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[p207] Movements of the Americans. -- The British light troops pass Broad river. -- Earl Cornwallis moves from Wynnesborough. -- Action at the Cowpens. -- General Leslie joins Earl Cornwallis. -- Pursuit of General Morgan. -- Morgan passes the Catawba river. -- The King's troops pass the Catawba. -- Affair at Tarrant's. -- Earl Cornwallis marches to Salisbury. -- Skirmish at the Trading ford. -- Earl Cornwallis moves to the Upper fords. -- General Greene passes the Dan. -- Earl Cornwallis marches to Hillsborough, and erects the King's standard. -- General Greene repasses the Dan. -- Earl Cornwallis passes Haw river. -- Skirmish near Allamance. -- Affair at Wetzell's mill. -- Earl Cornwallis crosses a branch of Deep river.
During the preparations for the second invasion of North Carolina, emissaries had been dispatched into that province, to obtain intelligence of the force and designs of the Americans. Near the end of December information was received, that General Greene (D.) had made a division of his troops, who did not exceed one thousand four hundred men, exclusive of the militia; and, that he had committed the light infantry and Colonel Washington's cavalry to General Morgan, with directions to pass the Catawba and Broad rivers, in order to collect the militia in the districts through which he marched, and [p208] afterwards threaten Ninety Six; whilst he conducted the other division of the continentals to Haley's ferry, on the river Pedee, to form a junction with General Caswall, and give jealousy to Camden. This appeared to be the outline of the American designs previous to the arrival of General Leslie's reinforcement. The intelligence General Greene had procured since his appointment to the southward, and the calculation of his own and the British force, might suggest the propriety of attempting to distress the frontier of South Carolina by a desultory war, till he could acquire a command sufficiently numerous and well disciplined to undertake more decisive operations. There could not be an arrangement better chosen, provided the royalists were not joined by any additional regiments; but the increase of the English army would certainly frustrate such a disposition. It is not to be supposed that General Greene would have adopted the hazardous plan of dividing and advancing his troops, if he had received authentic information of General Leslie's command being withdrawn from Virginia, and united to the force in South Carolina; because such an accession of strength would naturally produce a movement from Wynnesborough, which, if executed with tolerable rapidity, might separate the two divisions of the American army, and endanger their being totally dispersed or destroyed.
Whilst the reinforcement marched from Charles town to join the royal forces, Earl Cornwallis employed various measures, in order to acquire daily intelligence of the enemy, and to obtain a competent knowledge of the nature of the country in his front. No expence was spared to learn the state of the roads, (a.) the number of the mills, and the quantities of forage and provisions, between Broad river and [p209] the Catawba. This (a.) information was peculiarly necessary for a general who was about to invade a province not remarkable for its fertility, and which has no navigable rivers to convey supplies to the interior parts of the country.
Tryon county presented an entrance into North Carolina, which accorded equally with the designs of Earl Cornwallis and the present position of the King's troops. Its comparative abundance, and the proofs of attachment exhibited by the inhabitants, enhanced its local recommendation. The motives for the second invasion of North Carolina may be explained in a few words. The strength of the royal army in South Carolina, near the end of the year 1780, allowed Earl Cornwallis the experiment of an enterprize, which the loyalists and British troops in America, as well as the administration in England, supposed he could with facility accomplish. The superiority of his force, when compared with General Greene's, gave every reasonable assurance, that with proper care the latter might be destroyed, or driven over the Roanoke; when it was imagined that the loyalists, who were computed to be the greater proportion of the inhabitants, would make indefatigable exertions to render themselves independent of Congress. Such was the opinion of thousands when the King's troops prepared for this expedition: But their expectations were not verified, though the continental army was chased out of the province, and the loyal subjects were invited to repair to the King's standard at Hillsborough; it therefore becomes necessary to investigate, whether the scheme itself was visionary, or the plan to complete it injudicious; or whether the force employed was inadequate to the purpose.
[p210] If Earl Cornwallis was not equally sanguine in his expectation of final conquest, it must, however, be universally acknowledged, that the present was a favourable crisis for exertion. The strength of the King's troops, and the weakness of the enemy, strongly recommended this second invasion of North Carolina. On the junction of General Leslie, three thousand five hundred fighting (b.) men could advance into that province, besides leaving a large force on the frontier. Any advantage gained over the Americans at this period, would undoubtedly derange their projects, and give a better barrier to South Carolina and Georgia; and though the expedition was ultimately productive only of the advantage of securing (A.) old possessions, yet the attempting greater objects was justifiable, and gave a fair trial to the ardent wishes of government at home, and the confident hopes of the loyalists in America.
General Leslie, with one thousand five hundred and thirty (C.) men, was greatly advanced on his march toward the army, when the operations of the Americans to the westward of Broad river laid immediate claim to the attention of the British. General Morgan, with the continental light infantry, Colonel Washington's cavalry, and large detachments of militia, was reported to be advancing to Ninety Six. Although the fortifications were in tolerable condition at that place, and sufficiently strong to resist an assault, yet the preservation of the country in its neighbourhood was considered as so great an object for the garrison and the loyalists of the district, that Earl Cornwallis dispatched an aid-de-camp (a.) on the 1st of January, to order Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton over Broad river, with his corps of cavalry and infantry, of five hundred and fifty men, the first battalion [p211] of the 71st, consisting of two hundred, and two three-pounders, to counteract the designs of General Morgan, by protecting the country, and compelling him to repass Broad river. Tarleton received a letter the next day from his lordship, communicating an earnest wish, that the American commander, if within his reach, should be "pushed (b.) to the utmost["]; and requiring, likewise, his opinion, whether any move of the main army (c.) would be advantageous to the service. On the receipt of this letter, he directed his course to the westward, and employed every engine to obtain intelligence of the enemy. He had not proceeded above twenty miles from Brierley's ferry, before he had undoubted proofs, that the report which occasioned the order for the light troops to march was erroneous. The secure state of Ninety Six, and the distant of General Morgan, immediately prompted Tarleton to halt the troops under his command, as well to allow time for the junction of the baggage of the different corps, which had been left on the ground when they first decamped, as to give information to Earl Cornwallis of the situation and force of Morgan, and to propose operations which required his sanction and concurrence.
As Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton had been entrusted with the outline of the future campaign, he thought it incumbent on him to lay before his lordship, by letter, the probable accounts of Morgan's (a.) force and designs; the necessity of waiting for the baggage of the light troops in their present situation, as any future delay might prove a great inconvenience to the army; and the plan of operation which struck him as equally necessary and advantageous for the King's service. He represented the course to be taken, which fortunately corresponded with the scheme of the campaign: He mentioned the [p212] mode (b.) of proceeding to be employed against General Morgan: He proposed the same (c.) time, for the army and the light troops to commence their march: He explained the point (d.) to be attained by the main body: And he declared, that it should be his endeavour to push the enemy into that quarter. (e.)
Earl Cornwallis approving the (a.) suggested operations, the light troops only waited for their baggage to proceed. Two hundred men of the 7th regiment, who were chiefly recruits, and designed for the garrison at Ninety Six, and fifty dragoons of the 17th regiment, brought the waggons from Brierley's to camp. On their arrival, Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton crossed Indian, and afterwards Dunken creek, though both were considerably swelled by a late fall of rain: He hourly received accounts of the increase of Morgan's corps, which induced him to request Earl Cornwallis, who was moving on the east of Broad river, to give him permission to retain the 7th regiment, that the enemy might be sooner pressed over Broad river, or some favourable situation obtained, whence great advantage might be derived from additional numbers: Having received leave to carry forwards the 7th regiment, he continued his course on the 12th to the westward, in order to discover the most practicable fords for the passage of the Ennoree and Tyger, and that the infantry might avoid the inconveniencies they had undergone in crossing the other waters. An useful expedient was concealed under this apparent necessity. In proportion to the approach of the light troops to the sources of the rivers, and the progress of the main army to King's mountain, General Morgan's danger would increase, if he remained to the westward of Broad river. The [p213] Ennoree and Tyger were passed on the 14th, above the Cherokee road, and Tarleton obtained information in the evening that General Morgan guarded all the fords upon the Pacolet. About the same time Earl Cornwallis advertised Tarleton, that the main army (a.) had reached Bull's run, and that General Leslie had surmounted the difficulties which had hitherto retarded his march. At this crisis Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton assured Earl Cornwallis that he would endeavour to pass the Pacolet, purposely to force General Morgan to retreat towards Broad river, and requested his lordship to proceed up the eastern bank without delay, because such a movement might perhaps admit of co-operation, and would undoubtedly stop the retreat of the Americans.
On the 15th circumstantial intelligence was procured by Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton of the different guards stationed on the Pacolet. A march was commenced in the evening towards the iron works, which are situated high upon the river; but in the morning the course was altered, and the light troops secured a passage within six miles of the enemy's camp. As soon as the corps were assembled beyond the Pacolet, Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton thought it advisable to advance towards some log houses, formerly constructed by Major Ferguson, which lay midway between the British and Americans, and were reported to be unoccupied by General Morgan. The necessity and utility of such a proceeding appeared so strong, that some dragoons and mounted infantry were sent with all possible expedition to secure them, lest a similar opinion should strike the American commander, which might be productive of great inconvenience. Tarleton intended to take post, with his whole corps, behind the log houses, and wait the motions of the enemy; but a patrole discovering that the Americans [p214] were decamped, the British light troops were directed to occupy their position, because it yielded a good post, and afforded plenty of provisions, which they had left behind them, half cooked, in every part of their encampment.
Patroles and spies were immediately dispatched to observe the Americans: The dragoons were directed to follow the enemy till dark, and the other emissaries to continue their inquiries till morning, if some material incident did not occur: Early in the night the patroles reported that General Morgan had struck into byways, tending towards Thickelle creek: A party of determined loyalists made an American colonel prisoner, who had casually left the line of march, and conducted him to the British camp: The examination of the militia colonel, and other accounts soon afterwards received, evinced the propriety of hanging upon General Morgan's rear, to impede the junction of reinforcements, said to be approaching, and likewise to prevent his passing Broad river without the knowledge of the light troops, who could perplex his design, and call in the assistance of the main army if necessity required. Other reports at midnight of a corps of mountaineers being upon the march from Green river, proved the exigency of moving to watch the enemy closely, in order to take advantage of any favourable opportunity that might offer.
Accordingly, at three o'clock in the morning on the 17th, the pickets being called in, the British troops, under the command of Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton, were directed to follow the route the Americans had taken the preceding evening, and the baggage and waggons were ordered to remain upon their ground till daybreak, under the protection of a detachment from each corps. Three companies of light infantry, supported by the legion infantry, formed the advance; [p215] the 7th regiment, the guns, and the 1st battalion of the 71st, composed the center; and the cavalry and mounted infantry brought up the rear. The ground which the Americans had passed being broken, and much intersected by creeks and ravines, the march of the British troops during the darkness was exceedingly slow, on account of the time employed in examining the front and flanks as they proceeded. Before dawn, Thickelle creek was passed, when an advanced guard of cavalry was ordered to the front. The enemy's patrole approaching, was pursued and overtaken: Two troops of dragoons, under Captain Ogilvie, of the legion, were then ordered to reinforce the advanced guard, and to harass the rear of the enemy. The march had not continued long in this manner, before the commanding officer in front reported that the American troops were halted and forming. The guides were immediately consulted relative to the ground which General Morgan then occupied, and the country in his rear. These people described both with great perspicuity: They said that the woods were open and free from swamps; that the part of Broad river, just above the place where King's creek joined the stream, was about six miles distant from the enemy's left flank, and that the river, by making a curve to the westward, ran parallel to their rear.
Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton having attained a position, which he certainly might deep advantageous, on account of the vulnerable situation of the enemy, and the supposed vicinity of the two British corps on the east and west of Broad river, did not hesitate to undertake those measures which the instructions of his commanding officer imposed, and his own judgement, under the present appearances, equally recommended. He ordered the legion dragoons to drive in the militia parties who covered the front, that General Morgan's disposition might be conveniently and distinctly inspected. He discovered that the American [p216] commander had formed a front line of about one thousand militia, and had composed his second line and reserve of five hundred continental light infantry, one hundred and twenty of Washington's cavalry, and three hundred back woodsmen. This accurate knowledge being obtained, Tarleton desired the British infantry to disencumber themselves of every thing, except their arms and ammunition: The light infantry were then ordered to file to the right till they became equal to the flank of the American front line: The legion infantry were added to their left; and, under the fire of a three-pounder, this part of the British troops was instructed to advance within three hundred yards of the enemy. This situation being acquired, the 7th regiment was commanded to form upon the left of the legion infantry, and the other three-pounder was given to the right division of the 7th: A captain, with fifty dragoons, was placed on each flank of the corps, who formed the British front line, to protect their own, and threaten the flanks of the enemy: The 1st battalion of the 71st was desired to extend a little to the left of the 7th regiment, and to remain one hundred and fifty yards in the rear. This body of infantry, and near two hundred cavalry, composed the reserve. During the execution of these arrangements, the animation of the officers and the alacrity of the soldiers afforded the most promising assurances of success. The disposition being completed, the front line received orders to advance; a fire from some of the recruits of the 7th regiment was suppressed, and the troops moved on in as good a line as troops could move in open files: The militia, after a short contest, were dislodged, and the British approached the continentals. The fire on both sides was well supported, and produced much slaughter: The cavalry on the right were directed to charge the enemy's left: They executed the order with great gallantry, but were drove back by the fire of the reserve, and by a charge of Colonel Washington's cavalry.
[p217] As the contest between the British infantry in the front line and the continentals seemed equally balanced, neither retreating, Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton thought the advance of the 71st into line, and a movement of the cavalry in reserve to threaten the enemy's right flank, would put a victorious period to the action. No time was lost in performing this manoeuvre. The 71st were desired to pass the 7th before they gave their fire, and were directed not to entangle their right flank with the left of the other battalion. The cavalry were ordered to incline to the left, and to form a line, which would embrace the whole of the enemy's right flank. Upon the advance of the 71st, all the infantry again moved on: The continentals and back woodsmen gave ground. The British rushed forwards: An order was dispatched to the cavalry to charge: An unexpected fire at this instant from the Americans, who came about as they were retreating, stopped the British, and threw them into confusion. Exertions to make them advance were useless. The part of the cavalry which had not been engaged fell likewise into disorder, and an unaccountable panic extended itself along the whole line. The Americans, who before thought they had lost the action, taking advantage of the present situation, advanced upon the British troops, and augmented their astonishment. A general flight ensued. Tarleton sent directions to his cavalry to form about four hundred yards to the right of the enemy, in order to check them, whilst he endeavoured to rally the infantry to protect the guns. The cavalry did not comply with the order, and the effort to collect the infantry was ineffectual: Neither promises nor threats could gain their attention; they surrendered or dispersed, and abandoned the guns to the artillery men, who defended them for some time with exemplary resolution. In this last stage of defeat Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton made another struggle to bring his cavalry to the charge. The weight of such an attack might yet retrieve the day, the enemy being much broken by their late [p218] rapid advance; but all attempts to restore order, recollection, or courage, proved fruitless. Above two hundred dragoons forsook their leader, and left the field of battle. Fourteen officers and forty horsemen were, however, not unmindful of their own reputation, or the situation of their commanding officer. Colonel Washington's cavalry were charged, and driven back into the continental infantry by this handful of brave men. Another party of the Americans, who had seized upon the baggage of the British troops on the road from the late encampment, were dispersed, and this detachment retired towards Broad river unmolested. On the route Tarleton heard with infinite grief and astonishment, that the main army had not advanced beyond Turkey (a.) creek: He therefore directed his course to the south east, in order to reach Hamilton's ford, near the mouth of Bullock creek, whence he might communicate with Earl Cornwallis.
The number of the killed and wounded, in the action at the Cowpens, amounted to near three hundred on both sides, officers and men inclusive: This loss was almost equally shared; but the Americans took two pieces of cannon, the colours of the 7th regiment, and near four hundred prisoners.
A diffuse comment upon this affair would be equally useless and tiresome: Two observations will be sufficient: One will contain the general circumstances which affected the plan of the campaign, and the other the particular incidents of the action. It appears that Earl Cornwallis intended to invade North Carolina: Before his march commenced, an irruption was made by the enemy into the western part of South Carolina: In order to expel hostility from that quarter, he directed [p219] Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton to proceed with a corps, and "push the enemy to the utmost;" at the same time desiring to know if any movement of the main army would be useful. Tarleton, finding the Americans not so far advanced as was reported, halted his troops, that he might convey his opinion, by letter, to his commanding officer. He proposed that the army under Earl Cornwallis, and the corps of light troops, should commence their march at the same time for King's mountain, and that he would endeavour to destroy the enemy, or push them over Broad river to that place. Earl Cornwallis replied, that Tarleton perfectly understood his intentions. After three days move from Wynnesborough, his lordship sent intelligence that General (I.) Leslie was retarded by the waters, and that he imagined the light troops must be equally impeded. Tarleton shortened his marches till he heard that the reinforcement was out of the swamps, though he had more difficulties of that nature to struggle against than could possibly be found between the Catawba and Broad rivers: This delay being occasioned by General Leslie's corps, rather astonishment him, because the troops under that officer's command were not mentioned in the first proposal; and if they were deemed necessary for the combination, one forced march would have brought them from the banks of the Catawba to the middle road, which Earl Cornwallis was then moving on, between the two great rivers, and where no creeks or waters could obstruct their advance towards Tryon county. On the 14th Earl Cornwallis informed Tarleton that Leslie had surmounted his difficulties, [(a.)2] and that he imagined the enemy would not pass the Broad river, though it had fallen very much. Tarleton then answered, that he would try to cross the Pacolet to force them, and desired Earl Cornwallis to acquire as high a station as possible, in order to stop their retreat. [p220] No letter, order, or intelligence, from head quarters, reached Tarleton after this reply, previous to the defeat on the 17th, and after that event he found Earl Cornwallis on Turkey creek, near twenty-five miles below the place where the action had happened. The distance between Wynnesborough and King's mountain, or Wynnesborough and Little Broad river, which would have answered the same purpose, does not exceed sixty-five miles: Earl Cornwallis commenced his march on the 7th or 8th of January. It would be mortifying to describe the advantages that might have resulted from his lordship's arrival at the concerted point, or to expatiate upon the calamities which were produced by this event. If an army is acting where no co-operation can take place, it is necessary for the commander in chief to keep as near as possible to his detachments, if such a proceeding does not interfere with a manoeuvre which in itself would decide the event of the campaign. A steady adherence to that line of conduct would prevent the misfortunes which detachments are liable to, or soften their effects. Earl Cornwallis might have conceived, that, by attending to the situation of the enemy, and of the country, and by covering his light troops, he would, in all probability, have alternately brought Generals Morgan and Greene into his power by co-operative movements: He might also have concluded, that all his parties that were beaten in the country, if they had no corps to give them instant support or refuge, must be completely destroyed. Many instances of this nature occurred during the war. The fall of Ferguson was a recent and melancholy example: That catastrophe put a period to the first expedition into North Carolina; and the affair of the Cowpens overshadowed the commencement of the second.
The particular incidents relative to the action arise from an examination of the orders, the march, the comparative situation of Morgan [p221] and Tarleton, the disposition, and the defeat. The orders were positive. The march was difficult, on account of the number of creeks and rivers; and circuitous, in consequence of such impediments: The Pacolet was passed by stratagem: The Americans to avoid an action, left their camp, and marched all night: The ground which General Morgan had chosen for the engagement, in order to cover his retreat to Broad river, was disadvantageous for the Americans, and convenient for the British: An open wood was certainly as proper a place for action as Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton could desire; America does not produce many more suitable to the nature of the troops under his command. The situation of the enemy was desperate in case of misfortune; an open country, and a river in their rear, must have thrown them entirely into the power of a superior cavalry; whilst the light troops, in case of repulse, had the expectation of a neighbouring force to protect them from destruction. The disposition was planned with coolness, and executed without embarrassment. The defeat of the British must be ascribed either to the bravery or good conduct of the Americans; to the loose manner of forming which had always been practised by the King's troops in America; or to some unforeseen event, which may throw terror into the most disciplined soldiers, or counteract the best-concerted designs. The extreme extension of the files always exposed the British regiments and corps, and would, before this unfortunate affair, have been attended with detrimental effect, had not the multiplicity of lines with which they generally fought rescued them from such imminent danger. If infantry who are formed very open, and only two deep, meet with opposition, they can have no stability: But when they experience an unexpected shock, confusion will ensue, and flight, without immediate support, must be the inevitable consequence. Other circumstances, perhaps, contributed to so decisive a route, which, if the military system [p222] admitted the same judicious regulation as the naval, a court martial would, perhaps, have disclosed. Public trials of commanding officers after unfortunate affairs, are as necessary to one service as the other, and might, in some instances, be highly beneficial to the military profession. Influenced by this idea, Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton, some days after the action, required Earl Cornwallis's approbation of his proceedings, or his leave to retire till inquiry could be instituted, to investigate his conduct. The noble earl's decided support of Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton's management of the King's troops, previous to and during the action, is fully expressed in a letter (L.) from his lordship.
Above two hundred cavalry who had fled to the main army, and several other fugitives, joined Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton the day after the action, at Hamilton's ford. Major-general Leslie's corps marched into Earl Cornwallis's camp on the morning of the (a.) 18th: The 19th, the army, with the cavalry on their left flank, moved towards King's creek: The 20th, Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton was directed to pass Broad river with the dragoons and the yagers, to obtain intelligence of General Morgan, and to give protection to the fugitives who might yet have escaped the power of the victorious Americans. He recrossed the river in the evening, having received information, that Morgan, soon after the action, had quitted the field of battle, to pass his troops and the prisoners at the high fords on Broad river, leaving the wounded under the protection of a flag of truce. This news induced Earl Cornwallis to cross Buffaloe creek and Little Broad river, in hopes of intercepting General Morgan; but the celerity made use of by the Americans, after their unexpected advantage [p223] at the Cowpens, enabled them to evade his lordship's army, and reach (a.) the Catawba. In the mean time, General Greene appointed the eastern bank of that river for the place of rendezvous of the militia, and to effect a junction, if possible, of the continentals. In order to complete his plan, he prepared to dispute the passage of the British, with General Morgan's (b.) division and the militia, till the other corps of continentals could, by forced marches, reach the upper parts of North Carolina.
The King's troops, after their ineffectual pursuit, pointed their course towards the Catawba: The train of waggons that now attended them met with great obstacles on the march, which considerably impeded the progress of the army. On the 25th, (b.) a halt was made at Ransoure's mills, for the purpose of destroying all the baggage and carriages, except such as were absolutely necessary. Earl Cornwallis reduced the size and quantity of his own baggage, and this laudable example was followed by the general and other officers under his command. After adopting this measure, so necessary for the prosecution of offensive operations, the army proceeded towards the Catawba. Patroles were dispatched to reconnoitre the neighbouring fords: Parties of continentals and militia were discovered on the opposite banks: Intelligence was likewise obtained of the arrival of General Greene, with an escort of American dragoons, at Beatty's ford; and, that his troops were advancing by rapid marches from the Pedee. The situation of the public fords rendering them formidable, inhabitants and spies were employed to discover the state of the private passes through the river, that the main column of the army might attempt some place not strongly guarded, whilst a detachment, with great demonstration, [p224] occupied the attention of the Americans at the most frequented and shallowest part of the Catawba.
On the evening of the 31st of January, a large proportion of the King's troops received orders to be in readiness to march at one o'clock in the morning; and Colonel Webster was directed to move at daybreak, with the 33d, the second battalion of the 71st, Hamilton's corps, the yagers, the six pounders, and all the waggons, to Beatty's ford. At the time appointed, Earl Cornwallis commanded the guides to conduct him, with the principal part of the army (c.) and two three-pounders, to M'Cowan's, six miles to the southward of the public ford. Owing to the intricacy of the roads, and the darkness of the morning, one of the three pounders was overset, and for some time caused a separation of the 23d regiment, the cavalry, and the artillery men, from the main body. The brigade of guards, and the regiment of Bose, reached the river before dawn; and it evidently appeared, by the fires on the opposite bank, that a detachment of the enemy were ready to contest the passage. Brigadier-general O'Hara formed the guards into column, and directed them to move forwards, and approach the Americans without firing. As soon as the light company entered the water, supported by the grenadiers and the two battalions, the enemy commenced a galling and constant fire, which was steadily received by the guards, without being returned. The column advanced without the smallest halt, though the soldiers were frequently above their middle in water; and a rapid stream, upwards of five hundred yards wide, was passed in the face of an enemy with great gallantry (d.) and resolution. The attack of the light and grenadier companies, as soon as they reached the land, dispersed the [p225] Americans, who left their leader, General Davidson, dead upon the spot, and about forty men killed and wounded. Lieutenant-colonel Hall, of the light infantry, fell as he quitted the stream. The guards had very few men killed, and only thirty-six wounded, on this trying occasion.
The regiment of Bose, the 23d, the three pounders, and the cavalry, followed in succession. When the passage was completed, Earl Cornwallis directed Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton (e.) to move forwards with his own corps and the 23d regiment, to attack the rear of the camp at Beatty's, in case the Americans had not quitted that position: But as that was looked upon as the probable consequence of the firing at M'Cowan's, upon finding the ford open for Colonel Webster, he was instructed to make a patrole into the country, to gain intelligence of the enemy. The advanced dragoons soon brought some prisoners to Tarleton, who informed him, that the different guards upon the fords had quitted the river, and were making a precipitate retreat. A heavy rain and bad roads preventing the progress of the infantry, the 23d was posted about five miles east from Beatty's ford, on the main route leading to Salisbury, and the pursuit was continued with the cavalry: They had not proceeded above three miles, when Tarleton gained intelligence, that the fugitives from the fords, and other parties of militia from the counties of Rohan and Mecklenburgh, were to assemble at two o'clock in the afternoon at Tarrant's tavern. Although the report of the distance and the number was contrary to his wishes, he reflected, that the time was advantageous to make impression upon the militia; that the weather, on account of a violent rain, was favourable for the project; and that a retreat was always practicable [p226] with a superior body of cavalry. Actuated by these considerations, he determined, by a rapid march, to approach the enemy: The militia were vigilant, and were prepared for an attack. In this critical situation, Tarleton resolved to hazard one charge, and, if unsuccessful, to order a retreat: When at a proper distance, he desired his soldiers to advance, and remember the Cowpens. Animated by this reproach, a furious onset ensued: They broke through the center with irresistible velocity, killed near fifty on the spot, wounded many in the pursuit, and dispersed above five hundred of the enemy. Small parties of dragoons were detached in every direction, to continue their confusion, and prevent their assembling: The remainder of the cavalry halted at Tarrant's. Seven men were killed and wounded, and twenty horses fell, by the first fire of the enemy. This exertion of the cavalry succeeding the gallant action of the guards in the morning, diffused such a terror among the (f.) inhabitants, that the King's troops passed through the most hostile part of North Carolina without a shot from the militia. Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton, on the return of the detachments, fell back with his corps and some prisoners, to join the army, five miles from Beatty's ford.
Some papers belonging to Colonel Locke, who was killed in the late affair, discovered General Greene's solicitude (M.) for the assembling of the militia. On his first arrival in Mecklenburgh and Rohan, he thought those counties would supply force sufficient, with the aid of Morgan's corps, to prevent the King's troops passing the Catawba; but if the inhabitants joined their assistance after that event, he had full confidence in the ability of General Piekens, to harass and impede the progress of the King's troops, till he placed the districts beyond [p227] the Yadkin in a state of defence, by calling out their militia, and effecting a junction of the divided continentals. The design of the American commander being in some degree frustrated, Earl Cornwallis proceeded with the royal army on the 2d of [February], to endeavour to render the whole abortive. He reached Salisbury on the 4th, where some emissaries informed him, that General Morgan was at the Trading ford, but had not passed the river: Brigadier-general O'Hara was directed to march to that place, with the guards, the regiment of Bose, and the cavalry. Owing to rain, darkness, and bad roads, the troops did not arrive at the Yadkin till near midnight. After a skirmish (c.) it was discovered that Morgan's corps had crossed in the evening, leaving a detachment of riflemen to protect some waggons and stores belonging to country people, who were flying with their effects, to avoid the British army. General O'Hara having made a fruitless (g.) effort to get possession of the flats and large boats upon the river, took post with the infantry on the ground which commanded the ford and the ferry, and sent back the cavalry to Salisbury. A heavy rain swelled the Yadkin the succeeding day and night, and General Morgan remained on the eastern bank, facing the British troops.
Earl Cornwallis finding that he could not attempt the Trading ford, on account of the advantageous position of the enemy and depth of the river, detached the cavalry, supported by the 23d regiment, on the afternoon of the 6th, to reconnoitre Grant's creek, and the country beyond it. Some militia broke the bridge on the creek, but retired on the approach of the British. As soon as the bridge was repaired, Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton made a long patrole with the [p228] cavalry, and finding no obstacles to impeded the course of the main army to the upper fords, and no probability of opposition in crossing the Yadkin above the forks, he returned towards his infantry, and sent a written report of his discoveries to Salisbury. On this news, Earl Cornwallis directed General O'Hara to quit his position at the Trading ford, and return to head quarters; which being accomplished, the royal army marched from Salisbury, and passed the different creeks on the road to the shallow fords, where they crossed the Yadkin, and entered the Moravian settlement.
The mild and hospitable disposition of the inhabitants, being assisted by the well-cultivated and fruitful plantations in their possession, afforded abundant and seasonable supplies to the King's troops during their passage through this district. Earl Cornwallis, wishing to intercept the Americans, and force them to action to the southward of the Roanoke, proceeded from Salem towards the head of Haw river, and on his march gained intelligence of their having composed a formidable (d.) corps of light troops, consisting of Lee's, Bland's, and Washington's cavalry, the continental light infantry, and some riflemen, in order to watch his motions, and retard his progress whilst General Greene removed the stores and heavy baggage of the continental army into Virginia, and hastened the remainder of his troops to the river Dan, on the frontier of that province. At the cross roads, near the Reedy fork, the advanced guard of the British light troops was attacked by Colonel Lee's dragoons, who were repulsed with some loss; but an officer of the advanced guard continuing the pursuit too far, was made prisoner, with three of his followers. The bridge on Reedy fork being broken down, retarded for some hours the advance [p229] of Earl Cornwallis, who afterwards crossed Troublesome creek, and persevered in the direction to the high fords of the Dan. On the road many skirmishes took place between the British and the American light troops, without great loss to either party, or any impediment to the progress of the main body. Owing to an excellent disposition, which was attended with some fortunate contingencies, General Greene passed the whole army over the river Dan on the 14th, near Country-line creek, without their receiving any material detriment from the King's troops. Every measure of the Americans, during their march from the Catawba to Virginia, was judiciously designed and vigorously executed. The British proceeded without intermission to Boyd's ferry, (h.) where they found some works evacuated, which had been constructed to cover the retreat of the enemy, who six hours before had finished their passage, and were then encamped on the opposite bank.
The continentals being chased out of North Carolina, and the militia being awed and impeded from collecting, Earl Cornwallis thought the opportunity favourable for assembling the King's friends. With this intention he retired from the Dan, and proceeded by easy marches towards Hillsborough, the capital of the province. On this movement the King's troops gradually recovered from the fatigue they had undergone on the late march, which they had borne with exemplary patience and fortitude. Earl Cornwallis, on his arrival at Hillsborough, published a proclamation, (O.) inviting all loyal subjects to repair to the King's standard, (i.) and to take an active part in assisting him to restore order and constitutional government.
[p230] During these operations, Generals Sumpter and Marion endeavoured to disturb the communications, and excite insurrections, in South Carolina. Lord Rawdon immediately suppressed all the enemy's attempts within his reach. A body of continentals, under Colonel Lee, had met with some success on the extremity of the eastern border, where the garrison of George town were surprised: But this part of the frontier was relieved by the recall of the continentals to the northward, and George town was again occupied by the British.
Previous to the movement of the royal army from Wynnesborough, Earl Cornwallis instructed Lieutenant-colonel Balfour, to send a detachment from Charles town, under the convoy of a naval force, to take possession of Wilmington, in North Carolina. Information was received about this time, that Major Craig, of the 82d, with the flank companies of his regiment, and two hundred men, had proceeded up Cape-Fear river with military supplies, and had fortified himself in that post. From Hillsborough, Earl Cornwallis opened correspondence with Wilmington, and desired the officer commanding at that place to report to him the state of the country in his neighbourhood, and to gather as early and complete information as possible, of the practicability of establishing a water communication between his garrison and Cross creek.
Soon after the King's standard was erected at Hillsborough, many hundred inhabitants of the surrounding districts rode into the British camp, to talk over the proclamation, inquire the news of the day, and take a view of the King's troops. The generality of these visitants seemed desirous of peace, but averse to every exertion that might tend to procure it. They acknowledged the continentals were chased out of the province; but they declared, they soon expected them to return, [p231] and the dread of violence and persecution prevented their taking a decided part in a cause which yet appeared dangerous. Some of the most zealous professors of attachment, who were denominated tories, from having publicly avowed their sentiments, promised to raise corps and regiments for the King's service; but their followers and dependents protesting against military restraint and subordination, numbers were never found to complete their establishments. Another circumstance deserves mention, which undoubtedly had material influence at this period. Owing to a variety of causes, the King's troops had never made any serious effort to assist the well affected in North Carolina since the commencement of the war. The length of time that had elapsed since Governor Martin quitted the province, and the variety of calamities which had attended the exertions of the loyalists, had not only reduced their numbers and weakened their attachment, but had confirmed the power and superiority of the adverse party, and had occasioned a general depression in the King's friends, which would not easily have been shaken off in the most prosperous times, and therefore was not likely to be warmed into action with the present appearance of public affairs.
Notwithstanding the indifference or the terror of the loyalists was visible at Hillsborough, Earl Cornwallis entertained hopes of receiving reinforcements from the inhabitants between the Haw and the Deep river. On the 23d (k.) Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton was detached with two hundred cavalry, one hundred and fifty men of Colonel Webster's brigade, and one hundred yagers, to give countenance to the friends of government in that district: A family of the name of Pyle had made preparation for an insurrection in that quarter, and had [p232] communicated their intentions to Earl Cornwallis, who assured them that a British force should be sent to give them protection whilst they assembled, and at the same time requested them to march to Hillsborough, or to Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton's corps, as soon as they had collected a body. On the 24th the British detachment passed the Haw, and dispersed a party of American militia, who had united to counteract the intentions of the loyalists. Tarleton was told by the prisoners, that a continental force was expected in the neighbourhood, which intelligence induced him to send to the Pyles to join him without delay. In the course of the day particular and authentic information was obtained of Colonel Lee's cavalry having passed Haw river to meet a corps of mountaineers under Colonel Preston, for the purpose of intimidating or dispersing the King's friends. This report made Tarleton repeat his order to the Pyles for an instant junction of the numbers already assembled, that he might proceed against either Lee or Preston before they united. Spies were sent to gain intelligence of both, and some satisfactory accounts had arrived, when several wounded loyalists entered the British camp, and complained to Tarleton of the cruelty of his dragoons. Though the accusation was erroneous, their sufferings were evident, and the cause from whence they proceeded was soon afterwards discovered. Colonel Pyle, and two hundred of his followers, being all equally ignorant of the customs of war, had not complied with the orders they received, and though forewarned of their danger, thought fit to pay visits to their kindred and acquaintance before they repaired to the British camp: Inspired by whiskey and the novelty of their situation, they unfortunately prolonged their excursions, till, meeting a detachment of dragoons, whom they supposed to be British, they received a fierce and unexpected attack, in answer to their amicable salutation of "God save the King," and many of them experienced inhuman barbarity; when discovering [p233] their mistake, they supplicated for mercy. Patroles were sent out to learn the course the American dragoons had taken after this event, and assistance was dispatched to the wounded loyalists. After dark information was procured of the distance and position of the mountaineers; and when the British troops were under arms at midnight, to proceed towards their encampment, an express arrived from Earl Cornwallis with an order (P.) for Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton's return to Hillsborough.
The exertion made by the noble Earl to call forth the loyalists in North Carolina, since the absence of the continental army, had excited the attention of General Greene, who endeavoured to obstruct the design, by privately employing the active emissaries of his party, till he had collected a sufficient force to venture over the Dan, and give public support to the American cause. The report of his advance soon made the luke-warm friends abandon the British camp, and prompted Earl Cornwallis to call in his detachments. The express from head quarters obliged Tarleton to forego his enterprise, and return immediately to the general, who had taken a new position out of the town, on the banks of the river Eno. The American commander, though considerably reinforced by state troops, by back woodsmen, and by militia, did not intend to approach and offer battle to the King's troops in the present situation of the two armies. His plan was not to venture upon action without manifest superiority and advantage; but to keep alive the courage of his party, to depress that of the loyalists, to wait for the additional assistance which he expected, and to harass the foragers and detachments of the British.
[p234] Although the King's standard had been erected at Hillsborough, and the loyalists of North Carolina invited to repair to it, Earl Cornwallis did not deem it judicious (l.) to remain long in that situation after General Greene returned from Virginia. On the 26th the royal army marched by the left, passed through Hillsborough, and pointed their course towards the Haw. The fruitfulness of the country, and the protection of a body of the King's friends, supposed to reside in that district, were the reasons assigned for this movement. The Haw was passed on the 27th, and the King's troops took post near Allamance creek and Stinking quarter. If General Greene lost the confidence of his friends by quitting North Carolina when pursued by a superior force, Earl Cornwallis likewise relinquished his claim to the superiority of the British arms by abandoning Hillsborough upon the return of the American general into the province; and undoubtedly both officers from this period placed their future hopes in their own military conduct, and rested the event of the campaign upon the operations of their respective armies.
As soon as General Greene was informed of the position of the main body of the King's troops near Allamance, and that their advanced guard extended a little way towards Deep river, he crossed the Haw near its source, and took post between Troublesome creek and Reedy fork. The two armies did not long remain in this situation. The British cavalry were ordered on the 2d of March to forage about three miles in front of their encampment. Captain Hovenden, of the legion, who commanded the covering party, observing some of the American dragoons in the neighbourhood of the plantations where he was directed to collect forage, rode forwards to examine more closely; [p235] when, perceiving the enemy's infantry, he dispatched the foragers to camp without their burdens, and, on his return, reported the circumstances he had discovered. This intelligence induced Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton to make a patrole with his whole corps, which consisted of the cavalry, a few mounted infantry, the light company of the guards, and one hundred and fifty men of Colonel Webster's brigade, after having conveyed to Earl Cornwallis, by express, his reason for such a proceeding. The approach to the ground where the enemy were described to have been seen proving unfit for the operations of cavalry, Tarleton directed the infantry to form the advance, and to explore the thick woods upon the flanks with great attention. The light company of the guards, commanded by Captain Dundass, led the column, the infantry of the line followed the guards, and the cavalry brought up the foragers in the rear, till the country would allow the dragoons to move on to the front. When the British drew near to the plantations which were to furnish the forage, a heavy fire from some thickets on each side of the road discovered the situation of the enemy. The guards formed with their usual alacrity, and Captain Ingram, of the 33d regiment, who commanded the hundred and fifty men of Webster's brigade, was directed to dress his left by their right, whilst the cavalry moved to his right, where the country appeared most favourable for their exertions. The gallantry of the British troops, after a short conflict, dislodged and dispersed a corps of eight hundred men, composed of Lee's legion, Washington's dragoons, and Preston's backwoodsmen. The loss of the Americans was confined principally to the woodsmen; the continentals retreated early, and did not wait the charge of the British dragoons, who were much impeded in their advance by a thick wood and high rails, which prevented the action from being more general and decisive.
[p236] The pursuit was restrained on account of the various roads by which the enemy's cavalry could escape, and in consequence of the report of prisoners, who acknowledged that General Greene was moving with the American army to the southward of the Reedy fork. Though the continentals suffered little in this affair, numbers of the riflemen were killed and wounded; and being abandoned by their cavalry, the rest were totally dispersed. The loss of the British amounted to one officer wounded, and twenty men killed and wounded, which fell principally upon the guards. During the time that the dragoons were collecting their trusses, an express was sent to Earl Cornwallis to advise him of the movement of the enemy; and the forage being completed, the light troops fell back to their former encampment; where they found Major De Buy, with the yagers, the regiment of Bose, and two pieces of cannon, Earl Cornwallis having advanced this support as soon as he heard the musketry in front.
The next morning Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton was directed to move a corps, consisting of two hundred cavalry, the light company of the guards, eighty yagers, one hundred and fifty men of Webster's brigade, two six-pounders, and the regiment of Bose, six miles to the front of the British army, into the neighbourhood of the enemy. He chose a strong post for his numbers. The intermediate country was foraged during the day: In the evening Tarleton was desired to maintain his position till morning, unless he found that he was likely to be attacked by a force too considerable to resist: The advanced post, in this delicate and ticklish situation, was felt all night by the enemy, and the patroles were frequently driven in. The forage being completed, Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton withdrew, and joined the army in the morning.
[p237] About this period Earl Cornwallis and General Greene entered into correspondence for the exchange of prisoners belonging to the southern armies. Captain Brodrick, who was empowered to treat by the former, on account of some difficulties which arose, could not bring the business to a conclusion: It dropped for some time; and being afterwards revived, was finished by Captain Cornwallis, on the part of the British, and Colonel Carrington as agent for the Americans, when the customary tariff was signed, and accordingly executed.
On the 5th information was conveyed to head quarters of the principal part of General Greene's army being situated near Guildford court house, and that the light troops and militia extended down Reedy fork and towards the Haw river, to protect the country, and guard the communications with Virginia, and the upper parts of North Carolina. Several reports confirming the validity of this intelligence, Earl Cornwallis determined to move the next day to disturb the enemy's (a.) communications and derange their projects. (m.) Early in the morning he passed the Allamance: The light troops led the column, supported by Colonel Webster's brigade: The regiment of Bose was followed by the brigade of guards; and Hamilton's corps, with the waggons, brought up the rear. The British dragoons soon pushed Colonel Lee's cavalry from their advanced situation: They retired to Wetzell's mill on the Reedy fork: Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton discovered the enemy to be in force at that place, and reported the circumstance to Earl Cornwallis, who directed Colonel Webster to form his brigade in line with the light company of the guards and the yagers. This disposition being made, the front line advanced, the rest of the King's troops remaining in column. The enemy did not oppose the right [p238] wing of the British so steadily as the left: The 23d and 71st moved forwards to the creek without any great impediment; and the ardent bravery of the 33d and the light company of the guards soon dislodged them from their strong position. The infantry mounted the hill above the creek, and dispersed the Americans so effectually, that the cavalry could only collect a few stragglers from the woods in front. The militia who guarded this pass had upwards of one hundred men killed, wounded, and taken. The killed and wounded of the British amounted to about thirty.
If the design had been completed with the same energy with which it was commenced, the happiest consequences might have resulted from it. An immediate movement of the King's troops across High-rock ford might, at this period, have produced various and decisive events. Such a manoeuvre (b.) might have intercepted the American stores and reinforcements, then approaching from Hillsborough and Virginia; might have interrupted the retreat of the American army, or forced the continentals to hazard an action without the assistance of their eighteen-months men and militia. The news of Earl Cornwallis's march made General Greene decamp precipitately, in order to proceed towards the Haw for the protection of his (c.) stores and reinforcements: Intelligence was obtained of this circumstance by the express falling into the hands of a British legion dragoon, who conducted him to Earl Cornwallis with his dispatches. But notwithstanding these weighty considerations, it was strenuously urged to his lordship, that a move towards Deep river would cover the King's friends, and that the army had not sufficient provisions to proceed into the country beyond the Haw. In vain it was represented that the British troops could never [p239] expect great assistance from the loyalists till they had destroyed Greene, and acquired a marked superiority of arms; that the present enterprise was momentous, and happily commenced; and that vigorous exertions for forty-eight hours would procure favourable opportunities of taking all the stores of the Americans, beating their army in detail, and securing the event of the campaign.
The performance of these operations, which would probably have averted many of the subsequence calamities, was not, however, undertaken, and an order was given for the King's troops to incline to the westward: They accordingly moved in a south-west direction for a few days, whilst General Greene (d.) connected, without molestation, his militia, his eighteen-months men, and his continentals; when he advanced towards a good position over Reedy fork with an army of seven thousand men, and pushed forwards his light troops to attack the rear of the British as they crossed a branch of Deep river: The legion dragoons repulsed the enemy's detachment with some loss, and the royal army encamped on the 13th at the Quakers' meeting house.
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