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


THE unexpected events which had occurred in the preceding campaign, when known in England, attracted universal attention, and produced a determination to put a period to the war in America. In accordance with this resolution instructions were forwarded to the commander in chief of the royal forces, who conformed his subsequent measures to the change in the system of administration: further waste of life being in his opinion unnecessary. His lieutenant in South Carolina, major general Leslie, proposed to general Greene a cessation of hostilities. This proposition was rejected by the American general, as his powers did not reach the subject. He consequently communicated the same to congress, who alone could give the requisite authority to act on the subject.

General Leslie finding his pacific overture unavailing, was compelled to pursue measures to obtain supplies for his troops, although sure to produce the sacrifice of individuals in both armies; a sacrifice which he anxiously desired to avoid. For this purpose incursions into our territory were occasionally attempted; sometimes with success, but generally the British detachments were forced to regain their lines without the accomplishment of their views.

This little warfare, always irksome, unless the prelude to grand operations, was peculiarly so to troops enured to the most interesting scenes of war, and conscious that those scenes could never be renewed. Men of the sword only can appreciate this condition of war, the most revolting to every real soldier. Inquietude and ill humor could not fail to prevail, especially in the American camp; where want of clothes, want of food, and empty purses, were superadded. Amid these a new cause of uneasiness was excited. Lieutenant colonel Laurens, who became a prisoner on the fall of Charleston, had been exchanged by congress out of course, which was much disrelished by our officers in the hands of the enemy; as they considered every departure from the usage of war not only unjust in principle but cruel to themselves in application. This usage secures to every prisoner his exchange in turn; and undoubtedly, as a general rule, is unexceptionable. Deviations from it ought rarely to be admitted, and then only from a strong cause. In support of the present deviation it was contended that the war raged in South Carolina, Laurens’s native country; that his acknowledged talents would therefore be singularly useful in that theatre; and moreover, that he was aid-de-camp to the commander in chief, and consequently was an exception to the general rule. No doubt these arguments are forcible, and will always have weight with the sovereign. They did not however tranquillize the sensations which the occurrence had excited. Lieutenant colonel Laurens, after joining the southern army, continued in the family of gtneral Greene, waiting for some change of circumstances which might enable the general to fix him permanently in the line of service. This Greene was very desirous of effecting; not only because the resolution of congress authorizing his exchange called indirectly for it, but the commander in chief required it from his own conviction of the worth and capacity of this excellent officer.

Notwithstanding these high authorities, notwithstanding his own inclination and Laurens’s reputation, stubborn difficulties interposed, not to be readily vanquished. Officers of the highest merit, who had served under himself from his accession to the command of the southern army, to whom he owed, and to whom he felt, every obligation which a general can owe or feel, must be supplanted or overlooked to make way for the desired appointment.

Lieutenant colonel Lee had become incapable from his ill health of continuing in command of the light troops, and had obtained leave of absence. This contingency produced a vacancy which the general had the clear right of supplying at his will. The occurrence offered some relief to the embarrassment into which the resolution of congress and the wishes of the commander in chief had involved general Greene; but as the vacant station was the most desirable within his gift, because the most honorable, the preferment of an officer who had not shared in the arduous struggle just closed, to the many who had, in every vicissitude of his eventful campaign, covered themselves with glory, did not comport with justice, and could not escape animadversion. To smooth the difficulties which intervened, the general had associated Laurens with lieutenant colonel Lee in the expedition against St. John’s island, hoping that the brilliancy of the presumed success, would cover the substitution of the second for the first, as soon as that officer should retire. But unfortunately the attempt failed, and the general lost the aid which he expected to derive from the magic power of victory. In this perplexing situation some of general Greene’s confidential advisers did not hesitate to urge him to recede from his purpose, upon the ground of the superior pretensions of officers, whose services imposed upon him primary attention. Nor would this counsel have been unavailing had not the general been persuaded that his omission to employ lieutenant colonel Laurens would be considered as disrespectful to the commander in chief. One of Greene’s aid-de-camps had been for some time at headquarters; and from this gentleman was derived the information which led to the above conclusion. He had heard insinuations in the family of Washington which lisped these sentiments. It was more than once suggested that the general of the South had been less communicative than was expected; and even allusions to the conduct and fate of Gates were occasionally made, which clearly imported the possibility, if not probability, that the conqueror in the South, like the conqueror in the North, might become the rival of the commander in chief. In justice to general Washington it was acknowledged that sentiments of this sort never fell from his lips, or in his presence. Nevertheless when those around him ventured to hold such language, it could not but inspire unpleasant feelings in the breast of Greene.

General Greene determined, at every hazard, to afford no just cause for such unjust suspicions. He declared his conviction that Washington himself would spurn such insinuations, unless his mind should have been previously poisoned by artful and designing; men, possessing his esteem and confidence.

He lamented that the motives which actuated his conduct must, from their nature, be concealed; as he was persuaded that the very officers themselves, whom he apparently neglected, would approve the course in the then stage of the war, when every opportunity for the acquirement of military reputation was probably finally closed.

In consequence of this resolution, as soon as lieutenant colonel Lee took leave, the general new modelled the light corps,[note 88] giving to it additional strength. By this arrangement he was warranted in calling a general officer to its direction, and consequently avoided those just complaints which must have arisen among his lieutenant colonels, had the command been continued in that grade, and had any other than a lieutenant colonel of his own army been honored with it.

Brigadier Gist, of the Maryland line, who had lately reached headquarters, was placed at the head of the augmented corps, having under him colonel Baylor, of the third regiment of dragoons, who had also lately joined, and lieutenant colonel Laurens. The first commanded the cavalry, and the last the infantry.

However judicious the course adopted by general Greene to give effect to the wishes of the commander in chief had been, disagreeable consequences nevertheless ensued. In the reorganization of the light corps, the cavalry of the third regiment and of the legion had been united; as had been the infantry of the legion with Kirkwood’s Delawares, for the purpose of forming a command for lieutenant colonel Laurens.

The separation of the horse and foot of the legion now for the first time took place, and gave considerable umbrage and inquietude to the officers and soldiers. The first considered the constitution of the corps sacrificed, and the last had been so long habituated to fight side by side, that they were very unwilling to commute approved and beloved comrades for any others, however brave.

The legion officers gave vent to their feelings in a remonstrance to the general, couched in terms not the most loyal. Greene replied with moderation, firmness and dignity, and adhered to his adopted system. This was followed by the resignation of every officer in the legion, a result as unexpected as inconvenient. The general lamented the rash step, but did not condescend by any relaxation in his measures, or remodification of the light troops, to avert it. He, however, reminded the remonstrants of their right of appeal to Congress, who would no doubt correct the proceedings of their generals, whenever they might invade the rights or cancel the privileges of any portion of the troops submitted to their direction. The officers had acted under the impulse of first impressions, which, though honest, are not always correct. Passion had now subsided, and the temerity of their conduct became exposed to their view. They cheerfully seized the opportunity presented by the general’s suggestion, withdrew their resignations, and committed their case to the controlling power of Congress.

The inhabitants of the state of South Carolina had been for several months in the peaceable enjoyment of legal government, with the exception of the metropolis, and a small range of country upon the Little Pedee river. A major Ganey, with his band of royalists, resided here; and, insulated as they were, still resisted. Brigadier Marion had, in June 1781, entered into a formal treaty with Ganey and his associates, by which they were pardoned for past offences (both numerous and atrocious,)[note 89] secured in their estates and in the rights of citizenship, upon the condition that they would return to the rightful owners all plundered property; that they would renounce for ever allegiance to his Britannic majesty, and demean themselves hereafter as became peaceable citizens. This treaty[note 90] was now renewed, with the condition that such of the royalists as preferred removing into the British lines might do so, and take with them their property.

The wise and forgiving policy which dictated the course pursued by Marion, was attended with the happiest consequences. Bitter enemies were converted into warm friends; and many of these reclaimed citizens enrolled themselves in the corps of Marion, ready to fight by the sides of their countrymen, whose lives they had sought by night and by day from the fall of Charleston to the period of this treaty.

During these transactions in South Carolina, brigadier Wayne pursued with vigor his operations in Georgia. At the head of a force equal only to half of that opposed to him, he nevertheless exhibited that daringness of character which marked his military life. The signal chastisement inflicted by major general Grey at the Paoli, in the campaign of 1777, with some minor admonitions, had, it is true, subjected this natural propensity in some degree to the control of circumspection. While in command before Savannah, his orders, his plans, his motions, all bespoke foresight and vigilance; and although he played a hazardous game, he not only avoided detriment or affront, but added to the honor of our arms. The pacific policy lately adopted by the British general, and to which brigadier Clarke invariably adhered, contributed not a little to a result so favorable to our views.

The British general rarely sent detachments into the country, and only once in considerable force: never with the view of provoking resistance, but always with the expectation of accomplishing his object by the secrecy and celerity of his measures. About the middle of May he received information of an intended trading visit from some of his Indian friends, then considerably advanced on their route to Savannah. To protect this party from the corps under Wayne, to which it was exposed in its progress, lieutenant colonel Brown (who had been exchanged soon after his surrender of Augusta) was detached by brigadier Clarke on the 19th, with three hundred and fifty infantry and a squadron of cavalry. Brown advanced as far as Ogeachy to meet the Indians; but being disappointed, he moved early in the morning of the 21st, to regain Savannah. It appears that a dispute having arisen between the warriors of the Overhill Creeks, from which tribe this trading party came, had occasioned a delay for a few weeks; otherwise the Indians would have reached Ogeachy the very evening Brown arrived there.

Wayne discovered, on the 20th, that a detachment of the enemy had passed from Savannah to the Ogeachy; and he took his measures forthwith to intercept it on its return. With this view his corps (about five hundred effectives, mostly infantry, with three grasshoppers,) were put in motion. The van consisted of one company of Hght infantry and a section of dragoons, under the orders of captain Alexander Parker. This officer was directed to hasten his march through woods and swamps, and to seize a causeway on which Brown must necessarily pass. Parker was ordered, whenever he met the enemy, to reserve his fire, and to fall upon him with sword and bayonet. Wayne followed with the main body, to support his van. About ten in the forenoon captain Parker reached the causeway, when he discovered a small patrole of cavalry in his front. Each advancing, the two parties soon met, when captain Parker accosted the leading file, and demanded the countersign. Confounded or deceived, the British officer, instead of falling back upon Brown, approached Parker in the attitude of friendship. He now discovered his mistake, but too late to extricate himself, and was with his patrole taken, except one dragoon, who got back to colonel Brown, moving in column to sustain his van, with his cavalry in front.

Lieutenant Bowyer, who commanded our horse, was ordered to charge, which was executed with decision. Bowyer was supported by Parker with his infantry. The British cavalry were thrown into confusion; and, as Brown’s whole force was in column on the causeway, from whence there was no moving to the right or left, the substitution of his infantry for his cavalry became impracticable, and the British colonel was obliged to fall back. This was accomplished without loss, as general Wayne did not get up in time to improve the advantage gained by Parker. Two of our van were killed and three were wounded. We took major Alexander, second in command, and eighteen dragoons, with their horses and furniture. Wayne had been delayed by the swamps, which in the South invariably present stubborn difficulties to the march of troops.

As soon as he reached Parker he pursued the enemy; but all his endeavours to renew the action proved abortive, and Brown made good his retreat to Savannah.

The Indians, whom lieutenant colonel Brown expected to meet, would have rendered his corps superior to that under Wayne, when the encounter might have terminated differently. General Wayne seems either to have been unapprized of this intended junction, or to have disregarded it; for he pressed forward to strike his foe, regardless of ground or number. The occasional fortuitous success of such conduct encourages the ardent soldier to put himself upon his fortune and his courage,—overlooking those numerous, sure and effectual aids to be drawn from accurate intelligence and due circumspection. Fortune at length forsakes him, no prop remains to support him but his courage, and he falls the victim of his own presumption; honored for his bravery, but condemned for his temerity.

Some weeks before general Clarke made this attempt to secure the safe entry of his Indian friends into Savannah, Wayne had intercepted a trading party of the Creeks on their way to the British garrison. Of these the American general detained a few as hostages, and permitted the rest to return to their own country. This generous treatment seems to have inspired apprehensions in Savannah, that its effect would diminish the British influence among the Creeks; an event deprecated by the enemy in case of continuance of the war, which, though improbable, might nevertheless happen. Therefore it was thought proper to prevent, by suitable succor, the interruption of this second visit. To that end Brown had been detached. Not only, as has been seen, did the effort fail, but it was followed by a disaster very unpleasant to the enemy, and in its conclusion pregnant with cause of regret to ourselves.

Guristersigo, a principal warrior among the Creeks, conducted the party of Indians lately expected by Clarke. Although he did not arrive at the appointed rendezvous so as to meet Brown, he reached it in the latter part of the succeeding month.

This warrior, accompanied by his white men, his guides, passed through the whole state of Georgia unperceived, except by two boys, who were taken and killed; and having reached the neighborhood of Wayne on the 23d of June, he determined to strike at a picquet of the American corps stationed, as he was informed, at Gibbons’ plantation, directly on the route to and not far distant from Savannah.

There were two plantations so called, in the same range of country, both of which were occasionally stations for our troops. At this time Wayne himself with the main body occupied one, while the other was on the same day (22d) held by a picquet guard. Not only to avoid Wayne, but to carry this picquet, became the object of Guristersigo; and he acquired through his white conductors the requisite intelligence, with negro guides for the execution of his purpose.

Wayne, in pursuance of a system adopted to avoid surprise (of which the Indian chief was uninformed), moved every night; and consequently the calculation that he would be on the 23d where he had been on the 22d was unfounded. The reverse was the fact, which would undoubtedly have been perceived by Guristersigo had he been acquainted with the custom of the American general, and his plan of attack would have been modified accordingly. Decamping from Gibbons’ late in the evening of the 22d, Wayne exchanged positions with his picquet, and thus fortunately held the very post against which the Indian warrior had pointed his attack.

Here the light infantry under Parker (who had been for several days close to Savannah) joined, and being much harassed by the late tour of duty, was ordered by the brigadier to take post near to his artillery, in the rear. Knowing but one enemy (the garrison of Savannah) Wayne gave his entire attention to that quarter; and conscious, from his precautions, that no movement could be made by the enemy in Savannah without due notice, he forbore to burden his troops with the protection of his rear, because in his opinion unnecessary. A single sentinel only from the quarter-guard was posted in the rear, on the main road leading through the camp to Savannah, and the very road which Guristersigo meant to take.

Soon after nightfall the Indian chief at the head of his warriors emerged from the deep swamps, in which he had lain concealed, and gained the main road. He moved in profound silence, and about three in the morning reached the vicinity of our camp; here he halted, and made his disposition for battle. Believing that he had to deal with a small detachment only, his plan of attack was simple and efficient. Preceded by a few of the most subtle and daring of his comrades, directed to surprise and kill the sentinel, he held himself ready to press forward with the main body upon the signal to advance. This was not long delayed. His wily precursors having encompassed our sentinel, killed him, when Guristersigo, bounding from his stand, fell with his whole force upon our rear. Aroused from sleep, the light infantry stood to their arms, and the matrosses closed with their guns.

But the enemy was amongst them; which being perceived by Parker, he judiciously drew off in silence and joined the quarter-guard behind Gibbons’ house at headquarters. The general had about this time mounted, and, concluding that the garrison of Savannah was upon him, he resorted to the bayonet, determined to die sword in hand. Orders to this effect were given to Parker and despatched to lieutenant colonel Posey, commanding in camp, distant a few hundred yards. Captain Parker, seconded by the quarter-guard, advanced upon the foe; and Posey moved with all possible celerity to support the light troops, but did not arrive in time to share in the action. Wayne, participating with his light corps in the surrounding dangers, was now dismounted, his horse being killed; the light troops, nevertheless, continued to press forward, and Parker drove all in his way back to our cannon, where the Indian chief with a part of his warriors were attempting to turn our guns to their aid. Here Guristersigo renewed the conflict, and fought gallantly; but the rifle and tomahawk are unavailing when confronted by the bayonet in close quarters. We soon recovered our artillery, and Guristersigo, fighting bravely, was killed. Seventeen of his warriors and his white guides fell by his side, the rest fled.

Now it was discovered that the assailing foe was not from Savannah. Although surprised at the extraordinary occurrence, Wayne adapted with promptitude his measures to the occasion, and, scattering his troops in every direction, pursued the flying Indians. Twelve of them were taken, and after a few hours captivity were put to death by order of the general. One hundred and seventeen pack horses, laden with peltry, fell into our hands; and although every exertion was made to capture the surviving Indians, they all got back to their distant country. Our loss was small, not exceeding twelve killed and wounded.

This bold and concluding scene, though highly honorable to the unlettered chief, did not surpass those which preceded it in the progress of his daring enterprise. The accuracy of the intelligence obtained respecting the interior of Georgia, the geographical exactitude with which he shaped his course, the control he established over his rude band—repressing appetite for plunder when opportunity for gratification hourly occurred—and the decision with which he made his final arrangements, alike merit applause. Guristersigo died as he had lived, the renowned warrior of the Over-hill Creeks.

Wayne behaved with his accustomed gallantry. Not doubting but that general Clarke with his whole force from Savannah was upon him, he determined to cut his way to victory, or to die in the midst of his enemy. To this end was his order to captain Parker; to this end was his order to lieutenant colonel Posey; and to this end was his own conduct and example. It is true the American general was surprised; but if a surprise can be overlooked, this is the one. Who could suppose that an Indian warrior would be found bold enough to relinquish his safe and distant forests to traverse longitudinally the state of Georgia, and to force his entry through an investing army into Savannah. If the comprehensive and searching mind had, in its prying into all possible adventures, presumed upon such an attempt, it would scarcely have been brought to conclude, that the enterprise could have remained undiscovered until the edge of the Indian tomahawk was felt in our camp.

However military critics may be disposed to withhold censure in consequence of the novelty and singularity of the late enterprise, yet, like every other incident in war, it demonstrates that the generul who is contented with the inadequate protection of his camp, not only places himself at the disposal of fortune, but invites disaster. This would probably have been the result now, had not the Indian chief been turned from his right course by taking our cannon, and thus gave time to recover by valor what had been lost by want of due caution.

As soon as general Wayne had buried the dead, and taken care of the wounded, he changed his ground as usual; and finding that he had an enemy in rear as well as in front, he became more circumspect in his future arrangements.

This was the last rencontre in Georgia. General Clarke held his troops safe within his fortifications, prepared to evacuate Savannah whenever he should receive orders to that effect, which he knew could not be long deferred.

Wayne continued in the neighborhood of the enemy pursuing his desultory game, and watching with unceasing vigilance his adversary’s motions. Early in July he was visited by a deputation of merchants from Savannah, under the protection of a flag of truce, for the purpose of ascertaining on what conditions the British subjects might be permitted to remain with their property, for a given term, after the evacuation of the city, which event might be daily expected in consequence of orders recently received.

General Wayne informed the deputation, that whenever the British garrison should withdraw, he would protect the persons and property of all who might remain; but that the ultimate disposal of the one and of the other belonged to the civil authority of the state, to which he would communicate the purport of their application. This answer being made known to the merchants and other inhabitants wishing to remain in Savannah, they, by permission of the British general, sent a second deputation to the American headquarters, with the view of fixing definitively the conditions on which they might be indulged in their desire.

In the mean time general Wayne had consulted governor Martin, who, soon after the American detachment entered Georgia, removed with his council of state to Ebenezer, for the purpose of extending the limits of the civil authority. In pursuance of the governor’s instructions, the American general gave assurances to the inhabitants, that all who chose to remain should be protected in person and property, and should be allowed sufficient time to dispose of their property and to adjust their affairs, when they might depart in manner and form most agreeable to themselves. Major Habersham, a respectable officer in the line of Georgia, was employed by general Wayne in the conclusion of this business, and seems to have afforded facility to the arrangements by the confidence reposed in his personal character.

Satisfied with the assurance given, many of the British subjects discontinued their preparations for removal, and were found in the town when entered by Wayne. They received the promised protection, and pursued, without molestation, their customary occupations. As soon as the loyalists had finished their arrangements with the American general, brigadier Clarke completed his begun evacuation (on the 11th July) and general Wayne on the same day took possession of Savannah, which had been for more than three years occupied by the enemy.

The spontaneous restoration of Georgia to the United States confirmed the expectation which prevailed, that the further prosecution of the war in America had been relinquished by his Britannic majesty, which would necessarily be soon followed by the recal of the royal army and fleet.

Previous to this event lieutenant colonel Carrington rejoined. While at the High Hills of Santee this officer, although at the head of the quarter master general’s department, was permitted by the general to repair to the main army, in consequence of a vacancy in the line of artillery by the resignation of colonel Proctor, of Pennsylvania. Carrington was considered as entitled to the vacancy, and took command of the regiment on its arrival in Virginia, with part of the allied army. But inasmuch as congress had not established the mode of promotion in the cavalry and artillery, his continuance in the command of the regiment was uncertain; and therefore general Greene determined that, though absent, he should govern the department through his deputy, for the purpose of securing his future services, should his expectaiion of promotion fail. On captain Crump, of the Virginia line, second in the department, the important trust devolved during the absence of his principal, who discharged its various duties with intelligence and effect. When the siege of York terminated, Carrington, disappointed in his expected promotion, repaired to Philadelphia by order of general Greene for the purpose of concerting measures with the superintendant of finance, for the future subsistence and clothing of the southern army. Mr. Morris entered with alacrity into the proposed application of a portion of the funds[note 91] under his direction to this desirable object. In pursuance whereof general Greene was empowered to contract for the requisite supplies, payable in specie; by which arrangement, the irksome and wasteful system heretofore pursued was superseded, and the cheering prospect of regular subsistence and comfortable clothing was presented to the long suffering army of the South.

The evacuation of Savannah was followed in the same month (August) by the meeting of the general assembly of Georgia at Augusta, when the exercise of the civil authority was completely re-established throughout the state. Brigadier Wayne having, soon after the withdraw of the royal forces, detached lieutenant colonel Posey to the main army, now proceeded to South Carolina with the remainder. General Greene, concentrating his troops, drew nearer to Charleston, and directed his operations to the single object of preventing the enemy from deriving any subsistence from the country.

The intention of evacuating Charleston was now announced in general orders by the British general; who, however, continued to exert his force in procuring the provisions necessary not only for the daily support of the army and loyalists, but also for their maintenance until the first should be established in their future quarters, and the last transplanted to their intended settlements. Small parties were therefore occasionally detached from Charleston in various directions through those parts of the country remote from the American army, for the purpose of collecting and transporting rice, corn, and meat, to the British headquarters. Sometimes these parties succeeded; but generally they were compelled to return without effecting the object of their incursion.

Major general Leslie soon perceived the precariousness of this resource; to remedy which, and to stop the further effusion of blood, now unnecessary as to the main object of the war, notwithstanding the rejection of his pacific overture some time before, addressed general Greene by letter,[note 92] (August) expressing the motives and object of his military inroads, and proposing to discontinue them, on condition of being permitted to purchase from the country such supplies as might be necessary during his continuance in Charleston. The civil authority was necessarily consulted on Leslie’s proposition by the American general. So manifold and interesting were the advantages to our army from agreeing to the enemy’s proposal, that deliberation seemed to border upon absurdity. The American soldiers were covered by tattered garments, destitute of shoes, and scarcely furnished with blankets. Winter was approaching, when privations now tolerable would become intolerable; and every effort had been vainly essayed to procure clothing on the credit of the specie funds appropriated by the superintendant of finance in the preceding spring, to the use of the southern army, which, by the proposed intercourse, might have been readily obtained from Charleston. Imperiously, as was the general urged by these considerations to avail himself of the opportunity within his grasp, he was constrained to forego it. The government of South Carolina entertained the belief, that the British army, on the evacuation of Charleston, would be transferred to the West Indies. Connected with this opinion was the conviction that the proposed purchase of provisions was not so much intended to meet present wants, but to amass magazines for the support of the British forces contending against our ally in that quarter. To accommodate the enemy in the accomplishment of this object was deemed dishonorable and perfidious; therefore it was determined to endure present ills rather than tarnish the national character: the proposition of general Leslie was accordingly rejected.

Sensibly as did the American army feel this unexpected termination of the enemy’s overture, not a murmur was heard in its ranks. Trained to suffer when required so to do by authority, the officers and soldiers exemplified upon this occasion their immutable disposition to forget their own wants in their zeal to uphold the cause and character of their country.

The punctilious observance of the obligations of treaties and scrupulous obedience to the injunctions of honor cannot be too much applauded; yet it will scarcely be contended that compliance with the proposal of general Leslie either violated the treaty between the United States and his most christian majesty, or trenched upon the principle of honor; nor can it be denied that it subserved the cause of humanity. The British general’s letter candidly expressed his situation, amicably showed his unwillingness to shed more blood, now culpable because useless, but at the same time frankly announced that unless he could be supplied with provisions in the manner proposed, he must obtain them by force.

How easy would it have been for the governor and general, with their past solicitude, to observe the stipulations of treaties, and to avoid even in appearance the violation of honor, to have accepted the enemy’s proposition on the express condition that the subsistence to be procured should be limited to present support, and to that of the approaching voyage, declaring that any attempt to transcend the specified limits should cancel the contract. The limitations which a temperate examination of the enemy’s overture would have suggested never came into view; and in the overstrained anxiety to avoid possible injury to France, the absolute advantages, comfort to our suffering soldiers, and stoppage to human slaughter, were neglected. This mistaken decision was soon followed by its natural, and with as deeply lamented, consequences.

Foiled in accomplishing his object in the way desired, the British general prepared to resume his suspended incursions into the country, determined to effect by force the procurement of those supplies which he had flattered himself with obtaining by purchase. Supported by marine co-operation applicable with readiness to all the circumjacent country by the facilities of its interior navigation, and possessing the contiguous islands, with strong detachments from his army, general Leslie proceeded to the execution of his determination, fearless of consequences, but lamenting the necessity of wasting human life in useless battle.

A detachment of light infantry, attended by armed vessels, passed along the interior navigation, and having reached Combahee river, began to collect and convey provisions to the transports which accompanied the expedition for the purpose of transporting to Charleston whatever might be procured. General Greene, never doubting Leslie’s execution of his menace, held his light corps ready to counteract any attempt he might make. As soon therefore as he became apprized of the movement of the British detachment, he directed brigadier Gist to advance in pursuit. Gist was soon in motion, and after a long and rapid march gained the neighborhood of the enemy, then at Page’s Point, on the Combahee. At this moment lieutenant colonel Laurens, commanding the infantry under Gist, joined, having, as soon as informed of the march of the light troops, left his sick bed to hasten to the field of battle. Laurens no sooner overtook the corps than, by permission of the brigadier, he put himself at the head of the American van. Discovering that the enemy were preparing to retire, he determined, with his inferior force, though out of supporting distance, to commence the attack. This bold decision was gallantly executed; but incapable of making any serious impression from the inadequacy of his force, he fell in the vain attempt at the head of his intrepid band, closing his short and splendid life in the lustre of heroism. Gist now got up with the main body, and took one of the vessels from the enemy returning to Charleston.

The British general finding himself foiled in his expectations, henceforward discontinued these predatory inroads, and confined his exertions in the collection of provisions to the islands along the coast, and to the country contiguous to the interior navigation, remote from the American camp.

Preparations for the evacuation of Charleston progressed, but not with the celerity expected. This excited apprehensions among the owners of the numerous bodies of negroes within the enemy’s lines, that with the withdraw of the army would be carried off their slaves. They made known their apprehensions to governor Matthews, who addressed a letter to general Leslie on the subject, and reminded him of the act of confiscation passed by the legislature, from the operation of which had been exempted all debts due to British merchants, and claims on real estates by marriage settlement. These two funds, added to that arising from the confiscation of estates, furnished a valuable resource; and the governor assured general Leslie that he would apply them in remunerating his fellow citizens for their negroes, if removed with the retiring army.

This annunciation seriously affected the loyalists in Charleston, and especially the mercantile portion of them, ever alive to the feelings of interest. They soon beset the British general, who was always inclined to do right and to diminish the evils of war. Leslie, in reply to the governor, proposed negotiation, with the view of reconciling the opposite interests of the adverse parties. Commissioners were accordingly appointed with full powers to treat upon the subject. The honorable William Gerrard, on the part of the state, and Alexander Wright and James Robertson, on the part of the loyalists. The discussion which ensued terminated in a compact on the 10th of October, to the following effect.

That all the slaves of the citizens of South Carolina now in the power of the honorable major general Leslie shall be restored to their former owners as far as is practicable; except such slaves as may have rendered themselves particularly obnoxious on account of their attachment and services to the British troops, and such as had specific promises of freedom. That the faith of the state is hereby solemnly pledged that none of the debts due to British merchants, or to persons who have been banished, or whose estates have been confiscated, or property secured by family settlements fairly made, or contracts relative thereto, shall now, or at any time hereafter, be arrested or withheld by the executive authority of the state; that no act of the legislature shall hereafter pass for confiscating, or seizing the same, in any manner whatever, if it is in the power of the executive to prevent it; and that its whole power and influence within its public and private capacity shall at all times be exerted for that purpose.

That the same power shall be allowed for the recovery of the debts and property hereby protected and secured, by the parties or their representatives in the courts ofjustice or otherwise, as the citizens of the state may be or at any time were entitled to, notwithstanding any act of confiscation or banishment, or any other disability whatsoever; and that the same may be remitted to any part of the world they may think proper, under the same and no other regulations than the citizens of the state may be subject to.

That no slaves, restored to their former owners by virtue of this agreement, shall be punished by the authority of the state for having left their masters and attached themselves to the British troops; and it will be particularly recommended to their respective owners to forgive them for the same.

That no violence or insult shall be offered to the persons or houses of the families of such persons as are obliged to leave the state for their adherence to the British government, when the American army shall take possession of the town, or at any time afterwards, as far as it is in the power of those in authority to prevent it.

That Edward Blake and Roger Parker Saunders, esquires, shall be permitted to reside in Charleston on their parole of honor to assist in the execution of the first article of this compact.”—Ramsay.

In pursuance of this contract all minor measures were punctiliously adopted for its consummation. The two American commissioners were duly accredited and received in Charleston.

But the very first embarkation of the retiring enemy evinced that matured consideration of the preceding compact produced its violation by the party which had proposed it. Leslie began to remove the loyalists; for a portion of whom St. Augustine had been selected as a retreat. A fleet for their transportation was accordingly prepared; and when they embarked two hundred negroes accompanied them. The American commissioners remonstrated against this infraction of the compromise entered into, to superintend the honorable fulfilment of which they not only had been appointed by the governor of the state, but had been admitted into Charleston by the general. The remonstrance produced the debarkation of a small part of the negroes on board; but when the commissioners asked for permission to restore this small part to their owners, by forwarding them to the assigned post for their reception without the British lines, the request was denied and justified by the following letter.

To Edward Blake and Roger P. Saunders, Esquires.


General Leslie was much surprised on finding that a large patrole from general Greene’s army, two days ago, came down so near our advanced post on Charleston Neck as to carry off three soldiers, who were a little way in the front. At the time this little act of hostility was committed Mr. Ferguson and another person were at Accabee; where, I believe, they still remain, in expectation of the negroes to be delivered up, without any sanction but that of the agreement entered into. I am directed to observe, that if a line of conduct on the part of general Greene, so different from ours, is adopted; it must of course put an end to the pacific intentions general Leslie means to follow, in regard to this province, during the short time he is to remain in it.

He wishes you will inform governor Matthews that he expects the soldiers taken away will be returned, and that the governor will take proper measures to have this requisition complied with. Until this is done, general Leslie must be under the necessity of putting a stop to the further completion of the agreement.

(Signed)   S. WEYMS, deputy adjutant general.

The inability of the British general to secure the faithful execution of the compact might have been perceived by him before its ratification; inasmuch as the effectuation of its material conditions depended on the will of the state legislature, more apt to oppose than to fulfil executive recommendations. If, however, this inability was not discovered until after ratification, better would it have been to have declared the fact, than to have resorted to a flimsy and irrelevant pretext for abrogation of a contract.

However, the British general seems to have preferred resorting for his justification to an expedient not less defective in reason than incompatible with his fair and honorable character.

No suspension of military operations had ever been suggested, much less stipulated. How then the capture of British soldiers, by an American patrole, could be construed into a violation of the contract entered into with the governor of the state, is not discernable.

But pretexts, the most trivial, will be embraced by power when disposed to forget right, in furtherance of its will. Such appears to have been the present temper of the British general; and the contract lately sought by himself, and well calculated to stop the spread of injustice, was annulled.

The American commissioners forwarded the letter received from the British adjutant general to governor Matthews, who replied as follows:

October 19th, 1782.


I was a few minutes ago favored with a letter from Messrs. Blake and Saunders, inclosing one to them from major Weyms, written by your authority. As I do not like a second-hand correspondence, I therefore address myself immediately to you. I addressed a letter to you this morning, by which you will find that I was not even then without some apprehension of the intended evasion of the compact entered into on the 10th instant; but on the receipt of major Weyms’ letter, no room was left me for doubt; which obliges me, without giving further trouble to those engaged in the business, and introducing further altercation between us, to declare, that I look upon that agreement as dissolved, and have accordingly ordered my commissioners immediately to quit your lines. But before I take my final leave of you, permit me to make one or two observations on major Weyms’ letter, as probably the whole correspondence between us may one day be brought to public view.

On the 12th instant I wrote to you, to know whether persons going to Accabee to bring off the negroes when brought there, should be protected from your armed parties; and further, to permit me to send a party of militia to guard the negroes remaining unclaimed to some part of the country where they could be supplied with provisions. To this letter I have received no answer, which has obliged me to use the precaution of giving flags to all persons who have applied to go to Accabee; as I could on no principle look on that ground as neutral, until it had been mutually agreed on as such. Indeed I was led to believe the contrary was intended on your part, both by your tedious silence and detachments from your army making excursions as far as Ashley ferry; which was absolutely the case the morning of the day that the party from general Greene’s army took the soldiers you so peremptorily demand of me; and if I am rightly imformed, hostilities were commenced by your party. Be that as it may, I conceive it of litde consequence; as either party had a right to commence hostilities on hostile ground; and between enemies every spot must be considered as such, until mutually agreed upon to be otherwise. Besides, it is a well known fact, that there is not a day but some of your armed parties are on that very ground which you affect to hold neutral.

With regard to Messrs. Ferguson and Waring remaining at Accabee unmolested, I hold myself under no manner of obligation to you for this forbearance; as I informed you they were there under the sanction of a flag; that they were to remain there for the purpore of receiving the negroes sent out by the agents in Charleston. They were therefore authorized to continue there, till you signified the contrary to them. Flags from you have remained within half a mile of our lines for several days on private business, without the least molestation whatever. Besides, sir, if your reasoning, as far as it applies to those gentlemen, prqve any thing, it proves too much; because on the same principle, the other two commissioners being in Charleston, ought to make that neutral ground also, notwithstanding no stipulation for that purpose had been entered into. I never interfere with general Greene’s military plans, therefore the paragraph which relates to his operations ought to have been addressed to him; but I believe he pays as little regard to threats as I do.

With this letter ceased every effort to give effect to the contract between the governor and general Leslie. The American commissioners returned home, and the negroes seduced and taken from the inhabitants of South Carolina in the course of the war, remained subject to the disposal of the enemy. They were successively shipped to the West Indies; and it is asserted, upon the authority of the best informed citizens of South Carolina, that more than twenty thousand slaves were lost to the state in consequence of the war; of which not an inconsiderable portion was appropriated by British officers, and sold for their benefit in the West Indies.

Preparations for the embarkation of the enemy continued, but so tardily, that general Greene himself, who never yielded entirely to the opinion that peace was near at hand, began to doubt the sincerity of those pacific professions which accompanied general Leslie’s annunciation of his intended evacuation of Charleston. His presumption of the enemy’s perseverance in the war, and intimate knowledge of the distressed condition of his army for clothing of every sort, could not fail more and more to excite the sensibility of a commander justly regarded as the father of his soldiers.

From the return of lieutenant colonel Carrington, after his visit to the superintendant of finance, general Greene had endeavored without intermission to negotiate a contract for the supply of the army with provisions, and to secure winter clothing for the troops, the want of which became every day more pressing. Vain were all his efforts to accomplish the first, although supported by the executive authority of the state, and seconded by the active exertions of the quartermaster general; who was authorised by the general to pledge the specie funds appropriated by the superintendant of finance to the southern service, to those who might contract for the supply either of provisions or clothing.

The devastation of the country, the neglect of the culture of the soil, and the bankrupt condition of the numerous class of individuals heretofore opulent and influential, prevented the acceptance of his overtures by any, although repeatedly proffered and zealously pressed. But however disinclined to relax his endeavors to substitute the regular and cheap system of feeding his troops by special contract, instead of the wasteful mode of requisition by the state agent, who was occasionally compelled to resort to military aid, Greene was reluctantly compelled to yield to the general inability, and to rely on the precarious and ruinous old mode, adopted through necessity and continued from the same cause. The evacuation of Charleston would of course change the state of the country, and give vigor to enterprising individuals. Then, and not till then, could he indulge the hope of effecting the necessary change in subsisting his army; and, he was obliged to rely upon the same event for procuring the requisite clothing, rendered more and more necessary by the close approach of winter.

Exclusively therefore of the importance of the expected event, in a military and national view, it became the peculiar object of anxious solicitude with the American general as it presented the only resource to relieve his army from difficulties, which must, unless surmounted, lead to disbandment.

General Leslie had declared, in his orders of the 7th of August, his intention of withdrawing his army; but September had passed away, and Charleston still remained in possession of the enemy.

In the course of the preceding month, governor Matthews had contrived, through his influence with some of the royalists in Charleston, who had resolved to throw themselves on the mercy of their country, to procure a small quantity of the most necessary articles of clothing. This fortunate acquisition, added to a supply forwarded from Philadelphia by means of the superintendant of finance, enabled the general to cover the most naked of his army; and the unceasing exertions of the state commissary, aided by the co-operation of the quartermaster general, produced an agreeable change in the quantity and quality of provisions. Still the situation of the army was deplorable, and much remained to be done to give durable comfort to the troops, whose past distress is thus described by general Greene in an official letter written on the 13th of August. “For upwards of two months more than one third of our army was naked, with nothing but a breech cloth about them, and never came out of their tents; and the rest were as ragged as wolves. Our condition was little better in the articles of provision. Our beef was perfect carrion; and even bad as it was, we were frequently without any. An army thus clothed and thus fed may be considered in a desperate situation.”

The delay and uncertainty in evacuating Charleston, however productive of gloomy forebodings in the American camp, did not stop the enterprise of adventurous individuals, who, believing the event at hand, seized, as they presumed, the sure opportunity of advancing their fortunes. Many of these procured admittance into Charleston, and entered into contracts with the British merchants, whom they found as desirous of selling their stock on hand, as they were eager to buy it.

Among the adventurers who, about the end of August or beginning of September, made their way into Charleston, was Mr. John Banks from Virginia. This gentleman, (no doubt with permission) after a short stay in town, visited the American army. Here he was introduced to general Greene. Well knowing the naked condition of his countrymen in arms, and convinced of the general’s solicitude to relieve their sufferings, he offered to procure and deliver whatever might be wanted. Greene having been, as before mentioned, authorized by the superintendant of finance to enter into contracts for supplying his army, did not hesitate in accepting Banks’ proposal, and a contract was arranged with him for the requisite clothing to be delivered on the evacuation of Charleston. This was the first opportunity which had presented of effecting the long wished and much desired object. It was embraced with avidity, and Mr. Banks completely executed his contract at the designated period, to the great joy of the general and army.

The preparations for evacuating Charleston began now to assume a determinate character; and the doubts heretofore entertained on that subject dissipated. The American general held still his position at Ashley hill, shutting up every avenue to intercourse between town and country. The enemy no longer attempted to interrupt this operation, but fixed in his design of withdrawing from South Carolina, he avoided unavailing conflict. Thus passed the autumn, and general Leslie, although never intermitting his preparations to retire, still continued with his army in Charleston. At length, early in December, the embarkation of the military stores, ordnance and baggage, commenced. When this was completed, the troops followed, and on the 14th the embarkation was finished. General Wayne, with the legion and light infantry, had, for some days previous, by order of Greene, placed himself near to the quarter house for the purpose of entering the town as soon as it should be evacuated. To this officer, Leslie informally intimated his wish to prevent injury to the town, in which he presumed on cordial coincidence from the American general, and which he insinuated was only to be effected by prohibiting every attempt to interrupt the embarkation of the retiring army.

Wayne communicated to the general the intimation he had received from Leslie, who directed him to conform to the same.

Accordingly no effort was made to disturb the enemy’s embarkation, which took place without the smallest confusion or disorder, the light troops under Wayne entering into town close after the retirement of the British rear.

Thus was the metropolis of South Carolina restored to the United States, after having been in possession of the enemy from its surrender to sir Henry Clinton (on the 12th May, 1780).

The governor with his suite was escorted into the capital on the same day. On the next the civil authority resumed its former functions, and the din of arms yielded to the innocent and pleasing occupations of peace.

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