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Sanders's Creek, battle of.

In 1780, before Washington heard of the surrender of Charleston (q. v.), he sent a detachment of Delaware and Maryland regiments, under the Baron de Kalb, for service in the South. They marched from Petersburg, Pa., for the Carolinas. After leaving the southern borders of Virginia, they made their way slowly through a poor, thinly inhabited country, without provision for a supply of food, the commissaries without credit, and compelled to get their supplies from day to day by impressment. With De Kalb's forces were two North Carolina regiments, under the respective commands of Colonels Rutherford and Caswell, who were chiefly employed in repressing the North Carolina Tories. The governor of that State (Nash) had recently been authorized by the legislature to send 8,000 men to the relief of South Carolina. To raise and equip them was not easy at that gloomy juncture. The Virginia regiment of Porterfield was at Salisbury. It rallied to the standard of De Kalb, whose slow march became a halt at Deep River, a tributary of the Cape Fear. There De Kalb was overtaken by General Gates (July 25), who had been appointed to the command of the Southern Department. Gates pressed forward towards Camden, through a barren and generally disaffected country.

The approach of “the conqueror of Burgoyne” greatly inspired the patriots of South Carolina, and such active partisans as Sumter, Marion, Pickens, and Clarke immediately summoned their followers in South Carolina and Georgia to the field, and they seemed to have prepared the way for Gates to make a complete conquest of the State. Clinton had left the command of the forces in the South to Cornwallis, and he had intrusted the leadership of the troops on the Santee and its upper waters to Lord Rawdon, an active officer. The latter was at Camden when Gates approached. Cornwallis, seeing the peril of the troops under him, because of the uprising of the patriots in all directions, hastened to the assistance of Rawdon, and reached that village on the same day (Aug. 14) that Gates arrived at Clermont, north of Camden, and was joined by 700 more Virginia militia, under General Stevens. Then, in his pride, Gates committed the fatal blunder of not preparing for a retreat or rendezvous, being confident of victory. He also weakened his army by sending a detachment to Sumter, to aid him in intercepting a convoy of supplies for Rawdon.

On the evening of the 15th Gates marched to attack Rawdon with little more than [47] 3,000 men. Spurning the advice of his officers, he marched before he had made any disposition of his baggage in the rear. Cornwallis had left Camden to meet Gates at about the same time. Foot-falls could not be heard in the sandy road. As the vanguard of the British were ascending a gentle slope after crossing Sanders's Creek, that traversed a swamp, nearly 8 miles from Camden, they met the vanguard of the Americans, at a little after 2 A. M., on Aug. 16. It was a mutual surprise, and both began firing at the same time. Colonel Armand's troops, who led the van, fell back upon the 1st Maryland Brigade, and broke its line. The whole army, filled with consternation, would have fled but for the wisdom and skill of Porterfield, who, in rallying them, was mortally wounded. The British had the advantage, having crossed the creek, and were protected on flank and rear by an impenetrable swamp. Both parties halted, and waited anxiously for the dawn.

The right of the British line was commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Webster, and the left by Lord Rawdon. De Kalb commanded the American right, and General Stevens the left, and the centre was composed of North Carolinians, under Colonel Caswell. A second line was formed by the 1st Maryland Brigade, led by General Smallwood. The American artillery opened the battle. This cannonade was followed by an attack by volunteers, under Col. Otho H. Williams, and Stevens's militia. The latter were mostly raw recruits, to whom bayonets had been given only the day before, and they did not know how to use them. The veterans, led by Webster, fell upon these raw troops with crushing force, and they threw down their muskets and fled to the woods for shelter. Then Webster attacked the Maryland Continentals, who fought gallantly until they were outflanked, when they also gave way. They were twice rallied, but finally retreated, when the brunt of the battle fell upon the Maryland and Delaware troops, led by De Kalb, assisted by General Gist, Colonel Howard, and Captain Kirkwood. They had almost won the victory, when Cornwallis sent some fresh troops that turned the tide. In this

View at Sanders's Creek.

sharp battle De Kalb was mortally wounded. Gates's whole army was utterly routed and dispersed. For many miles the roads were strewed with dead militia, killed in their flight by Tories; and, having made no provision for retreat, Gates was the most expert fugitive in running away. He abandoned his army, and, in an ignoble flight to Hillsboro he rode about 200 miles in three days and a half. He had lost about 1,000 men in killed, wounded, and prisoners; the loss of the British was less than 500. The Americans lost all their artillery and ammunition, and a greater part of their baggage and stores.

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