Robert Tomes.

Battles of America by sea and land. With biographies of naval and military commanders (Volume 01) online

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it impracticable to cross at that
point, inarched along the shore
for a distance of twenty-five miles, until
he reached the upper fords, which still
remained passable. He now crossed the
river, and commenced a rapid pursuit o*
the Americans, determined to force them
to fight before they could get reinforce
ments from Virginia. His lordship s de-

* Simms.

Feb. 3,




Fcl), 7,

lay enabled Greene and Morgan to reach
Guilford courthouse and refresh
their troops, where two days af
terward they were joined by General lin
ger with his division, whose march from
the Pedee had been one of great trial and

General Greene s object was not mere
ly to escape from Cornwallis, but also to
entice him forward in pursuit, with the
hope of getting him into the interior of
the country, where his resources would

be exhausted, and the inhabitants would
rise in resistance. Thus, the American
commander halted at the Catawba until
the British were able to march; and then,
again, he lingered on the banks of the
Yadkin. Cornwallis, having forded the
river, encamped at Salem, on the same
side of the Yadkin with the Americans,
and about twenty-five miles from Guil
ford courthouse, then the capital of Guil
ford county, North Carolina, where Gen
eral Greene had halted with his army.


To fight, or not to fight? Retreat of General Greene continued. Across the Dan. The Light-Corps. Ingenious Rnse.
Good Service. Otho Williams. Suffering from Cold. Blood on the Ground. Cornwallis retires to Hillsborough.
A Patriotic Woman. Watching the Enemy. Greene recrosses the Dan. A Campaign in North Carolina. Pick-
ens and Lee after Tarleton. Attempt at a Surprise. The Enemy gone ! Another Attempt. Enemies for Friends.
Success. A Bloody Conflict. No Mercy.


THE self-reliant Greene, with un
usual deference to the opinion of
others, called a council of war, and sub
mitted to his officers the question wheth
er it was expedient to fight the enemy.
The Americans numbered but two thou
sand and thirty-six men fit for duty. The
British were three thousand. The latter
were all well-disciplined regulars, fully
supplied with provisions, clothing, and
ammunition, and in perfect fighting or
der. About five hundred of the former
were militia, and all were but half clothed,
half fed, and much discouraged by their
long flight. The council, with one mind,
agreed that it was expedient to continue
the retreat to Virginia.

Greene s purpose was now with the ut
most despatch to reach the river Dan,
which, rising in the mountains of Yirginia,
flows in its winding course into North
Carolina, and thence back again into the
former state. He hoped, by crossing this
stream, and putting its waters between
him and his pursuers, to gain sufficient
time to gather such reinforcements as
would enable him to stem the progress of,
and perhaps drive back, the formidable
Cornwallis. The American commander,
with his usual foresight, had made pro
vision for a supply of boats, and was thus
enabled to direct his course over the low
er and deeper part of the Dan ; while his
enemy, unconscious of his resources, be-



lieved that his only practicable route was
across the upper fords, which alone were
passable in that season of freshet.

To protect his retreat, and to conceal
its direction from the enemy, General
Greene formed a light-corps of seven hun
dred men, made up of some of the choicest
infantry under Lieutenant-Colonel How
ard ; of Lee s legion, which had joined
Huger on his march to Guilford court
house ; of the cavalry of Colonel Wash
ington ; and of a few mounted militia ri
flemen. While Greene hurried forward
with the main body to the Dan, the light-
corps was ordered to keep between him
and Cornwallis, and so to direct its move
ments as to give the enemy the idea that
it composed the rear of the army, and
was pursuing the same route, while its
course should be devious, and tending as
it were to the upper fords of the river.
The command of this corps was offered
to General Morgan, but he refused it, as
he had determined to retire from the ar
my, in consequence of illness.* Colonel
Otho Williams, of Maryland, was then ap

The service of these troops, under their
spirited and skilful commander, was of
signal benefit. Lord Cornwallis was de
luded by the judicious manoeuvres of Wil
liams. While the light-corps was now here
and now there at one time halting for
a skirmish with the British vanguard, and
again retiring before the approach of the
main body his lordship believed that

Morgan soon after resigned his commission. In 1794,
lie commanded the militia of Virginia, called out to aid in
suppressing the whiskey insurrection in Pennsylvania, and
continued in the service until the following year. He was
alter ward elected to a seat in Congress. He died in 1799.

he had the whole American army before
him, and concentrated all his attention
upon Colonel Williams and his seven hun
dred men.

Greene, in the meantime, was pursuing
his route to the river Dan, without the
least obstruction from the enemy. Other
difficulties, however, beset him on his toil
some and painful march. The cold had
become intense, and the rough roads fro
zen so hard, that the soldiers, who were
generally barefoot, left the tracks of their
bruised feet in blood upon the ground !
Clothing was so scarce, that few of the
men had coats to their backs ; and in the
best-supplied corps a single blanket was
the allowance of covering during those
nights of winter for four men. But the
troops bore up manfully against every
trial, and after a weary march of four
days they reached Irwin s ferry,
on the river Dan, seventy miles
from Guilford. Here boats were found
in readiness, and General Greene imme
diately threw his army across the river;
while he sent word to Williams to come
up with his light detachment. With con
summate skill and daring, this brave sol
dier had kept his handful of troops far in
the rear of his commander, and almost in
the very grasp of Lord Cornwallis. He
had now a march of forty miles to make,
with the whole British army after him,
before he could reach the western bank
of the Dan.

These forty miles, along a deep and
broken road, incrusted with ice, Williams
accomplished in four-and-twenty hours.
Lee, who brought up the rear of the de
tachment, crossed the ferry (Boyd s) with

Feb. 13.




Fcb, 14.

his last troop of horse, at nine
o clock at night, and landed on
the eastern bank, as the British dragoons
in advance rode down to the shore which
he had just left! "So tangible was the
hand of Providence in this," says Lossing,
" that it was regarded throughout the
whole country as a mark of special favor
to the American cause, and in no small
degree strengthened the hopes of the re
publicans. During this retreat of nearly
two hundred miles, not a single man de
serted from the American ranks. This
fact is well established by official reports,
yet a late British writer has asserted that
the militia had nearly all deserted Gen
eral Greene when he reached the Dan."
Lord Cornwallis thus foiled in his at
tempt to overtake Greene, and finding it
neither easy nor safe to follow him into
Virginia, sullenly retired southward from
the banks of the Dan to Hillsborough, in
North Carolina. Here he established a
camp, raised the royal standard, and by
proclamation invited the inhabitants to
repair to it. The loyalists of Hillsbor-
oiiffh and its neighborhood did not come

o o

forward to enroll themselves as freely as
was expected. " Hundreds," wrote Colo
nel Tarleton, " rode into the camp to talk
over the proclamation, inquire the news
of the day, and take a view of the king s
troops. Some of the more zealous prom
ised to raise companies, and even regi
ments, but their followers and depend
ants were slow to enlist." His lordship
accordingly sent Tarleton, with five hun
dred troops, to beat up the country be
tween Haw and Deep Rivers, for loyal


In the meanwhile, General Greene was
refreshing and strengthening his wearied
army in the fertile county of Halifax, in
Virginia, and in the midst of a friendly
population. Apprized of the movement
of Cornwallis, by means of a white hand
kerchief, which a patriotic woman dis
played on the opposite side of the Dan,
according to her promise, showing the
departure of the enemy, Greene now de
spatched across the river a body of light>
troops, under Pickens and Lee, to watch
their manoeuvres. Soon after, he
himself followed with his whole
army, anxious to counteract, if possible,
by a show of force, the influence which
Cornwallis, according to an exaggerated
rumor, was exercising upon the inhabit
ants of North Carolina, to whom even the
patriots were disposed to submit while
there was no army in the state to sustain
their cause.

Pickens and Lee had been ordered to
gain the front of Cornwallis; to place
themselves as close to him as safety would
permit; to interrupt his communication
with the country; to repress the medi
tated rising of the loyalists ; and, at all
events, to intercept any party of them
which might attempt to join the enemy.

Greene was so anxious that his plans
should be faithfully executed, that, re
gardless of danger and fatigue, he crossed
the Dan in advance of his army, accom
panied only by a small escort of cavalry,
and rode on until he overtook Pickens
and Lee, with whom he passed the night
in busy consultation. Early the next day
he was again across the river, preparing
to move his army from its comfortable



[PART 11.

quarters in Virginia, and once more ex
pose them to the trials and uncertainties
of a campaign in North Carolina.

In the meantime, Pickens and Lee, on
the alert for service, eagerly caught at
the news, brought in by a scout, that
Tarleton was out with horse, foot, and ar
tillery, and was moving toward the Haw.
Pickens and Lee resolved on an attempt
at a surprise, and hastened to the river,
which they forded on hearing that Tarle
ton had already crossed. A countryman
was overtaken at noon by the roadside,
from whom it was learned that the British
colonel was encamped only three miles in
advance, where, with his horses unsaddled,
he was apparently resting in confident se
curity. Lee and Pickens were now hope
ful of success, and, immediately disposing
their troops in order for attack, cautiously
moved through the woods to the place
where they expected to pounce upon an
unsuspecting enemy.

The movement was conducted prompt
ly and carefully, and without an untoward
occurrence they soon came in sight of the
farm and farmhouse, the " expected thea
tre of glory," when, lo and behold ! the
enemy had gone. Two of Tarle ton s staff-
officers, however, who had remained be
hind to settle for provisions, were taken
prisoners ; and from them it was learned
that their commander would not proceed
more than six miles farther. It was de
termined therefore to follow at once, and
make another effort to entrap the wily
colonel of dragoons.

In order to give success to this second
attempt, it was resolved, if possible, to
pass as a reinforcement sent from Hills-

borough to the aid of Tarleton. The two
British officers who had been captured
were placed in the centre of the cavalry,
and ordered to give color to the decep
tion ; while the sergeant in charge was
directed to shoot them down at once, in
case of the least demonstration to the con
trary. The country-people, though famil
iar with the sight of the British troops,
were less likely to detect the stratagem,
since Lee s legion, both cavalry and infan
try, with their short green coats and their
accoutrements, had very much the look
of the enemy s lightrcorps.

The effect of the ruse was soon mani
fest. Two young Carolina loyalists came
riding up the road, and, being accosted by
the hoi semen in advance, in their assumed
character of British officers, expressed
their joy at the meeting, and freely de
clared that they had been sent forward to
find out Tarleton s encampment by Colo
nel Pyle, who was on his way with four
hundred loyalists to join that officer.

While the two young men were being
conducted to Lieutenant-Colonel Lee,
Pickens was requested to keep his rifle
men on the left flank, well concealed in
the woods, as the green twigs in their
hats (which the southern patriot militia
always wore as a distinguishing mark)
would cause them to be recognised, and
defeat the stratagem.

Lee so skilfully kept up the deception,
that the youths took him for Tarleton
himself. One of them was now sent back
with the compliments of the pretended
British colonel, and a request to Colonel
Pyle that he would draw out his troops
along the margin of the road, in order to



give room for the expected British force
to pass at once without delay. The -oth
er tory was kept by the side of Lee him
self as a guide; and, as they rode on to
gether, the youthful loyalist was profuse
in his expression of respectful devotion
to the fictitious Tarleton, and full of glee
at the prospect of the junction with Colo
nel Pyle. In the meantime, his comrade,
who had but a short distance to go, gal
loped back, after having successfully ac
complished his errand. He brought word
from the tory commander that he would
" be happy to comply with the wishes of
Colonel Tarleton."

Colonel Pyle and his loyalists were now
soon in sight, on the right of the road,
drawn up as had been requested by the
pretended Tarleton. Lee had concluded,
as he himself states, "to make known to
the colonel his real character as soon as
he should confront him, with a solemn as
surance of his and his associates perfect
exemption from injury, with the choice
of returning to their homes, or of taking
a more generous part, by uniting with the
defenders of their common country against
the common foe." But, unfortunately for
Pyle, the position of his troops, on the
right side of the road, made it necessary
for Lee to pass along the whole line of
the loyalists before he could reach him at
the head of his men.

The loyalists presented a fair array of
sturdy yeomen, mounted on good, ser
viceable nags, and with their rifles and
fowling-pieces slung across their right
shoulders. They were advantageously
placed for the republicans, in the event
of a sudden discovery of the ruse; for the

muzzles of their pieces being in an oppo
site direction to the approach of Lee s cav
alry, they could not fire without a change
in their position, which was not very easy
to be effected, with a body of dragoons,
with drawn swords, " close in with their
horses heads."

" I passed along the line," writes Lee,
" at the head of the column, with a smi
ling countenance, dropping occasionally
expressions complimentary to the good
looks and commendable conduct of my
loyalist friends. At length I reached Colo
nel Pyle, when the customary civilities
were promptly interchanged. Grasping
Pyle by the hand, I was in the act of con
summating my plan, when the enemy s
left, discovering Pickens s militia, not suf
ficiently concealed, began to fire upon the
rear of the cavalry commanded by Captain
Eggleston. This officer instantly turned
upon the foe, as did immediately after the
whole column.

" The conflict was quickly decided, and
bloody on one side only. Ninety of the
royalists were killed, and most of the sur
vivors wounded. Dispersing in every di
rection, not being pursued, these escaped.
During this sudden rencontre, in some
parts of the line the cry of Mercy ! was
heard, coupled with the assurance of be
ing our best friends ; but no expostulation
could be admitted in a conjuncture so criti
cal. Humanity even forbade it, as its first
injunction is to care for your own; and
our safety was not compatible with that
of the supplicants, until disabled to offend.
Pyle, falling under many wounds, was left
on the field as dying, and yet he survived.
We lost not a man, and only one horse."



[PART 11.


Lee and Pickens up with Tavleton. His Escape. Lord Cornwallis thwarted. He shifts his Quarters. General Greene
in Pursuit. Success of the Guerilla Leaders. Williams pursued. Greene reinforced. Repose. Policy of the Tories.
Greene at Guilford Courthouse. He awaits Battle. Cornwallis accepts the Challenge. Tarleton put to Flight.
Renewal of the Engagement. Order of Battle. First Success of the British. Charge of Colonel Washington. A
Desperate Manoeuvre of Cornwallis. Friends and Foes. Hard-earned Victory of the Enemy. Orderly Retreat of the
Americans. The Losses. A Terrible Night.


LEE S troopers, while their sabres
were dripping with the blood of
Colonel Pyle s loyalists, were again on the
road, led by their spirited commander,
still panting for action. Tarleton, whom
Lee was always most eager to meet, was
within a few miles of him; and he now
hastened to overtake him. A short ride
brought the leading horseman in sight of
the British camp. As soon as Pickens
came up with his militia, the two com
manders consulted anxiously together.

The sun was setting, and for awhile
Lee and Pickens hesitated whether im
mediate action, even at that late hour,
was not the most eligible. The troops,
however, being fatigued, and the night
fast approaching, it was determined to put
off the attack until the next day. Sev
eral hours before dawn, Lee and his le
gion were in their saddles, and, lighted
by naming pine-torches, advanced along
the road to reconnoitre.

Tarleton was equally on the alert. He
andhisofficers,having supped gayly,were
anxiously longing for the dawn of day,
that they might revenge themselves for
the slaughter of Pyle s tories, when a mes
senger rode in haste from Lord Cornwal
lis, with orders for Tarleton to recross the

Haw without delay. Soon after, came
two other hurried riders, on the same
mission, so fearful was his lordship (who
had heard of Greene s return to North
Carolina, and of the movements of Lee
and Pickens) lest his indispensable colo
nel of dragoons should be surprised and
cut off with all his force. Tarleton now,
in obedience to orders, thought only of
escape, and by a prompt movement suc
ceeded in crossing the Haw before Lee
and Pickens could come up with him. He
then rejoined in safety the main body of
the British, under Cornwallis.

The earl was so thwarted in his plans
by the return of Greene to Carolina, and
the terror produced in the country by
the bloody catastrophe of the royalists
under Pyle, that he was forced to change
his tactics. The tories, moreover, were
so discouraged, that few were now wil
ling to serve ; and many, who had already
corne out to join his lordship, returned to
their homes, prudently to await the issue
of events. Finding himself, as he wrote,
"among timid friends, and adjoining to
inveterate rebels," at Hillsborough, he re
solved to shift his quarters, and march in
to a neighborhood where he hoped to find
stronger and more srenerous adherents of

o O



Feb. 26,

the royal cause. Accordingly,
the British commander crossed
the Haw with his army, and took a posi
tion near Allamance creek.

General Greene, following the move of
Lord Cornwallis, crossed the Haw near
its source, and encamped between Trou
blesome creek and Reedy fork, about fif
teen miles above the British position. At
the same time, the American commander
threw out his light-corps under Colonel
Williams, aided by Pickens and Lee, to
hover near the enemy. These active gue
rilla leaders met with their usual success.
Rapidly moving here and there about the
foe, they harassed him in every possible
manner cutting oif his supplies, inter
cepting his messengers, capturing his for-
aging-parties, skirmishing with his ad
vanced troops, embarrassing his marches,
and exhausting not only his resources,
but his spirit and patience. His lordship,
tired of this annoyance, strove to surprise
Williams s force, and by a sudden blow to
crush it at once while too remote to de
rive any support from the main body un
der Greene ; or to steal a march upon the
former, and, interposing himself between
the two, force the latter into action in de
fence of the advanced detachment.

Williams, though uninformed of this
movement of Cornwallis, was so vigilant
ly guarded, that the approach of
his lordship was discovered when
within two miles of the camp. A rapid
mase ensued across Reedy fork to Wet-
zul s mills. Williams, however, with his
start ahead, succeeded in distancing his
competitor, and, gaining the opposite side
of the stream, strove to hold his ground,

March G,

but was obliged to give way before the
superior numbers of the British. In the
meanwhile, General Greene, having been
informed, by a timely message from Wil
liams, of the approach of Cornwallis, had
retreated across the Haw, where he was
soon joined by Williams, whom the enemy
had ceased to pursue.

General Greene encamped on Trouble
some creek, and awaited reinforcements.
Soon came in Lieutenant-Colonel Greene,
with his new levies ; Brigadier-General
Lawson, with the Virginia militia ; Camp
bell, Preston, and Lynch, with their corps,
six hundred strong; followed by the mi
litia of North Carolina, under the com
mand of Brigadier-Generals Butler and
Eaton. Thus was mustered a force of
four thousand five hundred in all, horse,
foot, and artillery, of which sixteen hun
dred men were regulars, though mostly
raw recruits. Greene, glad of the oppor
tunity given him by the temporary inac
tivity of Cornwallis, gave his troops re
pose, and sought to drill and organize his
new levies for the conflict, which he did
not care long to postpone, now that he
was reinforced, and well supplied with
stores and provisions.

Hitherto, the fluctuations in numbers,
of Greene s little army, caused by the in
stability of the militia, who were chiefly
volunteers and who, the general said,
"after every little skirmish, went home
to tell the news" had led him to be ex
ceedingly cautious and circumspect, and
to employ the Fabian policy of warfare
which he had learned from Washington ;
but,now that he had substantial reinforce
ments, in regular recruits from Virginia



[PART n.

and North Carolina, he felt strong enough
to oope with Cornwallis, and earnestly de
sired an engagement.

His lordship, failing in his attempt to
interpose himself between Williams and
Greene, and thus force the latter to a dis
advantageous conflict, retired to Bell s
mill, on Deep river, where, in the repose
of the camp, he sought to refresh his
troops, until an opportunity should offer
to try his strength with his energetic an
tagonist. The British army under his
immediate command now amounted to
only two thousand four hundred men, a
force too small to be frittered away by
skirmishing, while there was no imme
diate prospect of reinforcements. His
lordship could only afford to expend his
strength in a decisive blow. The loyal
ists of the country held back their aid, in
timid anxiety about the result. "They
determined to repress their zeal, and to
wait in quietude until the British superi
ority should be manifested by signal suc

Greene was now prepared, and reso
lutely bent upon meeting his antagonist,
who had so long striven to provoke him
to battle. Calling in his detachment of
dragoons (which, under Colonel Lee, had
been sticking close to the British camp,
much to the annoyance of Cornwallis, in
tercepting his messengers and darting up
on his foraging-parties), and leaving his
heavy baggage at the iron-works on Trou
blesome creek, the American commander
now moved his whole army ten miles in
War. 14. advance > to Guilford courthouse.
Here, taking his position within
twelve miles of the camp of the enemy,

Mar, 15.

he calmly awaited the coming up of the

Lord Cornwallis did not hesitate to ac
cept the challenge which was so distinctly
proffered by this close advance of Greene.
The whole British force was on
the move at break of day, and
before sunrise the advance-guards of both
armies came into collision. Tarleton led
the one, Lee headed the other. With the
British colonel were his troopers, a corps

Online LibraryRobert TomesBattles of America by sea and land. With biographies of naval and military commanders (Volume 01) → online text (page 108 of 126)