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[p85] Earl Cornwallis takes the command of the King's troops in Georgia and South Carolina. -- His disposition of the King's troops. -- Earl Cornwallis goes to Charles town. -- Eight hundred loyalists from North Carolina join the British. -- Intelligence of the continental army. -- The effect it produces in South Carolina. -- Colonel Sumpter attacks Rocky Mount, -- and hanging rock. -- Baron DeKalbe approaches with the American army. -- General Gates supersedes DeKalbe. -- Lord Rawdon assembles the King's troops. -- Earl Cornwallis arrives at Camden. -- Battle near Camden. -- Action near the Catawba fords.
Upon Sir Henry Clinton's departure, the command of the King's troops to the southward devolved to Lieutenant-general Earl Cornwallis. The submission of General Williamson (a.) in Ninety Six, who formerly commanded the militia of that district, and the dispersion of a party of Americans who had assembled at an iron work, on the north-west border of the province, put a temporary period to all resistance in South Carolina. The heat of the summer, the want of stores and provisions, and the unsettled state of Charles town and the country, impeded (b.) the immediate invasion of North Carolina: Earl Cornwallis dispatched emissaries with instructions to the leading men in that province, to attend to the harvest, to prepare provisions, [p86] and to remain quiet, till the King's troops were ready to advance, which operation could not take place before the latter end of August or the beginning of September: That interval of time was deemed indispensably requisite for the construction of magazines with properly-secured communications, for a clear establishment of the militia, and for a final adjustment of those civil and military regulations which in future were to govern Georgia and South Carolina.
In the beginning in June Colonel Lord Rawdon, with the volunteers of Ireland and the detachment of legion cavalry, made a short expedition into a settlement of Irish, situated in the Wacsaws: The sentiments of the inhabitants did not correspond with his lordship's expectations: He there learned what experience confirmed, that the Irish were the most adverse of all other settlers to the British government in America. During the stay of the volunteers of Ireland in the Wacsaws, many of the inhabitants gave their paroles; an obligation they readily violated, when called to arms by the American commanders. Lord Rawdon being returned to Camden, and the move into North Carolina being postponed, Earl Cornwallis made a disposition (1.) of the King's troops upon the frontiers, and within the provinces, well calculated to procure the regiments and corps every necessary and convenience, to protect the new levies who had begun to incorporate, and to secure the possession of the lately-acquired dominion.
The 23d and 33d regiments of infantry, the volunteers of Ireland, the legion infantry, Brown's and Hamilton's corps, and a detachment of artillery, were placed in and about Camden, where huts, of proper [p87] materials to resist the hot weather, were constructed. Major M'Arthur, with the 71st regiment, was stationed at the Cheraws, in the vicinity of the Pedee River, to cover the country between Camden and George town, and to hold correspondence with a friendly settlement at Cross creek, in North Carolina. A small detachment of provincials was deemed sufficient for the protection of George town; the position of the 71st and the neighborhood of Charles town leaving no apprehensions of an attack in that quarter. The chain, to the westward of Camden, was connected with Ninety Six by Rocky mount, a strong post on the Wateree, and occupied by Lieutenant-colonel Turnbull, with the New-York volunteers and some militia. Lieutenant-colonel Balfour, and afterwards Lieutenant-colonel Cruger, commanded at Ninety Six: the force there consisted of a battalion of De Lancey's, and Innes's and Allen's regiments of provincials, with the 16th and three other companies of light infantry. Major Ferguson's corps and a body of loyal militia traversed that part of the province situated between the Wateree and Saluda, and sometimes approached the borders of North Carolina. Lieutenant-colonel Brown held possession of Augusta, the frontier town of Georgia, with his own and detachments from other regiments in that province. Savannah, the capital, was sufficiently garrisoned by a corps of Hessians and provincials, under the orders of Colonel Alured Clark. Charles town contained the 7th, 63d, and 64th regiments of infantry, two battalions of Hessians, a large detachment of royal artillery, and some corps of provincials, under the command of Brigadier-general Patterson. The legion dragoons (the 17th being ordered to New York) were directed to keep the communications open between the provincial posts of this extended cantonment: This service injured them infinitely more than all the preceding moves and actions of the campaign, and though hitherto successful against their enemies in the field, they were nearly destroyed in detail by the [p88] patroles and detachments required of them during the intense heat of the season.
Besides the defence of the frontiers, another material and national advantage resulted from this disposition of the King's troops. The officers and men of the different regiments and corps were supplied by the flour and cattle, whilst the horses were foraged by the produce of the country. Any expenditure of the provisions brought across the Atlantic was unknown except in Charles town and Savannah. The militia, the cavalry, the secret service, the rum, and the pay of the troops, were almost the only necessary expences. The contingent charges for the civil and military establishments requisite for Charles town and Savannah could not be burdensome: And the assistance yielded to the quarter-master-general's and commissariat departments, by the country, by confiscation, and by captures from the enemy, afforded an eligible opportunity for retrenching the disbursements of those chargeable branches of the army: In short, so favourable a juncture, owing to many propitious circumstances, never before presented itself in America, for the exercise of public oeconomy.
Rum, salt, and other stores, that were wanted by the regiments, by the artillery, by the quarter-master-general's, and by the commissariat departments, were ordered to be conveyed from Charles town to Camden. The magazine was formed at that place on account of the convenience of water carriage by the river from Nelson's ferry, and because it was the most eligible position to support the communication between the army and Charles town, when the King's troops moved forwards into North Carolina.
[p89] The (a.) arrangement of the commercial and civil regulations, for the prosperity of South Carolina, next demanded the attention of Earl Cornwallis; for this purpose he committed the care of the frontier to Lord Rawdon, and repaired to Charles town about the middle of June, where he entered upon that difficult business with great attention and assiduity. The inhabitants who had formerly borne arms against the British troops in the province, and had returned to their plantations since the departure of Sir Henry Clinton, were disarmed, and admitted to their parole. The estates of the violent absentees were seized, and placed in the hands of commissioners, who were vested with power to sell the produce, which, with the stock of cattle and horses found upon them, was appropriated to the use of the army, upon the commissaries giving receipts to the trustees for the different articles they received. The friends to the British cause, who had been driven out of the country, on proper application, had their property, or what remained of it, restored. The havoc made by the Americans, during their banishment, often defeated this intention. Encouragement was given to trade, by allowing merchants to convey to Charles town a variety of manufactures which had been long wanted throughout all the southern provinces, and permitting them to receive payment in the produce of the country. Commissioners were appointed to arrange the differences which subsisted in Carolina concerning the negroes. It is here necessary to observe, that all the negroes, men, women, and children, upon the approach of any detachment of the King's troops, thought themselves absolved from all respect to their American masters, and entirely released from servitude: Influenced by this idea, they quitted the plantations, and followed the army; which behaviour caused neglect of cultivation, proved detrimental [p90] to the King's troops, and occasioned continual disputes about property of this description: In a short time the attention of the commissioners produced arrangements equally useful to the military and inhabitants. Lord Cornwallis attempted to conciliate the minds of the wavering and unsteady, by promises and employments: He endeavoured so to conduct himself, as to give offence to no party; and the consequence was, that he was able entirely to please none. He carried his lenity so far, that violent enemies, who had given paroles for their peaceable behaviour, availed themselves of the proclamation of the 3d of June, and, without examination, took out certificates as good citizens; which conduct opened a door to some designing and insidious Americans, who secretly undermined, and totally destroyed, the British interest in South Carolina. The army was governed with particular discipline, and notwithstanding the exultation of victory, care was taken to give as little offence as possible in Charles town and country to the jealousy of the vanquished. This moderation produced not the intended effect: It did not reconcile the enemies, but it discouraged the friends. Upon their return home, they compared their past with their enemies present situation, they reflected on their own losses and sufferings, and they enumerated the recent and general acts of rigour, exercised upon them and their associates by all the civil officers employed under Congress, for their attachment to Great Britain. The policy therefore adopted on this occasion, without gaining new, discontented the old adherents; and the future scene will discover, that lenity and generosity did not experience in America the merited returns of gratitude and affection.
At the present period (d.) it was said, that the militia made a promising appearance, and that they equalled the wishes of their leaders, [p91] both as to numbers and professions of loyalty: Cunningham and Harrison, (c.) men of fortune and influence in their respective districts, obtained Lord Cornwallis's leave to convert their levies of friends and adherents into regiments of provincials. But notwithstanding the success which attended the enrolment of the loyal militia, the reports which now began to circulate of the exertions of Congress, and of the American army, united to the efforts of Virginia and North Carolina, gave a turn to the minds of the inhabitants of the southern provinces: Discontents were disseminated; secret conspiracies were entered into upon the frontier; hostilities were already begun in many places, and every thing seemed to menace a revolution, as rapid as that which succeeded the surrender of Charles town.
The precautions employed to prevent the rising of the King's friends in North Carolina had not had universal effect. Several of the inhabitants of Tryon county, excited by a Colonel (d.) Moore, manifested their attachment to the British cause, by taking up arms on the 18th of June, without the necessary caution requisite for such an undertaking, and they were in a few days afterwards defeated by General Rutherford. This event encouraged a spirit of persecution, which made Colonel Bryan, another loyalist, who had promised to wait for orders, lose all patience, and forced him to move with eight hundred men, (b.) assembled from the neighbourhood of the Yadkin, towards the nearest British post: After many difficulties, he fortunately reached the 71st regiment, stationed in the Cheraws. The news brought by these loyalists created some astonishment in the military, and diffused universal consternation amongst the inhabitants of South Carolina: They reported, that Major-general de (c.) Kalbe, a French officer in [p92] the American service, was advancing from Salisbury, with a large body of continentals; that Colonel Porterfield was bringing state troops from Virginia; that General Caswall had raised a powerful force in North Carolina; and that Colonel Sumpter had already entered the Catawba, a settlement contiguous to the Wacsaws. These accounts being propagated, and artfully exaggerated, by the enemies within the province, caused a wonderful fermentation in the minds of the Americans, which neither the lenity of the British government, the solemnity of their paroles, by which their persons and properties enjoyed protection, nor the memory of the undeserved pardon so lately extended to many of them, had sufficient strength to retain in a state of submission or neutrality.
Whilst the Americans were collecting their forces, Lord Rawdon made occasional alterations in the distribution of the King's troops upon the frontier, in order to confirm the adherence of the loyal inhabitants, and to obviate the designs of the enemy. Some log houses were constructed at Ninety Six, at Williams's, on the banks of the Pacolet, and at Rocky mount. The legion infantry, a detachment of Colonel Browne's regiment, and Colonel Bryan's militia, were advanced to Hanging rock: Lieutenant-colonel Webster was recalled from that post, and the 23d regiment fell back to Rugeley's mills. Major M'Arthur's position in the Cheraws was deemed too forward, and he was desired to retire some miles into the province.
The state of the country, and the exaggerated reports of the Americans, occasioned frequent patroles of cavalry and mounted infantry from the advanced British posts; one of which experienced both disgrace and defeat. Lieutenant-colonel (a.) Turnbull, on some intelligence [p93] from Fishing creek, send Captain Huck of the legion to investigate the truth: The detachment committed to his care consisted of thirty-five dragoons of the legion, twenty mounted infantry of the New-York volunteers, and about sixty militia. On his arrival at the cross roads, near the source of Fishing creek, Captain Huck neglected his duty, in placing his party carelessly at a plantation, without advancing any pickets, or sending out patroles: Some Americans who were assembled in the neighbourhood heard of his negligent situation, and with an inferior force surprised and destroyed him, and a great part of his command.
An instance of treachery which took place about this time, ruined all confidence between the regulars and the militia: The (a.) inhabitants in the districts of the rivers Ennoree and Tyger had been enrolled since the siege of Charles town, under the orders of Colonel Floyd; Colonel Neale, the former commanding officer, having fled out of the province for his violent persecution of the loyalists. One Lisle, who had belonged to the same corps, and who had been banished to the islands, availing himself of the proclamation to exchange his parole for a certificate of his being a good citizen, was made second in command: And as soon as the battalion was completed with arms and ammunition, he carried it off to Colonel Neale, who had joined Colonel Sumpter's command on the Catawba.
This reinforcement, added to his former numbers, inspired Colonel Sumpter with a desire of signalizing himself, by attacking some of the British posts upon the frontier. Having gained the necessary information, he directed his efforts against the corps at Rocky mount. (b.) [p94] Near the end of July he passed Broad river, at Blair's ford, with about nine hundred men, and advanced upon Turnbull, whose force was composed of one hundred and fifty provincials, and as many militia. The defences of Rocky mount consisted of two log houses, a loop-holed building, and an abbatis; placed upon an eminence, which commanded a view of the neighbouring country. Colonel Sumpter having no cannon to destroy the abbatis or the buildings, selected some of his bravest followers, to remove the former, and to endeavour to set fire to the latter, whilst his people, under cover of the trees and rocks, on the declivity of the mountain, maintained a heavy fire upon the garrison. After three attacks, in the last of which some of the forlorn hope penetrated within the abbatis, the American commander retreated with loss and precipitation. In the gallant defence of this post, Lieutenant-colonel Turnbull had one officer killed, one wounded, and about ten men killed and wounded.
Colonel Sumpter crossed Broad river, and retired to his former camp in the Catawba settlement; where, reinforcing the numbers he had lost at Rocky mount, he was soon in a condition to project other operations. This active partizan was thoroughly sensible, that the minds of men are influenced by enterprize, and that to keep undisciplined people together, it is necessary to employ them. For this purpose, he again surveyed the state of the British posts upon the frontier, and on minute examination he deemed Hanging rock the most vulnerable: He hastened his preparations for the attack, because a detachment of cavalry and mounted infantry had been ordered from that place to reinforce Rocky mount. On the 6th of August, at seven o'clock in the morning, he approached the flank of the post, which was entrusted to the North-Carolina refugees, under the orders of Colonel Bryan. This loyalist, with his undisciplined people, though [p95] opposed by troops equally undisciplined, soon retreated from his ground, and Colonel Sumpter directed the weight of his attack against the legion infantry, which resisted his efforts with great coolness and bravery. The example of courage exhibited by one hundred and sixty men of the legion, who charged the Americans twice with fixed bayonets, to save their three pounder, made a detachment of Colonel Brown's regiment recover from the consternation into which they had been thrown by the flight of Colonel Bryan, and they now joined their endeavours to defend the British encampment. Colonel Sumpter still persevered in his attack, and very probably would have succeeded, if a stratagem employed by Captains Stewart and M'Donald, of the British legion, had not disconcerted his operations. These officers, with forty mounted infantry, were returning the same morning from Rocky mount, and on the route heard the cannon and musketry at Hanging rock; on a nearer approach to their post, they judiciously left the Rocky mount, and made a circuit to get into the main Camden road, to reinforce their companions: When they arrived in sight of the Americans, the bugle horn was directed to sound the charge, and the soldiers were ordered to extend their files, in order to look like a formidable detachment. This unexpected appearance deranged the American commander, and threw his corps into a state of confusion, which produced a general retreat. Captain M'Cullock, who command the legion infantry with so much distinction, was killed, with two other officers, and twenty men: Upwards of thirty of the same corps were wounded. The detachment of Colonel Browne's regiment had, likewise, some officers and men killed and wounded, and a few taken prisoners. Colonel Bryan's North-Carolina refugees were greatly dispersed, but did not suffer considerably by the fire of the enemy. About one hundred dead and wounded Americans were left on the field of battle. Colonel Sumpter [p96] rallied his men not far from Hanging rock, and again fell back to the Catawba settlement, to collect more men from the Wacsaws, and to receive refugees, who flocked from all parts of South Carolina. The repulses he had sustained did not discourage him, or injure his cause: The loss of men was easily supplied, and his reputation for activity and courage was fully established by his late enterprizing conduct.
As soon as the account of Colonel Sumpter's attack reached Camden, Lord Rawdon ordered the 23d regiment to advance from Rugeley's mills to Hanging rock. This reinforcement under Major Mecan put the post in security, and enabled Colonel Bryan to collect his people, who were scattered over the face of the country. The wounded were afterwards conveyed to Camden, where the climate had sent a number of non-commissioned officers and soldiers into hospital.
In this situation of affairs upon the frontier, Lord Rawdon received frequent intelligence that the American army, composed of the Maryland brigades, the Delawar regiment, some Virginia state troops, and Colonel Armand's legion, continued to advance: He had, likewise, authentic information, that the continentals had been reinforced on Deep river, by General Caswall, (b.) with the North-Carolina militia. As soon as General Washington obtained accounts of the critical situation of Major-general Lincoln to the southward, owing to the great addition of force carried to that quarter, under the immediate direction of the British commander in chief, he judiciously determined to send a considerable detachment of continentals from the American [p97] army in the Jersies, to stop the progress of the royalists. This powerful reinforcement was committed to Major-general Baron de Kalbe, an officer of reputation, who pressed forwards the troops with indefatigable attention: By long and repeated marches they now approached the frontier of South Carolina. Their passage through Virginia had given vigour to that province, and large detachments of militia followed the route of the main army. North Carolina likewise made exertions to raise troops, and the governor and assembly voted three thousand men for the service. Notwithstanding these formidable preparations, the Baron de Kalbe met with great difficulties after he passed the Roanoke river: Provisions (2.) were so scarce in North Carolina, that the continental troops endured extreme hardships, and were frequently retarded on their march for want of necessary supplies. Whether the complaints and remonstrances forwarded by Baron de Kalbe to the governor and the assembly of the province, to Congress, and to General Washington, on this subject, produced an alteration of opinion respecting himself, is not certain, but another commander in chief was soon afterwards appointed, and sent to the southward.
On the 24th of July, Major-general Gates arrived in the American camp. His name and former good fortune re-animated the exertions of the country: Provisions were more amply supplied by the inhabitants, and the continental troops soon reached the frontier of South Carolina. On the banks of the river Pedee, the American general issued a proclamation, (K.) inviting the patriotic citizens of Carolina to assemble under his auspices, to vindicate the rights of America; holding out an amnesty to all who had subscribed paroles, imposed upon them [p98] by the ruffian hand of conquest; and excepting only those, who in the hour of devastation had exercised acts of barbarity and depredation upon the persons and property of their fellow citizens.
The approach of General Gates with an army of six thousand men, induced Lord Rawdon gradually to contract the posts upon the frontier, in order to assemble his forces: Major M'Arthur was directed to draw nearer to Camden; the two battalions of the 71st regiment, under his orders, were at this period considerable sufferers by the unhealthy climate of Carolina. To disencumber himself for movement, he collected some boats on the river Pedee, and committed upwards of one hundred sick men to the care of Colonel (c.) Mills, to be escorted to George town by the militia under his command. After the sick were embarked, Major M'Arthur commenced his march. In less than two days the militia mutinied, and securing their own officers and the sick, conducted them prisoners to General Gates, in North Carolina. This instance of treachery in the east of the province followed the perfidious conduct of Lieutenant-colonel Lisle on the western border, and strongly proved the mistake committed by the British, in placing confidence in the inhabitants of the country when acting apart from the army. The only probable way to reap advantage from the levies made in Carolina, would have been to incorporate the young men as they were raised in the established provincial corps, where they could be properly trained, and formed under officers of experience: By such a line of conduct, all the British regulars would have been saved, the King's troops in general would have been augmented, and considerable service might have been derived from their additional numbers.
[p99] When General Gates passed the boundary line of South Carolina, the British detachment was recalled from Hanging rock. Lord Rawdon afterwards took post on the west branch of Lynche's creek, about fourteen miles from Camden, with the 23d, 33d, and 71st regiments of infantry, the volunteers of Ireland, Lieutenant-colonel Hamilton's corps, about forty dragoons of the legion, and four pieces of cannon. The infantry of the legion, and part of Colonel Browne's regiment, were placed at Rugeley's mills. The hospital, the baggage, the provisions, the ammunition, and the stores, remained under a weak guard at Camden. General Gates advanced to the creek opposite to the British camp, and skirmishes ensued between the advanced parties of the two armies. The American commander discovered that Lord Rawdon's position was strong, and he declined an attack; but he had not sufficient penetration to conceive, that by a forced march up the creek, he could have passed Lord Rawdon's flank, and reached Camden; which would have been an easy conquest, and a fatal blow to the British.
While the two armies remained facing each other at Lynche's creek, Lord Rawdon sent an order to Lieutenant-colonel Cruger, to forward to Camden, without loss of time, the four companies of light infantry, under Captain Charles Campbell: He likewise directed the troops at Rugeley's mills to quit their position: Major Carden, with the detachment of Browne's, was ordered to Camden; and the legion infantry, under Captain Stewart, were desired to find the most direct road from their present situation to the camp at Lynche's creek. A guide conducted Captain Stewart to the outpost of General Gates's army; a warm salutation from the picket discovered the mistake: No farther inconvenience ensued, though Armand's cavalry, and Porterfield's light infantry, followed the legion till they reached the British [p100] encampment. Lord Rawdon withdrew the corps from Rugeley's mills, on account of its exposed situation; and suspecting yet that the enemy meant to detach against some of his outposts, he desired Lieutenant-colonel Turnbull to evacuate Rocky mount, and to join Major Ferguson at his position on Little river, where he had erected some field works, with his corps of provincials and loyal militia.
Lord Rawdon sent regular information of every material (a.) incident, or movement, made by the Americans, and by the King's troops, on the frontier, to Earl Cornwallis at Charles town; where the public business, (D.) relative to claims, commercial arrangements, and other civil regulations, required great time to reduce it to order. The appearance of a formidable army in the province prevented a methodical completion of the system of government, and called the attention of Earl Cornwallis to objects of more immediate importance. His lordship, therefore, prepared to leave Charles town, after some of the most necessary and essential (b.) points were adjusted.
In the mean time, Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton, being recovered from a fever, was desired to collect all the dragoons he could find in Charles town, and join Lord Rawdon in the country: With the assistance of Major Hanger, who was lately appointed to the cavalry, thirty dragoons and forty mounted militia were assembled: With this force Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton crossed the Santee at Lenew's ferry on the 6th of August: He moved from thence to the Black (c.) river, which he passed, in order to punish the inhabitants in that quarter for their late breach of paroles and perfidious revolt. A necessary service was concealed under this disagreeable exertion of authority: The vicinity [p101] of the rivers Santee and Wateree, and of all the Charles-town communications with the royal army, rendered it highly proper to strike terror into the inhabitants of that district. This point of duty being effected, Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton crossed the Black river, giving out to the country that he intended to join the British army by the main road over the Santee hills; but really designing to re-cross the river, to gain intelligence of General Gates's operations: He accordingly passed at a private place in the night, and marched with great rapidity for twenty-four hours; when, ordering his party to assume the enemy's appearance and names, the Americans were liberal of their information and every other assistance. A member of assembly, of the name of Bradley, at that time on parole, was severe in his denunciations against the British officers and soldiers, and warm in commendation of the heroic spirit of his supposed friends and guests. The nearness of General Gates's camp at last obliged Tarleton to desire his new acquaintance to conduct him over a very intricate morass, that he might attack the rear of Lord Rawdon's posts; Bradley entered heartily into the plan, and collected some neighbouring American militia to join in the expedition: After passing Megert's swamp, the source of Black river, Tarleton undeceived his late host, and conducted him and his volunteers prisoners to Camden. On his arrival at that place, he had evident proof that the legion cavalry were nearly destroyed by the constant duties of detachment and patrole: He collected all the dragoons at that post, and in the neighbourhood, and joined Lord Rawdon at Lynche's creek on the 10th day of August.
A patrole, sent by General Gates to Rugeley's mills on the 12th, occasioned a report that the American commander was moving to his right: The situation of the British hospital and magazine, and the present distance of the army, pointed out to Lord Rawdon the propriety [p102] of falling back from Lynche's creek, and of concentrating his force near Camden. The move was accordingly made, without any molestation from the enemy, and an encampment was chosen at Log town, the most eligible to be found in the neighbourhood of Camden, which did not afford any naturally-advantageous position for defensive operations.
On the 13th, (a.) General Gates moved the American army to Rugeley's mills: The Maryland brigades, the Delawar regiment, the cannon, the cavalry, the baggage, and the militia, were posted on the north side of Granney-quarter's creek; and Colonel Porterfield and Major Armstrong's corps of light infantry were advanced over the creek, on the road leading to Camden. On the same day the four companies of light infantry arrived from Ninety Six, and in the night (d.) Earl Cornwallis crossed the Wateree ferry, and joined the British army. The arrival of the noble earl and of the light infantry were fortunate events: A reinforcement (b.) of seven hundred Virginia militia, under the command of General Stevens, which reached Rugeley's on the morning of the 14th, prompted the American commander in chief to make an addition of one hundred continentals, three hundred militia, and two pieces of cannon, to the corps under Colonel Sumpter, who were immediately directed to interrupt the communications between Charles town, Ninety Six, and Camden. Colonel Sumpter appeared on the morning (a.) of the 15th on the western bank of the Wateree, and captured some waggons with rum and stores below Camden, several waggons loaded with sick and tired light-infantry soldiers on the road from Ninety Six, and the escorts of loyal militia and regulars attending each convoy.
[p103] Lord Cornwallis, upon his arrival with the army, adopted the most likely measures to obtain intelligence of the enemy's force and position; he likewise directed his attention to strengthen the British regiments and provincial corps, by mustering the ablest convalescents; and he was not unmindful of his cavalry. Upon application from Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton, he ordered all the horses of the army, belonging both to regiments and departments, to be assembled: The best were selected for the service of the cavalry, and, upon the proprietors receiving payment, they were delivered up to the British legion. These active preparations diffused animation and vigour throughout the army.
On the 15th the principal part of the King's troops had orders to be in readiness to march: In the afternoon Earl Cornwallis desired Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton to gain circumstantial intelligence, by intercepting a patrole, or carrying off some prisoners, from an American picket: About ten miles from Camden, on the road to Rugeley's mills, the advanced guard of the legion, in the evening, secured three American soldiers: The prisoners reported, that they came from Lynche's creek, where they had been left in a convalescent state, and that they were directed to join the American army, on the high road, that night, as General Gates had given orders for his troops to move from Rugeley's mills to attack the British camp next morning near Camden. The information received from these men induced Tarleton to countermarch before he was discovered by any patrole from the enemy's outpost: The three prisoners were mounted behind dragoons, and conveyed with speed to the British army: When examined by Earl Cornwallis, their story appeared credible, and confirmed all the other intelligence of the day. Orders were immediately circulated for the regiments and corps, designed for a forward move, to stand to their arms. The town, the magazine, the hospital, and the prisoners, [p104] were committed to the care of Major M'Arthur with a small body of provincials and militia, and the weakest convalescents of the army: A part of (e.) the 63d regiment, who had been supplied with horses at Charles town, were expected to join this detachment in the night, by the Nelson's-ferry road, for the security of Camden.
At ten o'clock the King's troops moved from their ground, and formed their order of march on the main road to Rugeley's mills: Lieutenant-colonel Webster commanded the front division of the army: He composed his advanced guard of twenty legion cavalry, and as many mounted infantry, supported by four companies of light infantry, and followed by the 23d and 33d regiments of foot. The center of the line of march was formed by Lord Rawdon's division, which consisted of the volunteers of Ireland, the legion infantry, Hamilton's corps, and Colonel Bryan's refugees: The two battalions of the 71st regiment, which composed the reserve, followed the second division. Four pieces of cannon marched with the divisions, and two with the reserve: A few waggons preceded the dragoons of the legion, who composed the rear guard.
About twelve o'clock the line of march was somewhat broken, in passing Saunders' creek, five miles from Camden. A short halt remedied this inconvenience, and the royal army proceeded in a compact state with most profound silence. A little after two the advanced guard of the British charged the head of the American column: The weight of the enemy's (L.) fire made the detachment of the legion give way after their officer was wounded, and occasioned the light infantry, the 23d and 33d regiments, to form across the road. Musketry [p105] continued on both sides near a quarter of an hour, when the two armies, finding themselves opposed to each other, as if actuated by the same present feelings and future intentions, ceased firing. On examining the guides, and the people of the country, Earl Cornwallis discovered that the ground the British army now occupied was remarkably (f.) favourable to abide the event of a general action against the superior numbers of the enemy: The fortunate situation of two swamps, which narrowed the position, so that the English army could not be outflanked, instantly determined the British general to halt the troops upon this ground, and order them to lie down to wait the approach of day: These commands were executed as soon as a few small pickets were placed in the front: A by-way, beyond the morass upon the left, which led to Camden, gave Earl Cornwallis for a short time some uneasiness, lest the enemy should pass his flank; but the vigilance of a small party in that quarter, and the recollection of the hazard incurred by such an attempt, soon dissipated his jealousy. Except a few occasional shots from the advanced sentries of each army, a silent expectation ushered in the morning.
At dawn the two commanders proceeded to make their respective arrangements for action. The light (g.) infantry, the 23d and 33d regiments, under Lieutenant-colonel Webster, formed the right division, in the front line, of the British army: The flank was covered by a swamp; the left extended to the road. The other division of the front line, consisting of the volunteers of Ireland, the legion infantry, Hamilton's corps, and Bryan's refugees, was commanded by Lord Rawdon: The flank was likewise protected by a morass, and the right communicated with Webster's division. Two six-pounders, and two [p106] three-pounders, were placed to the left of the road, under the orders of Lieutenant M'Leod. The 71st regiment, with two six-pounders, formed a second line; one battalion in the rear of Webster's, the other of Lord Rawdon's division. The legion cavalry remained in column, on account of the thickness of the woods, to the right of the main road, close to the first battalion of the 71st, with order to act offensively against the enemy, or in defence of the British troops, as opportunity offered, or necessity required. The British, the provincials, and the militia of the royal army, officers and soldiers inclusive, amounted to something above two thousand men. (G.)
Before daybreak General Gates had made the following disposition of the American army, consisting of two thousand continentals, and four thousand state troops and militia. Three regiments of (c.) the Maryland line, under Brigadier-general Gist, formed the right wing: The North-Carolina and Virginia militia, commanded by Generals Caswall and Stevens, composed the left wing and center. Colonel Porterfield's and Major Armstrong's light infantry were placed in the rear of the Virginia brigade of militia: Colonel Armand was ordered to support the left with his cavalry. The first Maryland brigade and the Delawar regiment, under Brigadier-general Smallwood, formed the second line and reserve. The principal part of the American artillery was posted to the left of their right wing of continentals: The remainder was placed in the road, under the protection of their reserve.
When the day broke, General Gates, not approving of the situation of Caswall's and Stevens' brigades, was proceeding to alter their (h.) position: The circumstance being observed by the British, was reported [p107] to Earl Cornwallis, who instantly, in person, commanded Webster's division to advance, and dispatched the same order, by an aid-de-camp, to Lord Rawdon on the left. The action became immediately general along the front, and was contested on the left and in the center with great firmness and bravery. General Gist preserved perfect order in his brigade, and, with his small arms and artillery, continued a heavy and well-directed fire upon the 33d regiment and the whole of the left division. The morning (i.) being hazy, the smoke hung over, and involved both armies in such a cloud, that it was difficult to see or estimate the destruction on either side. Notwithstanding the resistance, it was evident the British moved forwards: The light infantry and the 23d regiment being opposed only by militia, who were somewhat deranged by General Gates's intended alteration, first broke the enemy's front line, which advantage they judiciously followed, not by pursuing the fugitives, but by wheeling on the left flank of the continentals, who were abandoned by their militia. The context was yet supported by the Maryland brigades and the Delawar regiment, when a part of the British cavalry, under Major Hanger, was ordered to charge their flank, whilst Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton, with the remainder of his regiment, completed their confusion. Baron de Kalbe, on the right of the Americans, being still ignorant of the flight of their left wing and center, owing to the thickness of the air, made a vigorous charge with a regiment of continental infantry through the left division of the British, and when wounded and taken, would scarcely believe that General Gates was defeated.
After this last effort of the continentals, rout and slaughter ensued in every quarter. Brigadier-general Gist moved off with about [p108] one hundred continentals in a body, by wading through the swamp on the right of the American position, where the British cavalry could not follow; this was the only party that retreated in a compact state from the field of battle. The continentals, the state troops, and the militia, abandoned their arms, their colours, and their cannon, to seek protection in flight, or to obtain it from the clemency of the conquerors. As soon as the rout of the Americans became general, the legion dragoons advanced with great rapidity towards Rugeley's mills: On the road, General Rutherford, with many other officers and men, were made prisoners. The charge and pursuit having greatly dispersed the British, a halt was ordered on the south side of the creek, in order to collect a sufficient body to dislodge Colonel Armand and his corps, who, together with several (e.) officers, were employed in rallying the militia at that pass, and in sending off the American baggage. The quick junction of the scattered cavalry counteracted the designs of the enemy: Colonel Armand's dragoons and the militia displayed a good countenance, but were soon borne down by the rapid charge of the legion: The chase again commenced, and did not terminate till the Americans were dispersed, and fatigue overpowered the exertions of the British. In a pursuit of twenty-two miles, (k.) many prisoners of all ranks, twenty ammunition waggons,(3.) one hundred and fifty carriages, containing the baggage, stores, and camp equipage of the American army, fell into the hands of the victors.
In the action near Camden, the killed, wounded, and missing of the King's (H.) troops, amounted to three hundred and twenty-four, officers [p109] included. The destruction fell principally upon the center, owing to the well-directed fire of the continentals, and the execution done by the American artillery. The Americans lost seventy officers, two thousand men, (killed, wounded, and prisoners) eight pieces (a.) of cannon, several colours, and all their carriages and waggons, containing the stores, ammunition, and baggage, of the whole army.
On reviewing the striking circumstances preceding and during the battle, the conduct of Earl Cornwallis cannot be placed in a clearer light than by contrasting it with that of his opponent. The faults committed by the American commander, during his short campaign at the head of the southern army, were neither unimportant in themselves, nor inconsiderable in number. The first misconception imputable to General Gates, was the not breaking in upon the British communications as soon as he arrived near Lynche's creek. That move up the creek, and from thence to Camden, was practicable and easy before the King's troops were concentered at that place; or he might, without the smallest difficulty, have occupied a strong position on Saunders' creek, five miles from Camden, before Earl Cornwallis joined the royal forces. His second error was moving an army, consisting of young corps and undisciplined militia, in the night: A manoeuvre always to be avoided with troops of that description, in the neighbourhood of an enterprising enemy; and only to be hazarded, when regiments are perfectly officered, and well trained. His third mistake was in the disposition of his army before the action: If the militia had been formed into one line, in front of the continentals, they would have galled the British in the wood, when approaching to attack the main body: Or, if the militia had been kept totally separate [p110] from the continentals, and too much confidence had not been placed in them, perhaps that confusion in part of the Maryland line, owing to the early flight of Caswall's brigade, had never happened. His last and greatest fault, was attempting to make an alteration in the disposition the instant the two armies were going to engage; which circumstance could not escape the notice of a vigilant enemy, who by a skilful and sudden attack threw the American left wing into a state of confusion, from which it never recovered. The favourable opportunities which presented themselves to Earl Cornwallis during the march and the action, were seized with judgement, and prosecuted with vigour; a glorious victory crowned the designs of the general, and the exertions of the troops.
Immediately after the action every possible assistance was given to the wounded of both parties: The loyal militia were ordered to explore the adjacent woods, and to collect the disabled: Waggons were afterwards assembled, in which they were placed with care, in order to follow the principal part of the British army, which fell back to its position at Camden. Lord Cornwallis, with the light and legion infantry, and the 23d regiment, moved forwards to Rugeley's mills, where he was joined in the afternoon by the legion cavalry, on their return from Hanging rock.
Though the late victory was complete, and the principal army of the Americans was defeated, there yet remained in South Carolina some troops under Colonel Sumpter, well furnished with arms, and provided with cannon. The vicinity of their situation to the late scene of action, equally afforded them opportunity to give refuge to the fugitives, and to augment their own numbers. The river Wateree, which had separated General Gates and Colonel Sumpter, abounded [p111] with public ferrys and private boats, besides being fordable in many places. It was not to be supposed but that Sumpter had early information of the late misfortune, and that he would avail himself of his knowledge of the country to protect his dispersed friends, and to secure his own retreat. The necessity of beating or driving his corps out of the province was so evident, that Earl Cornwallis dispatched an order on the evening of the 16th to Lieutenant-colonel Turnbull, to move instantly with the New-York volunteers, Major Ferguson's detachment, and the loyal militia, in pursuit of Colonel Sumpter. The light infantry, (l.) and the British legion, who were exhausted by the fatigue of the preceding night's march, and by the action and pursuit of the day, also received orders to be in readiness to move early next morning. Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton was desired to harass or strike at Colonel Sumpter, as he should find it most advisable when he approached him: For this purpose he directed his course next morning through the woods, with three hundred and fifty men and one piece of cannon, and marched up the east side of the Wateree, intending to pass it at or near Rocky mount: Upon the route he picked up about twenty scattered continentals, and in the afternoon he gained intelligence that Colonel Sumpter was retreating along the western bank of the river. Tarleton made no alteration in his plan, but continued his march to the ferry facing Rocky mount: On his arrival at dusk, he perceived the enemy's fires about a mile distant from the opposite shore: Immediate care was taken to secure the boats, and instant orders were given to the light troops to pass the night without fires. No alarm happened, and at daybreak it was apparent that the Americans had decamped: Some of the British vedettes and sentries reported at dawn that they could discover the rear guard of the enemy quitting Rocky mount. [p112] Tarleton instantly detached Captain Campbell, of the light infantry, and a small party across the river, with instructions to hold out a white handkerchief on Rocky mount, if Colonel Sumpter continued his route up the Wateree: In the mean time, preparations were made for passing the river: Captain Campbell, on his arrival at Rocky mount, took a prisoner, and displayed the appointed signal: The boats, with the three-pounder and the infantry, immediately pushed off, and the cavalry crossed the part which was not fordable by swimming. After the passage was effected, a patrole of legion dragoons was directed to proceed a few miles to the westward, to inquire after Turnbull and Ferguson; but no intelligence was obtained.
In the mean time, Colonel Sumpter, with his detachment, consisting of one hundred continentals, (d.) seven hundred militia, and two pieces of cannon, directed his march towards the fords near the Catawba settlement, where he intended to pass the river, in order to take a position eligible for his own numbers, and well adapted to receive the fugitives of the American army. This officer, since the period that he received reinforcement from General Gates, had been fortunate in his operations: He had taken above one hundred British soldiers, he had secured one hundred and fifty loyal American militia, and he had captured near fifty waggons loaded with arms, stores, and ammunition. Information was obtained at Rocky mount, that these trophies of success were in Sumpter's possession, and under the escort of his advanced guard: The impossibility of reaching that part of his corps, without the knowledge of the main body, determined Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton to hang upon the rear, and watch an opportunity of attempting something in that quarter: He was sensible that no alarm had been [p113] given, and that no jealousy could yet be entertained of his having passed the Wateree. These incidents, which at first sight appeared so favourable, were nearly counterbalanced by the diligence of Sumpter's march, by the exhausted condition of the British light troops, by the intense heat of the day, and by the ground yet to be gained before an attack could take place. When Tarleton arrived at Fishing creek at twelve o'clock, he found the greatest part of his command overpowered by fatigue; the corps could no longer be moved forwards in a compact and servicable state: He therefore determined to separate the cavalry and infantry most able to bear farther hardship, to follow the enemy, whilst the remainder, with the three pounder, took post on an advantageous piece of ground, in order to refresh themselves, and cover the retreat in case of accident.
The number selected to continue the pursuit did not exceed one hundred legion dragoons and sixty foot soldiers: The light infantry furnished a great proportion of the latter. This detachment moved forwards with great circumspection: No intelligence, except the recent tracks upon the road, occurred for five miles. Two of the enemy's vedettes, who were concealed behind some bushes, fired upon the advanced guard as it entered a valley and killed a dragoon of the legion: A circumstance which irritated the foremost of his comrades to such a degree, that they dispatched the two Americans with their sabres before Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton could interpose, or any information be obtained respecting Colonel Sumpter. A serjeant and four men of the British legion soon afterwards approached the summit of the neighbouring eminence, where instantly halting, they crouched upon their horses, and made a signal to their commanding officer. Tarleton rode forward to the advanced guard, and plainly discovered over the crest of the hill the front of the American camp, perfectly [p114] quiet and not the least alarmed by the fire of the vedettes. The decision, and the preparation for the attack, were momentary. The cavalry and infantry were formed into one line, and, giving a general shout, advanced to the charge. The arms (a.) and artillery of the continentals were secured (a.) before the men could be assembled: Universal (m.) consternation immediately ensued throughout the camp; some opposition was, however, made from behind the waggons, in front of the militia. The numbers, and extensive encampment of the enemy, occasioned several conflicts before the action was decided. At length, the release of the regulars and the loyal militia, who were confined in the rear of the Americans, enabled Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton to stop the slaughter, and place guards over the prisoners.
The pursuit could not with propriety be pushed very far, the quantity of prisoners upon the spot demanding the immediate attention of great part of the light troops. Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton lost no time in sending for the detachment left at Fishing creek, thinking this additional force necessary to repulse any attempt the enemy might make to rescue their friends. All the men he could assemble were likewise wanted to give assistance to the wounded, and to take charge of the prisoners; the troops who had gained this action having a just claim to some relaxation, in order to refresh themselves after their late vigorous exertions.
Captain Charles Campbell, (n.) who commanded the light infantry, was unfortunately killed near the end of the affair. His death cannot be mentioned without regret. He was a young officer, whose [p115] conduct and abilities afforded the most flattering prospect that he would be an honour to his country. The loss, otherwise, on the side of the British was inconsiderable; fifteen non-commissioned officers and men, and twenty horses, were killed and wounded.
Colonel Sumpter, who had taken off part of his clothes on account of the heat of the weather, in that situation, amidst the general confusion, made his escape: One hundred and fifty (o.) of his officers and soldiers were killed and wounded; ten continental officers and one hundred men, many militia officers, and upwards of two hundred privates, were made prisoners; two three pounders, two ammunition waggons, one thousand stand of arms, forty-four carriages, loaded with baggage, rum, and other stores, fell into the possession of the British.
The position occupied by the Americans was eligible and advantageous; but the supposed distance of the King's troops occasioned a negligence in their look out, and lulled them into fatal security. Some explanation, however, received after the action, greatly diminished the mistakes which Colonel Sumpter seemed to have committed: It appeared upon inquiry that he had sent patroles to examine the road towards Rocky mount; but, fortunately for the British, they had not proceeded far enough to discover their approach: It was evident likewise that he had demanded the cause of the two shots, and that an officer just returned from the advanced sentries had reported, that the militia were firing at cattle: A common practice in the American camp. In one word, the indefatigable perseverance of the British light troops obtained them a most brilliant advantage when their hopes [p116] and strength were nearly exhausted. The wounded being dressed, and the arms and prisoners being collected, the legion and light infantry commenced their march towards Camden. The three following days finished their toilsome duty, when their services were rewarded by the approbation of Earl Cornwallis, and the acclamations of their fellow soldiers.
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(1.) South Carolina contained about five thousand four hundred effectives, and Georgia about one thousand one hundred, British, Hessians, and Provincials. [ back ]
(2.) Remembrancer, part 2d, 1780, page 279. [ back ]
(3.) A brass two pounder was taken in one of the waggons; the carriage being damaged in the night, it was sent to the baggage. [ back ]
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