Memoirs of the War in the Southern Department, Volume One
Henry Lee


WE have seen that for the two years subsequent to the conclusion of our treaty with France, in pursuance of the plan adopted by Louis XVI, a French fleet had annually visited our coast. Although heretofore disappointed in the expected benefits of extending naval cooperation to our army, it could not be doubted, but that the same wise course would be pursued this summer, especially as now, the fleet of Spain was added to that of France. Sir Henry Clinton, aware of this probable event, hastened the completion of his measures for the security of his conquests. Solicitous to avoid that interruption to his return to New York, which delay might interpose, he wisely determined to pursue in his arrangements the dictates of clemency and of justice, the only possible way to secure the submission of freemen. He published a manifesto calling to the recollection of the inhabitants, his avoidance heretofore of urging their interference in the contest, because he was unwilling to involve them in hazard so long as the issue was in suspense. That the state of things being completely changed, not only by the surrender of Charleston, but by the destruction or capture of the various armed corps in the country, it was time that the friends of peace and of the royal government should boldly come forth and contribute by their assistance to the restoration of order and tranquillity. He proposed that the militia with families should arm for the security of the province, while the youth should imbody to serve six months with the army, enjoying the privilege of acting only in the Carolinas and Georgia, assuring to them the same treatment and compensation as was allowed to the regulars, and permitting them to elect their own officers, with an immunity from all further military duty after the expiration of six months, excepting the ordinary militia duty at home. To men disposed to continue upon their farms, and to obey the existing powers, the proffered conditions could not be unacceptable. But to those in whose generous breasts were deeply planted the love of country, and the love of liberty, accordance with the proposition was not to be expected: they would abandon their homes, and unite with the defenders of their country whenever called upon. They of course fled the state, determined never to arm against a cause which they believed to be the cause of right.

On the 22d of May the general issued his proclamation, cherishing, by assurances of protection and support, the king’s peaceful subjects, and menacing all who should hereafter be found in arms, or detected in any resistance or combination to resist the lawful authority with the confiscation of property, and condign corporal punishment. In nine days after, another proclamation appeared from the general and admiral as joint commissioners for restoring peace, promising a full and free pardon to all who should forthwith return to their allegiance, excepting those who in the mock forms of justice had shed the blood of their fellow citizens for their loyalty to their king; and pledging the restoration of the blessings of legal government as soon as the state of things would permit, with exemption from the payment of taxes not imposed by their own assembly. The consequence of these measures was favorable to British views: the greater part of the inhabitants manifested a disposition to comply with the requisites enjoined; some armed in support of the royal government, while a few abandoned the country, determined if they fought on either side it should be on that of America.

While sir Henry Clinton was engaged in these arrangements lord Cornwallis had advanced towards the frontiers with a part of the force which was to remain under his command for the security and extension of the recent conquest. Formed into three divisions after reaching Dorchester, each division took the rout to the destined object: the first, under lieutenant colonel Brown, moved up the Savannah to Augusta; while the second, led by lieutenant colonel Balfour, passed along the southern banks of the Wateree to Ninety-six; and the third, directed by his lordship, advanced towards Cambden, to which place it was understood lieutenant colonel Buford, commanding the remnant of the continental force in the south had retired after hearing of the fall of Charleston. Neither of these divisions experienced the slightest resistance. Augusta, Ninety-six, and Cambden, were possessed, fortified and garrisoned; all the intermediate country was submissive; and protestations of loyalty resounded in every quarter. Cornwallis had no sooner passed the Santee than he became informed of lieutenant colonel Buford’s relinquishment of Cambden and precipitate march to North Carolina. Despairing himself to overtake this detachment, he determined on a pursuit with his cavalry, strengthened by one hundred mounted infantry. This detachment was intrusted to lieutenant colonel Tarleton, an officer rising fast in military reputation. More distinguished for courage and activity than for management and address, his mode of operation was to overtake and fight. Entering without delay upon his expedition, he pressed forward with his usual zeal and celerity, though not so expeditiously as his anxious mind suggested to be necessary. Leaving his mounted infantry to follow, he advanced at the head of his cavalry with quickened pace, and marching one hundred and five miles in fifty-four hours, a rapid movement for his inferior horse, he approached Buford on his march in the friendly settlement of the Waxhaws on the 29th. This officer immediately offered to surrender upon the terms granted to the garrison of Charleston; and why the British commandant rejected the proffered submission is inexplicable. The detachment would have been prisoners of war; and the barbarous scene which ensued to the disgrace of the victor, dimming the splendor of all his exploits, would not have taken place. The moment the negotiation ceased, Tarleton charged the still unprepared foe. Wounds and death, with some partial resistance, followed; and many of our soldiers fell under the British sabre requesting quarters. The unrelenting conqueror shut his ears to the voice of supplication, as he had steeled his heart against the claims of mercy. By the official report, one hundred and thirteen were killed, one hundred and fifty so badly wounded as to be paroled on the ground, most of whom died; and fifty-three prisoners being capable of moving, graced the entry of the sanguinary corps into Cambden; at which place lord Cornwallis had arrived.[note 63] Lieutenant colonel Tarleton excused this butchery by asserting that after their submission, some of the Americans re-seized their arms and fired upon his troops. Admit the fact, though it is denied, some correction ought to have been inflicted on the guilty; but the dreadful sacrifice which took place was unjustifiable. In the annals of our Indian war nothing is to be found more shocking; and this bloody day only wanted the war dance, and the roasting fire, to have placed it first in the records of torture and of death in the west.

This tragic exhibition sunk deep in the American breast, and produced the unanimous decision among the troops, to revenge their murdered comrades whenever the blood-stained corps should give an opportunity. This happened soon after at the Cowpens; but lieutenant colonel Washington, who commanded the horse on that day with so much glory, while he pushed the just claims of vengeance, preserved his laurels pure and spotless.

Turning from this ire-exciting occurrence, let us search for the causes of our calamity. A small party of the saved American cavalry was with Buford; and had it been properly marched in his rear by half sections, in sight of each other, admitting the enemy’s horse to have been the swifter, which is not probable, still the nearest sections would have been safe, should those in the rear have been overtaken; and the American commandant, thus advised of the enemy’s approach, he could have prepared for his defence. This it seems never occurred to the retreating officer; or, if it did occur, was neglected. To this want of precaution lieutenant colonel Buford added evidently much indecision, always fatal in the hour of danger. His soldiers were levies, mostly new troops; but his officers were generally experienced, and many of them equal to any in our army. If Buford had prepared for battle instead of sending in a flag, or even had so done while the negotiation was going on, Tarleton must have been foiled. The road was lined on both sides with woods; and the wagons, if placed in front and rear, filled in the body, under the body, and along the wheels, with as many men as could conveniently use their arms, would have afforded an obstruction sufficient to check effectually any charge made in the road. The main body disposed in the woods on each side the road, with an adequate interval for its movements, between the front and the rear obstruction of wagons, would have given to the infantry an advantage which must have secured victory. There was, too, a considerable disparity of force in our favor. Tarleton had but one hundred and seventy dragoons, his mounted infantry far in the rear, while our force exceeded four hundred, including our small party of dragoons. Had Buford, thus posted, deemed it dangerous to continue in his position until night, least his antagonist should be reinforced, he might safely have moved in the order suggested; and the moment night had overspread the earth, his retreat would have been secured; for light is indispensable to the effectual operation of cavalry. Before the break of day he might have reached Charlotte, where he was sure of affectionate and gallant assistance from its patriotic inhabitants; and where, too, he had reason to expect to find lieutenant colonel Porterfield, an officer of zeal and talents, who had marched from Virginia in the latter end of April, with a corps of horse, foot and artillery, amounting to four hundred men. But nothing of this sort was essayed, and our countrymen were wantonly slaughtered by an inferior foe. Lieutenant colonel Buford, with the horse, escaped, as did about eighty or ninety of our infantry, who fortunately being advanced, saved themselves by flight.

The calm which succeeded the sweeping success of the enemy from his debarkation continued uninterrupted; and Cornwallis, shortly after Buford’s defeat, advanced a corps of light infantry to the Waxhaw settlement, inhabited by citizens whose love of country remained unshaken even by these shocks.

This settlement is so called from the Waxhaw creek, which passes through it, and empties itself into the Catawba. Brigadier Rutherford, of North Carolina, hearing of the advance of this corps, assembled eight hundred of the militia with a determination to protect the country. His troops can scarcely be said to have been armed; they generally had fowling pieces instead of muskets and bayonet, pewter instead of lead, with a very trifling supply of powder. Information of this assemblage being sent to Cambden, the British detachment was recalled, and this valued settlement, rich in soil, and abounding in produce, was for this time happily released. The repose which the district enjoyed, in consequence of the abandonment of the station at the Waxhaws, was of short duration. So ardent was the zeal of the disaffected, and so persuaded were they that rebellion in the south was crushed, that their desire to manifest their loyalty could not be repressed.

A large body of loyalists collected under colonel Moore at Armsaour’s mill on the 22d of June; among whom were many who had not only taken the oath of allegiance to the state, but had served in arms against the British army. Rutherford lost no time in taking his measures to bring Moore to submission. But so destitute was he of ammunition that only three hundred men could be prepared for the field. This detachment was intrusted to colonel Locke, who was ordered to approach the enemy and watch his motions, while Rutherford continued to exert himself in procuring arms for the main body to follow under his own direction.

Moore, finding an inferior force near to him, determined to attack it, in which decision he was gallantly anticipated by Locke, who, perceiving the enemy’s purpose, and knowing the hazard of retreat, fell upon Moore in his camp. Captain Falls, with the horse, led, and rushing suddenly, sword in hand, into the midst of the insurgents, threw them into confusion, which advantage Locke pressed forward to improve, when he suspended the falling blow in consequence of colonel Moore proposing a truce for an hour with the view of amicable adjustment. During the negotiation, Moore and his associates dispersed, which appears to have been their sole object in proposing the suspension of hostilities.

The cheering intelligence of the unmolested advance of the three detachments to Augusta, Ninety-six, and Cambden, the establishment of submission and professions of loyalty, which were every where proffered by the inhabitants, crowned by the destruction of Buford, extirpating all continental resistance, confirmed the long indulged persuasion in the breast of sir Henry Clinton, that he had reannexed Georgia and South Carolina to the British empire. He now determined, as his final act, to bolt doubly his conquest. On the 3d of June he issued his last proclamation, undoing of his own accord a very important condition established in his first, without consulting, much less receiving, the assent of the party who had accepted the terms proffered therein. He declared to the inhabitants who had, in pursuance of his pledged faith, taken parole, that with the exception of the militia, surrendered at Charleston, such paroles were not binding after the 20th of the month, and that persons so situated should be considered as liege subjects, and thenceforward be entitled to all the rights, and subjected to all the duties of this new state; not forgetting to denounce the pains and penalties of rebellion against those who should withhold due allegiance to the royal government. This arbitrary change of an understood contract affected deeply, and afflicted sorely, all to whom it applied; and it was in the consequence, as its injustice merited, fatal to the bright prospect so gratifying to the British general. It demonstrated unequivocally that the hoped for state of neutrality was illusory, and that every man capable of bearing arms, must use them in aid or in opposition to the country of his birth. In the choice to be made, no hesitation existed in the great mass of the people; for our country was the general acclaim. The power of the enemy smothered for a while this kindling spirit; but the mine was prepared; the train was laid; and nothing remained, but to apply the match to produce the explosion. Sir Henry Clinton, having secured the conquered state, as he fondly believed, embarked on the 6th with the greater part of his army for New York, leaving lord Cornwallis with four thousand regulars to prosecute the reduction of the southern states. Succeeding Clinton in his civil, as well as military, powers, his lordship was called from the field for the purpose of establishing the many arrangements which the altered condition of the state required. Commercial regulations became necessary, and a system of police for the government of the interior was indispensable.

Previous to his departure from Cambden, he had advanced a body of Highlanders under major M’Arthur to Cheraw Hill, on the Pedee, for the purpose of preserving in submission the country between that river and the Santee, and for communicating readily with his friends in North Carolina, especially with the Highland settlement at Cross Creek. Through the agency of major M’Arthur a regular correspondence was established with the loyalists: they were advised of his lordship’s determination as soon as the approaching harvest furnished the means of subsistence, to advance with his army into North Carolina, when he should count upon their active assistance, and in the meanwhile they were exhorted to continue passive under the evils to which they were exposed. At the same time recruiting officers were employed in South Carolina and Georgia, by whose exertions the provincial regiments were considerably augmented. These preliminary measures for the invasion of North Carolina being in execution, his lordship repaired to Charleston, leaving lord Rawdon in command of the army. Meanwhile major Davie returned to the county of Mecklenburgh as soon as he recovered from the wounds received in the attack of Stono, and assembling some of his faithful associates of that district, took the field.

Hovering near the British posts, he became acquainted with the intended movement of a convoy, with various supplies, from Cambden, to the enemy’s post of Hanging Rock, which, amounting only to a small company of infantry, was within the power of Davie’s force. He made a rapid and long march in the night, and having eluded the hostile patroles, gained the route of the convoy five miles below Hanging Rock before the break of day. Here he halted in a concealed position. In a few hours the convoy appeared, and Davie, falling vigorously upon it, instantly overpowered its escort. The wagons and stores were destroyed; the prisoners, forty in number, were mounted on the wagon horses, and escorted by the major, were safely brought within our lines.

About the same time, captain Huck, of Tarleton’s legion, had been detached by lieutenant colonel Turnbull, commanding at Hanging Rock, to disperse some of the exiles of South Carolina, who had lately returned to the state, and were collecting in the neighborhood of that place to assist in protecting their country. The captain, with forty dragoons, twenty mounted infantry, and sixty militia, ventured thirty miles up the country, where the very exiles he was ordered to disperse, attacked and destroyed his detachment. The captain, notorious for his cruelties and violence, was killed, as were several others, and the rest dispersed.

These breezes of fortune fanned the dying embers of opposition.

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