As the birthday of the United States approaches, I thought I would share one of my favorite stories of the Revolution. Many years ago, I stumbled across an officer’s account of the Battle of Fort Sullivan on June 28, 1776. Shortly after our success at Bunker Hill, British warships advanced toward Charleston with the intention of conquering the port city, thereby isolating the South and cutting off a key supply route for the rebellious colonies. If successful, the British would strangle the nascent rebellion before it had a chance to blossom into a revolution.
A single fort stood in the way of the British: A small unnamed and incomplete outpost on Sullivan’s Island. The fort was led by a maverick Colonel William Moultrie and his young band of inexperienced and passionate patriots.
All predicted the British would rout the young revolutionaries and plow forward to victory in Charleston. Without their important port, the rebellious colonies would inevitably surrender. But as it turned out, Providence and the Spirit of 76 would prove too much for the British.
Though the underdog patriots emerged victorious, it wasn’t easy. And as with all battles, it came with great sacrifice. An early casualty of the engagement was a young soldier remembered only as Sgt McDaniel.
All we know about the soldier are his actions in the last moments of his life: When a British canon ball tore through his torso and drove him into the sandy earth, McDaniel’s last words were not expressions of anguish, regret, or pain. Instead, he raised his bloody body up onto his knees and with his last breath, he bellowed:
“Fight on my brave boys; Do not let liberty expire with me today!”
And his boys did fight on. They defeated the British battleships and drove the most powerful military in the world back to England. Their victory preserved Charleston for four more years—long enough for the Revolution to mature and the new nation to emerge victorious.
Thanks Colonel Moultrie. Thanks General Washington. Thanks Ben Franklin. Thanks John and Abigail. Thanks TJ. Thanks Molly Pitcher, Nathan Hale, and the Swamp Fox. And thanks to the unknown patriots like Sgt McDaniel and the thousands since who have given the ultimate gift.
Many have observed that “in a democracy, the people get the government they deserve.” This July 4th, let’s recall the great gift our patriots gave us—the freedom to choose the course of our republic—and let’s resolve to make their sacrifices worthwhile.