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

CHAPTER XVII.

THE southern war, from its commencement, had been peculiarly disastrous to the United States. Army after army had been defeated, detachments cut off, posts carried; and at length two states were reannexed to the mother country, and the conquering army ready to invade a third. This alarming conjuncture necessarily engaged the ardent attention of congress and the commander in chief. Virginia and North Carolina were again called upon to hasten reinforcements from their respective militia to the south; the Maryland and Delaware lines, under the orders of major general Baron de Kalb, were put in motion for North Carolina; and the conqueror at Saratoga was called from his retreat in Virginia, and charged to display the stars of America in the south.

The annunciation of these preparations reanimated the patriots of Carolina and Georgia; and the smothered discontents growing out of the despotic change, dictated by sir Henry Clinton’s last proclamation, with the visitations daily experienced from, an insolent licentious soldiery, began to burst forth. Lord Rawdon drew in M’Arthur from the Cheraw Hill, and broke up most of his small posts, dispersed throughout the country, concentrating the British in the positions of Augusta, Ninety-six, and Cambden. Previous to this measure, the disaffected of North Carolina forgetting the salutary caution of lord Cornwallis, and sore under the necessary vigilance of the state government, had imbodied with the determination to force their way to the British camp. This ill-advised insurrection was speedily crushed, as we have seen in the case of colonel Moore; but colonel Bryan had the address to keep together eight hundred of his followers, and to conduct them safely to the post at Cheraw Hill, although actively pursued by general Rutherford. Faithful adherents to the royal cause they were formed into a military corps under their leader, and incorporated with the British troops. Meanwhile, the progress of Baron de Kalb was much retarded by the necessity he was under of procunng subsistence by his own exertions. He at length reached Hillsborough in North Carolina, where he halted until the preparations for his further advance were consummated. The militia of this state, being embodied under general Caswell, were prepared to join the Baron on his route; while brigader general Stevens, with some militia from Virginia, was hastening to the appointed rendezvous. Caswell and Stevens were selected in consequence of past services. The first had, early in the war, given unquestionable proofs of his decston, zeal and activity, by the gallant stand he made, in 1776, at Moore’s Bridge against a superior force, which terminated in the complete discomfiture of the royalists, and the consequent suppression of a formidable insurrection. The second had commanded a continental regiment, during the campaigns of 1777 and 1778: he fought under Washington in all the battles of those years, very much respected as a brave, vigorous, and judicious officer. The baron de Kalb, leaving Hillsborough, had reached a deep river, where he was overtaken on the 25th of July by general Gates, who was hailed to the command of the army with universal gratulations. The continental force did not exceed one thousand and five hundred men, including Armand’s dragoons and three companies of Harrison’s regiment of artillery. The militia of Virginia and North Carolina had not yet reached head quarters; and lieutenant colonel Porterfield continued on the confines of South Carolina with a detachment of four hundred men. White and Washington, after the fall of Charleston, had retired to North Carolina with a view of recruiting their regiments of cavalry (Moylan’s and Baylor’s originally) which had so severely suffered at Monk’s Corner, and at Linier’s Ferry; and they solicited general Gates to invigorate their efforts by the aid of his authority, so as to enable them to advance with him to the theatre of action. Gates paid no attention to this proper request, and thus deprived himself of the most operative corps belonging to the southern army. Although unfortunate, these regiments had displayed undaunted courage, and had been taught in the school of adversity that knowledge which actual service only can bestow. It is probable that this injurious indifference on the part of the American commander, resulted from his recurrence to the campaign of 1777, when a British army surrendered to him unaided by cavalry; leading him to conclude, that Armand’s corps, already with him, gave an adequate portion of this species of force. Fatal mistake! It is not improbable that the closeness and ruggedness of the country, in which he had been so triumphant, did render the aid of horse less material; but the moment he threw his eyes upon the plains of the Carolinas, the moment he saw their dispersed settlements, adding difficulty to difficulty in the procurement of intelligence and provisions; knowing too, as he did, that the enemy had not only a respectable body of dragoons, but that it had been used without intermission, and with much effect; it would seem that a discriminating mind must have been led to acquiesce in the wish suggested by the two officers of horse.

To the neglect of this salutary proposition, may with reason, be attributed the heavy disaster soon after experienced. In no country in the world are the services of cavalry more to be desired than in that which was then committed to the care of major general Gates; and how it was possible for an officer of his experience to have been regardless of this powerful auxiliary, remains inexplicable. Calculating proudly on the weight of his name, he appears to have slighted the prerequisites to victory, and to have hurried on to the field of battle with the impetuosity of youth; a memorable instance of the certain destruction which awaits the soldier who does not know how to estimate prosperity. If good fortune begets presumption instead of increasing circumspection and diligence, it is the due precursor of deep and bitter adversity.

General Gates, behind the broken and gallant remains of our cavalry, quickly put his army in motion, taking the direct road to the enemy which led through a steril and thinly settled country. The baron de Kalb had prudently fixed upon a route more to the right, which, though longer, passed through well improved settlements, yielding in abundance wholesome provisions for the troops. The extreme want, to which the army was exposed by this singular decision of general Gates, was productive of serious ills. The troops substituting green corn and unripe fruit for bread, disease ensued; which, in its effect, reduced considerably our force. The horses, destitute of forage, were unable to support those sudden persevering marches, so often necessary in war. The strength and spirits of the army became enfeebled and low, when true policy required they should have been braced to the highest pitch, inasmuch as not many days could intervene before it would approach the enemy, always ready for battle, and now urged to seek it by the most cogent considerations.

The advance of Gates to South Carolina roused into action all the latent energies of the state. The most resolute of the militia, indignant at the treatment they had received, and convinced by sir Henry Clinton’s proclamation, which had been faithfully acted upon by lord Cornwallis, that repose during the war was a chimerical expectation, determined to become open from concealed enemies. In the country between Pedee and Santee the spirit of revolt manifested itself by an overt act. Major M’Arthur, when retiring from Cheraw Hill, had availed himself of the river to transport his sick to Georgetown: at which place had been established a small British post. Colonel Mills, with a party of militia, formed the escort for the sick. As soon as the boats had reached a proper distance from M’Arthur, the militia rose upon their colonel, who, with difficulty, escaped, made prisoners of the sick, and conveyed them safely into North Carolina.

In the district lying between Cambden and Ninety-six, the like determination of the inhabitants to turn upon their invader was exhibited. A lieutenant colonel Lyle, who, in pursuance of sir Henry Clinton’s proclamation, had exchanged his parole for a certificate of his being a liege subject, led a great portion of the regiment to which he belonged, with their arms and accoutrements, to the frontiers; where they joined their countrymen now assembling to unite their efforts in support of the American army, advancing under Gates. These unexpected symptoms of a general rising of the people did not a little embarrass the British general, who wisely determined to seek battle without delay; not doubting but that the most effectual remedy for the growing disorders would be the destruction of that force on whose prowess these bold adventurers grounded their hope of ultimate success.

Upon the fall of Charleston, many of the leading men of the state of South Carolina sought personal safety with their adherents, in the adjoining states. Delighted at the present prospect, these faithful and brave citizens hastened back to their country to share in the perils and toils of war.

Among them were Francis Marion and Thomas Sumpter; both colonels in the South Carolina line, and both promoted by governor Rutledge to the rank of brigadier general in the militia of the state. Marion was about forty-eight years of age, small in stature, hard in visage, healthy, abstemious and taciturn. Enthusiastically wedded to the cause of liberty, he deeply deplored the doleful condition of his beloved country. The commonweal was his sole object; nothing selfish, nothing mercenary, soiled his ermin character. Fertile in stratagem, he struck unperceived; and retiring to those hidden retreats, selected by himself, in the morasses of Pedee and Black River, he placed his corps not only out of the reach of his foe, but often out of the discovery of his friends.[note 64] A rigid disciplinarian, he reduced to practice the justice of his heart; and during the difficult course of warfare, through which he passed, calumny itself never charged him with violating the rights of person, property, or of humanity. Never avoiding danger, he never rashly sought it; and acting for all around him as he did for himself, he risked the lives of his troops only when it was necessary. Never elated with prosperity, nor depressed by adversity, he preserved an equanimity which won the admiration of his friends, and exacted the respect of his enemies. The country from Cambden to the seacoast between the Pedee and Santee rivers, was the theatre of his exertions.

Sumpter was younger than Marion, larger in frame, better fitted in strength of body to the toils of war, and, like his compeer, devoted to the freedom of his country. His aspect was manly and stern, denoting insuperable firmness and lofty courage. He was not over scrupulous as a soldier in his use of means, and apt to make considerable allowances for a state of war. Believing it warranted by the necessity of the case, he did not occupy his mind with critical examinations of the equity of his measures, or of their bearings on individuals; but indiscriminately pressed forward to his end—the destruction of his enemy and liberation of his country. In his military character he resembled Ajax; relying more upon the fierceness of his courage than upon the results of unrelaxing vigilance and nicely adjusted combination. Determined to deserve success, he risked his own life and the lives of his associates without reserve. Enchanted with the splendor of victory, he would wade in torrents of blood to attain it. This general drew about him the hardy sons of the upper and middle grounds; brave and determined like himself, familiar with difficulty, and fearless of danger. He traversed the region between Cambden and Ninety-six.

A third gentleman quickly followed their great example. Andrew Pickens, younger than either of them, inexperienced in war, with a sound head, a virtuous heart, and a daring spirit, joined in the noble resolve to burst the chains of bondage riveted upon the two southern states, and soon proved himself worthy of being ranked with his illustrious precursors. This gentleman was also promoted by the governor to the station of brigadier general; and having assembled his associates of the same bold and hardy cast, distinguished himself and corps in the progress of the war by the patience and cheerfulness with which every privation was borne, and the gallantry with which every danger was confronted. The country between Ninety-six and Augusta received his chief attention. These leaders were always engaged in breaking up the smaller posts and the intermediate communications, or in repairing losses sustained by action. The troops which followed their fortunes, on their own or their friends’ horses, were armed with rifles; in the use of which they had become expert; a small portion only who acted as cavalry, being provided with sabres. When they approached the enemy they dismounted, leaving their horses in some hidden spot to the care of a few of their comrades. Victorious or vanquished, they flew to their horses, and thus improved victory or secured retreat.

Their marches were long and toilsome, seldom feeding more than once a day. Their combats were like those of the Parthians, sudden and fierce; their decisions speedy, and all subsequent measures equally prompt. With alternate fortunes they persevered to the last, and greatly contributed to that success, which was the first object of their efforts.

With Marion on his right and Sumpter on his left, and general Gates approaching in front, Rawdon discerning the critical event at hand, took his measures accordingly.

He not only called in his outposts, but drew from the garrison of Ninety-six four companies of light infantry, and made known to lord Cornwallis the menacing attitude of his enemy.

Sumpter commenced his inroads upon the British territory by assaulting, on the first of August, the post of Rocky Mount, in the charge of lieutenant colonel Turnbull, with a small garrison of one hundred and fifty of the New York volunteers and some South Carolina militia. The brigadier, attended by the colonels Lacy, Erwine, and Neale, having each collected some of their militia, repaired, on the 30th of July, to major Davie; who still continued near the enemy, and was now encamped on the north of the Waxhaw’s creek, for the purpose of concerting a joint assault upon some of the British outposts. They were led to hasten the execution of this step, fearing that, by delay, their associates might disperse without having effected any good. After due deliberation they came to the resolution of carrying the posts of Rocky Mount and Hanging Rock in succession. The first of these is situated on the west side of the Catawba, thirty miles from Cambden, and the last was established on the east side of the same river, twenty-four miles from Cambden. They are distant from each other twelve miles.

Sumpter, having under him the three colonels, advanced with the main body upon Rocky Mount. While major Davie, with his corps and a part of the Mecklenburgh militia, under colonel Heaggins, marched to Hanging Rock to watch the motions of the garrison, to procure exact intelligence of the condition of the post, and to be ready to unite with Sumpter in the intended blow.

Rocky Mount station is fixed on the comb of a lofty eminence, encircled by open wood. This summit was surrounded with a small ditch and abbatis; in the centre whereof were erected three log buildings, constructed to protect the garrison in battle, and perforated with loop holes for the annoyance of the assailants.

As Davie got near to Hanging Rock he learned that three companies of Bryan’s loyalists, part of the garrison, were just returning from an excursion, and had halted at a neighboring farm house. He drew off, determined to fall upon this party. This was handsomely executed, and completely succeeded. Eluding the sentinels in one quarter with his infantry, and gaining the other point of attack with his horse undiscovered, by marching through some adjoining woods, he placed the enemy between these two divisions, each of which pressed gallantly into action.

The loyalists, finding their front and rear occupied, attempted to escape in a direction, believed to be open, but were disappointed; the major having detached thither a party of his dragoons in time to meet them. They were all, except a few, killed and wounded; and the spoils of victory were safely brought off, consisting of sixty horses with their trappings, and one hundred muskets and rifles.

The brigadier approached Rocky Mount with his characteristic impetuosity; but the British officer was found on his guard, and defended himself ably. Three times did Sumpter attempt to carry it; but being always foiled, having no artillery to batter down the houses, he drew off undisturbed by the garrison, having lost a few of his detachment, with colonel Neale, an active, determined, influential officer, and retired to his frontier position on the Catawba. Here he rested no longer than was necessary to recruit his corps, refresh his horses, and provide a part of the provisions necessary to support him on his next excursion. Quitting his retreat with his brave associates, Davie, Irvine, Hill, and Lacy, he darted upon the British line of communication, and fell on the post at Hanging Rock, (6th of August) which was held by major Carden with five hundred men, consisting of one hundred and sixty of the infantry of Tarleton’s legion, a part of colonel Brown’s regiment, and Bryan’s North Carolina corps, a portion of which had, a few days before, been cut to pieces by major Davie. His attack was, through the error of his guides, pointed at the corps of Bryan, which, being surprised, soon yielded and took to flight. Sumpter pressed with ardor the advantage he had gained, and bore down upon the legion infantry, which was forced. He then fell upon Brown’s detachment. Here he was received upon the point of the bayonet. The contest grew fierce, and the issue doubtful; but at length the corps of Brown fell back, having lost nearly all its officers and a great proportion of its soldiers.

Hamilton’s regiment, with the remains of Brown’s and the legion infantry, now formed in the centre of their position, a hollow square.

Sumpter advanced with the determination to strike this last point of resistance; but the ranks of the militia had become disordered; and the men scattered from success, and from the plunder of part of the British camp, so that only two hundred infantry, and Davie’s dragoons, could be brought into array. The musketry opened; but their fire was ineffectual: nor could Sumpter, by all his exertions, again bring his troops to risk close action against his well posted enemy, supported by two pieces of artillery. The cavalry under Davie fell upon a body of the loyalists, who, having rallied, had formed in the opposite quarter, and menaced our right flank. They were driven from their ground, and took shelter under the British infantry still in hollow square.

The spoils of the camp, and the free use of spirits in which the enemy abounded, had for some time attracted and incapacitated many of our soldiers. It was therefore determined to retreat with the prisoners and booty. This was done about twelve o’clock very leisurely in face of the enemy; who did not attempt interruption, so severely had he suffered. A party was now for the first time seen drawn up on the Cambden road, with the appearance of renewal of the contest; but on the approach of Davie it fell back. Our loss was not ascertained, from the usual inattention to returns prevalent with militia officers; and many of our wounded were immediately carried home from the field of battle. The corps of Davie suffered most. Captain M’Clure, of South Carolina, and captain Reed, of North Carolina, were killed; colonel Hill, major Winn, and lieutenant Crawford, were wounded, as were captain Craighead, lieutenant Flenchau, and ensign M’Clure, of North Carolina. The British loss exceeded ours. Captain M’Cullock, who commanded the legion infantry with much personal honor, two other officers, and twenty men of the same corps, were killed, and nearly forty wounded. Many officers and men of Brown’s regiment were also killed and wounded, and some taken.

Bryan’s loyalists were less hurt, having dispersed as soon as pressed. The error of the guides which deranged the plan of attack, the allurement of the spoils found in the enemy’s camp, and the indulgence in the use of liquor, deprived Sumpter of the victory once within his grasp, and due to the zeal, gallantry, and perseverance of himself and his officers.

Checked but not dismayed, disappointed but not discouraged, Sumpter sought his remote asylum to recruit and repair. About this period Gates was advancing near to the scene of action. The American general, soon after he entered South Carolina, directed his march towards Lynch’s creek, the southern branch of the Pedee, keeping on his right the friendly and fertile country about Charlotte, the principal town of Mecklenburgh county. Lord Rawdon, unwilling that Gates should find him in Cambden, where were deposited his stores, ammunitions and sick, advanced to a strong position, fifteen miles in front, on the southern banks of Lynch’s creek.

This being ascertained by general Gates, he moved to Lynch’s, opposite to lord Rawdon; and the two armies remained for four days, separated only by the creek. Gates broke up from this ground inclining to his right, which putting in danger the British advanced post at Rudgely’s mill, lord Rawdon directed its evacuation, and fell back to Logstown, in the vicinity of Cambden. Here he became acquainted with the insurrection of the inhabitants on Black River, headed by brigadier Marion, which, although suspected, it was presumed would have been delayed until the American army should obtain some decisive advantage. Gates, desirous of opening his communication with Sumpter, continued to advance upon the north side of Lynch’s creek, and took post at Rudgely’s mill, where he was joined by brigadier Stevens with seven hundred of the Virginia militia. At the same time he received information from general Sumpter that a detachment of the enemy from Ninety-six, with stores for the main body at Cambden, was on its march, which he could conveniently intercept as it passed the ferry on the Wateree, one mile below Cambden, if supplied with artillery to batter down a redoubt which covered the ferry. Gates weakened his army, though in striking distance of his foe, by detaching to Sumpter four hundred men under the command of lieutenant colonel Woolford, of the Maryland line, with two light pieces. As soon as this detachment was put in motion, preparations were made to advance still nearer to Cambden.

The evacuation of Rudgely’s mill, and the falling back of lord Rawdon from Lynch’s creek, seem to have inspired general Gates with the presumption that his approach would drive the enemy from Cambden. No conclusion more erroneous could have been drawn from a fair view of the objects and situation of the respective armies.

The British general was under the necessity of maintaining his position; for retreat yielded up that country which he was bound to retain, and encouraged that spirit of revolt which he was bound to repress. All the disposable force under his orders had been concentrated at Cambden; delay would not thicken his ranks while it was sure to add to those of his adversary. Every consideration urged the British general to battle; and no commander was ever more disposed than lord Cornwallis to cut out relief from embarrassment by the sword. The foundation of the policy pursued by general Gates, was laid in error; and we ought not to be surprised at its disastrous termination. Had Gates not confidently presumed that a retrograde movement on the part of the enemy would have been the effect of his advance, he certainly would have detained Woolford’s detachment, and ordered Sumpter to join him; it being unquestionable that victory in the plains of Cambden would give to him the British army, and with it all the posts in South Carolina except Charleston. To this end his means ought to have been solely directed; or if he preferred the wiser course, to spin out the campaign condensing his main body, and beating the enemy in detail, he should have continued in his strong position behind Lynch’s creek, ready upon Cornwallis’s advance to have fallen back upon its head waters, in the powerful and doubtful counties of Cabarrus, Rowand, and Mecklenburgh.[note 65]

No doubt general Gates was unfortunately persuaded that he had nothing to do but to advance upon his enemy, never supposing that so far from retiring, the British general would seize the proffered opportunity of battle.

Unhappily for America, unhappily for himself, he acted under this influence, nor did he awake from his reverie until the proximity of the enemy was announced by his fire in the night, preceding the fatal morning.

Lord Cornwallis having been regularly informed of the passing occurrences, hastened to Cambden, which he reached on the 13th; spending the subsequent day in review and examination, he found his army very much enfeebled; eight hundred being sick, his effective strength was reduced to somewhat less than two thousand and three hundred men, including militia, and Bryan’s corps, which, together amounted to seven hundred and fifty men. Judging from the exertions of congress and the states of Virginia and North Carolina, by their publications, he rated his enemy at six thousand; in which estimation his lordship was much mistaken, as from official returns on the evening preceding the battle, it appears that our force did not exceed four thousand, including the corps detached under lieutenant colonel Woolford; yet there was a great disparity of numbers in our favor; but we fell short in quality, our continental horse, foot, and artillery, being under one thousand, whereas the British regulars amounted to nearly one thousand and six hundred.

Notwithstanding his diminished force, notwithstanding the vast expected superiority of his enemy, the discriminating mind of the British general paused not an instant in deciding upon his course.

No idea of a retrograde movement was entertained by him. Victory only could extricate him from the surrounding dangers; and the quicker the decision, the better his chance of success. He therefore gave orders to prepare for battle, and in the evening of the 15th, put his army in motion to attack his enemy next morning in his position at Rudgely’s mill.

Having placed Cambden in the care of major M’Arthur, with the convalescents, some of the militia, and a detachment of regulars expected in the course of the day, he moved, at the hour often at night, in two divisions. The front division, composed of four companies of light infantry, with the twenty-third and thirty-third regiments, was commanded by lieutenant colonel Webster.

The rear division, consisting of the legion infantry, Hamilton’s regiment of North Carolinians, the volunteers of Ireland, and Bryan’s corps of loyalists, was under the orders of lord Rawdon. Two battalions of the seventy-first, with the legion cavalry, formed the reserve.

After Gates had detached Woolford to Sumpter, and prepared his army to move, it was resolved in a council of war to march on the night of the 15th, and to sit down behind Saunder’s creek, within seven miles of Cambden. Thus it happened that both the generals were in motion at the same hour, and for the same purpose: with this material distinction, that the American general grounded his conduct in his mistaken confidence of his adversary’s disposition to retreat; whereas, the British commander sought for battle with anxiety, regarding the evasion of it by his antagonist as the highest misfortune.

Our baggage, stores and sick, having been sent off to the friendly settlement of the Waxhaws, the army marched at ten o’clock at night. Armand’s[note 66] legion, in horse and foot not exceeding one hundred, moved as a vanguard, flanked by lieutenant colonel Porterfield’s corps on the right, and by major Armstrong’s light infantry, of the North Carolina militia, on the left. The Maryland and Delaware lines composed the front division, under baron de Kalb; the militia of North Carolina, under general Caswell, the centre; and the Virginia militia, under brigadier Stevens, the rear. Some volunteer cavalry were placed to guard the baggage. Midway between Cambden and Rudgley’s mill, the two armies met, about one in the morning. They instantly felt each other; when the corps of Armand shamefully turned its back, carrying confusion and dismay into our ranks. The leading regiment of Maryland was disordered by this ignominious flight; but the gallant Porterfield, taking his part with decision on the right, seconded by Armstrong on the left, soon brought the enemy’s van to a pause. Prisoners being taken on both sides, the adverse generals became informed of their unexpected proximity.[note 67] The two armies halted, each throbbing with the emotions which the van rencontre had excited. The British army displayed in one line, which completely occupied the ground, each flank resting on impervious swamps. The infantry of the reserve took post in a second line, one half opposite the centre of each wing; and the cavalry held the road, where the left of the right wing united with the volunteers of Ireland, which corps formed the right of the left wing. Lieutenant colonel Webster commanded on the right, and colonel lord Rawdon on the left. With the front line were two six and two three pounders, under lieutenant M’Leod of the artillery; with the reserve were two six pounders. Thus arranged, confiding in discipline and experience, the British general waited anxiously for light.

The Maryland leading regiment was soon recovered from the confusion produced by the panic of Armand’s cavalry. Battle, although unexpected, was now inevitable; and general Gates arrayed his army with promptitude. The second brigade of Maryland, with the regiment of Delaware, under general Gist, took the right; the brigade of North Carolina militia, led by brigadier Caswell, the centre; and that of Virginia, under brigadier Stevens, the left. The first brigade of Maryland was formed in reserve, under the command of general Smallwood, who had on York Island, in the beginning of the war, when colonel of the first regiment of Maryland, deeply planted in the hearts of his country the remembrance of his zeal and valor, conspicuously displayed in that the first of his fields. To each brigade a due proportion of artillery was allotted; but we had no cavalry, as those who led in the right were still flying. Major general baron de Kalb, charged with the line of battle, took post on the right; while the general in chief, superintending the whole, placed himself on the road between the line and the reserve. The light of day dawned,—the signal for battle. Instantly our centre opened its artillery, and the left of our line, under Stevens, was ordered to advance. The veterans of the enemy, composing its right, were of course opposed to the Virginia militia; whereas they ought to have been faced by the continental brigade.[note 68] Stevens, however, exhorting his soldiers to rely on the bayonet, advanced with his accustomed intrepidity. Lieutenant colonel Otho Williams, adjutant general, preceded him wdth a band of volunteers, in order to invite the fire of the enemy before they were in reach of the militia, that experience of its inefficacy might encourage the latter to do their duty. The British general, closely watching our motions, discovered this movement on the left, and gave orders to Webster to lead into battle with the right. The command was executed with the characteristic courage and intelligence of that officer. Our left was instantly overpowered by the assault; and the brave Stevens had to endure the mortifying spectacle, exhibited by his flying brigade. Without exchanging more than one fire with the enemy, they threw away their arms; and sought that safety in flight, which generally can be obtained only by courageous resistance. The North Carolina brigade, imitating that on the right, followed the shameful example. Stevens, Caswell, and Gates himself, struggled to stop the fugitives, and rally them for battle; but every noble feeling of the heart was sunk in base solicitude to preserve life; and having no cavalry to assist their exertions, the attempted reclamation failed entirely. The continental troops, with Dixon’s regiment of North Carolinians, were left to oppose the enemy; every corps of whose army was acting with the most determined resolution. De Kalb and Gist yet held the battle on our right in suspense. Lieutenant colonel Howard, at the head of Williams’s regiment, drove the corps in front out of line. Rawdon could not bring the brigade of Gist to recede:—bold was the pressure of the foe; firm as a rock the resistance of Gist. Now the Marylanders were gaining ground; but the deplorable desertion of the militia having left Webster unemployed, that discerning soldier detached some light troops with Tarleton’s cavalry in pursuit, and opposed himself to the reserve brought up by Smallwood to replace the fugitives. Here the battle was renewed with fierceness and obstinacy. The gallant Marylanders, with Dixon’s regiment, although greatly outnumbered, firmly maintained the desperate conflict; and de Kalb, now finding his once exposed flank completely shielded, resorted to the bayonet. Dreadful was the charge! In one point of the line the enemy were driven before us with the loss of many prisoners. But while Smallwood covered the flank of the second brigade, his left became exposed; and Webster, never omitting to seize every advantage, turned the light infantry and twenty-third regiment on his open flank. Smallwood, however, sustained himself with undiminished vigor; but borne down at last by superiority of force, the first brigade receded. Soon it returned to the line of battle;—again it gave ground, and again rallied. Meanwhile de Kalb, with our right, preserved a conspicuous superiority. Lord Cornwallis, sensible of the advantages gained, and aware of the difficulty to which we were subjected by the shameful flight of our left, concentrated his force and made a decisive charge. Our brave troops were broken; and his lordship, following up the blow, compelled the intrepid Marylanders to abandon the unequal contest. To the woods and swamps, after performing their duty valiantly, these gallant soldiers were compelled to fly. The pursuit was continued with keenness, and none were saved but those who penetrated the swamps which had been deemed impassable. The road was heaped with the dead and wounded. Arms, artillery, horses and baggage, were strewed in every direction; and the whole adjacent country presented evidences of the signal defeat.

Our loss was very heavy. More than a third of the continental troops were killed and wounded; and of the wounded one hundred and seventy were made prisoners. The regiment of Delaware was nearly annihilated; and lieutenant colonel Vaughn and major Patton being taken, its remnant, less than two companies, was afterwards placed under the orders of Kirkwood, senior captain.[note 69] The North Carolina militia also suffered greatly; more than three hundred were taken, and nearly one hundred killed and wounded. Contrary to the usual course of events and the general wish, the Virginia militia, who sat the infamous example which produced the destruction of our army, escaped entirely.

De Kalb, sustaining by his splendid example the courageous efforts of our inferior force, in his last resolute attempt to seize victory, received eleven wounds, and was made prisoner. His yet lingering life was rescued from immediate death by the brave interposition of lieutenant colonel du Buysson, one of his aids-de-camp; who, embracing the prostrate general, received into his own body the bayonets pointed at his friend. The heroic veteran, though treated with every attention, survived but a few days. Never were the last moments of a soldier better employed. He dictated a letter to general Smallwood, who succeeded to the command of his division, breathing in every word his sincere and ardent affection for his officers and soldiers; expressing his admiration of their late noble though unsuccessful stand; reciting the eulogy which their bravery had extorted from the enemy; together with the lively delight such testimony of their valor had excited in his own mind, then hovering on the shadowy confines of life. In this endearing adieu he comprehended lieutenant colonel Vaughn, with the Delaware regiment and the artillery attached to his division; both of which corps had shared in the glory of that disastrous day. Feeling the pressure of death, he stretched out his quivering hand to his friend du Buysson, proud of his generous wounds; and breathed his last in benedictions on his faithful, brave division.[note 70] We lost, besides major general baron de Kalb, many excellent officers; and among them lieutenant colonel Porterfield, whose promise of future greatness had endeared him to the whole army. Wounded in his brave stand in the morning, when our dragoons basely fled, he was taken off the field, never more to draw his sword! Brigadier Rutherford, of the North Carolina militia, and major Thomas Pinkney, of the South Carolina line, aid-de-camp to general Gates, were both wounded and taken.

The British loss is stated to have amounted to eighty killed, and two hundred and forty-five wounded.

In the dreadful gloom which now overspread the United States, the reflecting mind drew consolation from the undismayed gallantry displayed by a portion of the army, throughout the desperate conflict; and from the zeal, courage and intelligence, exhibited by many of our officers. Smallwood and Gest had conducted themselves with exemplary skill and bravery. Stevens and Caswell both deserved distinguished applause, although both were the mortified leaders of spiritless troops. Colonel Williams, adjutant general, was conspicuous throughout the action; cheerfully risking his valuable life out of his station, performing his assumed duties with precision and effect, and volunteering his person wherever danger called. Lieutenant colonel Howard demonstrated a solidity of character, which, on every future occasion, he displayed honorably to himself, and advantageously to his country. The general in chief, although deeply unfortunate, is entitled to respect and regard. He took decisive measures to restore the action, by unceasing efforts to rally the fugitive militia; and had he succeeded, would have led them to the vortex of battle. By seconding the continental troops with this rallied corps, he would probably have turned the fortune of the day, or have died like the hero of Saratoga.

None, without violence to the claims of honor and justice, can withhold applause from colonel Dixon and his North Carolina regiment of militia. Having their flank exposed by the flight of the other militia, they turned with disdain from the ignoble example; and fixing their eyes on the Marylanders, whose left they became, determined to vie in deeds of courage with their veteran comrades. Nor did they shrink from this daring resolve. In every vicissitude of the battle, this regiment maintained its ground; and, when the reserve under Smallwood, covering our left, relieved its naked flank, forced the enemy to fall back. Colonel Dixon had seen service, having commanded a continental regiment under Washington. By his precepts and example he infused his own spirit into the breasts of his troops; who, emulating the noble ardor of their leader, demonstrated the wisdom of selecting experienced officers to command raw soldiers.[note 71]

In the midst of this heart-rending defeat, general Gates received advice of the success of Sumpter against the British convoy. Some
consolation[note 72] was thus administered to his wounded spirit. The corps under Sumpter, added to those who had escaped this day of destruction, would have formed a force which could preserve the appearance of resistance, and give time for the arrival of succor. Major M’Arthur, about the same time, communicated the occurrence to lord Cornwallis; who occupied his first moments after our defeat in despatching orders to lieutenant colonel Turnbull, then stationed on Little river with the New York volunteers, and major Ferguson’s corps of loyalists, to intercept general Sumpter and bring him to action.

Major Davie’s corps, part of the force under Sumpter, in his preceding operations, had suffered severely on the 6th of August, in the unsuccessful attempt on the post of Hanging Rock; and was subsequently engaged in escorting our wounded to Charlotte, where Davie had previously established a hospital. The moment this service was performed, major Davie hastened to the general rendezvous at Rudgley’s mill. On the fifteenth, arriving after Gates had moved, he followed the army; and marching all night, met the first part of our flying troops about four miles from the field of battle. With an expectation of being useful in saving soldiers, baggage and stores, he continued to advance; and meeting with brigadier general Huger, of the South Carolina line, driving his tired horse before him, he learnt the probability of Sumpter’s ignorance of the defeat of our army, and of the consequent danger to which he would be exposed. Major Davie therefore instantly despatched captain Martin, attended by two dragoons, to inform Sumpter of this afflicting event; to urge him to take care of his corps by immediate retreat, and to request him to repair to Charlotte, whither himself meant to proceed, and assemble, as he returned, all the force which could be induced to take the field. On the night following, captain Martin reached Sumpter, who immediately decamped with his prisoners and booty. Turnbull’s attempt failed, from the celerity with which Sumpter had moved. Apprehensive that Sumpter might escape Turnbull, and anxious to break up this corps, the British general was not satisfied with a single effort to destroy him; and, on the same evening, directed lieutenant colonel Tarleton, with his legion and some light infantry, to proceed in the morning from the field of battle across the Wateree in pursuit of that enterprising officer.

Having avoided Turnbull, Sumpter seems to have indulged a belief that he was safe; and accordingly encamped on the night of the 17th at Rocky Mount, about thirty miles from Cambden, and much nearer Cornwallis. To halt for the night within striking distance of the British army was evidently improvident. After a few hours rest, he ought certainly to have renewed his march. At day light, he did, indeed, resume it; but, having passed Fishing creek, eight miles distant, he again halted. His troops occupied, in line of march, a ridge contiguous to the north side of the creek, at which place his rear guard was stationed; and two videts were posted at a small distance in its front. Confiding in this hazardous situation, to these slender precautions, his arms were stacked, the men were permitted to indulge at pleasure; some in strolling, some bathing, and others reposing. Our troops, no doubt, were extremely wearied; but bodily debility does not warrant inattention in a commander: it should redouble his caution and exertion. If the halt at Fishing creek was unavoidable, the troops least fatigued and best armed should have been selected and posted for combat, while those most fatigued, snatched rest and food. With this alternate relief the retreat ought to have been continued; and the corps would have been saved.

Lieutenant colonel Tarleton moved with his accustomed velocity; and after a rapid march on the 17th, approached Sumpter’s line of retreat. Finding many of his men and his horses too much exhausted to proceed with the requisite despatch, he left behind more than half of his force, and pressed forward with about one hundred and sixty. Passing the Catawba at Rocky Mount ford, he got into Sumpter’s rear, whose precautions for security were readily eluded. The enemy reached him unperceived, when consternation at the unlooked-for assault became general. Partial resistance was attempted, but soon terminated in universal flight. Sumpter’s force, with the detachment under lieutenant colonel Woolford, was estimated at eight hundred: some were killed, others wounded, and the rest dispersed. Sumpter himself fortunately escaped, as did about three hundred and fifty of his men; leaving two brass pieces of artillery, arms and baggage, in possession of the enemy, who recovered their wagons, stores and prisoners.[note 73]

In this enterprise, although fortunate in its issue, lieutenant colonel Tarleton evinced a temerity, which could not, if pursued, long escape exemplary chastisement. Had Sumpter discovered his approach, that day would at least have arrested his career, if it had not closed his existence. But unhappily for America, her soldiers were slaughtered, sometimes from the improvidence of their leaders, more often from their own fatal neglect of duty and disobedience of orders. Vain is it to place guards around your camp, and videts in their front, if, unmindful of the responsibility of their stations, they indulge in repose, or relinquish their posts. The severe consequences of such criminal neglect, we may suppose, would prevent the repetition of the evil; but soldiers are not to be corrected by their own observations or deductions. Rewards and punishments must be added; and execution on the spot, of a faithless or negligent centinel, is humanity in the end. Militia will not endure this rigor, and are therefore improperly intrusted with the sword of the nation in war. The pursuance of that system must weaken the best resources of the state, by throwing away the lives of its citizens; and those rulers must provoke the vengeance of Heaven, who invite such destruction, by adhering to this impotent policy.

The tragedy of the 16th, closing with the catastrophe of the 18th, the army of the south became a second time nearly annihilated. General Gates halted at Charlotte, where some of his defeated army had arrived. Soon after he retired to Salisbury, and afterwards to Hillsborough, one hundred and eighty miles from Cambden; where he determined to collect his scattered forces, and to draw reinforcements, with a resolution of again facing his successful adversary.[note 74] Smallwood and Gest continued at Salisbury, until all the dispersed continentals were assembled. The militia of both states passed on towards their respective homes, selecting their own route, and obtaining subsistence from the charity of the farmers on the road.

We shall here break the thread of our narrative, and go into those inquiries, which our misfortunes require, it being the object of these Memoirs, by a faithful and plain elucidation of the occurrences of our war, connecting events with their causes, to enlighten the future defenders and rulers of our country. The character of a military chief contributes not a little to give character to his army; provided the pressure of circumstances does not urge him to the field, before he has time and opportunity to know and be known. Major general Gates assumed the command under the happiest circumstances. He was hailed as the conqueror at Saratoga; and our gallant troops, anticipating the future from reflecting on the past, proudly presumed that his skill, directing their valor, would liberate the south, and diffuse over his evening, an effulgence more brilliant than his meridian glory.

Considering the condition of the respective armies, this fond expectation will not appear chimerical. But, unhappily for us, the inviting opportunity was neglected; and general Gates, buoyed up by his campaign in the north, seems to have acted under a conviction that it was only necessary to meet the foe to conquer. What heavy misfortunes spring from our own fatuity! The day after the Virginia militia joined at Rudgley’s mill, he rashly advanced towards the enemy; and persevered in the same precipitancy, until stopped by his adversary, moving to strike him in his camp. Let us suppose that he had conducted his operations on different principles; what would have been the probable result? Had he wisely taken with him the old regiment of dragoons under White and Washington, as those brave officers in vain solicited; instead of a dastardly flight, an example of heroism would have been exhibited. The enemy would have been driven in; prisoners would have been made by, but none from, us; intelligence would have been shut to the enemy, but open to ourselves; and the dawn of day would have found our troops, emboldened by the example of the cavalry, panting for battle. He would, moreover, have been provided with a body of horse, more numerous and capable, than that of his enemy; and would have carried his army, full of bodily strength and exalted spirits, into the neighborhood of his foe. By falling back from Lynches creek, when lord Rawdon retired to Logtown, he would have placed himself in a friendly, strong and plentiful country; where, out of striking distance, he might have employed a week or ten days in training his militia, and infusing into them that self-confidence which doubly arms the soldier in the day of battle.[note 75] While improving the condition of his army, he might, by despatching influential characters to the west of the Allegany, have brought down one or two thousand of those hardy warriors to Charlotte, to be used as an army of reserve, should events require it. What was of the highest importance, he must, by this delay, have ascertained with precision, the intention of the enemy in time to elude or resist it; and would have drawn Cornwallis further from his point of safety: thus more and more exposing him to the harassing attacks of Marion and Sumpter on his flanks and in his rear. All these advantages were within the general’s grasp. The partial, though sure, game of destruction had commenced. Sumpter had seized the stores and convoy from Ninety-six, with which he could have regained his asylum, had not general Gates’s impatience to approach the enemy refused even one day’s rest to the
Virginia brigade. Tarleton could not have been spared from the main body in face of our army; who, although inactive, would be in the fit attitude for striking whenever the opportune moment should arrive; and consequently he would not have been detached in pursuit of Sumpter. Obvious as was this mode of operation, general Gates, with the “veni, vidi, vici” of Cesar in his imagination, rushed on to the fatal field, where he met correction, not more severe than merited.

Hillsborough having been selected as headquarters, thither the fragments of our beaten army repaired; so that the best affected, and most powerful district of North Carolina, situated between the Catawba and Yadkin rivers, became exposed to the depredations of the enemy. Brigadier Davidson and colonel Davie, now promoted by the governor, and appointed to the command of the cavalry of the state, remained true to the obligations which honor and duty alike imposed. Encouraging all around them, they drew together their faithful comrades, and took measures for the collection of requisite supplies; resolved to desist from resistance only with the loss of life. In this manly resolution they were cordially joined by brigadier Sumner. The two generals returned to assemble their militia; while colonel Davie, with eighty dragoons and major Davidson’s two mounted companies of riflemen, established himself in the Waxhaw settlement, about thirty-five miles from Charlotte. Here he continued actively employed in watching the movements of the enemy, and repressing their predatory excursions, which, in consequence of the devastation of the country between the Waxhaws and Cambden, were extended to the latter district.

Lord Cornwallis, necessarily delayed from the want of stores which he expected from New York, devoted his leisure to the civil duties of his station. Persevering in the policy adopted by sir Henry Clinton, he inforced the penalty of this general’s proclamation with rigor. A commissioner was named to take possession of the estates of all who adhered to the enemies of the king, with directions first to support the wives and children of such offenders, and next to pay the residue of the proceeds of the estates to the paymaster general of the royal forces.

Death was again denounced against all persons, who, having received protections, should be found in arms against the king’s troops. Some of the militia, taken in the late defeat, being charged with that offence, were actually hung. This sanguinary conduct, in the amiable, humane Cornwallis, evinces the proneness of military men, however virtuous, to abuse power. The injustice of breaking a contract, and the criminality of sir Henry Clinton in that respect, have been already mentioned. Confiding in the plighted faith of the British general, many of our countrymen had taken protections, which never would hare been accepted, had it been understood they converted those who received them into liege subjects. When sir Henry Clinton deemed it eligible, by an arbitrary fiat to annul those protections, justice demanded that he should have left it optional with the holder to take the oath of allegiance, or abandon the state. A severe alternative, but justifiable in war. To break solemn compacts; to transmute the party from the state in which he stood, to a mere dependence on human will, and to hang him for not conforming to that will, is crying injustice. Instead of demanding reparation, and proclaiming the “lex talionis,” we submitted, with folded arms, to the criminal outrage. We must look back, with feelings of degradation, to this disgraceful period of our history. Although no advocate for the law of retaliation on slight occasions, it often happens, that the unjust can only be taught the value of justice by feeling the severity of retort; and those in power should never hesitate to apply its rigor, when so imperatively demanded.

The severity of the British commander was not restricted to the deluded class, who had taken protections: it was extended to the most respectable characters of the state, who had been made prisoners at the fall of Charleston. Letters were found from some of these gentlemen to their friends, killed or taken on the 16th, making communications, as was alleged, but never proved, incompatible with their paroles. The venerable Mr. Gadsden, lieutenant governor, with several other gentlemen, were first confined on board prison ships in Charleston harbor; and afterwards sent to St. Augustine, in East Florida, where they were again admitted to very limited indulgences.

We shall soon find how the injustice and severity now practised, recoiled upon their authors.

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