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

CHAPTER XXXIII.

THE deliberate resolve of Greene, guarantied by the solemn and spontaneous pledge of his officers, changed the character of the war, and presented death to the soldier in the most ignominious form. Death, in the field of battle, has no terror for the brave: to expire on the gibbet shocks every noble and generous feeling.

Major Andre’s letter, when condemned as a spy, emphatically delineates this horror; and paints in vivid colors, sensations common to every soldier.[note 54]

Nevertheless the army exhibited on its march the highest spirit, with zealous anxiety to reach the foe; and conscious of the justice of the measure adopted by their general, with one feeling cheerfully submitted to its consequences.

Proceeding by easy marches, Greene crossed the Wateree near Cambden; but still separated from the enemy by the Congaree, he was obliged to make a long and circuitous march to gain its southern bank, which placed him safe from the possibility of insult while in the act of passing the river.

Copies of the proclamation heretofore issued were distributed throughout the country, as well as forwarded to the hostile headquarters, and to Charleston; that the enemy, being duly apprised of the determination of the American general, might without delay arrest its execution by suitable explanation and atonement. No attempt of this sort was made, and no doubt remained that the menaced retaliation would take effect as soon as fit subjects for its application should fall into our hands.

Having reached the neighborhood of Friday’s ferry, the army passed the Congaree at Howell’s; having been joined by brigadier Pickens, with his militia, and by lieutenant colonel Henderson, of the South Carolina line, with a small body of state infantry lately raised.

The two armies being now on the same side of the river, lieutenant colonel Lee, with his legion and the corps of Henderson, was detached in advance, followed by the main body in supporting distance.

Greene continued to pursue his march with unvarying attention to the ease and comfort of his troops; preserving unimpaired their strength by withholding them from exposure to the mid-day sun, which continued to be keen and morbid.

As the van approached Motte’s, the exploring cavalry under captain O’Neal fell in with a light party of the enemy detached for the purpose of procuring intelligence. These were all killed or taken. From the prisoners we learnt that colonel Stuart, when informed of Greene’s passage of the Wateree and movement towards Friday’s ferry, broke up from his long-held position near M’Cleod’s, and retired down the Santee for the purpose of meeting a convoy from Charleston, and of establishing himself near Nelson’s ferry on that river, which information was forthwith communicated to the general. Persevering in his plan of forcing the enemy to confine himself to the region bordering on the sea, after a few days halt in the vicinity of Motte’s waiting for the junction of brigadier Marion, then on his return from the Edisto, he again advanced. Lieutenant colonel Lee, still preceding the army, soon found that Stuart had set down at the Eutaw Springs, forty miles below his late position, where the convoy from Charleston had arrived. This intelligence was despatched to Greene, who was disposed to stimulate further retreat; his sole object being the recovery of the country, and which, though determined to effect, he preferred doing without further waste of blood. Lee was accordingly instructed to announce rather than conceal the advance of the American army, in order that Stuart might, if he chose, fall back a second time. During our march on the 5th and 6th the van corps met with not a single individual, excepting two dragoons from the enemy’s camp, one each day, bearing a flag, with despatches for the American general. These dragoons successively confirmed the continuance of Stuart at the Eutaws; adding that there was no appearance of change in position, and that when they left camp, it was believed that general Greene was still near Motte’s post. Instead of receiving the despatches and sending them on as was customary, Lee ordered the British dragoons to proceed to the army, with the view that if general Greene continued to prefer annunciation of his approach to the enemy that the same might be effectually done by the immediate return of the flags, with orders for their proceeding to Stuart. Inasmuch as no attempt had been made to conceal the advance of the American army, Greene could not suppose that Stuart remained ignorant of the fact; and, therefore, in the course of the day dismissed the flags, sending them back to lieutenant colonel Lee without any special directions; knowing from the discretion appertaining to the officer in advance, that he would consequently be governed in his disposal of them by intervening occurrences. The same uninterrupted quietude continuing during the seventh, Lee became convinced, strange as it appeared, that the British leader was uninformed of our proximity; and, therefore, determined to retain the flags. This was accordingly done, and he took post in the evening at Laurens’s farm,[note 55] within eight miles of the British camp. Greene having reached Bendell’s plantation, within seventeen miles of the enemy, encamped for the night, determining to advance at an early hour the ensuing morning. It was well ascertained that the British troops were forced to forage at a distance, and that occasionally parties were detached for the collection of vegetables as well as of forage; Lee consequently determined to take every precaution to prevent any communication during the night, believing it probable that he might in the morning fall in with some of the detachments employed in procuring supplies. The same dead calm continued: nobody was seen moving in any direction,—a state of quiet never before experienced in similar circumstances. While Stuart spent the night perfectly at ease, from his ignorance of passing events, the American general was preparing for battle.

Our whole force, including the reinforcements from North Carolina (which joined us at the High Hills) under general Sumner, the corps of Marion and of Pickens, with that lately formed in South Carolina under lieutenant colonel Henderson, amounted to two thousand three hundred men, of which the continentals (horse, foot and artillery), made about sixteen hundred.

Lord Rawdon, as has been before mentioned, led to the relief of Ninety-Six an army of two thousand,[note 56] to which was annexed the garrison of that place under lieutenant colonel Cruger, part of which only was now with Stuart.

The effective force of the hostile armies may be fairly estimated as nearly equal, each about two thousand three hundred. A portion of both armies, and that too nearly equal, had never as yet been in action; so that in every respect the state of equality was preserved, excepting in cavalry, where the advantage, both in number and quality, was on our side.

The night passed in tranquillity; and, judging from appearances, no occurrence seemed more distant than the sanguinary battle which followed.

Greene advanced at four in the morning in two columns, with artillery at the head of each, lieutenant colonel Lee in his front and lieutenant colonel Washington in his rear.

While moving with much circumspection, in the well grounded expectation that we should fall upon the British picquets unperceived, captain Armstrong, conducting the reconnoitring party, communicated to Lee the approach of a body of the enemy. This occurred about eight o’clock in the morning, four miles from the British camp. Forwarding this intelligence to the general, and presuming that the descried foe, consisting of horse and foot, must be the van of the enemy, Lee halted, waiting for the approximation of our main body.

The legion infantry were drawn up across the road, the cavalry in open wood on its right, and Henderson with his corps in thick wood upon its left. Shortly the British appeared, following Armstrong. The action opened, and the enemy were soon forced in front, while the horse, making a rapid movement under major Eggleston, gained the rear. The infantry was destroyed, several killed, and about forty taken with their captain; the cavalry, flying in full speed as soon as they saw the legion dragoons pressing forward, saved themselves, as did the foraging party following in the rear, consisting of two or three hundred without arms.[note 57]

Pressing forward, we soon got in view of another body of the enemy, with whom the action recommenced. Lieutenant colonel Lee, advising the general of this occurrence, requested the support of artillery to counteract that of the enemy now opening. Quickly colonel Williams, adjutant general, brought up captain Gains with his two pieces in full gallop, who untimbering took his part with decision and effect.

During this rencontre both armies formed. The American having, as before mentioned, moved in two columns, each composed of the corps destined for its respective lines, soon ranged in order of battle.

The North Carolina militia under colonel Malmedy, with that of South Carolina, led by the brigadiers Marion and Pickens, making the first, and the continentals making the second line: lieutenant colonel Campbell with the Virginians on the right; brigadier Sumner with the North Carolinians in the centre; and the Marylanders, conducted by Williams and Howard, on the left, resting with its left flank on the Charleston road. Lee with his legion was charged with the care of the right, as was Henderson with his corps with that of the left flank. The artillery, consisting only of two threes and two sixes, commanded by the captains Gains and Finn, were disposed the first with the front and the last with the rear line; and Baylor’s regiment of horse, with Kirkwood’s infantry of Delaware, composed the reserve, led by lieutenant colonel Washington.

The British army was drawn up in one line, a few hundred paces in front of their camp, (tents standing,) with two separate bodies of infantry and the cavalry posted in its rear, ready to be applied as contingencies might point out.

The Buffs[note 58] (third regiment), composed its right, resting with its flank on the Charleston road; the remains of several corps under lieutenant colonel Cruger the centre; and the sixty-third and sixty-fourth (veterans) the left. On the Eutaw branch, which runs to the British camp, right of the Charleston road, was posted major Majoribanks at the head of the light infantry, making one battalion,—his right on the branch, and his left stretching in an oblique line towards the flank of the Buffs. This branch issued from a deep ravine, between which and the British camp was the Charleston road, and between the road and the ravine was a strong brick house. The artillery was distributed along the line, a part on the Charleston road, and another part on the road leading to Roache’s plantation, which passed through the enemy’s left wing.

The front line of the American army, following close in the rear of the two pieces under captain Gains, began now to be felt by the van, who, diverging to the right and left, firing obliquely, took post on the flanks agreeably to the orders of battle.

The militia advancing with alacrity, the battle became warm, convincing lieutenant colonel Stuart, unexpected as it appears to have been, that Greene was upon him. The fire ran from flank to flank; our line still advancing, and the enemy, adhering to his position, manifesting a determination not to move.

The sixty-third and the legion infantry were warmly engaged, when the sixty-fourth, with a part of the centre, advanced upon colonel Malmedy, who soon yielding, the success was pushed by the enemy’s left, and the militia, after a fierce contest, gave way,—leaving the corps of Henderson and the legion infantry engaged, sullenly falling back.

Greene instantly ordered up the centre of the second line under brigadier Sumner, to fill the chasm produced by the recession of the militia, who came handsomely into action, ranging wirh the infantry of the legion and the corps of Henderson, both still maintaining the flanks with unyielding energy. The battle being reinstated grew hotter, and the enemy, who had before gained ground, fell back to his first position. Stuart now brought into line the corps of infantry posted in the rear of his left wing, and directed major Coffin with his cavalry to take post on his left; evincing a jealousy of that flank where the woods were open and the ground opportune for cavalry, in which we excelled. In this point of the action, lieutenant colonel Henderson received a ball, which stopped his further exertion. His corps, however, soon recovered from the effect produced by his fall; and, led on by lieutenant colonel Hampton, continuing to act well its part, the American line persevered in advance, and the fire became mutually destructive. Greene, determining to strike a conclusive blow, brought up the Marylanders and Virginians; when our line became dense, and pressing forward with a shout the battle raged with redoubled fury.

The enemy, sensible that the weight of our force was bearing upon him, returned our shout, and sustained himself nobly from right to left. Majoribanks now for the first time was put in motion, which being perceived, lieutenant colonel Washington with the reserve was commanded to fall upon him, and at the same moment the line was ordered to hold up its fire and to charge with bayonet. The air again resounded with the shouts of the advancing Americans; the enemy answering by pouring in a close and quickly repeated fire. As we drew near, lieutenant colonel Lee, at the head of his infantry, discerning that we outstretched the enemy’s line, ordered captain Rudolph to fall back with his company, to gain the enemy’s flank, and to give him a raking fire as soon as he turned it. This movement was executed with precision, and had the happiest effect. The enemy’s left could not sustain the approaching shock, assailed in front as it was in flank, and it instantly began to give way, which quickly afterwards took place along the whole line, in some parts of which the hostile ranks contended with the bayonet, many individuals of the Marylanders and of the Buffs having been mutually transfixed.

The conquering troops pressed the advantage they had gained, pursuing the foe, and possessed themselves of his camp, which was yielded without a struggle. Washington promptly advanced to execute the orders he had received, and made a circuit to gain the rear of Majoribanks, preceded by lieutenant Stuart[note 59] with the leading section. As he drew near to the enemy, he found the ground thickly set with black jack, and almost impervious to horse. Deranging as was this unlooked for obstacle, Washington with his dauntless cavalry forced his way, notwithstanding the murderous discharge of the enemy, safe behind his covert. Human courage could not surmount the obstruction which interposed, or this gallant officer with his intrepid corps would have triumphed. Captain Watts, second in command, fell, pierced with two balls. Lieutenants King and Simmons experienced a similar fate; and Washington’s horse being killed, he became entangled in the fall, when struggling to extricate himself he was bayoneted and taken. Lieutenant Stuart was now dismounted, being severely wounded, and his horse killed close to the hostile ranks; nor did a single man of his section escape, some being killed and the rest wounded. The gallant young Carlisle, from Alexandria, a cadet in the regiment, was killed, and half the corps destroyed; after which the residue was drawn off by captain Parsons, assisted by lieutenant Gordon.

This repulse took place at the time the British line gave way. Majoribanks, although victorious, fell back to cover his flying comrades; and major Sheridan, with the New York volunteers, judiciously took possession of the brick house before mentioned for the same purpose; while, with the same view, major Coffin, with the cavalry, placed himself on the left, in an open field west of the Charleston road.

In our pursuit we took three hundred prisoners and two pieces of artillery: one taken by captain Rudolph, of the legion infantry, and the other by lieutenant Duval, of the Maryland line, who was killed,—a young officer of the highest promise. As soon as we entered the field, Sheridan began to fire from the brick house. The left of the legion infantry, led by lieutenant Manning, the nearest to the house, followed close upon the enemy still entering it, hoping to force his way before the door could be barred. One of our soldiers actually got half way in, and for some minutes a struggle of strength took place,—Manning pressing him in, and Sheridan forcing him out. The last prevailed, and the door was closed. Here captain Barry, deputy adjutant general, the brother of the celebrated colonel S. Barry, and some few others, were overtaken and made prisoners. Lieutenant colonel Lee, finding his left discomfited in the bold attempt, on the success of which much hung, recalled it; and Manning so disposed of his prisoners, by mixing them with his own soldiers, as to return unhurt; the enemy in the house sparing him rather than risking those with him.

At this point of time lieutenant colonel Howard, with a part of his regiment, passed through the field towards the head of the ravine, and captain Kirkwood appeared approaching the house on its right. Majoribanks, though uninjured, continued stationary on the enemy’s right, as did Coffin with the cavalry on the left. Sheridan, from a few swivels and his musketry, poured his fire in every direction without cessation.

During this period, Stuart was actively employed in forming his line; difficult in itself from the severe battle just fought, and rendered more so by the consternation which evidently prevailed. The followers of the army, the wagons, the wounded, the timid, were all hastening towards Charleston; some along the road in our view, others through the field back of the road, equally in view; while the staff were destroying stores of every kind, especially spirits, which the British soldiers sought with avidity.

General Greene brought up all his artillery against the house, hoping to effect a breach, through which he was determined to force his way; convinced that the submission of the enemy in the house gave to him the hostile army. At the same moment lieutenant colonel Lee (still on the right) sent for Eggleston and his cavalry, for the purpose of striking Coffin, and turning the head of the ravine; which point was properly selected for the concentration of our force, too much scattered by the pursuit, and by the allurements which the enemy’s camp presented. Here we commanded the ravine, and might readily break up the incipient arrangements of the rallying enemy; here we were safe from the fire of the house, and here we possessed the Charleston road. While Lee was halted at the edge of the wood, impatiently waiting for the arrival of his horse, he saw captain Armstrong (the leading officer for the day) approaching, and not doubting that the corps was following, the lieutenant colonel advanced into the field, directing Armstrong to follow.

He had gone but a little way, when the captain told him that only his section was up, having never seen the rest of the corps since its discomfiture on the left some time before. This unlooked for intelligence was not less fatal to the bright prospect of personal glory, than it was to the splendid issue of the conflict.[note 60] Not a single doubt can be entertained, had the cavalry of the legion been in place, as it ought to have been, but that Coffin would have been carried, which must have been followed by the destruction of the British army. Our infantry were getting into order, and several small bodies were sufficiently near to have improved every advantage obtained by the cavalry. Howard, with Oldham’s company, had just recommenced action between the house and the head of the ravine; and our troops on the right were in motion for the same ground, not doubting the destruction of Coffin, who only could annoy their flank. The recession of Lee, and the retirement of Howard, who was at this instant severely wounded, nipped in the bud measures of offence in this quarter; while, on the left, the house remained in possession of Sheridan, the weight of our metal being to light to effect a breach.

This intermission gave Stuart time to restore his broken line, which being accomplished, he instantly advanced, and the action was renewed. It soon terminated in the enemy’s repossession of his camp, followed by our retreat, with the loss of two field pieces, and the recovery of one of the two before taken by us.

Satisfied with these advantages, colonel Stuart did not advance further; and general Greene (after despatching lieutenant colonel Lee with a proposition to the British commander, the object of which was to unite with him in burying the dead,) drew off; persuaded that he had recovered the country, the object in view, as well as that a more convenient opportunity for repetition of battle would be presented on the enemy’s retreat, which he was convinced could not long be deferred.

The battle lasted upwards of three hours, and was fiercely contested, every corps in both armies bravely supporting each other. The loss was uncommonly great,—more than one fifth of the British and one fourth of the American army being killed and wounded, as stated in the official returns, which intelligent officers of both armies considered short of the real loss sustained. The enemy made sixty prisoners, all wounded;—we took about five hundred, including some wounded left in his camp by colonel Stuart when he retired. Of six commandants of regiments bearing continental commissions, Williams and Lee were only unhurt. Washington, Howard and Henderson were wounded; and lieutenant colonel Campbell, highly respected, beloved and admired, was killed.

This excellent officer received a ball in his breast, in the decisive charge which broke the British line, while listening to an interrogatory from lieutenant colonel Lee, then on the left of the legion infantry, adjoining the right of the Virginians, the post of Campbell. He dropped on the pummel of his saddle speechless,[note 61] and was borne in the rear by Lee’s orderly dragoon, in whose care he expired, the moment he was taken from his horse. Many of our officers of every grade suffered, militia as well as continentals; among whom was brigadier Pickens, who was wounded.

The conclusion of this battle was as unexpected to both armies as it was mortifying to ours. The splendor which its beginning and progress had shed upon our arms became obscured, and the rich prize
within our grasp was lost. Had our cavalry contributed their aid, as heretofore it never failed to do, a British array must have surrendered to Greene on the field of battle. But they were unfortunately brought into action under difficulties not to be conquered; one corps cut to pieces, and the other dispersed, in effect the same; and the critical moment passed, before it concentrated. Had the infantry of the reserve preceded the cavalry of the reserve, Washington would have avoided the unequal contest to which he was exposed; and by patiently watching for the crisis, would have fallen upon Majoribanks when retiring to shield the enemy’s broken line. Had Eggleston not been drawn from his post by orders officiously communicated to that officer as from the general, when in truth he never issued such orders, Lee would have been joined by his cavalry, ready to inflict the last blow, so clearly within his power. Both these untoward incidents were necessary to stop us from the signal victory courting our acceptance, and both occurred.

The honor[note 62] of the day was claimed by both sides, while the benefits flowing from it were by both yielded to the Americans: the first belonged to neither and the last to us.

Congress expressed their sense of the conduct of the general and of the merit of the army, presenting their thanks to Greene, and to every corps who fought under him on that day; presenting him at the same time with a British standard, and a gold medal emblematical of the battle.[note 63]

Not a spring nor a rivulet was near, but that in possession of the enemy; and the water in our canteens had been exhausted early in the battle. The day was extremely sultry, and the cry for water was universal.

Much as general Greene wished to avail himself of the evident advantage he had gained, by setting down close to Stuart, he was forced to relinquish it, and to retire many miles to the first spot which afforded an adequate supply of water. There he halted for the night, determined to return and renew the battle.

Marion and Lee were to move on the 9th, and turn the enemy’s left, with the view of seizing the first strong pass on the road to Charleston, below the Eutaw Spring, as well to interrupt colonel Stuart when retreating, as to repel any accession of force which might be detached from the garrison of Charleston, to reinforce the army; while the general continued in his camp, actively engaged in preparing arrangements for the conveyance of the wounded to the High Hills. Marion and Lee, approaching the enemy’s left, discovered that he had been busily employed in sending off his sick and wounded, and that he was hastening his preparations to decamp. Despatching a courier to Greene with this information, the light troops made a circuit to fall into the Charleston road near Ferguson’s swamp, and to take post on its margin; being an eligible position for the accomplishment of the object in view.

In our march we received intelligence that a detachment from Monk’s Corner, led by major M’Arthur, was hastening to join Stuart. It was now deemed advisable to recede from the original purpose, and by a rapid, though circuitous movement, to gain a more distant position, with the view of striking at M’Arthur so far below the Eutaws as to put him out of possibility of support from Stuart; the commencement of whose retreat was momently expected. To accomplish this arduous move in time, every exertion was made. Fatigued as were the troops by their active service during the preceding day, with the long morning’s march through deep sand, and scorching heat, yet did they gain the desired ground within the allotted time.

But this oppressive march was useless. Stuart hurried his preparations, and commencing his retreat on the evening of the 9th, had brought his first division within a few miles of M’Arthur, when the light troops reached their destined point. Thus situated, to fight M’Arthur became rash; as it could not be doubted but that he could and would maintain the action, until reinforced by Stuart. Marion and Lee were compelled to recede from their purpose, and taking post at some distance in the woods, on the right flank of Stuart, waited until the main body passed, hoping to strike successfully his rear guard.

In the course of the morning of the 10th, the junction of M’Arthur was effected below Martin’s tavern, and the British army continued moving towards Monk’s Corner, which is one day’s march from Charleston.

Gaining the rear of Stuart, the legion dragoons were directed to fall upon the cavalry attached to the rear guard. This was handsomely executed by the van under captain O’Neal: he made most of the rear party prisoners, two or three escaping to the infantry by the fleetness of their horses.

So evident was the dismay[note 64] which prevailed, that lieutenant colonel Lee, not satisfied with this advantage, determined to persevere in pursuit with his cavalry; hoping to find some fit opportunity of cutting off the rear guard, with a portion of their wagons conveying the wounded.

Following until late in the evening, picking up occasionally the fatigued who had fallen behind, and the stragglers; he received intelligence from some of the last taken, which determined him not longer to postpone his blow. Detaching Eggleston with one troop on his right, to fall upon the flank, Lee, at the head of the other two troops, moved along the road to force the enemy in front. As soon as Eggleston had gained the desired situation the charge was sounded, and the cavalry rushed upon the enemy. Unluckily the wood, through which Eggleston passed to the road, was thickly set with black jack. It became more difficult as you came nearer the road, and the rear officer of the enemy forming his guard en potence, gave the assailants a warm reception, flying the moment he delivered his fire, yielding up several wagons.

Eggleston and his troop were roughly handled; his horse being killed,—himself happily escaping although five balls pierced his clothes and equipments: an unexpected issue, and which would not have taken place, had not the ground arrested his progress. Lee’s squadron was very little injured, having none of the impediments to encounter, which accidentally interfered with Eggleston. The success turned out to be useless, for the miserable wounded, more miserable by increase of pain with increase of march, supplicated so fervently to be permitted to proceed, that lieutenant colonel Lee determined not to add to their misery, and to his trouble; but taking off his own wounded returned to Marion, leaving the wagons and the wounded to continue their route.

Greene did not reach the abandoned camp in time to fall upon Stuart; and so expeditious was his progress, that every endeavour to come up with him with the main body was nugatory.

The British army took post at Monk’s Corner, and general Greene returned to Eutaw Spring. Here he found some of the enemy’s wounded,—left because their condition forbad moving,—with some of his own in the same situation. The necessary arrangements being made for the care and comfort of these unfortunate individuals, the American general proceeded by easy marches to our favorite camp, the High Hills of Santee.

This retirement from the field became indispensable; not only because of our diminished force from the severe battle lately fought, but disease had resumed its wasting havock, brought on by the forty-eight hours’ hard service; throughout which we were exposed to the sultry sun during the day, and to the heavy dew during the night. Never had we experienced so much sickness at any one time as we did now; nor was it confined to new levies, as was customary, but affected every corps; even those most inured to military life, and most accustomed to the climate. Nearly one half of the army was disabled by wounds or fever, and among the last some of the best officers who had escaped in the action. General Greene happily enjoyed his usual health, and softened our misery by his care and attention. Litters were provided for those most afflicted, and all the comforts which the country afforded were collected, and reserved for the exclusive use of the sick and wounded. On the 18th we reached the High Hills, when permanent arrangements were adopted for the accommodation of the wounded, and to check the spread of disease, and for the plentiful supply of wholesome provisions. Marion and his militia, being habituated to the swamps of Pedee, were less affected by the prevailing fever, and continued on the south of the Congaree, to protect the country from the predatory excursions of the enemy.

The British army did not escape the insalubrity of the season and climate, and like its enemy, was held quiet in quarters; their chief attention too being called to the restoration of the sick and wounded.

Upon lord Rawdon’s sailing for Europe, Cornwallis appointed nnajor general Leslie, then serving, under him in Virginia, to the command of the British troops in the Carolinas and Georgia; but this officer did not reach Charleston for some weeks after the battle of the Eutaws.

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