Chapter VIII[1]

[291] TOP

It was not until the advance of the enemy to Camden and the Cheraws, that the loyalists of North Carolina resumed their arms. Lord Cornwallis had instructed them not to rise until his approach into North Carolina should afford them countenance and support. But, after arrangements were made for embodying, it was not so safe as his lordship supposed, for his majesty's loyal subjects to remain in a state of separation. They knew they were watched, and military execution or civil prosecution might invade their firesides, before they could convene their friends for mutual protection. Colonel Moore, the same who had accompanid[sic] Boyd, again made his appearance at the head of an armed band from Tryon county. But before he had advanced far, Colonel Rutherford was upon him, and his party was killed or dispersed. Colonel Bryan, from the lower part of the Yadkin, was more fortunate. He heard of the approach of an American army under De Kalb, on a route which led near his habitation, and collecting about 800 followers, he hastened to join the 71st British regiment, then stationed at the Cheraws.

Thus reinforced, the commander of the regiment, Colonel M'Arthur, dispatching his sick and convalescents with a part of his baggage down the Pee Dee in boats, under an escort of militia, struck across the country to unite with Lord Rawdon at Camden. This left an opening for Marion to penetrate into South Carolina on the enemy's right, of which he soon availed himself; whilst Sumpter was entering upon active operations on his left.

[292] TOP

A singular coincidence of events facilitated the career of these two active commanders, and placed them most unexpectedly in the command of a force which sanctioned their advance into the heart of the country. They were both feebly attended, when, nearly about the, same time, two instances, of treachery (as it was called by the enemy) placed them in the command of troops who could never afterwards desert them because of that treachery.

Among the few who had accompanied Sumpter, or united themselves to him when he fled into North Carolina, was Colonel Neale. This gentleman's command lay in the neighborhood of the Tiger and Enoree rivers. After the British conunander had resolved to convert the militia into active instruments in the war, Neale's command was given to one Floyd; and Major Lile, who, bending to the times, had taken protection, was made second in command. While the British troops hovered near them, and no American force was in view to protect them, the men had patiently submitted to be marshalled under his majesty's commission. But no sooner was information brought them that Sumpter was on the Catawba, accompanied by their beloved colonel, than the whole regiment, with Lile at their head, marched off and joined him. Shortly after, he formed a junction with the Waxsaw whigs, and, in the space of twenty-six days, drove in the advanced parties of the enemy on the Catawba, and severely handled them in three sharp conflicts, to wit, at Williams', at Rocky Mount, and the Hanging Rock. The last affair occurred eight days before the defeat of Gates, and near the scene of that action. Immediately after it, Sumpter had recrossed the Catawba, and was lying on the west side of the river at the time of Gates' arrival at Rugely's Mills.[2]

The same thing happened to Marion. With his little band, generally well mounted but miserably clad and equipped, he sought out General Gates, who, after superceding De Kalb, was then on his advance to Lynch's Creek, and with him concerted the plan of penetrating into the heart of the state. A messenger from the whigs of Williamsburg had invited Marion to place himself at their head, and, he was cautiously tracing his way through a country much infested with loyalists, when M'Arthur's, boats were descending the Pee Dee. The advance, of Marion spread an alarm among the loyalists, and the intelligence was promptly communicated to the escort of the boats, with advice to hasten their descent to a place of security. The effect was exactly tbe reverse of that intended. No sooner did the men receive this intelligence, than, rising on their officers, they carried them off, and making the convalescents of the

[293] TOP

British army prisoners, they, with a very seasonable supply of munitions of war, were delivered to Marion.

When these acts of "black treachery" (as they were denominated) became known to the British commanders, their indignation knew no bounds; and the beneficial effects of these events on the American cause, is best expressed in Colonel Tarleton's own language: "It ruined all confidence between the regulars and militia." All Sir Henry Clinton's fairy visions of converting the militia of South Carolina into a British army, at once vanished.[3] Yet such is the unwillingness of men to acknowledge themselves wrong in their speculations, that his commanders would not for some time relinquish the idle project. Many of the whigs whose high standing, or rigid notions of truth would not admit of temporizing, had to sustain imprisonment and chains in their resistance to this imperious measure.. These persecutions caused many to flock to the standard of Marion, and soon swelled his corps to a size which enabled him to scour the country from the North Carolina line even as far as Monk's Corner, and greatly interrupt and embarrass the communication between Charleston ahd the posts at Georgetown and Camden.

As soon as the formidable expedition under Sir Henry Clinton had sat down before Charleston, congress resolved on making further provision for sustaining the war in the southern states. But so feeble were their means, that after leaving the necessary force for holding the enemy in check in New York, they could spare but fourteen hundred men to be detached to the south. The command of this detachment, consisting of the Maryland and Delaware lines, was confided to Major General Baron De Kalb, and was intended as a reinforcement to the army under General Lincoln. But Lincoln having been made prisoner before their arrival, it became necessary to appoint a successor to him in the command of the southern department.

The. victor of Burgoyne at that time maintained an almost unrivalled eminence in popular opinion; and such were the relative standings of himself and Washington, even in the opinion of congress, that without consulting the commander in chief, General Gates was ordered, by a vote of congress, to take command in the southern department. It has been seen that Washington would have conferred it on another, had the choice rested with him.

The Baron De Kalb. had pressed his march to the south by the direct route from Petersburg in Virginia, for Camden in South Carolina. On the 6th of July he reached the banks of the Deep River, and halted at Coxe's Mills to

[294] TOP

collect provisions, and decide from intelligence on his future course. A militia force had been raised in the state of North Carolina and placed under command of General Caswell, This was now in advance of De Kalb, beyond the Pee Dee, on the route to Camden by Mask's Ferry. On the same route Col. Porterfield, with his small detachmentof Virginia regulars, was also posted. But, the country lying between was alarmingly sterile, and had been so exhausted of its few means of subsistence, that to pass it without forming magazines in advance, or transporting the means of subsistence With him, De Kalb thought impracticable: and such was the abject state of the means of transportation, that either to collect provisions or transport them, was nearly impossible. Thus circumstanced, he was meditating on the project of deviating to his right, so as to avail himself of the fertile and friendly counties of Mecklenburg and Rowan, when General Gates arrived and, took the command.

Orders were immediately issued for the troops to hold themselves in readiness to move at a moment's warning, and on the 27th, the army was under march, in the direct route across the barrens to Mask's Ferry.

General Gates had not at this time one day's provision to serve out to his army; and a measure so fraught with danger, and which, in its consequences, had so nearly brought his army to starving or disbanding, must ever remain the subject of severe criticism on, his military conduct. Colonel Williams, then adjutant-general under De Kalb, has written his apology, which, as an authentic and interesting fragment of original history, and a specimen of the talents and excellence of a man whom his country has reason to be proud of, will be found at large in the appendix to this work.[4] The reason urged for this dangerous adventure was, that General Caswell, too confident in his numbers, and too emnulous or avaricious of fame, and unconscious of the danger to which he had exposed himself, had avanced to Lynch's Creek, and was in the most critical situation from his near approach to the enemy: and that.a precipitate march was necessary to support or extricate him; as, in case, of his dispersion, all hope of military support from North Carolina must be abandoned. It would also seem, that Gates had some how been led to anticipate supplies which never reached him, as he assured the -men that there were waggons loaded with supplies in the rear, which must overtake them in two days. Yet how could this have happened? It was fortunate for him that he commanded a body of the best officers and best troops in America., Well disciplined as the troops were, and with all the zeal and devotion of his officers, it

[295] TOP

was scarcely possible to preserve them from mutiny, such was the absolute state of starvation to which they were reduced before they formed a junction with General Caswell.

The most reasonable conjecture as to the motives of General Gates is, that he urged his march across the desert, with the double intent of concealing his own approach and anticipating that of reinforcements tothe enemy.

Lord Rawdon being then in command in Camden, it was to be expected that immediately as intelligence reached Lord Cornwallis of the advance of an army to attempt that post, he would press forward reinforcements to Rawdon's support. But, if this object entered into General Gates' views, it is not easy to assign a cause why, when opposed by a very inferior force to his own on the banks of Lynch's Creek, he should have suffered himself to be forced to ascend its left bank and to pass its head, instead of forcing his way across to Camden. Yet it is certain that he was detained man�uvring on the east bank of Lynch's Creek, from the 7th of August, the day on which the junction was formed with Caswell, to the 13th, when the army encamped at Rugely's Mills' called Clermont. The imputed object of General Gates in ascending the stream, from the point where he first struck it to that at which Rugely' s Mills are constructed, was to effect a junction with Gen. Stevens, then on his march with a brigade of Virginia militia; but if this was his purpose, it would have been equally well answered by crossing the stream below, and pressing on to the great road to Camden by which Stevens was advancing, so as effectually to cover the latter from all danger of attack. But the motive which govern the conduct of a military commander can seldom be determined by conjecture, howeverjustly they may be weighed when avowed or discovered.

On the march through Virginia, De Kalb had been joined by Colonel Carrington, with three lean coinpanies of artillery, manning six pieces. On the banks of the Pee Dee, Colonel Porterfield had joined the army, and shortly after, Colonel Armand, with a legionary corps of about sixty horse and as many foot. The day after the army had encamped at Rugely's Mills, General Stevens also came up with his brigade of militia; and the combined returns of these several commands now flattered General Gates with the idea of being at the head of seven thousand men.

The next day presented a fair opportunity for enteriug upon active operations.

Camden Ferry, on the line of communication between the enemy's posts, had always been, an important pass to the garrisons of Camden, Granby, and Ninety-Six. The recent irruption of Marion had rendered the line of communication between Camden, Fort Watson, and Charleston, by the east side

[296] TOP

of the Waterree and Monk's Corner, so insecure as to compel the enemy to resort to a more Westerly route, crossing above the mouth of the Wateree at M'Cord's Ferry, and ascending the West bank of the Wateree to Camden Ferry. Here again the communication was watched by Sumpter, whose recent victories over the advanced posts of the enemy, enabled him to occupy the country in the vicinity of Rocky Mount. This rendered it necessary to defend the pass at Camden Ferry, and a Colonel Carey, with a body of loyalists, was at this time employed in erecting a fort on the west side of the Watteree for that purpose.

On the morning of the 14th of August, Colonel Sumpter received intelligence of the advance of a considerable convoy of British waggons, on the route from M'Cord's to Camden Ferry, and dispatched an express to General Gates to solicit of him a reinforcement of regulars to support his militia infantry, in order to attempt the destruction of Carey and capture of the convoy. One hundred picked men of the regulars and three hundred militia of North Carolina, with two pieces of artillery, under Colonel Woolford of the Maryland line, were immediately ordered on this service; and General Gates put the army under marching orders for Camden, with the double design of supporting Sumpter, if necessary, and availing himself of the opportunity of attacking Lord Rawdon or his redoubts, if the latter should march out in force to repel the attack of Sumpter.

On the night of the 15th at 10 o'clock, the American army moved from Rugely's Mills, little dreaming of the terrible fate to which a few hours were about to consign them. The interval between their march and their destruc- Jim scarcely measured a span.

It is truly astonishing that General dates should have been profoundly ignorant of the arrival of Lord Cornwallis at Camden the evening previous. Yet so it was; and at the head of 2,000 finished.troops, at the very hour that Gates moved, from Clermont, Cornwallis had taken up the line of march to attack him in his encampment. An event so probable, and so decisive on his future operations, surely ought to have commanded General Gates' earliest attention. The obscure route by which Gates approached Camden, has been mentioned as tbe cause why the movements of Cornwallis had not been communicated by Gates' friends; but surely, if the necessary measures for obtaining intelligence had been adopted, the route of the latter's march would have been made known to those who were to communicate with him. There is too much reason to believe, that those means were not adopted.

Nor was there the least necessity for his remaining destitute of intelligence. For he know that Marion had penetrated into the state before him; and through

[297] TOP

the medium of the settlements along the head waters of the Black River, only a little distance to his left, swarming with animated whigs, nothing would have been easier than to have dogged every step of the British commander. And even if the want of means be urged; up to the time hof his junction with Caswell, it may be admitted, but after that event there was nothing to prevent his dispatching proper persons to procure the necessary intelligence along the line of communication on the east side of the Wateree River, from Lenud's Ferry, where Cornwallis crossed the Santee, even to the gates of Camden.

The unhappy fate which awaited him, is that which must ever attend the commander who neglects the ineans of intelligence. His laurels were strewed in the dust, his venerable head bowed down with humiliation, an army destroyed, and the southern states brought to the verge of ruin.

Lord Cornwallis, on the, contrary, appears to have been accurately informed of every particular relating to his adversary. It is even asserted that an emissary sent from Camden had had the address to pass himself upon Gates as a friend and win his confidence. Thus instructed, the British commander resolved to make a night attack upon his unsuspecting enemy, then posted but ten miles in advance of him.

The first intelligence communicated to either army of the near approach of the other, was, from the fire of the British advance-guard upon the American. The cavalry of Armand's legion being struck by this discharge, wheeled off in confusion and carried dismay into the columns advancing in their rear. But the infantry under Porterfield, who were advancing in files on the right of the road, coolly returned the fire and checked the advance of the enemy. This was, about half after two in the morning, and about mid way between Clermont and Camden. The ground was equally unknown to both commanders, and the meeting equally unexpected. As if by mutual consent, the two armies drew off to reconnoitre and prepare for ulterior measures. Orders had been issued by the American general for forming for battle, and the line was soon formed under the activity of their adjutant-general. The first Maryland division, including the Delawares, under De Kalb, was posted on the right; the Virginia militia, under Stevens, on the left; and the North Carolinians, under Caswell, in the centre: the artillillery[sic] in battery on the road. Both wings rested on morasses, and the second Maryland brigade was posted a few hundred yards in rear of the first, to act as a reserve.

The enemy was formed in one line, with each wing covered and supported by a body in reserve.

Thus drawn up, the break of day discovered the two armies to each other, and the action was brought on by the American left wing's advancing upon

[298] TOP

the British right, which had the appearance of still being unsettled in its position.

The reception which the Virginians met with soon proved that their adversary was prepared for them; and the proof of that fact was all they stood to ascertain. They fled in the most abject confusion, "few discharged their guns, and fewer still carried them off the field."

The North Carolina militia, with the exception of one corps under a Major Dixon, which was on the extreme right of their brigade under protection of the Marylanders, followed the cowardly example of the left, and broke away notwithstanding every effort to detain them. Armand's cavalry also fled, abride abattue[7], and a charge of the British cavalry soon put an end to every hope of rallying the fugitives. They scattered through the woods, seeking the swamps or their homes, and spreading a paralysing alarm throughout the country. As no returns could ever be obtained of the North Carolinians, it is not known how many suffered; but as some of them behaved well, it followed that they sustained some loss; but of the Virginians it is confidently asserted, that their returns exhibited "three wounded."

The devoted Marylanders and Delawares were now left to struggle against double their numbers. The state of affairs would have dictated a retreat, but a post had been assigned them and they nobly maintained it, waiting for orders from the commander in chief. But he, it seems, had been borne away by the torrent of militia, and could not find an aid to convey his orders. Why else was there no attention paid to the safety of these brave men?

The artillery was now lost, and Armand's legion fled; the regular infantry numbered but nine hundred men, and these had now to bear the undivided pressure of two thousand of the best troops in the British service. But they not only resisted, but at, some points carried the bayonet into the ranks of the enemy and made many prisoners. It was, impossible that this could last. De Kalb had fallen under eleven wounds, the British cavalry had returned from dispersing the militia, the ground was unfavourable to man�uvring in a square or covering their flanks, and the only chance that remained to avoid a surrender on the field, was to break away for the morass in their rear, into which they could not be pursued by the cavalry. This was done; and by this alone did any part of this devoted corps escape from the swords of the dragoons, in which the enemy was very strong. In this effort a large proportion of the officers, escaped; but Major Anderson was the only one who succeeded. in keeping together any body of men. Colonel Howard and some others collected some men in their train, and the whole pcoceeded on in a state of utter dissolution until they reached Charlotte. Scarcely any of the wagons escaped; for the horses

[299] TOP

were very generally brought into requisition to carry off the wounded officers. The artillery, baggage, every thing became prize to the victor, and to the utter astonishment but infinite relief of the scattered Americans, Lord Cornwallis, satisfied with his triumph, returned to celebrate it in Camden � by offering the lives of some of his prisoners to the manes of his soldiers, or the demon of revenge.

It was in the midst of the hurry of flight that a courier overtook General Gates with the consoling intelligence, that Sumpter had completely succeeded in his enterprize. But Gates had only to communicate in reply intelligence of his own irretrievable misfortune, and the necessity of Sumpter's urging a retreat to the mountains for safety.

The moment the detachment under Woolford joined Sumpter, he put his command under march for Camden Ferry. Near the break of day on the morning of the 16th, he found himself advanced undiscovered to within a few miles of Carey's fort. A strong detachment of militia under command of Colonel Thomas Taylor, was then pushed forward to gain the rear of the fort and cut off the retreat of Carey's detachment, or prevent it from forming a junction with the convoying party. Taylor approached with such cautioin and silence as to find Carey's party wholly unconscious of the danger that awaited them. The opportunity was favourable, and he improved it by so sudden and impetuous an attack, that the whole, party surrendered without any serious opposition. Learning from them that the convoy was at no great distance in the rear, and equally unapprehensive of danger, Taylor immediately advanced upon it, and the similitude of his appearance with the home-spun dresses of the loyalists, excited no apprehension in the convoying party until they found themselves surrounded and secured.

A retreat up the river was immediately commenced, and the party under Sumpter far advanced before either he, had notice of the advance of Cornwallis upon Gates, or Cornwallis, intelligence of the disaster sustained by his convoy. But it happened that Sumpter had been approaching danger instead of avoiding it, for he was now nearly opposite the ground on which the battle of the morning had been fought. The river lay between him and the enemy, but there were several points at which it could be passed.

As soon as Lord Cornwallis. received intelligence of the capture, of his convoy and the route by which Sumpter was retireating, he detached Colonel Tarleton with his legion and a corps of mounted infantry, to pursue the American party by the route over Rocky Mount Ford.

Colonel Sumpter had acquired a, valuable booty � forty waggons laden with arms, spirits, clothing, and every thing that the American army stood most in

[300] TOP

need of. But he was also encumbered with near three hundred prisoners, and the whole, greatly operated to impede his retreat. Nevertheless by urging his march by day and by night,he passed Fishing Creek about noon of the 18th, and halted to afford a moment of rest and refreshment to his harassed troops. That moment proved fatal to the most flattering hopes that ever dawned on the enterprize of a commander. Colonel Tarleton with his cavalry burst upon them when there was not a man standing to his arms, and threw themselves between the men and the parade where their muskets were stackpd.

By What means Tarleton succeeded in effecting tbis unequivocal surprise we are uninformed; the force under Sumpter was sufficient to have swept his cavalry from the face of the earth had it been prepared to receive them. It cannot be supposed that the army had been halted without posting proper videttes and a camp-guard; and. Tarleton's reaching the parade ground before drum beat to arms, must ever remain a mysterious occurrence until some explanation of the causes shall be furnished to the world. The only one ever furnished is that the videttes were sleeping on their posts, and the commander supposed himself beyond the reach of danger. Never is a military commander more certainly in danger, than when lulled by the belief that he has nothing to fear.

By this unhappy occurrence many brave men lost their lives. Some few of the regulars took post behind the waggons in hopes of rallyin the militia, but their fire on1y sharpened the swords of the dragoons, by the.death of a few of their number. No other opposition was made; the rout was total; Colonel Sumpter had the good fortune to escape, but very few of the officers or men got off. The aggregaate loss in killed wounded, and prisoners was very little short of that sustained by General Gates, and, served to swell the returns of the victors to the still exaggerated account of one thousand prisoners, and eight or nine hundred killed and wounded � a loss which has been erroneously attributed to the defeat of Gates alone.

It was on this occasion that Colonel Tarleton set the example which was but too closely imitated about six weeks afterwards upon the followers of Colonel Ferguson. There are still living the most respectable witnesses who saw him ride up in person, (for he was in the rear of the party that charged,) and, under the information derived from the loyalists, late prisoners to Sumpter, select and pinion with cords a number of the American prisbners, and in this situation march them off to Camden. These were the men who were, a few days afterwards, consigned to the gallows by " the'amiable Cornwallis,"[5]

[301] TOP

without even a form of trial. Were they British subjects? were they Americans ? were they rebels ? were they even deserters? were they any thing but spies? Whence could a British commander derive this savage right? It was an expression of contemp for the struggle in which they were engaged, and the whigs, when victorious at King's Mount, were resolved not to be despised with impunity.

Discordant, as usual, are the accounts transmitted, as well of the numbers engaged, as of the losses sustained at the defeat of General Gates. The British contended that they had fought and dispersed treble their own numbers; and could General Gates have brought into action the whole force supposed to have been collected at C1ermont, they would have exceeded that number. But his march through the desert had made sad havoc in his line of regulars; and as to the militia, the fatigues of duty, change of habits, and a long march, had reduced them to almost one third the number that had been mustered. It is positively known that the American returns of the morning of the 16th August gave exactly three thousand and fifty-two fit for duty. Of these, nine hundred were of the line, two hundred artillerists with four pieces, and one hundred and fifty of Armand's legion � about sixty of whom were mounted, but proved themselves very indifferent cavalry. The rest of the troops, about seventeen hundred, were Virginia and North Carolina militia, nearly in equal numbers.

The British army are acknowledged to have consisted of about seventeen hundred regulars and three hundred loyalists. On the night of the engagement, some prisoners taken in the rencounter between the advanced guards, reported it three thousand strong, and with that number General Gates supposed himself about to engage. With what hope of success he could venture, with a force like his, to cope with three thousand British veterans in an oped champaign country, it is impossible to conceive. But it scarcely seems to be the question whether be ought to have engaged them. The doubt is, whether it was possible under actual circumstances, to avoid a general action. De Kalb certainly thought that the army ought to retreat, and considering that it wanted yet four hours of day, there was probably much more to have been hoped for, from the attempt to retreat, than from the possibility that a body of raw militia, agitated by all the anticipations of four hours spent in the dark in the face of a disciplined enemy, would stand its ground against their bayonets. Nor is this all; it will be seen from Colonel Williams' narrative, that an injudicious measure in the distribution of provisions, had actually put them in a state of debility little adapted to the tug of battle.

[302] TOP

killed and wounded. No other evidence exists on that point. As to the American loss, as the militia scattered to all the winds of heaven, there is no certainty of the number killed of them. With regard to the North Carolinians, as the 300 men who accompanied Sumpter were made prisoners, we find 350 North Carolina militia made prisoners by the enemy. One of their best officers, Gen. Rutherford, was wounded and fell into the enemy's hands. Their General Gregory. also was severely wounded. Of the regulars, not above six hundred escaped; so that the loss here, exclusive of those who had shared the fate of Sumpter's detachment, was not less than six hundred,[6] a very large proportion of whom were killed and wounded. Many valuable officers shared the same fate, and none of them more deservedly lamented than Colonel Porterfield; who was severely wounded and fell into the enemy's hands. Whien able to travel he was paroled, but his wound was incurable, and he finally expired under it.

The tomb of De Kalb, erected by congress, still occupies a conspicuous place, in the cemetery of Camden, and history has reared a more imperishable monument to the gallant Du Buissy, who with his own body shielded that of his friend and commander from the British bayonets, � which had already drank his blood from eleven orifices.

The command of Sumpter was irrevocably dispersed, but its commander, supported still by the hope of retrieving the fortunes of his country, retired to North Carolina. to endeavour once more to collect his followers.

General Gates, after ineffectual attempts to rally his men, first at Clermont, then at Charlotte, then at Salisbury, finally retired to Hillsborough, to solicit the support of the state legislature then in session. Gunby, Williams, Howard, Anderson, and as many of the regular officers as had escaped, collected the "tristes reliqui�" of their late gallant regiments at Charlotte, and under the conduct of General Smallwood, retreated. to Hillsborough. Here, upon bringing together the little remnant of the southern army, they found the whole of all descriptions in the Maryland line, including those who had been left in the rear on the day of the action, to amount to six hundred and ninety-seven rank and file, and eighty non-commissioned officers and musicians; total, seven

[303] TOP

hundred and seventy-seven: Delawares, one hundred and seventy-five: Virginians, fifty.

After the dispersion of Colonel Sumpter's command, there did not remain in South Carolina a man in arms in the American cause, except the few who were embodied under Marion. This offficer still maintained his ground below the Santee River, and managed, among the swamps and defiles of that region, to elude all the activity of his enemies. Nay, tbe communication with Charles- ton by the. way. of Nelson's Ferry, was almost broken up by his persevering watchfulness, and even the defeat of Gates did hot warn him to retire, as long as the British cavalry remained with Cornwallis.

A masterly enterprize, marked with the boldness and intelligence that distinguished all his movements, and crowned with signal success, soon made it necessary for Cornwallis to dislodge him. Intelligence was communicated to Marion that a detacbment of the prisoners taken from Gates, about one hundred and fifty in number, were on their march for Charleston, under an escort of nearly the same number. Placing his mounted militia in ambush in one of the swamps that skirt the road from Nelson's Ferry to Monk's Corner, he darted upon the escort at a moment when least expected, and made every man of them prisoner. Then placing their arms in the hands of their prisoners, paroling the officers and taking their receipt for the British prisoners, to be exchanged, he hurried across the Santee and up the west bank of the Pee Dee, until his prisoners were safely disposed of within the limits of North Carolina. He was far beyond the reach of danger before the parties detached to drive him from his covert had reached the scene of his recent enterprizes.

Thus was the state of South Carolina wholly abandoned to the enemy.

From the fatal 16th of August to the 7th of September, Lord Cornwallis was occupied at Camden in measures to secure the province against that spirit of revolt, which had so recently manifested itself on the approach of Gates. During this interval it was, that the most influential of the whigs in Charleston, in contempt of the faith of treaty, were torn from their families, hurried into transports, and conveyed to the fortress of St. Augustine. And every measure was adopted in council and enforced by example, which could give the citizens to understand that their lives and properties were held in subjection to a military despotism. At the same time, measures were adopted to embody and discipline the zealous loyalists; and for this purpose, Colonel Ferguson, an active and intelligent partisan, and possessing peculiar qualifications for attaching to him the marksmen of Ninety-Six, was dispatched into that district. To a corps of one hundred picked regulars, he soon succeeded in attaching twelve or thirteen hundred hardy natives; his camp became the rendezvous of

[304] TOP

the desperate, the idle, and the vindictive, as well as of the youth of the loyalists whose zeal or ambition, prompted them tq military service.

There was a part of the state which had not yet been trodden by a hostile foot, and the projected march through this unexplored and undevastated region drew many to his standard. This, was the country which stretches along the foot of the mountains towards the borders of North Carolina. His progress is said to have been marked with blood and lighted up with conflagrations.

On the 7th September Lord Cornwallis, at the head of all his disposable force, lightly equipped, as the English writers say, and not prepared for permanent conquest, commenced his march for Charlotte; while Ferguson, by an oblique route, moved from Ninety-Six towards the same point. There was, seemingly nothing to oppose, nothing to molest the progress of either. Yet one met with death and ruin, and the other found an enemy swarming round him, who could neither be driven away, nor evaded.

It was at the time of Clarke's retreat from Augusta that Ferguson was crossing the country to form a junction with Cornwallis. The route that the American colonel was pursuing in his retreat, appeared to indicate an intention to pass in front of the British army, and form a junction with Gates, or with the North Carolina militia, which had been recently called into service. Ferguson, conceiving the idea of intercepting him in his course made a movement to the left, which seemed to threaten the habitations of the hardy race that occupy the mountains. It was approaching the lair of the lion; for half the families of the persecuted whigs had been deposited in this asylum.

The fate which Ferguson met with has been generally attributed to a casual meeting of bodies of militia, who acted without any preconcert. To the British commander, the force that destroyed him appeared to have sprung up like the soldiers of Deucalion. But thalt country was never without the force that Ferguson had to encounter. The same fate would have awaited any other commander at any other time, who had approached that sanctuary in no greater force.


Footnotes in the original.

  1. (added by transcriber) Partial transcription.

  2. Tarleton's Campaign, p.93

  3. Tarleton's Campaign

  4. Appendix B.

  5. An epithet given the British commander by Colonel Lee in his Memoirs.

  6. Colonel Williams says the killed, wounded, and missing, after the two affairs of the 16th and 18th, were, 3 lieutenant colonels, 2 majors, 13 subalterns, 2 staff officers, 52 non-commissioned officers, 74 musicians, 711 rank and file.

  7. a bride abattue: without reserve, at any speed