Return to Chapter 6.
From the Battle of Savannah to the Defeat of Gates at Camden.
The failure of the combined forces of France and America before the walls of Savannah, left the cause of the latter, in the South, in much worse condition than before. The event served to depress the Carolinians, and in the same degree, to elevate and encourage the enemy. The allies withdrew to their ships, and, shortly after, from the coast. General Lincoln, with the American army, retreated to the heights of Ebenezer, and thence to Sheldon. Proceeding from this place to Charleston, he left Marion in command of the army. On the thirty-first of January, 1780, he writes to the latter as follows: "The state of affairs is such as to make it necessary that we order our force to a point as much and as soon as possible. No troops will be kept in the field except two hundred Light Infantry and the Horse (Washington's). You will therefore please to select from the three regiments with you, two hundred of your best men, and those who are best clothed, and organize them into corps, with proper officers. All the remainder, with the baggage of the whole (saving such as is absolutely necessary for light troops), will march immediately for this town. You will please take command of the light infantry until Lieut. Col. Henderson arrives, which I expect will be in a few days. After that, I wish to see you as soon as possible in Charleston."
In the February following, Marion was dispatched to Bacon's Bridge on Ashley river, where Moultrie had established a camp for the reception of the militia of the neighborhood, as well as those which had been summoned from the interior. It was to Marion that Lincoln chiefly looked for the proper drilling of the militia. In his hands they lost the rude and inefficient character, the inexpert and spiritless manner, which, under ordinary commanders, always distinguish them. Feeling sure of their Captain, he, in turn, rendered them confident of themselves. Speaking of Marion's "PATIENCE with the militia" -- a phrase of great importance in this connection -- Horry, in his own memoirs, which now lie before us, adds, "No officer in the Union was better calculated to command them, and to have done more than he did."* Lincoln knew his value. The admirable training of the Second South Carolina Regiment had already done high honor to his skill as a disciplinarian. He discovered the secret which regularly bred military men are slow to discern, that, without patience, in the training of citizen soldiers for immediate service, they are incorrigible; and patience with them, on the part of a commanding officer, is neither inconsistent with their claims nor with their proper efficiency.
-- * MS. Memoir of Gen. Horry, p. 55. --
The accumulation of troops at Bacon's Bridge was made with the view to the defence of Charleston, now threatened by the enemy. Many concurring causes led to the leaguer of that city. Its conquest was desirable on many accounts, and circumstances had already shown that this was not a matter of serious difficulty. The invasion of Prevost the year before, which had so nearly proved successful; the little resistance which had been offered to him while traversing more than one hundred miles of country contiguous to the Capital; and the rich spoils which, on his retreat, had been borne off by his army, betrayed at once the wealth and weakness of that region. The possession of Savannah, where British Government had been regularly re-established, and the entire, if not totally undisturbed control of Georgia, necessarily facilitated the invasion of the sister province. South Carolina was now a frontier, equally exposed to the British in Georgia, and the Tories of Florida and North Carolina. The means of defence in her power were now far fewer than when Prevost made his attempt on Charleston. The Southern army was, in fact, totally broken up. The Carolina regiments had seen hard service, guarding the frontier, and contending with the British in Georgia. They were thinned by battle and sickness to a mere handful. The Virginia and North Carolina regiments had melted away, as the term for which they had enlisted, had expired. The Georgia regiment, captured by the British in detail, were perishing in their floating prisons. The weakness of the patriots necessarily increased the audacity, with the strength, of their enemies. The loyalists, encouraged by the progress of Prevost, and the notorious inefficiency of the Whigs, were now gathering in formidable bodies, in various quarters, operating in desultory bands, or crowding to swell the columns of the British army. All things concurred to encourage the attempt of the enemy on Charleston. Its possession, with that of Savannah, would not only enable them to complete their ascendency in the two provinces to which these cities belonged, but would probably give them North Carolina also. Virginia then, becoming the frontier, it would be easy, with the cooperation of an army ascending the Chesapeake, to traverse the entire South with their legions, detaching it wholly from the federal compact. Such was the British hope, and such their policy. There was yet another motive for the siege of Charleston, considered without reference to collateral or contingent events. Esteemed erroneously as a place of great security -- an error that arose in all probability from the simple fact of the successful defence of Fort Moultrie - it was crowded with valuable magazines. As a trading city, particularly while the commerce of the North remained interrupted, it had become a place of great business. It was a stronghold for privateers and their prizes, and always contained stores and shipping of immense value.
The temptations to its conquest were sufficiently numerous. Ten thousand choice troops, with a large and heavy train of artillery, were accordingly dispatched from New York for its investment, which was begun in February, 1780, and conducted by the Commander-in-Chief of the British forces, Sir Henry Clinton, in person. He conducted his approaches with a caution highly complimentary to the besieged. The fortifications were only field works, and might have been overrun in less than five days by an audacious enemy. The regular troops within the city were not above two thousand men. The citizen militia increased the number to nearly four thousand. For such an extent of lines as encircled the place, the adequate force should not have been less than that of the enemy. The fortifications, when the British first landed their `materiel', were in a dilapidated and unfinished state, and, at that time, the defenders, apart from the citizens, scarcely exceeded eight hundred men; while the small pox, making its appearance within the walls, for the first time for twenty years - an enemy much more dreaded than the British, -- effectually discouraged the country militia from coming to the assistance of the citizens. Under these circumstances, the conquest would have been easy to an active and energetic foe. But Sir Henry does not seem to have been impatient for his laurels. He was willing that they should mature gradually, and he sat down to a regular and formal investment.
It was an error of the Carolinians, under such circumstances, to risk the fortunes of the State, and the greater part of its regular military strength, in a besieged town; a still greater to do so in defiance of such difficulties as attended the defence. The policy which determined the resolution was a concession to the citizens, in spite of all military opinion. The city might have been yielded to the enemy, and the State preserved, or, which was the same thing, the troops. The loss of four thousand men from the ranks of active warfare, was the great and substantial loss, the true source, in fact, of most of the miseries and crimes by which the very bowels of the country were subsequently torn and distracted.
It was the great good fortune of the State that Francis Marion was not among those who fell into captivity in the fall of Charleston. He had marched into the city from Dorchester, when his active services were needed for its defence; but while the investment was in progress, and before it had been fully completed, an event occurred to him, an accident which was, no doubt, very much deplored at the time, by which his services, lost for the present, were subsequently secured for the country. Dining with a party of friends at a house in Tradd-street, the host, with that mistaken hospitality which has too frequently changed a virtue to a vice, turned the key upon his guests, to prevent escape, till each individual should be gorged with wine. Though an amiable man, Marion was a strictly temperate one. He was not disposed to submit to this too common form of social tyranny; yet not willing to resent the breach of propriety by converting the assembly into a bull-ring, he adopted a middle course, which displayed equally the gentleness and firmness of his temper. Opening a window, he coolly threw himself into the street. He was unfortunate in the attempt; the apartment was on the second story, the height considerable, and the adventure cost him a broken ankle. The injury was a severe and shocking one, and, for the time, totally unfitted him for service. He left the city in a litter, while the passage to the country still remained open for retreat, in obedience to an order of General Lincoln for the departure of all idle mouths, "all supernumerary officers, and all officers unfit for duty." Marion retired to his residence in St. John's parish. Here, suffering in mind and body, he awaited with impatience the progress of events, with which, however much he might sympathize, he could not share. His humiliation at this unavoidable but melancholy inaction, may be imagined from what we know of his habits and his patriotism.
The siege of Charleston, in consequence of the firm bearing of the besieged, and the cautious policy of the British Government, was protracted long after the works had been pronounced untenable. It was yielded unwillingly to the conqueror, only after all resistance had proved in vain. It fell by famine, rather than by the arms of the enemy. The defence was highly honorable to the besieged. It lasted six weeks, in which they had displayed equal courage and endurance. The consequences of this misfortune leave it somewhat doubtful, whether the determination to defend the city to the last extremity, was not the result of a correct policy; considering less its own loss, and that of the army, than the effect of the former upon the rustic population. Certainly, the capture of the army was a vital misfortune to the southern States; yet the loss of the city itself was of prodigious effect upon the scattered settlements of the country. The character and resolve of the capital cities, in those days, were very much the sources of the moral strength of the interior. Sparsely settled, with unfrequent opportunities of communion with one another, the minds of the forest population turned naturally for their tone and direction to the capital city. The active attrition of rival and conflicting minds, gives, in all countries, to the population of a dense community, an intellectual superiority over those who live remote, and feel none of the constant moral strifes to which the citizen is subject. In South Carolina, Charleston had been the seat of the original `movement', had incurred the first dangers, achieved the first victories, and, in all public proceedings where action was desirable, had always led off in the van. To preserve intact, and from overthrow, the seat of ancient authority and opinion, was surely a policy neither selfish nor unwise. Perhaps, after all, the grand error was, in not making the preparations for defence adequate to the object. The resources of the State were small, and these had been diminished wofully in succoring her neighbors, and in small border strifes, which the borderers might have been taught to manage for themselves. The military force of the State, under any circumstances, could not have contended on equal terms with the ten thousand well-appointed regulars of Sir Henry Clinton. The assistance derived from Virginia and North Carolina was little more than nominal, calculated rather to swell the triumph of the victor than to retard his successes.
If the movements of the British were slow, and deficient in military enterprise, where Sir Henry Clinton commanded in person, such could not be said of them, after the conquest of Charleston was effected. The commander-in-chief was succeeded by Earl Cornwallis, and his career was certainly obnoxious to no such reproaches. We shall have more serious charges to bring against him. Of the gross abuse of power, wanton tyrannies, cruel murders, and most reckless disregard of decency and right, by which the course of the British was subsequently distinguished, we shall say no more than will suffice to show, in what dangers, through what difficulties, and under what stimulating causes, Francis Marion rose in arms, when everything appeared to be lost.
Charleston in possession of the enemy, they proceeded with wonderful activity to use all means in their power, for exhausting the resources, and breaking down the spirit of the country. Their maxim was that of habitual tyranny -- "might is right". They seemed to recognize no other standard. The articles of capitulation, the laws of nations, private treaty, the dictates of humanity and religion, were all equally set at naught. The wealth of private families, -- slaves by thousands, -- were hurried into the waists of British ships, as the legitimate spoils of war. The latter found a market in the West India islands; the prisoners made by the fall of Charleston were, in defiance of the articles of capitulation, crowded into prison-ships, from whence they were only released by death, or by yielding to those arguments of their keepers which persuaded them to enlist in British regiments, to serve in other countries. Many yielded to these arguments, with the simple hope of escape from the horrors by which they were surrounded. When arts and arguments failed to overcome the inflexibility of these wretched prisoners, compulsion was resorted to, and hundreds were forced from their country, shipped to Jamaica, and there made to serve in British regiments.* Citizens of distinction, who, by their counsel or presence, opposed their influence over the prisoners, or proved themselves superior to their temptations, were torn from their homes without warning, and incarcerated in their floating dungeons. Nothing was forborne, in the shape of pitiless and pitiful persecution, to break the spirits, subdue the strength, and mock and mortify the hopes, alike, of citizen and captive.
-- * Moultrie's Memoirs, Vol. 2, `Correspondence'. --
With those who kept the field the proceedings were more summary, if not more severe. The fall of Charleston seems necessarily to have involved the safety of the country from the Savannah to the Pedee. In a few weeks after the capture of the city, the British were in peaceable possession of the space between these limits, from the seaboard to the mountains. They had few opponents - an isolated body of continentals, a small squad of militia, for the first time drilling for future service, or a little troop of horse - and these were quickly overcome. On these occasions the British were generally led by Lieutenant-Colonel Tarleton. This officer acquired for himself an odious distinction in his progress through the South in the campaigns which followed. He was rather an active than a skilful commander. Rapid in his movements, he gave little heed to the judicious disposition of his troops, and aiming more at impressing the fears of his enemy, than overcoming him by science, his chief successes were the result of the panic which his surprises and his butcheries inspired. He seems never to have been successful against an equal and resolute foe. But, as courage and activity are, perhaps, after all, and before all, the most necessary requisites for a soldier, Tarleton's services were inappreciable to the invading army. In one month after its arrival, his legion was mounted and began its career of slaughter. While yet the city was sustaining the siege, he penetrated the country, in pursuit of those bands of militia horse, which, by direction of the American commander, still kept the open field. On the 18th of March, he surprised a company of militia at Salkehatchie Bridge, killed and wounded several and dispersed the rest. Five days after, another party at Pon-Pon shared the same fortune. He was not so successful at Rantowles on the 23d of the same month, where in a rencounter with Col. Washington, his dragoons were roughly handled, and retreated with loss. He avenged himself, however, on Washington, in less than a month after, by surprising him at Monk's Corner.
Col. White soon after took command of the southern cavalry, and obtained some trifling successes, but suffered himself to be surprised at Lenud's ferry on the Santee. These events all took place prior to the surrender of the city. The activity of Tarleton, with the general remissness, and want of ordinary military precautions on the part of the militia which opposed itself to him, made his progress easy, and thus enabled him to cut off every party that was embodied in the field. He was now to succeed in a much more important and much more bloody enterprise.
A Continental force from Virginia of four hundred men, under Col. Beaufort,* had been dispatched to the relief of Charleston. Beaufort had reached Camden before he was apprised of the surrender of that city. This event properly determined him to retreat. Earl Cornwallis, meanwhile, had taken the field with a force of twenty-five hundred men, and was then in rapid progress for the Santee. Hearing of the advance of Beaufort, he dispatched Tarleton in quest of him, with a select body of infantry and cavalry, in all, seven hundred men. Beaufort was overtaken near the Waxhaw settlements, and summoned to surrender. This person does not seem to have been designed by nature for military operations. He halted at the summons, hesitated awhile, sent his wagons ahead, consulted with his officers, and did little or nothing farther, either for flight or conflict. While thus halting and hesitating he was attacked by the impetuous Tarleton, offered a feeble resistance, unmarked by conduct or spirit, suffered the enemy to gain his rear, and finally grounded his arms. He either did this too soon or too late. His flag was disregarded in the flush of battle, the bearer of it cut down by the hand of Tarleton, and the British infantry, with fixed bayonets, rushed upon the inactive Americans. Some of Beaufort's men, seeing that their application for quarter was disregarded, resolved to die like men, and resumed their arms. Their renewed fire provoked the massacre of the unresisting. A terrible butchery followed. The British gave no quarter. From that day, "Tarleton's Quarters", implying the merciless cutting down of the suppliant, grew into a proverbial phrase, which, in the hour of victory, seemed to embitter the hostility with which the American strove to avenge his slaughtered comrades.
-- * Generally given as Buford in other documents. Simms also states "the Warsaw settlements" in the original text, but Waxhaw is correct. According to local tradition, the mother of Andrew Jackson, the future president, was one of those who aided the survivors. Jackson himself later served, at the age of 13, in Davie's cavalry, as a messenger, and was the only member of his family to survive the war. -- A. L., 1996. --
The defeat of Beaufort, with the only regular force remaining in the State, following so close upon the fall of Charleston, paralyzed the hopes of the patriots. The country seemed everywhere subdued. An unnatural and painful apathy dispirited opposition. The presence of a British force, sufficient to overawe the neighborhood, at conspicuous points, and the awakened activity of the Tories in all quarters, no longer restrained by the presence in arms of their more patriotic countrymen, seemed to settle the question of supremacy. There was not only no head against the enemy, but the State, on a sudden, appeared to have been deprived of all her distinguished men.
Moultrie and others who might have led, were prisoners of war. Governor Rutledge, a noble spirit and famous orator - the Patrick Henry of Carolina, -- had withdrawn to the North State, to stimulate the energies of the people in that quarter and gain recruits. His example was followed by Sumter, Horry and others, - by all, in fact, who, escaping captivity, were in condition to fly. The progress of Cornwallis and Tarleton left mere distinction, unsupported by men, with few places of security. Marion, meanwhile, incapable of present flight, was compelled to take refuge in the swamp and forest. He was too conspicuous a person, had made too great a figure in previous campaigns, and his military talentswere too well known and too highly esteemed, not to render him an object of some anxiety as well to friends as foes. Still suffering from the hurts received in Charleston, with bloody and malignant enemies all around him, his safety depended on his secrecy and obscurity alone. Fortunately he had "won golden opinions from all sorts of people." He had friends among all classes, who did not permit themselves to sleep while he was in danger. Their activity supplied the loss of his own. They watched while he slept. They assisted his feebleness. In the moment of alarm, he was sped from house to house, from tree to thicket, from the thicket to the swamp. His "hair-breadth 'scapes" under these frequent exigencies, were, no doubt, among the most interesting adventures of his life, furnishing rare material, could they be procured, for the poet and romancer. Unhappily, while the chronicles show the frequent emergency which attended his painful condition, they furnish nothing more. We are without details.
How long he remained in this situation is not exactly known, -- probably several months. As soon as he was able to mount his horse, he collected a few friends, and set out for North Carolina. A Continental force was on its way from Virginia under Baron De Kalb. His purpose was to join it. It was while on this route, and with this object, that he encountered his old friend and long tried associate in arms, Col. P. Horry.*
Horry describes his ankle, at this meeting, as still "very crazy" - so much so that it required his help and that of Marion's servant to lift him from his horse. But his spirits were good. He was still cheerful, and possessed that rare elasticity of character which never loses its tone under privations and disappointments. Weems, who, we are compelled to admit, very frequently exercised the privilege of the ancient historian, of putting fine speeches into the mouth of his hero, tells us that he jeered at the doleful expressions of his companion, Horry, who, discussing the condition of the country, lamented that their "happy days were all gone." "Our happy days all gone, indeed!" answered Marion -- "on the contrary, they are yet to come. The victory is still sure. The enemy, it is true, have all the trumps, and if they had but the spirit to play a generous game, they would certainly ruin us. But they have no idea of that game. They will treat the people cruelly, and that one thing will ruin them and save the country." Weems, speaking for Horry, describes in ludicrous terms, their journey through North Carolina, -- through a region swarming with Tories, but, fortunately for our travellers, who were venomous without being active. Our fugitives were without money and without credit, and "but for carrying a knife, or a horse fleam, or a gun-flint, had no more use for a pocket than a Highlander has for a knee-buckle. As to hard money we had not seen a dollar for years." (FOC, one might really wonder about this. The unit of currency up until c1785 was most definitely the English Pound!) In this resourceless condition -- a condition, which, it may be well to say in this place, continued throughout the war, they made their way with difficulty until they joined the Continental army. Gates had superseded De Kalb in its command, and was pressing forward, with the ambition, seemingly, of writing a dispatch like Caesar's, announcing, in the same breath, the sight and conquest of his enemy. Marion and his little troop of twenty men, made but a sorry figure in the presence of the Continental General. Gates was a man of moderate abilities, a vain man, of a swelling and ostentatious habit, whose judgment was very apt to be affected by parade, and the external show of things. Some of his leading opinions were calculated to show that he was unfit for a commander in the South. For example, he thought little of cavalry, which, in a plain country, sparsely settled, was among the first essentials of success, as well in securing intelligence, as in procuring supplies. It was not calculated therefore to raise the troop of our partisan in his esteem, to discover that they were all good riders and well mounted. Marion, himself, was a man equally modest in approach and unimposing in person. His followers may have provoked the sneer of the General, as it certainly moved the scorn and laughter of his well-equipped Continentals. We have a description of them from the pen of an excellent officer, the Adjutant General of Gates' army. He says, "Col. Marion, a gentleman of South Carolina, had been with the army a few days, attended by a very few followers, distinguished by small leather caps, and the wretchedness of their attire; their number did not exceed twenty men and boys, some white, some black, and all mounted, but most of them miserably equipped; their appearance was in fact so burlesque, that it was with much difficulty the diversion of the regular soldiery was restrained by the officers; and the General himself was glad of an opportunity of detaching Col. Marion, at his own instance, towards the interior of South Carolina, with orders to watch the motions of the enemy and furnish intelligence." (Narrative of the Campaign of 1780, by Col. Otho Williams.)
From such small and insignificant beginnings flow greatness and great performances. We, who are in possession of all the subsequent events -- who see this proud, vain Commander, hurrying on with the rapidity of madness to his own ruin -- can but smile in the perusal of such a narrative, not at the rags of Marion's men, but at the undiscerning character of those who could see, in the mean equipment, the imperfect clothing, the mixture of man and boy, and white and black, anything but a noble patriotism, which, in such condition, was still content to carry on a war against a powerful enemy. The very rags and poverty of this little band, which was afterwards to become so famous, were so many proofs of their integrity and virtue, and should have inspired respect rather than ridicule. They were so many guarantees of good service which they were able and prepared to render. It was in defiance of the temptations and the power of the foe, that these men had taken the field against him, and had Gates been a wise commander, he would have seen even through their rags and destitution, the small but steady light of patriotism; which, enkindled throughout the State by the example of Marion, Sumter, and a few others, was to blaze out finally into that perfect brightness before which the invader was to shrink confounded.
Gates was wise enough to take counsel of Marion, if nothing more; and even this might not have been done, but for the suggestions of Governor Rutledge, who, at that time in the camp of the Continentals, might very well have informed him of the value of the man whose followers inspired only ridicule. It was with Marion that the plan was concerted, and not improbably at his suggestion, for moving into the very heart of the State. This, subsequently, was the policy of Greene, and had Gates adopted the deliberate caution of that commander, his successes would unquestionably have been the same. The object of such a movement was to give an opportunity to the native patriots to rally -- to compel the British to concentrate their scattered forces, call in their detached parties, and thus circumscribe their influence, within the State, to the places where they still remained in force. To effect these objects, the Fabian maxims of warfare should have been those of the American General. Few of his militia had ever seen an enemy. He had but recently joined his troops, knew nothing of them, and they as little of him. Their march had been a fatiguing one. Time and training were necessary pre-requisites for their improvement and his success. Unhappily, these were the very agents with which the vanity of the unfortunate commander made him most willing to dispense. The victory at Saratoga had spoiled him for ever, and thinking too much of himself, he committed the next great error of a military man, of thinking too lightly of his foe. It would be idle and perhaps impertinent, to suggest that if Marion had been suffered to remain with him, the issue of this march might have been more fortunate. Gates was quite too vain-glorious to listen and Marion quite too moderate to obtrude his opinions; and yet Marion was a man of equal prudence and adroitness. He could insinuate advice, so that it would appear to self-conceit the very creature of its own conceptions. Had Marion remained, could Gates have listened, we are very sure there would have been no such final, fatal disaster as suddenly stopped the misdirected progress of the Continental army. There would have been some redeeming circumstances to qualify the catastrophe. All would not have been lost. At all events, with Marion at their head, the militia would have fought awhile, -- would have discharged their pieces, once, twice, thrice, before they fled. They would have done for the born-leader of militia, what they refused to do for a commander who neither knew how to esteem, nor how to conduct them.
It was while Marion was in the camp of Gates, that a messenger from the Whigs of Williamsburg, then newly risen in arms, summoned him to be their leader. It was in consequence of this invitation, and not because of the awkwardness of his position there, that he determined to penetrate into South Carolina, in advance of the American army. Such an invitation was not to be neglected. Marion well knew its importance, and at once accepted the commission conferred upon him by Governor Rutledge. He took leave of Gates accordingly, having received, as is reported, certain instructions from that unhappy commander, to employ his men in the destruction of all the scows, boats, ferry-flats and barges on the route, by which the enemy might make his escape. The fancy of the American General already beheld the army of Lord Cornwallis in full flight. His great solicitude seems to have been how to secure his captives. He had, strangely enough for a military man, never taken counsel of the farm-yard proverb, which we need not here repeat for the benefit of the reader. (As farm-yards are becoming rare, it may benefit future readers to know that this proverb is almost certainly, "Don't count your chickens before they hatch." -- A. L., 1996. )
With the departure of Marion, his better genius left him, -- the only man, who, in command of the militia, might have saved him from destruction. Leaving our partisan, with his little squad, to make his way cautiously through a country infested with Tories, we follow for the present the progress of the Continental army.
On the night of the fifteenth of August, 1780, the Americans moved from Rugely's Mills. At midnight, without dreaming of an enemy, they encountered him. The first intelligence communicated to either army of the presence of the other, was from the fire of the British advance upon the Americans. The two armies recoiled and lay upon their arms the rest of the night. So far the affair was indecisive. The Americans had sustained themselves in the face of some disadvantages, chiefly the result of their leader's imprudence. A night march of raw militia in the face of a foe, and in column of battle, was itself an error which a sagacious commander would never have made. It is not to be denied, that the Americans were not satisfied with their situation. Some of their officers openly declared their discontent. But it was too late for a retrograde movement, nor is it likely, feeling as he did and sanguine as he was, that Gates would have believed any such movement necessary. The ground was equally unknown to both commanders; but Cornwallis had one advantage: he was in the command of veterans, who are generally cool enough in such situations to look about them, and make the most of their exigencies. The American line was soon formed and in waiting for the dawn and the enemy. The first Maryland division, including the Delawares under De Kalb, was posted on the right; the Virginia militia under Stevens on the left; the North Carolinians, led by Caswell in the centre; and the artillery, in battery, upon the road. Both wings rested on morasses, and the second Maryland brigade was posted as a reserve, a few hundred yards in the rear of the first. The British formed a single line, with each wing covered and supported by a body in reserve. They were much less numerous than the Americans, but they were picked men, the choice of the regiments in Charleston and Camden. The American militia, of which the greater part of Gates' army consisted, had never felt an enemy's fire. The Maryland and Delaware troops were good soldiers, well trained and in confidence of their leaders. With the break of day, and the advance of the American left, the action began. This division of the army consisted of Virginia militia under Stevens. Handled with unexpected severity by the British fire, they yielded before it and fled in panic, many of them without even discharging their pieces. The wretched example was followed by the North Carolina militia, with the exception of a single corps, commanded by Major Dixon. The cavalry under Armand, a foreign adventurer, broke at nearly the same moment; and a charge of the British cavalry, happily timed, put an end to all hope of rallying the terror-stricken fugitives.
The devoted Continentals alone kept their ground and bore the brunt of the action. They were led by the veteran De Kalb -- the Commander-in-Chief having hurried from the field in a vain attempt to bring the militia back. The artillery was lost, the cavalry dispersed; -- the regulars, numbering but nine hundred men, were required to bear the undivided pressure of two thousand of the best troops in the British service. With the example before them, the desertion of their General, and their own perfect isolation, they would have been justified by the necessity of the case, in instant flight. But, as if the cowardice of their countrymen had stung them into a determination to show, at all hazards, that they, at least, were made of very different stuff, they not only resisted the attack of the enemy, but carried the bayonet into his ranks. The combatants rushed and reeled together with locked weapons. But this struggle could not last. The conflict was prolonged only until the British cavalry could return from pursuing the fugitives. Their sabres gave the finishing stroke to the affair. De Kalb had fallen under eleven wounds, and nothing remained, but flight, to save this gallant body from the mortification of surrender on the field of battle. It was no consolation to Gates, while fleeing to North Carolina, to be overtaken by messengers from Sumter, announcing a gallant achievement of that brave partisan, by which forty wagons of booty and nearly three hundred prisoners had fallen into his hands. Such tidings only mocked his own disaster. He could only, in reply, relate his own irretrievable defeat, point to his fugitives, and counsel Sumter to immediate retreat from his triumphant and now returning enemy. Unhappily, ignorant of Gates' disaster, and of a bold, incautious temper, Sumter was approaching, rather than hastening from, danger. His flight, when he did retire, was not sufficiently rapid, nor sufficiently prudent. He was one of those men who too quickly feel themselves secure. He was surprised by Tarleton, but two days after, his troops utterly dispersed, he, too, a fugitive like Gates, with all the fruits of his late victory taken from his grasp. In almost every instance where the Americans suffered defeat, the misfortune was due to a want of proper caution -- an unobservance of some of the simplest rules of military prudence. In a brilliant sortie, a manful charge, a sudden onslaught, no troops could have surpassed them -- nay, we find as many examples of the sternest powers of human endurance, under the severest trials of firmness, in their military history, as in that of any other people. But to secure what they had won -- to be consistently firm -- always on their guard and beyond surprise, -- were lessons which they were slow to acquire -- which they learned at last only under the heaviest penalties of blood. Marion was one of the few Captains of American militia, that never suffered himself to be taken napping.
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