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Operations in South Carolina

From Diary of the American Revolution, Vol II.  Compiled by Frank Moore and published in 1859.

August 31.—In the Royal Gazette Extraordinary of this day, is published the following account of the different actions which have lately happened in South Carolina. Lord Cornwallis having received intelligence that General Gates had arrived at Deep Creek, in North Carolina, the twenty-fourth of July last, and taken upon him the command of the troops which had been collecting there since the surrender of Charleston, and that he was putting them in motion, set out for Camden on the evening of the tenth, and arrived there early in the morning of the fourteenth instant. General Gates had already penetrated into South Carolina, and was advanced as far as Rugely’s, about twelve miles distance from Camden. His lordship having informed himself of the strength and position of the rebels, resolved to attack them, (although they had been joined on the fifteenth by about fifteen hundred militia, under General Scott, from Virginia,) and accordingly about ten in the evening of that day the army began their march, and after they had proceeded about eight miles, the advanced guards of both parties fell in with each other, and a skirmish ensued in which several were killed and wounded on both sides; Colonel Porterfield, of the rebels, had his leg broken, and afterwards fell into our hands, as also did an ammunition wagon, which they left upon the field. From the prisoners and deserters, Lord Cornwallis was informed that the whole rebel army was upon the march to attack him. In order to avoid the confusion of an action in the night, his lordship halted on ground which was favorable for his small numbers, and in the mean time took measures to oblige the rebels to fight him on it. At daybreak in the morning, he formed his army into one line with a reserve, and the cavalry behind the reserve. The line consisted of two divisions; that on the right consisted of the light infantry, the twenty-third and thirty-third regiments, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Webster; the left, the volunteers of Ireland, infantry of the legion, and part of Colonel Hamilton’s North Carolina corps, under Lord Rawdon, with two six and two three-pounders; the reserve was composed of the seventy-first regiment, and two six-pounders, to whom the cavalry was ordered to keep close; the North Carolina refugees and militia were directed to attend to the rear, and a swamp upon the left.

About twenty minutes after day, finding the rebels formed near him, Lord Cornwallis ordered their left to be attacked, and the action soon became general. After a short conflict, which was sustained about three-quarters of an hour, the rebels were thrown into utter confusion, and gave way, when they lost a great number of men; the cavalry were ordered immediately to fall upon them, which they did with great slaughter. The pursuit was continued for upwards of twenty-two miles, and many men were killed in the course of it; seven pieces of brass cannon and all their ammunition were taken in the field, and the baggage of their general officers, and all their other baggage and camp equipage, were taken in the pursuit by the cavalry, together with one brass field-piece, the carriage of which was damaged in the skirmish in the night, and, with, the seven before mentioned, was the whole they had with them. A General Gregory was killed in the field, and General De Kalb, who is since dead of his wounds,1 and General Rutherford, who is also wounded, were made prisoners. Upwards of nine hundred officers and men were killed in the field, and in the pursuit, and about nine hundred were prisoners, many of whom are wounded. The loss sustained by the royal army in killed and wounded, amounts to three hundred and twenty men, including ten officers, three of which were killed, and two more dangerously wounded.

Some days before the action, General Sumpter was detached over the Wateree River, with twelve or fifteen hundred men, to cut off the communication between Lord Cornwallis and Charleston, and the Congaree. He fell in with, and took several wagons which were bringing flour, &c., to the British army, together with their escort and some sick men. On the morning of the seventeenth, Lieutenant-Colonel Tarleton was detached with the cavalry and light infantry of the legion to attack him. He conducted his march with so much skill that he surprised the Americans in the middle of the day on the eighteenth, totally defeated them, killed upwards of one hundred and fifty, took two pieces of brass cannon, and three hundred prisoners; he at the same time retook the wagons which had been taken, and about one hundred men who had been made prisoners, and also relieved one hundred and fifty inhabitants who had been taken up by Sumpter. The British loss on this occasion is six men killed, including Captain Charles Campbell of the light infantry, and eight or ten wounded.2

After the victory, it was discovered that amongst the prisoners there were some persons who had lately received protections and enrolled themselves in the militia, to serve under and support his majesty’s government, and one who was a prisoner upon parole, notwithstanding which, they were taken fighting on the part of the rebels. Two of them were hanged upon the spot, and we hear that wherever such instances of perfidy and treachery are discovered, they will constantly be punished with the utmost severity. Two deserters from the royal army were taken at the same time and executed in the same manner.

In marching the prisoners taken by Lord Cornwallis and Colonel Tarleton, from Camden to Charleston, the first division of them consisting of one hundred and fifty continentals, escorted by a party of the sixty-third regiment, were met by Colonel Marion, with one hundred and fifty or two hundred militia. Our party were made prisoners, and those they were conducting were rescued; but it was an event so little agreeable to them that within two days afterwards upwards of one-half of them came of their own accord to deliver themselves up; and since that time the whole of them have surrendered themselves either to Lord Cornwallis or our party on this side of Santee; nor were the rebels able to carry away the party of the sixty-third, all of whom are since come in. So the only consequence of the insurrection is the discovery of the perjury and perfidy of a set of people, who, without hesitation, have broken through engagements which are always deemed so sacred and inviolable that the most severe punishment for the breach of them is not only warranted but required by the laws of nations and of arms. The prisoners, especially those called continentals, appear to be highly disgusted with, and disaffected to the cause they have been engaged in and which many of them were obliged to enter into by absolute necessity, and the persecuting tyranny of a set of men who, without the least remorse or scruple, see hundreds every day sacrificed to attain their wicked and ambitious purposes.3


1 Baron de Kalb, while exerting himself with great bravery to prevent the defeat of the day, received eleven wounds. His aide-de-camp, Lieutenant-Colonel du Buysson embraced him, announced his rank and nation to the surrounding foe, and begged that they would spare his life. While he generously exposed himself to save his friend, he received sundry dangerous wounds, and was taken prisoner. The Baron expired in a short time, though he received the most particular assistance from the British. He spent his last breath in dictating a letter, expressive of the warmest affection for the officers and men of his division—of the greatest satisfaction in the testimony given by the British army of the bravery of his troops— of his being charmed with the firm opposition they made to superior force, when abandoned by the rest of the army—of the infinite pleasure he received from the gallant behavior of the Delaware regiment, and the companies of artillery attached to the brigades—and of the endearing sense he entertained of the merit of the whole division he commanded. The Congress resolved on the fourteenth of October following, that a monument should be erected to his memory in Annapolis, the metropolis of Maryland, with a very honorable inscription.—Gordon, iii., 105.

De Kalb was a Prussian by birth. He bore a commission in the French service, and came to America three years ago with the Marquis de la Fayette, by whom he was considered as a Mentor. While native Americans in the rebel army were harassing and distressing the inhabitants wantonly and cruelly in North and South Carolina, for their having submitted to the British army, it is said the Baron constantly protected them, on the principle, that in Europe, particularly in Germany, it was the practice not to distress the inhabitants more than the service required.—Rivington’s Gazette, January 3, 1781.

2 A writer in Cornwallis’s army, in recording an account of this action, says: “This morning we overtook the, rebel General Sumpter, fast asleep in his camp on the Creek, near the ford of the Catawba. A few of the rebels made a stand, but the greater part of them fled to the woods and hid themselves among the brambles. The ‘plunder’ we have taken is almost all Squire Sumpter had, and as we have the wardrobe of the army, it is probable the black flies and jiggers are before this time troubling the epidermis of the rebel crew. The worst we wish them is that they may not be able to scratch.”—Letter from Seth Wingard.

3 Gaine’s Mercury, September 25.