“Colonel Armand’s dragoons and militia displayed a good countenance, but were soon borne down by the rapid charge of the legion. The chase again commenced…” So wrote British Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton in his work, “A History of the Campaigns of 1780 and 1781, in the Southern Provinces of North America” regarding his pursuit of retreating American militiamen from the disastrous battlefield at Camden, SC in August 1780, and the gallant effort of one Patriot cavalry commander, a foreign officer, who sought desperately to reform the panicked militia and make a stand. He was Lieutenant Colonel Charles Armand Tuffin, Marquis de la Rouerie.
Lieutenant Colonel Charles Armand
French by birth, Armand was one of many European soldiers to come to America in the 1770’s with hopes of obtaining high ranking commissions in the fledgling Continental Army during the Revolution. Arriving in 1776, Armand’s service in the war would generally become overshadowed by that of his more famous countryman, the younger Marquis de Lafayette, who would arrive a year later.
This March brings the 241st Anniversary of the pivotal battle of Guilford Courthouse, NC. While this battle is of immense importance to the Southern Campaign, several smaller battles leading up to it have been largely overlooked. Through February and early March of 1781, detachments of the American and British armies maneuvered across the modern-day counties of Alamance, Guilford, Orange, Chatham, and Caswell. The is the third in a series of three articles.
The last of the skirmishes occurred at Weitzel’s Mill, also spelled as Wetzel’s, and Wiley’s. Cornwallis was becoming more determined to strike at the Americans to either force a general battle, which he felt his veteran army could win, or destroy the isolated detachments operating near him.
This March brings the 241st Anniversary of the pivotal battle of Guilford Courthouse, NC. While this battle is of immense importance to the Southern Campaign, several smaller battles leading up to it have been largely overlooked. Through February and early March of 1781, detachments of the American and British armies maneuvered across the modern-day counties of Alamance, Guilford, Orange, Chatham, and Caswell. The is the second in a series of three articles.
Pyle’s Defeat on February 25, 1781 was a public relations disaster for the British. The next skirmish fought between the opposing forces was at Clapp’s Mill on March 2nd and has also been called the Battle of Alamance. On February 27th, Cornwallis’ army moved from Hillsborough to the Haw River, camping on the south side of Alamance Creek at an important crossroads.
This March brings the 241st Anniversary of the pivotal battle of Guilford Courthouse, NC. While this battle is of immense importance to the Southern Campaign, several smaller battles leading up to it have been largely overlooked. Through February and early March of 1781, detachments of the American and British armies maneuvered across the modern-day counties of Alamance, Guilford, Orange, Chatham, and Caswell. This is the first of a series of three articles.
Having unsuccessfully chased General Nathaniel Greene’s small, ragged army across North Carolina, British forces under Lord Charles Cornwallis moved to the state capital at Hillsborough to announce their liberation of the state and call Loyalists to come forward and support them. Greene’s army retreated across the Dan River into Virginia, where he awaited supplies and reinforcements.
Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes back guest historian Karl G. Elsea
History can be fun; for example, when a war trophy in Sweden and the popular television series “Antiques Roadshow” can be combined to explain an American Revolutionary War legend. There are a number of books, articles, an actor impersonator, and even an U. S. Postal stamp from 1975 showing Peter Francisco carrying a cannon barrel to save it from falling into British hands at the Battle of Camden. Sadly, their stories of Peter carrying a barrel weighting 600 pounds, or even an amazing 1,100 pounds, are not close to true. Here is the likely story. The kind of barrel Peter actually carried is shown in the next picture. The barrel likely weighed between 200 and 300 pounds.
An original amusette is located at the Armémuseums’s magazine in Stockholm. This amusette was constructed in 1768 and captured by the Swedes in the battle at Berby in 1808. The following picture shows this amusette:
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.
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.
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.
Published: 2020 (Westholme Publishing)
264 pages, including index, footnotes, images, and maps
Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes guest historian Liz Williams, from Historic Alexandria, the host of the second annual symposium
When we planned our 2nd Annual Revolutionary War Symposium for 2020, our theme came easily – Hindsight is 2020. Little did we know that our cheeky title would take on a different meaning as we had to navigate a global pandemic. But I am excited that we can still offer our symposium (yes 6 months later) and virtual! In this format, we can zoom our experts to computers and smartphones across the country. And this year we have a great variety of topics – from Drunken Hessians to African American Continentals. Learn about Loyalists, battles in the Southern Theatre, and along a creek in southeastern Pennsylvania.
As we move toward the 250th anniversary of the nation, it is critical for us all to look with fresh eyes at our founding. At Gadsby’s Tavern Museum, we engage with the complexity and challenges of early America, many of which were rooted in what transpired before and during the Revolutionary War. By understanding our past, we can continue the work of creating a better United States for all.
The Symposium costs $40 per person, $20 OHA Members & Students and reservations can be made at AlexandriaVa.gov/Shop. Looking forward to seeing everyone on May 22!
Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes guest historian Sean Chick
On October 7, 1780, Britain’s attempt to regain at least part of the rebellious North American colonies was dealt a major blow at King’s Mountain. The rebels rejoiced, since it was their first major victory since 1777 and it came after the twin disasters at Charleston and Camden. Thomas Jefferson, then governor of Virginia, considered it the decisive battle of the war. Years later, Theodore Roosevelt echoed that sentiment. In 1930, when the site was set to become a national park, Herbert Hoover gave a speech. For the embattled president, it was an attempt to shore up his falling support and vindicate his strategy to peel southern states away from the Democratic Party. Hoover said “This is a place of inspiring memories. Here less than a thousand men, inspired by the urge of freedom, defeated a superior force entrenched in this strategic position. This small band of Patriots turned back a dangerous invasion well designed to separate and dismember the united Colonies.”
Hoover, understandably, never mentioned the atrocities committed. Many were executed after the battle. Nor did he mention that King’s Mountain was not a contest between redcoats and rebels, but brother against brother. The only British man present was Major Patrick Ferguson. His command was made up entirely of Loyalists. His second in command, Captain Abraham de Peyster, was from New York City.
Few groups in American history are as forgotten as the Loyalists and few were as complex. They were a varied lot, often making up the highest in colonial society, including wealthy merchants and colonial officials. They often included the very lowest in the society, such as recent immigrants, slaves, indigenous, and subsistence farmers. Their ideology was in many ways not radically different from those who rebelled. They were generally not in favor of absolute monarchy or the supremacy of Parliament but simply favored union with Britain and slow reform. A few, such as Joseph Galloway, were part of early protests against British colonial policy, but were unwilling to jump into the chasm of revolution. Some, such as South Carolina merchant David Fanning, were merely aggrieved and sought to settle scores. Others were on the margins of society and saw the colonists, or at least the revolutionary colonial elite, as their real oppressors.
The Loyalists were at first spurned by the British high command. Major General William had over 30,000 men under his command in 1776 and Loyalists would have added to the logistical strain. He also thought a soft war policy that he hoped would induce the colonies to return, and therefore it was reasonable to avoid civil war. Yet, by 1777 the British were using some Loyalist regiments. They would fight in John Burgoyne’s ill-fated drive on Albany and served as rangers at Brandywine.
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.