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Battle of Eutaw Springs

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

September 9.—General Greene has added another to the number of rebel victories. Yesterday morning at four o’clock, having been joined by the forces under General Marion, he made the following disposition of his army, and marched from the encampment at Burdell’s plantation, to attack the British at Eutaw Springs. His front line was composed of four small battalions of militia, two of North and two of South Carolinians; one of the latter was under the immediate command of General Marion, and was posted on the right, who also commanded the front line; the two North Carolina battalions, under the command of Colonel Malmady, were posted in the centre, and the other South Carolina battalion, under the command of General Pickens, was posted on the left. The second line consisted of three small brigades of Continental troops, one from North Carolina, one from Virginia, and one from Maryland. The North Carolinians were formed into three battalions, under command of Lieutenant-Colonel Ash, Majors Armstrong and Blount, the whole commanded by General Sumner, and were posted on the right. The Virginians consisted of two battalions, commanded by Major Snead and Captain Edmonds, and the whole by Lieutenant-Colonel Campbell, and were posted in the centre. The Marylanders also consisted of two battalions, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Howard and Major Hardman, and the brigade by Colonel Williams, deputy adjutant-general to the army, and were posted upon the left. Lieutenant-Colonel Lee, with his legion, covered the right flank, and Lieutenant-Colonel Henderson, with the State troops, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonels Hampton, Middleton, and Polk, the left. Lieutenant-Colonel Washington, with his horse, and the Delaware troops under Captain Kirkwood, formed a corps de reserve. Two three-pounders, under Lieutenant Gaines, advanced with the front line, and two sixes under Captain Brown with the second. The legion and State troops formed the advance, and were to retire upon the flanks upon the British forming.

In this order the Americans moved on to the attack. The legion and State troops fell in with a party of British horse and foot, about four miles from their camp, who, mistaking the Americans for a party of militia, charged them briskly, but were soon convinced of their mistake by the reception they met with. The infantry of the State troops kept up a heavy fire, and the legion in front, under Captain Rudolph, charged them with fixed bayonets, when they fled on all sides, leaving four or five dead on the ground, and several more wounded. As this was supposed to be the advance of the British army, the front line of the Americans was ordered to form and move on briskly in line, the legion and State troops to take, their position upon the flanks. All the country is covered with timber, from the place where the action began to the Eutaw Springs. The firing began again between two and three miles from the British camp. The militia were ordered to keep advancing as they fired. The British advanced parties were soon driven in, and a most tremendous fire began on both sides, from right to left, when the legion and State troops were closely engaged. General Marion, Colonel Malmady, and General Pickens, conducted the troops with great gallantry and good conduct, and the militia fought with a degree of spirit and firmness that reflects the highest honor on that class of soldiers. But the enemy’s fire being greatly superior to the Americans’, and continuing to advance, the militia began to give ground. The North Carolina brigade, under General Sumner, was then ordered up to their support. These were all new levies, and had been under discipline little more than a month; notwithstanding which, they fought with a degree of obstinacy that would do honor to the best of veterans, and it was hard to tell which to admire most, the gallantry of the officers, or the bravery of the troops. They kept up a heavy and well-directed fire, and the enemy returned it with equal spirit, for they really fought worthy of a better cause, and great execution was done on both sides. In this stage of the action, the Virginians, under Lieutenant-Colonel Campbell, and the Maryland troops under Colonel Williams, were led on to a brisk charge with trailed arms, through a heavy cannonade and a shower of musket balls. Nothing could exceed the gallantry and firmness of both officers and soldiers upon this occasion; they preserved their order, and pushed on with such unshaken resolution, that they bore all down before them. The British were routed in all quarters. Lieutenant-Colonel Lee had, with great address, gallantry, and good conduct, turned their left flank, and was charging them in rear at the same time the Virginians and Maryland troops were charging them in front. A most valuable officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Henderson, was wounded early in the action, and Lieutenant-Colonel Hampton, who commanded the State cavalry, and who, fortunately, succeeded Lieutenant-Colonel Henderson in the command, charged a party of the enemy, and took upwards of one hundred prisoners.

Lieutenant-Colonel Washington brought up the corps de reserve upon the left, where the British seemed disposed to make further resistance, and charged them so briskly with the cavalry and Captain Kirkwood’s infantry, as gave them no time to rally or form. Lieutenant-Colonels Polk and Middleton, who commanded the State infantry, were no less conspicuous for their good conduct than their intrepidity; and the troops under their command gave specimens of what may be expected from men naturally brave, when improved by proper discipline. Captain-Lieutenant Gaines, who commanded the three-pounders with the front line, did great execution till his pieces were dismounted.

The Americans kept close at the enemy’s heels after they broke, until they got into their camp, and a great number of prisoners were continually falling into their hands, while some hundreds of the fugitives ran off towards Charleston. But a party threw themselves into a three-story brick house which stands near the Spring, others took post in a picketed garden, and in the impenetrable shrubs, and the rear also being secured by the Springs and deep hollow-ways, the British renewed the action.

Every exertion was made to dislodge them. Lieutenant-Colonel Washington made most astonishing efforts to get through the thicket to charge them in the rear, but found it impracticable, had his horse shot under him, and was wounded and taken prisoner.

Four six-pounders were ordered up before the house, two of the Americans’ and two of the enemy’s which they had abandoned, and they were pushed on so much under the command of the fire from the house, and the party in the thickets, as rendered it impracticable to bring them off again when the troops were ordered to retire. Never were pieces better served; most of the men and officers were either killed or wounded.

Washington failing in his charge upon the left, and the legion baffled in an attempt upon the right, finding the infantry galled by the fire of the British, and the ammunition mostly consumed, though officers and men continued to exhibit uncommon acts of heroism, General Greene thought proper to retire out of the fire of the house, and draw up the troops at a little distance from the woods, not thinking it advisable to push his advantages further, being persuaded the enemy could not hold the post many hours, and that his chance to attack them on the retreat was better than a second attempt to dislodge them, which, if he succeeded, must be attended with considerable loss.

After collecting all the wounded, except such as were under the command of the fire of the house, the Americans retired to the ground from which they marched in the morning, there being no water nearer, and the troops ready to faint with the” heat and want of refreshment, the action having continued near four hours. A strong picket was left on the field of action, and early this morning, General Greene detached General Marion and Lieutenant-Colonel Lee, with the legion horse between Eutaw and Charleston, to prevent any reinforcements from coming to the relief of the British, to retard their march should they attempt to retire, and give time for the army to fall upon their rear, and put a finishing stroke to the work. The Americans left two pieces of artillery in the hands of the enemy, and brought off one of theirs.1

General Greene thinks himself principally indebted for this victory to the free use of the bayonet made by the Virginians and Marylanders, the infantry of the legion, and Captain Kirk-wood’s light infantry; and though few armies ever exhibited equal bravery with the Americans in general, yet the conduct and intrepidity of these corps were peculiarly conspicuous. Lieutenant-Colonel Campbell fell as he was leading his troops to the charge, and though he fell with distinguished marks of honor, yet his loss is much to lie regretted. He was the great soldier and the firm patriot.2

The American loss in officers is considerably more from their value than their number, for never did either men or officers offer their blood more willingly in the service of their country. “I cannot help acknowledging my obligations to Colonel Williams,” says General Greene, “for his great activity on this and many other occasions, in forming the army, and for his uncommon intrepidity in leading on the Maryland troops to the charge, which exceeded any thing I ever saw. I also feel myself greatly indebted to Captains Pierce and Pendleton, Major Hyrne, and Captain Shubrick, my aide-de-camp, for their activity and good conduct throughout the whole of the action.”3


1 On the evening of the day following the battle, the British retired, leaving upwards of seventy of their wounded behind them, and not less than a thousand stand of arms that were picked up on the field, and found broken and concealed in the Eutaw Springs. They stove between twenty and thirty puncheons of rum, and destroyed a great variety of other stores which they had not carriages to carry off. General Greene pursued them the moment he got intelligence of their retiring. At Martin’s tavern they formed a junction with Major M’Arthur, (General Marion and Lieutenant-Colonel Lee not having a force sufficient to prevent it,) but on Greene’s approach they retired to the neighborhood of Charleston. The Americans have taken five hundred prisoners, including the wounded the enemy left behind; and they cannot have suffered less than six hundred more in killed and wounded. The fugitives that fled from the field of battle spread such an alarm that the enemy burnt their stores at Dorchester, and abandoned the post at Fair Lawn, and a great number of negroes and others were employed in felling trees across the road for some miles without the gates of Charleston. Nothing but the brick house, and the peculiar strength of the position at Eutaw, saved the remains of the British army from being all made prisoners.
2 After his fall he inquired who gave way, and being informed the British are fleeing in all quarters, he added, “I die contented,” and immediately expired.—Gordon, if. 171.
3 Letter from General Greene to the President of Congress, in the New Jersey Gazette, October 24; and Carver, 140.