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

CHAPTER XXII.

GENERAL GREENE directed his whole attention to the high duties of his command. On reviewing his army, he found its total not more than two thousand, of which the major part was militia. Notwithstanding the exertions of his predecessor to establish magazines, he found three days’ provision only on hand, and the country around him exhausted. His supply of ammunition was very scanty; and Virginia was the nearest point, from which a replenishment could be obtained.

Such means and resources badly comported with the grand design of arresting the progress of the conqueror, and restoring the two lost states to the Union. Capable of doing much with little, Greene was not discouraged by this unfavorable prospect. His vivid plastic genius soon operated on the latent elements of martial capacity in his army, invigorated its weakness, turned its confusion into order, and its despondency into ardor. A wide sphere of intellectual resource enabled him to inspire confidence, to rekindle courage, to decide hesitation, and infuse a spirit of exalted patriotism in the citizens of the state. By his own example, he showed the incalculable value of obedience, of patience, of vigilance and temperance. Dispensing justice, with an even hand, to the citizen and soldier; benign in heart, and happy in manners; he acquired the durable attachment and esteem of all. He collected around his person, able and respectable officers; and selected, for the several departments, those who were best qualified to fill them. His operations were then commenced with a boldness of design, well calculated to raise the drooping hopes of his country, and to excite the respect of his enemy.

This illustrious man had now reached his thirty-eighth year. In person he was rather corpulent, and above the common size. His complexion was fair and florid; his countenance serene and mild, indicating a goodness which seemed to shade and soften the fire and greatness of its expression. His health was delicate, but preserved by temperance and regularity.

The British army still remained at Winnsborough. General Greene determined to draw in the detachment under Smallwood, which was advanced some distance in his front, and to risk the division of his force by taking two distant positions on each flank of the British army.

Previous to this movement, brigadier Morgan, who commanded the van of Smallwood’s detachment, attempted to strike a foraging party of the enemy, which had penetrated the country between the two armies. But the vigilant adversary eluded the blow, and returned in safety to Cambden. Lieutenant colonel Washington, at the head of the cavalry, having taken a more extensive range than the infantry, discovered that a party of loyalists were stationed at Rudgley’s farm, about twelve miles from Cambden. He moved instantly towards them, in expectation of carrying the post by surprise; but in this he was disappointed, as they occupied a barn, surrounded by abattis, and secure from any attempt of cavalry. Rudgley and his friends were delighted with the safety their precaution had produced, and viewed the approach of horse with indifference. Short was their repose. Washington, well informed of the character of his enemy, shaped the trunk of a tree in imitation of a field piece; and, bringing it up in military style, affected to prepare to canonade the barn. To give solemnity to the device, he sent in a flag, warning the garrison of the impending destruction, which could be only avoided by immediate submission. Not prepared to resist artillery, colonel Rudgley seized with promptitude the auspicious opportunity; and, with his garrison, one hundred men, surrendered at discretion! No circumstance can more strongly demonstrate the propriety of using every effort in war. A soldier should intimately know the character of his enemy, and mould his measures accordingly. This stratagem of Washington, although conceived and executed with little hope of success, was completely successful; and enabled him to effect an object, which, at first view, most would have abandoned as clearly unattainable.

The return of Smallwood’s detachment to camp was followed by the immediate departure of the army from Charlotte. The division, intended for operations in the western quarter, was composed of four hundred continental infantry under lieutenant colonel Howard, of the Maryland line, two companies of the Virginia militia under captains Triplett and Taite, and the remnants of the first and third regiments of dragoons, one hundred in number, under lieutenant colonel Washington. It was placed under the care of brigadier general Morgan, who was to be strengthened on his march by bodies of mountain militia from Carolina and Georgia. He was ordered to pass the Catawba, and take post in the country between the Broad and Pacolet rivers. Greene, with the main body, moved down the Pedee, and took a position on its eastern bank, nearly opposite Cheraw hill. By this disposition, general Greene secured an abundance of wholesome provisions for his troops; afforded safe rendezvous for the militia in the East and West, on whose aid he necessarily relied; re-excited by his proximity the spirit of revolt, which preceding events had repressed; menaced the various posts of the enemy, and their intermediate communications; and compelled lord Cornwallis to postpone his advance into North Carolina, until he should have cleared the country to the west of his enemy. During brigadier Morgan’s march, he received a part of the expected succor, amounting nearly to five hundred militia, under general Pickens; and passing the Broad river, he established himself near the point of its confluence with the Pacolet.

About the 13th of December, prior to Greene’s departure from Charlotte, major general Leslie arrived with his detachment at Charleston, where he found orders to repair with one thousand five hundred of his troops to Cambden. As Leslie was approaching this place, lord Cornwallis learned the disposition of the hostile army, and about the end of December became acquainted with the progress of Morgan. Greene was seventy miles to his right, and Morgan fifty on his left. Lord Cornwallis began to apprehend a design on Ninety-six; and determined to direct his first steps against Morgan, lest the junction of numerous bodies of mountain militia, with that enterprising officer, should enable him to destroy all communication with Augusta, and finally to carry that post, if not Ninety-six. The legion horse and foot, the light infantry attached to it, the seventh regiment and first battalion of the seventy-first regiment, with two field pieces, were put in motion under lieutenant colonel Tarleton. The first object was to protect Ninety-six; and the next, to bring Morgan to battle, or repel him into North Carolina.

Soon after general Greene had taken his position opposite to Cheraw hill, lieutenant colonel Lee, with his legion, making about two hundred and eighty in horse and foot, joined the army. This corps, being in excellent condition, was, on the next day ordered to cross the Pedee, in order to support brigadier Marion, who continued to interrupt and harass the enemy’s posts between the Pedee and the Santee. In a few days after Lee’s junction with Marion, they projected an enterprise against the garrison of Georgetown, a small village in South Carolina, situated on the bay into which the Pedee empties. Colonel Campbell commanded in this town, with a garrison of two hundred men. In his front he had prepared some slight defences, better calculated to repel a sudden, than resist a determined, assault. Between these defences and the town, and contiguous to each, was an inclosed work with a frize and palisade, which constituted his chief protection. A subaltern guard held it. The rest of the troops were dispersed in light parties in and near the town, looking towards the country. The plan of assault was founded on the facility with which the assailant might convey down the Pedee a part of his force undiscovered, and land in the water suburb of the town, which, being always deemed secure, was consequently unguarded. After this body should have reached the wharves, it was to move in two divisions. The first was to force the commandant’s quarters, known to be the place of parade, then to secure him, and all who might flock thither on the alarm. The second was to be charged with the interception of such of the garrison as might attempt to gain the fort, their chief point of safety on annoyance. The militia and cavalry of the legion, under Marion and Lee, were to approach near the town in the night; and when the entrance of the infantry, passed down by water, should be announced, they were to rush into it for co-operation and support.

The plan being approved by general Greene, preparations were immediately made for its execution. The infantry of the legion were embarked in boats, under the command of captain Carnes, with orders to fall down the Pedee to a designated island, during the first night; to land and lay concealed there the ensuing day; to reembark at an early hour of the night following, and reach Georgetown between one and two in the morning. Marion and Lee proceeded to their destination, having taken all the requisite precautions to prevent any intimation to the enemy of their approach. At twelve o’clock in the second night, they occupied, unperceived, a position in the vicinity of the town, and waited anxiously for the annunciation of Carne’s arrival. This officer met with no difficulty in descending the river, and reached the appointed island before dawn of light. He remained there the ensuing day; and so unusual is inland navigation in South Carolina, so impervious are the deep swamps which line its rivers, that he might have sojourned for weeks on the island without discovery. Gaining his place of destination with precision in point of time, he landed unperceived, and instantly advanced to the quarters of lieutenant colonel Campbell. The commandant was secured; and Carnes judiciously posted his division for seizing such parties of the garrison as might flock to the parade ground. Captain Rudolph, who led the second division, with equal good fortune gained the vicinity of the fort; and arranged his troops on the route of communication, in order to arrest the fugitives. On the first fire, which took place at the commandant’s quarters, the militia of Marion and the dragoons of Lee rushed into the town, prepared to bear down all resistance. To the astonishment of these officers, every tiling was quiet; the legion infantry holding its assigned stations, and lieutenant colonel Campbell a prisoner. Not a British soldier appeared; not one attempted either to gain the fort, or repair to the commandant. Having discovered their enemy, the troops of the garrison kept close to their respective quarters, barricaded the doors, and determined there to defend themselves. The assailants were unprovided with the requisite implements for battering doors and scaling windows. The fort was in possession of the enemy, and daylight approaching. Marion and Lee were therefore compelled to retire with a partial accomplishment of their object. Colonel Campbell was suffered to remain on parole; and the troops withdrew from Georgetown, unhurt and unannoyed. The plan of this enterprise, although conceived with ingenuity, and executed with precision, was too refined and complicated for success. Marion and Lee were singularly tender of the lives of their soldiers; and preferred moderate success, with little loss, to the most brilliant enterprise, with the destruction of many of their troops. This principle is wise and commendable; but, when carried too far, it is sure to produce disappointment. If, instead of placing Rudolph’s division to intercept the fugitives, it had been ordered to carry the fort by the bayonet, our success would have been complete. The fort taken, and the commandant a prisoner, we might have availed ourselves of the canon, and have readily demolished every obstacle and shelter.

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