Town Hall Passions Have Deep Roots
The two sides exchanged cannon fire throughout June 28, 1776. The British fired off 32,000 pounds of powder and the Americans only 5,000. But the fort’s soft Palmetto logs cushioned the cannonballs and the thick mud and sand walls absorbed the exploding bombs.
During the battle, naval fire blasted the flag of the South Carolina militia off its flagpole. The flag is the familiar “Moultrie flag,” with a blue field, white moon crescent, and the simple rallying cry of “Liberty.” White’s painting shows a brave patriot, Sgt. William Jasper, ignoring cannonballs and replacing the fallen flag on a cannon plunger.
Every June 28, our family flies the Moultrie flag at home to remember Sgt. Jasper and the heroes of that battle. By nightfall, the Americans had crippled all but one British ship of the line. Those that could, sulked away from Ft. Moultrie and headed out to sea. The grounded Actaeon was boarded by Americans, who then turned her British guns on retreating British ships. Charleston was saved, and along with it the south and the Revolution.
Prior to the victory at Ft. Moultrie, General Washington had enjoyed little success in the north. The improbable American victory at Ft. Moultrie in June 1776 lifted patriot spirits across the colonies. Word of the outcome reached the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. Members of Congress saw that passionate Americans could actually defeat the king’s navy and they adopted the Declaration of Independence later that week. Many other implausible and providential victories would occur during the next five years of war. But on a hot summer beach in 1776, a few hundred amateur defenders of American liberty hid behind wood and mud walls and defeated the British navy.
White’s painting of the battle now hangs in Washington D.C. It is part of the art collection of the United States Senate. The artist’s son donated it in 1901 so that our “sons may know how their fathers fought to secure the precious boon of liberty.” Let’s hope in the next few weeks some senator stumbles upon the painting and is reminded of the love of liberty that Americans have treasured for centuries.