Announcement: Tours of Camden Battlefield and Hobkirk’s Hill


From our friends at the Southern Campaigns of the American Revolution comes this announcement of a Corps of Discovery tour that will cover the battles mentioned above. Led by historians David P. Reuwer and Charles B. Baxley, this comprehensive tour will be held on May 4, 2019.

Joining Reuwer and Baxley will be Dr. Tray Dunaway who will talk about the restoration forestry that has taken place at Camden Battlefield that has returned the field to the approximate look it did during the battle in August 1780. Also part of the day will be the historians guiding the tour of Hobkirk’s Hill, which includes Bill Denton, Rick Wise, Tom Oblak, and Guy Wallace.

Updates on the Historic Camden Foundation and the Liberty Trail will be part of the day as well which will start at 10:00 a.m. at the Historic Camden Revolutionary War Site and conclude at around 4:00 p.m. after the touring of Hobkirk’s Hill.

The tours are free and more information about the day can be found here.

Hope you can join our friends and fellow historians in South Carolina on May 4th!


From the Preservation Front: “Liberty Trailblazers – American Battlefield Trust”

ABTFrom our friends at American Battlefield Trust (ABT) comes the following announcement and call for assistance. 

The first line of the announcement sums up the importance of this new initiative of the American Battlefield Trust:

“They secured our liberty. It’s time for us to honor their legacy.” 

In a collaboration between the ABT, the National Park Service, and the South Carolina Battleground Trust, the joint initiative is to highlight the “tremendous significance of these places to American independence.” Their combined goal is to preserve 2,500 acres of American Revolutionary War battle lands in the Palmetto State.

As of the middle of this month, 308 acres of hallowed ground has been saved. The land protected are part of the battlefields of Camden and Eutaw Springs, which “bookend a period of incredible consequence to the American Revolution.”

This is a great start, but as that means, it is a beginning and the ABT will need all our help to make it happen. This new direction will bring preservation, education, and technology together into one investment and keep the effort going, until this land is saved for the present and future generations.

For those readers of ours that are already members, thank you. For those that are interested in learning  more, click here.

To check out the various sites and history associated with the Liberty Trail, click here.

Visiting the Scene of Action: Battle of Camden

A reflection on the previous month’s exploration in South Carolina.

IMG_1905 (1)August 16, 1780 would prove to be a devastating day for the American Army in the south, known as the “Grand Army” by its commander, Maj. Gen. Horatio Gates, the Hero of Saratoga. The battle between this army and that of Lt. Gen. Charles, Earl Cornwallis, in the Pine Barrens near the South Carolina town of Camden, would end in the total rout of the Americans and the destruction of the reputation of its commander. It would also temporarily leave the southern colonies without a central army to oppose the British.

On November 1, members of the Emerging Revolutionary War Era staff took a road trip to Camden, SC to research the battle, walk the battlefield and meet with local historians in preparation for an upcoming addition to our book series, on the Battle of Camden.  On the way down, we took the opportunity of visiting other sites of combat, actions that occurred prior to and after the fight at Camden. Continue reading “Visiting the Scene of Action: Battle of Camden”

“In the deepest distress and anxiety of mind…” Gen. Gates letter to Congress on the Battle of Camden

Gen. Horatio Gates by Charles Willson Peale

238 years ago today the United States military suffered one of its worst defeats. The Battle of Camden, fought on August 16, 1780 just a few miles north of Camden, SC was a total defeat for the American “Grand Army” under popular General Horatio Gates. The British under Lord Cornwallis inflicted nearly 1,900 casualties (out of 4,000) at a loss of only 300. One of the biggest losses was the death of  General Baron Johann de Kalb, a popular foreign general in the American army. Though a strategic defeat for Gates, it was the retreat that would lead to Gates’ demise. As the militia broke and ran, Gates was caught up in the panic and fled the field as half of his army was still fighting.

Writing several days later from Hillsborough, NC Gates submitted his account of the battle to Congress. Already, reports of cowardice were starting to spread about Gates’ conduct during the battle. Gates decision to fight and his decision to leave the field during the battle have been debated ever since that August day in 1780. Below is a portion of Gates’ letter.   

“In the deepest distress and anxiety of mind, I am obliged to acquaint your excellency with the defeat of the troops under my command. I arrived with the Maryland line, the artillery, and the North-Carolina militia, on the 13th instant at Rugeley’s, thirteen miles from Camden; and took post there, and was the next day joined by General Stevens, with seven hundred militia from Virginia…. Having communicated my plan to the general officers in the afternoon of the 15th, it was resolved to march at ten at night, to take post in a very advantageous situation, with a deep creek in front, seven miles from Camden; the heavy baggage, &c. being ordered to march immediately by the Waxhaw road. At ten the army began to march in the following order: Colonel Armand’s legion in front, supported on both flanks by Colonel Porterfield’s regiment, and the light infantry of the militia; the advanced guard of infantry, the Maryland line, with their artillery, in front of the brigades, the North-Carolina militia, the Virginia militia, the artillery, &c. and the rear guard. Having marched about five miles, the legion was charged by the enemy’s cavalry, and well supported on the flanks, as they were ordered, by Colonel Porterfield, who beat back the enemy’s horse, and was himself unfortunately wounded; but the enemy’s infantry advancing with a heavy fire, the troops in front gave way to the first Maryland brigade, and a confusion ensued, which took some time to regulate. At length the army was ranged in line of battle, in the following order: General Gist’s brigade upon the right, with his right close to a swamp, the North-Carolina militia in the center, and the Virginia militia, with the light infantry and Porterfield’s corps, on the left; the artillery divided to the brigades; and the first Maryland brigade as a corps de reserve, and to cover the can non in the road, at a proper distance in the rear. Colonel Armand’s corps were ordered to the left, to support the left flank, and oppose the enemy’s cavalry. At daylight the enemy attacked and drove in our light party in front, when I ordered the left to advance and attack the enemy; but to my astonishment, the left wing and North -Carolina militia gave way. General Caswall and myself, assisted by a number of officers, did all in our power to rally the broken troops, but to no purpose, for the enemy coming round the left flank of the Maryland division, completed the rout of the whole militia, who left the continentals to oppose the enemy’s whole force. I endeavoured, with General Caswall, to rally the militia at some distance, on an advantageous piece of ground, but the enemy’s cavalry continuing to harass their rear, they ran like a torrent, and bore all before them. Hoping yet, that a few miles in the rear they might recover from their panic, and again be brought into order, I continued my endeavour, but this likewise proved in vain. The militia having taken the woods in all directions, I concluded, with General Caswall [sic], to retire toward Charlotte.”


1st Maryland’s 2nd Last Stand

I was recently reading the superb book by Patrick O’Donnell on Washington’s Immortals, which brought me back to a talk I did about the same Marylanders in the American Revolution a few years back. Below is an excerpt of that talk and highlights the second last stand for a regiment with a tradition of being steadfast when deadly duty called.

On March 15, 1781, approximately 20 men stood in the 1st Maryland Continental Regiment staring at the an eerie and familiar scene. It must have seemed that history was cruelly repeating itself once again. These men had survived the forlorn assault in New York in 1776, the ugly repulse at Camden in 1780, and now stood on third line of General Nathanael Greene’s defense at Guilford Court House.

Battle of Guiliford Courthouse 15 March 1781.jpg
Famous painting of the 1st Maryland at the Battle of Guilford Court House by H. CHarles McBarron, Jr. 

Besides the 20 men who could be traced back to that fateful day in New York, the men that shouldered muskets in line with them were all veterans of indefinite periods of service as well.

The 1st Maryland and the men they confronted, 2nd Guards Battalion of Guards, were very similar, according to historian Lawrence Babits, who states that “the 1st Maryland was arguably one of the finest regiments produced by the Continental Army.

What ensued next was the defining moment of the battle and in essence the campaign. As the Guards officers gathered their men into a new line, the Marylanders came on at a rush. The Guards responded largely without specific commands…facing the oncoming Continentals, who fired several platoon volleys as they came. At a range of less than 12 yards, both lines fired again, so close that muzzle flashes overlapped into a wide sheet of flame and the heat from the volley could be felt.

Casualties mounted and at close range the musket balls shattered bone and even passed through the bodies of their targets.

Modern view from the location of Greene’s Third Line which the 1st Maryland held. Coming up the slight rise toward the photo was how the British approached. 

The two sides then resorted to the bayonet and Williams recounted “the first Regiment embraced the opportunity…bayoneted and cut to pieces a great number of the British.”

Although the melee only lasted a few minutes, the Marylanders had checked the advance and with the dragoons of William Washington, allowed for Greene to begin to pull back and start the retreat. In another important position, Williams helped lead the rear-guard away from Guilford C.H. The Marylanders lost 15 killed, 42 wounded and 97 missing. Most of the missing could have came from the 2nd Maryland which broke in disorder on the left flank of the 1st Maryland.

Not only did the Marylanders suffer on that fateful March day in 1781, they did so with a lack of, well, everything. According to one inventory report, the entire regiment, numbering little over 300 men had not a single jacket, two-thirds were without proper footwear, and every man was destitute of a full complement of clothing. In addition, the men had served, fought courageously, and bled tremendously, without receiving one cent as pay.

A remarkable “band of brothers” that “held the line for independence.”

Which, in case you were wondering, was the name of the talk.


*Guilford Court House National Military Park is now preserved by the National Park Service, to plan your visit, click here.

*For information on Mr. O’Donnell’s book, click here.

The Other German


Baron Frederich Wilhelm August Heinrich Ferdinand Steuben or Frederich Wilhelm Ludolf Gerhard Augustin von Steuben or more simply Baron von Steuben, may be the most recognizable German to serve with the American army during the American Revolution.*

Portrait of Baron Johann de Kalb  (by Charles W. Peale)
Portrait of Baron Johann de Kalb
(by Charles W. Peale)

His merits, pedigree, and how he came to America has been questioned and studied by many scholars and historians.

Another German has not fared so well in terms of recognition of his invaluable services to the American cause.

This post is about that other German-speaking military officer. He did something von Steuben did not.

Baron Johann von Robais de Kalb not only offered his services to the fledgling American Continental Army, he also gallantly gave his life for his adopted-cause.

Born June 19, 1721 in Huttendorf, near Erlangen in Bavaria, de Kalb led a life of privilege, learning multiple languages before earning a commission in the French army in the Loewendal Regiment. He served admirably in the War of Austrian Succession and the Seven Years War, in the later, he won the Order of Military Merit and gained his baronetcy.

Continue reading “The Other German”