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


AS soon as it was ascertained that the count de Grasse would not take under convoy the troops destined to reinforce the southern army, general St. Clair was ordered to prepare for immediate motion; and lieutenant colonel Lee was directed to return with the despatches of the commander in chief. Hastening to the south, the lieutenant colonel proceeded with expedition to the High Hills of Santee,—still the headquarters of the southern army. General Greene finding himself baffled in the expectation he had indulged, of being sufficiently strengthened to complete the restoration of the South, which he had so happily, in a great degree, accomplished; nevertheless, determined, though reduced by battle and by disease, to remain inactive no longer than the season rendered it necessary. The autumn in South Carolina is extremely debilitating as well as prolific in the production of disease. Prepared to move, he only waited for the commencement of the cool season. The general was well apprized of the effect of the late hard fought battle; which, notwithstanding the enemy’s claim to victory, had broken the force and spirit of the British army. Nor was he unmindful in his calculations of the relative condition of the two armies, that this operative battle had been fought by his infantry only; the horse under Washington, although very much shattered, had not in the smallest degree contributed to the issue of the action; while that of the legion had by a manœuvre only aided the van in the morning rencontre: a circumstance well known to the enemy, and which could not be overlooked in his estimate of the past and of the future. The American general being convinced that he was in effect the conqueror, he conformed his plan and measures to this character.

In the severe conflict during the last ten months, the districts between the Santee and the Pedee, and between the Wateree and Congaree, having been successively the seat of war, their cultivation had been neglected. The product of the soil was scanty, and of that little, all not concealed for the subsistence of the inhabitants had been taken by the armies. The only country from which Greene could draw supplies was that on the Lower Pedee, and this was so distant as to render the conveyance to camp extremely inconvenient, which added to the insecurity of the route of transportation, from its exposure to the enemy’s maritime interruption. It fortunately happened that subsistence for man and horse was most abundant in the quarter of the state to which the general was desirous of transferring the war. Although he had confidently expected that the commander in chief would have succeeded in prevailing on the French admiral to continue in our waters long enough for the execution of the plan submitted by him to Washington, nevertheless he sedulously applied himself in preparing for the partial accomplishment of his object with his own means, in case of disappointment. In North Carolina, Wilmington remahied in the possession of the enemy. In South Carolina he had only Charleston and the contiguous islands, and the isthmus formed by the rivers Cooper and Ashley, with a portion of the country lying between the last river and the Edisto. But in Georgia, Savannah and a larger space of country were in their uncontrolled possession.

With the requested aid the American general could not have been disappointed in the entire liberation of the three states; without this aid, he flattered himself with being able, by judicious and vigorous operations, to relieve North Carolina and Georgia.

To this object he turned his attention, and for this purpose he determined to place himself intermediate to Charleston and Savannah. The district south of the Edisto fitted his views in point of locality; and having been since 1779 exempt in a great degree from military operations, agriculture had been cherished, and the crops of rice in particular were tolerably abundant. This substitute for bread, however unpalatable to Marylanders and Virginians, of whom Greene’s army was principally composed, is nourishing to man, and with the Indian pea, which grows luxuriantly in South Carolina and Georgia, affords nutritious forage for horse. He put his army in motion (on the 18th of November), and soon after he crossed the Congaree, left the main body under the orders of colonel Williams, who was directed to advance by easy and stated marches to the Four Holes, a branch of the Edisto, while the general himself, at the head of the light troops, took a circuitous route to the same place. Correspondency in the movement of the two corps being preconcerted, Williams proceeded on the direct route to the Four Holes; and Greene advanced by forced marches upon Dorchester, where the enemy had established a post, garrisoned at present by four hundred infantry, all their cavalry, not exceeding one hundred and fifty, and some militia. This post (if surprised) could be readily carried, and such a result was not improbable. If not surprised, the general flattered himself, unless the enemy had recovered from the despondency which followed the battle of the Eutaws, that he would abandon it; and if disappointed in both these expectations, he considered himself as amply compensated for this movement, by his own view of a part of the country to which he meant to extend his operations.

The cavalry, preceding the light infantry in various directions, occupied an extensive front, for the purpose of precluding communication of our approach; which it was intended to conceal from the inhabitants as well as from the enemy, lest some of the disaffected might inform him of our advance. We marched in paths through woods and swamps seldom trod by man; and wherever we could not avoid settlements, all the inhabitants capable of conveying information were secured. Notwithstanding these precautions, and our active cavalry, the enemy received advice of our approach sometime in the night preceding the morning intended for the meditated blow.

The commanding officer drew in his outposts, and concentrated his force in Dorchester, keeping in his front a few patroles to ascertain and report our progress. Lieutenant colonel Hampton, at the head of the state horse, (a small corps which had, with honor to itself and effect to its country, shared in the dangers of the latter part of the campaign with our army,) fell in with one of these, and instantly charging it, killed some, wounded others, and drove the rest upon the main body. The British cavalry sallied out in support, but declining combat, soon retired.

Disappointed in the hoped-for surprise, the general continued to examine the enemy’s position, desirous of executing by force, what he hoped to have accomplished by stratagem. In the course of the day the presence of Greene became known to the foe, who instantly prepared for departure. He destroyed his stores of every sort, fell back in the night down the isthmus, and before daylight (the return of which he seemed to have dreaded) established himself at the Quarterhouse, seven miles from Charleston. General Greene pursued his examination of the country at his leisure, which being finished he returned to the army, now encamped on the Four Holes.

After a few days he passed the Edisto, and sat down at the Round O, which is situated between that river and the Ashepoo, about forty or fifty miles from Charleston, and seventy miles from the confluence of the Wateree and Congaree; fifteen miles beyond which, on the east of the Wateree, in a straight line, are the High Hills of Santee.

Taking immediate measures for the security of the country in his front, he detached brigadier Marion with his militia to the east of Ashley river, with orders to guard the district between that river and the Cooper; and he sent lieutenant colonel Lee down the western side of the Ashley, directing him to approach by gradual advances St. John’s Island, and to place himself in a strong position within striking distance of it.

Previous to this the enemy had evacuated Wilmington by which North Carolina became completely restored to the Union. Shut up as were the British troops in Charleston and its isthmus, major Craig with the garrison from Wilmington, some additional infantry and the cavalry, had been detached to St. John’s Island, where most of the cattle collected for the British army were at pasture, where long forage was procurable for the cavalry, where co-operation with the garrison of Charleston might be convenient, and whence infantry might be readily transported along the interior navigation to Savannah.

To repress incursions from this post, as well as to inhibit the conveyance of supplies from the main to the island became the principal object of Lee’s attention.

The advance of Marion and Lee being, by the general’s order, simultaneous, they gave security to their contiguous flanks from any attempt by land, although they were divided by the Ashley; it being convenient to apprize each other of any movement of the enemy on either side of the river. This co-operation was enjoined by the general, and punctually executed by the two commandants. The first day’s march brought these detachments to the country settled by the original emigrants into Carolina. The scene was both new and delightful. Vestiges, though clouded by war, every where appeared of the wealth and taste of the inhabitants. Spacious edifices, rich and elegant gardens, with luxuriant and extensive rice plantations, were to be seen on every side. This change in the aspect of inanimate nature, could not fail to excite emotions of pleasure, the more vivid because so rare. During our continued marches and countermarches, never before had we been solaced with the prospect of so much comfort. Here we were not confined to one solitary mansion, where a few, and a few only, might enjoy the charms of taste and the luxury of opulence. The rich repast was wide spread; and when to the exterior was added the fashion, politeness and hospitality of the interior, we became enraptured with our changed condition, and the resolve of never yielding up this charming region but with life became universal. To crown our bliss, the sex shone in its brightest lustre. With the ripest and most symmetrical beauty, our fair compatriots blended sentimental dignity and delicate refinement, the sympathetic shade of melancholy, and the dawning smile of hope; the arrival of their new guests opening to them the prospect of happier times.

The rapture of these scenes was as yet confined to the light troops. The general continuing in his position at the Round O, subsisting upon the resources of the country in that neighborhood and in his rear, reserved all the surplus food and forage within the advanced posts for the future support of his army. Decamping from the Round O, he moved on the route taken by his van; when the main body participated in the gratifications which this pleasing district, and its more pleasing possessors, so liberally bestowed. After some marches and countermarches, brigadier Marion took, post between Dorchester and Biggin’s bridge, and lieutenant colonel Lee at M’Queen’s plantation, south of Ashley river. The main body encamped at Pompon, in the rear of Lee. Here general Greene began to enter more particularly into his long meditated design of relieving the state of Georgia, by forcing the enemy to evacuate Savannah.

We have before mentioned that major, now lieutenant colonel Craig, had taken possession of St. John’s Island, with a respectable detachment. Lee was ordered, when detached towards that island, to take measures for ascertaining with exactness the strength and position of Craig, with his customary precautions against surprise, and his manner of discharging the duties which his situation imposed. This service was undertaken with all that zeal and diligence which the mandates of a chief so enlightened and so respected, and an enterprise more brilliant than all the past exploits in the course of the southern war, could claim. Some weeks were assiduously devoted to the acquiring of a clear comprehension of this arduous and grand design, with an exact knowledge of the complicated means necessary to its execution: in the mean time, demonstrations were made and reports circulated, exhibiting a settled plan in the general of passing Ashley river, to be ready to fall upon Charleston as soon as the reinforcement under St. Ciair, now approaching, should arrive. About this time Greene’s attention to the leading object of his measures was diverted by accounts from the West, announcing an irruption of the Cherokee tribe of Indians on the district of Ninety-Six; which having been as sudden as it was unexpected, had been attended with serious injury. Several families were massacred, and many houses were burnt. Brigadier Pickens, (whose name we have often before mentioned, and always in connection with the most important services,) had, after his long and harassing campaign, returned home with his militia. The moment he heard of the late incursion, he again summoned around him his well tried warriors. To this officer the general resorted, when he was informed of this new enemy. Among the first acts of general Greene’s command in the South, was the conclusion of a treaty with this tribe of Indians, by which they had engaged to preserve a state of neutrality so long as the war between the United States and Great Britain should continue. What is extraordinary, the Cherokees rigidly complied with their engagement during the past campaign, when the success of lord Cornwallis, with the many difficulties Greene had to encounter, would have given weight to their interference. Now, when the British army in Virginia had been forced to surrender, and that acting in South Carolina and Georgia had been compelled to take shelter in the district of country protected by forts and ships, they were so rash as to listen to exhortations often before applied in vain. Pickens followed the incursors into their own country; and having seen much and various service, judiciously determined to mount his detachment, adding the sword[note 83] to the rifle and tomahawk. He well knew the force of cavalry, having felt it at the Cowpens, though it was then feebly exemplified by the enemy. Forming his mind upon experience, the straight road to truth, he wisely resolved to add to the arms, usual in Indian wars, the unusual one above mentioned.

In a few days he reached the country of the Indians, who, as is the practice among the uncivilized in all ages, ran to arms to oppose the invader, anxious to join issue in battle without delay. Pickens, with his accustomed diligence, took care to inform himself accurately of the designs and strength of the enemy; and as soon as he had ascertained these important facts, advanced upon him. The rifle was only used while reconnoitring the hostile position. As soon as this was finished, he remounted his soldiers and ordered a charge: with fury his brave warriors rushed forward, and the astonished Indians fled in dismay. Not only the novelty of the mode, which always has its influence, but the sense of his incapacity to resist horse, operated upon the flying forester.

Pickens followed up his success, and killed forty Cherokees, took a great number of prisoners of both sexes, and burnt thirteen towns. He lost not a soldier, and had only two wounded. The sachems of the nation assembled in council; and thoroughly satisfied of their inability to contend against an enemy who added the speed of the horse[note 84] to the skill and strength of man, they determined to implore forgiveness for the past, and never again to provoke the wrath of their triumphant foe. This resolution being adopted, commissioners were accordingly appointed, with directions to wait upon general Pickens, and to adjust with him the terms of peace. These were readily listened to, and a treaty concluded, which not only terminated the existing war, but provided against its renewal, by a stipulation on the part of the Cherokees, in which they engaged not only to remain deaf to the exhortations of the British emissaries, but that they would apprehend all such evil doers, and deliver them to the governor of South Carolina, to be dealt with as he might direct.

The object of the expedition being thus happily accomplished, general Pickens evacuated the Indian territory and returned to South Carolina, before the expiration of the third week from his departure, without losing a single soldier.

Pickens’ despatches, communicating the termination of the Cherokee hostilities, were received by Greene just as he was about to enter upon the execution of his meditated enterprise. Ail the requisite intelligence had been acquired, the chances calculated, the decision taken, the plan concerted, and the period proper for execution[note 85] fast approaching.

Lieutenant colonel Craig, with his infantry, was posted at a plantation not far from the eastern extremity of the island. The cavalry were cantoned six or seven miles from the infantry, at different farm-houses in its western quarter. At low water the inlet dividing St. Johns from the main was passable by infantry at two points only, both familiar to the enemy. That at the western extremity of the island was full of large rocks, and could be used only in the day, it being necessary carefully to pick your route, which in the deep water was from rock to rock. About midway between the eastern and western extremities was the other, where no natural difficulty occurred, and in the last of the ebb tide the depth of water was not more than waist high. This was guarded by two galleys, the one above and the other below it, and both within four hundred yards of each other, as near to the ford as the channel would permit.

Lee’s examination of their position, together with his observations of the manner in which the captains of the galleys performed night duty, suggested the practicability of passing between the galleys with infantry unperceivcd. As soon as general Greene became satisfied that this difficulty could be surmounted, he determined to hazard the attempt if a proper place for the cavalry to swim across, could be ascertained. But the deep marshes which lined the shores seemed at first likely to prevent the approach of the horse. At length major Eggleston, commanding the legionary cavalry, discovered a practicable route some distance below the galleys. He ordered one or two of his dragoons to swim to the opposite shore in the night to select firm ground, and to erect small stakes as beacons to guide the cavalry where first to strike the shore of the island. This was duly executed, and reported accordingly to the general.

The day was now fixed for making the attempt, and preparatory orders were issued. Lieutenant colonel Lee, with the light corps acting under him, being insufficient in strength, a detachment of infantry from the army was made ready and placed under lieutenant colonel Laurens, who was ordered to join Lee at a given point, when on his march to the theatre of action.

The plantation on which lieutenant colonel Craig had encamped was intersected by many ditches, as was usual in the cultivated grounds of South Carolina near the sea. One of these stretched along the front of the British camp, about one hundred yards distant from it, which afforded sufficient space for the infantry of Craig to display in line, and which the assailants did not doubt the lieutenant colonel would seize as soon as he should discover their advance.

To compensate in some measure for the advantage which the ground afforded to the enemy, the infantry of the attacking corps was rendered superior by one fifth to that to be assaulted.

Lieutenant colonel Craig, although to all appearance protected from annoyance by his insulated situation, did not neglect the necessary precautions for his safety; nor did he permit any relaxation in discipline, or any diminution of vigilance. The chance of surprising him was not encouraging; but being very desirable and possible, it was determined that it should be attempted. On the road leading from the ford, protected by the galleys, Craig had placed a picquet, about a mile from the galleys; and two miles further on was another, at the point where the road last mentioned rail longitudinally through the island. On the left of this point of intersection, Craig was encamped, three or four miles from it towards Charleston; and on the right of the same point were the cavalry, a few miles distant towards the western extremity of the island. Our plan was as follows. As soon as the infantry should effect its passage into the island, an officer of cavalry, who had been directed for the purpose to accompany lieutenant colonel Lee, was then to return to major Eggleston with orders for the cavalry to pass to the island, and wait for the infantry near to the road of march, which took a direction inclining to the landing place of the horse.

The first picquet was to be approached with the utmost secrecy, and then to be forced with vigor by the van, which was ordered to spread itself for the purpose of preventing the escape of any individual; and the cavalry had directions to take measures to intercept every person who might endeavor to pass in their direction. We flattered, ourselves with possessing the picquet without much resistance; and knowing that Craig was too remote to hear the firing, should any occur, we hoped by the interception of every fugitive to stop all communication with him.

The second picquet was to be avoided, which with proper care was feasible; when the infantry, supported by one troop of horse, was to advance upon Craig, while Eggleston with the residue of the dragoons would fall upon the enemy’s cavalry. Succeeding in both points, the main body could not escape the meditated surprise, which would give to us an easy victory: failing in arresting every individual of the post, or in evading the last picquet, Craig would be advised of our approach, and would be prepared to receive us. In the latter event, we intended, by turning one of his flanks, in case he threw himself into the ditch,—of which, from our knowledge of his character, no doubt could exist,—to force him to change his front; and we were so thoroughly satisfied with the character of our troops as to assume it as a fact, that no corps, even of equal force, could execute the manœuvre in our face without being destroyed. In this opinion Greene concurred, and on its accuracy was rested the issue of the enterprise. However such a conclusion may wear the appearance of arrogance, it does not merit the reproach. The veteran troops in the Southern army had attained the highest grade of discipline. Every soldier as well as officer was conscious of his acquirements, and had experienced their good effect. They also knew that victory was not only the sure reward of every man’s doing his duty in battle, but they were convinced that each man’s personal safety was promoted by the same course.

Thus persuaded, they were habitually actuated by the determination of confiding entirely in their leader, their discipline, and their valor. Such troops will generally succeed, and, upon this occasion, could scarcely fail: for the major part of Craig’s infantry had long been in garrison at Wilmington, where they never had seen an enemy in arms; and his cavalry were known to be very inferior to the American horse, and were separated from the infantry. To reckon, therefore, upon victory, did not manifest presumption; but only showed that Lee and Laurens duly appreciated the advantages they possessed, and were willing to stake their reputation and lives on the correctness of the estimate they had formed of them.

The day appointed for the execution of the enterprise now arrived (2lst December). Lieutenant colonel Laurens moved with his detachment from the main body towards the Ashley river, for the ostensible purpose of passing the river and taking post in the neighborhood of Dorchester. Halting near Bacon’s bridge until late in the evening, he countermarched, as if returning to camp, when after nightfall he turned to his left, taking the route prescribed for his junction with Lee. The latter officer moved in the same evening from his position at M’Queen’s plantation, and about nine P.M. reached the rendezvous, where he was met with precision by Laurens. The troops halted, and took the last meal for twenty-four hours; after which they were called to arms and were made acquainted with the destined object. They were told, that the enterprise before them was replete with difficulties; that the most powerful of the many which attended it would be met at the threshold; that this was to be encountered by the infantry, and could be overcome only by profound silence and strict obedience to orders. Success in the first step would in all probability lead to complete victory; inasmuch as the enemy was inferior in number, divided in position, and safe, in his own presumption, from his insular situation. That the plan of operations had been approved by the general; and the troops now united had been honored by his selection of them for the purpose of concluding the campaign in a manner worthy of the zeal, courage and patience displayed by the army in all preceding scenes. They were assured that every difficulty had been well weighed; the best intelligence with the best guides had been procured; and that they could not be disappointed in reaping a rich harvest of glory, unless the commandants had deceived themselves in their estimate of their intrepidity and discipline. A burst of applause ensued from the ranks, evincing the delight which all felt in knowing that victory was certain, unless lost by their misbehaviour.

The disposition for battle was now made. The infantry was arrayed in two columns: that of Lee forming the right, that of Laurens the left. The cavalry were also divided into two squadrons: one third under Armstrong was attached to the infantry; while the other two thirds, under Eggleston, were appropriated to strike at the enemy’s dragoons, with orders as soon as they were secured to hasten to the support of the infantry.

Every necessary arrangement having been made, we resumed our march; and, after a few miles move, the cavalry filed to our left to gain its station on the river. Within an hour from this separation, we got near to the marsh, which on this side lines the river in the place where the infantry was to pass. Here the infantry again halted and deposited their knapsacks, and the officers, dismounting, left their horses. Dr. Skinner, of the legion infantry, who considered fighting as no part of his business, was indulged in his request of being intrusted with the charge of the baggage. The detachment again moved; every man in his place; and every officer enjoined to take special care to march in sight of his preceding section, lest in the darkness of the night a separation might happen.

After some time our guides informed us that we were near the marsh. This intelligence was communicated from section to section, and the columns were halted, as had been previously concerted, that every officer and soldier might pull off boots and shoes to prevent the splashing which they produced when evading through water, to be resumed when we reached the opposite shore. The order was instantly and cheerfully executed by the troops. Entering on the marsh, we moved very slowly, every man exerting himself to prevent noise. The van, under Rudolph, reached the shore, and proceeded, in conformity to orders, without halting into the river. Lee coming up with the head of the column, accompanied by lieutenant colonel Laurens, halted and directed a staff officer to return and see that the sections were all up. We now enjoyed the delightful pleasure of hearing the sentinels from each galley crying “all is safe,” when Rudolph with the van was passing between them.

No circumstance could have been more exhilarating, as we derived from it a conviction that the difficulty most to be apprehended would be surmounted, and every man became persuaded from the evidence of his own senses, that an enemy assailable only in this way would be found off his guard, and, therefore, that victory was certain. At this moment the staff officer returned with information that the rear column was missing. Laurens immediately went back to the high land with some of the guides and staff officers to endeavor to find it. The affliction produced by this communication is indescribable. At the very moment when every heart glowed with anticipations of splendid glory, an incident was announced which menaced irremediable disappointment.

Hour after hour passed; messengers occasionally coming in from Laurens, and no intelligence gained respecting the lost column. At length the tide, which was beginning flood when the van passed, had now risen so high as to compel the recal of Rudolph, even had not the morning been too far spent to admit perseverance in the enterprise. A sergeant was sent across the inlet with orders for the return of the van, and the column retired.

Rudolph found the water, which had not reached the waist as he passed, up to the breast as he returned. Nevertheless every man got back safe; the tallest assisting the lowest, and the galley sentinels continuing to cry “all safe.” We soon regained our baggage, where large fires were kindled, and our wet troops dried themselves. Here we met general Greene, who had, in conformity with his plan, put his army in motion to draw near to the theatre of action, lest a body of troops might be pushed across the Ashley to intercept the attacking corps in its retreat from the island; and with a view of compelling the galleys to abandon their station that Lee might retire on the next low tide where he had passed, it being the most convenient route. He received with regret the unexpected intelligence, rendered the more so, as he was well assured that the enemy would learn the intended enterprise, and, therefore, that it could never be again attempted.

As soon as the day broke, the last column,—which had been completely bewildered, and was, if possible, more unhappy at the occurrence than were its chagrined comrades,—regained the road taken in the night, and was now discerned by those who had been searching for it. Laurens returned with it to our baggage ground, most unhappy of the unhappy.

On inquiry it was ascertained that the leading section, instead of turning into the marsh, continued along the road, which led to a large plantation. Here the error was discovered, to which was added another. Instead of retracing his steps, the senior officer, from his anxiety to rejoin without delay, took through the fields under the guidance of a negroe, it being the nearest route, and again got lost, so very dark was the night; nor was he even able to reach the road until directed by day light.

Thus was marred the execution of an enterprise surpassed by none throughout our war in grandeur of design, and equalled by few in the beneficial effects sure to result from its successful termination. Censure attached no where; for every precaution had been adopted to guard against the very incident which did occur, and, dark as was the night, the troops had nearly completed the most difficult part of the march without the least interruption. The officer of the leading section of Laurens’ column was among the most attentive and trust-worthy in the army, and yet the blunder was committed by him which led to our disappointment. The whole corps lamented the deranging occurrence, especially Laurens, who reproached himself with having left his column, presuming the accident would not have happened had he continued in his station. This presumption may be correct, as that officer was singularly attentive to his duty; and yet his absence being necessary, it could not be better supplied than it was. The passage of the river was the essential point, that on which the expedition hung, and Laurens being second in command, it was deemed prudent,—as lieutenant colonel Lee would necessarily pass with the front column for the purpose of directing those measures intended to be applied against the enemy’s picquet the moment our rear reached the island,—that lieutenant colonel Laurens should repair to the river, and there continue to superintend the troops as they entered into the water, lest the sections might crowd on each other and thus increase the noise, a consequence to be dreaded and guarded against; or, by entering too high up or too low down the stream, miss the ford and get into deep water.

Laurens left his column by order to give his personal superintendence to this delicate operation; and, therefore, was entirely exempted from any participation in the production of the unlucky accident which occurred.

General Greene assuaged the sorrow which the baffled troops so keenly felt by thanking them as they arrived for the exemplary manner in which they had conducted themselves, and for the ardent zeal they had displayed in the abortive attempt to execute the enterprise committed to their skill and courage. He lamented the disappointment which had occurred, but declared it to be owing to one of those incidents which so often take place in war, and against which upon this occasion every precaution had been adopted which prudence could suggest. He attributed the accident to the darkness of the night, and, by commending all, forbad the censure of any. Not satisfied with this oral declaration to the troops, the general, on his return to camp, addressed a letter to each of the lieutenant colonels, repeating his thanks to them and to their respective corps.

How often do we find military operations frustrated by the unaccountable interposition of accident, when every exertion in the power of the commander has been made to prevent the very interruption which happens? No doubt these incidents generally spring from negligence or misconduct; and, therefore, might be considerably diminished, if not entirely arrested, by unceasing attention. When the van turned into the marsh, Lee, as has been mentioned, halted to give a minute or two for taking off boots and shoes, and did not move until lieutenant colonel Laurens, who had been sent for, came up and informed him that every section was in place. From this time Laurens continued with Lee, and in the very short space which occurred before the leading section of Laurens reached the point of turning into the marsh did the mistake occur which put an end to our much desired enterprise. Lieutenant colonel Lee believing the intervention of mistake impracticable, as the sections were all up, and as the march through the marsh would be slower than it had been before, did not direct one of his staff, as he had done heretofore, to halt at the point where the change in the course of the route occurred. This omission cannot be excused. This precaution, although now neglected in consequence of the official communication then received that the sections were all in place, and the short distance to the marsh,—the experience of this night proves that however satisfactorily the march may have been conducted, and however precisely in place the troops may be, yet that no preventive of mistake should be neglected. Had the practice been followed at the last change of course, which had uniformly taken place during the previous march, the fatal error would not have been committed, and this concluding triumph to our arms in the South would not have been lost.

The state of Georgia might probably have been recovered by the effects of this severe blow; as the northern reinforcement soon after joined us, and general Leslie would have found it necessary for the security of Charleston to have replaced the troops lost on St. John’s Island, which could not be so conveniently done as by drawing to him the garrison of Savannah. Hitherto Greene had struggled to recover the country far from the ocean: now he contemplated its delivery even where British troops were protected by British ships, but was baffled by this night’s accident. The spirit of disaffection,[note 86] which had always existed among the inhabitants of Charleston, had been vigilantly watched by the British commander, as he was no stranger to its prevalence. When lord Rawdon evacuated Cambden, this spirit became so formidable in consequence of the success of the American arms in the South, as to induce his lordship to continue with his army at Monk’s Corner until the arrival of three regiments from Ireland enabled him to leave behind an adequate force for the security of that city during his resumption of offensive operations. Subsequent events promoted this disposition, and the capture of the army under earl Cornwallis gave to it full energy. Nor can it be doubted that, had Greene succeeded in destroying the corps under lieutenant colonel Craig, this spirit would have been turned to his co-operation, in case general Leslie had been so imprudent as to rely upon his reduced garrison for the defence of Charleston after the junction of our reinforcement from the North. We may, therefore, safely pronounce that general Greene did not err in his calculations of restoring Georgia to the Union in the event of his success against Craig, and we sincerely lament that his bold design should have been frustrated by the derangement which occurred.

The army resumed its position at Pompon, and the light corps returned to its camp at M’Queen’s. In a very few days our intended enterprise became suspected by the enemy, and excited merited attention. The British general made a change in his position; and reducing his force in St. John’s island, drew it near to its eastern point.

Greene, baffled as he unfortunately had been in his well-digested plan, began to take other measures for the purpose of effecting his favorite object. He meditated a movement into the isthmus, on which stands Charleston, connected with an attempt to float a detachment down the Ashley in the night to enter the town in that quarter at the hour fixed for his assault upon the enemy’s lines.

As the scheme presented great and numerous difficulties, it was never to be executed unless a more attentive examination should justify the attempt. A British galley, for some purpose not known to us, was stationed high up the Ashley, and obstructed the desired inspection of that part of the rivers. Greene expressed his wibh that it should be destroyed, if to be done without too great a sacrifice. Captain Rudolph, of the legion infantry, was advised by his commandant of the general’s wish, and requested to discover the state of discipline on board the galley, and to devise a plan for its seizure. This officer gave his immediate attention to the project. While Rudolph was pursuing his object, lieutenant colonel Lee became informed of the enemy’s design to beat up his quarters at M’Queen’s. As soon as this information was received he drew in all his parties, including Rudolph, and fell back in the night three miles nearer to the army, where he established himself in a position so well secured by rice ditches as to place the corps safe from nocturnal attack. The hostile detachment moved from Charleston about noon, drawing near to Ashley river before sunset. Early in the night it resumed its march, but did not reach M’Queen’s, having lost its way in consequence of the darkness of the night. Lee returned early in the morning to his relinquished position, presuming that he should find his disappointed adversary retreating hastily; and hoping that he should be able to derive some advantage from the perplexity to which he would be soon driven by fresh and vigorous troops. Finding that the enemy had not advanced as far as M’Queen’s, he proceeded towards Bacon’s bridge, where halting, he learnt the misdirection of the enemy, and returned to his former position.

The country between Dorchester and the quarterhouse had been occasionally visited by our light parties, which inpinged upon the domain claimed by the once army of South Carolina, now garrison of Charleston. A well concerted enterprise was projected by the commandant to repress the liberties taken by our light parties. Infantry was detached in the night to occupy specified points, and cavalry followed in the morning, some for co-operation with the infantry, and others for the seduction of our light parties. It so happened that captain Armstrong, of the legion cavalry, had been sent to Dorchester by general Greene in the preceding night for the purpose of conferring with a spy from Charleston. On the approach of morning Armstrong advanced to Dorchester; and meeting the party of dragoons sent forward for the purpose of decoying any of the American detachments traversing this quarter, he rushed upon it. In obedience to order the enemy, though superior in number, fled. Armstrong was one of the most gallant of the brave, too apt to bury in the confidence he reposed in his sword, those considerations which prudence suggested. Eager to close with his flying foe, he pursued vehemently, and fell into the snare spread for his destruction. The moment he discovered his condition he turned upon his enemy and drove at him in full gallop. The bold effort succeeded so far as to open a partial avenue of retreat, which was seized by his subaltern and some of the dragoons. They got off; but Armstrong and four privates were taken; the first and only horse officer of the legion captured during the war.

Previous to this the northern reinforcement under major general St. Clair having arrived, brigadier Wayne was ordered to Georgia; having under him lieutenant colonel White, who had lately joined the army with the remains of Moylan’s regiment of dragoons. Wayne proceeded without delay, and in a few days crossed the Savannah river at the Two Sisters’ ferry. A small corps of Georgia militia, encamped in the vicinity of Augusta, was directed to fall down to Ebenezer, the station selected by the brigadier for the rendezvous of his troops. Here he was shortly reinforced by lieutenant colonel Posey,[note 87] of the Virginia line, at the head of three hundred continentals from the army of general Greene.

The immediate object of this motion into Georgia was to protect the country from the incursions of the garrison of Savannah. With that design was connected the expectation that the insufficiency of the British force in that town to man its extensive works would probably present an opportunity of carrying the post by a nocturnal assault. Wayne was accordingly ordered, while engaged in executing the first, to give due attention to the accomplishment of the last object.

As soon as the advance of the American detachment was known in Savannah, brigadier general Clarke, who commanded the royal forces in Georgia, directed his officers charged with his outposts to lay waste the country with fire, and to retire with their troops and all the provisions they could collect into Savannah. This order was rigidly executed, and the district circumjacent to the capital was devastated. In consequence whereof Wayne found it necessary to draw his subsistence from South Carolina, which added to the difficulties daily experienced in providing for the main army.

The country heretofore the seat of war in South Carolina, was literally without food; and its distressed inhabitants, with the utmost difficulty, procured enough for bare support. That into which Greene had advanced was relatively well supplied; but still it might be justly considered a gleaned country. It had furnished the British post at Orangeburg during the summer: it had also supplied the army of lord Ravvdon when advancing upon Ninety-Six, and when retiring thence, and had always contributed considerably to the maintenance of the troops and inhabitants in Charleston.

The crop, originally small in consequence of the habitual neglect of agriculture in a state of war, had been much exhausted by the previous drains from it before the arrival of Greene, and was, after that event, the sole resource to our army in South Carolina, and the principal one to that sent to Georgia under Wayne. This real scarcity was increased by the waste which always accompanies compulsory collection of subsistence; a practice yet necessarily continued, as the civil authority had been but lately restored.

The battle of the Eutaws evidently broke the force and humbled the spirit of the royal army; never after that day did the enemy exhibit any symptom of that bold and hardy cast which had hitherto distinguished them.

Governor Rutledge being persuaded that the happy period had at length arrived for the restoration of the government, issued a proclamation in a few weeks after the battle of the Eutaws, convening the general assembly at Jacksonborough, a small village upon the Edisto river, about thirty-five miles from Charleston. Invested with dictatorial powers, the governor not only issued writs for the intervening elections, but also prescribed the qualifications of the electors.

The right of suffrage was restricted to those inhabitants who had uniformly resisted the invader, and to such who, having accepted British protections, had afterwards united with their countrymen in opposition to the royal authority before the 27th day of September; in the early part of which month the battle of the Eutaws held been fought. The exchange of prisoners which had previously taken place, liberated many respectable and influential characters too long lost to the state.

These citizens had now returned, and were ready to assist with their counsel in repairing the desolation of war. This period presents an interesting epoch in the annals of the South. From all quarters were flocking home our unfortunate maltreated prisoners. The old and the young, the rich and the poor, hastened to their native soil; burying their particular griefs in the joy universally felt in consequence of the liberation of their country.

They found their houses burnt, their plantations laid waste, their herds and flocks destroyed, and the rich rewards of a life of industry and economy dissipated. Without money, without credit, with debilitated constitutions, with scars and aches, this brave and patriouc groupe gloried in the adversity they had experienced, because the price of their personal liberty and of national independence. They had lost their wealth, they had lost their health, and had lost the props of their declining years in the field of battle; but they had established the independence of their country; they had secured to themselves and posterity the birth-right of Americans. They forgot past agony in the delight of present enjoyment, and in the prospect of happiness to ages yet unborn. From this class of citizens the senators lately chosen were chiefly selected. On the appointed day the assembly convened at Jacksonborough, when governor Rutledge, in a long interesting and eloquent speech, opened the session. The incipient proceedings of the assembly present authentic information of the havoc of the war and of the distress of the country, and convey the pleasing testimony of the mild and amiable disposition which swayed even in this day of wrath and irritation ihe legislature of South Carolina.

The length of the governor’s speech forbids its entire insertion: extracts of it are given, with the answer of the senate, which will sufficiently exemplify the justice of the preceding observations, as do the consequences of the amiable policy pursued by the legislature demonstrate that beneficence in the sovereign is the readiest cure which can be applied to heal the wounds of discord and of war.

Honorable gentlemen of the Senate, Mr. Speaker,
and gentlemen of the house of Representatives,

Since the last meeting of a general assembly, the good people of this state have not only felt the common calamities of war, but from the wanton and savage manner in which it has been executed, they have experienced such severities as are unpractised, and will scarcely be credited by civilized nations.

The enemy, unable to make any impression on the northern states, the number of whose inhabitants, and the strength of whose country, had baffled their repeated efforts, turned their views to the southern, which, a difference of circumstances afforded some expectation of conquering, or at least of distressing. After a long resistance, the reduction of Charleston was effected by the vast superiority of force with which it had been besieged. The loss of that garrison, as it consisted of the continental troops of Virginia and the Carolinas, and of a number of militia, facilitated the enemy’s march into the country, and the establishment of strong posts in the upper and interior parts of it; and the unfavorable issue of the action near Cambden induced them vainly to imagine, that no other army could be collected which they might not easily defeat. The militia commanded by the brigadiers Marion and Sumpter, whose enterprising spirit and unremitted perseverance under many difficulties are deserving of great applause, harassed and often defeated large parties; but the numbers of those militia were too few to contend effectually with the collected strength of the enemy. Regardless therefore of the sacred ties of honor, destitute of the feelings of humanity, and determined to extinguish, if possible, every spark of freedom in this country, they, with the insolent pride of conquerors, gave unbounded scope to the exercise of their tyrannical disposition, infringed their public engagements, and violated the most solemn capitulations. Many of our worthiest citizens were, without cause, long and closely confined, some on board of prisonships, and others in the town and castle of St. Augustine.

But I can now congratulate you, and I do so most cordially, on the pleasing change of affairs, which, under the blessing of God, the wisdom, prudence, address and bravery of the great and gallant general Greene, and the intrepidity of the officers and men under his command, has been happily effected. A general who is justly entitled, from his many signal services, to honorable and singular marks of your approbation and gratitude. His successes have been more rapid and complete than the most sanguine could have expected. The enemy compelled to surrender or evacuate every post which they held in the country, frequently defeated and driven from place to place, are obliged to seek refuge under the walls of Charleston, or in the islands in its vicinity. We have now the full and absolute possession of every other part of the state; and the legislative, executive and judicial powers, are in the free exercise of their respective authorities. The interest and honor, the safety and happiness of our country, depend so much on the result of your deliberations, that I flatter myself you will proceed in the weighty business before you, with firmness and temper, with vigor, unanimity, and despatch.


The address of the honorable the Senate in answer to the governor’s speech.

May it please your Excellency,

We beg leave to return your excellency the thanks of this house for your speech.

Any words which we might adopt would convey but a very faint idea of the satisfaction we feel on the perfect reestablishment of the legislative, executive and judicial powers in this state.

It is with particular pleasure that we take the earliest opportunity to present to your excellency our unfeigned thanks for your unwearied zeal and attention to the real interest of this country, and to testify our entire approbation of the good conduct of the executive since the last meeting of the general assembly.

We see and revere the goodness of Divine Providence in frustrating and disappointing the attempts of our enemies to conquer the southern states; and we trust that by the blessing of the same Providence on the valor and intrepidity of the free citizens of America, their attacks and enterprises will continue to be repelled and defeated.

We reflect with pleasure on the steady resolution with which Charleston was defended by a small body of brave men against such a vast superiority of force; and we gratefully acknowledge the meritorious conduct and important services of the officers and privates of the militia, who stood forth in the hour of danger; whose coolness, perseverance and ardor, under a complication of difficulties, most justly entitle them to the applause of their country.

We flatter ourselves that the blood which the enemy spilled, the wanton devastation which has marked their progress, and the tyrannical system that they have invariably pursued, and which your excellency hath so justly and pathetically described to us, will rouse the good people of this state, and will animate them into a spirit to protect their country, to save their rights and liberties, and to maintain at all hazards their independency.

It is with inexpressible pleasure that we receive your excellency’s congratulations upon the great and glorious measures of the campaign, on the happy change of affairs and the pleasing prospect before us; and we assure your excellency that we concur most sincerely with you in acknowledging and applauding the meritorious zeal, and the very important services which have been rendered to this state by the great and gallant general Greene, and the brave and intrepid officers and men under his command, and to whom we shall be happy to give the most grateful and singular testimonies of our approbation and applause.

We are truly sensible of the immense advantage which the United States derive from the magnanimous prince, their ally. We have the most perfect confidence on his royal word, and on the sincerity of his friendship; and we think ourselves much indebted to that illustrious monarch for the great and effectual assistance which he hath been pleased to give the confederated states, and by whose means they have been enabled to humble the pride of Britain, and to establish their independency upon the most permanent basis.

The importance of the several matters which your excellency hath recommended to our consideration is so evident that we shall proceed to deliberate upon them with all possible despatch; and we flatter ourselves that our business will be carried on with temper, firmness, and unanimity.

J. L. GERVAIS, President.

During this session a law was passed, prescribing a mode of providing for the subsistence of the army by the civil authority. No regulation was more requisite; as the military process was grating to our fellow citizens, wasteful of the resources of the country, inconvenient to the army, and repugnant to the feelings of soldiers, who believed themselves to be in heart as in name the defenders of liberty. Resort to compulsion had been forced upon the general by necessity, though in every way objectionable; and which ought never to be tolerated for a moment when avoidable. In pursuance of power invested by this law, the governor appointed William Hiot agent for the state. This gentleman executed the duties of his station with intelligence, zeal, and diligence; and very much contributed to our support, without offence to the husbandmen, and with very little aid from the army.

But such was the real scarcity of the primary articles of subsistence, that with all the exertions (and they were great) of the agent, want continued to haunt occasionally the camp, which compelled general Greene to contribute, upon some occasions, his assistance to the authority of the laws.

Brigadier Marion, although a colonel in the line of South Carolina, had been chosen a member of the legislature; and before he sat out for Jacksonborough, had selected a station for his militia near the Santee river, remote from Charleston. His absence from his command, notwithstanding the distance of the selected position, inspired the enemy with the hope that a corps which had heretofore been invulnerable might now be struck. A detachment of cavalry was accordingly prepared for the meditated enterprise, and placed under the orders of lieutenant colonel Thompson. This officer having passed the Cooper river near Charleston, late in the evening, proceeded towards the Santee. Observing the greatest secrecy, and pushing his march with diligence, he fell upon the militia camp before the dawn of day, and completely routed the corps. Some were killed, some wounded, and the rest dispersed, with little or no loss on the part of the British. Major Benson, an active officer, was among the killed.

Thompson hastened back to Charleston with his detachment; and Marion, returning from Jacksonborough, reassembled his militia.

Captain Rudolph, who had been charged with the destruction of the British galley in the Ashley river, although often interrupted by other duties, had never intermitted his attention to that object. Early in March, sometime after the dispersion of the militia near the Santee, the captain presented his plan to lieutenant colonel Lee, who communicated it to the general. It was founded on the facility he had discovered with which boats going to market with provisions passed the galley.

Rudolph proposed to place in one of these boats an adequate force, disguising himself in a countryman’s dress, and disguising three or four of his soldiers in the garb and color of negroes. The boat was to be stored with the usual articles for Charleston market, under the cover of which he concealed his armed men, while himself and his four negroes should conduct the boat. His plan was approved; and lieutenant Smith, of the Virginia line, who had been very instrumental in acquiring the intelligence on which the project was grounded, was united to the captain in its execution. Every thing being prepared with profound secrecy, Rudolph and Smith embarked with their parties at a concealed landing place, high up the Ashley, on the night of the 18th of March. Between three and four in the morning, Rudolph got near to the galley, when the centinel hailed the boat. He was answered in the negro dialect that it was a market boat going to Charleston, and asked permission to proceed. In reply the boat was ordered to hale along side, as the captain of the galley wished to purchase some provisions. Rudolph obeyed; and as soon as he got along side threw some of his poultry on deck, his disguised negroes at the same time taking fast hold of the galley.

On a signal from Rudolph, Smith and his soldiers rose and boarded the galley. The centinel and a few others were killed: some escaped in the darkness of the night by throwing themselves into the river; and the captain with twenty-eight sailors were captured.

The galley mounted twelve guns besides swivels, and was manned with forty-three seamen. Rudolph did not lose a man; and after taking out such stores as he found on board the galley he burnt her, and returned to his place of embarkation.

Thus the tone of enterprise continued high and vigorous on our side, while low and languishing with the enemy. The novelty of this successful attempt attracted notice in Charleston: and such was the state of despondency which prevailed in its garrison as to give currency to opinions calculated still further to depress the humbled spirit of the British soldier. When it was found that even their floating castles, the pride and bulwark of Englishmen, were successfully assailed by landsmen, the water quarter of the town, which was accessible by water, necessarily became an object of jealousy. Every alarm in the night excited dire apprehensions: sometimes Greene was moving to force their lines, at other times he was floating down the Ashley; and in one way or another he was ever present to their disturbed imaginations.

But such fears were illusory. After a critical examination of the enemy’s situation, no point was found vulnerable; and the general was obliged to relinquish any attempt on Charleston. He nevertheless indulged a hope that Wayne might discover an opening to strike the port of Savannah, where the garrison amounted scarcely to one thousand men, too small for the extensive works before that town; and he held ready therefore a chosen corps to reinforce Wayne whenever requisite.

At this juncture treason had found its way into our camp. The inactivity which had succeeded the preceding series of bold and vigorous service was a fit season for recollection of grievances long endured, and which, being severely felt, began to rankle in every breast. Hunger sometimes pinched, at other times cold oppressed, and always want of pay reminded us as well of the injustice of our government as of our pressing demands upon it. The Pennsylvania line had joined the army; the soldiers of which being chiefly foreigners, were not so disposed to forget and to forgive as were our native troops. Even heretofore this line had pushed their insubordination so far as to abandon in a body the commander in chief, to drive off their officers, to commit the eagles to base hands, and to march under the orders of leaders elected by themselves.

They justified this daring mutiny by referring to their contract of enlistment, which they alleged had been violated; and it must be admitted that this allegation was too well founded. Soldiers who had enlisted for three years had been detained after the period of their service expired, under the pretext that they had enlisted for the war. As soon as this injustice was redressed, and some pecuniary accommodation rendered, all not entitled to their discharge returned to their duty.

The violation of contract is always morally wrong; and however it may sometimes yield present good, it is generally overbalanced by the subsequent injury. The government which is under the necessity of resorting to armed men, enlisted for a term of service, to protect its rights, ought to take care that the contract of enlistment is fair as well as legal, and that it be justly executed; or they afford a pretext for incalculable ills, which, though ofien avoided from the force of circumstances, is sometimes productive of irreparable misfortunes to the nation. Every effort was made at the time by the enemy to turn this menacing occurrence into the deepest injury; but the fidelity of the revolting troops remained invulnerable; the best possible apology for their previous conduct.

The present mutiny was marked by a very different character. It was grounded on the breach of allegiance, and reared in all the foulness of perfidy. Greene himself was to be seized and delivered to the enemy. How could treason ascend higher?

A Serjeant in the Pennsylvania line took the lead in this daring conspiracy; a soldier heretofore much esteemed, and possessing talents adapted to the enterprise. No doubt exists but that he and his associates held continual correspondence with the enemy, and that an arranged plan had been concerted for the protection of the mutineers by the co-operating movements of the British force.

The vigilance and penetration of Greene could neither be eluded nor overreached. He well knew that the soldiers were discontented; nor was he insensible to the cause of their complaints. But he confided in the rectitude of congress, and in the well tried fidelity of that portion of the army which had so often fought by his side. He nevertheless dreaded the effects of the wiles of the artful and wicked when applied to the inflammable mass around him.

To the enemy’s camp and to that section of his troops most likely to forget self-respect and patriotism, he directed his close and vigorous attention. From both he drew information which convinced him that his apprehensions were not groundless. Redoubling his exertions, as well to discover the plan and progress of the conspirators as to thwart their designs, he learnt that the serjeant, supposed to be the leader, had, by indulging unwarily the free declaration of his sentiments, subjected himself to martial law, and alarmed all the faithful soldiers, who, though prone to unite in the declarations of the wrongs they had suffered, and of their determination to obtain redress, had never entertained a thought of executing their views by the prostitution of military subordination, much less by the perpetration of the blackest treason, of the basest ingratitude. Greene, acting with his usual decision, ordered the arrest and trial of the serjeant. This order was immediately executed; and the prisoner being by the court martial condemned to die, the sentence of the court was forthwith carried into effect. (22d April.)

Some others, believed to be associates with the serjeant, (among whom were Peters and Owens) domestics in the general’s family, were also tried; but the testimony was not deemed conclusive by the court. Twelve others deserted in the course of the night and got safe to Charleston.

Thus the decisive conduct of the general crushed instantly this daring conspiracy; and the result proved, as often happens, that although the temper of complaint and of discontent pervaded the army, but few of the soldiers were in reality guilty of the criminal intentions which were believed at first to have spread far through the ranks.

While the arrests and trials were progressing in our camp, and while general Greene continued to watch the movements of the enemy, they disclosed a spirit of adventure, which had been for some months dormant. Large bodies of horse and foot were put in motion; some of which, in the course of the night, approached us with unusual confidence. This boldness tended to confirm the suspicions before entertained that the enemy was not only apprized of the intentions of our mutineers, but had prepared to second their designs. General Greene, feeling his critical situation, contented himself for the present with detaching select parties to hover around the enemy for the purpose of observing his motions, with the determination to strike his adversary as soon as he should find his army restored to its pristine discipline and character. On the morning after the execution of the traitor, captain O’Neal of the legion cavalry fell in with a body of the enemy’s horse under major Frazer.

O’Neal being very inferior in strength to his antagonist, retired, and was vigorously pursued by Frazer. During his flight he perceived a second body of the enemy in possession of his line of retreat. He was now compelled to change his course; and with the utmost difficulty escaped himself, after losing ten of his dragoons. Frazer had advanced as high as Stan’s bridge, the place assigned for the reception of that portion of the conspirators who had undertaken to betray the person of their general. On his return he was met by O’Neal, not far from Dorchester. This was the sole adventure resulting to the enemy in a conjuncture from which he expected to derive signal benefits.

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