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British Account of the Battle of Camden

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

A British writer gives the following relation of the rise and progress of the continental army under the command of General Gates, till the total defeat thereof, near Camden:

“So long ago as the end of March, or beginning of April last, the continental regiments of Maryland, Delaware, and Pennsylvania, consisting of about three thousand men, were detached from Washington’s army for South Carolina. The excessive cold in the early part of their march, and the inconveniences they suffered from the heat of the weather latterly, had diminished their numbers by sickness and desertion very considerably. After Gates was appointed to the chief command, he sent Major-General Baron De Kalb forward, while he remained in Virginia, to invigorate the measures necessary for augmenting his army. There he succeeded in procuring considerable reinforcements. Of the fifteen hundred he collected, one-half were the flower of their young men, amongst whom was a corps of cadets, consisting of one hundred and fifty gentlemen. He then pushed into North Carolina, where he was joined by many recruits from the prisoners that had made their escape from Charleston; besides these, a number of militia had been collected under Generals Caswell and Rutherford.

“Till the reinforcements from Virginia under Gates should arrive, nothing of consequence was attempted. De Kalb was joined by Colonel Sumpter and some other leading men from South Carolina, and some hundred of militia who were anxious to plunder the frontiers, in which they were gratified. They made several incursions, and even dared to attack some of the posts occupied by the king’s forces, in which, however, they were constantly repulsed with considerable loss.

“On the 8th of August, the rebel army took post about sixteen miles from Camden. Lord Rawdon, who commanded in the absence of Lord Cornwallis, immediately called in all the outposts, and collected the whole force at that place. Lord Cornwallis having received information of Gates’ advancing, set out for the army the 11th, and on the 14th at night arrived at head-quarters. It appears that his lordship determined immediately to attack Gates. On the 15th, at nine at night, the army were ordered to parade, accoutred for action, at their several alarm posts. Scarce an officer or soldier in the army knew of an action being expected. About ten o’clock two of Burgoyne’s soldiers, who had enlisted in the rebel army, came in to Lord Cornwallis, and informed him that Gates was reinforced by fifteen hundred militia the night before, under General Stevens from Virginia, and that the whole rebel army was then in full march to attack his lordship. Notwithstanding this, the original plan was still pursued, the army marched at a little after ten, and at about two, greatly to the surprise of the enemy, the advanced parties of both corps met; a little skirmish ensued, when each retreated to their respective armies. By a kind of mutual consent, hostilities did not recommence till daylight, when a tremendous discharge of artillery and musketry from the royal army, announced the commencement of the most severe action that has happened in the field during this rebellion.

“The firing was kept up with mutual briskness for near an hour, when orders were given to charge. Twice it was attempted in vain, from the continued fire of the rebels; they at last attempted, in their turn, something like it, but the audacity of the attempt proved fatal to them; they fell into disorder, which gave the royal army an opportunity to close in with the bayonet.

“Tarleton had now joined the flank, and advanced near the enemy, who, in a few minutes, were totally routed, and the field left to the royal army. The pursuit was more fatal to the rebels than the action; it continued for twenty miles with unremitted ardor, the whole of which distance was strewed with dead and wounded bodies. Upwards of one thousand privates were killed in the battle and pursuit, and ninety officers; among them three generals. Near one thousand were taken prisoners, great numbers of whom are badly wounded; their whole train of artillery, composed of nine brass field-pieces, one hundred and fifty-six wagons, with complete teams, laden with many thousand stand of small arms, ammunition, provisions, and camp equipage, grace the triumph of the victors. Of the royal army about three hundred privates were killed and wounded, and twelve officers, though none of high rank.

“Lord Cornwallises whole force, including Tarleton’s legion, did not exceed twenty-four hundred, most of whom were in a low state of health, which is the only reason that can be ascribed for Gates’ meeting them in the open field, for it is notorious that no other instance can be adduced during the whole course of the war, of any of the rebel generals coming to fair action with the royalists.

“About five hundred of Burgoyne’s soldiers that had enlisted in the rebel service, were in the action; their superior discipline and bravery rendered it so obstinate and bloody.

“Gates was so certain of victory, and of Burgoyning Lord Cornwallis, as he termed it, that before the disposition was made for attack, he posted two bodies of his army at some distance to the right and left of the British army, with orders to close in upon them and cut off their retreat, while he in person attacked them in front with the main army.

“Thus are the two Southern provinces, by the kind interposition of Providence, happily saved from the miserable consequences of this sudden, unexpected, and impending blow. Bloody, dark, and deep plots and machinations were in embryo, by obdurate rebels, in all quarters of the town and country, ready to spring forth into action, whenever Gates should give the decisive blow. Scenes of tyranny, robbery, persecution, and distress, even unto death, more intolerable and abominable, if possible, than ever, would have instantly followed. Cruel and relentless tyrants of the Congress and mankind, were in greedy expectation, to satiate their unbounded malice and resentment, and even imbue their wicked hands afresh in the blood of the loyalists, and again to subject us to the accursed domination of the miscreant Congress; a system so abhorredly infamous, as not to be equalled in any age or nation under heaven.”1


1 Rivington’s Gazette, January 3, 1781.