General Greene--retreat through the Carolinas.
and His Generals
But Cornwallis at length saw the error he had been led into, and immediately concentrating his troops, moved forward upon Morgan
, with eleven hundred men, was ordered to meet him in front, while he himself, with the main part of the army, would out off his retreat.
, with less than a thousand men, immediately began to retire; but Tarleton
, with his accustomed vigor, pressed him so hard that when he came to Broad River
he dared not attempt the passage, and so resolved to make a desperate stand where he was.
Out of the eleven hundred men Tarleton
led into the battle of Cowpens
, he saved but four hundred. Two cannon, eight hundred muskets, a hundred dragoon-horses, and tents and ammunition, were the fruits of this victory.
Scarcely had the roar of battle ceased before Morgan
began to retreat.
He knew Cornwallis, with a powerful army, was close upon him, and an hour's delay might lose him all the fruits of his gallant achievement.
The British Commander
strained every nerve to cut him off, and recover the spoils and prisoners that had been taken.
But with such vigor had Morgan
pushed his retreat that his adversary was unable to overtake him, and came up the Catawha just in time to see the last of the rear guard form on the opposite shore.
Still it was possible to reach him before he could affect a junction with Greene
, and he resolved to spare no sacrifice to secure this result.
He immediately ordered the baggage of the army to be destroyed, so that it could move rapidly and without encumbrance.
Liquor casks were staved in before the soldiers, wagons consumed, and all those things which go to make up the little comforts of a camp committed to the flames.--Cornwallis set the example, and, beginning with his own baggage, the destruction continued till it reached the last private.
It took two days to complete it; and then, stripped like a wrestler for the struggle, the British General
with only a single aid, and a sergeant's guard of dragoons, had left the main army, and pressed forward a hundred and fifty miles to succor Morgan
The victors of Cowpens
received him with acclamations as he rode into camp with him at their head they feared nothing, and joyfully entered on the race with their adversary.
Skillful retreat through the Carolinas.
Greens had ordered the main army to rendezvous at Guilford
, and thither he now directed his steps, closely watched by Cornwallis.
To understand the ground over which this remarkable retreat was performed, it is necessary only to glance at a map. Three large rivers rise in the northwest parts of South
and North Carolina
, and flow in a southeasterly direction into the Atlantic
The lower or more southern one is the Catawha, which empties into the Santes.
The next, north of it, and nearly parallel, is the Yadkin
, emptying into the Pedee
The last, and more northern, is the Dan
, which soon leaves its southwesterly direction and winds backwards and forwards across the Virginia
line, and finally falls into the Roanoke
was now on the Catawha, or must southern river, and directed his steps north, his line of progress cutting the Yadkin
and Dan. To place a deep river between two armies effectually separates them for some time, while a retreating army between one and a powerful adversary is almost sure to be ruined.
Therefore, the great effort of Cornwallis was to overtake his weak enemy somewhere between the rivers, while the latter strained every nerve to keep a deep stream dividing him and his roe. Greene
was now across the Catawha, which, swollen by the recent rains, prevented Cornwallis from crossing.
But at length it began to subside, and the latter determined, by a night march to a private ford near Salisbury
, to deceive his antagonist, and cross without opposition.
had been on the alert, and stationed a body of militia there to dispute the passage.
At day break, the British
column was seen silently approaching the river.
A deep hush was on everything, broken only by the roar of the swollen waters, and not a living thing was to be seen on the shore.
Twilight still rested on the forest, and the forbid foam-covered stream looked doubly appalling in the gloom.
The rain was falling in torrents, and the British
commander, as he reined up his steed on the slippery banks, looked long and anxiously on the farther side.
There all was will and silent; but faint flashes of the American
fires in the woods told too well that he had been forestalled.
Still, the order to advance was given, and the column boldly entered the channel.
With muskets poised above their hands to keep them dry, and learning against such other to steady their slippery footing, the grenadiers pushed forward.
As they advanced the water deepened, until it flowed in a strong, swift current, up to their waists.
The cavalry went plunging through, but the rapid stream bore many of them, both horses and riders, downward in the darkness.
The head of the column had already reached the centre of the river, when the voices of the sentinels rang through the darkness, and the next moment their guns flashed through the storm.
, five hundred in number, immediately poured in a destructive volley, but the British
troops pressed steadily forward.
Soldier after soldier rolled over in the flood and Cornwallis's horse was shot under him; but the noble animal, with a desperate effort, carried his rider to the bank before he fell.
The intrepid troops at length reached the shore, and routed the militia.--Cornwallis was now on the same side of the river with his antagonist, and prepared to follow up his advantage with vigor.
But the latter no sooner heard that the enemy had passed the Catawha, that he ordered the retreat to the Yadkin
Through the drenching rain and deep mud, scarcely halting to eat or rest, the ragged troops dragged their weary way; and on the third day reached the river, and commenced crossing.
In the meantime, the recent rains had swollen this river also, so that by the time Greens had safely effected the passage, the current was foaming by on a level with its banks.
He had urged everything forward with the utmost speed, and at mid-night, just as the last of the rear guard were embarking, they were sainted with a volley from the advanced guard of the British
When the morning light broke over the scene, there lay the two armies within sight of each other, and the blessed Yadkin
surging and roaring in threatening accents between, as if on purpose to daunt the invaders from its bosom.--Stung into madness at this second escape of their enemy, the English
lined the shore with artillery, and opened a fierce cannonade on the American
But the army, protected by an elevated ridge, rested quietly and safely behind it. In a little cabin, just showing its roof above the rocks, Greene
took up his quarters, and while his troops were reposing, commenced writing his dispatches.--The enemy suspecting the American General
had established himself there, directed his artillery upon it, and soon the rocks rung with the balls that smoked and bounded from their sides.
It was not long before the roof of the cabin was struck, and the shingles and clap boards began to fly about in every direction — but the stern warrior within never once looked up, and wrote on as calmly as if in his peaceful home.
Four days the British General
tarried on the shores of the Yadkin
, and then, as the waters subsided, again put his army in motion.
Moving, lower down the river, he crossed over, and started anew after his adversary.
But the latter, ever vigilant, was already on his march for Guilford
, where he resolved to make a stand, and strike this bold Briton to the heart.
But on reaching Guilford
, he learned, to his dismay, that the reinforcements promised him had not arrived.--The English army was nearly double that of his own, and all well tried, disciplined soldiers; and he knew it would be madness to give battle on such disadvantageous terms.--There was, therefore, no remedy but to retreat, and this had now become a difficult matter.
In the hope of being able to sustain himself at Guilford
, he had suffered his enemy to approach so near, and block him in so effectually, that there was but one possible way of escapes.
Cornwallis at last deemed his prey secure.
On the 10th of February this battle of manœuvres again commenced, and the two armies, now only twenty-five miles apart, stretched forward.
Cornwallis supposed his adversary would make for the upper fords of the Dan
, as there was nothing but ferries below, and hence put his army in such a position that he could crush him at once; but Greene
quietly withdrew towards the Lower Dan
, where he ordered boats to be congregated, in which he could transport his troops over.
His object in this was twofold: first, to place a deep, instead of a fordable, river between him and his formidable adversary, and secondly, to be in a situation to effect a junction with the reinforcements he expected from Virginia
Discovering at once the error under which Cornwallis labored, he added to it by sending a large detachment to manœuvre in front, as if the upper fords were indeed the object of his efforts.
commanded this chosen body of men, and marched boldly against the entire English army.--The British commander, thinking it to be the advance guard of the Americans
, began hastily to contract his lines, and make preparations for a fierce resistance.
This detained his march, and allowed Greene
to get a start, without which he must inevitably have been lost.
were without baggage; indeed, the whole army had been converted into light infantry, which enabled it to move with much more alacrity than that of the
. It was now the dead of winter — the roads to-day were filled deep with mud, and to-morrow frozen hard, presenting a mass of rugged points to the soldiers' feet, through which or over which they were compelled to drag themselves, urged on by the fear of destruction.
In the meantime Cornwallis
, apprised of his error, began the pursuit in good earnest.
But that gallant rear guard of Williams
kept between the two armies, slowly retreating, but still present — ever bending like a bow of wrath on the advancing enemy.
The fate of the American
army rested on its firmness and skill, and every officer in it seemed to feel the immense trust committed to his care.
There were Lee
's gallant legion, and Washington
's heavy mounted, desperate horsemen, heroes everyone.
Vigilant, untiring, brave, they hovered with such a threatening aspect around the advancing columns, that they were compelled to march in close order to prevent an attack.
The least negligence, the least oversight, and the blow would fall like lightning.
Never did a rear guard behave more gallantly.
The men were allowed only three hours sleep out of the twenty-four, and but one meal a day. By starting and pushing forward three hours before daylight, they were enabled to get a breakfast, and this was the last repast till next morning.
Yet the brave fellows bore all without a murmur; and night after night, and day after day, presented the same determined front to the enemy.
Cornwallis, believing for a while that he had the whole American force in front, rejoiced in its proximity, knowing that when it reached the river it must perish — then Virginia
would lie open to his victorious arms, and the whole South
But when he at length discovered his mistake, he strained forward with desperate efforts.
In the meanwhile, the fleeing army presented a most heart-rending spectacle.
Half clad, and many of them herefoot, with only one blanket for every four men, they toiled through the mire, or left their blood on the frozen ground — pressing on through the wintry storm and cold winds in the desperate struggle for life.
At night when they snatched a few moments' repose, three soldiers would stretch themselves on the damp ground under one blanket, and the fourth would watch, and happy were those who had even this scanty covering.
Over hills, through forests, across streams, they held their anxious way, drenched by the rains, and chilled by the water through which they waded — and unprotected and uncovered, were compelled to dry their clothes by the heat of their own bodies.
saw their distress with bitter grief, but it could not be helped — his cheering words and bright example were all he could give them.
Now hurrying along his exhausted columns, and now anxiously listening to hear the sound of the enemy's guns in the distance, he became a prey to the most wasting anxiety.
From the time he had set out for the camp of Morgan
, on the banks of the Catawha, he had not taken off his clothes; while not an officer in the army was earlier in the saddle, or later out of it, than he. But undismayed — his strong soul fully resolved yet to conquer — he surveyed with a calm, stern eye, the dangers that thickened around him. Should the rear guard fall, nothing but a miracle could save him — but it should not fall.
Every deep-laid plan was thwarted, every surprise disconcerted, and every sudden movement to crush it eluded by its tireless, sleepless leaders.
Often within musket shot of the enemy's van-guard, the excited soldiers wished to return the fire; but the stern orders to desist were obeyed, and the two red armies toiled on. It was a fearful race for life, and right nobly was it run.
At length the main army arrived within forty miles of the ferry boats which were to place a deep river between them and the foe, and hope quickened every step.
All night long they swept onward through the gloom, cheered by the thought that another day would place the object for which they struggled within their grasp.
On that same cold and slippery night, the noble rear guard, slowly retreating, suddenly saw, at twelve o'clock, watch-fires blazing in the distance. --There then lay the army for which they had struggled so nobly and suffered so much, overtaken at last, and sure to fall.
In this fearful crisis, that gallant band paused and held a short consultation; and then resolved, with one accord, to throw themselves in an overwhelming charge on the English
army, and rolling it back on itself, by a sacrifice as great as it was glorious, secure a few more hours of safety to those they were protecting.
This noble devotion was spared such a trial; the fires were indeed these kindled by Green
's soldiers, but the tired columns had departed, and staggering from want of repose and food, were now stretching forward through the midnight, miles in advance.--Cornwallis, when he arrived at the smouldering camp-fires, believed himself almost up with Greene
, and allowing his troops but a few moments' repose, marched all night long.
In the morning his van was close upon the rear of that firm guard.
Now came the last prodigious effort of the British
commander — that rear-guard must fall, and with it, Greene
, or all has labor and sacrifice would be in vain.
On the banks of the Dan
he had resolved to bury the American
army, and if human effort and human energy could effect it, it should be done.
His steady columns closed more threateningly and rapidly on the guard; pushing it fiercely before them, and scorning all meaner success, pressed forward for the greater prize.
's intrepid legion, and Washington
's fearless horsemen, hung black and wrathful around their path, striving desperately, but in vain, to check their rapid advance.
On, on, like racers approaching the goal, they swept over the open country, driving everything before them.
But at noon a single horseman was seen coming in a swift gallop, up the road along which Greene
had lately passed.
Every eye watched him as he approached, and as he reined his panting stood up beside the officers of that exhausted, but still resolute, band and exclaimed, ‘"The army is over the river,
"’ A loud huzza rent the air.
The main portion of the guard was now hastily dispatched by the shortest route to the ferry, while Lee
still hovered with his legion in front of Cornwallis.
As the former approached the river, they saw Greene
, wan and haggered, standing on the shore, and gazing anxiously up the road by which they were expected to appear.
His army was over, but he had remained behind to learn the fate of that noble guard, and, if necessary, to fly to its relief.
His eye lightened with exultation, as he saw the column rush forward to the river with shouts which were echoed in deafening accents from the opposite shore.
It was now dark, and the troops were crowded with the utmost dispatch into the boats, and hastened over.
Scarcely were they safely landed, before the banks shook beneath the hurried heavy tramp of Lee
's legion, as it came thundering on towards the ferry.
The next moment the shores rung with the clatter of armor, as those bold riders dismounted, and leaped into the boats ready to receive them.
Their horses were pushed into the water after them, and the black mass disappeared in the gloom.
In a few moments, lights dancing along the farther shore, told of their safe arrival, and a shout that made the welkin ring went up in the American
was the last man that embarked; he would not stir until his brave dragoons were all safe; and as the boat that bore him touched the shore, the tread of the British
van echoed along the banks he had just left.
The pursuing columns closed rapidly in towards the river, but the prey they thought within their grasp had escaped.
Not a boat was left behind, and Cornwallis saw with the keenest anguish a deep broad river rolling between him and his foe. It was a bitter disappointment; his baggage had all been destroyed in vain.
And this terrible march of two hundred and fifty miles made only to be retraced.
But no pen can describe the joy and exultation that reigned in the American
camp that night.
The army received that gallant rear-guard with open arms, and hailed them as their deliverers.
Forgot was all — their lacerated feet, and stiffened limbs, and empty stomachs, and scanty clothing — and even the wintry wind swept by unheeded in the joy of their escape.
Together the sat down and recounted their toiled, and asked, each of the other his perils and hardships by the way.--Laughter, and mirth, and songs, and all the reckless gaiety of a camp from which restraint is taken, made the shores echo.
But it was with sterner pleasure Greene
contemplated his escape; and as he looked on the majestic river, rolling in broad, deep current onward in the starlight a mountain seemed to lift from his heart.
He listened to the boisterous mirth about him, only to rejoice that so many brave fellows had been snatched from the enemy, then turned to his tent to ponder on his position and resolve what next to do.
Thus ended this glorious retreat.
It had been conducted for two hundred and fifty miles, through a country not furnishing a single defile in which a stand could be made.
Three large rivers had been crossed — forests traversed — and through rain and mud, and over frost and ice, Greene
had fled for twenty days, baffling every attempt of his more powerful antagonist to force him to a decisive action.
For the skill in which it was planned, the resolution and energy with which it was carried through, and the distance traversed, it stands alone in the annals of our country, and will bear comparison with the most renowned feats of ancient or modern times.
It covered Greene
with more glory than a victory could have done, and stamped him a once the great commander.