LETTER: from Captain Forbes Champagne, 23rd Regiment of Foot, while on campaign in the southern Colonies, to his brother in England.
Extract of a letter from Capt (Forbes) C. (Champagne) of the 23d Regiment, now serving under Lord Cornwallis, to his relation Lieutenant (Josiah) C.(Champagne, 31st Reg't) on the recruiting service at Doncaster, dated Wilmington, April 17, 1781
"I embrace this opportunity which the ship that brings his Lordship's dispatches affords me to inform you that I am well, tho' greatly fatigued, and to congratulate you upon the success of his Majesty's arms, and the conquest of the Southern Colonies: We have been constantly victorious, tho' excessively harassed, owing to the nature of the country and the manoeuvres of the rebels. On the evening of the 31st of March, it was resolved to cross a ford called Stuart's ford, which we were informed the rebels had overlooked in the panic our rapid movements occasioned among them. The first column consisting of the guards, grenadiers, &c. arrived at the place early on the first, but found the river swelled by the heavy rains, and guarded by a few irregular militia, who cowardly firing upon us during our passing the ford, which was nearly 700 yards wide. Notwithstanding this interruption. the whole column advanced upon them, with Gen O'Hara at its head; and had not the affair been rather serious, by the opposition of the skulking rebels, you would have been highly entertained with the situation and behaviour of our gallant leader. You know he is a little man, and consequently unfit to march thro' a deep river: he was therefore obliged to ride upon the back of one of the grenadiers of our regiment, with his double barrelled fusee in his hand: Being by this circumstance a good mark for the rascals, they fired several shots at him, which he took no notice of 'till he got within forty yards, when he returned the fire off his grenadier, and had the good fortune to strike three of the wretches and wound a fourth. upon which the rest fled to the woods with the greatest precipitation. The officers laughed at the droll adventure, and complimented the General upon his victory. The whole detachment landed immediately, and marched thro' a close and boggy country, 'till it joined the main army, to seek the enemy. The country people received us with the most unfeigned tokens of joy, as their deliverers from the oppressive, iron-hand of the rebel Congress; and great numbers daily joined the Royal standard. Unfortunately 300 of our friends, from excess of loyalty, venturing to march to us through the rebel quarters, were every man scalped, and their leader Col. Pyle, hanged up by the heels. But this unparalleled cruelty serves only to make our friends more steady and zealous in assisting us to restore their former legal and constitutional government. Nothing but light skirmishes happened 'till we got up to the enemy on the night of the 14th, which next day brought on the attack and brilliant victory at Guildford, when the rebels were totally routed, and all their cannon, baggage and camp-equipage taken by our gallant victorious troops. Their force when they engaged consisted of eight continental regiments, and the rest militia, amounting in the whole to 10,000 men. Ours was about 3,800. The rebels left 500 dead upon the field, and upwards of 900 wounded, most of them must die for want of Surgeons and necessaries. Mr. Green collected the scattered remains of his followers and retreated (plundering all the way) into Virginia, where he was put under arrest by order of Congress. Thus the two fruitful provinces of North and South Carolina are entirely free from the oppressions of the rebels, and restored to the King's peace. Our victorious army is at present in the neighbourhood of Wilmington, from whence we are soon to march to join Brigadier General Arnold, in order to subdue the strong and valuable province of Virginia."
ORIGINAL SOURCE: THE LEEDS INTELLIGENCER Tuesday, June 26, 1781
This letter was originally transcribed by Don Londahl-Schmidt and provided by Todd Braisted. I greatly appreciate Todd's providing it for this publication.
Several interesting things are to be found in this letter:
1. This letter establishes that the Grenadier company was with General Cornwallis in the Southern campaign. One wonders why Gen. O'Hara was not on his horse for the river crossing, but Captain Champagne certainly knew the men with whom he was serving.
2. The mention of a "double barrelled fusee" is interesting. I presume it was a fowling piece, similar in use to a double shotgun. His striking several of the enemy is an interesting attestation to his marksmanship, the steadiness of his "mount" under difficult conditions and indicates a buckshot or buck & ball load for each barrel.
3. As with the case of the American marksmen shooting at Col. Webster of the 33rd at Weitzel's Mill, several shots were fired at a relatively stationary target - to no effect. It doesn't go well with the myth of the "dead-eye" American rifleman. Of course, unlike the Weitzel's Mill incident, we do not have any idea of the quality of troops who opposed the Stuart's Ford crossing.
4. It gives an interesting account of the slaughter of Col. John Pyle's North Carolina Loyalist Militia at the hands of Col. Richard Henry ("Light Horse Harry") Lee. Pyle's men were mostly unarmed. They were moving in a column on a road flanked by fences. Upon seeing Lee's dragoons in white uniforms, Pyle's men mistook them for Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton's British Legion, who often removed their green jackets in warmer weather, wearing their white smallclothes. Lee's men were able to approach closely and began to cut up the "Tories" before they realized their fatal error. This is a good example of how the story became embellished in the retelling. No scalps were known to have been taken.
5. Another interesting note is that General Greene was not arrested for the defeat at Guilford Courthouse. He had attained his objective of striking a powerful blow at Lord Cornwallis' army and inflicting serious casualties while keeping his own force intact. He later returned to the Carolinas and was quite involved in many campaigns against the garrisons left behind, including the longest seige of the war against the British outpost at 96 South Carolina.
6. Some information provided by Mark Rogers regarding the location of the ford is: "According to an 1870 map of Chatham County, NC "Stewarts" Ford is located on the Chatham/Moore County line, on Deep River. I can't make out the small creek's name the ford is just south of, but it is located in Gulf Township, SSW of Smith Creek. The Rebel Army crossed Deep River at Rigdon's Ford, three miles down river from the town of Gulf."