office closings like other recognized State holidays like Martin Luther King Day (3rd Monday of January and also a Federal Holiday) or Confederate Memorial Day (May 10th) - though, in this blogger's opinion, it should be. 

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