BRITISH PLANS TO SUBJUGATE THE SOUTHERN PROVINCES
BATTLE OF CAMDEN, S. C., AUGUST 16,1780
When General Clinton and Admiral Arbuthnot departed from Charleston on the 5th day of June, to return to New York, General Cornwallis was left in command of the British expeditionary force in South Carolina. His headquarters were in Camden, but the troops with him, being totally destitute of military stores, clothing, nun, salt, and other articles necessary for troops in the operations of the field, and provisions of all kinds being deficient, almost approaching to a famine in North Carolina," it was impossible for the Army to penetrate into the latter Province before the harvest. Cornwallis therefore employed himself in establishing posts from the Peedee to the Savannah Rivers for the purpose of awing the disaffected and encouraging the loyal inhabitants, in raising some provincial corps, and in establishing a militia both for the defense as well as for the internal government of South Carolina.
Major Harrison was commissioned to raise a provincial corps between the Peedee and Wateree. Another was to be raised in the district of Ninety Six, for which Lieutenant Colonel Cunningham was commissioned. The First South Carolina Regiment, composed of refugees who had returned to their native country, was recruited. In the district of Ninety Six, by far the most populous and powerful in the Province, Lieutenant Colonel Balfour, by his great attention and diligence and by the active assistance of Major Ferguson, who
had been appointed inspector general of the militia of South Carolina by Clinton, had formed seven battalions of militia consisting of about 4,000 men, which were so regulated that they could with ease furnish 1,500 men at short notice for the defense of the frontier or for any other home service.
Many other battalions of militia were formed along the very extensive line from Broad River to the Cheraws
but they were in general either weak, or not much to be relied on for their fidelity.
The very limited service to which the militia could be put was well understood by the British. They were of but little use for distant military operations, as they would not stir without a horse, and on that account it was impossible to keep a number of them together without destroying the country.
In order to protect the raising of Harrison's corps and to awe a large tract of disaffected country between the Peedee and Black Rivers, Major McArthur, with the Seventy-first Regiment and a troop of dragoons, was posted at Cheraw Hill on the Peedee, where his detachment was plentifully supplied with provisions of all kinds. Other small posts were likewise established in the front and on the left of Camden, where the people were known to be ill, disposed, and the main body of the army
was posted at Camden, which, for this country, is reckoned a tolerably healthy place, and where the troops could most conveniently subsist, and receive the necessary supplies of various kinds from Charleston.
Having made the above arrangements, and everything wearing the face of tranquillity and submission, Cornwallis set out for Charleston on the 21st of June, leaving the command of the troops on the frontier to Lord Rawdon, who was, after Brigadier General Patterson, the commandant of Charleston, the next officer of rank in the Province.
The information which Cornwallis had at this time of the American forces was that General de Kalb was entering North Carolina
at the head of 2,000 Maryland and Delaware Continentals and that he meant to make Hillsboro his headquarters; that a corps of 300 Virginia Light infantry under Lieutenant Colonel Porterfield was somewhere in North Carolina, some militia at Salisbury and Charlotte Town under General Rutherford and Colonel Sumter, and a large body at Cross Creek under General Caswell. All of these corps being at a great distance from the British, Cornwallis did not expect that any of his posts on the frontier would be much disturbed for two months, as he believed the Americans would find it impossible to march any considerable body of men across the Province of North Carolina before the harvest.
There was much business to be attended to in Charleston by Cornwallis in regulating the civil and commercial affairs of the town and country, in organizing militia in the lower districts, and in forwarding supplies to the army around Camden. He planned to begin active operations about the beginning of September, at which time he expected that South Carolina could be left in security, while he moved with the main body of the troops into the back part of North Carolina
with the greatest probability of reducing that province to its duty.
Having in mind Clinton's instructions that troops which could be spared later would be used at a probable early date on the Chesapeake, Cornwallis wrote in regard to his contemplated move into North Carolina:
This hopeful view of the situation, based largely upon the success of the royal arms up to this time, was soon to be shattered. While Cornwallis was still at Charleston his intelligence reported that Sumter, with about 1,500 militia, was advancing from the
north as far as the Catawba settlement, and that many disaffected South Carolinians from the Waxhaws and other settlements on the frontier, whom Lord Rawdon at Camden had put on parole, were availing themselves of the general release of the 20th of June and joining Sumter. It was also reported that De Kalb's army was continuing its movement south, followed by 2,500 Virginia Militia. Cornwallis informed Clinton of these developments in a letter dated July 14, stating:
The effects of the exertions which the enemy are making in those two provinces, will, I make no doubt, be exaggerated to us. But upon the whole there is every reason to believe that their plan is not only to defend North Carolina, but to commence offensive operations immediately; which reduces me to the necessity, if I wanted the inclination, of following the plan which I had the honour of transmitting to your Excellency in my letter of the 30th of June, as the most effectual means of keeping up the spirits of our friends and securing this province.
The plan referred to by Cornwallis was the occupation of North Carolina and holding it as the frontier of the southern district.
The work of supplying the base at Camden with salt, rum, regimental stores, arms, and ammunition was under way, so that a more distant advance of the army beyond that point would be safeguarded. Due to the distance of transportation and the excessive heat of the season, the work was one of infinite labor, requiring considerable time. Then, too, the several actions in which his forces had been engaged made Cornwallis more and more doubtful as to the value of his militia. He wrote to Clinton that dependence upon these troops for protecting and holding in South Carolina, in case of an advance of his army into North Carolina, was precarious, as their want of subordination and confidence in themselves would make a considerable force always necessary for the defense of the Province until North Carolina was completely subjugated.
In the plan of campaign for the Crown forces to the north it was contemplated using Ferguson's corps, augmented by militia of the Ninety Six district, which was being trained by him, as a left covering force to advance to the borders of Tryon County, now
Rutherford and Lincoln, paying particular attention to the mountain regions, in securing protection for the advance of the main body from Camden. Lieutenant Colonel Cruger, who succeeded Balfour in command of Ninety Six, was to retain his post. Colonel Innes, with the remainder of the militia of that district, was to guard the frontier, which would require careful attention, as there were many disaffected and many constantly in arms.
On the 9th of August two expresses reached Cornwallis from Camden, wherein Rawdon informed him that General Gates was advancing toward Lynches Creek with his whole army, supposed to amount to 6,000 men, exclusive of a detachment of 1,000 men under Colonel Sumter. It was thought that the latter, following his attack on the posts at Rocky Mount and Hanging Rock, was trying to get around to the left of the British Army and cut off its communications with the Congarees and Charleston. The disaffected country between the Peedee and Black Rivers was reported as having actually revolted, and as a result of these menaces Rawdon was contracting his post and preparing to assemble his force at Camden. A hurried message had been sent to Lieutenant Colonel Cruger to forward to Camden, without loss of time, the four companies of light infantry stationed at Ninety Six.
On the evening of the 10th of August Lord Cornwallis, with a small escort, set out from Charleston and hastened to Camden. The journey of 140 miles was completed in three days, Cornwallis crossing the Wateree Ferry at Camden the night of the 13th. On this same day the four companies of light infantry arrived from Ninety Six. The British at this time knew that the American Army had marched up Little Lynches Creek to Hanging Rock Creek, thence to Rugeley's, where it arrived on the 13th, and that later in the day it advanced its light Infantry across Granneys Quarter Creek, on the road to Camden.
Gum Swamp, 7¼ Miles North of Camden. Picture taken from the highway bridge, looking east across the swamp. West of the bridge the swamp narrows to a stream 20 feet wide. The British Amy crossed Gum Swamp at a ford where the bridge now is. (March 16, 1929)
The situation which confronted Cornwallis was one that offered the British fewer advantages than disadvantages. He either had to retire or to attack. He could not afford to hold his position at Cam, den, as it was a bad one in which to be attacked. With Marion operating between the Peedee and Santee Rivers, and Sumter advancing down the right bank of the Wateree, supplies mug. have failed Cornwallis's army in a few days. There would have been no difficulty in making good a retreat to Charleston with the troops that were able to march, but such action would necessitate leaving about 800 sick and a great quantity of stores at Camden. Furthermore, such a retrograde movement would result in the loss of the whole Province of South Carolina, except Charleston, and all of Georgia, except Savannah, besides forfeiting all pretensions to future confidence from the friends of the Crown in that part of America.
The strength which Cornwallis attributed to the American Army was about the same number that General Gates himself believed he had before being advised of the actual number by his deputy adjutant general. The British estimate was that the American Army consisted of about 5,000 men, exclusive of Colonel Sumter's detachment and exclusive also of a corps of Virginia Militia of 1,200 or 1,500 men, who were expected to join the main body at any hour. Cornwallis's own corps, which was never very numerous, was now reduced by sickness and other casualties to about 1,600 regulars and provincials and 600 militia and North Carolina refugees, the total being 2,179. However, the greater part of his troops being of excellent quality and having left Charleston sufficiently garrisoned and provided for a siege, and seeing little to lose by a defeat and much to gain by a victory, Cornwallis resolved to attack the Americans at the first opportunity.
After consulting with some intelligent people, who were well acquainted with the ground on which the Americans were camped at Rugeley's, Cornwallis determined to march at 10 o'clock on the night of the 15th of August and attack at daybreak, directing his
Sanders Creek, 5½ Miles North of Camden. The picture shows the old roadbed, now built up as a dam. The present highway is 80 yards west of the road shown. The hill in the left background is the position north of Sanders Creek which General Gates expected to occupy. (March 16, 1929)
principal force against the Continentals, who, he believed, were badly posted close to Lieutenant Colonel Rugeley's house. The town, magazine, hospital, and prisoners were committed to the care of Major McArthur, with a small body of provincials and militia and the weakest convalescents of the army, together with a detachment of the Sixty-third Regiment, which arrived in the course of the night.
At 10 o'clock the King's troops moved from their ground and formed in order of march on the road to Clermont. By a most remarkable coincidence this was the exact hour that the American Army began its march. Lieutenant Colonel Webster commanded the front division of the Army. His advance guard consisted of 20 of the Legion cavalry and as many mounted infantry, supported by the four companies of light infantry which had come from Ninety Six, and followed by the Twenty-third and Thirty-third Regiments of foot. The center of the column of march was formed by Lord Rawdon's division, which consisted of the Volunteers of Ireland, the Legion infantry, Hamilton's corps, and Colonel Bryan's refugees. The two battalions of the Seventy-first Regiment, which composed the reserve, followed the second division. Four pieces of cannon marched with the two divisions and two with the reserve. A few wagons preceded the dragoons of the Legion, who composed the rear guard. After a march of 5 miles Sanders Creek was reached about midnight. A short halt was made, the column closed up, and with profound silence the British continued on their way.
Slowly and quietly through the warm night the two armies approached each other. Each commander believed he was about to gain a decided advantage over his opponent. Cornwallis expected to make a surprise attack upon the American camp at Rugeley's at dawn. The head of Gates's column, which moved more slowly than did the British, was nearing the ford over Gum Swamp, and just beyond lay the position covering Sanders Creek, which it was the American commander's intention to occupy. Mounted scouts patrolled the dark road ahead of the two armies, expecting to find
Map of the Battle of Camden, S. C., Showing Position and Strength of American and British Commands. (Sketch made on the ground March 16, 1929, by Lieut. Col. H. L. Landers. F. A., Historical Section, Army War College)
nothing on their front more alarming than a raiding or reconnoitering party. Not one, in those silent columns of more than 5,000 men, knew that the foe was approaching in full strength and with sinister purpose.
Suddenly out of the quiet came a sharp challenge, an interchange of scattered shots, and then loud huzzas of challenging troops. The van of both armies came together at 2.30 o'clock in the morning on the Sutton farm, which was about 8 miles from Camden, just north of the ford over Gum Swamp. The British Legion cavalry dashed ahead to overcome by surprise and shock whatever might block their path. Armand's cavalry stood the charge for only a moment. The flanking columns of Infantry, under Armstrong and Porterfield, were prompt to get into position, from which their fire took the Legion cavalry in the flank, causing its precipitous retreat and the wounding of its commander. Meanwhile Colonel Webster was moving the British front division into position, and it was not long before the four companies of light infantry and the Twenty-third and Thirty-third Regiments were posted across the road, forming a wall behind which the Legion cavalry could rally and the remainder of the army halt in safety and recover from the surprise of the rencounter.
In the first clash between the two advance parties the wounded in Armand's legion retreated and threw the whole of his corps into confusion. The corps recoiled suddenly against the front of the column of Infantry behind, creating disorder in the leading brigade, the First Maryland, and occasioning a general consternation throughout the whole extent of the Army. But this confusion in the main body was of no consequence, as the advance guard of light Infantry bravely and effectively held the ground in front, thereby providing time for the various organizations in rear to reestablish their poise. Lieutenant Colonel Porterfield, in whose bravery and judicious conduct great dependence was placed,
received a mortal wound in the first rencounter and was obliged to retire, but his Infantry continued to hold their ground. Musketry fire was exchanged for nearly a quarter of an hour, when the two armies, finding themselves opposed to each other, ceased firing as though by mutual consent to determine upon the next move.
The prisoners taken by each side during this scrimmage soon informed their captors of the true condition of affairs. Cornwallis was assured by both prisoners and deserters that the whole of Gates's army was marching with the intention of attacking the British at Camden. From them Cornwallis learned that the force confronting him was far greater than his own. From one of the British who had been made a prisoner Colonel Williams obtained the startling information that five or six hundred yards in front lay the whole British Army, represented as consisting of about 3,000 regular troops, commanded by Lord Cornwallis in person. Each side was as much surprised at the astounding information as was the other. The situation least expected to arisethat is, to encounter the opposing army on the march and in the darkhad become a fearful reality, requiring the exercise of prompt and heroic qualities of leadership on the part of each commander were he to save his command from destruction and turn surprise into victory. Day, light was fast approaching; by half past 4 o'clock the dawn of the coming day would bring the armies within view of each other. But little more than an hour was left in which to deploy the troops into battle formation.
Confiding in the discipline and courage of the King's troops, and well apprised by several inhabitants that the ground on which both armies stood, being narrowed by swamps on the right and left, was extremely favorable for his numbers, Cornwallis did not choose to hazard the great stake for which he was going to fight to the uncertainty and confusion to which an action in the dark is so peculiarly liable. His command, composed largely of highly trained troops, could be maneuvered into line of battle before day broke, but he resolved to defer the attack until dawn. A byway which
led to Camden, beyond the morass on the left, gave him some uneasiness for a short time, lest the Americans should pass his flank, but the vigilance of a small party in that quarter soon dispelled his anxiety.
The British battle line was formed with Webster's division on the right, the four light companies, 148 strong, being on the flank and reaching to the swamp. Next came the Twenty-third Regiment, of 292 officers and men; then the Thirty-third Regiment, 238 strong, with its left resting on the road over which it had marched from Camden. On the left of this road the division commanded by Lord Rawdon was formed. His own regiment, the Volunteers of Ireland, with a total strength of 303, joined the left of the Thirty-third Regiment. Then came 126 men of the Legion infantry, and beyond them were 267 of Lieutenant Colonel Hamilton's North Carolina regiment, protected by a morass on their left flank. Some of Colonel Bryan's regiment, who had been brought together following their defeat at Hanging Rock on the 6th, formed in rear of the North Carolinians. There was a total of 322 volunteer militia present.
In the line of battle were two 6-pounders, and two 3-pounders under Lieutenant McLeod, posted to the left of the road and in front of the right of the Irish Volunteers. The Seventy-first Regiment, with two 6-pounders, was formed as a reserve, the First Battalion of 144 officers and men being posted about 200 yards in rear of the Thirty-third Regiment, and the Second Battalion, with a strength of 110, the same distance in rear of the Volunteers of Ireland. The cavalry of the Legion, with a total strength of 182, was in rear to the right of the road, and, the country being wooded, it was drawn up close to the Seventy-first Regiment, with orders to seize any opportunity that might offer to break the enemy's line and be ready to protect its own in case any corps should meet with a check.
The British soon recovered from the disorder occasioned by the first alarm, but for a long time the American Army was gripped
by fear. Order was finally restored in the corps of Infantry, and the officers became engaged in forming line of battle, when the deputy adjutant general communicated to General Gates the information he had received from the prisoner. The astonishment of the commanding general upon learning that the entire British Army was but musket shot away could not be concealed. He ordered Colonel Williams to call a council of war with all possible celerity. The general officers immediately assembled in rear of the line, and the unwelcome news of the enemy was communicated to them. General Gates then asked:
Gentlemen, what is best to be done?
All were mute for a few moments, when General Stevens exclaimed:
Is it not too late now to do anything but fight?
No other advice was offered, and Gates directed his generals to repair to their respective commands and continue the deployment of the troops into formation for battle. When Colonel William went to call General de Kalb to the council, he told him what had been discovered. The latter facetiously remarked:
Well, and has the general given you orders to retreat the Army?
Not that De Kalb expected such an order would be given, for he had learned to respect the determination of the man who succeeded him to the command and knew that without a fight the Army could not withdraw, except at the risk of being cut to pieces.
At length the Americans were ranged in line of battle in the following order: General de Kalb's corps, composed of the two brigades of the Maryland division and the Delaware regiment, was going into position on the right. In the center was the North Carolina Militia, commanded by General Caswell. The left wing was made up of the Virginia Militia under General Stevens, the light Infantry, and Porterfield's corps. Both flanks of the line were protected by the swamps which covered the enemy's deployment.
The swamp on the west side approached the road in the vicinity of the American line, and it was found that the Second Brigade of about 400 men, commanded by General Gist, and the Delaware regiment of about 150 men would fill the ground from the road to the creek which bordered the swamp. The Army reserve consisted of the First Maryland Brigade of approximately 400 men, under General Smallwood. The first position of the reserve was across the road and about 200 yards in rear of the front fine.
The North Carolina troops were organized into three brigades, each consisting of about 400 men and commanded by Brigadier Generals Gregory, Butler, and Rutherford. One of Gregory's regiments was in charge of Colonel Dixon, a Continental officer. This regiment was next to the Second Maryland Brigade. The Virginia Militia numbered 700 and the fight Infantry and Porterfield's corps about 400. The few men still left in Armand's legion were ordered to the left to support the militia on that flank and oppose the enemy's cavalry. Six pieces of artillery were assigned to the front line, two on the road, two between the Second Maryland Brigade and the swamp, and two between the North Carolina and Virginia troops. The remaining two pieces were on the road with the reserve brigade. The total strength of the American Army at this time was about 3,300 officers and men, as the detachment which had been sent to join Colonel Sumter numbered somewhat more than 400.
As the night gave way to the coming day out of the darkness appeared the dim visage of the ghostly armies. Every eye was strained to catch a movement of the enemy; every heart beat with fear of the unknown and hope of some advantage in troops and position. Cornwallis advanced his line of columns preparatory to forming battle front and while doing this was able to perceive the two lines of the Americans, now very close to him. At the same instant his movement was detected by Captain Singleton, who commanded two pieces of the artillery and who remarked to Colonel Williams that he could detect the British uniform at about 200 yards in front.
The deputy adjutant general immediately ordered Captain Singleton to open fire with his battery and then hastened to join the commanding general, who was in rear of the reserve brigade, and informed him that the enemy seemed to be deploying their column by the right. The suggestion was made by this staff officer that if the enemy, while deploying from parallel columns into line, were briskly attacked by General Stevens's brigade, which was already in line of battle, the effect might be fortunate. The order that this be done was given by General Gates, and Colonel Williams hastened to deliver it to General Stevens. At the same time orders were given to General Smallwood, commanding the reserve brigade, to advance to the left front and support the left wing on the ground about to be vacated by the Virginia Militia. General Gates then rode up to General Gist and ordered the Second Brigade to advance slowly, reserving its fire until close to the enemy, when it was to fire and charge with the bayonet.
General Stevens meanwhile advanced his brigade in compliance with the order given him to attack, all the men apparently in fine spirits, but it was soon discovered that the right wing of the enemy was now in line and that it was too late to make a surprise attack upon them while they were still deploying. Seeing this, Colonel Williams requested General Stevens to let him have 40 or 50 volunteers, who would run ahead of the brigade and commence the fight. They were led forward to within about 50 yards of the British and ordered to take to trees and keep up as brisk a fire as possible. Colonel Williams hoped, by this expedient, to draw the enemy's fire at some distance, thereby rendering it less terrible to the militia at the outset.
This stratagem, however, was doomed to failure, for Cornwallis, observing the movement which had taken place in front of his right wing and supposing that it indicated an intention on the part of the Americans to make some alterations in their order of battle, directed Colonel Webster to begin the attack, and the latter was now moving up with this object in view. There was a dead calm
at the time, preventing the smoke of battle from rising, which added to the haziness in the air. Due to the obscured atmosphere, it became difficult to seethe effect of the very heavy fire which ensued. The British line continued to advance in good order with the cool intrepidity of experienced soldiers. General Stevens, observing the steady approach of the enemy, told his men to use their bayonets, but the impetuosity with which the British continued on, firing and huzzaing
threw the whole body of the militia into such a panic, that they generally threw down their loaded arms and fled, in the utmost consternation. The unworthy example of the Virginians was almost instantly followed by the North Carolinians; only a small part of the brigade commanded by Brigadier General Gregory, made a short pause.
This terrible havoc in the militia troops was being wrought by the companies of fight infantry and the Twenty-third Regiment. The advantage which they gained they judiciously followed, not by pursuing the fugitives, but by wheeling on the left flank of the Continentals, who were now abandoned by all their militia except the North Carolina regiment under Colonel Dixon. The contest at this time was supported by the two Maryland brigades, the Delaware regiment, Dixon's regiment, and the artillery. Almost the entire militia, constituting two-thirds of the Southern Army, had fled without firing a shot. Colonel Williams in writing of these events said:
He who has never seen the effect of a panic upon a multitude can have but an imperfect idea of such a thing. The best disciplined troops have been enervated and made cowards by it. Armies have been routed by it, even where no enemy appeared to furnish an excuse. Like electricity, it operates instantly; like sympathy, it is irresistible where it touches.
The regular troops, who had the keen edge of sensibility and fear rubbed of by strict discipline and hard service, saw the confusion with but little emotion. Some irregularity was created by the militia breaking pell-mell through the First Maryland Brigade, but order was restored in time to give the British a severe check,
which abated the fury of their assault and obliged them to assume a more deliberate manner of acting. The most severe part of the action occurred on the front of the Thirty-third Regiment, which advanced on the right of the road, and on the front of the Volunteers of Ireland, who went forward on the left of the road. The latter regiment, together with the Legion infantry and the militia and supported by the Second Battalion of the Seventy-first Regiment, engaged the Second Maryland Brigade and the Delaware regiment, which at the time were advancing to meet them. At the same time the right division, composed of the Thirty-third and Twenty-third Regiments and the light companies and supported by the First Battalion of the Seventy-first, having cleared the militia from its front, was now encountering Smallwood's brigade of Marylanders, which had moved up east of the road in line with Gist's brigade.
The disparagement in numbers of the two armies at this phase of the action was not so great, there being about 1,300 regular infantry of the British opposed to about 1,000 Continentals, but there was no way of checking the flanking movement which the British were making against the First Maryland Brigade. There were no more reserves, and the brigade was compelled to give ground. It fell back reluctantly and collectedly, and then a moment later, under the rallying cry of some of its officers, it bravely returned to the fray. It was obliged to give way a second time and was again rallied and renewed the contest. Meanwhile the Second Brigade, fighting under the immediate leadership of De Kalb and Gist, was more than holding its own, inflicting heavy losses upon the Volunteers of Ireland.
There was now a distance of nearly 200 yards between the two Maryland brigades, and owing to the thickness of the air dependence had to be placed upon the hearing, and not upon the eyesight, to learn what was occurring on a different part of the battle field. At this critical moment the deputy adjutant general, anxious that communication between the brigades should be preserved and hoping,
in the almost certain event of a retreat, that some order might be sustained, hastened from the First to the Second Brigade and begged his own regiment, the Sixth Maryland, not to fly. He was answered by its commander, Lieutenant Colonel Ford, who said:
They have done all that can be expected of them; we are outnumbered and outflanked; see the enemy charge with bayonets!
General Cornwallis now had all of his regiments concentrated against these two gallant brigades. A tremendous fire of musketry on both sides was kept up for some time, with equal perseverance and obstinacy, until Cornwallis pushed forward a part of his cavalry under Major Hanger to charge the American left flank, while Lieutenant Colonel Tarleton led forward the remainder. The infantry, charging at the same time with fixed bayonets, put an end to the contest. The battle was terminated in less than an hour. The British victory was complete. All the artillery and a great number of prisoners fell into their hands. The dead and wounded lay where they fell and the rout of the remainder was thorough. General Gist moved from the battle field with about 100 Continentals in a body by wading through the swamp on the right of the American position. Other than this not even a company retired in any order; everyone escaped as he could. The brave De Kalb had his horse killed under him and continued to fight on foot with the Second Brigade until he fell into the hands of the enemy mortally wounded, pierced with eight bayonet wounds and stricken with three musket balls. This brigade had fought with such a great measure of success, and the thickness of the air preventing observation of other parts of the battle field, De Kalb, when wounded and taken, could not believe that General Gates had been defeated.
As soon as the rout of the Americans became general the Legion dragoons advanced with great rapidity toward Rugeley's. On the road General Rutherford and many others were made prisoners. The charge and pursuit having greatly dispersed the British, a halt was ordered on the south side of Granneys Quarter Creek in order
to collect a sufficient body to dislodge a small party of Americans that was employed in rallying the militia at that pass and in sending of the baggage. The junction of Tarleton's cavalry soon caused this group of Americans to continue the retreat. The chase again commenced and did not terminate until the British cavalry reached Hanging Rock, 22 miles from the battle field, by which time the Americans were dispersed and fatigue overpowered the exertions of the British.
As soon as the firing in the night had commenced General Gates rode to the head of the column to learn the cause and the extent of the threatened danger. There he met some of Armand's legion retreating and was urged by the commander to retire from the point of danger. Gates answered that it was his duty to be wherever it was most necessary to give orders, and he remained at the front until the firing grew slack and the troops were beginning to form. When the conflict opened at dawn he was with the reserve brigade, and it was there his deputy adjutant general found him and received the order directing Colonel Stevens to attack at once. At the same time Gates turned to one of his aides, Maj. Thomas Pinckney, of South Carolina, with the order:
Now Sir! do you go to Baron de Kalb and desire him to make an attack on the enemy's left to support that made by General Stevens on the right.
When, to the great astonishment of General Gates, the left wing, composed of Stevens's Virginians, gave way, followed immediately by almost all of Caswell's North Carolinians, his world was shaken to its foundations. The chance of battle, which is always a threatening factor on the battle field, seemed about to strike him a deathblow. Were the laurels of Saratoga to be snatched from his brow and strewn in the dust? Was his proud head to be bowed down with humiliation, an army destroyed, and the Southern States brought to the verge of ruin? Were the "southern willows" to be his future
decoration? These militia of North Carolina and Virginia, why should they not be expected to fight in defense of their homeland? It is true that the five years of war had brought much discontent with the militia system. It was condemned by every military leader in the Revolutionary cause, and it had not one supporter. But the cause of complaint was directed more to the difficulty of getting the militia to stay with their organization rather than to the question of their bravery when once cornered and forced to face the enemy at close quarters.
Indifferent they might be to orders of their own officers, of camp restrictions, injunctions against plundering, requirements of camp guard; ambitious their general officers might be to retain independent commands and gain glory through their own leadership; but who was there in all that number of high ranking officers that fore, saw the terrifying effect upon these untried troops when first they faced the fire of an enemy? There was no one. That the Virginians and North Carolinians, a combined force of more than 2,000 officers and men, would be equal to the demands placed upon them was the opinion held by all.
No deployment of the Southern Army other than the one made was possible. The front to be covered was 1,200 yards long from swamp to swamp. The Continentals were too few in number to cover this front; but even had it been possible to so dispose of them, such a tactical arrangement would have been foolish. The reserve of the Army should come from the best troops, and nothing less than one brigade of the Continentals would serve this purpose. That left a brigade and the Delaware regiment to constitute a wing of the battle front. They were sufficient in number to occupy the ground from the right of the road to the swamp, a distance some, what less than 400 yards. From the left of the road to the swamp was a much greater distance, about 800 yards, room enough to form three brigades of North Carolina Militia in the center, with the Virginians and other detachments in the left wing.
The American commander was not fighting from choice; in a rencounter engagement the fighting is rarely ever from choice. It was the lesser of two evils which General Gates chose, the greater being to retreat without offering battle. He had planned to reach his proposed position north of Sanders Creek as a surprise movement to Lord Rawdon in Camden. Now that the plan could not be consummated, he would fight where he stood; he was confident that his more than 3,000 men would give a good account of themselves. There was no occasion to be concerned about the Continentals; they would fight as courageously under their immediate commander, De Kalb, as under the Army commander.
It was the militia therefore that was General Gates's chief concern. When their line began to waver, break, and was then transformed into a crazed mob, stampeded with fear, it was into their midst the commanding general rode, and with indignation demanded of them that they stand and show themselves men. He was assisted in his efforts by Generals Caswell and Stevens and other officers. Everything in their power was done to rally the broken troops, but to no purpose, for the British cavalry, coming around the left flank of the Maryland division, completed the rout of the militia, leaving the Continentals, Dixon's regiment, and the artillery to stand alone, faced by the entire British Army.
A futile hope was entertained by General Gates that at Clermont he might rally a sufficient number of the militia to cover the retreat of the Regulars. Further and further to the rear was he carried in his efforts, to find some point of lodgment for at least a handful of the fleeing troops, where they might recover from their panic and again be brought into a semblance of order. Tarleton's cavalry, however, was hanging so persistently on their heels that the road was cleared of all the fleeing Americans, they seeking safety in the adjacent woods and swamps. General Gates therefore concluded to retire toward Charlotte Town, 65 miles from the battle ground, which place he and General Caswell reached late that night, abandoned by all but their aides.
During the course of the retreat, Colonel Senf, who had been on the expedition with Colonel Sumter, returned and overtook General Gates. He brought the agreeable news that the expedition west of the Wateree had met with complete success. The British redoubt opposite to Camden had been reduced, a convoy of stores from Charleston captured, and upward of 100 prisoners and 40 loaded wagons were in the hands of Sumter's party, which had sustained very little loss. Unfortunately it was not in General Gates's power to take advantage of this success or to attempt at the time a junction of the remnants of the Southern Army with Sumter's corps.
The Virginians, who knew nothing of the country they were in, involuntarily reversed the route they came and fled to Hillsboro. The North Carolina Militia fled in different directions, most of them taking the shortest way home. The regular troops, it has been observed, were the last to quit the field. Major Anderson, of the Maryland line, was the only officer who rallied, as he retreated, a few men of different companies, and whose prudence and firmness afforded protection to those who had joined his party. Colonel Gunby, Lieutenant Colonel Howard, Captain Kirkwood, and Captain Dobson, with a few other officers and 50 or 60 men, formed a junction and proceeded together.
The general order for moving off the heavy baggage to Waxhaws the preceding evening had not been carried out. The whole, of it consequently fell into the hands of the British, as well as all the baggage that followed the Army, except the wagons of Generals Gates and de Kalb. Other wagons succeeded in getting out of danger, but the cries of the women and the wounded in the rear and the consternation of the flying troops so alarmed some of the wagoners that they cut out their teams, and each taking a horse left the rest for the next that should come. Others were obliged to give up their horses to assist in carrying off the wounded, and the whole road for many miles was strewn with signals of distress,
confusion, and dismay. What added not a little to the calamitous scene was the conduct of some of Armand's legion in plundering the baggage of the Army.
The morning following the arrival of Generals Gates and Caswell in Charlotte Town the former realized the uselessness of attempting to establish the rendezvous of the scattered army at that place. There was neither munitions of war nor food, and the probability that the successful British Army would rapidly pursue loomed big. Gates therefore proceeded with all possible dispatch to Hillsboro, 140 miles from Charlotte Town, where the General Assembly of North Carolina was about to convene. Working in conjunction with the governor and assembly, he hoped to devise some plan for the defense of as much of the State as it might yet be possible to save from the enemy.
Hillsboro was reached on the 19th of August. The first duty devolving upon the defeated general was the preparation of a report of the disaster to his army for the President of Congress. The report was dated the 20th of August and was carried to the Governor of Virginia, thence to Congress in Philadelphia, by the department engineer officer, Colonel Senf, and Major McGill, an aide to the commanding general. Both of these officers had been careful observers of what transpired within the Army, and Colonel Senf, upon rejoining the remnant of the Southern Army the night of its defeat, made careful inquiries as to what had occurred and from the information gathered prepared a plan of the battle and a narrative of events. Major McGill, in a letter written shortly after the battle, said:
We owe all misfortune to the militia, had they not run like dastardly cowards, our army was sufficient to cope with them, drawn up as we were upon a rising and advantageous ground.
These staff officers were sent with General Gates's report because they were loyal to the commanding general and could "answer any questions and clear up every doubt" that might arise in a Congress
which would become unfriendly as soon as the result of the battle became known.
In the summarization submitted to Congress of events which transpired after July 25, the date when Gates assumed command of the Army, to the time of writing his report he said that
most assuredly the small arms are gone, for those that the enemy did not take are carried of by the militia;
that there were no intrenching tools; and that all the artillery with the Army, eight pieces, was lost. He stated that the distresses of the campaign almost exceeded description, that
Famine, want of tents for the militia, and of every comfort necessary for the troops in this unwholesome climate, has no doubt, in a degree, contributed to our ruin.
In his despondency these difficult conditions loomed bigger in retrospect than they did when being endured. Likewise in his statement
It is considerable consolation to my mind that I never made any movement of importance, or took any considerable measure, without the consent and approbation of all the general officers,
was the desire to palliate results by a division of responsibility, which had not occurred during the campaign. General Gates was 52 years old at this time. His military training began in England in his early youth. As a soldier his experience was varied. Temperamentally he was not disposed to conduct war in accordance with the majority view of a council of officers. That the failure of his army would be charged solely to him he was ready to believe and expect. Writing to General Caswell on the 22d of August he said:
While I continue in office will exert my utmost to serve the public interest, but as unfortunate generals are most commonly recalled, I expect that will be my case, and some other Continental general of rank sent in my place to command. When he arrives I shall give him every advice and information in my power; in
the meantime, I doubt not, Sir, that the candor and friendship that has subsisted between us, will continue, and that you are infinitely superior to the ungenerous custom of the many who, without benefiting themselves, constantly hunt down the unfortunate.
In recalling the heroes of Camden the American mind will dwell upon Gist and Smallwood and the other brave leaders of the Continental troops, but to none of those who survived the conflict will such honors be accorded as are due General de Kalb. His memory is immortalized by the manner of his death. He gained glory that General Gates would gladly have acquired at the same cost. He survived his 11 wounds until the third day, dying on the 19th of August, attended by his devoted aide-de-camp and friend, Le Chevalier du Buysson. General de Kalb's dying command to his aide was to deliver a message to Generals Smallwood and Gist, presenting his affectionate compliments to all the officers and men of his division and expressing the greatest satisfaction in the testimony given by the British Army of the bravery of his troops. He was proud of the firm opposition to superior force made by his division when abandoned by the rest of the Army. The gallant behavior of the Delaware regiment and the companies of Artillery attached to the brigades afforded him infinite pleasure
and the exemplary conduct of the whole division gave him an endearing sense of the merit of the troops he had the honor to command.
General Washington, in writing to Du Buysson in eulogy of De Kalb, said:
The manner in which he died fully justified the opinion which I ever entertained of him, and will endear his memory to the country.
The death of Baron de Kalb was deeply lamented in Maryland, and his memory is honored in that State. As a testimonial of their respect and gratitude the legislature passed an act granting the right of citizenship to his sons.
RESOLUTIONS PASSED BY CONGRESS
Congress on the 14th day of October, 1780, passed the following resolutions:
Resolved, That a monument be erected to the memory of the late Major General the Baron de Kalb, in the city of Annapolis, in the State of Maryland, with the following inscription:
KNIGHT OF THE ROYAL ORDER OF
BRIGADIER OF THE ARMY OF FRANCE
AND MAJOR GENERAL IN THE SERVICE
OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
HAVING SERVED WITH HONOR AND REPUTATION
FOR THREE YEARS,
HE GAVE A LAST & GLORIOUS PROOF OF HIS ATTACHMENT
TO THE LIBERTIES OF MANKIND
AND THE CAUSE OF AMERICA
IN THE ACTION NEAR CAMDEN IN THE STATE OF SO. CAROLINA
ON THE 16TH OF AUGUST 1780
WHERE LEADING ON THE TROOPS OF
THE DELAWARE & MARYLAND LINES AGAINST
AND ANIMATING THEM BY HIS EXAMPLE
TO DEEDS OF VALOUR
HE WAS PIERCED WITH MANY WOUNDS
AND ON THE 19 FOLLOWING EXPIRED
IN THE 48 YEAR OF HIS AGE,
THE CONGRESS OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
IN GRATITUDE TO HIS ZEAL, SERVICES AND MERIT
HAVE ERECTED THIS MONUMENT.
Resolved, That the thanks of Congress be given to Generals Smallwood and Gist, and to the officers and soldiers of the Maryland and Delaware lines; the different corps of artillery; Colonel Porterfield's and Major Armstrong's corps of light infantry, and Colonel Armand's cavalry; for their bravery and good conduct, displayed in the action of the 16th of August last, near Camden, in the State of South Carolina.
Resolved, That the thanks of Congress be given to such of the Militia officers and soldiers who distinguished themselves by their valour on that occasion.
For more than a century no action was taken to erect the monument in De Kalb's memory. It was not until February 19, 1883, that Congress appropriated a sum of money for this purpose.
Monument Erected to General De Kalb in Camden, S. C., in 1825 by the Citizens of Camden. The cornerstone of this monument was laid by the General Marquis de La Fayette, using a silver trowel which is now in possession of the Grand Lodge of Masons of South Carolina. (March 16.1929)
The Battle of Camden presents a picture unique in the history of our country. The mention of it calls to mind the havoc wrought by untrained troops fleeing from a battle field, pursued by the phantoms of terror; troops that were fully expected by their leaders to fight, constituting two-thirds of the Army, terrifiedly rushing from the battle field without firing a shot, before scarcely any of their number were wounded; deserting the regular forces whom they might have protected and from whom protection would have been received. The cowardice of the militia, induced as it was by mob fear, was followed by no miraculous intervention whereby those who held their ground and bravely fought might be saved. The latter, in turn, were also overcome by the enemy. Their gallantry alone could not win victory from a more numerous foe of equal military merit. What added to the distressing effect of the battle was the death of a gallant leader, well beloved by his adopted country, and the cruel and unjustifiable contumely heaped upon the Army, whose only mistake in this campaign was to have faith in the fighting spirit of his army, a confidence which was betrayed by all but the Maryland division, the Delaware regiment, the one regiment of North Carolinians, and the Artillery.
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