240 Years ago Today in South Carolina: Lt. Col. Johann Christian Senf’s Journal and the Battle of Camden

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.

Continue reading “240 Years ago Today in South Carolina: Lt. Col. Johann Christian Senf’s Journal and the Battle of Camden”

Return to Command

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.

Continue reading “Return to Command”

“Gentlemen, what is best to be done?” Gates Moves Towards Camden and Makes a Fateful Decision

Picking up the story of Camden from Thursday morning, we continue with Col. Otho

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Gen. Gates believed his night march on August 15th would put his army in a great defensive position above Saunder’s Creek.

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”

“troops will observe the profoundest silence upon the march…” Gen. Gates’ Orders on August 15, 1780

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General Horatio Gates

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″

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

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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.”

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AfterWARd, the new exhibit at the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown. A visit with Curator Kate Gruber

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The stacks of books reflect Knox’s role as a bookseller before the war.

If you have not made a trip to the new American Revolution Museum at Yorktown (the former Yorktown Victory Center) then you are missing out. Not only does the museum great exhibits on the causes of the war and the events leading up to Yorktown (with great technology), there is a changing exhibit gallery that allows for short term exhibits. The first exhibit opened in June and features the lives of four prominent Revolutionaries after the American Revolution. Continue reading “AfterWARd, the new exhibit at the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown. A visit with Curator Kate Gruber”

ERW Weekender: Cornwallis House

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Cornwallis House, Winnsboro, South Carolina

In the quaint South Carolina town of Winnsboro, a few miles off of current Interstate-77 sites a two-story stands one of the oldest dwellings in a town founded by Richard Winn of Virginia a few years before the start of the American Revolution.

Yet, it was during those hostilities that one of the more famous military leaders came to “Winnsborough” as it was sometimes listed on maps of the time. His name, Lord Charles Cornwallis, the overall commander of British forces in the Southern Colonies. He would use the house during the winter of 1780-1781.

The house itself is an enigma. The structure dates to pre-1776 obviously, but the builder and owner of the house is still not known. Yet, it is well document that the house did serve during the labeled “winter of discontent” for the British and Cornwallis.

Across the street resides the Mount Zion Institute which became quarters for British soldiers during that winter of 1780-1781.

After the conflict the property and house was deeded to Captain John Buchanan, a veteran of the American Revolution. Buchanan was part of the welcoming party for the Marquis de Lafayette when the Frenchman landed at Georgetown, South Carolina.

Although not open to the public, special requests will be entertained. Click here for the link below for more information on the house and also who to contact for those special arrangements.

Surrender at Yorktown

On this date, in 1781, the British army marched out of their entrenchments at Yorktown and surrendered to General George Washington and the combined Continental and French armies.

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Modern view of the “Surrender at Yorktown” site (P. Greenwalt)

Although the victory did not conclusively end the war, the victory prompted British Prime Minister, Lord Frederick North, to exclaim,

“Oh, God, it is all over!”

Approximately two years later, with the signing of the Treaty of Paris on September 3, 1783, the American Revolutionary War was truly over.

What is not truly over is the efforts to preserve, interpret, and educate the current and future generations about the importance of Yorktown and the American Revolution. In the spring, the new American Revolution Museum of Yorktown will open its doors, updating the Victory Center at Yorktown Museum.

From the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation website, the museum’s goals are to;

“Through comprehensive, immersive indoor exhibits and outdoor living history, the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown offers a truly national perspective, conveying a sense of the transformational nature and epic scale of the Revolution and the richness and complexity of the country’s Revolutionary heritage.”

For more information about the museum, what it entails, and the opening date, click here.

 

ERW Weekender: Battle of King’s Mountain

On October 7, 1780, one of the most pivotal battles of the American Revolution fought in the South occurred on a hillside in northwest South Carolina.The engagement brought militia from both sides; those loyal to the British and those adhering to the independence movement against each other. In fact, only one regular British soldier was present on that autumn day; the British commander Major Patrick Ferguson.

How did Ferguson and his militia end up on King’s Mountain? This was due to the campaign being waged by British General Lord Cornwallis in the Southern colonies.

Ferguson’s role was to protect the flank of Cornwallis’ force as it turned north from South Carolina. After issuing a call of bravado, where Ferguson gave Patriot militia an ultimatum; lay down your weapons or suffer the consequences, the British officer began to move through the South Carolina countryside. This decree emboldened the Patriot militia, some of which would come from across the Appalachian Mountains–or “Overmountain”–to join in the fight against Ferguson. This combined force would gather around Sycamore Shoals in present day Tennessee.

Word quickly reached Ferguson near Gilbert Town, North Carolina by way of deserters that a large force of Virginia, Carolinas, and militia from the area of Tennessee had arrived and were planning to march toward his encampment.

Still showing a high degree of disdain for the Patriot militia, Ferguson did not act immediately on the intelligence. Three days later, the Loyalist militia and the British officer started their retrograde movement toward Charlotte and Lord Cornwallis’s main army.

By October 4, 1780 now joined by a sprinkling of Georgia militia, the Patriots had reached Ferguson’s old encampment site. Two days later the militia forced marched through the Cowpens of South Carolina, which had not witnessed the hard hand of battle yet. Just a day’s march ahead was Ferguson’s forces.

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Colonial Road trace near Kings Mountain (author collection)

At this juncture, Ferguson made a fateful decision. Instead of continuing his retreat and he was less than a full-days march away from the main British army, the British officer held up his forces on a forested hill just inside South Carolina and laid out his camp on the highest point; Kings Pinnacle.

Realizing that time was of the essence, the Patriot force, now numbering 900 men, found plentiful horseflesh to mount up and close the gap between the two sides. Riding through the rain and darkness of the night of October 6, the fifteen-mile gap between forces was erased and by late morning the Patriot militia was reining up within striking distance of Kings Mountain.

By mid-afternoon, at approximately 3:00 p.m. the fighting erupted. The Patriot militia broke into smaller commands, numbering between 100-200 men and started to ascend the slopes. Luckily for the Patriots, Ferguson had not detected just how close the enemy was and had also neglected to fortify his encampment. His force though, outnumbered the Patriots by approximately 200 men.

Some of the Loyalist militia did not realize that the enemy had arrived until the Patriot militia came hollering and yelling up the slope of the hillside. With the conglomerate of various militia, there was no unified command of the Patriot forces and the fight quickly boiled down to independent maneuvering and fighting. Using the terrain, the Patriot militia fired from behind trees and boulders. Answering this tactic, Ferguson ordered a bayonet charge down the hill. This caused the Patriot force to retreat to the base of the hill as most of the men were carrying rifles which did not accommodate the bayonet.

Virginia militia Colonel William Campbell and North Carolinian militia Colonel John Sevier helped rally the militia that had broken and sent the force back up the hillside. This back and forth would happen a few more times; Ferguson’s force charging down hill with bayonets, the militia backtracking, than reforming, and charging back up after the Loyalist momentum had waned.

Finally, after an hour of combat the Patriot militia forced their way to the crown of the hill and was able to flank the Loyalist force and attack in rear of their position. This maneuver forced the Loyalists back into their encampment where numbers of them began to surrender.

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Marker to the memory of Major Patrick Ferguson (author collection)

Ferguson sensing the tide turning against the Loyalists, tried to rally his troops, supposedly yelling, “Hurrah,brave boys, the day is ours!” Gathering a few stalwarts, Ferguson made a desperate move to fight his way out of the encircling Patriot militia. A volley from Colonel Sevier’s militia force unhorsed Ferguson who fell entangled in his stirrups. Unfortunately, the horse, spooked with the musketry and smell of gunpowder dragged Ferguson through the Patriot line. After getting untangled from the straps on the horse, Ferguson lay prone on the ground, where a Patriot officer demanded his surrender. Still with some fight in him, Ferguson shot and killed the man. Other Patriot militia responding to the scene fired a collective volley at the downed British officer, killing Ferguson.

Some of the Patriot militia were opposed to accepting the Loyalist surrender, as they remembered the massacres and atrocities committed to their brethren in arms by the infamous Banastre Tarleton. Cooler heads prevailed and the firing died down.

By the time the second white flag was sent out by Captain Abraham DePeyster, Patriot militia officers were finally able to reign in their commands and over 600 Loyalist soldiers surrendered.

Within the one-hour and five minute engagement, Ferguson’s force ceased to exist. Total casualties for the Loyalist force was 290 killed, 163 wounded, and 668 captured. The Patriots suffered a total of 87 casualties; 29 killed and 58 wounded.

The Patriots, with the close proximity of Cornwallis’s forces, who the day after the battle would finally get the request for reinforcements from his slain subordinate, quickly retreated back into the safety of the South Carolina countryside.

However, the Battle of Kings Mountain would become a critical turning point, not only in the Southern Campaign of the American Revolution, but in the entire war itself. The victory, which demolished the Loyalist militia force covering his flank, forced Cornwallis to altere his strategy for the campaign. He would be forced to return to South Carolina, giving up advancing further than Charlotte into North Carolina in order to re-solidify control of territory in his rear. When Cornwallis finally returned to the Tar Heel State the following year, he would suffer eventually suffer a Pyrrhic victory at Guilford Court House in March 1781.

All that was in the future and so is your visit to this battlefield of the American Revolution.

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Kings Mountain Battle Monument commemorating the Patriot victory (author collection)

On March 3, 1931, Kings Mountain National Military Park was formed by an act of Congress and placed under the control of the United States War Department. Two years later, in March 1933, the property was transferred to the National Park Service by an executive order. At this juncture, the entire land mass of the park was comprised of 40 acres that had been originally donated by the Kings Mountain Battlefield Association. The park has grown since that time and now preserves slightly under 4,000 acres.

For further details on how to visit the battlefield, which includes trails, a visitor center, exhibits, and a bookstore, click here. The park is open daily 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. with extended hours on the weekend between Memorial and Labor Days. Even better there is no fee to access this national military park!

*All the photos taken for this post was done by the author during a visit to the battlefield in autumn.*

 

 

Mercer’s Grenadier Militia

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Emerging Revolutionary War and Revolutionary War Wednesday is pleased to welcome back guest historian Drew Gruber.

Part 1

When we think about American militia during the Revolutionary War, the image of an untrained rifle-toting citizen turned soldier comes to mind. This stereotype of the American soldier, popularized by movies like The Patriot is not completely false but such generalizations should give us pause and inspire us to investigate the roll of American militia, independent companies, and ‘irregular’ troops a bit closer. For example, how was it that on October 3, 1781 a group of Virginia militiamen defeated an elite British force? The story of Lieutenant Colonel John Mercer’s Grenadier Militia during the battle at Seawell’s Ordinary has been told and retold since 1781, however the formation of this illustrious group is often ignored and deserves a closer look. Continue reading “Mercer’s Grenadier Militia”