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[p155] State of the royal army. -- State of South Carolina. -- The King's troops move forwards, -- and halt at Charlotte town. -- Lieutenant-colonel Brown attacked by Colonel Clarke, -- and relieved by Lieutenant-colonel Cruger. -- Ferguson defeated. -- The British army falls back. -- Passes the Broad river, -- And takes post at Wynnesborough. -- Marion overruns the lower districts. -- Ineffectual attempt upon Sumpter. -- Sumpter moves towards Ninety Six. -- Action at Blackstock's. -- State of the American army. -- Major-general Greene takes the command. -- Preparations for a second invasion of North Carolina. -- Major-general Leslie arrives at Charles town with a reinforcement.
The immediate advance of the King's troops into North Carolina would undoubtedly, at this critical point, have been productive of various and important advantages. The appearance of the royal forces, after such brilliant success, would have animated their friends, discouraged their enemies, and continued the confusion and dispersion of the American army. But however useful and beneficial such an expedition might have proved, many material requisites and necessary arrangements were not in convenient state or sufficient forwardness to warrant the undertaking. The number of sick in the hospital, the late addition of the wounded, the want of troops, and the deficiency of stores upon the frontier, operated with the present heat of the climate, and [p156] the scarcity of provisions in North Carolina. The convoys with supplies were again pressed forward, and a reinforcement of men was ordered from Charles town. In the mean time, directions (A.) were dispatched to the well affected, to lose no time in assembling for the purposes of stopping the fugitives, and securing the continental stores, to the southward of the Roanoke. Assurances of an early movement of the royal army accompanied these instructions: And, in order to keep alive the British interest in North Carolina, Major Ferguson's corps of rangers, and about one thousand loyal militia, were advanced to the western borders, to hold communication with the inhabitants of Tryon county till the King's troops under Earl Cornwallis were in condition to advance.
Notwithstanding the commotions had been violent, and almost general, in South Carolina, it was imagined and hoped that these internal troubles would subside, when the inhabitants gained information of the late distinguished superiority which had attended His Majesty's arms: But accident now discovered how much the enemies exceeded the King's friends in artifice. Perfidy and revolt had not been confined to the lower order of society. Some papers taken in the baggage of the American general officers, and other collateral intelligence, displayed the late opinions and conduct of many of the principal inhabitants of Charles town: Upwards of thirty (B.) of this description, since they had received pardon and protection from the British commanders, had held treacherous correspondence with the armed enemies of England, or had been indefatigably engaged in secretly advancing the interest of Congress throughout South Carolina. An order was immediately given to secure the persons of those individuals who had [p157] violated their engagements. The accused were committed to the prison ships, and from thence conveyed to confinement at Augustine. A different fate awaited those delinquents who had fought against the British troops with paroles in their possession. A number of these offenders were led forth from the provost, and, upon a full conviction of their guilt, were publicly executed.
A subsequent event manifested in strong colours the duplicity of the inhabitants of the province, and the necessity of occasionally exercising exemplary punishment on the most guilty. In the districts through which the prisoners were to pass, on their journey to Charles town, the inhabitants had almost universally given their paroles, or taken out certificates as good citizens. This reflection, and the heat of the weather, caused the King's officers to send small guards only of infantry from Camden to escort detachments of continentals and militia, taken in the late actions: The first and the second convoy passed in security; but the third was waylaid by the inhabitants of the country, under the direction of one Horry; the British were made prisoners, and the Americans released from captivity.
Earl Cornwallis had leisure, before the army was ready to move, to adjust some civil arrangements, which were wanted in Charles town, and to digest judicious regulations for the future government of the (C.) commissioners vested with powers to seize the estates of the violent enemies of Great Britain. Confiscation was a proper punishment for the avowed partizans of Congress, and for revolters; but material benefit could not be derived from it, except order and oeconomy directed the application. About this time Brigadier-general Patterson [p158] was advised by the physicians to leave Carolina on account of his bad health; and, upon his departure, Lieutenant-colonel Balfour was appointed commandant of Charles town.
Before the middle of September, part of the stores being arrived, with a reinforcement from Charles town, consisting of the 7th regiment, and some recruits for the provincials, the intended movement into North Carolina was immediately undertaken. No great alternation was made upon the frontiers; Lieutenant-colonel Brown being left at Augusta, Lieutenant-colonel Cruger in Ninety Six, and Lieutenant-colonel Turnbull at Camden; except, that some directions were given for the construction of redoubts, to defend the magazine, and to protect the communications with Charles town. Earl Cornwallis, with the principal column of the army, composed of the 7th, 23d, 33d, and 71st regiments of infantry, the volunteers of Ireland, Hamilton's corps, Bryan's refugees, four pieces of cannon, about fifty waggons, and a detachment of cavalry, marched by Hanging rock, towards the Catawba settlement; whilst the body of the British dragoons, and the light and legion infantry, with a three pounder, crossed the Wateree, and moved up the east side of the river, under Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton. The scarcity of forage in the district of the Wacsaws was the principal reason for this temporary separation. Flour, cattle, and forage were collected with difficulty by the main army, to supply the men and horses upon the march, the depredations of both parties having made a desert of the country.
On the 22d, Earl Cornwallis directed the British legion and light infantry to cross the Catawba at Blair's ford, in order to form the advanced guard, for the immediate (D.) possession of Charlotte town. [p159] The junction of the light troops had been prevented for a few days, by a violent fever which had attacked Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton, and which yet disabled him from (a.) holding his situation when his regiment moved forwards. Several convalescent men of the army having relapsed, the 71st, (a.) under M'Arthur, was left near Blair's mill, to afford protection to the sick, to cover the mills in the neighbourhood, and to hold communication with Camden, till the arrival of the additional supplies. Earl Cornwallis moved forwards as soon as the legion under Major Hanger joined him. A party of militia fired at the advanced dragoons and light infantry as they entered the town, and a more considerable body appeared drawn up near the court house. The conduct of the Americans created suspicion on the British: An ambuscade was apprehended by the light troops, who moved forwards for some time with great circumspection: A charge of cavalry, under Major Hanger, dissipated this ill-grounded jealousy, and totally dispersed the militia. The pursuit lasted some time, and about thirty of the enemy were killed and taken. The King's troops did not come out of this skirmish unhurt: Major Hanger and Captains Campbell and M'Donald were wounded, and twelve non-commissioned officers and men were killed and wounded.
Charlotte town afforded some conveniencies, blended with great disadvantages. The mills in its neighbourhood were supposed of sufficient consequence to render it for the present an eligible position, and, in future, a necessary post, when the army advanced: But the aptness of its intermediate situation between Camden and Salisbury, and the quantity of its mills, did not counterbalance its defects. The town and environs abounded with inveterate enemies; the plantations [p160] in the neighbourhood were small and uncultivated; the roads narrow, and crossed in every direction; and the whole face of the country covered with close and thick woods. In addition to these disadvantages, no estimation could be made of the sentiments of half the inhabitants of North Carolina, whilst the royal army remained at Charlotte town. It was evident, and it had been frequently mentioned to the King's officers, that the counties of Mecklenburg and Rohan were more hostile to England than any others in America. The vigilance and animosity of these surrounding districts checked the exertions of the well affected, and totally destroyed all communication between the King's troops and the loyalists in the other parts of the province. No British commander could obtain any information in that position, which would facilitate his designs, or guide his future conduct. Every report concerning the measures of the governor and assembly would undoubtedly be ambiguous; accounts of the preparations of the militia could only be vague and uncertain; and all intelligence of the real force and movements of the continentals must be totally unattainable.
The foraging parties were every day harassed by the inhabitants, who did not remain at home, to receive payment for the produce of their plantations, but generally fired from covert places, to annoy the British detachments. Ineffectual attempts were made upon convoys coming from Camden, and the intermediate post at Blair's mill; but individuals with expresses were frequently murdered. An attack was directed against the picket at Polk's mill, two miles from the town: The Americans were gallantly received by Lieutenant Guyon, of the 23d regiment; and the fire of his party from a loop-holed building adjoining the mill, repulsed the assailants. Notwithstanding the different checks and losses sustained by the militia of the district, they [p161] continued their hostilities with unwearied perseverance; and the British troops were so effectually blockaded in their present position, that very few, out of a great number of messengers, could reach Charlotte town in the beginning of October, to give intelligence of Ferguson's situation.
It is here necessary to take a retrospective view of the western frontier of Georgia and South Carolina. (1.) A Colonel Clarke had assembled a corps of back woodsmen about the beginning of September, with which he marched to attack the British post at Augusta: Upon the approach of the Americans, Lieutenant-colonel Brown thought it necessary to call some friendly Indians, about three miles distant, to his assistance. As soon as he had joined two hundred Cherokees to his corps of provincials, which consisted of one hundred and fifty, he was informed of the near advance of the enemy. The town of Augusta did not afford an eligible position; the British commander, therefore, directed his course towards Garden hill, a plantation on the Savannah road. When the provincials and Indians arrived in sight of Mackay's house, it was discovered that the Americans were already in possession of Garden hill. Lieutenant-colonel Brown ordered his cannon to fire upon the enemy, and gave direction to his troops to charge and dislodge them. Notwithstanding the loss of a three pounder, the attack was attended with success, and the buildings on the hill, after a conflict of twenty minutes, were possessed by the assailants. Great part of the Indians behaved with order and bravery.
Immediately instructions were given to the British, to loophole the buildings, and to remain upon the defensive. Colonel Clarke rallied [p162] his men, and received a reinforcement before evening, when he detached a party of riflemen to fire upon the provincials and Indians. Nothing of consequence happening before daybreak, Lieutenant-colonel Brown directed his people to throw up some intrenchments round the buildings. They had not proceeded far with this work, when another detachment of fifty Cherokees came into the post, and reported, that the Americans were approaching. Soon after, Colonel Clarke fired upon the buildings with cannon: The attack with artillery and small arms was continued with little intermission. After two days close siege, the American sent a summons to the British commanding officer, to surrender Garden hill: Lieutenant-colonel Brown answered, that he would defend the place to the last extremity. Not satisfied with this correspondence, Clarke insolently required a compliance with his demand, accompanied with menaces of cruelty in case of refusal: He received for reply, that the British would commence hostilities on the return of the flag. The besiegers began a very heavy fire from their artillery and small arms, in which the loss of the garrison was inconsiderable: They renewed it at intervals during the night. At daybreak it was repeated and returned; when a fog clearing away, the British discovered that the Americans were retreating.
The motive for the pressing summons and subsequent retreat was soon apparent. Lieutenant-colonel Cruger, who commanded at Ninety Six, had made exertions to relieve Lieutenant-colonel Brown from his embarrassed situation. Upon the first news of the advance of Clarke against Augusta, he collected a number of friendly militia, and after adding them to the force which he could with propriety draw from his garrison, he marched towards the Savannah river. In consequence of his approach, the Americans began to retreat. On the 19th, he sent a message over the river to Brown, requesting his advice [p163] concerning co-operation. The plan being speedily adjusted, a fire was commenced from Garden hill, to cover the passage of the reinforcement across the river, and through a hollow way: Before the advanced guard reached the garrison, Clarke's corps had abandoned their camp with evident marks of confusion. The British pursued the rear (b.) of the Americans, made some prisoners, and retook the cannon they had lost in the first action.
In this resolute defence, Lieutenant-colonel Brown had other difficulties to struggle with, besides the superiority of the enemy. The distance of the wells from the buildings rendered the position extremely inconvenient and disadvantageous, as it was impossible to procure supplies of water for the garrison towards the end of the siege. On the part of the British, Lieutenant-colonel Brown was wounded; Captain Johnson, a very promising officer of the same corps, was killed: The loss, otherwise, was not considerable, and fell principally upon the Indians. The American force which formed the attack consisted of seven hundred men, and their killed and wounded amounted to near a sixth of their number.
Although this expedition was baffled, the cloud which hung over was not dispersed. Many parties from the back settlements had taken the field, to reinforce Clarke, and overwhelm some post or detachment on the frontier. The distance of the county from whence the mountaineers marched, together with the rapidity of their movements on horseback, equally prevented intelligence of their approach, or preparation for their reception. The failure of Colonel Clarke before Augusta inspired Lieutenant-colonel Cruger with an idea of cutting [p164] off his retreat to the mountains: He gave notice of his design to Major Ferguson, then employed upon the frontier, who willingly concurred in the project. Cruger, after gaining some advantage, found the pursuit would carry him too far from Ninety Six, to which place he judiciously returned. Ferguson unfortunately adhered to the plan of striking at Clarke, and thought the direction which he had taken towards Gilbert town perfectly consonant to his purpose. The object Clarke aimed at, was to form a communication with many detachments of his friends who were approaching; or, if the superiority, or advanced situation of Ferguson prevented that intention, to join Colonel Sumpter on the borders of South Carolina. Near the end of September, Major Ferguson had intelligence of Clarke's having joined Sumpter, and that a swarm of backwoodsmen, by an unexpected and rapid approach to Gilbert town, now threatened his destruction. He dispatched information to Earl Cornwallis of the superior numbers to which he opposed, and directly commenced his march to the Catawba. (c.) Notwithstanding the prudent plan of verging towards the royal army, and advertising the British general of his situation, owing to some interruption of communication, or the distance of his friends, a detachment did not march in time from Charlotte town to yield him assistance.
Colonels Campbell, (F.) Cleveland, Selby, Seveer, Williams, Brandon, and Lacy, being informed at Gilbert town, of the retreat of Ferguson by the Cherokee road, towards King's Mountain, selected sixteen hundred chosen men on horseback, for a vigorous pursuit. The rapid march of this corps soon rendered an action inevitable. Major Ferguson heard of the enemy's approach at King's Mountain: He occupied the [p165] most favourable position he could find, and waited the attack. The action commenced at four o'clock in the afternoon, on the 7th of October, and was disputed with great bravery near an hour, when the death of the gallant Ferguson threw his whole corps into total confusion. No effort was made after this event to resist the enemy's barbarity, or revenge the fall of their leader. By American accounts, one hundred and fifty officers and men of the provincials and loyal militia were killed, one hundred and fifty were wounded, and eight hundred were made prisoners. The mountaineers, it is reported, used every insult and indignity, after the action, towards the dead body of Major Ferguson, and exercised horrid cruelties on the prisoners that fell into their possession.
In the beginning of October it was intended to send a corps from Charlotte town, under the orders of Lieutenant-colonel Webster, to attack a party of Americans, commanded by General Sumner, at Alexander's mill, on a branch of Rocky river; but the design was laid aside, on account of the news from the Westward. On the 10th, Earl Cornwallis gave orders to Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton, to march with the light infantry, the British legion, and a three pounder, to assist Major Ferguson, no certain intelligence having arrived of his defeat: It was rumoured with great confidence by the Americans in the neighbourhood of Charlotte town, and the probability of the circumstance gave weight to the report. Tarleton's instructions directed him to reinforce Ferguson wherever he could find him, and to draw his corps to the Catawba, if after the junction, advantage could not be obtained over the mountaineers; or, upon the certainty of his defeat, at all events to oppose the entrance of the victorious Americans into South Carolina: Accordingly, Tarleton marched to Smith's ford, below the forks of the Catawba, where he received certain information of [p166] the melancholy fate of Major Ferguson. This mortifying intelligence was forwarded to Charles town, and the light troops crossed the river, to give protection to the fugitives, and to attend the operations of the enemy.
The destruction of Ferguson and his corps marked the period and the extent of the first expedition in North Carolina. Added to the depression and fear it communicated to the loyalists upon the borders, and to the southward, the effect of such an important event was sensibly felt by Earl Cornwallis at Charlotte town. The weakness of his army, the extent and poverty of North Carolina, the want of knowledge of his enemy's designs, and the total ruin of his militia, presented a gloomy prospect at the commencement of the campaign. A farther progress by the route which he had undertaken could not possibly remove, but would undoubtedly encrease his difficulties; he therefore formed a sudden determination to quit Charlotte town, and pass the Catawba river. The army was ordered to move, and expresses were dispatched to recall Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton.
In the mean time the light troops, after crossing the Catawba, directed their course to the westward; on the route, they picked up a small number of fugitives, and gained intelligence that the host of mountaineers which had destroyed Ferguson was returned to the northward, without following the victory; that Colonel Sumpter with his corps remained upon the frontier; and that General Gates was expected to advance, upon the news of the late success, with the continentals and militia to the Yadkin. The situation of Colonel Sumpter's detachment on Bullock's creek attracted Tarleton's attention, and he was adopting measures to dislodge the Americans when the expresses from [p167] the royal army prevented his design, by requiring his instant return to the Catawba.
The King's troops left Charlotte town on the evening of the 14th, to march to the Catawba ford: Owing to the badness of the road, the ignorance of the guides, the darkness of the night, or some other unknown cause, the British rear guard destroyed, or left behind, near twenty waggons, loaded with supplies for the army, a printing press, and other stores belonging to public departments, and the knapsacks of the light infantry and legion. Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton had directed his troops to leave their baggage with the army, when sent upon the late expedition. The order for the move being unexpected at Charlotte town, the property of the absent was committed to the worst waggons, and was unfortunately lost. As soon as the British legion, and the light infantry, arrived at the Catawba ford, they were ordered to cross the river, which they accomplished with some difficulty, on account of a great fall of rain. The royal forces remained two days in an anxious and miserable situation in the Catawba settlement, owing to a dangerous fever, which suddenly attacked Earl Cornwallis, and to the want of forage and provisions: When the physicians declared his lordship's health would endure the motion of a waggon, Colonel Lord Rawdon, the second in command, directed the King's troops to cross Sugar creek, where some supplies might be obtained from the country: On this move, the Mecklenburg militia, supposing the cavalry still absent, attempted to harass the head of the column; when their want of intelligence proved fatal to the most enterprising of the party. A few days afterwards the army passed the Catawba river, near Twelve-mile creek, without difficulty or opposition.
[p168] It was now evident, beyond contradiction, that the British general had not adopted the most eligible plan for the invasion of North Carolina. The route by Charlotte town, through the most hostile quarter of the province, on many accounts, was not advisable. Its distance likewise from Ferguson allowed the enemy to direct their attention and force against that officer, which ultimately proved his destruction. A movement on the west of the Catawba, towards Tryon county, would have been better calculated either to cover the frontier of South Carolina or to protect detachments from the army. Another operation might also have been attempted, which, in all probability, would have had a beneficial effect. Considering the force of the King's troops at this period, a march to Cross creek would have been the most rational manoeuvre that could have been adopted; where the inhabitants were acknowledged to be almost universally loyal: Upon this move Ferguson would have been undoubtedly ordered to retire, and to remain upon the defensive to the westward; and Earl Cornwallis would have had a favourable and convenient opportunity to try the fidelity of the King's friends, and to discover whether the water communication between that place and Wilmington could be opened; a point which should necessarily have been ascertained before the royal army proceeded to the interior parts of North Carolina.
The plan for the winter's campaign being abandoned, the next object was to look out for a proper position (G.) to cover South Carolina: Immediate attention was given to procure intelligence of the state of the country between the Catawba and Broad rivers, and of the situations that would allow safe and direct communication with Ninety Six and Camden. Several movements were made before a regular camp [p169] was established: It was impossible to rely upon the information of inhabitants; for, in all descriptions of country, they are influenced by secret considerations, which direct them to consult their own interest and convenience. Besides, it was not to be expected that individuals, unacquainted with war, could point out the most eligible post to be occupied by an army acting upon the defensive. The King's troops moved through a plentiful country in the neighbourhood of Fishing creek, whilst measures were employed to find out the most convenient position on the frontier. Before the end of October, Earl Cornwallis fortunately recovered from his indisposition, and about the same period a proper encampment was discovered. After minute inquiry and examination, Wynnesborough presented the most numerous advantages: Its spacious plantations yielded a tolerable post; its centrical situation between the Broad river and the Wateree afforded protection to Ninety Six and Camden; and its vicinity to the Dutch forks, and a rich country in the rear, promised abundant supplies of flour, forage, and cattle. As soon as the army arrived on this ground, the sick were conveyed to the hospital at Camden; rum and other stores were required from that place, and communication was opened with Ninety Six.
During the move into North Carolina, the officers who commanded upon the frontier, and within the province of South Carolina, had been attentive to the security of their respective commands. Lieutenant-colonel Turnbull, with the assistance of the inhabitants, and by the labour of the provincials and the negroes, had commenced, and almost completed, some redoubts at Camden, which would greatly remedy the badness of the position. Works were likewise constructed at Thompson's house, and at Nelson's ferry, to secure the communications with Charles town. Lieutenant-colonel Cruger had made use of the same precautions at Ninety Six; the defences at that place were in [p170] great forwardness, and the post was in a tenable state. The troops at George town, since a late attempt of the Americans, had been employed in the same manner, and they were assisted by an armed naval force. Great alterations were made in the fortifications of Charles town; the old works were nearly thrown down, and Major Moncrieffe demonstrated his knowledge and judgement in the projected improvements.
As soon as the news of the victory near Camden arrived in New York, the commander in chief immediately embarked a respectable corps, which he dispatched under the orders of Major-general (H.) Leslie into the Chesapeak, to make a diversion in the lower part of Virginia, and, by passing the Roanoke, to form a junction with the southern army. These instructions were accompanied with an order from Sir Henry Clinton for General Leslie to obey the mandates of Earl Cornwallis, in case such a junction could not be made, or that such operations in Virginia did not tend to the public welfare. Letters were likewise sent to Earl Cornwallis, declaring the object of the expedition up James' river; but leaving the prosecution of that design, and the future management of the troops under Leslie, to his lordship's judgement and absolute direction. The distant between Nansemond in Virginia, and Wynnesborough in South Carolina, the positions of General Leslie and Earl Cornwallis in the beginning of November, did not promise a very early junction, or co-operation by land; the latter, therefore, about this period, made use of the authority allowed him by the commander in chief, in desiring the Virginia army again to embark, and to proceed first to Wilmington, and afterwards to Charles town.
[p171] The success of the Americans at King's mountain, and the distance of Earl Cornwallis' army, prompted many of the disaffected inhabitants of South Carolina again to violate their paroles, and to unite under a leader in the eastern part of the province. Mr. Marion, by his zeal and abilities, shewed himself capable of the trust committed to his charge. He collected his adherents at the shortest notice, in the neighbourhood of Black river, and, after making incursions into the friendly districts, or threatening the communications, to avoid pursuit, he disbanded his followers. The alarms occasioned by these insurrections frequently retarded supplies on their way to the army; and a late report of Marion's strength delayed the junction of the recruits, who had arrived from New York for the corps in the country. The 64th regiment of infantry was ordered to Nelson's ferry from Charles town, and directions were given to Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton to pass the Wateree to awe the insurgents. Earl Cornwallis was impressed with an idea that the Americans had a design upon Camden: The report of the advance of General Morgan towards the head of Lynche's creek, with Colonel Washington's cavalry, and a body of continental infantry, together with the exaggerated accounts of Marion's force, gave plausibility to the supposition. The situation and importance of the magazine caused early jealousy and immediate attention. The light troops, however, on their arrival at Camden, found no reason to expect an attack from General Morgan, and Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton thought the opportunity favourable to commence an expedition against Marion.
Earl Cornwallis approving (a.) the design, the light troops (I.) marched down the east bank of the Wateree. According to the reports [p172] of the country, General Marion's numbers were hourly increasing, which induced Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton to move his corps, for a short time, in a very compact body, lest the Americans should gain any advantage over patroles or detachments: But as soon as he found the account of numbers exaggerated, and that the enemy declined an engagement, he divided his corps into several small parties, publishing intelligence that each was a patrole, and that the main body of the King's troops had countermarched to Camden. Notwithstanding the divisions scattered throughout the country, to impose upon the enemy, Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton took care that no detachment should be out of the reach of assistance; and that the whole formed, after dusk every evening, a solid and vigilant corps during the night. This stratagem had not been employed more than three days before General Marion was on the point of falling a sacrifice to it. He advanced on the 10th, before day, with five hundred militia, to attack Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton, (who had notice of his approach) and arrived within two miles of his post; when a person of the name of Richardson discovered to him his misconception of the British force. Tarleton, unable to account for the slow advance of the Americans, dispatched an officer with a few men to find out the cause, who soon obtained information how the project was betrayed, which had already caused Marion to retreat with confusion and rapidity. A pursuit was immediately commenced, and continued for seven hours through swamps and defiles: Some prisoners fell into the possession of the legion dragoons, who gained ground very fast, and must soon have brought the enemy to action, when an express from Earl Cornwallis, who had followed the tracks of the march, recalled Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton.
[p173] The circumstance (K.) which occasioned this unexpected order for the light troops to return to the westward, was the failure of an enterprise in that quarter, which made an opening for the advance of a formidable corps of Americans into the district of Ninety Six. Whilst the British legion and the light infantry were employed in watching the security of Camden, and afterwards engaged in the expedition against General Marion, Earl Cornwallis received intelligence of the approach of General Sumpter: (b.) In a few days the information became particular, in respect to the number of the Americans, and their position: These necessary points being ascertained, the noble Earl communicated his design of striking at General Sumpter to Major Wemyss, of the 63d foot, whose corps had joined since the army had been encamped at Wynnesborough, and brought horses enow, with the addition of a small supply from the departments, to mount a considerable part of the regiment: This body of mounted infantry, with an officer and forty men, who were left at head quarters from the legion cavalry, composed strength sufficient for the expedition, and the execution of it was committed to Major Wemyss.
On the 8th, being furnished with guides, he left the army in the evening, and moved towards Fish dam, the camp of General Sumpter: The rapidity of the march, or the shortness of the distance, brought him to the American post sooner than he expected: A delay till daybreak, which was the time intended for the attack, he thought would discover his design, and afford the enemy an opportunity to decamp. Actuated by these considerations, he determined to attempt General Sumpter's detachment without loss of time, and before any discovery had been made by the patroles. At one o'clock in the morning Major [p174] Wemyss, at the head of his corps, charged the picket, when, out of five shots which were fired, two took place in the arm and knee of the British commanding officer: This event rendered the surprise useless; and General Sumpter owed, perhaps, his own and the safety of his people to the personal misfortune of Major Wemyss. The second in command not being fully acquainted with the plan previous to the accident of his superior officer, was at a loss how to proceed; which state of uncertainty gave Sumpter time to recover his people from confusion, and to make a handsome retreat. The British had nearly twenty officers and men killed and wounded. The American commander published exaggerated accounts of the affair, passed the Broad river to join Colonels Clarke and Brannen, and, thus reinforced, threatened the district of Ninety Six.
Although the light troops had made a laborious march of twenty-four miles, through a very difficult country, they returned ten miles the same evening the express arrived from Earl Cornwallis. When they reached Singleton's mills, on the 12th, they found that their late expedition, though not completed to their wishes, had taken very desirable effect. The militia flocked to Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton, and assured him of their friendly dispositions, which they durst not manifest before Marion's retreat: They likewise informed him, that the appearance of the British troops had checked a revolt, which would in a few days have become general, between the Pedee and Santee rivers, and inevitably have destroyed the navigation which supplied the magazine. Tarleton encouraged the dispirited loyalists, and, after adopting some measures by which the commanding officer at Camden would have early intelligence of any danger which threatened the communications, he pursued his march towards Wynnesborough. On passing the Wateree, he received orders to lead the light troops to [p175] Brierley's (2.) ferry, on Broad river, where he would find the first battalion of the 71st, and a detachment of the 63d (a.) regiment. Before he reached the ferry, he received instructions from Earl Cornwallis to pass the river, with the legion, the legion infantry, and the 63d, and to endeavour to defeat or disperse General Sumpter's command, which was approaching Ninety Six. Care was taken to conceal the green uniform of the cavalry from the view of an enemy's detachment, which occupied the opposite bank. This precaution was necessary, in order to throw the Americans off their guard, and continue their belief of the absence of the British legion, which Sumpter supposed still employed on an expedition against Marion. The appearance of the 63d and 71st in red clothing, tended to corroborate the enemy's information, and lull them into security; which circumstance had a reasonable chance of producing future advantages to the light troops, who had marched with so much celerity from the eastern part of the province, that no intelligence of their return had reached General Sumpter. Two pieces of cannon were fired from Major M'Arthur's quarters on the edge of the river, to disperse the American riflemen on the opposite bank, while a detachment of British infantry took possession of both shores. At dark, the cavalry passed at a ford some distance below the ferry, and at ten o'clock the same night, the whole corps assembled three miles beyond Brierley's.
On the evening of the 18th, Tarleton obtained information, that General Sumpter, with upwards of one thousand men, was moving towards (a.) Williams' house, a post occupied by friendly militia, fifteen miles from Ninety Six. At daybreak next morning the light troops directed their course for Indian creek, marched all day with [p176] great diligence, and encamped at night, with secrecy and precaution, near the Ennoree. Another day's movement was intended up the banks of that river, which, if completed without discovery, would, perhaps, give an opportunity of destroying General Sumpter's corps by surprise; or certainly would prevent his accomplishing a retreat without the risk of an action. This encouraging hope was frustrated in the evening by the desertion (b.) of a soldier of the 63d, and the American commander at twelve o'clock at night obtained intelligence of his danger. Tarleton pursued his march at dawn, and before ten o'clock in the morning had information of the retreat of General Sumpter: He continued his route to a ford upon the Ennoree, where he expected to gain farther intelligence, or perhaps meet the Americans. On his arrival near that place, he found that the advanced guard and main body of the enemy had passed the river near two hours, and, that a detachment to cover the rear was waiting the return of a patrole: The advanced guard of the British dragoons charged this body, and defeated them with considerable slaughter. From prisoners it was learned, that the sudden movement of the Americans was owing to the treachery of the deserter, by whose information General Sumpter had fortunately escaped an unexpected attack, and had now the option to fight or retire.
Though greatly superior in number, he did not wait the approach of the British, but by a rapid march endeavoured to cross the rivers in his rear; beyond which, if pressed to extremity, he could disband his followers in the woods, and without great detriment assemble them again at an appointed quarter to the northward of the Pacolet. The march already made by the British infantry, he imagined must [p177] soon render them unable to keep up with the cavalry; which circumstance, he flattered himself, would impede the advance of Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton, or, at the worst, produce only a partial engagement. Influenced by such reflections, he continued an indefatigable march, which was followed without intermission by the British. Tarleton, unwilling to divide his corps, and risk an action against a great superiority with his dragoons and the 63d, pressed forward his light and legion infantry, and three pounder, in a compact body, till four o'clock in the afternoon; at which time it became evident, that the enemy would have an opportunity of passing unmolested the Tyger river before dark, if he did not alter his disposition: He therefore left his legion and light infantry, who had made meritorious exertions during the whole day, to march on at their own pace, whilst he made a rapid pursuit with one hundred and seventy cavalry of the legion, and eighty mounted men of the 63d. Before five o'clock the advanced guard charged a detachment of the Americans, who gave ground after some loss, and retreated to the main body. Sumpter now discovered, that he could not with safety immediately attempt to pass the Tyger, and that the ground which he possessed on its banks gave him a favourable opportunity to resist the efforts of the cavalry. Regular information of his being pressed at this period by the mounted part of Tarleton's corps had been communicated to him; which, without such report, he might have calculated by the distance and duration of the movement: A woman (c.) on horseback had viewed the line of march from a wood, and, by a nearer road, had given intelligence that the British were approaching without infantry or cannon.
Decided by these considerations, the American commander prepared for action, and made a judicious disposition of his force: He [p178] posted the center of his troops in some houses and out-houses, composed of logs, and situated on the middle of an eminence; he extended his right along some rails, which were flanked by an inaccessible mountain; and he distributed his left on a rugged piece of ground that was covered by a bend of the river; a small branch of water ran in front of the whole rising ground, which was called Blackstock's hill: The great road to the ford across the river passed through the center of the Americans, and close to the doors of houses where the main body were stationed. The whole position was visible, owing to the elevation of the ground, and this formidable appearance made Tarleton halt upon the opposite height, where he intended to remain quiet till his infantry and three pounder arrived: To encourage the enemy to do the same, he dismounted the 63d to take post, and part of the cavalry to ease their horses. Sumpter observing this operation, ordered a body of four hundred Americans to advance, and attack the 63d in front, whilst another party approached the dragoons in flank. A heavy fire and sharp conflict ensued: The 63d charged with fixed bayonets, and drove the enemy back; and a troop of cavalry, under Lieutenant Skinner, bravely repulsed the detachment which threatened the flank. The ardour of the 63d carried them too far, and exposed them to a considerable fire from the buildings and the mountain. Though the undertaking appeared hazardous, Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton determined to charge the enemy's center with a column of dragoons, in order to cover the 63d, whose situation was now become dangerous. The attack was conducted with great celerity, and was attended with immediate success. The cavalry soon reached the houses, and broke the Americans, who from that instant began to disperse: The 63d immediately rallied, and darkness put an end to the engagement. A pursuit across a river, with a few troops of cavalry, and a small body of infantry, was not advisable in the night; [p179] a position was therefore taken adjoining to the field of battle, to wait the arrival of the light and legion infantry.
An express was sent to acquaint Earl Cornwallis with the success of his troops, and patroles were dispatched over the river at dawn, to discover if any part of the enemy remained in a body: Intelligence was soon brought across the Tyger, that the corps was entirely dispersed, except a party of one hundred, who remained in a compact state, in order to escort General Sumpter, who was wounded in the action. This news, and some rumours of approaching reinforcements, impelled Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton to follow the late advantage, by pursuing the fugitives; which would prevent their rallying to assist their friends, if the report was true concerning their advance. Accordingly, leaving a guard to protect the wounded, he again commenced his march: The men who had remained with their general since his misfortune, upon hearing of the approach of the British, placed him in a litter between two horses, and dispersed through the woods. After a toilsome pursuit of three days, in which a few stragglers were secured, intelligence was obtained that General Sumpter had been conducted across the country by five faithful adherents, till he was removed out of danger. Tarleton upon receiving this news, and having no farther information of an advancing enemy, retired slowly to Blackstock's.
Three of the enemy's (d.) colonels fell in the action, and General Sumpter received a severe wound in the shoulder. Upwards of one hundred Americans were killed and wounded, and fifty were made prisoners. On the side of the British, Lieutenants Gibson and Cope, of the 63d, were killed; and Lieutenant Money, aid-de-camp to [p180] Earl Cornwallis, who had commanded the detachment of mounted infantry, with great gallantry, was mortally wounded: Another officer of the 63d, and two subalterns of the British legion, were likewise wounded. The former corps had also thirty, and the latter fifteen, non-commissioned officers and men, with thirty horses, killed and wounded.
General Sumpter made proper use of the good fortune which had manifested itself in his favour previous to the action; and if he had waited in his strong position at Blackstock's till dark, without advancing a corps to attack the 63d, and the cavalry, he might have withdrawn, in all probability, without his adversaries' knowledge; but, he would have been completely protected in the operation, even if they had notice of his intention; owing to the superiority of his numbers, and the advantages he derived from the situation of the ground, and the river; which could not be approached, after dark, by the British, till the light and legion infantry arrived; previous to which event, the rear guard of the Americans might certainly have passed the Tyger. The light troops made very great exertions, to bring General Sumpter to action, and the hazard incurred by the cavalry, and 63d, was compensated by the complete dispersion of the enemy.
A letter, (L.) which had arrived at Blackstock's, from Earl Cornwallis, directed Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton, on his return from the pursuit, to remain some time in that quarter of South Carolina; in order to give protection to Ninety Six, to oppose a corps of mountaineers which was expected, and to afford security to the loyalists, whilst they attempted to assemble and form a respectable body. Mr. Cunningham, [p181] a man of spirit and conduct, who was appointed brigadier-general of militia, adopted judicious measures to encourage the well-affected inhabitants. At the end of the month, it was evident, that the report concerning the mountaineers was erroneous, and that there was no immediate danger to be apprehended on that border of the province. These favourable circumstances induced Tarleton, after refreshing his horses with the forage, which this district abundantly supplied, to return by slow marches, with his dragoons and infantry, who wanted many necessaries and appointments, towards the neighbourhood of Broad river, whence he could have a more direct communication with the magazine on the frontier, and with Charles town.
About this time, the American force in North Carolina assumed a tolerable appearance. General Gates had advanced from Hillsborough in the middle of November, to reinforce the detachments on the Yadkin; and on the 25th, he again moved forwards with the continentals and militia, to Six-mile run, where he was soon joined by Colonels White, Washington, and Armand, with two hundred cavalry, and two pieces of cannon. This position was not far distant from the frontier of South Carolina, and was adopted in order to give spirit and vigour to the militia. The American commander published reports, that he would advance to the Tuckaseege ford, to protect the detachments which invaded Ninety Six; and that General Smallwood would remain with a powerful corps at Six-mile run, which, in case of any movement of Lord Cornwallis across Broad river, would incline towards the head of Black creek, to give strength and influence to Marion, who, in consequence of such assistance, might be able to destroy the communications between Camden and Charles town.
[p182] In the beginning of December, General Morgan and Colonel Washington, with some continental light infantry and cavalry, advanced through the Wacsaws to Hanging rock; from which place they detached a threatening summons to Colonel Rugeley, who commanded the militia of the Camden district, and was posted with one hundred men at his own house, where some defences had been erected. Rugeley being intimidated by the summons, and the appearance of the Americans, who placed the resemblance of a cannon opposite his house, surrendered to the light dragoons, without firing a shot. The continental infantry had not advanced within three miles of the post, when this (N.) irresolute commander laid down his arms. General Morgan retreated with his prisoners to the main army, which about this time changed its leader; General Gates being recalled, upon the appointment of Major general Greene to succeed him in the southern department.
Major-general Leslie, being desired in the beginning of November to leave Virginia, and proceed to the southward, was hourly expected at Charles town. Previous to his arrival, Earl Cornwallis made some arrangements, which were indispensably requisite, before the King's troops again invaded North Carolina: He directed the recruits and convalescents to join their regiments: He ordered all deficiencies of arms, appointments, and necessaries, to be replaced: He prepared proper supplies to attend the march; and he adopted judicious precautions for the security of the frontier. In a short time, numbers strengthened each corps and regiment of the army: Above one hundred and fifty (a.) joined the light troops: Deficiencies of arms and necessaries were completed: Many horses were collected, and purchased for the cavalry: And the magazine at Camden was considerably increased. [p183] Colonel Lord Rawdon was requested to take the present command of that place, and the future direction of the frontier, when the army advanced. The fortifications at Camden began to be respectable: Utensils, ammunition, and cannon, were conveyed thither, and engineers directed the labour of the garrison. The centrical situation of this post, and the importance of its water communication, strongly manifested the advantage of holding it, if the army did not advance, and it became doubly necessary to render it formidable, in case such an operation should take place; that it might then be deemed, by friends and enemies, the bulwark of the province. An officer of engineers was sent to Ninety Six, to superintend the works, and every requisite was furnished to give security to that post. Redoubts, to strengthen the communications, were completed, and the defences of George town received additional improvement.
In the mean time, the Americans were not idle, in attempting to disturb the frontier, and the interior parts of the province. Colonels Few and Clarke advanced to Long Cannes, in the district of Ninety Six, with an intention to frighten and disperse the militia: Brigadier-general Cunningham gave notice of their approach to Lieutenant-colonel Cruger, who secretly sent Lieutenant-colonel Allen, with a detachment from his garrison, to give assistance to the loyalists. The Americans, ignorant of this reinforcement, advanced upon Cunningham, who received them with firmness, and defeated their project. Some recent effects of Marion, within the province, drew the attention equally of Charles town and Camden. Lieutenant-colonel Balfour directed the 64th regiment to pass the river Santee, and take post on the east of the communications; and Lord Rawdon detached the mounted infantry of the New-York volunteers, under Major Coffin, to assist Major M'Leroth, who commanded the 64th. Many skirmishes [p184] took place without material loss, and the supplies for the royal army were always protected, though occasionally delayed.
Since the period of their establishment, neither the encampment at Wynnesborough, nor its communication with the magazine at Camden, had ever been disturbed or interrupted. Meal, flour, cattle, and forage, were peaceably supplied by the inhabitants; and the convalescent and sick men were daily recovering on the neighbouring plantations. The 1st battalion of the 71st regiment continued to occupy Brierley's ferry, on Broad river, in order to cover the country between Wynnesborough and that place: The vicinity of the British legion and light infantry to that post, afforded support to Major McArthur, protection to the mills in the Dutch fork, and security to all the districts in the rear. Many confiscated estates (b.) yielded great supplies to the royal army, which, in its present position, could enjoy the greatest plenty, with the strictest oeconomy of public money.
Before the middle of December, Commodore Gayton convoyed a considerable body of the King's troops to Charles town: Major-general Leslie, on his landing, found an order to march to the frontier, with the brigade of guards, the regiment of Bose, one hundred and twenty yagers, and a detachment of light dragoons: The remainder of his corps being destined to strengthen Camden, and augment the garrison of Charles town. The arrival of a reinforcement of upwards of two thousand three hundred men, seemed, at this crisis, to promise the secure possession of the two southern provinces, and the reduction of North Carolina; whilst the offensive operations carried on in Virginia by Brigadier-general Arnold, appeared well adapted to attract the attention of that powerful quarter of America.
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(1.) Vide page 28 Remembrancer, part 1st, year 1781. [ back ]
(2.) Shirar's ferry is commonly called Brierley's. [ back ]
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