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[p269] Battle at Guildford. -- Earl Cornwallis crosses Deep river, -- and retires towards Cross creek. -- General Greene follows the British. -- Earl Cornwallis arrives at Cross creek. -- And moves to Wilmington. -- General Greene advances towards South Carolina. -- Earl Cornwallis marches towards the Roanoke. -- Skirmish at Halifax. -- Earl Cornwallis unites the royal armies at Petersburgh. -- The British pass James river at Westover. -- The Marquis de la Fayette crosses the South and North Anna. -- Earl Cornwallis sends detachments to destroy stores. -- The British move towards Richmond. -- The Marquis de la Fayette follows the King's troops. -- Earl Cornwallis marches to Williamsburgh. -- Affair near the Chickahomany.
The British troops since their departure from Hillsborough had been in great want of many of those necessaries, which, in general, are deemed absolutely requisite to render their hardships supportable, and their minds contented; this deficiency, however, did not diffuse dissatisfaction, or produce desertion, but rather augmented the zeal, and strengthened the fidelity of the soldiery. Notwithstanding both officers and men manifested an alacrity equal to any fatigue or danger, Earl Cornwallis meditated on the measures he should adopt, in order to open the communication with his stores. To forward this operation, Major Craig, who commanded at Wilmington, was directed, if he found it practicable, to transport supplies of shoes and other material [p270] articles, by water, to Cross creek: But the number and vicinity of the American army, reported to be upwards of eight thousand men, and advanced to Guildford court house, would not allow the British commander to send a detachment to Cross creek, supporting the stores were already arrived at that place; and, in all likelihood, if he moved with the main body in that direction, the superior force of General Greene would stimulate him to interrupt the undertaking.
Thus situated, Earl Cornwallis had the alternative, either to commence his retreat, or prepare for a general action. The power and position of his enemy rendered all the country beyond the pickets hostile to the British cause, which had no friends or partizans at this period except those included within the extent of the royal camp. On the 14th of March, his lordship determined to advance upon the Americans at Guildford, and bring on an engagement, that he thought they would not avoid, and which he hoped would be productive of considerable advantage. Before dawn next morning, the waggons, with the baggage, the wounded, and the sick, were instructed to move to Bell's mill, on Deep river, under the escort of a detachment, commanded by Lieutenant-colonel Hamilton, (a.) formed of his own regiment, one hundred infantry of the line, and twenty dragoons of the legion. The main body at daybreak marched toward the enemy's camp. The cavalry, the light infantry of the guards, and the yagers, composed the advanced guard. Colonel Webster's brigade, the regiment of Bose, and the brigade of guards, followed successively: The artillery marched with their respective divisions. The British had proceeded seven miles on the great Salisbury road to Guildford, when the light troops drove in a picket of the enemy. A sharp conflict ensued [p271] between the advanced (b.) parties of the two armies. In the onset, the fire of the Americans was heavy, and the charge of their cavalry was spirited: Notwithstanding their numbers and opposition, the gallantry of the light infantry of the guards, assisted by the legion, made impression upon their center, before the 23d regiment arrived to give support to the advanced troops. Colonel Lee's dragoons retreated with precipitation along the main road, and Colonel Campbell's mountaineers were dispersed with considerable loss. The pursuit was not pushed very far, as there were many proofs beside the acknowledgment of the prisoners, that General Greene was at hand. Captain Goodrick of the guards, a promising young officer, fell in this contest, and between twenty and thirty of the guards, dragoons, and yagers, were killed and wounded. The King's troops moved on till they arrived in sight of the American army. An engagement was now become inevitable, and both sides prepared for it with tranquillity and order.
During the skirmish of the light troops, General Greene formed the American army of seven thousand men into three lines, (a.) and waited the attack. His front line consisted of North-Carolina militia, under Generals Butler and Eaton: The center was placed behind rails, in the rear of a clearing, about three hundred yards space, and the flanks extended into the woods: Two six-pounders were stationed to the right of the center, on the main road which led to the court house. The second line was composed of the Virginia militia, under the command of Generals Stephens and Butler, who formed their brigades in the woods parallel to the front line, and about four hundred yards in their rear. The continentals, consisting of two brigades, one Virginia [p272] and the other Maryland troops, with the Delaware regiment, were commanded by Brigadier-general Huger and Colonel Williams, and were posted facing the wood where the two lines of militia were drawn up: General Greene had chosen open ground, in front of the court house, for great part of his regulars: The flanks did not dress up to the center, but were drawn back, so that each brigade presented a different front: Two six-pounders were placed on a small eminence which looked upon the road. The position of these brigades was near six hundred yards in the rear of the second line. Lieutenant-colonel Washington, with the dragoons (b.) of the 1st and 3d regiments, a detachment of light infantry, composed of continentals, and a regiment of riflemen under Colonel Lynch, formed a corps of observation for the security of the right flank. Lieutenant-colonel Lee, with his legion, a party of light infantry, and a corps of riflemen under Colonel Campbell, had a similar situation on the left.
As the front of the British column approached the open ground facing the American position, the enemy's six pounders opened from the road, and were immediately answered by the royal artillery. After Earl Cornwallis had consulted the guides concerning the nature of the country, and viewed as much as he could the disposition of the militia, he desired Major-general Leslie (c.) to move to the right with the 71st and the regiment of Bose, which force was to compose his front line for the attack of the enemy's left, and the 1st battalion of the guards was allotted for his reserve. Colonel Webster was directed to form the 23d (d.) and 33d on the left of General Leslie's division: Brigadier-general O'Hara was instructed to support Colonel Webster, with the 2d battalion and the grenadier company of the guards. Whilst these [p273] troops were forming, the yagers and the light infantry of the guards remained near the guns in the road; but when the line moved on, they attached themselves to the left of Webster's brigade. The artillery, under Lieutenant Macleod, proceeded along the high road: The dragoons likewise could only move in column in the same direction, and Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton was ordered to keep his regiment in reserve till the infantry could penetrate through the woods to the open ground, near the court house, where the country was represented to be more favourable for the operations of cavalry.
During these arrangements for the attack, the British artillery cannonaded the enemy's center with considerable effect: Lieutenant O'Hara, a spirited young officer, was unfortunately killed, whilst directing the three pounders before the line was ready to move on. The troops were no sooner formed than they marched forwards with steadiness and composure: The order and coolness of that part of Webster's brigade which advanced across the open ground, exposed to the enemy's fire, cannot be sufficiently extolled: The extremities were not less gallant, but were more protected by the woods in which they moved. The militia allowed the front line to approach within one hundred and fifty yards before they gave their fire: The front line continued to move on: The Americans sent back their cannon, and part of them repeated their fire: The King's troops threw in their fire, and charged rapidly with their bayonets: The shock was not waited for by the militia, who retreated behind their second line. At this place the action became more severe. The broken ground and the extent of the enemy's front had occasioned the flanks to open from the center; upon which Generals Leslie and O'Hara moved the two battalions and the grenadiers of the guards into line, when the superior discipline and bravery of the King's troops again threw the militia into confusion. The [p274] thickness of the woods where these conflicts happened prevented the cavalry making a charge upon the Americans on their retreat to the continentals, and impeded the British infantry moving forwards in a well-connected line. Some corps meeting with less opposition and embarrassment than others, arrived sooner in presence of the continentals, who received them with resolution and firmness.
At this period the event of the action was doubtful, and victory alternately presided over each army. On the left of the British Colonel Webster carried on the yagers, the light company of the guards, and the 33d regiment, after two severe struggles, to the right of the continentals, whose superiority of numbers and weight of fire obliged him to recross a ravine, and take ground upon the opposite bank. This manoeuvre was planned with great judgement, and, being executed with coolness and precision, gave Webster an excellent position till he could hear of the progress of the King's troops upon his right. In the center the 2d battalion of the guards, commanded by Lieutenant-colonel Stewart, supported by the grenadiers, made a spirited and successful attack on the enemy's six pounders, which they took from the Delaware regiment; but the Maryland brigade, followed by Washington's cavalry, moving upon them before they could receive assistance, retook the cannon, and repulsed (e.) the guards with great slaughter. The ground being open, Colonel Washington's dragoons killed Colonel Stewart and several of his men, and pursued the remainder into the wood. General O'Hara, though wounded, rallied the remainder of the 2d battalion of the guards to the 23d and 71st regiments, who had inclined from the divisions on the right and left, and were now approaching the open ground. The grenadiers, after all their officers [p275] were wounded, attached themselves to the artillery and the cavalry, who were advancing upon the main road. At this crisis, the judicious use of the three pounders, the firm countenance of the British infantry, and the appearance of the cavalry, obliged the enemy to retreat, leaving their cannon and ammunition waggons behind them. Colonel Webster soon after connected his corps with the main body, and the action on the (f.) left and in the center was finished.
Earl Cornwallis did not think it advisable for the British cavalry to charge the enemy, who were retreating in good order, but directed Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton to proceed with a squadron of dragoons to the assistance of Major-general Leslie on the (g.) right, where, by the constant fire which was yet maintained, the affair seemed not to be determined. The right wing, from the thickness of the woods and a jealousy for its flank, had imperceptibly inclined to the right, by which movement it had a kind of separate action after the front line of the Americans gave way, and was now engaged with several bodies of militia and riflemen above a mile distant from the center of the British army. The 1st battalion of the guards, commanded by Lieutenant-colonel Norton, and the regiment of Bose, under Major De Buy, had their share of the difficulties of the day, and, owing to the nature of the light troops opposed to them, could never make any decisive impression: As they advanced, the Americans gave ground in front, and inclined to their flanks: This sort of conflict had continued some time, when the British cavalry, on their way to join them, found officers and men of both corps wounded, and in possession of the enemy: The prisoners were quickly rescued from the hands of their captors, and the dragoons reached General Leslie without delay. As soon as [p276] the cavalry arrived, the guards and the Hessians were directed to fire a volley upon the largest party of the militia, and, under the cover of the smoke, Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton doubled round the right flank of the guards, and charged the Americans with considerable effect. The enemy gave way on all sides, and were routed with confusion and loss. Thus ended a general, and, in the main, a well-contested action, which had lasted upwards of two hours. General Leslie soon afterwards joined Earl Cornwallis, who had advanced a short distance on the Reedy-fork road, with the 23d and 71st regiments, to support the other squadron of the British legion, who followed the rear of the continentals.
On the part of the British, (B.) the honourable Lieutenant-colonel Stewart, of the guards, two lieutenants, two ensigns, thirteen serjeants, and seventy-five rank and file, were killed: Brigadier-generals O'Hara and Howard, Lieutenant-colonels Webster and Tarleton, nine captains, four lieutenants, five ensigns, two staff officers, fifteen serjeants, five drummers, and three hundred and sixty-nine rank and file, were wounded; and twenty-five rank and file were missing.
The American (E.) loss amounted to a more considerable number, though it was eventually of less importance; most of the militia having returned to their homes, instead of repairing to the rendezvous at Speedwell furnace. The continentals had one brigadier general, one major, nine captains, seven subalterns, fourteen serjeants, eight drums and fifes, and two hundred and ninety rank and file, killed, wounded, and missing. The Virginia militia had one brigadier general, eight captains, eighteen subalterns, fifteen serjeants, and three hundred and sixty-one [p277] rank and file killed, wounded, and missing. The North-Carolina militia had six rank and file killed; one captain, one subaltern, and three rank and file wounded; and two captains, two subalterns, and five hundred and fifty-two rank and file, missing.
Earl Cornwallis's disposition of the King's troops was judiciously adapted to the ground where the action commenced, and the gallantry and undaunted bravery of his officers and soldiers were conspicuous throughout the different and trying engagements of the day; but the superior numbers of the enemy, together with the present situation of the royal army, far distant from support or resource, and deficient in supplies to prosecute any advantage, undoubtedly rendered a general action more desirable to the Americans than to the British: The move, therefore, to Guildford, produced one of the most hazardous, as well as severe battles that occurred during the war. The post occupied by General Greene on this occasion was extremely well chosen, and the manner of forming his troops unexceptionable. The reasons which now induced him not to decline an engagement equally indicated his wisdom and his professional knowledge. A defeat of the British would have been attended with the total destruction of Earl Cornwallis's infantry, whilst a victory at this juncture could produce no very decisive consequences against the Americans. The ability of the English commander, seconded by the vigour and resolution of his officers and soldiers, with extreme difficulty forced the enemy from their position, and in that fortunate exploit the British army was crippled, by the quality and number of the officers and men killed and wounded. One opportunity being overlooked by General Greene, towards the close of the action, gave that advantage, which was long doubtful, to the disciplined perseverance of the King's troops. If one brigade of continentals, after the repulse of the 2d battalion and the grenadier company of [p278] the guards, had taken possession of, and remained at the eminence on the edge of the wood, from whence the three pounders afterwards fired upon them, they would effectually have broken the left of the center, and continued the confusion of the British, there being no support immediately at hand, nor any corps in reserve, except the cavalry, who could not stir a yard out of the road, on account of the thickness of the brushwood; and the guards being pressed by the manoeuvre and entangled in difficult ground, could not have manifested their active and persevering courage by rallying and returning to the charge: By this advance likewise the 23d and 71st regiments would have been kept asunder, and the 33d, with the light company of the guards, divided from the center. The superior number, as well as freshness of the continentals, having had no march, and but a slight engagement, together with the comparative state of the British, and the evident advantage of the ground, might have intimated and recommended the movement, which, if carried into immediate execution, would probably have produced the most fatal effect; but the pause of the Americans, and their voluntary return to the ground where they were originally formed, presented the marked and favourable interval, of which the British availed themselves, by collecting as large a force as possible, and pushing forwards their center. To this oversight or hesitation of the Americans may chiefly be attributed a victory, which, however splendid and honourable to the general and the troops, was not useful or advantageous to Great Britain.
The wounded of both armies were assembled expeditiously after the action, and the surgeons were directed to separate the British and Hessians, who were severely wounded, from those who could bear the exercise of travelling: The former, to the amount of seventy, (h.) [p279] with several Americans who were in the same situation, were lodged, under the protection of a flag of truce, in New-garden meeting house, and other adjacent buildings, whilst the latter were placed in the best waggons, or on horseback, to attend the motions of the King's troops. The position and strength of General Greene, at the iron works on Troublesome creek, about twelve miles distant from Guildford, did not invite the approach of the British army; Earl Cornwallis, therefore, commenced his march on the 18th for Deep river, in his way to Cross creek: On this move his lordship distributed a proclamation, (C.) in which he published an account of his victory, exhorted the loyalists to join him, and offered pardon to the Americans who had taken part in rebellion, if they would surrender their arms and ammunition on or before the 20th day of April, and retire to their homes to live peaceably till civil government was restored.
Some supplies of flour and meal being collected in the neighbourhood of Bell's (a.) mill, the royal forces again crossed Deep river, that they might move through a country well supplied with forage, on the road to Ramsey's mill. On this march the rear guard, which was now composed of the light infantry of the guards, the yagers, and the cavalry, under Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton, obtained information that General Greene with his army had reached Buffaloe (a.) creek, to the southward of Guildford court house: The day before the King's troops arrived at Ramsey's, the Americans insulted the yagers in their encampment: The royalists remained a few days at Ramsey's, for the benefit of the wounded, and to complete a bridge over Deep river, when the light troops of the Americans again disturbed the pickets, and the army were ordered under arms. Before the end of the month, the British [p280] crossed the river, and the same day General Greene reached (b.) Ramsey's with an intention to attack them. The halt of the King's troops at that place nearly occasioned an action, which would not probably have been advantageous to the royal forces, on account of the badness of the position, and the disheartening circumstance of their being encumbered with so many wounded officers and men since the action at Guildford. Deep river, over which the rear guard broke the bridge, the want of provisions, (c.) and the desert country through which the King's troops now commenced their march, impeded the immediate advance of General Greene, and Earl Cornwallis, without any material occurrence, entered Cross creek.
On his arrival, he received a letter from Major Craig, who very judiciously and explicitly pointed out the causes which prevented his opening the water communication between that place and Wilmington. The distance, the narrowness of the river, the commanding elevation of its banks, and the hostile sentiments of great part of the inhabitants, rendered the design impracticable (b.) for the corps under his command. This accurate account of the relative situations of Cross creek and Wilmington, which ought to have been clearly understood before the King's troops entered North Carolina, because the most fortunate or necessary operations of a campaign may be delayed, or counteracted, or totally frustrated, by blindly trusting to a communication that cannot be opened, was now first displayed to the British army, when they were encumbered with sick and wounded, destitute of many necessary supplies, and in daily expectation of receiving the mortifying intelligence, that their lately conquered enemy would make a successful irruption into South Carolina. Upon this serious [p281] and important disappointment, respecting the navigation of the north-west river, an instant movement from Cross creek towards Camden would have been an advisable measure. The comparative situations of the British and American armies, the state of South Carolina, the dismantled (K.) condition of Charles town, and the remembrance of the second object of the campaign, which was to secure old possessions, strongly suggested and recommended such an expedition; and it may be deemed unfortunate that so eligible a plan was not carried into execution.
Notwithstanding the cruel persecution the inhabitants of Cross creek had constantly endured for their partiality to the British, they yet retained great zeal for the interest of the royal army. All the flour and spirits in the neighbourhood were collected and conveyed to camp, and the wounded officers and soldiers were supplied with many conveniencies highly agreeable and refreshing to men in their situation. After some expresses were dispatched to Lord Rawdon, to advertise him of the movements of the British and Americans, and some waggons were loaded with provisions, Earl Cornwallis resumed his march for Wilmington. On the road (c.) some valuable officers and brave men died of their wounds, but none more deservedly regretted than Lieutenant-colonel Webster, who united all the virtues of civil life to the gallantry and professional knowledge of a soldier.
Though the militia of the country did not appear in arms, they had broken some bridges over creeks, to retard the march of the royal army: They were repaired by the light troops as they advanced, and the main body soon reached a position facing Wilmington, on the [p282] north-west river, whence they were conveyed to it by the assistance of the royal navy. Major Craig, (d.) since his arrival in North Carolina, had made himself respectable in that quarter of the country, by several successful excursions into the adjacent districts, and by fortifying a bad post so judiciously, as to render it tenable, and the stores and detachment committed to his care perfectly secure against any attempt of the militia. As soon as the royal army was quartered in and about the town, the officers commanding corps were requested to lose no time in equipping their respective divisions with ample necessaries for immediate service. Unluckily for many of the troops, and for the cavalry in particular, the supplies transported from Charles town to Wilmington were inadequate to the deficiences, and few necessaries were obtained except shoes for the infantry. In the mean time, Earl Cornwallis prepared his public (1.) dispatches for the minister, and meditated the future operations of his army.
The letters from (a.) Charles town, conveying the news of a reinforcement of three regiments from England being destined for the southward of America, and giving accounts of the commander in chief's having detached General Phillips from New York, with a considerable force into the Chesapeak, arrived at Wilmington, when other intelligence equally interesting reached that place. Clear and positive information was now received, that the move towards the shipping in Cape-fear river had prompted General Greene to point his course towards South Carolina, and that, after detaching Lieutenant-colonel Lee to assist General Marion in the center of the province, he had pressed forwards his march with an indefatigable attention, which [p283] soon carried his main body into the neighbourhood of Camden. The wisdom and vigour of the American operations not only deranged all the designs of Earl Cornwallis at Wilmington, but threatened severe consequences to the British forces in South Carolina. Lord Rawdon, who commanded on the frontier, and who had been industriously employed in suppressing the insurrections, and opposing the incursions of Generals Sumpter and Marion, had now an unexpected and more formidable enemy to contend with. On the approach of General Greene his lordship might justly apprehend, unless he received tidings of Earl Cornwallis's movement to South Carolina, a total defection of the inhabitants, an interruption of all communication with Charles town, and the attack of a continental army superior to his own in numbers. Though the expresses (b.) from Cross creek did not reach their destination, Lord Rawdon by some other means gained such early intelligence of the approach of Greene, that he made judicious arrangements to counteract the designs of the enemy, and to advertise Earl Cornwallis of his embarrassed situation at Camden.
The aspect of public affairs at this juncture presented various (2.) and opposite designs to the noble earl at Wilmington. Upon the different investigations of the subject, it was too successfully described, that the country (c.) between Cape-fear river and Camden was barren, and intersected with creeks and rivers; that the road to George [p284] town was replete with the same difficulties; that an embarkation for Charles town was disgraceful, and would occasion delay whilst the transports were coming round; and that Virginia was more accessible, where General Phillips commanded a respectable force. Happy would it have been, as far as general probability can determine, had Earl Cornwallis directed his chief attention to the critical state of South Carolina, and commenced his return by any route to secure it: But it was represented, that the plan of carrying the war into so opulent a province as Virginia, would recall General Greene from the southward as soon as he had information of Lord Cornwallis's design; and that his Lordship would have the advantage of an early movement, to form a powerful army, by joining the corps at Wilmington to the troops under Major-general Phillips, on the banks of James river. This large scale of operations coinciding with Earl Cornwallis's present views, he determined (I.) to make an instant attempt upon Virginia. For this purpose, orders were given to the principal officers to prepare their troops as well as they could for a long march, and Lieutenant-colonel Balfour was directed to send transports from Charles town to Cape-fear river, to be in readiness to receive them, in case the expedition was frustrated.
At this period, Major-general Leslie's health being greatly impaired by the climate, his physicians advised his return to a colder latitude than the Carolinas and Virginia; upon which he prepared to embark for New York: Brigadier-general O'Hara, by great strength of constitution and the skill of his surgeons, surmounted two painful wounds, which he had borne with singular fortitude, and was restored to the command he had filled with such distinguished reputation: Many [p285] officers and men daily recovered and joined their regiments: Captains Lord Dunglass and Maynard of the guards were unfortunately attacked by fevers, and died, sincerely lamented by their numerous friends throughout the army.
Before the end of April, Earl Cornwallis prepared to leave Wilmington, having (I.) decided (L.) upon his plan of operation, and given his orders to Major Craig, to embark his garrison and the sick for Charles town as soon as he heard that the King's troops had passed the Roanoke. A corps of about one thousand six hundred men, consisting of a detachment of royal artillery, with four pieces of cannon, the brigade of guards, the 23d, the 33d, the second battalion of the 71st, the regiment of Bose, a company of pioneers, the British legion, and the 82d and Hamilton's light companies, received orders to be in readiness to march as soon as the quarter-master-general's waggons were loaded with an ample supply of rum, salt, and flour. This being ably and expeditiously completed under the inspection of Major England, deputy quarter-master general, Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton, with the advanced guard, was directed to seize as many boats as possible on the north-east branch of Cape-fear river, and collect them at a place about fifteen miles above Wilmington. Some boats were secured, and Captain Ingles, of the royal navy, dispatched others from the King's ships, to protect and expedite the passage of the army. The advanced guard crossed without loss of time, and took post on the opposite bank, till the stores, waggons, cannon, and troops, were brought over. As many rivers and creeks intersected the country between this place and Virginia, it was thought expedient to mount two boats upon carriages, which could proceed with the army, and might facilitate the passage of any waters.
[p286] The King's troops moved for a few days without any obstacles on their route, and almost without any intelligence. In the neighbourhood of the river Nuse reports were brought to Earl Cornwallis, that General Phillips had proceeded as high as Richmond on the James river, and other rumours said, that he had embarked and sailed from Virginia. This mortifying news was not alleviated by any favourable incidents on the march. The middle and eastern districts of North Carolina were found more barren than they were described, and much assistance of provisions to save the stock upon the waggons could not be taken or bought from the inhabitants. At this period Earl Cornwallis thought proper to advance his light troops, as well to order the mills to grind under pain of military execution, as to procure intelligence of the most convenient place to pass the Roanoke, and the situation of the British troops in Virginia.
In the beginning of May, Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton, with one hundred and eighty dragoons, and the light companies of the 82d and of Hamilton's North-Carolina regiment, both mounted on horses, advanced in front of the army, crossed the Nahunta and Coteckney creeks, and soon reached the Tarr river. On his route he ordered the inhabitants to collect great quantities of provisions for the King's troops, whose numbers he magnified in order to awe the militia, and secure a retreat for his detachment, in case the Roanoke could not be passed. When Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton had proceeded over the Tarr, he received instructions, (M.) if the country beyond that river could afford a tolerable supply of flour and meal for the army, to make every possible effort to procure information of General Phillips: Upon finding the districts more fruitful as he advanced, he determined, by a rapid march, [p287] to make an attempt upon Halifax, where the militia were assembling, and by that measure open a passage across the Roanoke, for some of the emissaries, who had been dispatched into Virginia, to return to the King's troops in North Carolina.
On this move the Americans at Swift creek, and afterwards at Fishing creek, attempted to stop the progress of the advanced guard; but their efforts were baffled, and they were dispersed with some loss. The British took the shortest road to Halifax, to prevent the militia receiving reinforcements, and recovering from the consternation probably diffused throughout that place by the fugitives from the creeks. The event answered the expectation: The Americans were charge and defeated in detached parties, in the environs and in the town, before they had settled any regular plan of operation: The ground about half a mile in front of Halifax afforded a strong position, of which they did not avail themselves; but they were surprised whilst assembling on the wrong side of the bridge over a deep ravine, and were routed with confusion and loss: The only useful expedient which they had adopted was the securing a number of the boats belonging to the inhabitants of the place on the other side of the river, where a party began to intrench themselves, and from whence they fired upon the British when they approached the bank: This circumstance, however, could only be a temporary inconvenience to the King's troops, because the Americans would be obliged to abandon that post on the arrival of the cannon, the eminence on the side of Halifax so perfectly commanded the opposite shore.
The damage sustained by the light troops in taking possession of Halifax amounted only to three men wounded, and a few horses killed and wounded. Some stores of continental cloathing and other supplies [p288] were found in the place. Without loss of time, guards were placed on all the avenues to the post, and spies were dispatched over the river above and below the town, to gain intelligence of General Phillips. These precautions and necessary proceedings were speedily completed, owing to the assistance of Lieutenant-colonel Hamilton, who had formerly been connected with that quarter of North Carolina, and was a volunteer on this expedition. A report was afterwards dispatched to Earl Cornwallis, describing the situation of the enemy on the opposite bank of the river, and the accounts from Virginia, which were yet dark and perplexing. In his letter, Tarleton requested that the light company of the guards might be detached on horseback to assist him in the defence of his present post, till he could procure authentic information from James river, as it was rather hazardous for a corps of light dragoons, without carbines, and sixty infantry, to remain on the same ground many days and nights, near fifty miles from the army, in a populous and hostile country. This request was not in any respect complied with: It was answered, that the body of the King's troops could not advance beyond Vivaret's (a.) mill, before favourable news was obtained of General Phillips; that the light company of the guards could not proceed for want of horses; but that Tarleton might stay a few days at Halifax, if he thought it safe, in order to acquire intelligence from the northward.
As the rumours from Virginia at this period were obscure, and the accounts of Lord Rawdon's having beat General Greene were confidently (a.) reported, and daily confirmed, (b.) Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton deemed it probable that Earl Cornwallis would forego the expedition towards James river, and return upon the back of Greene to [p289] the frontier of South Carolina. To wait the event of intelligence or orders with greater security, he changed his ground, by leaving Halifax under the inspection of an advanced picket during the day, and he took a position with his corps behind the ravine half a mile from the town. In this situation he earnestly watched every path and road to his camp, and used efforts to collect and secure a number of boats some distance below the town: In this latter employment he was greatly assisted by some refugees and negroes; and his suspense concerning General Phillips was alleviated by the appearance of some friends and emissaries from Virginia, who brought information that the British troops had not quitted James river, but were at or near Cabbin point. This news was immediately communicated to Earl Cornwallis by express, who instantly forwarded the light company (b.) of the guards, with some pioneers, and a piece of cannon.
Before the light company of the guards, and Lieutenant Sutherland, of the engineers, who was with them, arrived at Halifax, the militia evacuated the intrenchments they had thrown up on the opposite bank: Previous to their quitting the river, they damaged or scuttled the batteaux within their power, which were, however, soon repaired by the carpenters of the town and the pioneers of the army. In order to secure the boats and the passage, Lieutenant Sutherland constructed a small work beyond the river, which was garrisoned by a company of light infantry till the army arrived.
As soon as Earl Cornwallis reached the Roanoke, he ordered Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton to cross it with the cavalry and two companies [p290] of mounted infantry, to explore the country and find out the convenient places for passing the rivers Meherrin and Nottoway, which lay between his army and Petersburg, the place of rendezvous proposed in his lordship's letters to General Phillips. The light troops had not proceeded above four miles beyond the Roanoke, when his lordship, attended by six dragoons of his guard, overtook them, and halted their march. On the arrival of some country people, Earl Cornwallis directed Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton to dismount his dragoons and mounted infantry, and to form them into a rank entire, for the convenient inspection of the inhabitants, and to facilitate the discovery of the villains who had committed atrocious outrages the previous evening. A serjeant and one private dragoon were pointed out, and accused of rape and robbery: They were conducted to Halifax, where they were condemned to death by martial law. The immediate infliction of the sentence exhibited to the army and manifested to the country the discipline and justice of the British general.
The light troops reached and passed the river Meherren at Armstead's bridge on the 14th of May: The next day they proceeded to the Nottoway, which they found Lieutenant-colonel Simcoe had crossed higher up, on his march towards Earl Cornwallis, who, in the mean time, had arrived at Jones' house on the northward of the Roanoke. The light troops of the two corps having removed all impediments between their respective armies, and discovered fords in lieu of bridges, which the Americans had destroyed, Brigadier-general Arnold, who had for a few days commanded the King's troops in Virginia, with an escort left his own camp to meet Earl Cornwallis.
Major-general Phillips, equally beloved and respected for his virtues and his military talents, died at Petersburg a short period [p291] before the junction of the royal forces. Some information having reached Earl Cornwallis, after he passed the Roanoke, relative to the union of a great reinforcement, destined for the American army under the Marquis de la Fayette, he pressed (O.) forwards his march with great diligence, lest the enemy should attempt any thing against the British at Petersburg before his arrival: No movement was made by the Americans in the absence of Brigadier-general Arnold; and Earl Cornwallis joined his own corps to that which was Phillips', and took the direction of all the King's troops in Virginia soon after the middle of May.
The force recently employed on James (P.) river, and now added by Earl Cornwallis to his Carolina army, consisted of a respectable detachment of royal artillery, two battalions of light infantry, the 76th and 80th British regiments, the Hessian regiment of Prince Hereditaire, Lieutenant-colonel Simcoe's corps of cavalry and infantry, commonly called the Queen's rangers, one hundred yagers, and Arnold's American legion; besides the garrison of Portsmouth on Elizabeth river. This combination, which had cost Earl Cornwallis so much toil and solicitude, was scarcely completed, when he received Lord Rawdon's report of the advantage obtained over General Greene before Camden. This favourable circumstance, and the account of three British regiments having sailed from Cork for Charles town, eased his anxiety for South Carolina, and gave him brilliant hopes of a glorious campaign in those parts of America where he commanded.
Immediate measure (Q.) being adopted by Earl Cornwallis to inform Sir Henry Clinton of his arrival at Petersburg, and to notify [p292] to the garrisons of Charles town and Wilmington, that no additional transports would be wanted in Cape-fear river; his lordship proceeded to learn the state of the enemy and the country, and to form arrangements, previous to his entering upon active operations. The light troops and spies were directed to find out the situation and strength of the Marquis de la Fayette: A patrole under Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton being pushed to Warwick court house, fell in with a party of four hundred militia in that neighbourhood, who were routed with great loss to the Americans, and a trifling detriment to the British, the former being surprised, and the latter considerably shielded by a heavy fall of rain, which prevented the militia from using their fire arms: Fifty Americans were conducted to Petersburg: From the prisoners and by emissaries it was clearly discovered that about one thousand continental troops were posted between Wiltown and Richmond, waiting the junction of General Wayne with the Pennsylvania line, and the expected reinforcements of militia.
About this time the arrival of a reinforcement (S.) from New York for the Chesapeak army was announced to Earl Cornwallis: The commander in chief had dispatched General Leslie, whose health had benefited by the sea air on the late voyage, and who was always zealous for the public service, with the 17th and 43d British regiments, and two battalions of Anspach, into Virginia, upon receiving news of the march from Wilmington. This addition of force prompted Earl Cornwallis to accelerate the measures for passing James river: A movement of the King's troops from Petersburg towards the frigates, armed vessels, and boats, would save time both to the navy and army, would prevent the Americans giving opposition, and would facilitate the junction [p293] of any part of the troops lately arrived from New York: Accordingly the royal forces marched to Mead's house, opposite to Colonel Byrd's, at Westover. The passage of the river at that place afforded an easy entrance into a fertile quarter of Virginia, and enabled the British to prosecute such operations against the Americans as future circumstances should render eligible.
Some boats which had been constructed under the inspection of Brigadier-general Arnold, for the convenience of the royal forces on their arrival at Portsmouth, were of great utility on the present occasion. The channel of the ferry, at which the infantry, the cavalry, the artillery, the bat horses, the baggage, and the waggons, were to cross, exceeded two miles; but such were the exertions of the detachment of sailors, under the orders of Captains Aplin and Dundass, that the passage was completed in less than three days. Lieutenant-colonel Simcoe, with the Queen's rangers, and the yagers, first arrived at Westover: Great part of the infantry and cannon, and all the baggage, followed that division: The legion cavalry (R.) and some mounted infantry, who had been posted five miles from Mead's, on the Petersburg road, at the commencement of the embarkation, were now directed to move through the brigade of guards, who covered the rear, and on their landing at the opposite shore, to march towards Turkey island.
During the passage of the troops, Earl Cornwallis directed the 43d regiment, who were part of the late reinforcement, to join the army; and he desired Major-general Leslie, to proceed with the 17th, and two battalions of Anspach, to Portsmouth, in order to take the command of that post. Brigadier-general Arnold obtained leave to [p294] return to New York, where business of consequence demanded his attendance. As soon as the guards and 43d regiment reached Westover, the main body followed the advanced guard to Turkey island, and on the 27th of May encamped near White-oak swamp. Information was obtained at this place, that the Marquis de la Fayette had abandoned Richmond, and crossed the Chickahomany. The royal army pointed their course towards Bottom bridge, on that river, and the Americans moved with celerity across the South and North Anna.
A few days afterwards, Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton being directed to ascertain with his cavalry the situation of the continentals, he advanced to their camp near Mattapony river, drove in their pickets, and made them stand to their arms. Whilst in this situation, a patrole, which had been sent towards the rear of the enemy, conducted an express and his dispatches to Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton. Amongst other papers of consequence from the Marqu[i]s de la Fayette to Generals Greene, Steuben, &c. one letter, addressed to Mr. Jefferson, the governor of Virginia, was particularly striking: After exhorting that gentleman to turn out the militia, he prophetically declared, that the British success in Virginia resembled the French invasion and possession of Hanover in the preceding war, and was likely to have similar consequences, if the government and the country would exert themselves at the present juncture. The light troops having effected their orders, retired gradually from the presence of their enemy, and with a few prisoners returned to the royal encampment near the North Anna.
At this period, the superiority of the army, and the great superiority of the light troops, were such as to have enabled the British to traverse the country without apprehension or difficulty, either to destroy stores and tobacco in the neighbourhood of the rivers, or to [p295] undertake more important expeditions. While the main body was in Hanover county, and the Marquis de la Fayette lay between them and Fredericksburg, Earl Cornwallis had clear intelligence of the meeting of the governor and assembly at Charlotteville, under the protection of a guard, in order to vote taxes for the exigencies of government, to concert measures for the augmentation of the eighteen-months men, or state troops, and to issue commands for a large draft of militia. At the same time he obtained information, that Baron Steuben was gone to Point of Fork, which is situated at the extremity of James river, between the Fluvanna and Rivanna, with the eighteen-months men, to cover a continental store, consisting of cannon, small arms, and accoutrements. To frustrate these intentions, and to distress the Americans, by breaking up the assembly at Charlotteville, and by taking or destroying the arms and other stores at Point of Fork, his Lordship employed Lieutenant-colonel (a.) Tarleton on the former expedition, as most distant, and on that account more within the reach of cavalry, whilst he committed the latter enterprize to the execution of Lieutenant-colonel Simcoe, (b.) with the yagers, the infantry, and the hussars of the rangers. It was designed that these blows should, as near as circumstances would permit, be struck at the same moment; that Tarleton, after completing his business, should retire down the Rivanna, to give assistance to Simcoe, if he failed in his first attempt, and that both should afterwards join the army, which would in the mean time file to the left, through Goochland county, and approach the Point of Fork.
Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton, with one hundred and eighty dragoons, supported by Captain Champagne of the 23d regiment, and [p296] seventy mounted infantry, left the army in the beginning of June, and proceeded between the North and South Anna. The heat of the weather obliged him to refresh his men and horses in the middle of the day: He pressed forwards in the afternoon, halted at eleven near Louisa court house, and remained on a plentiful plantation till two o'clock in the morning, at which time he again resumed his march. Before dawn he fell in with twelve waggons that were on their journey, under a weak guard, from the upper parts of Virginia and Maryland, with arms and clothing for the continental troops in South Carolina. The waggons and stores were burnt, that no time might be lost, or diminution of force made, by giving them an escort. Soon after daybreak, some of the principal gentlemen of Virginia, who had fled to the borders of the mountains for security, were taken out of their beds: Part were paroled, and left with their families, while others, who were suspected to be more hostile in their sentiments, were carried off. In the neighbourhood of Dr. Walker's, a member of the continental Congress was made prisoner, and the British light troops, after a halt of half an hour to refresh the horses, moved on towards Charlotteville. Various were the accounts on the road concerning this place, and the force it contained. Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton imagined, that a march of seventy miles in twenty-four hours, with the caution he had used, might, perhaps, give him the advantage of a surprise, and concluded, that an additional celerity to the object of his destination would undoubtedly prevent a formidable resistance: He therefore approached the Rivanna, which runs at the foot of the hill on which the town is situated, with all possible expedition. The advanced dragoons reported, that the ford was guarded; an attack was nevertheless ordered; the cavalry charged through the water with very little loss, and routed the detachment posted at that place.
[p297] As soon as one hundred cavalry had passed the water, Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton directed them to charge into the town, to continue the confusion of the Americans, and to apprehend, if possible, the governor and assembly. Seven members of assembly were secured: A Brigadier-general Scott, and several officers and men, were killed, wounded, or taken. The attempt to secure Mr. Jefferson was ineffectual; he discovered the British dragoons from his house, which stands on the point of a mountain, before they could approach him, and he provided for his personal liberty by a precipitate retreat. A great quantity of stores were found in Charlotteville and the neighbourhood; one thousand new firelocks that had been manufactured at Fredericksburg were broken: Upwards of four hundred barrels of powder were destroyed: Seven hogsheads of tobacco, and some continental clothing and accoutrements, shared the same fate. The next morning the British were joined by about twenty men, who being soldiers of the Saratoga army, had been dispersed throughout the district, and allowed to work in the vicinity of the barracks, where they had been originally imprisoned. Many more would probably have joined their countrymen, if Lieutenant colonel Tarleton had been at liberty to remain at Charlotteville a few days; but his duty pointed out the propriety of returning the same afternoon, with his corps and the prisoners, down the Rivanna, towards the Point of Fork.
The gentlemen taken on this expedition were treated with kindness and liberality. In different conversations with Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton, on the state of public affairs, they generally and separately avowed, that if England could prevent the intended co-operation of the French fleet and army with the American forces during the ensuing autumn, both Congress and the country would gladly dissolve the French alliance, and enter into treaty with Great Britain. These [p298] sentiments were communicated to Earl Cornwallis, who, doubtless, made them known to the commander in chief, for the information of the admiral in the West Indies, and the minister in England. The captives of distinction, both civil and military, were restrained by their promise not to quit the camps or line of march of the light troops till they joined the army, which they faithfully complied with; but the lower class were secured as prisoners of war.
In the mean time, Lieutenant-colonel Simcoe executed the plan committed to his direction with great zeal and indefatigable attention. Baron Steuben did not wait the attack of the King's troops, but abandoning Point of Fork on their approach, lost part of his rear guard in retreating from that place. The British found in the magazine several brass mortars and cannon, an immense quantity of small arms under repair, and other valuable military stores. If the distance would have allowed Lieutenant-colonel Simcoe to send a small party of hussars to inform the corps at Charlotteville of the flight of the Americans, Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton might have been in time to harass Baron Steuben's progress, whilst Lieutenant-colonel Simcoe could have pressed him in the rear; and a combination of this sort would in all probability have ruined that body of new levies: But the distance of thirty-five miles in an enemy's country, and the uncertainty of Tarleton's success, perhaps represented such a co-operation as too speculative and precarious.
Upon the arrival of the main body at Jefferson's plantation, in the neighbourhood of Point of Fork, Earl Cornwallis gave directions for carriages to be provided for the conveyance of the brass artillery and other stores, captured at Point of Fork. The prisoners of note brought down the country were, in general, dismissed, on giving their paroles. [p299] Immediately afterwards, the 76th regiment, commanded by Major Needham, were attached to the British legion, who were directed to supply them with horses for an expedition. This business was almost completed, when Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton received a copy of his instructions, (T.) which guided his march first to Albemarle court house, to destroy the magazine at that place, and from thence across the Fluvanna, to attempt General Steuben: It was strongly recommended to defeat and disperse his corps, as they were the foundation of a large body of eighteen-months men, lately voted by the province. Tarleton was likewise enjoined to do his utmost to intercept any light troops that might be on their way from South Carolina, and to destroy all the stores and provisions between the Dan and Fluvanna, that the continental armies might receive no assistance from such supplies. These services being performed, the British light troops were to return, with all (a.) their prisoners, both civil and military, to Manchester, where boats would be in readiness to receive and convey them to the royal army at Richmond. Before Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton left his camp to proceed upon this enterprize, reports reached head quarters, that the stores were removed from Albemarle court house, and that the Baron Steuben had made a circuitous move, in order to form a junction with the American army, which had now crossed the North Anna; the expedition, therefore, was countermanded, and the royal forces commenced their march towards Westham.
The Marquis de la Fayette, who had hitherto practised defensive manoeuvres with skill and security, being now reinforced by General Wayne, with about eight hundred continentals, and some detachments of militia, followed (V.) the British as they proceeded down James [p300] river. This design being judiciously arranged, and executed with extreme caution, allowed opportunity for the junction of General St[e]uben, confined the small detachments of the King's troops, and both saved the property, and animated the drooping spirits, of the Virginians. While the royal army marched, (a.) the rear and left flank were covered by the British legion and the 76th regiment on horseback; and on its arrival at Richmond, Lieutenant-colonel Simcoe, with his corps, was posted at Westham, and Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton, at Meadow bridge. During these operations, the Marquis de la Fayette continued to approach with the main body, and he advanced his light troops to harass the patroles. On the 18th, (a.) Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton made a forced march, to attempt General Muhlenberg's detachment, who evaded the blow by an early retreat, and the British legion returned to the royal army.
Earl Cornwallis left Richmond on the 20th, and directed his course by Bottom bridge and New-Kent court house for Williamsburgh. On this movement, the King's troops destroyed some cannon and stores as they passed through the country. After the Chickahomany was passed, Lieutenant-colonel Simcoe, with his corps, covered part of the rear, by proceeding slowly on the banks of that river; and Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton performed the same service, by constantly inclining to the Pamunkey. In the mean while, the Marquis de la Fayette employed the light troops, supported by the continentals, to hang upon the rear. At the time the royal army quitted New-Kent court house, the main body of the Americans approached within twelve miles of that place; which circumstance nearly occasioned Earl Cornwallis [p301] to countermarch, but, upon reflection, he pursued his design of moving to Williamsburgh, where he arrived on the 25th of June.
Early next morning, the British legion were directed to march from their position in front, leaving only a captain's detachment to forage for the regiment, and to proceed through the army to Burrel's ferry on James' river. Before the horses were unbridled, the sound of musketry and cannon announced the commencement of an action at the outpost, and Lord Chewton soon afterwards delivered Earl Cornwallis' orders for the cavalry and mounted infantry to repair with expedition to the army, (b.) who were already moving to the relief of Lieutenant-colonel Simcoe. The Queen's rangers had destroyed a number of boats and some stores on their route down the Chickahomany, and were now advanced to Spencer's plantation, within six miles of Williamsburgh, where they were (c.) attacked by about seven hundred light troops, under Colonel Butler, supported by some continentals, under General Wayne.
The cavalry and infantry of the rangers, with the detachment of Hessian yagers, under Captain Ewald, gallantly resisted the efforts of the assailants, who finding they had not effected a surprise, and that they could not make the impression they expected, began to be apprehensive for their own retreat. The movement of Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton from his advanced post in the morning was a favourable incident for the Americans; for if the legion foraging party, under Captain Ogilvie, who accidentally approached the flank of the riflemen, could produce hesitation and astonishment, the charge of the whole cavalry must have considerable assisted Lieutenant-colonel Simcoe, [p302] whose judicious conduct obliged Colonel Butler to fall back upon General Wayne, before the arrival of the infantry from Williamsburgh, or the dragoons from Burrell's. The loss in this affair was nearly equal, except that the British took some prisoners, (c.) upwards of thirty being killed and wounded on each side. The Americans retreated to their army at Tyre's plantation, fifteen miles from the field of action, and the King's troops returned in the evening to Williamsburgh, where they found some recruits for the guards, who had arrived during their absence.
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(1.) Which were conveyed to England by Captain Broderick. [ back ]
(2.) Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton, who commanded the advanced guard of the army, was consulted upon the feasibility of moving the King's troops from Wilmington to South Carolina, and from Wilmington to Virginia: He answered, that he thought either operation practicable, and he offered, in case the infantry embarked for Charles town, to conduct his regiment of dragoons, with the assistance of one company of mounted infantry, into South Carolina. [ back ]
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