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Letter from Thomas Pinckney to Judge James

This is a transcription of a letter from Thomas Pinckney to Judge James. The original is in the collections of the South Caroliniana Library. Contributed by Sam Fore of the South Caroliniana. Indention in the transcription has been replaced with double-spacing for easier rendering in html.


Clermont 31st July 1822.

Dear Sir

I received on Sunday last your favor of the 26th of this month containing questions relating to the conduct of Genl Gates. Having perceived that the narrative of this officer's command of the southern Army, comprised in Judge Johnson's Sketches of the Life of General Green, was less favorable to the character of Gates than I think his conduct merited, I forwarded to Mr. Johnson, as I informed you was my intention, such testimony in his favor as my recollection afforded me: And I will now with pleasure proceed to answer your questions; which I can the more readily perform as most of them have so lately been the subject of my recollection. I ought however to remind you that forty two years have now elapsed since the period in which these transactions took place, and that I am seventy two years of age both circumstances unfavorable to precise accuracy. I will endeavor to guard against them by not relating anything where my memory is not clear: or where it is not supported by contemporaneous testimony. Neither would I attempt to give the exact dates of several of the transactions had they not been furnished by the narrative of Colo Otho Williams, which being it is to be presumed taken from his orderly book must be correct: his whole narrative in my opinion deserves implicit credit as far as it goes. He was an officer of the most respectable military talents, of the most amiable manners & liberal sentiments; but he was not as his relation shows informed of the Generals views and intentions, nor of one or two facts of material import. I may also add that he may have been dissatisfied with the General's not having taken the route he advised, and may thereby have been induced to think & to write less favorably of that which was pursued.

Answers
1st Genl Gates joined Genl de Kalb on the 25 of July 1780 near the Buffalo Ford on Deep River a branch of Cape Fear in North Carolina.

2nd The army remained but one day after his arrival in the camp where Genl Gates assumed the command. I do not know that any council of war was called; and I do not recollect tha[t] any Officer of South Carolina except myself was at this time present. General Marion I believe joined with his small corps in a day or two afterwards while we were on the march but on the particular date of his junction, your documents will probably furnish more exact testimony. Gen Huger I think came up a very short time before the 16th. The greatest number of the South Carolina whigs still in opposition were with General Sumpter who was acting in advance. How I happened to be with the Army was thus; When Genl Duportail had given it as his opinion that Charleston was no longer defensible I was sent out by Genl Lincoln to Govr Rutledge to urge measures of succour. I found at Georgetown the Governor, whom I accompanied to Camden, where a body of North Carolina Militia under the younger General Caswell, a few South Carolina militia under Col Richardson, & Bufort's Regiment of Continentals were formed into a small division and placed under the command of Genl Huger who appointed me to act as adjutant General. It being thought advisable that this body should retire fa[r]ther North, not being able to cope with the British who were in force at Nelsons Ferry, they were obliged to separate and take different routes the better to obtain supplies of provision: at this time the Governor requested me to proceed to Charleston with a Flag of truce. I went there and returning by the way of Charlotte I heard that the Governor had proceeded northward, and that a body of Continental troops were advancing: I proceeded to this army & reported myself to the Baron de Kalb who desired me to join his family. When Genl Gates arrived with only two aides de Camp, he requested Barron de Kalb to let me serve as such with him, which of course afforded me an opportunity of being acquainted with the motives which induced the measures he adopted.

3rd Genl Gates had no means of establishing Depots of Provisions he had no military chest, not even a dollar for secret service money. The Baron de Kalb's foot lay in the Quarter Masters Department yet with all his talents in this line Genl Gates found the army, for want of friends & the means of transportation, subsisting from day to day on provisions impressed by small parties sent out in every direction; and even this resource was not adequate to their wants; & De Kalb was at this time hesitating in what direction he should move. When Genl Gates was informed of this state of affairs he said at once We may then as well move forward & starve, as starve lying here: and immediately gave the order to march. I believe it was his intention when in his power to form a depot at Charlotte to which place he sent off a part of his baggage & the women of the army, from Lynch's Creek.

4 Two routes were presented to him, one, recommended by some of the Maryland Officers, was to proceed to Salisbury to refresh the Army, establish a laboratory for the repair of arms & c., and provide an asylum for the wounded & women in case of disaster. The other was to cross the Pedee lower dow[n] at Masks Ferry, known to be a good crossing place, and then to proceed to strike the great northern road between Charlotte & Camden. To have taken a northwest course to Salisbury would have had the appearance & in some degree the effect of a retreat: on part of the road in that direction the Army could have had no better supplied with provisions than the other. In the last direction the land on the Pedee in the neighborhood of Masks ferry were known to be fertile Caswells army of North Carolina Militia; who were not far from thence, were represented to be abundantly supplied with provisions: this course would therefore have the additional advantage of facilitating a junction with Caswell who had hitherto eluded it & at the same time would afford some countenance to the operations of Genl Sumpter who about this time attacked the enemy's post at Rockey Mount. At all events Masks ferry was not far from the direct course to Charlotte. The General therefore determined to march for that place Ferry. When arrived here he found that Caswell, still persisting to elude subjecting himself to the command of a (illegible) officer, had proceeded toward Lynch Creek, where the Enemy was posted in some force. The situation of this body of troops had hereby become critical, repeated injunctions to their commander issued both by De Kalb & Gates had proved ineffectual to affect a junction the only means to obtain their cooperation and to preserve them from the disaster likely to result from the impudence of their commander, was by a rapid march to force a junction with them. This determined the General to follow them in the direct route to Lynchs Creek, which of course carried him to the eastward of the road from Charlotte to Camden.

5th At this distance of time I cannot recollect the names of the Gentlemen who acted as guides to the Army. The Quartermasters Department was charged with providing them.

6th I was not with the reconnoitering party who examined this position it was represented to be strong. Col Williams describes it particularly, & I have no doubt with accuracy. In executing the flank march which turned the enemies left, the General pursued a sound military maxim, which is, never to sacrifice the lives of your soldiers to effect that which can be as well performed without loss.

7 I can not recollect the precise route on which the army proceeded to Rugeleys after passing the enemy's left on Lynchs Creek: the march occupied two days and was I presume the most direct practicable route from that part of Lynch's creek to Rugeley's.

8th We had frequent intelligence of the enemy's force from various persons as is always the case they differed materially in their accounts. We were not able to procure any of the returns of their Army: we were therefore obliged to make an estimate from comparison of the verbal accounts and corresponding circumstances. To the best of my recollection the total number to which Lord Rawdons regulars were stated to amount was 1200 the largest 2000 from their accounts afterwards published they proved to be 1700. The General having no secret service money there was some difficulty in procuring men to risk their lives as spies without remunerations, patriotism however induced some to undertake it: by whom they were furnished I do not recollect: but I will remember one person who was well recommended, stipulated for the reward of a horse: there being no other resource, a horse was impressed in the neighborhood and given to him. The Generals principal reliance for intelligence was in the officers of the country acting in the neighborhood particularly in Genl Sumpter for the west side of the Wateree, Col Hampton for upper Pedee & Genl Marion in lower Pedee & Santee. An express was received from Genl Sumpter I believe on the day we marched or that preceeding it communicating the state of that side of the River. An American came out of Camden on the same day professing to bring us intelligence, but as he did not mention the arrival of Lord Cornwallis he was supposed by some to be one of his spies.

9 The Army while on Lynch Creek was I believe supplied as previously, by contract for future payment where possible, otherwise by impressments. I do not believe provisions can have been sent there from the Waxhaws, because it was not until the 6th or 7th of August that Sumpter defeated the tories & destroyed the Prince of Wales' Regt at Hanging rock; which party could previously have intercepted any convoys of provisions that might have been sent from that quarter. We were near Lynchs creek from the 7th to the 11th of August.

10th As soon as the left of the detachment under Lord Rawdon was turned, he retreated to Camden, where Lord Cornwallis arrived on the 14th August.

11th Gates was dissatisfied with his situation at Rugeley's as soon as he had examined it: He then sent forward Col Porterfield & Col Senf to select a stronger position in front; they returned & reported having found me five or six miles in advance, which Colo Senf the Engineer proposed to strengthen with an abbatis and a Redoubt or two. I remember it was reported to be on a deep creek very difficult to pass except at the main road. In this post our numerous militia would undoubtedly have acted to advantage. A Council of War was then called to which the General carried the order of the March for the night of the 15th. He, after it broke up, told Col. Williams there was not a dissentient voice.

12 The army occupied the position at Rugeleys from the evening of the 13th to that of the 15th Augt Genl Stevens with the Militia of Virginia arrived only on the evening of the 14th. The Provisions were scanty and inferior in quality, as had been generally the case.

13 The order for the line of march is contained in Williams' narrative, & is in my opinion a good one: some delay incidental to expeditions by night may have been taken place but it was I think executed as well as usual.

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In answer to these questions I will relate what I saw of the transaction. As soon as the firing of the advanced parties was heard; between two & three o'Clock in the morning, the General hastened to the head of the line; where Armands calvary retreating at full speed from the enemy along the road on which the army was marching had thrown it into great confusion. Armand approached the General and urged him to retire, because the firing was pretty smart where he was Gates refused, saying it was his business to be where his orders might be necessary. The forming and posting [of] the army in the night from the great confusion with which the militia in particular had been thrown of course occupied considerable time. A prisoner was taken by the advanced party who stated that Lord Cornwallis commanded the army, which by his account amounted to 3000 Men. A Council of General Officers was called whose opinion was, that it was too late to do any thing but fight. The Genl after this went to the extreme left of the [illegible] line passing along their front and endeavoring by a few words to animate the soldiers: after passing the right he went in the same manner along the front of Smallwoods Brigade which formed the reserve, near which he took post. At the dawn of day we heard the discharge of Field pieces; the Adjutant General rode up & informed the General that he had ordered the Artillery to open on the enemy whom they could just see drawn up in front, and they could also perceive troops in motion on their right: The General desired him to order Genl Stevens who commanded on our left to attack the enemy's right while maneuvering: He then ordered me to go to the 2d Maryland Brigade, which was on our right, and to direct the commanding officer to commence the attack on the enemys left to support that of Genl Stevens on his right. I delivered my order which was promptly obeyed: as soon as that wing was engaged I returned to the place where I had left the General, but by this time the militia had broke away, sweeping everything before them like a torrent. I was afterwards informed that the General had been endeavoring to rally them: and was hurried off with them: I inquired for him in vain from the Officers of the Reserve: this corps was now attacked in front & on the left flank: while here I received a wound and was thrown into a waggon; of course I saw nothing more of the battle.

16th Tarlton was mistaken: There was no time to reconnoitre in the morning before the action commenced, nor was there any occasion to change the order of battle.

17 As I was afterwards informed the Generals anxiety to rally the militia by whom he was borne from the field was for the purpose of supporting the Continentals & checking the enemy in their pursuit for he foresaw from their flank being left uncovered by the flight of the Militia that our regulars must be obliged to retreat. I know the causeway at Rugeleys was rendered impassable for carriages, by the waggons by which it was covered, for I was taken on the south side of it out of the ammunition in which I was first placed & carried by some of our officers to a baggage waggon on the North side; and as it was here the General, as I was told, made his last ineffectual attempt to detain the Militia, I think it probable he had ordered the causeway to be thus embarrassed (?). Armands cavalry did infinite mischief by adding to the terrors & confusion of the retreat: I myself saw them plundering the Waggons and advising the Drivers who had so far escaped to cut loose their horses to avoid Tarlton's Dragoons who they said were close at hand.

18 Colonel Porterfield was a gallant & judicious officer who had seen much service; having been most of the War under the command of General Morgan: he was also an amiable & honorable Gentleman, and deservedly a great favorite with Genl Gates, who charged him with the selection of the post he wished to occupy, for the purpose of covering the Country, and controlling the movements of the enemy. I believe no American Prisoner except myself had any surgical assistance for two days after the action. I was seen & recognized near Rugeleys, to which Cornwallis had advanced, by a B[ritis]h Officer who had been my school fellow in England: he engaged Tarlton to send for his surgeon from the field, by whom my wound was dressed. This neglect of our people was owing to the British Surgeons having their hands fully occupied with their own wounded, notwithstanding they did not publish a numerous return of killed & wounded. One of their Officers told me that the first discharge of our Field pieces put sixty men hors de combat, and I was carried over the field of battle in the night where as far as I could see they were thickly strewn and I heard the groans of many. An incident here happened most distressing to my feelings while on our side of the Field a poor wounded Continental beg'd to be taken into the Waggon. I prevailed on the Driver, a british Soldier, to place him there. While passing over the British side I heard many groans & a similar request was made: our waggoner then told my poor contintental that he must give up his place to one of his own comrades. I intreated it might not be done, offering, notwithstanding the inconvenience to our broken bones to take in the third; intreaties failing I tried a stronger tone asserting that the Waggon was appropriated to me by the commanding Officer to whom I would complain. I was only damned for a rebel & informed that if persisted I should be turned out to make room for another of their wounded soldiers. My poor fellow soldier was left on the road probably to perish. I was carried into Camden and thrown upon a table in the piazza of a house occupied by Mrs. Clay, a refugee Lady from Georgia: in the course of the next day between 20 & 30 more officers of the regulars and militia were crowded into this house, (already occupied by two Ladies and a number of Children:) among these was Colo Porterfield, to whom as well as to myself & our comrades this amiable Lady behaved like a Mother; sharing with us every comfort they had, and depriving herself for our accommodation. The British took their pitiful revenge on her for her patriotism: but I trust they did not distress her to the extent of their wishes; for the natural benevolence of her disposition, her devotion to the cause of her country, and her attachment to all who were suffering in its defense must have greatly alleviated the distress she suffered: and I have no doubt that the (illegible) of her angelic conduct on this occasion has been a source of comfort to her through a long extended life. I heard within a few years that she was living at Augusta in Georgia cherished and beloved by numerous descendants and deservedly respected by all who knew her. At the expiration of 42 years I cannot recollect unmoved her kindness to my brother Officers & myself, & her distress on our account.

I have therefore endeavored to answer your questions, and with the garrulity of old age have given more than was called for.

You have my consent to use my name in support of any of the above facts which you may chuse to insert in your publication.

I have the honor to be with great respect & esteem
Dear Sir

Your obedient servant,
Thomas Pinckney


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