“That his northern laurels would be turned into southern willows” Major General Horatio Gates Arrives to take command in North Carolina, July 25, 1780

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

Major General Horatio Gates, ca. 1794 by Gilbert Stuart

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.

Continue reading ““That his northern laurels would be turned into southern willows” Major General Horatio Gates Arrives to take command in North Carolina, July 25, 1780”

“Rev War Revelry” Author Interview: Andrew Waters

Like a modern-day Nathanael Greene or Edward Carrington, Andrew Waters spends his days trekking the waterways of the Carolina high country. Just like those famous military leaders, Andrew Waters does the surveying of these waterways and their tributaries for his day job; as a land and water conservationist.

During this career, Waters first learned about the “Race to the Dan” the pivotal retrograde movement in 1780 that saved Greene’s army from the pursuing British force under Lord Charles Cornwallis. Having the unique perspective from his training and an interest in the history of the time period, he had the perfect combination to pen a complete history of the “Race to the Dan.” Published by Westholme Publishing in October 2020, the title, To The End of the World, Nathanael Greene, Charles Cornwallis, and the Race to the Dan fills a much needed gap in the historiography of the the American Revolution in the southern theater.

This Sunday, at 7p.m. EDT, on Emerging Revolutionary War’s Facebook page, join us in an interview with Waters, discussing this book, Nathanael Greene’s leadership, and any questions you may have about this subject. Remember that favorite beverage and we look forward to you tuning as we welcome historian and author Andrew Waters to the next installment of the “Rev War Revelry.”

“No body ever heard of a quarter Master, in History”

In the spring of 1778, General George Washington chose Major General Nathanael Greene to be the quartermaster general of the Continental army, replacing General Thomas Mifflin who had resigned the previous November. Greene was hesitant and wrote the quote that graces the title of this post. He was leery of giving up a field command to take a thankless job that faced a mountain of difficulties and was more administrative. From the start of his tenure in this important post, Greene brought about effective change. His never ending responsibilities included allocating resources, installing the right people into positions, and untangling contracts, transportation woes, and developing a concept, such as supply depots on potential campaign routes were vast improvements over what his predecessor accomplished.

Nathanael Greene

Greene though yearned to return to an active field command and through his close connection to Washington along with his due diligence as quartermaster, he was assigned command in the southern theater. His assignment was to replace Major General Horatio Gates as the head of Continental forces after the latter’s defeat at Camden, South Carolina in August 1780. Greene’s role in this position is well-documented and outside the scope of this post. One of the decisions he made, early on in his tenure as commander, paid huge dividends and is usually relegated to a passing few lines in most histories of the southern campaigns. What Greene wrote years earlier about “quartermaster in history” the quote that gives this piece its title, holds true in this instance as well.

On December 4, 1780, Greene wrote to Edward Carrington, then on assignment scouting the rivers and topography through North Carolina and southern Virginia, offering him a new assignment; that of quartermaster general for the southern army. After finishing his surveying of the rivers and water transportation, Carrington was ordered to head toward Greene’s forces, bringing supplies that had been gathered with him as well.

This decision, to place an officer of the caliber of Edward Carrington, in that position was a wise move. One that passes largely unheralded. A decision, though, that ultimately leads to success and eventual victory. In this case the momentous “Race to the Dan” that saved Continental forces, fatigued Lord Charles Cornwallis’ British forces, and played an early role in the latter’s move toward Virginia.

Continue reading ““No body ever heard of a quarter Master, in History””

Review: To The End of the World, Nathaniel Greene, Charles Cornwallis, and the Race to the Dan by Andrew Waters

Writing over thirty years after the fact, Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee summed up the events of February 14, 1780 with the line, “Thus ended, on the night of the 14th of February, this long, arduous, and eventful retreat” (190). Upon hearing of General Nathanael Greene’s exploits in this movement, General George Washington wrote, “You may be assured that your Retreat before Lord Cornwallis is highly applauded by all Ranks and reflects much honor on your military Abilities.” (198).

What Lee would remember as “eventful” and Washington and fellow military ranks “highly applauded” is remembered today as the “Race to the Dan.” This retrograde movement, undertaken by Greene’s forces from South Carolina to the Dan River in southern Virginia, is sandwiched between the engagements at the Battle of Cowpens in January 1781 and the British pyrrhic victory at Guilford Court House in March 1781. Yet, this retreat may be on the turning points in the southern theater that led the British, under Lord Charles Cornwallis to his eventual demise at Yorktown in October 1781.

Great historians, such as John Buchanan is his monumental work The Road to Guilford Court House have covered with broad strokes this period of time but a dedicated study was much needed in the historiography of the American Revolution. Insert Andrew Waters, writer, editor, and conservationist, whose name may be familiar from previous works such as The Quaker and the Gamecock: Nathanael Greene, Thomas Sumter, and the War for the Soul of the South. His latest book, To The End of the World, Nathanael Greene, Charles Cornwallis, and the Race to the Dan, captures this important military movement while providing an expose on the leadership of Greene woven in. The title of the book is pulled from a quote by Brigadier General Charles O’Hara, Cornwallis’s second-in-command during this campaign. With a background in land conservation with a focus on river corridors and watersheds, Waters found a connection with Greene, who studied the various waterways—or ordered subordinates—to study the various rivers, to better understand the topography for military campaigns.

After a stint in Salisbury, North Carolina, Waters became fascinated with the Race to the Dan story and decided to plunge in to understanding this period of the American Revolution. He found that “the Race to the Dan is a remarkable tale, fit for cinema or an epic novel, and not only for its accounts of four narrow escapes across its four rivers” (xv). He was drawn “to its story” (xx) and any reader of the book is the beneficiary of that discovery.

Along with weaving in the innate leadership qualities of Greene, Waters brings to light the importance of military leaders not as well-known such as William Lee Davidson, William R. Davie, and Edward Carrington with more household names of Lee, Daniel Morgan, and Otho Holland Williams. Throw in the names of Cornwallis, O’Hara, and Banastre Tarleton, and the pantheon of American Revolutionary personas is complete.

In this approximate month-long retreat, Greene saved the American Revolution in the southern theater and set in motion the events that led to the climactic victory at Yorktown. Waters, with his 2020 publication, has now helped save the story of the Race to the Dan from its unintended lapse into obscurity.

Information:

Published: 2020 (Westholme Publishing)

264 pages, including index, footnotes, images, and maps

“Rev War Revelry” Author Interview: John Maass

In March 1781, General Charles Lord Cornwallis finally caught up with his antagonist, General Nathanael Greene and his joint Continental and militia forces in North Carolina. On March 15, 1781, the British scored a pyrrhic victory over the American forces, securing the field but losing approximately 25% of their field force in the process.

With the victory, Cornwallis was forced to retreat to the North Carolina coast, to Wilmington, where he could rest and refit. He then led his forces north and into Virginia, to his destiny at Yorktown.

Yet, the road to Guilford Court House, for both sides, started in South Carolina, across the entire breadth of North Carolina, and into the southern reaches of Virginia before returning to the Old North State. This road and the history of the campaign, along with the March 15th engagement, unfolds in a new history by Dr. John Maass, author and historian, currently at the U.S. Army Center of Military History in Washington D.C.

His book, The Battle of Guilford Court House, A Most Desperate Engagement will be the focus of this week’s “Rev War Revelry.” The book is now available from book retailers and online. We hope you can join us this Sunday, at 7 p.m. EST, for our next installment of a historian happy hour.

To access, just head to Emerging Revolutionary War’s Facebook page, go to the “Events” tab and follow the prompt at 7 p.m.

George Washington’s Commitment to the Southern Theater

Although the American Revolutionary War staggered into a period of inaction after the Battle of Monmouth Court House in June 1778, General George Washington, in charge of all Continental forces, remained steadfast in New York until the late summer of 1781. Even though the principal actions of the war moved to the southern colonies, resulting in catastrophic losses at Charleston, Waxhaws, and Camden in 1780 through 1781, Washington did his utmost to quell British incursions, reinforce public opinion, and provide whatever succor he could from a distance. What is evidence of his mindset and depth of concern for this theater of operations?

Simple. Look at the general officers he dispatched south from the main army to help the American cause in the Carolinas and Virginia. The list includes some of the most trusted officers that served Washington.

First, Benjamin Lincoln, who met his fate at Charleston, but had served ably in the north, even working in the tense environment of the Saratoga campaign, between the volatile Benedict Arnold and the complacent Horatio Gates.

Second, Nathanael Greene, who had overcome growing pains, the recommendation to hold onto Fort Washington in New York in 1776 comes to mind, to swallowing his pride and taking the thankless job of quartermaster general during the winter that won the war at Valley Forge. Greene was probably second to Washington in understanding the political, social, economic, even the geographical components of warfare. Although a decisive battlefield victory constantly eluded him, his leadership at Guildford Court House set in motion Lord Charles Cornwallis’s eventual demise at Yorktown in October of that same year.

Moving into the Old Dominion, Washington dispatched Baron von Steuben with Greene to recruit, train, gather supplies, and provide the steady hand that the Prussian born leader had shown so admirably at Valley Forge. As inspector general of the Continental army, Washington’s orders sending the baron south was a major testament to the importance of stopping British incursions into Virginia.

Following the baron, was another European born officer, the Marquis de Lafayette, one of Washington’s favorites. This independent field command showed the growing confidence in the young Frenchman who responded admirably to the task at hand, doing what he can and for the most part, swallowing his brashness, except at Green Spring when he precipitously attacked what he thought was a rearguard of the British. Yet, his actions, coupled with the next general to be discussed, helped keep Cornwallis in the area of operations that would lead to his demise.

“Mad Anthony” Wayne and his Pennsylvania Continentals were also ordered south to join Lafayette in campaigning in Virginia. Wayne, arguably the best combat general in the Continental army, bordering on reckless to his critics though, had masterminded the storming of Stony Point, the last major action in the northern theater. Lafayette and he would be a solid tandem as they worked with limited resources and supplies in the summer of 1781 to contain the British.

Besides these general officers of high rank, “Light Horse” Harry Lee also was sent south to assist Greene and militia, most notably Francis Marion. The partnership between Lee and Marion worked as close to perfection as humanly possible and a model for regular and militia force combined operations.

Another cavalry commander that was sent for duty in the southern colonies was a second cousin of George Washington, William. In charge of light dragoons, mounted infantry who could dismount to fight as infantry, he served admirably in the southern army until his capture at the Battle of Eutaw Springs on September 8, 1781.

William Washington

This list, not intended to be exhaustive but just exploratory, is an example of the importance the southern theater had to the strategic mindset of George Washington. Although the Virginian was fixated on the recapture of New York City until the opportunity to ensnare Cornwallis at Yorktown presented itself, he provided an amazing array of officers of capability to quelling British intensions in the southern theater.

Feel free to comment below on other officers that were sent south that played vital role in the ultimate American victory in this theater of operations.

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”

ERW Weekender: Ninety Six, The Site That Has It All

Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes historian Vanessa Smiley to the blog.

The thing about Ninety Six National Historic Site is that it’s unassuming exterior hides a wealth of history. It’s also nowhere near a major highway, meaning you have to want to get there if you’re thinking of visiting. And when you do get there, you will realize that there’s more history per acre than its demur entrance lets on. Located in the back country of South Carolina, Ninety Six has a history that speaks to the stories of Native Americans, the American frontier of the 18th century, and the American Revolution.

Entrance to the park
(courtesy of Ninety Six NHS, NPS)

The site at Ninety Six holds a treasure trove of study on these subjects. Native American, mostly Cherokee, activity was heavy in the area long before European settlers arrived. One of the earliest backcountry trading posts, established by Robert Gouedy in 1759, made Ninety Six a hotbed of trading activity thanks to its location at the crossroads of twelve different roads and paths, linking the area to nearly all parts of the colonies.

Continue reading “ERW Weekender: Ninety Six, The Site That Has It All”

“Judiciously Designed and Vigorously Executed”: The March to the Dan River

Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes back guest historian Daniel T. Davis. 

Last month, I heard Emerging Revolutionary War co-founder Phill Greenwalt remark “when you think about retreats, victory is a word that doesn’t come to mind.” The period of January 18 to February 14, 1781 is the exception to the rule. During this time frame, the American army under Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene and the British under Charles, Lord Cornwallis, marched across the backcountry of the Carolinas. Known as the “Race to the Dan”, this episode between the engagements at Cowpens and Guilford Courthouse, is a largely forgotten but consequential even in the Southern Campaign of 1781.

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The Dan River (courtesy of Rob Orrison)

Continue reading ““Judiciously Designed and Vigorously Executed”: The March to the Dan River”

After Eutaw Springs

Part Two
Click here for Part One.

Fig 37
Daughter’s of the American Revolution (D.A.R.) Monument, Eutaw Springs Battlefield (author collection)

In many ways, the battle of Eutaw Springs was a disappointment for both commanders.  Greene’s troops at one point broke through the British lines, but they recovered, and the Americans failed to drive them off the field.  Stewart, in a letter to Cornwallis, wrote that there were two things he would regret the rest of his life: the loss of an early morning supply gathering party and his lack of cavalry.  Having them, he felt, would have enabled him to decisively defeat Greene.  Probably both commanders, and many of their officers, reflected upon these events and second guessed themselves for the rest of their days.  Although both armies fought well at Eutaw Springs, a clear cut victory eluded both of them. Continue reading “After Eutaw Springs”