Life of Major General Thomas Sumter
Cecil B. Hartley
General Sumter receives the thanks of Congress for his services—What Cornwallis said of him—Sumter again takes the field—Destroys the magazines of Fort Granby—Retreats—Captures an escort with wagons and stores—Advances to Fort Watson—Retires on the approach of Lord Rawdon—Defeats Major Fraser—Raises three regiments of regulars—Service of that force—Sumter in the State Convention—In Congress—His retirement from public life—His death.
ON the 13th of January, 1781, Congress passed a very complimentary resolution of thanks to General Sumter and his men, in the preamble of which, his victory at Hanging Rock, and his defeat of Wemyss and Tarleton, are particularly mentioned.
Soon after the battle at Blackstock hill, Cornwallis, writing to Tarleton, said, “I shall be very glad to hear that Sumter is in a condition to give us no further trouble. He certainly has been our greatest plague in this country.” This is a very high testimony to Sumter's transcendent abilities as a partisan. No one knew better than Lord Cornwallis, how much injury Sumter had inflicted on the enemies of his country.
After the battles fought by General Greene, and the departure of Cornwallis for Virginia, General Sumter, who had just recovered from his wound, collected another force, and early in February, 1781, crossed the Congaree and destroyed the magazines of Fort Granby.
On the advance of Lord Rawdon from Camden, Sumter retreated—and immediately menaced another British post. Two days after, he defeated an escort of the enemy, and captured the wagons and stores which they were conveying from Charleston to Camden. He next, with two hundred and fifty horsemen, swam across the Santee, and advanced on Fort Watson, but retreated on the approach of Lord Rawdon to its relief. On his return to Black river he was attacked by Major Fraser with a very large force. Fraser lost twenty men and retreated. Having thus cheered the spirits of the people of the centre of the state, he retired to the borders of North Carolina. In March, 1781, he raised three regiments of regulars. His previous enterprises had all been executed by militia. He subsequently took part in the military movements in the lower country, until the close of the war, and co-operating with Marion, struck many successful blows at the British, and was distinguished in the several actions which were fought between Orangeburgh and Charleston.[note 1]
After the peace, General Sumter was a distinguished member of the State Convention, in which he voted with those who opposed the adoption of the Federal Constitution, on the ground that the states were not sufficiently shielded by it against federal usurpation. He was afterwards selected one of the five members from that state in the House of Representatives of the first Congress under the Constitution, and continued to represent South Carolina in the House of Representatives, and afterwards in the Senate, until 1808. He took an active part with the other members from that state, in denouncing a petition for the abolition of slavery, which was presented from the Quakers of Pennsylvania.
For many years the veteran patriot lived in retirement amid the respect and affection of his neighbors. He retained his fine spirit unbroken to the end, and at the age of nearly a hundred years exhibited the cheerfulness and fire of youth. But a few weeks before his death, he vaulted into his saddle with the activity of a young man, and the faculties of the mind retained their vigor as well as those of the body. He died at his residence, South Mount, South Carolina, on the first of June, 1832, at the advanced age of ninety-seven.