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Chapter 15:

War in the South: Cornwallis and Gates.


rivalry and dissension between Clinton and Corn-
Chap. XV.} 1780.
wallis already glowed under the ashes. The formerhad written home more of truth than was willingly listened to; and, though he clung with tenacity to his commission, he intimated conditionally a wish to be recalled. Germain took him so far at his word as to give him leave to transfer to Cornwallis, the new favorite, the chief command in North America.

All opposition in South Carolina was for the moment at an end, when Cornwallis entered on his separate command. He proposed to himself no less than to keep possession of all that had been gained, and to advance as a conqueror at least to the Chesapeake. Clinton had left with him more than five thousand effective troops, besides more than a thousand in Georgia; to these were to be added the regiments which he was determined to organize out of the southern people. [310]

As fast as the districts submitted, the new com-

Chap. XV.} 1780.
mander enrolled all the inhabitants, and appointed field-officers with civil as well as military power. The men of property above forty were made responsible for order, but were not to be called out except in case of insurrection or of actual invasion; the younger men who composed the second class were held liable to serve six months in each year. Some hundreds of commissions were issued for the militia regiments. Major Patrick Ferguson, known from his services in New Jersey and greatly valued, was deputed to visit each district in South Carolina to procure on the spot lists of its militia, and to see. that the orders of Cornwallis were carried into execution. Any Carolinian thereafter taken in arms might be sentenced to death for desertion and bearing arms against his country.1 The proposals of those who offered to raise provincial corps were accepted; and men of the province, void of honor and compassion, received commissions, gathered about them profligate ruffians, and roamed through Carolina, indulging in rapine, and ready to put patriots to death as outlaws. Cornwallis himself never regarded a deserter, or any whom a court-martial sentenced to death, as subjects of mercy. A quartermaster of Tarleton's legion entered the house of Samuel Wyly near Camden, and, because he had served as a volunteer in the defence of Charleston, cut him in pieces. The presbyterians supported the cause of independence; and indeed the American revolution was but the application of the principles of the reformation to civil government. One Huck, a captain [311] of British militia, fired the library and dwelling-house
Chap. XV.} 1780.
of the clergyman at Williams's plantation in the upper part of South Carolina, and burned every bible into which the Scottish translation of the psalms was bound. Under the immediate eye of Cornwallis, the prisoners who had capitulated in Charleston were the subjects of perpetual persecution, unless they would exchange their paroles for oaths of allegiance; and some of those who had been accustomed to live in affluence from the produce of lands cultivated by slaves had not fortitude enough to dare to be poor. Mechanics and shopkeepers could not collect their dues, except after promises of loyalty.

Lord Rawdon, who had the very important command on the Santee, raged equally against deserters from his Irish regiment and against the inhabitants. To Rugely, at that time a major of militia in the British service and an aspirant for higher promotion, he on the first of July addressed the following order:

July 1.
‘If any person shall meet a soldier straggling, and shall not secure him or spread an alarm for that purpose; or if any person shall shelter or guide or furnish assistance to soldiers straggling, the persons so offending may assure themselves of rigorous punishment, either by whipping, imprisonment, or being sent to serve in the West Indies. I will give the inhabitants ten guineas for the head of any deserter belonging to the volunteers of Ireland, and five guineas only if they bring him in alive.’2

The chain of posts for holding South Carolina consisted of Georgetown, Charleston, Beaufort, and Savannah on the sea; Augusta, Ninety-Six, and Camden [312] in the interior. Of these Camden was the most im-

Chap. XV.} 1780. July.
portant, for it was the key between the north and south; by a smaller post at Rocky Mount, it kept up a communication with Ninety-Six.

In the opinion of Clinton, six thousand men were required to hold Carolina and Georgia; yet at the end of June Cornwallis reported that he had put an end to all resistance in those states, and in September, after the harvest, would march into North Carolina to reduce that province. But the violence of his measures roused the courage of despair. On hearing of the acts of the British, Houston, the delegate in congress from Georgia, wrote to Jay: ‘Our misfortunes are, under God, the source of our safety. Our captive soldiers will, as usual, be poisoned, starved, and insulted,—will be scourged into the service of the enemy; the citizens will suffer pillaging, violences, and conflagrations; a fruitful country will be desolated; but the loss of Charleston will promote the general cause. The enemy have overrun a considerable part of the state in the hour of its nakedness and debility; but, as their measures seem as usual to be dictated by infatuation, when they have wrought up the spirit of the people to fury and desperation, they will be expelled from the country.’

Determined patriots of South Carolina took refuge in the state on their north. Among them was Sumpter, who in the command of a continental regiment had shown courage and ability. To punish his flight, a British detachment turned his wife out of doors, and burned down his house with everything which it contained. The exiles, banding themselves together, chose him for their leader. For their use, the [313] smiths of the neighborhood wrought iron tools into

Chap. XV.} 1780. July.
rude weapons; bullets were cast of pewter, collected from housekeepers. With scarcely three rounds of cartridges to a man, they could obtain no more but from their foes; and the arms of the dead and wounded in one engagement must equip them for another.

On the rumor of an advancing American army, Rawdon called on all the inhabitants round Camden to join him in arms. One hundred and sixty who refused he shut up during the heat of midsummer in one prison, and loaded more than twenty of them with chains, some of whom were protected by the capitulation of Charleston.

On the twelfth day of July, Captain Huck was sent

out with thirty-five dragoons, twenty mounted infantry, and sixty militia, on a patrol. His troops were posted in a lane at the village of Cross Roads, near the source of Fishing creek; and women were on their knees to him, vainly begging mercy for their families and their homes; when suddenly Sumpter and his men, though inferior in number, dashed into the lane at both ends, killed the commander, and destroyed nearly all his party. This was the first advantage gained over the royal forces since the beginning of the year.

The order by which all the men of Carolina were enrolled in the militia drove into the British service prisoners on parole, and all who had wished to remain neutral. One Lisle, who thus suffered compulsion in the districts bordering on the rivers Tyger and Enoree, waited till his battalion was supplied with arms and ammunition, and then conducted it to its [314] old commander, who was with Sumpter in the Ca-

Chap. XV.} 1780. July 30.
tawba settlement.

Thus strengthened, Sumpter, on the thirtieth of July, made a spirited though unsuccessful attack on Rocky Mount. Having repaired his losses, on the sixth of August he surprised the British post at

Aug. 6
Hanging Rock. A regiment of refugees from North Carolina fled with precipitation; their panic spread to the provincial regiment of the prince of Wales, which suffered severely. In the beginning of the action, not one of the Americans had more than ten bullets; before its end, they used the arms and ammunition of the fallen. Among the partisans who were present in this fight was Andrew Jackson, an orphan boy of Scotch-Irish descent, whose hatred of oppression and love of country drove him to deeds beyond his years. Sumpter drew back to the Catawba settlement, and from all parts of South Carolina patriots flocked to his standard.

Thus far the south rested on its own exertions. Relying on the internal strength of New England, and the central states for their protection, Washington was willing to incur hazard for the relief of the Carolinas; and, with the approval of congress, from his army of less than ten and a half thousand men, of whom twenty-eight hundred were to be discharged in April, he detached General Kalb with the Maryland division of nearly two thousand men and the Delaware regiment. Marching orders for the southward were also given to the corps of Major Lee. The

movement of Kalb was slow for want of transportation. At Petersburg, in Virginia, he added to his command a regiment of artillery with twelve cannon. [315]

Of all the states, Virginia, of which Jefferson was

Chap. XV.} 1780.
then the governor, lay most exposed to invasion from the sea, and was in constant danger from the savages on the west; yet it was unmindful of its own perils. Its legislature met on the ninth of May. Within ten
May 9.
minutes after the house was formed, Richard Henry Lee proposed to raise and send twenty-five hundred men to serve for three months in Carolina, and to be paid in tobacco, which had a real value. Major Nelson with sixty horse, and Colonel Armand with his corps, were already moving to the south. The force assembled at Williamsburg, for the protection of the country on the James river, consisted of no more than three hundred men; but they too were sent to Carolina before the end of the month. North Carolina made a requisition on Virginia for arms, and received them. With a magnanimity which knew nothing of fear, Virginia laid herself bare for the protection of the Carolinas.

The news that Charleston had capitulated found Kalb still in Virginia. In the regular European service he had proved himself an efficient officer; but his mind was neither rapid nor creative, and was unsuited to the exigencies of a campaign in America. On the twentieth of June he entered North Carolina,

June 20.
and halted at Hillsborough to repose his wayworn soldiers. He found no magazines, nor did the governor of the state much heed his requisitions or his remonstrances. Caswell, who was in command of the militia, disregarded his orders from the vanity of acting separately. ‘Officers of European experience alone,’ wrote Kalb on the seventh of July to his wife, ‘do not know what it is to contend against [316] difficulties and vexations. My present condition
Chap. XV.} 1780. June.
makes me doubly anxious to return to you.’ Yet, under all privations, the officers and men of his command vied with each other in maintaining order and harmony. In his camp at Buffalo ford on Deep river, while he was still doubting how to direct his march, he received news of measures adopted by congress for the southern campaign.

Washington wished Greene to succeed Lincoln; congress, not asking his advice and not ignorant of his opinion, on the thirteenth of June unanimously ap-

pointed Gates to the command of the southern army, and constituted him independent of the commanderin-chief. He received his orders from congress and was to make his reports directly to that body, which bestowed on him unusual powers and all its confidence. He might address himself directly to Virginia and the states beyond it for supplies; of himself alone appoint all staff-officers; and take such measures as he should think most proper for the defence of the south.

From his plantation in Virginia, Gates made his acknowledgment to congress without elation; to Lincoln he wrote in modest and affectionate language. His first important act was the request to congress for the appointment of Morgan as a brigadier-general in the continental service, and in this he was supported by Jefferson and Rutledge. He enjoined on the corps of White and Washington, and on all remnants of continental troops in Virginia, to repair to the southern army with all possible diligence.

Upon information received at Hillsborough from Huger of South Carolina, Gates formed his plan to [317] march directly to Camden, confident of its easy capt-

Chap. XV.} 1780. June.
ure and the consequent recovery of the country. To Kalb he wrote: ‘Enough has already been lost in a vain defence of Charleston; if more is sacrificed, the southern states are undone; and this may go nearly to undo the rest.’

Arriving in the camp of Kalb, he was confirmed in his purpose by Thomas Pinckney, who was his aid, and by Marion. It was the opinion of Kalb, that the enemy would not make a stand at Camden.3 His first words ordered the troops to be prepared to march at a moment's warning. The safest route, recommended by a memorial of the principal officers, was by way of Salisbury and Charlotte, through a most fertile, salubrious, and well-cultivated country, inhabited by presbyterians who were heartily attached to the cause of independence, and among whom a post for defence might have been established in case of disaster. But Gates was impatient; and having detached Marion towards the interior of South Carolina to watch the motions of the enemy and furnish intelligence, he, on the morning of the twenty-seventh

July 27.
of July, put what he called the ‘grand army’ on its march by the shortest route to Camden through a barren country which could offer no food but lean cattle, fruit, and unripe maize.

On the third of August, the army crossed the Pedee

Aug. 3.
river, making a junction on its southern bank with Lieutenant-Colonel Porterfield of Virginia, an excellent officer, who had been sent to the relief of Charleston, and had kept his small command on the frontier of South Carolina, having found means to subsist [318] then and to maintain the appearance of holding that
Chap. XV.} 1780. Aug.
part of the country.

The force of which Gates could dispose was greater than that which could be brought against him; it revived the hopes of the South Carolinians who were writhing under the insolence of an army in which every soldier was a licensed plunderer, and every officer a functionary with power to outlaw peaceful citizens at will. The British commander on the Pedee called in his detachments, abandoned his post on the Cheraw hill, and repaired to Lord Rawdon at Camden. An escort of Carolinians who had been forced to take up arms on the British side rose against their officers, and made prisoners of a hundred and six British invalids who were descending the Pedee river. A large boat from Georgetown, laden with stores for the British at Cheraw, was seized by Americans. A general revolt in the public mind against British authority invited Gates onwards. To the encouragements of others the general added his own illusions; he was confident that Cornwallis, with detached troops from his main body, was gone to Savannah,4 and from his camp on the Pedee he announced on the fourth, by

a proclamation, that their late triumphant and insulting foes had retreated with precipitation and dismay on the approach of his numerous, well-appointed, and formidable army; forgiveness was promised to those who had been forced to profess allegiance, and pardon was withheld only from those apostate sons of America who should hereafter support the enemy.

On the seventh, at the Cross Roads, the troops with

Gates made a junction with the North Carolina militia [319] under Caswell, and proceeded towards the enemy
Chap. XV.} 1780. Aug.
at Lynch's creek.

In the following night that post was abandoned; and Lord Rawdon occupied another on the southern bank of Little Lynch's creek, unassailable from the deep muddy channel of the river, and within a day's march of Camden. Here he was joined by Tarleton with a small detachment of cavalry, who on their way had mercilessly ravaged the country on the Black river as a punishment to its patriot inhabitants, and as a terror to the dwellers on the Wateree and Santee. By a forced march up the stream, Gates could have turned Lord Rawdon's flank, and made an easy conquest of Camden. Missing his only opportunity, on the eleventh, after a useless halt of two

days he defiled by the right, and, marching to the north of Camden, on the thirteenth encamped at
Clermont, which the British had just abandoned. The time thus allowed, Rawdon used to strengthen himself by four companies from Ninety-Six, as well as by the troops from Clermont, and to throw up redoubts at Camden.

On the evening of the tenth, Cornwallis left

Charleston and arrived at Camden before the dawn of the fourteenth. At ten o'clock on the night of
the fifteenth, he set his troops in motion in the
hope of joining battle with the Americans at the break of day.

On the fourteenth, Gates had been joined by seven

hundred Virginia militia under the command of Stevens. On the same day Sumpter, appearing in camp with four hundred men, asked for as many more to intercept a convoy with its stores on the [320] road from Charleston to Camden. Gates, who be-
Chap. XV.} 1780. Aug.
lieved himself at the head of seven thousand men, granted his request. Sumpter left the camp, taking with him eight hundred men, and on the next morning captured the wagons and their escort.

An exact field return proved to Gates that he had but three thousand and fifty-two rank and file present and fit for duty. ‘These are enough,’ said he, ‘for our purpose;’ and on the fifteenth he commu-

nicated to a council of officers an order to begin their march at ten o'clock in the evening of that day. He was listened to in silence. Many wondered at a night march of an army of which more than twothirds were militia, that had never even been paraded together; but Gates, who had the ‘most sanguine confidence of victory and the dispersion of the enemy,’ appointed no place for rendezvous, and began his march before his baggage was sufficiently in the rear.

At half-past 2 on the morning of the sixteenth,

about nine miles from Camden, the advance guard of Cornwallis fell in with the advance guard of the Americans. To the latter the collision was a surprise. Their cavalry was in front, but Armand, its commander, who disliked his orders, was insubordinate; the horsemen in his command turned suddenly and fled; and neither he nor they did any service that night or the next day. The retreat of Armand's legion produced confusion in the first Maryland brigade, and spread consternation throughout the army, till the light infantry on the right under the command of Colonel Porterfield threw back the party that made the attack and restored order; but at a [321] great price, for Porterfield received a wound which
Chap. XV.} 1780. Aug. 16.
proved mortal.

To a council of the American general officers held immediately in the rear of the lines, Gates communicated the report of a prisoner, that a large regular force of British troops under Cornwallis was five or six hundred yards in their front, and submitted the question whether it would be proper to retreat. Stevens declared himself eager for battle, saying that ‘the information was but a stratagem of Rawdon to escape the attack.’ No other advice being offered, Gates desired them to form in line of battle.

The position of Lord Cornwallis was most favorable. A swamp on each side secured his flanks against the superior numbers of the Americans. At daybreak his last dispositions were made. The front line, to which were attached two six-pounders and two three-pounders, was commanded on the right by Lieutenant-Colonel Webster, on the left by Lord Rawdon. A battalion with a six-pounder was posted behind each wing as a reserve. The cavalry were in the rear ready to charge or to pursue.

On the American side, the second Maryland brigade, of which Gist was brigadier, and the men of Delaware, occupied the right under Kalb; the North Carolina division with Caswell, the cenatre; and Stevens with the newly arrived Virginia militia, the left: the best troops on the side strongest by nature, the worst on the weakest. The first Maryland brigade, at the head of which Smallwood should have appeared, formed a second line about two hundred yards in the rear of the first. The artillery was divided between the two brigades. [322]

Gates took his place in the rear of the second line.

Chap. XV.} 1780. Aug. 16.
He gave no order till Otho Williams proposed to him to begin the attack with the brigade of Stevens, his worst troops, who had been with the army only one day. Stevens gave the word, and, as they prepared to move forward, Cornwallis ordered Webster, whose division contained his best troops, to assail them, while Rawdon was to engage the American right. As the British with Webster rushed on, firing and shouting huzza, Stevens reminded his militia that they had bayonets; but they had received them only the day before and knew not how to use them; so, dropping their muskets, they escaped to the woods with such speed that not more than three of them were killed or wounded.

Caswell and the militia of North Carolina, except the few who had Gregory for their brigadier, followed the example; so that nearly two-thirds of the army fled without firing a shot. Gates writes of them, as an eye-witness: ‘The British cavalry continuing to harass their rear, they ran like a torrent and bore all before them;’ that is to say, the general himself was borne with them. They took to the woods and dispersed in every direction, while Gates disappeared entirely from the scene, taking no thought for the continental troops whom he left at their posts in the field, and flying, or, as he called it, retiring as fast as possible to Charlotte.

The militia having been routed, Webster came round the flank of the first Maryland brigade, and attacked them in front and on their side. Though Smallwood was nowhere to be found, they were sustained by the reserve, till the brigade was outflanked [323] by greatly superior numbers, and obliged to give

Chap. XV.} 1780. Aug. 16.
ground. After being twice rallied, they finally retreated. The division which Kalb commanded continued long in action, and never did troops show greater courage than these men of Maryland and Delaware. The horse of Kalb had been killed under him, and he had been badly wounded; yet he continued the fight on foot. At last, in the hope that victory was on his side, he led a charge, drove the division under Rawdon, took fifty prisoners, and would not believe that he was not about to gain the day, when Cornwallis poured against him a party of dragoons and infantry. Even then he did not yield, until disabled by many wounds.

The victory cost the British about five hundred of their best troops; ‘their great loss,’ wrote Marion, ‘is equal to a defeat.’ How many Americans perished on the field or surrendered is not accurately known. They saved none of their artillery, and little of their baggage. Except one hundred continental soldiers whom Gist conducted across the swamps, through which the cavalry could not follow, every corps was dispersed. The canes and underwood that hid them from their pursuers separated them from one another.

Kalb lingered for three days; but before he closed his eyes he bore an affectionate testimony to the exemplary conduct of the division which he had commanded, and of which two-fifths had fallen in battle. Opulent and happy in his wife and children, he gave to the United States his life and his example. Congress voted him a monument. The British parliament voted thanks to Cornwallis. [324]

Gates and Caswell, who took to flight with the

Chap. XV.} 1780. Aug.
militia, gave up all for lost; and, leaving the army without orders, rode in all haste to Clermont, which they reached ahead of all the fugitives, and then pressed on and still on, until, late in the night, the two generals escorted each other into Charlotte. The next morning Gates, who was a petty intriguer, not a soldier, left Caswell to rally such troops as might come in; and himself sped to Hillsborough, where the North Carolina legislature was soon to meet, riding altogether more than two hundred miles in three days and a half, and running away from his army so fast and so far that he knew nothing about its condition. Caswell, after spending one day at Charlotte, disobeyed the order, and followed the example of his chief.

On the nineteenth, American officers, coming into

Charlotte, placed their hopes of a happier turn of events on Sumpter, who commanded the largest American force that now remained in the Carolinas.

That detachment had on the fifteenth captured

more than forty British wagons laden with stores, and secured more than a hundred prisoners. On
hearing of the misfortunes of the army of Gates, Sumpter retreated slowly and carelessly up the Wateree. On the seventeenth, he remained through
the whole night at Rocky Mount, though he knew that the British were on the opposite side of the river, and in possession of boats and the ford. On the eighteenth, he advanced only eight miles; and
on the north bank of Fishing creek, at bright midday, his troops stacked their arms; some took repose; some went to the river to bathe; some strolled [325] in search of supplies; and Sumpter himself fell fast
Chap. XV.} 1780. Aug.
asleep in the shade of a wagon. In this state, a party under Tarleton cut them off from their arms and put them to rout, taking two or three hundred of them captive, and recovering the British prisoners and wagons. On the twentieth, Sumpter rode into Char-
lotte alone, without hat or saddle.

1 Cornwallis to Clinton, 30 June, 1780.

2 The genuineness of the letter is unquestioned.

3 Kalb's letters, captured by the British.

4 Kapp's Kalb, 213.

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