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



Headquarters, Martin’s Tavern, near Ferguson’s Swamp, South Carolina, September 11th, 1781.


In my last despatch of the 25th of August I informed your excellency that we were on our march for Fryday’s ferry, to form a junction with the state troops, and a body of militia, collecting at that place, with an intention to make an attack upon the British army laying at colonel Thompson’s, near M’Cord’s ferry. On the 27th, on our arrival near Fryday’s ferry, I got intelligence that the enemy were retiring.

We crossed the river at Howell’s ferry, and took post at Motte’s plantation. Here I got intelligence that the enemy had halted at the Eutaw Springs, about forty miles below us; and that they had a reinforcement, and were making preparations to establish a permanent post there. To prevent this, I was determined rather to hazard an action, notwithstanding our numbers were greatly inferior to theirs. On the 5th we began our march, our baggage and stores having been ordered to Howell’s ferry under a proper guard. We moved by slow and easy marches, as well to disguise our real intention, as to give general Marion an opportunity to join us, who had been detached for the support of colonel Harden, a report of which I transmitted in my letter of the 5th, dated Maybrick’s creek. General Marion joined us on the evening of the 7th, at Burdell’s plantation, seven miles from the enemy’s camp.

We made the following disposition, and marched at four o’clock the next morning to attack the enemy. Our front line was composed of four small battalions of militia, two of North and two of South Carolinians; one of the South Carolinians was under the immediate command of general Marion, and was posted on the right, who also commanded the front line: the two North Carolina battalions, under the command of colonel Malmady, were posted in the centre; and the other South Carolina battalion, under the command of general Pickens, was posted on the left. Our second line consisted of three small brigades of continental troops,—one from North Carolina, one from Virginia, and one from Maryland. The North Carolinians were formed into three battalions, under the command of lieutenant colonel Ash, majors Armstrong and Blount; the whole commanded by general Sumner, and posted upon the right. The Virginians consisted of two battalions, commanded by major Snead and captain Edmonds, and the whole by lieutenant colonel Campbell, and posted in the centre. The Marylanders also consisted of two battalions, commanded by lieutenant colonel Howard and major Hardman, and the brigade by colonel Williams, deputy adjutant general to the army, and were posted upon the left. Lieutenant colonel Lee with his legion covered our right flank; and lieutenant colonel Henderson with the state troops, commanded by lieutenant colonels Hampton, Middleton, and Polk, our left. Lieutenant colonel Washington with his horse, and the Delaware troops under captain Kirkwood, formed a corps de reserve. Two three pounders under captain lieutenant Gaines advanced with the front line, and two sixes under captain Browne with the second.

The legion and state troops formed our advance, and were to retire upon the flanks upon the enemy’s forming. In this order we moved on to the attack. The legion and state troops fell in with a party of the enemy’s horse and foot, about four miles from their camp, who, mistaking our people for a party of militia, charged them briskly, but were soon convinced of their mistake by the reception they met with. The infantry of the state troops kept up a heavy fire and the legion in front, under captain Rudolph, charged them with fixed bayonets: they fled on all sides, leaving four or five dead on the ground, and several more wounded. As this was supposed to be the advance of the British army, our front line was ordered to form and move on briskly in line, the legion and state troops to take their position upon the flanks. All the country is covered with timber from the place the action began to the Eutaw Springs. The firing began again between two and three miles from the British camp. The militia were ordered to keep advancing as they fired. The enemy’s advanced parties were soon driven in, and a most tremendous fire began on both sides from right to left, and the legion and state troops were closely engaged. General Marion, colonel Malmady and general Pickens conducted the troops with great gallantry and good conduct; and the militia fought with a degree of spirit and firmness that reflects the highest honor upon that class of soldiers. But the enemy’s fire being greatly superior to ours, and continuing to advance, the militia began to give ground. The North Carolina brigade, under general Sumner, was ordered up to their support. These were all new levies, and had been under discipline but little more than a month; notwithstanding which they fought with a degree of obstinacy that would do honor to the best of veterans; and I could hardly tell which to admire most, the gallantry of the officers or the bravery of the troops. They kept up a heavy and well directed fire, and the enemy returned it with equal spirit, for they really fought worthy of a better cause, and great execution was done on both sides. In this stage of the action, the Virginians under lieutenant colonel Campbell, and the Marylanders under colonel Williams, were led on to a brisk charge, with trailed arms, through a heavy cannonade and a shower of musket balls. Nothing could exceed the gallantry and firmness of both officers and soldiers upon this occasion. They preserved their order, and pressed on with such unshaken resolution that they bore down all before them. The enemy were routed in all quarters. Lieutenant colonel Lee had, with great address, gallantry, and good conduct, turned the enemy’s left flank, and was charging them in rear at the same time the Virginia and Maryland troops were charging them, in front. A most valuable officer, lieutenant colonel Henderson, got wounded early in the action; and lieutenant colonel Hampton, who commanded the state cavalry, and who fortunately succeeded lieutenant colonel Henderson in command, charged a party of the enemy, and took upwards of one hundred prisoners. Lieutenant colonel Washington brought up the corps de reserve upon the left, where the enemy seemed disposed to make further resistance; and charged them so briskly with the cavalry and captain Kirkwood’s infantry, as gave them no time to rally or form. Lieutenant colonels Polk and Middleton, who commanded the state infantry, were no less conspicuous for their good conduct than their intrepidity; and the troops under their command gave a specimen of what may be expected from men, naturally brave, when improved by proper discipline. Captain lieutenant Gaines, who commanded the three pounders with the front line, did great execution until his pieces were dismounted. We kept close at the enemy’s heels after they broke, until we got into their camp, and a great number of prisoners were continually falling into our hands, and some hundreds of the fugitives ran off towards Charleston. But a party threw themselves into a large three story brick house, which stands near the spring; others took post in a picqueted garden, while others were lodged in an impenetrable thicket, consisting of a cragged shrub, called a black jack. Thus secured in front, and upon the right by the house and a deep ravine, upon the left by the picqueted garden and in the impenetrable shrubs, and the rear also being secured by the springs and deep hollow ways, the enemy renewed the action. Every exertion was made to dislodge them. Lieutenant colonel Washington made most astonishing efforts to get through the thicket to charge the enemy in the rear; but found it impracticable, had his horse shot under him, and was wounded and taken prisoner. Four six pounders were ordered up before the house—two of our own, and two of the enemy’s, which they had abandoned—and they were pushed on so much under the command of the fire from the house and the partv in the thicket, as rendered it impracticable to bring them off again when the troops were ordered to retire. Never were pieces better served; most of the men and officers were either killed or wounded. Washington failing in his charge upon the left, and the legion baffled in an attempt upon the right, and finding our infantry galled by the fire of the enemy, and our ammunition mostly consumed, though both officers and men continued to exhibit uncommon acts of heroism, I thought proper to retire out of the fire of the house, and draw up the troops at a little distance in the woods; not thinking it advisable to push our advantages further, being persuaded the enemy could not hold the post many hours, and that our chance to attack them on the retreat was better than a second attempt to dislodge them, in which, if we succeeded, it must be attended with considerable loss.

We collected all our wounded, except such as were under the command of the fire of the house, and retired to the ground, from which we marched in the morning, there being no water nearer, and the troops ready to faint with the heat, and want of refreshment, the action having continued near four hours. I left on the field of action a strong picquet, and early in the morning detached general Marion and lieutenant colonel Lee with the legion horse between Eutaw and Charleston, to prevent any reinforcements from coming to the relief of the enemy; and also to retard their march, should they attempt to retire, and give time to the army to fall upon their rear and put a finishing stroke to our successes. We left two pieces of our artillery in the hands of the enemy, and brought off one of theirs. On the evening of the 9th, the enemy retired, leaving upwards of seventy of their wounded behind them, and not less than one thousand stand of arms that were picked up on the field, and found broke and concealed in the Eutaw Springs. They stove between twenty and thirty puncheons of rum, and destroyed a great variety of other stores, which they had not carriages to carry off. We pursued them the moment we got intelhgence of their retiring. But they formed a junction with major M’Arthur at this place, general Marion and lieutenant colonel Lee not having a force sufficient to prevent it: but on our approach they retired to the neighborhood of Charleston. We have taken five hundred prisoners, including the wounded the enemy left behind; and I think they cannot have suffered less than six hundred more in killed and wounded. The fugitives that fled from the field of battle spread such an alarm that the enemy burnt their stores at Dorchester, and abandoned the post at Fair Lawn; and a great number of negroes and others were employed in felling trees across the road for some miles without the gates of Charleston. Nothing but the brick house, and the peculiar strength of the position at Eutaw, saved the remains of the British army from being all made prisoners.

We pursued them as far as this place; but not being able to overtake them, we shall halt a day or two to refresh, and then take our old position on the High Hills of Santee. I think myself principally indebted for the victory we obtained to the free use of the bayonet made by the Virginians and Marylanders, the infantry of the legion, and captain Kirkwood’s light infantry: and though few armies ever exhibited equal bravery with ours in general, yet the conduct and intrepidity of these corps were peculiarly conspicuous. Lieutenant colonel Campbell fell as he was leading his troops to the charge, and though he fell with distinguished marks of honor, yet his loss is much to be regretted: he was the great soldier and the firm patriot.

Our loss in officers is considerable, more from their value than their number; for never did either men or officers offer their blood more willingly in the service of their country. I cannot help acknowledging my obligations to colonel Williams for his great activity on this and many other occasions in forming the army, and for his uncommon intrepidity in leading en the Maryland troops to the charge, which exceeded any thing I ever saw. I also feel myself greatly indebted to captains Pierce and Pendleton, major Hyrne and captain Shubrick, my aids-de-camp, for their activity and good conduct throughout the whole of the action.

This despatch will be handed to your excellency by captain Pierce, to whom I beg leave to refer you for further particulars. I have the honor to, &c.


His Excellency the President of Congress.

Extract of a letter from Lieut. Col. Stuart to Earl Cornwallis.

Eutawy September 9th, 1781.

WITH particular satisfaction I have the honor to inform your lordship that, on the 8th instant, I was attacked by the rebel general Greene with all the force he could collect in this province and North Carolina; and after an obstinate engagement, which lasted near two hours, I totally defeated him, and took two six pounders. Soon after I had the honor of writing your lordship from Thompson’s, I received information of Greene’s having moved with the rebel army towards Cambden, and crossed the Wateree at that place, and, from the best intelligence I could collect, was on his march to Fryday’s ferry, on the Congaree. The army under my command being much in want of necessaries, and there being at the same time a convoy with provisions on their march from Charleston, which would necessarily have obliged me to make a detachment of at least four hundred men—which at that time I could ill afford, the army being much weakened by sickness—to meet the convoy at Martin’s, fifty-six miles from the camp. The distance being so great, a smaller escort was liable to fall by the enemy’s cavalry, which are very numerous. I therefore thought it advisable to retire by slow marches to the Eutaws, where I might have an opportunity of receiving my supplies, and disencumber myself from the sick, without risking any escorts, or suffer myself to be attacked at a disadvantage, should the enemy have crossed the Congaree. Notwithstanding every exertion having been made to gain intelligence of the enemy’s situation, ihey rendered it impossible by way-laying the by-paths and passes through the different swamps, and even detained different flags of truce which I had sent on public business on both sides. About six o’clock in the morning I received intelligence by two deserters, who left general Greene’s camp the preceding evening about seven miles from this place; and from their report the rebel army consisted of near four thousand men and four pieces of cannon. In the mean time I received intelligence by major Coffin, whom I had previously detached with one hundred and forty infantry and fifty cavalry, in order to gain intelligence of the enemy, that they appeared in force in his front, then about four miles from my camp. Finding the enemy in force so near me, I determined to fight them; as from their numerous cavalry a retreat seemed to me to be attended with dangerous consequences. I immediately formed the line of battle, with the right of the army to Eutaw’s branch, and its left crossing, the road leading to Roche’s plantation, leaving a corps on a commanding situation to cover the Charleston road, and to act occasionally as a reserve. About nine o’clock the action began on the right, and soon after became general. Knowing that the enemy were much superior in numbers, and at the same time finding that they attacked with their militia in front, induced me not to alter my position, unless I saw a certain advantage to be gained by it; for by moving forwards I exposed both flanks of the army to the enemy’s cavalry, which I saw ready formed to take that advantage, particularly on the left, which obliged me to move the reserve to support it.

By an unknown mistake the left of the line advanced and drove their militia and North Carolinians before them; but unexpectedly finding the Virginia and Maryland lines ready formed, and at the same time receiving a heavy fire, occasioned some confusion. It was, therefore, necessary to retire a little distance to an open field, in order to form; which was instantly done, under cover of a heavy, well-directed fire from a detachment of New York volunteers, under the command of major Sheridan, whom I had previously ordered to take post in the house to check the enemy, should they attempt to pass it. The action was renewed with great spirit; but I was sorry to find that a three pounder, posted on the road leading to Roche’s, had been disabled, and could not be brought off when the left of the line retired. The right wing of the army being composed of the flank battalion, under the command of major Majoribanks, having repulsed and drove every thing that attacked them, made a rapid move to the left, and attacked the enemy in flank; upon which they gave way in all quarters, leaving behind them two brass six pounders, and upwards of two hundred killed on the field of action, and sixty taken prisoners, among whom is colonel Washington, and, from every other information, about eight hundred wounded, although they contrived to carry them off during the action. The enemy retired with great precipitation to a strong situation about seven miles from the field of action, leaving their cavalry to cover their retreat. The glory of the day would have been more complete, had not the want of cavalry prevented my taking the advantage which the gallantry of my infantry threw in my way.

I omitted to inform your lordship in its proper place of the army’s having for some time been much in want ot bread, there being no old corn or mills near me. I was, therefore, under the necessity of sending out rooting parties from each corps, under an officer, to collect potatoes every morning at day-break; and unfortunately that of the flank battalion and buffs, having gone too far in front, fell into the enemy’s hands before the action began; which not only weakened my lines, but increased their number of prisoners.

Since the action, our time has been employed in taking care of the wounded; and, finding that the enemy have no intention to make a second attack, I have determined to cover the wounded as far as Monk’s Corner with the army. My particular thanks are due lieutenant colonel Cruger, who commanded the front line, for his conduct and gallantry during the action: and lieutenant colonel Allen, majors Dawson, Stewart, Sheridan and Coffin, and to captains Kelly and Campbell, commanding the different corps and detachments; and every other officer and soldier fulfilled the separate duties of their stations with great gallantry. But to major Majoribanks, and the flank battalion under his command, I think the honor of the day is greatly due. My warmest praise is due to captain Barry, deputy adjutant general, major brigade Coxon, heutenant Ranken, assistant quarter master general, and to acting major of brigade Roebuck, for the great assistance rendered me during the day.

I hope, my lord, when it is considered that such a handful of men, attacked by the united force of generals Greene, Sumpter, Marion, Sumner, and Pickens, and the legions of colonels Lee and Washington, driving them from the field of battle, and taking the only two six pounders they had, deserve some merit. Inclosed is the return of the killed, wounded and missing of his majesty’s troops. From the number of corps and detachments, which appear to have been engaged, it may be supposed our force is great; but your lordship will please to observe, that the army was much reduced by sickness and otherwise. I hope your lordship will excuse any inaccuracy that may be in this letter, as I have been a good deal indisposed by a wound which I received in my left elbow, which, though slight, from its situation is troublesome. It will give me most singular pleasure if my conduct meets with the approbation of his majesty, that of your lordship, and my country.

Return of Killed, Wounded, and Missing.

  3 commissioned officers;   6 sergeants; 1 drummer;   75 rank and file, killed.
16   ditto. 20   ditto. 2   ditto. 313   ditto, wounded.
10   ditto. 15   ditto. 8   ditto. 224   ditto, missing.


Head Quarters at Montmorenci, on the River St. Lawrence,
September 2d, 1759.


I wish I could, upon this occasion, have the honor of transmitting to you a more favourable account of his majesty’s arms; but the obstacles we have met with, in the operations of the campaign, are much greater than we had reason to expect, or could foresee; not so much from the number of the enemy, (though superior to us,) as from the natural strength of the country, which the Marquis de Montcalm seems wisely to depend upon.

When I learned that succours of all kinds had been thrown into Quebec; that five battalions of regular troops, completed from the best of the inhabitants of the country, some of the troops of the colony, and every Canadian that was able to bear arms, besides several nations of savages, had taken the field in a very advantageous situation; I could not flatter myself, that I should be able to reduce the place. I sought, however, an occasion to attack their army, knowing well, that, with these troops, I was able to fight, and hoping that a victory might disperse them.

We found them encamped along the shore of Beaufort, from the river St. Charles to the falls of Montmorenci, and intrenched in every accessible part. The 27th June we landed upon the isle of Orleans; but receiving a message from the admiral, that there was reason to think the enemy had artillery, and a force upon the point of Levi, I detached brigadier Monckton, with four battalions, to drive them from thence. He passed the river the 29th, at night, and marched the next day to the point; he obliged the enemy’s irregulars to retire, and possessed himself of that post: the advanced parties, upon this occasion, had two or three skirmishes with the Canadians and Indians, with little loss on cither side.

Colonel Carleton marched with a detachment to the westermost of the isle of Orleans, from whence our operations were likely to begin.

It was absolutely necessary to possess these two points, and fortify them; because from either the one or the other, the enemy might make it Impossible for any ship to lie in the bason of Quebec, or even within two miles of it.

Batteries of cannon and mortars were erected, with great despatch, on the point of Levi, to bombard the town and magazines, and to injure the works and batteries. The enemy perceiving these works in some forwardness, passed the river with 1600 men, to attack and destroy them. Unluckily they fell into confusion, fired upon one another, and went back again; by which we lost an opportunity of defeating this large detachment. The effect of this artillery has been so great, (though across the river,) that the upper town is considerably damaged, and the lower town entirely destroyed.

The works for the security of our hospitals and stores, on the isle of Orleans, being finished, on the 9th of July, at night we passed the North Channel, and encamped near the enemy’s left, the Montmorenci between us. The next morning captain Dank’s company of rangers, posted in a wood to cover some workmen, were attacked, and defeated by a body of Indians, and had so many killed and wounded, as to be almost disabled for the rest of the campaign. The enemy also suffered in this affair, and were in their turn driven off by the nearest troops.

The ground to the eastward of the falls seemed to be, (as it really is,) higher than that on the enemy’s side, and to command it in a manner which might be useful to us. There is besides, a ford below the falls, which may be passed for some hours in the latter part of the ebb, and beginning of the flood tide; and I had hopes, that possibly means might be found of passing the river above, so as to fight the marquis de Montcalm, upon terms of less disadvantage than directly attacking his entrenchments. In reconnoitring the river Montmorenci, we found it fordable at a place about three miles up; but the opposite bank was entrenched, and so steep and woody, that it was to no purpose to attempt a passage there. The escort was twice attacked by the Indians, who were as often repulsed; but in these rencounters, we had forty (officers and men) killed and wounded.

The 18th ot July, two men of war, two armed sloops, and two transports with some troops on board, passed by the town without any loss, and got into the upper river. This enabled me to reconnoitre the country above, where I found the same attention on the enemy’s side, and great difficulties on ours, arising from the nature of the ground, and the obstacles to our communication with the fleet. But what I feared most was, that if we should land between the town and the river, captain Rouge, the body first landed, could not be reinforced before they were attacked by the enemy’s whole army.

Notwithstanding these difficulties, I thought once of attempting it at St. Michael’s, about three miles above the town; but perceiving that the enemy were jealous of the design, were preparing against it, and had actually brought artillery and a mortar, (which being so near to Quebec, they could increase as they pleased,) to play upon the shipping; and as it must have been many hours before we could attack them, even supposing a favourable night for the boats to pass by the town unhurt, it seemed so hazardous, that I thought it best to desist.

However, to divide the enemy’s force, and to draw their attention as high up the river as possible, and to procure some intelligence, I sent a detachment under the command of colonel Carleton, to land at the Point de Trempe, to attack whatever he might find there, bring off some prisoners, and all the useful papers he could get. I had been informed, that a number of the inhabitants of Quebec had retired to that place, and that probably we should find a magazine of provisions there.

The colonel was fired upon, by a body of Indians, the moment he landed, but they were soon dispersed, and driven into the woods; he searched for magazines, but to no purpose, brought off some prisoners, and returned with little loss.

After this business, I came back to Montmorenci, where I found that brigadier Townshend had, by a superior fire, prevented the French from erecting a battery on the bank of the river, from whence they intended to cannonade our camp. I now resolved to take the first opportunity which presented itself, of attacking the enemy, though posted to great advantage, and every where prepared to receive us.

As the men of war cannot, (for want of a sufficient depth of water,) come near enough to the enemy’s entrenchments, to annoy them in the least, the admiral had prepared two transports, (drawing but little water,) which, upon occasions, could be run aground, to favour a descent. With the help of these vessels, which I understood would be carried by the tide, close in shore, I proposed to make myself master of a detached redoubt, near to the water’s edge, and whose situation appeared to be out of musket shot of the entrenchment upon the hill. If the enemy supported this detached piece, it would necessarily bring on an engagement, what we most wished for; and if not, I should have it in my power to examine their situation, so as to be able to determine where we could best attack them.

Preparations were accordingly made for an engagement. The 31st of July in the forenoon, the boats of the fleet were filled with grenadiers, and a part of brigadier Monckton’s brigade from the point of Levi. The two brigades under the brigadiers Townshend and Murray, were ordered to be in readiness to pass the ford, when it should be thought necessary. To facilitate the passage of this corps, the admiral had placed the Centurion in the channel, so that she might check the fire of the lower battery, which commanded the ford. This ship was of great use, as her fire was very judiciously directed. A great quantity of artillery was placed upon the eminence, so as to batter and enfilade the left of their entrenchments.

From the vessel which ran aground, nearest in, I observed that the redoubt was too much commanded, to be kept without very great loss, and the more, as the two armed ships could not be brought near enough to cover both with their artillery and musketry, which I at first conceived they might. But as the enemy seemed in some confusion, and we were prepared for an action, I thought it a proper time to make an attempt upon their entrenchments. Orders were sent to the brigadier generals, to be ready with the corps under their command Brigadier Monckton was to land, and the brigadiers Townshend and Murray to pass the ford.

At a proper time of the tide, the signal was made, but in rowing towards the shore, many of the boats grounded upon a ledge that runs off a considerable distance. This accident put us into some disorder, lost a great deal of time, and obliged me to send an officer to stop brigadier Townshend’s march, whom I then observed to be in motion. While the seamen were getting the boats off, the enemy fired a number of shells and shot, but did no considerable damage. As soon as this disorder could be set a little to rights, and the boats were ranged in a proper manner, some of the officers of the navy went in with me, to find a better place to land; we took one flat bottomed boat with us to make the experiment, and as soon as we had found a fit part of the shore, the troops were ordered to disembark, thinking it not yet too late for the attempt.

The thirteen companies of grenadiers, and two hundred of the second royal American battalion, got first on shore. The grenadiers were ordered to form themselves into four distinct bodies, and to begin the attack, supported by brigadier Monckton’s corps, as soon as the troops had passed the ford and were at hand to assist. But whtther from the noise and hurry at landing, or from some other cause, the grenadiers instead of forming themselves as they were directed, ran on impetuously, towards the enemy’s entrenchments in the utmost disorder and confusion, without waiting for the corps which were to sustain them, and join in the attack. Brigadier Monckton was not landed, and brigadier Townshend was still at a considerable distance, though upon his march to join us in very great order. The grenadiers were checked by the enemy’s first fire, and obliged to shelter themselves in or about the redoubt which the French abandoned upon their approach. In this situation they continued for some time, unable to form under so hot a fire, and having many gallant officers wounded, who, (careless of their persons,) had been solely intent upon their duty. I saw the absolute necessity of calling them off, that they might form themselves behind brigadier Monckton’s corps, which was now landed, and drawn up on the beach, in extreme good order.

By this new accident, and this second delay, it was near night; a sudden storm came on, and the tide began to make; so that I thought it most advisable not to persevere in so difficult an attack, lest, (in case of a repulse,) the retreat of brigadier Townshend’s corps might be hazardous and uncertain.

Our artillery had a great effect upon the enemy’s left, where brigadiers Townshend and Murray were to have attacked; and it is probable that if those accidents I have spoken of had not happened, we should have penetrated there, whilst our left and centre (more remote from our artillery) must have borne all the violence of their musketry.

The French did not attempt to interrupt our march. Some of their savages came down to murder such wounded as could not be brought off, and to scalp the dead, as their custom is.

The place where the attack was intended, has these advantages over all others hereabout. Our artillery could be brought into use. The greater part, or even the whole of the troops, might act at once. And the retreat (in case of repulse) was secure, at least for a certain time of the tide. Neither one or the other of these advantages can any where else be found. The enemy were indeed posted upon a commanding eminence. The beach, upon which the troops were drawn up, was of deep mud, with holes, and cut by several gullies. The hill to be ascended very steep, and not every where practicable. The enemy numerous in their intrenchments, and their fire hot. If the attack had succeeded, our loss must certainly have been great and theirs inconsiderable, from the shelter which the neighboring woods afforded them. The river St. Charles still remained to be passed, before the town was invested. All these circumstances I considered; but the desire to act in conformity to the king’s intentions, induced me to make this trial, persuaded that a victorious army finds no difficulties.

The enemy have been fortifying ever since with care, so as to make a second attempt still more dangerous.

Immediately after this check, I sent brigadier Murray above the town with one thousand two hundred men, directing him to assist rear admiral Holmes in the destruction of the French ships (if they could be got at), in order to open a communication with general Amherst. The brigadier was to seek every favorable opportunity of fighting some of the enemy’s detachments, provided he could do it upon tolerable terms, and to use all the means in his power to provoke them to attack him. He made two different attempts to and upon the north shore without success; but in a third was more fortunate. He landed unexpectedly at De Chambaud, and burnt a magazine there, in which were some provisions, some ammunition, and all the spare stores, clothing, arms and baggage of their army. Finding that their ships were not to be got at, and litde prospect of brmging the enemy to a battle, he reported his situation to me, and I ordered him to join the army.

The prisoners he took informed him of the surrender of the fort of Niagara; and we discovered, by intercepted letters, that the enemy had abandoned Carillon and Crown Point, were retired to the Isle aux Noix, and that general Amherst was making preparations to pass the lake Champlain, to fall upon M. de Burlemaque’s corps, which consist of three battalions of foot, and as many Canadians as make the whole amount to three thousand men.

The admiral’s despatches and mine would have gone eight or ten days sooner, if I had not been prevented from writing by a fever. I found myself so ill, and am still so weak, that I begged the general officers to consult together for the public utility. They are all of opinion, that (as more ships and provisions have now got above the town) they should try, by conveying up a corps of four or five thousand men, (which is nearly the whole strength of the army, after the points of Levi and Orleans are left in a proper state of defence,) to draw the enemy from their present situation, and bring them to an action. I have acquiesced in their proposal, and we are preparing to put it in execution.

The admiral and I have examined the town, with a view to a general assault; but, alter consulting with the chief engineer, who is well acquainted with the interior parts of it, and, after viewing it with the utmost attention, we found, that though the batteries uf the lower town might be easily silenced by the men of war, yet the business of an assault would be little advanced by that, since the few passages that lead from the lower to the upper town, are carefully intrenched, and the upper batteries cannot be affected by the ships, which must receive considerable damage from them and from the mortars. The admiral would readily join in this, or in any other measure, for the public service; but I could not propose to him an undertaking of so dangerous a nature, and promising so little success.

To the strength of the country, the enemy have added (for the defence of the river) a great number of floating batteries and boats. By the vigilance of these, and the Indians round our different posts, it has been impossible to execute any thing by surprise. We have had almost daily skirmishes with these savages; in which they are generally defeated, but not without loss on our side.

By the list of disabled officers (many of whom are of rank) you may perceive, sir, that the array is much weakened. By the nature of the river, the most formidable part of this armament is deprived of the power of acting, yet we have almost the whole force of Canada to oppose. In this situation, there is such a choice of difficulties, that I own myself at a loss how to determine. The affairs of Great Britain, I know, require the most vigorous measures; but the courage of a handful of brave men should be exerted only where there is some hope of a favorable event. However, you may be assured, sir, that the small part of the campaign which remains, shall be employed (as far as I am able) for the honor of his majesty, and the interest of the nation, in which I am sure of being seconded by the admiral and by the generals. Happy if our efforts here can contribute to the success of his majesty’s arms in any other parts of America. I have the honor to be, &c.



Earl Cornwallis to Sir Henry Clinton, K.B.

York Town, October 20th, 1781.


I have the mortification to inform your excellency, that I have been forced to give up the posts of York and Gloucester and to surrender the troops under my command, by capitulation, on the 19th instant, as prisoners of war, to the combined forces of America and France.

I never saw this post in a very favorable light. But when I found I was to be attacked in it, in so unprepared a state by so powerful an army and artillery, nothing but the hopes of relief would have induced me to attempt its defence; for I would either have endeavored to escape to New York by rapid marches from the Gloucester side, immediately on the arrival of general Washington’s troops at Williamsburgh; or I would, notwithstanding the disparity of numbers, have attacked them in the open field, where it might have been just possible that fortune would have favored the gallantry of the handful of troops under my command. But being assured by your excellency’s letters, that every possible means would be tried by the navy and army to relieve us, I could not think myself at liberty to venture upon either of those desperate attempts. Therefore, after remaining for two days in a strong position, in front of this place, in hopes of being attacked, upon observing that the enemy were taking measures which could not fail of turning my left flank in a short time, and receiving on the second evening your letter of the 24th of September, informing me that the relief would sail about the 5th of October, I withdrew within the works on the night of the 29th of September, hoping by the labor and firmness of the soldiers to protract the defence until you could arrive. Every thing was to be expected from the spirit of the troops; but every disadvantage attended their labor, as the work was to be continued under the enemy’s fire; and our stock of intrenching tools, which did not much exceed four hundred when we began to work in the latter end of August, was now much diminished.

The enemy broke ground on the night of the 30th, and constructed on that night and the two following days and nights two redoubts, which, with some works that had belonged to our outward position, occupied a gorge between two creeks or ravines, which came from the river on each side of the town. On the night of the 6th of October they made their first parallel, extending from its right on the river to a deep ravine on the left, nearly opposite to the centre of this place, and embracing our whole left, at the distance of six hundred yards. Having perfected this parallel, their batteries opened on the evening of the 9th against our left; and other batteries fired at the same time against a redoubt over a creek upon our right, and defended by about one hundred and twenty men (of the twenty-third regiment and marines), who maintained that post with uncommon gallantry. The fire continued incessant from heavy cannon, and from mortars and howitzers, throwing shells from eight to sixteen inches, until all our guns on the left were silenced, our work much damaged, and our loss of men considerable. On the night of the 11th, they began their second parallel, about three hundred yards nearer to us. The troops being much weakened by sickness, as well as by the fire of the besiegers, and observing that the enemy had not only secured their flanks, but proceeded in every respect with the utmost regularity and caution, I could not venture so large sorties, as to hope trom them any considerable effect; but otherwise I did every thing in my power to interrupt their work, by opening new embrazures for guns, and keeping up a constant fire with all the howitzers and small mortars that we could man. On the evening of the 14th, they assaulted and carried two redoubts that had been advanced about three hundred yards for the purpose of delaying their approaches and covering our left flank, and included them in their second parallel, on which they continued to work with the utmost exertion. Being perfectly sensible that our works could not stand many hours after the opening of the batteries of that parallel, we not only continued a constant fire with all our mortars, and every gun that could be brought to bear upon it, but a little before day-break on the morning of the 10th, I ordered a sortie of about three hundred and fifty men, under the direction of lieutenant colonel Abercrombie, to attack two batteries which appeared to be in the greatest forwardness, and to spike the guns. A detachment of guards, with the eightieth company of grenadiers, under the command of lieutenant colonel Lake, attacked die one; and one of light infantry, under the command of major Armstrong, attacked the other: and both succeeded, by forcing the redoubts that covered them, spiking eleven guns, and killing or wounding about one hundred of the French troops who had the guard of that part of the trenches, and with little loss on our side. The action, though extremely honorable to the officers and soldiers who executed it, proved of little public advantage; for the cannon having been spiked in a hurry, were soon rendered fit for service again; and before dark the whole parallel batteries appeared to be nearly complete.

At this time we knew that there was no part of the whole front attacked on which we could show a single gun, and our shells were nearly expended. I therefore had only to choose between preparing to surrender next day, or endeavoring to get off with the greatest part of the troops; and I determined to attempt the latter, reflecting that, though it should prove unsuccessful in its immediate object, it might, at least, delay the enemy in the prosecution of farther enterprizes. Sixteen large boats were prepared, and, upon other pretexts, were ordered to be in readiness to receive troops precisely at ten o’clock. With these I hoped to pass the infantry during the night; abandoning our baggage, and leaving a detachment to capitulate for the town’s people, and the sick and wounded, on which subject a letter was ready to be delivered to general Washington.

After making my arrangements with the utmost secrecy, the light infantry, greatest part of the guards, and part of the twenty-third regiment, landed at Gloucester; but at this critical moment, the weather from being moderate and calm, changed to a violent storm of wind and rain, and drove all the boats, some of which had troops on board, down the river. It was soon evident that the intended passage was impracticable; and the absence of the boats rendered it equally impossible to bring back the troops that had passed, which I had ordered about two in the morning. In this situation, with mv little force divided, the enemy’s batteries opened at day-break. The passage between this place and Gloucester was much exposed; but the boats having now returned, they were ordered to bring back the troops that had passed during the night, and they joined in the forenoon without much loss. Our works in the mean time were going to ruin; and not having been able to strengthen them by abattis, nor in anv oiher manner than by a slight friezing, which the enemy’s artillery were demolishing whenever they fired, my opinion entirely coincided with that of the engineer and principal officers of the army, that they were in many places assailable in the foremoon, and that by the continuance of the same fire for a few hours longer, they would be in such a state as to render it desperate, with our numbers, to attempt to maintain them. We at that time could not fire a single gun; only one eight inch and a little more than one hundred Cohorn shells remained. A diversion by the French ships of war, that lay at the mouth of York river, was to be expected. Our numbers had been diminished by the enemy’s fire, but particularly by sickness; and the strength and spirits of those in the works were much exhausted by the fatigue of constant watching and unremitting duty. Under all these circumstances, I thought it would have been wanton and inhuman to the last degree to sacrifice the lives of this small body of gallant soldiers, who had ever behaved with so much fidelity and courage, by exposing them to an assault, which, from the numbers and precaution of the enemy, could not fail to succeed. I therefore proposed to capitulate; and I have the honor to inclose to your excellency the copy of the correspondence between general Washington and me on that subject, and the terms of capitulation agreed upon. I sincerely lament that better could not be obtained; but I have neglected nothing in my power to alleviate the misfortune and distress of both officers and soldiers.

The men are well clothed and provided with necessaries, and I trust will be regularly supplied by the means of the officers that are permitted to remain with them. The treatment, in general, that we have received from the enemy since our surrender, has been perfectly good and proper. But the kindness and attention that have been shown to us, by the French officers in particular,—their delicate sensibility of our situation, their generous and pressing offer of money, both public and private, to any amount,—have really gone beyond what I can possibly describe; and will, I hope, make an impression on the breast of every officer, whenever the fortune of war should put any of them into our power.

Although the event has been so unfortunate, the patience of the soldiers in bearing the greatest fatigues, and their firmness and intrepidity under a persevering fire of shot and shells, that I believe has not often been exceeded, deserve the highest admiration and praise. A successful defence, however, in our situation, was, perhaps, impossible; for the place could only be reckoned an intrenched camp, subject in most places to enfilade, and the ground in general so disadvantageous, that nothing but the necessity of fortifying it as a post to protect the navy, could have induced any person to erect works upon it. Our force diminished daily by sickness and other losses, and was reduced when we offered to capitulate, on this side, to little more than three thousand two hundred rank and file fit for duty, including officers, servants and artificers; and at Gloucester about six hundred, including cavalry. The enemy’s army consisted of upwards of eight thousand French, nearly as many continentals, and five thousand militia. They brought an immense train of heavy artillery, mostly amply furnished with ammunition, and perfectly well manned.

The constant and universal cheerfulness and spirit of the officers, in all hardships and dangers, deserve my warmest acknowledgments;—and I have boen particularly indebted to brigadier general O’Hara and lieutenant colonel Abercrombie, the former commanding on the right, and the latter on the left, for their attention and exertion on every occasion. The detachment of the twenty-third regiment, and of the marines, in the redoubt on the right, commanded by captain Apthorpe, and the subsequent detachments, commanded by lieutenant colonel Johnston, deserve particular commendation. Captain Rochfort, who commanded the artillery, and indeed every officer and soldier of that distinguished corps, and lieutenant Sutherland, the commanding engineer, have merited in every respect my highest approbation: and I cannot sufficiently acknowledge my obligations to captain Symonds, who commanded his majesty’s ships, and to the other officers and seamen of the navy, for their active and zealous co-operation.

I transmit returns of our killed and wounded. The loss of seamen and town’s people was likewise considerable.

I trust your excellency will please to hasten the return of the Bonetta, after landing her passengers, in compliance with the article of capitulation.

Lieutenant colonel Abercrombie will have the honor to deliver this despatch, and is well qualified to explain to your excellency every particular relating to our past and present situation. I have the honor to be, &c.



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