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


CORNWALLIS still held his position at Winnsborough, waiting for the expected reinforcement under Leslie, and devoting his attention to the repression of the daring enterprises, devised and executed by Marion, Sumpter, and their gallant associates.

In the meanwhile Gates was laboring with unceasing zeal and diligence to prepare a force, capable of meeting his successful adversary. Having collected the shattered remains of his army at Hillsborough, in pursuance of a regulation established by the commander in chief, the broken lines of Maryland and Delaware were compressed into one regiment, and placed under colonel Williams, of Maryland. The officers of cavalry had not been very successful in their efforts; for, but four complete troops could be formed from the relics of Bland, Moylan, and Baylor’s regiments, when united with the new recruits. These were embodied, and placed under the command of lieutenant colonel Washington, of Virginia.[note 81] The
supernumerary officers of Maryland and Delaware and of the cavalry were despatched to their respective states, for the purpose of recruiting. Brigadier Gest, who had so nobly seconded de Kalb on the fatal 16th of August, was charged with the direction of this service; there being no command for him with the army, in consequence of its reduced state. General Smallwood was retained as second to Gates. Morgan, the distinguished leader of the rifle corps, was promoted to the rank of brigadier by brevet, and repaired to the southern army. About the same time, the recruits of the Virginia line reached Hillsborough; and the remaining companies of Harrison’s artillery also joined our army.

The union of these several corps gave to general Gates about one thousand and four hundred continentals. The deliverance of North Carolina from the late invasion, by the fortunate victory of King’s Mountain, afforded time for the government of the state to understand its real condition, and to prepare for the impending danger. A division of its militia had been called into the field under the command of the generals Sumner and Davidson, to which was united a volunteer corps under colonel Davie.

While Gates remained at Hillsborough, Sumner had taken post, with the militia, in the country washed by the Yadkin, the main branch of the Pedee. Smallwood was despatched to take charge of the troops in that quarter, while general Gates moved, with the continentals, to Charlotte. As soon as the headquarters of the American army were transferred to this place, Smallwood was advanced from the Yadkin to the Catawba; having brigadier Morgan, at the head of a corps of light troops, in his front.

The Pedee is the northern boundary of South Carolina; the Savannah is its limit on the southwest; and the Santee, whose main branch is the Catawba, is the intermediate of the three large rivers of that state. Just below Matte’s, where the British had erected a small fortification, the Santee is formed by the confluence of the Wateree and the Congaree. The former of these rivers, descending from the north, runs through the hilly country, where it is called Catawba; and, passing Cambden, rolls on to its junction with the Congaree. The Congaree, after the union of its head branches, the Broad River and the Saluda, takes a southern direction.

The position now taken by Gates, and the arrangement of his force, presented a strong contrast of his former conduct; and afforded a consoling presumption, that he had discovered his past error, and had profited by the correction of adversity.[note 82] Neither congress nor the nation were reconciled, however, to the severe blow, which our arms had sustained under his guidance. The annihilation, in a few hours, of an army, from which much had been expected, was a sufficient cause of investigation and inquietude: and when that misfortune, in the exhausted and worried condition of the people, was followed by a necessity of replacing the lost force, or of submitting to the subjugation of an important portion of the Union, the most awful and afflicting sensations were unavoidably excited. Congress entertained, indeed, a high respect for the unfortunate general, and a grateful recollection of his past services; but that homage, however merited, could not, and ought not, to suppress those inquiries, which always follow miscarriage or misfortune, where the sovereign power is careful of the public good. It was, moreover, necessary to check the conqueror; and two lost states were to be recovered. To effect such important objects, a general, obscured by adversity, was, though of respectable talents, inadequate; it required the fire of superior genius, aided by an untarnished reputation, to reanimate despondency, restore confidence, and turn the current of adversity.

Such reflections daily gained strength; and congress, at length, resolved, that a court of inquiry should examine into the conduct; of major general Gates, commanding in the southern department, and that the commander in chief should, in the interim, appoint a successor. This unpleasant resolution was immediately transmitted to general Gates at Charlotte; and he prepared to obey the summons of the courts as soon as his successor should arrive and assume the duties of command. In the meanwhile, he continued, with unremitting exertion, his preparations for resisting the enemy, by endeavoring to discover their force and plans, by collecting magazines of provision, and stimulating the governments of North Carolina and Virginia to a timely contribution of their aids. Happy, if his efforts should smooth the way for a more prosperous course to his successor, he acted, throughout this disagreeable period, with intelligence, assiduity and zeal.

Washington did not long deliberate on the appointment which he was directed to make. Major general Greene[note 83] had served under him from the commencement of the war, and from that period had enjoyed his unvarying confidence and esteem. In a time of extreme derangement and difficulty, he had been called to the station of quartermaster general, in which he acquitted himself with consummate ability. He commanded the division of the army opposed to lieutenant general Knyphausen, at Springfield, in 1780, and acquired, as he merited, distinguished applause.

We have before seen, that he checked the advance of the British with Weedon’s brigade in the close of the battle of Brandywine; that he was opposed to lord Cornwallis in New Jersey, when the maintenance of the obstruction to the navigation of the Delaware was ardently pursued by the commander in chief; and that he commanded the left wing of the army at the action of Germantown. He was honored at the battle of Monmouth with the direction of the right wing, which was conducted much to his credit, and to the annoyance of the enemy. He was under Sullivan in the invasion of Rhode Island, and contributed very much to the excellent retreat which became necessary. Indeed, so manifold and important were his services, that he became a very highly trusted counsellor of the commander in chief; respected for his sincerity, prized for his disinterestedness, and valued for his wisdom. It followed, of course, when calamity thickened, and the means of resistance grew thin, that Greene should be summoned to break the force of the one, and to nerve the imbecility of the other.

He was accordingly nominated by Washington to the command of the southern army.

Congress passed a resolution, incorporating the states of Delaware and Maryland with the southern department, and the commander in chief detached, from his army, lieutenant colonel Lee, with his legion, to the south. This corps consisted of three troops of horse, and three companies of infantry, giving a total of three hundred and fifty effectives. But it was not complete; and after its arrival in the South, gradually diminished. Such was the debilitated condition of our military force, that only this trifling reinforcement could be spared to a general, charged with the arduous task of saving Virginia and North CaroUna, and of reannexing to the Union the states south of them.

What better testimony could be furnished of our fitness, at that time, for the repose of peace! but it was necessary to prosecute the war with zeal and vigor, or the great prize for which the confederate states were struggling would be lost, or but partially gained. The enemy’s strength had also very much dwindled, and his replenishment of the waste of war was not exempt from difficulty. He had to contend by sea and by land with potent nations, and to spread his force in every quarter of the globe. Such was the effect of our alliance with the house of Bourbon, and the result of Gates’ victory at Saratoga.

Return to Memoirs of the War in the Southern Department