Two hundred and thirty nine years ago today from his camp at Rugeley’s Mill, SC, American General Horatio Gates issued the following orders to his Southern Army to move on to the British post of Camden, SC.
“The sick, the extra artillery stores, the heavy baggage, and such quartermaster’s stores, as are not immediately wanted, to march this evening, under a guard, to Waxaws. To this order the general requests the brigadier generals, to see that those under their command, pay the most exact and scrupulous obedience. Lieutenant Colonel Edmonds, with the remaining guns of the park, will take post and march with the Virginia brigade, under General Stevens; he will direct, as any deficiency happens in the artillery affixed to the other brigades, to supply it immediately; his military staff, and a proportion of his officers, with forty of his men, are to attend him and await his orders. The troops will be ready to march precisely at ten o’clock, in the following order,
Colonel Armand’s advance; cavalry, commanded by Colonel Armand; Colonel Porterfield’s light infantry upon the right flank of Colonel Armand, in Indian file, two hundred yards from the road; Major Armstrong’s light infantry in the same order as Colonel Porterfield’s, upon the left flank of the legion. Advance guard of foot, composed of the advance pickets, first brigade of Maryland, second brigade of Maryland, division of North Carolina, Virginia division; rear guard, volunteer cavalry, upon the flank of the baggage, equally divided. In this order, the troops will proceed on their march this night. In the case of an attack by the enemy’s cavalry in front, the light infantry upon each flank will instantly move up and give, and continue, the most galling fire upon the enemy’s horse. This will enable Colonel Armand, not only to support the shock of the enemy’s charge, but finally to rout them; the colonel will therefore consider the order to stand the attack of the enemy’s cavalry, be their numbers what they may, as positive.
General Stevens will immediately order one captain, two lieutenants, one ensign, three
sergeants, one drum, and sixty rank and file to join Colonel Porterfield’s infantry; these are to be taken from the most experienced woodsmen, and men every way the fittest for the service. General Caswell will likewise complete Major Armstrong’s light infantry to their original number. These must be immediately marched to the advanced posts of the army. The troops will observe the profoundest silence upon the march; and any soldier who offers to fire without the command of his officer, must be instantly put to death. When the ground will admit of it, and the near approach of the enemy renders it necessary, the army will march in columns. The artillery at the head of their respective brigades, and the baggage in the rear. The guard of the heavy baggage will be composed of the remaining officers and soldiers of the artillery, one captain, two subalterns, four sergeants, one drum, and sixty rank and file; and no person whatever is to presume to send any other soldier upon that service. All bat men, waiters, &c. who are soldiers taken from the line, are forthwith to join their regiments, and act with their masters while they are upon duty. The tents of the whole army are to be struck at tattoo.”
With these fateful orders, Gates ordered his understrength army, comprised of mostly untested militia on a night march towards Camden. Gates did not expect to have so few men nor did he believe the British army in Camden would move northward to encounter him. For a trained military leader, Gates staked a lot on “expectations.” Tonight, 239 years ago nearly 4,000 Americans marched southward towards one of the worst military defeats in the history of the United States. And with it, a turning point in the American Revolution in the South.