Opportunity knocked for Horatio Gates with the fall of Charleston, South Carlina in May 1780. A devastating loss for the Americans, with nearly 6,000 men of the Southern Army under Benjamin Lincoln surrendered to Sir Henry Clinton. Unless something wasn’t done soon, the entire southern colonies could fall and the revolution along with it. Congress needed someone who could inspire men to join the war effort and a trusted leader with a positive record. Washington put Nathaniel Greene’s name forward, but Congress in a rare move went against Washington’s wishes and appointed Horatio Gates as commander of the Southern Department on June 13th.
The road from his victory at Saratoga to the Southern Department wasn’t an easy one for Gates. He sought independent field command and many believe he wanted Washington’s position as commander in chief. His allies in Congress and the Continental Army lobbied heavily on Gates’ behalf and were able to have Gates appointed to the powerful Board of War (the defacto Department of Defense). Though an important role (and serving as Washington’s civilian superior), Gates believed he belonged in the field. Though his role in the famous “Conway Cabal” is still debated today, he was implicated via letters in criticizing Washington’s leadership. Whether his involvement was real or not, the relationship between him and Washington (and Washington’s inner circle) was seriously damaged. Due to the situation, Gates resigned from the Board of War and accepted appointment as department commander of the Northern Department. In this role he was responsible to look after the New York Highlands and watch from British incursions from Canada or New York city. Gates was unhappy in this role and proposed another American invasion of Canada. Washington and Congress disagreed and rejected his plans. He disliked his task of dealing with enemy native tribes in the region and dragged his feet in following orders. Finally, that fall, Gates took command of American forces in New England with his headquarters in Boston. Though excited by this appointment, he quickly realized that this post was not where the action would be. The British left Boston in 1776 and since the city was peaceful and not a welcome place for a man seeking glory and military action. Finally, after much frustration, Gates asked to return to his farm in Virginia and arrived there by December 1779. Gates found himself a hero without an army and continued to brood over his situation.
On October 17, 1777, British General John Burgoyne surrendered his joint British, Canadian, and Hessian and Brunswicker forces to patriot General Horatio Gates near Saratoga, New York. Over 6,000 soldiers, the number placed by one historian is 6,222, became captives of war. Under the terms of the convention agreed upon by Burgoyne and Gates, the vanquished army was to march to Boston, Massachusetts, board British ships, and sail to England, to await formal exchange and to not participate in the war in America further.
When news reached the Continental Congress of this concession, that political body demanded a complete list of the troops surrendered to ensure the terms of the convention was to be upheld. When this was not forthcoming by the British, Congress reacted by vowing to not adhere to the stipulations of the convention. Burgoyne’s forces would not head back to Great Britain to await an exchange that year. Instead, these men were to be confined in camps both in New England and Virginia for the duration of the war. This force came to be called the Convention Army.
This Sunday, March 6, at 7 p.m. EDT, join Emerging Revolutionary War on our Facebook page for the next historian happy hour, as Dan Welch and Phillip S. Greenwalt discuss the Convention Army and what happened after the pivotal battle of Saratoga in October 1777.
On this day, in 1780, Baron de Kalb, died at 59 years old. He had commanded admirably at the Battle of Camden, on August 16, 1780, overseeing the right of the American line where he received his mortal wounds.
Below are a few excerpts about the German-born de Kalb.
On his deathbed, as noted by his aide, the Chevalier du Buysson, de Kalb wanted it known that:
His most affectionate compliments to all the officers and men of his division; he expressed the greatest satisfaction in the testimony given by the British army of the bravery of his troops….and the exemplary conduct of the whole division gave him an endearing sense of the merit of the troops he had the honor to command.
Although just a child, at seven years old, in August 1780, Mary Kershaw remembered the day de Kalb was buried in Camden. She lived until 1848 but would regale people with her reminiscences.
She also witnessed the burial of Baron de Kalb, with his sword at his side, between two British officers. It would later be found that “he lay, it seems, in the ‘custom of knighthood’ as last of his race, buried in his armor, that is to say his helmet, his sword, and his spurs were in the grave with him.
General Horatio Gates, who commanded the American forces at Camden, penned the following to General George Washington, upon the news of de Kalb’s passing.
Too much honor cannot be paid by Congress to the memory of Baron de Kalb; he was everything an excellent officer should be, and in the cause of the United States he sacrificed his life.
Lastly, the French ambassador and former staff officer of de Kalb, the Duke de la Luzerne, wrote:
The fall of that excellent Officer, the Baron de Kalb–so much to be regretted by France and the United States…
Yet, the spirit of de Kalb. the resolute soldier, would live. Both within his former division and in the reconstituted Continental forces in the southern theater, as these regular army soldiers (and militia) would see the cause through to a successful conclusion.
For more information and the source of these excerpts please consult:
“De Kalb, One of the Revolutionary War’s Bravest Generals” by John Beakes
Today 240 years ago in the back country of South Carolina, General Horatio Gates and his “Grand Army” were encamped around Rugeleys Mills South Carolina. He had come a long way in a short amount of time with his army from Deep Creek, NC. The men were ill fed, mostly poorly trained militia but he needed to strike a win for the American cause in the South. What he planned that evening is still debated today.
Gates had only been in command of the re comprised Southern Continental Army for a few weeks. He was tasked with turning around a disastrous year for the Americans in South Carolina. Most of the Southern army was captured at Charleston in May 1780 and then a bloody defeat of Virginia forces on May 29th at Waxhaws. American partisans such as Moultrie and Sumter had found some success, but the Continental Congress worried that they were about to lose the southern colonies. Something had to be done and many believed (though Washington and his supporters wanted Nathaniel Greene) the hero of Saratoga was the man for the job.
Now that Gates had brought his army so close to the British post at Camden, SC he needed intelligence on his next move. There could be no misstep, he was only 12 miles from the British at Camden. At that time, Gates believed he outnumbered the British under Lord Rawdon, but what he was soon to find out is he over inflated his own numbers and now Lord Cornwallis was in command. Gates’ force was still slightly larger, but it was mostly made up for militia. The British army comprised of some of the best units in North American. A very different situation indeed.
Gates ordered his engineer Lt. Col. Johann Christian Senf and Virginian Lt. Col. Charles Porterfield southward towards Camden. Senf was to find a suitable location for the American army to march and set up a defensive position. Gates had no illusions to attacking the British at Camden, and most likely he hoped they would abandon Camden all together. Senf wrote “reconnoitering a deep creek 7 miles in front was found impassable 7 miles to the right and about the same distance to the left, only at the place of the Ford interjects the great road”. (1) This creek was Saunder’s Creek and it is where Gates decided to move his “Grand Army” and await developments from Thomas Sumter who he had sent on a mission along the Wateree River in the flank and rear of Camden.
Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes back guest historian Dan Davis
Like my last post at Emerging Revolutionary War on the “Race to the Dan”, the origins of this post lie in a conversation with blog co-founder, Phill Greenwalt. The topic of our discussion revolved around the aftermath of the British victory at the Battle of Camden. The engagement ultimately brought two American officers to the Southern Theater: Nathanael Greene and Daniel Morgan. Greene accepted the position as the new head of the Southern Department’s co two months to the day after the battle while commanding the post at West Point, New York. Morgan’s story, however, is much more fascinating.
In the spring of 1779, George Washington created a light infantry corps within the Continental Army. Such a command fit Morgan’s skillset. He previously commanded the army’s provisional rifle corps. Additionally, Morgan, then a colonel, had compiled a record that arguably warranted elevation to brigadier general. After fighting broke out at Lexington and Concord, Morgan led a rifle company to the aid to the American army besieging Boston. Morgan participated in Col. Benedict Arnold’s Canadian Expedition and was captured during the assault on Quebec. He also played a critical role in the Battles of Saratoga. Morgan’s home state of Virginia, however, had met its quota for general officers and a vacancy was not available.
On June 30, 1779, Morgan learned Brig. Gen. Anthony Wayne received command of the new corps. With his pride devastated, Morgan traveled to Philadelphia. There, on July 19, Congress read his resignation.
Just over two weeks ago, ERW historians Billy Griffith, Phillip Greenwalt, Mark Maloy, Rob Orrison and Kevin Pawlak took a long weekend trip up to upstate New York. This was the fourth year that ERW authors have gotten together to take a “field trip” to see sites related to the French and Indian War and the American Revolution.
The trips not only serve as chances for research, but also to make new connections with public historians working in the American Revolution era. Along the way, we posted several videos from locations to give our followers an idea of some of the great places to visit out there. Again, our goal is to not just share this history, but to get people to visit these great sites.
Sites visited on the first day included the Stony Point Battlefield, where Americans under Gen. Anthony Wayne over ran a surprised British outpost. Reading about this action almost rings empty until you stand on the ground. Looking at the steep terrain that Wayne’s men climbed after traversing through a wetland, it is hard to imagine how the Continentals were able to take the British fort with so few casualties. Later that day we made a quick stop at George Washington’s headquarters in Newburgh. Here Washington lived from April 1782 to August 1783 and where he learned of the cease fire with the British, wrote his now famous circular letter to the colonial governors on his vision for the new government. Most importantly, here Washington responded to the Newburgh Conspiracy of his officers looking to possibly over throw the civil government. This site is also important in the history of the museum field as it is the first publicly owned historic site in the United States, opened in 1850 as a museum. A worthwhile nearby site, the New Windsor Cantonment site, preserves the camp site of the Continental Army during the 1782-1783 time period. Several of the buildings are rebuilt, including the Temple of Virtue, where Washington made his impassioned speech to his officers (with the assistance of his glasses) to diffuse their discontent with Congress.
The morning of the second day of the trip was spent visiting sites around Lake George, NY, including some much over looked French and Indian War sites. That afternoon sites along the upper Hudson including the site of the murder of Jane McCrea, Fort Edward and sites in Albany.
Early Sunday morning, a quick trip to the Bennington Battlefield State Park was highlighted with a great personal tour by Bob Hoar. The battlefield is well preserved and interpreted. Bob also shared some of his research into reinterpreting the battlefield using first person accounts and the landscape. Again, understanding the landscape of these places creates such a better understanding.
The majority of the day on Sunday was spent at Saratoga National Historical Park, posting several Facebook Live videos from various points across the battlefield. Also a special visit to the surrender site in Schuylerville which was recently preserved and opened as a memorial by the Friends of Saratoga Battlefield. A great preservation victory that adds to the overall story of Saratoga.
One of the highlights of the trip took place on Monday, where we received a behind the
scenes tour by Fort Ticonderoga staff. We started by learning about the military interpretive program by Ron Vido, Military Programs Supervisor. Anyone who has visited Fort Ticonderoga knows about their quality interpretive staff and programs. Ron also shared with us their plans to slowly restore the Carillon Battlefield (1758), which will be a great addition to the understanding of North America’s bloodiest battle before the Civil War. That afternoon we were treated to a behind the scenes tour of Fort Ticonderoga’s collections storage by Curator Matthew Keagle. The Fort has been collecting 18th century items for nearly 100 years. Their collection is one of the largest collection of 18th century military artifacts in the United States. From a Continental knapsack to an original copy of Baron von Steuben’s drill manual, the collection on display is only a small portion of what the museum owns. Matt also shared the museum’s ongoing work to digitize their collection for the purpose of research. The day was capped off by a visit to one of the best preserved battlefields in the United States, Hubbardton. Fought as part of the Saratoga Campaign, this is Vermont’s only battlefield. The landscape at the foot of the Green Mountains is amazing and the viewsheds are near pristine. A nice state park and visitor center are there to help explain the events of July 7, 1777.
Thank you to all the people that assisted us in this trip and all the sites that were nice enough to host us. We will be posting more on the blog in the future focusing on some of the stories around these amazing sites. Again, we encourage you to take the time to visit all these places. History books are great, but there is no substitute for being in the footsteps of history
Picking up the story of Camden from Thursday morning, we continue with Col. Otho
Holland Williams comments on the events on the evening of August 15th. As Gates’ army moved southward at night, a dangerous undertaking even with a professional army, notwithstanding an army mostly comprised of militia that had never fought as a cohesive unit. Williams documents the meals that the Americans ate that night before their march. When reading American accounts of Camden, most mention the impact on the evening August 15th meal had on the men and the army as a whole. Williams also mentions there is much criticisms of Gates’ plan, but no official opposition was brought to Gates. Reading Williams’ account gives us insight today into the events leading up to the disaster at Camden. When reading Williams’ narrative, it is not hard to believe that the Americans were marching to a defeat.
“Although there had been no dissenting voice in the council, the orders were no sooner promulgated than they became the subject of animadversion. Even those who had been dumb in council, said that there had been no consultation –that the orders were read to them, and all opinion seemed suppressed by the very positive and decisive terms in which they were expressed. Others could not imagine how it could be conceived, that an army, consisting of more than two -thirds militia, and which had never been once exercised in arms together, could form columns, and perform other manoeuvres in the night, and in the face of an enemy. But, of all the officers, Colonel Armand took the greatest exception. He seemed to think the positive orders respecting himself, implied a doubt of his courage –declared that cavalry had never before been put in the front of a line of battle in the dark–and that the disposition, as it respected his corps, proceeded from resentment in the general, on account of a previous altercation between them about horses, which the general had ordered to be taken from the officers of the army, to expedite the movement of the artillery though the wilderness. A great deal was said upon the occasion; but, the time was short, and the officers and soldiers, generally, not knowing, or believing any more than the general, that any considerable body of the enemy were to be met with out of Camden, acquiesced with their usual cheerfulness, and were ready to march at the hour appointed. As there were no spirits yet arrived in camp; and as, until lately, it was unusual for the troops to make a forced march, or prepare to meet an enemy without some extraordinary allowance, it was unluckily conceived that molasses, would, for once, be an acceptable substitute; accordingly the hospital stores were broached, and one gill of molasses per man, and a full ration of corn meal and meat, were issued to the army previous to their march, which commenced, according to orders, at about ten o’clock at night of the 15th. …. The troops of general Gates’ army, had frequently felt the bad consequences of eating bad provisions; but, at this time, a hasty meal of quick baked bread and fresh beef, with a desert of molasses, mixed with mush, or dumplings, operated so cathartically, as to disorder very many of the men, who were breaking the ranks all night, and were certainly much debilitated before the action commenced in the morning. …. “Continue reading ““Gentlemen, what is best to be done?” Gates Moves Towards Camden and Makes a Fateful Decision”→
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, Continue reading ““troops will observe the profoundest silence upon the march…” Gen. Gates’ Orders on August 15, 1780″→
On the morning of March 15, 1783, George Washington strode into the “New Building” or “Temple” as the structure was referred as, to address the assembled officers of the Continental Army. He asked General Horatio Gates if he could have the floor to say a few words and when he unfolded his pieces of paper on the podium, the words lost their importance.
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.”