Robert Tomes.

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

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In his impatience, Gates now
Aug. 10, /

rode on and reached General Cas-

well s camp of militia, about fifteen miles
eastward of the British advanced post on
Lynch s creek. Next day the army fol
lowed and formed the junction with Cas-
well s troops. All were cheered by the
event, and the combined forces marched
with invigorated spirits to Cler-
mont, about twelve miles from
Camden, at which place Lord E-awdon, on
the near approach of Gates, had concen
trated all his troops.

The British commander was not dis
posed to disturb the American camp until
he should receive reinforcements from

Aug. 13.

Aug. 14.

Lord Cornwallis at Charleston, and in the
meantime he kept his troops employed
in strengthening his defences.

On the day after his arrival at Cler-
mont, Gates was reinforced by the junc
tion of Brigadier-General Stevens, with
seven hundred Virginia militia. His en
tire force now amounted to three thou
sand and fifty-two men fit for duty, of
whom a third only were regular troops.

Earl Cornwallis, made aware that the
post at Camden was threatened, hastened
there in person, followed by a
small body of troops. He now
assumed the command of the whole force
himself, which numbered about twenty-
one hundred men. These were, however,
with the exception of a few hundred loy
alist militia, choice British regulars. His
lordship, with his usual promptitude, had
been only a single day in camp,
when he was prepared to sally
out against his enemy ; and at ten o clock
at night he began his march to Clermont.

By a curious coincidence, General Gates
had fixed upon nearly the same moment
to lead out his force from Rugely s mills
tow-ard Camden. Gates had received a
request from Surnter for a reinforcement
of regular troops to aid him in an attempt
to cut off a considerable convoy of British
wagons, which, laden with clothing, am
munition, and other stores, and guarded
by an escort, was on its way by M Cord s
ferry from Charleston to the camp of the
enemy. The general had accordingly or
dered a detachment of four hundred men,
including one hundred infantry and two
brass fieldpiecus, under Lieutenant-Colo
nel Woolford, to join Sumter. In order



[PART n.

to facilitate this enterprise by a diversion,
ignorant of the arrival of Cornwallis by
forced marches, and confident that Lord
Rawdon would retire on his advance, and
fall back upon Charleston, General Gates
had taken up his march with the inten
tion of posting himself near Camden.

Colonel Armand and his cavalry-legion
led the van, flanked by Lieutenant-Colo
nel For terfi eld s corps of Virginia regulars
in Indian file on his right, and by Major
Armstrong s light-infantry of the North-
Carolina militia in the same order on his
left. The main body followed, with the
Maryland and Delaware regulars forming
the front division, in command of Baron
de Kalb ; the militia of North Carolina,
under General Caswell, next in order;
and the militia of Virginia, under Briga
dier Stevens, bringing up the rear.

General Gates was in ignorance of sev
eral facts which he might have known,
and which it was of infinite importance
to his objects that he should have known.
Not only was he uninformed of the rapid
march of Earl Cornwallis to the relief of
Rawdon, and thus underrated the British
strength, but he had given himself little
time to learn anything. He committed
a variety of blunders. He undervalued
cavalry, one of the most important por
tions of every army, and one especially
so in a level and sparsely-settled country
like that through which he had to pass.
Ho hurried his men, when fatigued, with-

7 O J

out necessity, and commenced a night-
movement with untried mrlitia, in the
face of an enemy. In this march he ex
hibited none of that vigilance upon which
the success of all military enterprises must

Aug. 16.

mainly depend. Lord Cornwallis, on the
contrary, appears to have been accurately
informed of every particular in relation
to the Americans which it was important
for him to know. It is even said that an
emissary of the British commander suc
ceeded in passing himself upon Gates as
a fugitive from Camden, and, having won
his confidence, made his escape to his
British employer. In a fatal state of se
curity, the result of his own self-delusion,
the American general hurried his troops
blindly forward to their doom.*

The two armies thus moved on in the
darkness of the night, without being con
scious of each other s approach, the deep
sands muffling the sound of every foot
step, until they met, about two
o clock in the morning, at San-
ders s creek, seven miles north of Camden,
and nearly midway between that place
and Clermont. A smart interchange of
small-arms between the advanced guards
first revealed the contact of the hostile
armies; and a heavier fire immediately

Colonel Armand s vanguard of cavalry
a miserable apology for a legion," re
marks Simms, " made up of the worthless
outcasts of foreign service" wheeled at
the first discharge from the enemy, and
in their retreat threw the Maryland bri
gade in their rear into confusion. Por

terfield, however, on the right, with his
Virginia infantry, held his ground; but
he himself was soon carried off the field,
with his leg terribly shattered by a can
non-ball. As if by tacit consent, the two
armies recoiled, and, bewildered as it were

* Simms.



by the sudden encounter in the darkness,
now ceased from all further hostility, and
prepared to await the daylight for the
conclusion of the strife.

Some prisoners having been taken by

O /

the Americans, one of them was conduct
ed to the general, who extorted from him
intelligence of the position and strength
of the enemy. When he thus declared
that Lord Cornwallis was commanding in
person nearly three thousand troops (as
he reported) within five or six hundred
yards of the American lines, Gates was
aghast ; as he now discovered, for the first
time, the arrival of his lordship, and the
considerable strength of his force.


All the general officers were at once
assembled in council, in rear of the line,
when Gates, communicating to them the
unwelcome intelligence, asked, " Gentle
men, what is to be done ?" For awhile
no one said a word ; until General Ste
vens, of Virginia, breaking the silence, ex
claimed, " Gentlemen, is it not too late
now to do anything but fight?" "Then
we must fight," rejoined Gates. " Gentle
men, please to take your posts." Both
commanders now anxiously waited for the
light of day, and employed the remainder
of the night in arranging the order of
battle for their troops in the morning.

The American army was ordered to
form with the second Maryland brigade,
including (lie Delawares, under Gist, on
the right; the North-Carolina militia, un
der Caswell, in the centre ; and that of
Virginia, under Stevens, on the left. The
first Maryland brigade, under the brave
General Srnallwood, was to be held in re
serve, about two hundred yards in rear

of the first line. The artillery was placed
in the centre of the first line, and the light-
infantry of the North-Carolina militia, un
der Major Armstrong, was ordered to cov
er a small interval between the left wing
and the swampy grounds in that quarter.
Each flank of the whole line was protect
ed by a marsh. Baron de Kalb, the sec
ond in command, took post on the right,
with the Delaware and second Maryland
brigades; while General Gates, directing
the whole in person, placed himself on the
road between the main body and the re

The British right, under the command
of Lieutenant-Colonel Webster, consisted
of a small corps of light-infantry, and the
twenty-third and thirty-third regiments;
and their left, under Lord Kawdon, was
formed by the volunteers of Ireland, the
infantry of the legion, a portion of Lieu
tenant-Colonel Hamilton s Royal North-


Carolina regiment, and four fieldpieces,
two of them six and two three pounders,
directed by Lieutenant M Leod of the ar
tillery. The seventy-first regiment, with
a six-pounder, composed the reserve, one
battalion being placed in the rear of the
right division and the other of the left;
while the cavalry was stationed in the
rear of the whole. The ground upon
which the British halted was favorable,
as each flank rested on an impervious

At break of day, before the opposing
lines were completely formed, the British

were observed to be advancing,

, . , . ,. , Aug. lo.

and, in the uncertain light, ap
peared to be displaying their columns by
the right. The adjutant-general, Colonel



[rAttT IT.

Williams,ordering the artillery in front to
open its fire, immediately galloped to the
commanding general, in the rear of the
second line, to explain to him the cause
of the fire. Gates seemed disposed to
await events, and gave no orders for im
mediate action. Colonel Williams, how
ever, having observed that if the enemv,

O */ J

while in the act of displaying, were brisk
ly attacked by General Stevens s brigade,
which was already in line of battle, the
effect might be fortunate, and first im
pressions were important, Gates replied :
"Sir, that s right; let it be done."

Williams now hastened to General Ste
vens, who, having received his orders, ad
vanced at once with his brigade of Vir
ginia militia, apparently in fine spirits. It
was too late, however, to attack the ene
my while they were in the act of display
ing. They were already in line.

In order to provoke the fire of the Brit
ish at some distance, and render it less
terrifying to the militia, Williams led for
ward, within fifty yards of the enemy, a
small party of volunteers. These posted
themselves behind the trees, and began
their fire, but without effecting the pur
pose expected.

The British infantry now came rush in o-

^ o

on, when Stevens, encouraging his men,
called out to them, "My brave fellows,
you have bayonets as well as they ; we ll
charge them !" The militia, however, ap
palled by the impetuosity with which the
enemy advanced, firing and huzzaing, be
came i)anic-stricken,a?zJ,//j/wfwyr down their
loaded arms, iled in terror from the field !
The North-Carolinians soon followed the
base example of the Virginians, although

Colonel Dixon s regiment held its ground
long enough to fire two or three rounds
of cartridge. The greater portion of the
militia, however which formed nearly
two thirds of the whole army fled v:ilh~
out firing a shot, with Tnrleton and his dra
goons in fierce pursuit. "It can not ap
pear excessively strange," says an apolo
gist, " that such raw militia could not
stand before bayonets, when it is consid
ered that for some time they had subsist
ed on fruit scarcely ripe, without any reg
ular rations of flesh, flour, or spirituous
liquors."* Another declares that they
were weakened bv the effects of " a hastv

t/ ,y

meal of quick-baked bread and fresh beef,
with a dessert of molasses "mixed with
mush or dumplings."^

The regulars, however, being now left
to bear the whole brunt of the battle, did
it manfully. The Delaware and Mary
land brigades, though repeatedly broken,
formed again and again, and renewed the
attack with such spirit, that the result
seemed for awhile in suspense. " The ar
tillery was lost; the cavalry were swal
lowed up in the woods ; and the regular
infantry, reduced to a mere point in the
field, and numbering but nine hundred
men, were now compelled to bear the un
divided pressure of two thousand veter
ans. But they resisted this pressure no
bly, and, their bayonets locking with
those of the foe, bore them back upon the
field, in many places yielding them pris
oners from the very heart of the British
line. This triumph was momentary only ;
these gallant men \vere unsupported.";].
The enemy, having collected their corns.

v / \_ /

* Gordon. t Williams. t Simms.



and directing their whole force against
these two brigades, a tremendous fire of
musketry was kept up for some time on
both sides. Corn wallis, however, finding
that there was no cavalry to oppose him
(for Armand and his horse had never re
turned since their flight during the night).
pushed forward his dragoons, under the
ubiquitous Tarleton, who, having returned
from pursuit of the fugitive militia, and
charging at the same moment as the in
fantry, put an end to the contest, and com
pleted his victory.*

Never did men behave better than the
continentals ; but they were now obliged
to fly. The only chance that remained
to avoid a surrender on the field, and es
cape from the sabres of the dragoons, in
whom the British were very strong, was
to break away for the morass in their rear,
into which they could not be pursued by
cavalry. This was done, and by this meas
ure alone did any portion of this devoted
corps find safety. "Although the royal
army fought with great bravery," says
Simms, " it must have been beaten but for
the flight of the militia. The terrible con
flict which followed with the continentals
proves what must have been the event
had the former behaved like men."

Baron de Kalb, while fighting on foot
at the head of the second Maryland bri
gade, fell, mortally wounded, into the
hands of the enemy. Colonel du Buys-
son, his aid-de-camp, preserved him from
instant death by throwing himself upon
him, and crying out, "Save, save the
baron de Kalb!" and thus receiving the
thrusts of the bayonet intended for the

* Williams.

prostrate general. De Kalb, having re
ceived eleven wounds, died a few days
after, and was buried by the British at
Camden. With his latest breath he dic
tated a letter expressive of the warmest
affection for the officers and men of his
division; of the satisfaction which he felt
at the testimony given by the British ar
my to the bravery of his troops; of his
being charmed with the firm opposition
which they made to a superior force, when
abandoned by the militia ; and of the in
finite pleasure which he received from
the gallant behavior of the division he

General Gates " was borne off the field
by a torrent of dismayed militia. "f Gen
eral Caswell followed close in his wake.
When the two commanders reached Cler-
mont, they attempted to rally the fugi
tive militia, in order to cover the retreat
of the regulars ; but the farther the troops
fled, the more they scattered : and the
generals, giving up all as lost, and aban
doned by all but their aids-de-camp and
some twenty or thirty followers, retired to

* " The baron de Kalb was a native of Alsace (a German
province ceded to France), and a knight of the royal mili
tary order of merit. He was educated for war in the French
army, and, having been there connected with the quarter
master-general s department, his experience was of much
service in America. He had been in the colonies toward
the close of the French and Indian War, as a secret agent
of the French government, when lie travelled in disguise.
He came over with Lafayette in 1777, when Congress com
missioned him a major-general, he having held the office
of brigadier in the French service. De Kalb died at Cam-
den three days after the battle. He was buried there, and
the citizens of Camden have erected a neat marble monu
ment to his memory, the corner-stone of which was laid in
1825, by Lafayette, when he visited the grave of his old
friend arid companion-in-arms. On the 14th of October,
1780, Congress also resolved to erect a monument to his
memory in Annapolis." LOSSINO.

t Gordon.



Aiiff, 15

Charlotte, in North Carolina, sixty miles
distant from the field of battle, and thence
to Hillsborough.

On Gates s route, an officer overtook
him with the intelligence that Surnter had
succeeded in his enterprise against Ca
rey s fort on the Wateree, having taken
the enemy s post, and intercepted the es
cort of stores, which were all captured,
together with forty baggage- wagons and

O / C3 O O

a hundred prisoners. This oc
curred on the evening previous
to the battle of Camden. The success.
however, was now of no advantage to the
defeated commander, and merely served
to add to the bitterness of his own mis
fortune. All lie could do was to send or
ders to Sumter to retire in the best man
ner he could.

On hearing of the defeat of General
Gates, Sumter began his retreat up the
south side of the Wateree. His move
ments were greatly impeded by his cap
tured baggage-wagons, filled with booty
of the very kind that the Americans were
most in need of. He was encumbered,
also, by three hundred prisoners.

Before Sumter could effect his escape,

Cornwallis had sent Tarleton with his le-

gion in pursuit of him, nccompa-

/lHg I 7 1 -11

nied by a detachment of infanty.
This prompt officer pushed on with his
usual rapidity ; and finding, before he had
proceeded far, that more than half of his
horses had given out from sheer exhaus
tion, he galloped ahead with the remain
der, consisting of only one -hundred and

Sumter, believing himself secure in his
position at the mouth of Fishing creek,

where he had halted, became less cau
tious than he should have been. Satis
fied with the precaution of posting two
videttes in advance on the road, he al
lowed his tired men to relax at pleasure.
They accordingly stacked their arms, and
began to indulge themselves, some in bath
ing, some in strolling, and others in sleep.
Two shots were heard, but were unheed
ed, as they were only supposed to be fired
by some of the militia out in search of
cattle. They were, however, shots from
the videttes, who had thus endeavored to
alarm the camp, and put Sumter and his
men on their guard ; for they had caught
sight of Tarleton and his dragoons, who
were rapidly approaching.

The British now burst suddenly upon
them. Sumter strove to rally his men in

defence; but although here and

,, f i i i -i Aug. 18,

there some few struggled awhile

with the enemy behind the wagons and
baggage, there was soon a general rout.
Nearly four hundred were struck down,
and either killed or wounded. Sumter
himself and about three hundred of his
men succeeded in making their escape
through the woods and river, leaving all
their baggage, the stores, and the prison
ers, which they had lately taken, in the
hands of Tarleton.

The loss by Gates s defeat at Camden
was heavy. Two hundred and ninety
American wounded prisoners were car
ried by the enemy into the town. Of
these, two hundred and sixty were con-
nentals ; eighty-two were North-Carolina
militia : and of the Virginia militia, so ef
fectual had been their flight, there were
only two. The Americans lost the whole



of their artillery, and most of their bag
gage. Each corps was broken in action
and dispersed, and all the officers sepa
rated from their respective commands.
The fugitives were pursued for more than
twenty miles by Tarleton arid his legion;
and as they fled they left everything on
their route, so that the way was strewn
Avith arms, baggage, and upward of two
hundred wagons. The entire American
loss was about one thousand in killed,
wounded, and prisoners. The British loss
was also severe, amounting, according to
their own official report, to three hundred
and twenty-five; though one of their histo
rians states it at four hundred and thirty-

General Gates succeeded in rallying
about a hundred and fifty of the conti
nentals at Charlotte, but the militia dis
persed rapidly to their homes in Carolina
and Virginia, Gates now hastened to
Hillsborough, where he hoped, with the
aid of the general assembly of North Car
olina, to devise some plan for renewing
military operations.

The scattered continentals gathered
slowly at Charlotte, and marched thence
to Salisbury. A sad train moved along
the road. " It consisted," says Williams,
" of the wretched remnants of the late
southern army, a great number of dis
tressed whig families, and the whole tribe
of Catawba Indians (about three hundred
in number, some fifty or sixty of whom
were warriors, but indifferently armed).
Among the rest were six soldiers who had
left the hospitals with other convales
cents ; they had all suffered in Buford s
unfortunate affair, and had but two sound

arms among them : indeed, four of them had
not one arm among them, and two only an
arm apiece. Each of them had one linen
garment. Some of the wounded were in
wagons, some in litters, and some on horse
back, and their sufferings were "indescri
bable. The distresses of the women and
children who fled from Charlotte and its
neighborhood ; the nakedness of the In
dians, and the number of their infants
and aged persons ; and the disorder of the
whole line of march, conspired to render
it a scene too picturesque and compli
cated for description. A just represen
tation would exhibit an image of com
pound wretchedness ; care, anxiety, pain,
poverty,hurry, confusion, humiliation, and
dejection, would be characteristic traits
in the mortifying picture."

As a small offset to the overwhelming
defeat at Camden, almost at the very mo
ment when General Gates found himself
a fugitive from the field of battle, Wil
liams, a bold partisan of South Carolina,
assisted by Bratton, Shelby, M Dowal, In-
inan, and others, achieved one of his hap
piest successes at Musgrove s mill (Gor
don s), with an inferior force of a hundred
and fifty men, against a detachment of
British and loyalists who numbered three
hundred, one half of whom were regulars,
under the command of Colonel Innis, sec
onded by Major Fraser. Williams formed
a very pretty little ambuscade
for his enemy along the river-
thickets, and by adroit management suc
ceeded in drawing the British colonel into
it. Innis was surrounded by a circular
fire, at the moment he supposed himself
to be riding down a band of fugitives.

Aug. 18.




The sharp-shooters of Williams and his
colleagues then poured in their fire, and
rushed upon the foe. Taken by surprise,
confounded by assailants on every hand,
Innis and Fraser fled with their regulars,
breaking through the fiery circle, but at

o O

great loss of life. His militia were left
to their fate ; and such of them as did not
bite the dust, were made prisoners. They
lost nearly ninety men slain, and one hun
dred prisoners. Williams, from this and
other adventures, became the hero of the
popular ballad ; fragments of rustic verse
yet remain, which show how strongly he
had impressed himself on the confidence
of the people.*

But with the defeat and dispersion of
Gates s army, the British ascendency in
the South was completely re-established ;
and, at the close of the summer of 1780,
there were no republicans in arms in South
Carolina, except Marion and his little band
of followers, who took refuge in the mor
asses and swamps bordering on the San-
tee. General Lee s ominous words were
now fulfilled, and Gates s "northern lau
rels" had verily changed to "southern
willows." Within the brief space of three
months the two armies of Lincoln and
Gates had been annihilated, and one of
the most formidable of the partisan corps
that of Smnter was scattered to the
winds !

The pride of Gates had received an ir
retrievable blow, and, in letters addressed
to the cornmander-in-chief from Hillsbor-
ough, in North Carolina,, he involuntari-

* Simms.

ly paid the highest compliments to the
noble man whom he had frequently in
sulted, and at times affected to despise."
Conscious that official disgrace awaited
him for the disastrous result of the south
ern campaign, he appealed to the gene
rosity of Washington in language which
showed the real confidence he felt in his
chief s justice and magnanimity. "If I
can vet render good service to the Uni-

*/ o

ted States," he wrote, " it will be necessa
ry it should be seen that I have the sup
port of Congress and of your excellency ;
otherwise, some men may think they
please my superiors by blaming me, and
thus recommend themselves to favor. But
you, sir, will be too generous to lend an
ear to such men, if such there be, and will
show your greatness of soul rather by pro
tecting than slighting the unfortunate. If, on
the contrary, I am not supported, and
countenance is given to every one who
will speak disrespectful of me, it will be
better for Congress to remove me at once

Online LibraryRobert TomesBattles of America by sea and land. With biographies of naval and military commanders (Volume 01) → online text (page 96 of 126)