As the French mobilized to move against the British, the face of the war changed. Not only did the British have to worry about fighting in North America, but now they would also have to be prepared to fight the French, Spanish and Dutch in Europe, the Caribbean and elsewhere.
Although the Americans attacked Nassau in the Bahamas in 1776 and again in 1778, they were too weak to capture and hold the town. The American navy was also too weak to be a real threat to the British (Savas, 166). To the British, these attacks were minor annoyances. Now that the British were fighting a world war, they had to focus more men and supplies elsewhere. This did not stop the campaign which had begun in the southern colonies from progressing however.
The British took Savannah, Georgia from the Americans in December 1778. As 1779 dawned, Clinton, believing the people of the south to be indifferent, decided to make an attempt to subdue Georgia and move north into South Carolina (Mackesy, 338). Small engagements were fought in Georgia in February and March before the Americans retreated from the state (Savas, 208).
In April 1780, the British moved to take Charleston, South Carolina, a major port city garrisoned by about 7,000 Americans. If Clinton was successful in taking the city, he would have a beachhead established for pacifying the remainder of the Carolinas. Victorious at Charleston, the British gained the port city and about 7,000 prisoners, plus materials, etc. (Mackesy, 341). Established in the Carolinas, Clinton’s forces began fanning out across the state. Smaller battles were waged over the following months, until the armies met in mid-August at Camden. The American defeat here effectively placed South Carolina and Georgia firmly under the control of the British. The control, however, would be short-lived.
A large part of the British force in the south, now under Cornwallis (Clinton went back to New York), was composed of Loyalists, who gave the campaign “the murderous character of a civil war” (Mackesy, 344). Cornwallis wished to move north into North Carolina, assuming that his Tory militia could maintain control in South Carolina. Unfortunately for Cornwallis, a force of about 1,000 men was defeated by an American force made up mostly of frontier men at Kings Mountain in South Carolina in October. With this American force now threatening his rear, and the people of North Carolina less than enthusiastic at his presence, Cornwallis ended his North Carolina offensive and proceeded back to South Carolina.
Despite the entrance into the war of the French and Spanish the British looked to be in control of the war in North America. The American army was on the run, and the French seemed too inept to threaten the British on the American coast. A most fortunate victory by a band of frontiersmen at Kings Mountain turned the tide of the war in the Americans favor, and demoralized the British army, closing 1780 in much the same way 1776 and 1777 were closed.
Mackesy, Piers. The War for America 1775-1783. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1964.
Savas, Theodore P. and J. David Dameron. A Guide to the Battles of the American Revolution. New York: Savas Beatie, 2006.
Wood, W.J. Battles of the Revolutionary War, 1775-1781. Chapel Hill: Da Capo Press, 2003.