Henry Lee Letter on the Southern Campaign
George F. Scheere, Jr.


1 The battle of Camden.

2 The retreat of Greene and Brigadier General Daniel Morgan after the battle of the Cowpens, 17 January, 1781. On coming into South Carolina, Greene took a daring offensive. Cornwallis, now in command of all British troops in the south, lay at Winnsboro, between Camden and Ninety-Six, western outpost. He had taken position at Winnsboro after an attempted invasion of North Carolina had been discouraged by the defeat of the British at King’s Mountain in October, 1780. Greene divided his force in the face of his enemy and sent Morgan with 900 men to the westward to threaten Ninety-Six and Augusta with the aid of Thomas Sumter and other South Carolina militiamen and partisans. His remaining force of 1,100 men was moved down the Peedee to Cheraw, where it could threaten Camden, support Francis Marion in the eastern districts of the state, stand closer to Charlestown than could Cornwallis himself. The danger lay, of course, in Cornwallis’s striking first one force and then the other and beating each in detail. The strategem was desired, however, to divide his Lordship, and it succeeded. While Greene lay at Cheraw, Lee and his Legion joined the army, and the young Virginian was sent to join Marion in a demonstration against the British garrison at Georgetown. Greene’s plan succeeded when Cornwallis sent Tarleton with a heavy force to meet Morgan. On the 17th of January they engaged at the Cowpens, about twenty miles west of King’s Mountain, and Morgan achieved one of the signal and decisive victories of the war. Having no delusions about his strength and that of the enemy, however, Morgan retreated and was followed by Greene in one of the most masterly of all retreats in history, the Retreat to the Dan, January 27–February 15, 1781.

3 Lee’s defeat of Pyle’s Loyalists, 25 February, 1781. When Greene crossed the Dan river into Virginia Cornwallis fell back to Hillsborough where he “set up the royal standard” and urged North Carolina loyalists to rally to him. Greene, just as soon as he was reinforced, within a few days after crossing the Dan, began to plan a “re-invasion” of the southern states and sent a command over the Dan to scout. Lee’s Legion was part of this command and on the 25th of February fell in with 300 Loyalists under a Colonel Pyle. By the strategem of passing himself off as a British unit, Lee got abreast of Pyle’s drawn-out line along the road, turned on the enemy, and decimated him.

4 The battle of Guilford. On March 15, 1781, Greene joined battle with Cornwallis at a ground Greene had selected as a sound one on his retreat northward the month before. Though Greene, technically speaking, lost the battle by judiciously retreating when it appeared as though he faced the possibility of losing his whole army, he inflicted such heavy loss on the enemy as to become, as Lee says, the pursuing army. Cornwallis retreated to Wilmington, there to refit himself under the protection of British shipping. Greene pursued to the banks of the Deep River and encamped at Ramsey’s Mill, to gird himself for further exertions.

5 The reference is doubtlessly to Greene’s bold plans for a continual advance. He rested on the banks of the Deep River and, two days after this letter was written, set out with the main army for a march to Camden where he planned to deliver his blow. Lee was thrown out on his left flank to watch Cornwallis and, if his Lordship did not move from Wilmington, to join with Marion on the Peedee and to destroy the British post near Wright’s Bluff on the Santee below Camden, Fort Watson.

6 Matilda Lee, daughter of Philip Ludwell Lee of Stratford, heiress to the Stratford estate. Lee married her early in 1782 on his return from the wars.

7 Younger brother of Henry Lee, the writer, later a noted jurist and attorney-general of the United States under Washington.

8 When Cornwallis did not strike toward Greene’s flank on Greene’s advance into South Carolina, Lee joined Marion for attacks on the enemy posts along the Santee and Peedee Rivers. Greene was on date of this letter besieging Camden, and here Lee assures him that Lee’s Legion will join him if Cornwallis moves out of Wilmington toward him.

9 What his Lordship intended was further prosecution of the plan of conquest of territory without garrisons, which he had commenced when he went into North Carolina in fall of 1780, and of which Clinton, his superior, did not approve. A relationship existed between Germaine, Secretary-at-War and Cornwallis, however, which inspired Cornwallis to pursue further inland operations in the Carolinas, despite the disapproval of Clinton; Cornwallis’s plans proved indeed repugnant to the interests of his King.

10 Greene, George Washingtpn, Life of Nathanael Greene, vol. 3, p. 291 cites another letter from Lee to Greene of this date,,in which Lee writes: “General Marion can supply you if he will, with one hundred and fifty good dragoon horses from his militia, most of them impressed horses. He might in my opinion spare sixty, which would be a happy supply.” The matter of dragoon horses was a ticklish one. Greene had been urging upon Marion and other partisan officers to send him all the horses they could spare, and he especially directed his requests to Marion. Lee interfered when he suggested that Marion might send horses for Marion did not think he could spare them. Finally, before the month of May, 1781, was out, Marion said that he would comply with the request by dismounting the militia if the General so desired but that if he did so he was sure they would never have the service of the militia again. It is now impossible to determine how much the bitter argument that continued for two weeks between Greene and Marion on this subject influenced Marionrs attempt to resign from the army, May 6, 1781, but it is certain that it had some bearing on the South Carolinian’s decision. The formal resignation was never filed, however.

11 The High Hills of Santee were a long, irregular chain of sand hills on the left bank of the Wateree, nearly twenty miles north of its junction with the Congaree. Ofttimes 200 feet above the river, the hills ranged twenty-four miles long and from one to five miles wide. They were singular high lands to lie in country as flat as South Carolina and were renowned for their cool freshness even in summer.

“An oasis in the wide tract of miasma and fever in which the army had been operating”, one writer calls them. Greene marched for the High Hills on the 13th of July, 1781, after detaching Sumter, Marion, and Lee’s Cavalry toward enemy posts at Monck’s Corner and Dorchester to draw the enemy low down in the country. During the summer, the British posts throughout the state crumpled one by one in an American war of posts.

12 Fort Motte, supra note 8.

13 “Belleville,” Colonel William Thomson’s fine plantation about a mile across the road from Mrs. Motte’s house. Col. Thomson’s house had been fortified with a stockade and was the post near McCord’s ferry on the Santee, prior to British removal to Motte’s. It continued in and out of use during the summer of 1781.

14 Greene threw Lee over the Santee for scouting and to cut up ravaging parties of the enemy. He himself because of the difficulty of forcing passage over the Santee, made a circuit of about ninety miles, crossing the Wateree near Camden and the Congaree below Fort Granby (Columbia) on the 28th of August and approached Stuart from the northwest. Stuart fell back toward Eutaw Springs.

15 Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander Stuart of the Buffs, upon whom British command devolved when Rawdon, broken in health, retired from the field, August, 1781.

16 Greene halted at Fort Motte until the 5th of September, awaiting the return of Marion’s corps that had been operating near Charlestown, and to disguise his intentions.

17 Eutaw Springs was actually about forty miles eastward from Thomson’s, on the Santee, and sixty miles from Charlestown.

18 One hundred and forty infantry and fifty cavalry under Major John Coffin, Loyalist, had been sent out by Stuart, to gain intelligence. Stuart was apparently ignorant of the proximity of his enemy’s whole army.

19 Colonel William Washington, of Stafford county, Virginia, who served under Washington in the operations around New York, 1776, and after taking a severe wound at Trenton, was transferred with a commission of major to the cavalry, in which he made a distinguished career. After the war he settled in South Carolina, where he became a citizen of prominence. He has often been confused with William Augustine Washington, who also enjoyed a splendid record in that war.

20 Fair Lawn, Sir John Colleton’s plantation, near the head of navigation of Cooper River.

21 Stuart reported a loss of 683, all ranks; Greene, 517, all ranks. In his retreat Stuart lost seventy more wounded who were taken prisoner, and the Americans missing finally totalled forty instead of eight, the number included in the figure 517.

22 Stuart fell back to Charlestown after another skirmish with Greene on Dec. 1, 1781, when the rested American army drove the British into their lines and blockaded them.

23 Washington had, of course, turned his own campaign into Virginia in the summer of 1781, and Cornwallis by October 2, 1781, the date of this letter, was under siege at Yorktown.

24 General Benjamin Lincoln and Admiral Hector D’Estaing of the French Navy assaulted Savannah, October 9, 1779, in a badly planned action. D’Estaing, before the arrival of Lincoln from Charlestown, summoned Augustine Prevost, British commandant at Savannah, and allowed him time to prepare for siege and to draw in a strong detachment. Then without waiting to bring siege operations to completion, D’Estaing forced an assault which was disastrous to American and French forces. Actually, the battle at Eutaw Springs brought an end to serious fighting in the South. When Greene drove Stuart into Charlestown, the British army in South Carolina did not strike out again. Though the war dragged on another year, the “campaign” was terminated.