John Robert Shaw A narrative of the life & travels of John Robert Shaw, the well-digger, now resident in Lexington, Kentucky. Written by Himself. Louisville,1930, Illus. Shaw's narrative was originally published in 1807.

Original title page

Account of The Battle Of Camden by John Robert Shaw of the 33rd Foot.

Scans provided by Pam Brinegar. Transcribed by Sherri Bower.


We remained at Monk�s corner until the capitulation of general Lincoln; after which we marched for Camden under the command of general Cornwallis and lord Rawdon, with 1500 effective infantry and 150 cavalry. When we arrived at Camden, a detachment was ordered to Ninety-six, but it fell to my lot to continue at Camden, where I fell sick for the first and last time, that is, with common sickness; for I have been often times indisposed with the bottle fever, and by wounds, bruises and broken bones, and such like accidents.

While we continued at Camden we fared


pretty well; only general Gates advanced to disturb our repose; and having encamped at a place called Ruggles, about thirteen miles from Camden, he sent us word that �he would eat his dinner in Camden, or in hell, the next day.� His force was vastly superior to ours, at least in numbers, being computed at 5000 or 6000 men; the greater number, however of these consisted of militia, on whom little dependence could be placed.

Having received intelligence that general Gates had encamped in a bad situation, Lord Cornwallis, mustered his troops, and harangued them in words nearly to this effect: �Now, my brave soldiers, now an opportunity is offered for displaying your valour, and sustaining the glory of the British arms; � all you who are willing to face your enemies;--all you who are ambitious of military fame stand forward; for there are eight or ten to one coming against: � Let the man who cannot bear the small gun-powder stand back, and all you who are determined to conquer or die turn out.� Accordingly we all turned out except a few who were left to guard the sick and military stores. We marched out of Camden about ten o�clock at night, August 15, 1780; it being the intention of our general to surprise the enemy in their quarters at Ruggles; but in this he was disappointed, for general Gates had set out about the same hour, in hopes to surprise us at Camden. We came up with their advanced party, about seven miles from Camden, when the light troops and advanced guards on each side, necessarily engaged each other in


the dark. In this blind encounter, the American cavalry being driven back on the van, occasioned some disorder in their ranks, and having thus repelled them, we were eager for a general engagement; but Lord Cornwallis finding that the enemy were on bad ground, was unwilling to hazard in the dark, the advantage which their situation would afford him in the light. We then lay on our arms until day break, when both armies formed their lines, and approached within 100 yards of each other, and the Americans gave the first fire, which killed and wounded nearly one half of our number. We returned the fire, and immediately charged on them with the bayonet. The action became general along the lines, and was supported with great obstinacy. The haziness of the morning prevented the ascent of the smoke, which occasioned such a thick cloud, that it was difficult to observe the effects of a well supported fire on both sides. It was discoverable, however, that the British troops were pushing forward and the Americans giving way; and after an obstinate resistance, for about three quarters of hour, the latter were thrown into confusion. We then opened to the right & left and let Tarleton�s light horse pass through. � Victory declared in our favor. � We took 900 prisoners and more are said to have been killed and wounded; but the precise number was probably never ascertained. All their artillery amounting to ten or eleven brass field pieces, with about 2000 stands of arms, 6 stands of colours and all their baggage-waggons, to the number of 150 fell into our


hands.�The whole body of the militia (which constituted, as I before observed, much the greater part of general Gate�s force) with the exception of only one North-Carolina regiment, took to their heels the first fire, and though their general did all in his power to rally them, he could not persuade them to make a single stand, and so getting to the woods as fast as they could, they totally dispersed, leaving the continental regular troops to oppose the whole force of the British army. The continental troops indeed made a gallant stand, and merited the highest encomiums. It was a hard fought battle, and the victory not very cheaply purchased on the side of the British; for even in one regiment (the 33d to which I belonged) not less than 116 out of 240 were killed and wounded. The whole loss may be esteemed at between 300 and 400 killed, wounded and missing; and among these were several brave officers.

Lieutenant Colonel Tarleton, who had distinguished himself in this battle, was detached the next day with his cavalry, and the light infantry of the 23d regiment, called the English Fusiliers, in pursuit of general Sumpter, who had retreated with a body of Americans and some pieces of cannon. General Sumpter, it seems, confiding in his distance from the enemy, was surprised in the middle of the day on the 18th of August, as his men were engaged in getting peaches in an orchard not far from the Catawba Fords. Sumpter himself having taken a number of tories, with a hogshead of rum and some provisions which they were carrying to the English


army, was employed in dealing out the liquor, and was generous enough to give a gill to each prisoner, when Tarleton came on him, killed 150 of his men, and took 300 of them prisoners, with two pieces of cannon, and several wagons. The prisoners were conducted to Camden, and there treated with civility, and from thence they were sent off to Charleston, under a guard of mounted infantry; but several of them were rescued by their countrymen before they could be carried to Charleston.

We lay in Camden until our wounded recovered, and then were marched on Salisbury in North-Carolina, in close pursuit of the enemy, who had abandoned the town, leaving only sick tories in jail, to die for want of water; and all the provisions they had were a few pounds of salt beef. � We were detained a few days in Salisbury in order to procure some provisions. Had it not been for this delay, we might probably have overtaken general Morgan, and retaliated upon him for Tarleton�s defeat, and rescued the prisoners taken at the Cowpens. � This action which the English were entirely routed, happened but a few weeks before; and for the bravery of the Americans, and the address of their general merits a particular relation.

Shaw in unif.