HOME   BATTLE   C.PINCKNEY LTR.   DOCUMENTS

THOMAS PINCKNEY LETTER TO WILLIAM JOHNSON [4]

Historical Magazine, Vol. X, No. 8 (August 1886), pp. 244-253.

[244]

IV. GENERAL GATES'S SOUTHERN CAMPAIGN[1]
By General Thomas Pinckney.

Clermont, 27th July 1822

Dear Sir:[2]

I have received much gratification from the perusal of your Sketches of the life of Genl. Greene; every citizen of the State of S.Carolina, which was rescued from the most galling subjection by the abilities & exertions of that meritorious Officer, must rejoice that his services & his character have at length been properly commemorated; & that the eminent literary talents of our Country, have gratefully contributed to transmit to posterity the virtues & the merits of one of our greatest benefactors.

But while the authentic documents to which you had access, have enabled you to do justice to the fame of one great Officer, the want of similar testimony has apparently given rise in your relation, to strictures on the conduct of another, which if on further investigation you discover rather to have originated from incorrect intelligence, or to have been assumed in the absence of all information on the subject, the disposition you have manifested for impartiality, will I am assured, induce you to correct the impressions whch may have been thereby made on the public mind. With this hope I purpose to communicate to you some facts & observations which may tend to place the military conduct of Genl. Gates in a more favorable light than you have hitherto viewed it. And in order to prove to you that I had the means of being accurately informed on whatever relates to this subject, I will state that during the Siege of Charleston, when the enemy had pushed his approaches to our wet ditch, & Genl. Duportail had reported the impracticability of a protracted resistance, Genl. Lincoln sent me to communicate his situation to the Governor & to urge the bringing down the Militia, & whatever regular force might be in the State, to endeavor to raise the Siege: the same service in which in a few days after, our friend Edward Rutledge was captured. After passing two of the most unpleasant days of my service in the swamps of Christ Church Parish surrounded by parties of the Enemy, I got through to Georgetown, where I found the Governor. Various transactions unnecessary to detail succeeded, & finally I repaired to the Continental Army near Coxe's Mill & reported myself to the Baron De Kalb, who desired me to join his family. In a few days Genl. Gates assumed the command, & having been introduced to him, at his first interview with the Baron, he requested that Officer to permit me to serve as one of his Aides-de-Camp. From that day I was constantly with him until the fatal 16th of August. In this capacity I saw all the orders before they were issued; was employed in composing his proclamation, & in some of his correspondence, particularly in a letter to Lord Rawdon on the subject of military usage, with respect to flags of truce, & in dispatches to Gen. Sumter, &c., &c., which circumstances I mention to show the confidential footing on which I was placed with the General; whence I may have been acquainted with his view & intentions, although they were not disclosed even to Coll. Otho Williams, who acted as Adjutant General.

This was an Officer for whom I had a sincere regard, whose military talents I highly respected & for the fidelity of whose narrative, as far as he was informed, I can safely vouch. But there was one circumstance, of which he appears

[245]

by his narrative, not to have been apprised, which being of the most material import, I will first notice; which is that the movement in the night of 15th of August was not made with the intention of attacking the enemy, but for the purpose of occupying a strong position so near him as to confine his operations, to cut off his supplies of Provisions, from the upper parts of the Wateree & Pedee Rivers, & to harass him with detachments of light Troops, & to oblige him either to retreat or to come out & attack us upon our own ground, in a situation where the Militia which constituted our principal numerical force, might act to the best advantage.

But you may ask how it appears that such was the General's intention. I answer in the first place from my testimony, for I perfectly well remember asking him if it was then his intention of attacking the enemy, he answered No! assigning as his reason the number of Militia who formed the bulk of his Army. In stating this, I am aware of the objection arising from the infallibility of human memory, especially of a man of 72 years; but I can appeal to the testimony of all those with whom I have conversed on the subject, during the last forty years, for the consistency of my relation; particularly of my brother (C.C. Pinckney) with whom you are well acquainted, & to whom as soon as I met with him, I detailed all the circumstances, while fresh in my memory. But other facts strongly corroborate this statement; & the internal evidence arising from the circumstances of the Parties is conclusive that such was Genl. Gates' intention.[5]

The first fact is that previous to the movement, I think it on the 14th of August, Col. Senf & Maj. Porterfield, the former an Engineer the other a judicious & distinguished officer, who had served in all his campaigns with Genl Morgan, were sent forward to select a position in front, calculated for the purposes I have mentioned. They returned & reported that they had found a position 5 or 6 miles in advance, with a thick swamp on the right, a deep Creek in front & thick low ground also on the left; but this flank not being so well secured as the right, Col. Senf proposed to strengthen it with a Redoubt or two & an Abbatis. As those Officers were dispatched from headquarters, & returned & reported to the General in person, it is possible that Col. Williams, who does not mention it, may not have known the transactions, but I have the most perfect recollection of it. But a circumstance which the Colonel does relate further corroborates my statement; it is this, (Apx 1st Vol.pg.493) after the breaking up of the Council of War on the 15th, Col. Williams presented the returns of the Army, from which it appeared that the number was considerably below that at which it had been estimated by the General, who after remarking on the great disproportion of the Officers to the privates, added "however they are sufficient for our purpose." That purpose he did not explain to him, but it certainly could not have been to attack a fortified post, well garrisoned. They were however sufficient to have repulsed any force the Enemy had in the vicinity, if so posted as to have rendered the Militia force efficient.[5]

Another corroboration is that a very short time before he left Clermont [Rugeley's Mill]; I think it was late as the 15th, the General detached some Artillerists with a field piece & 100 Continentals, under Col. Woolford, with two or three hundred North Cara Militia to reinforce Genl Sumter, but it is very improbable that he would have deprived himself, at any rate of the regular part of the detachment, if he had meditated an immediate attack. It is obvious also that the general order of the 15th August is only an Order of March comprising such precautions in case of their

[246]

meeting the enemy, as should be taken in every movement when near him. But if an attack at the conclusion of the March had been contemplated, much more extended details for the Order of assault would have been indispensable.[5]

If we now consider the situation & circumstances of the two armies, & allow to Gates only a moderate share of Military judgement, the internal evidence is strong that what I have mentioned was the plan proposed. From different sources of information (the means for obtaining which were not neglected as shall be shown) the British force was stated at from 1200 to 2000 men. Lord Rawdon having retired before the American Army made it probable that their force did not amount to the largest statement. They were posted in Camden which had fortified with strong Redoubts & stockaded lines. The American regulars did not amount to 1300 men including Armand's Corps; the Militia were about 1700. In Armand's Corps the General from previous knowledge, had no confidence, & he was too well experienced in the services of Militia to think them proper troops to attack Lines & Redoubts. If he estimated therefore the enemny at their smallest number, it is impossible that he should have designed an Attack on them in such a Post, with his force thus composed.[5]

But the plan which I have stated to have been that of Genl Gates is consistent with sound Military principles & the best in my opinion, which in his situation could have been adopted. For if the force he commanded had been once established in the post he had reconnoiered, the situation of the British Army would have been rendered precarious. Col. W.H. Harrington an influential character in that part of the County had been detached to the upper part of the Pedee, to animate & take command of the militia; to forward supplies of provisions to our Army; to prevent any from being sent to the British, on whose right flank he was to endeavor to establish himself. Orders of a similar import had been given to Genl Marion, on his being detached to the lower parts of the Pedee & Santee. Genl Sumter had been reinforced from the Main Army & ordered to act on the west side of the River Wateree. Under these circumstances what course could the Enemy have pursued? he could not have remained longer in Camden for want of provisions. His first object probably would have been, to attempt to force our position, but judging from similar attempts in the last War, as well as in that of the Revolution, it is fair to conclude that this measure would have proved disastrous to him. If doubtful of attacking us in front, he had endeavored by a detour to have come round upon our rear, he could not spare a sufficient force to garrison Camden, so as to prevent our Army from occupying that Post, while he was on his march; in which the proximity of our situation would have much facilitated the measure. His next resource would have been to occupy the Wateree & fallen back through the forks of that river & the Congaree, to meet his reinforcements & supplies coming from Charleston: but this he would have found difficult & hazardous to attempt. Genl. Sumter reinforced from the Main Army, was on the west of the Wateree; he had just forced the Guard at the Ferry & captured British supplies with their escort; & from an intimation from Genl Gates could have forwarded his prisoners to the interior & taken post on the west side of the Ferry, with his troops flushed with success, & probably augmented by the accession of all the Whigs in the vicinity to whom the situation of affairs could have been communicated. With such a force at his front & Gates' Army so close in his rear, the Enemy could scarcely have effected his passage of the

[247]

River without serious loss. If he had attempted to pass by the Road on the east side of River Wateree, it must still have been a perilous service. Harrington with the militia of Upper Pedee & probably reinforced from the Main army, would have hung on to what would then have been his left flank. Genl Marion would have thrown himself in his front below, cutting trees across the Road & destroying bridges to retard his progress, & intercepting his supplies from the low country. Genl Sumter by a parallel march on the west side of the Wateree, might have cut off his supplies from that quarter, & prevented his crossing at any of the passages below, which are all difficult, while Gates pursuing with the main Army, at a proper distance, by detaching light Corps of his most active troops detailed for that purpose under such officers as Williams & Howard, might have effectively harrassed his rear. If at any time Cornwallis should have turned on his pursuers, with the hope of bringing on a general action, our Army might easily have retired over ground recently passed and which of course would have been accurately reconnoitered with this view; & the enemy might have been retarded or opposed in force whenever a position offered, affording a decided superiority. Or in the last resort, Camden might have been re-occupied, where the works erected by the British themselves, would have rendered it improbable that they would have hazarded an attack.[paragraph break added]

I have entered into the above detail of what is appears to me would have been the natural result, if our Army had occupied the position contemplated by Genl Gates, to convince you that without my testimony, it is highly probable that his intention was such as I have relate. I think it also shows that it was not a rash or ill advised attempt but better than any other he could pursue. For Rugeley's was a bad position; a small detour would have placed an enemy on either flank. To have fallen back from thence would have discouraged the men of the Country, & have given confidence to the opposite party. To have crossed the Wateree as has been suggested, by the same route as the reinforcements were sent to Genl Sumter, besides having a similar discouraging tendency, could not have been effected without much hazard, embarrassed as we were with artillery & baggage, & the ferry within about six miles of Camden. To that place, no doubt intelligence of our movement would have been speedily conveyed, & Tarleton's Corps & the light troops would have been immediately detached to harrass & detain us until their main body could have been brought up to attack us while embarrassed in our passage. Besides this movement, if successful would have abandoned to the enemy every thing to the eastward of the Wateree; all the produce of that side of the river; all the fertile banks of the Pedee & of Black River, would have furnished them with supplies of provisions, which otherwise would have come to the American Camp.[5]

If Col. Williams is right in his opinion that if the General had taken a safe position, (which by his movement he was endeavoring to effect) provisions would have flowed into his Camp. The General had no inducement to retire by this route, from the proximity of the Enemy, by the hope of being strengthened by reinforcements of Regulars; none being soon expected, & this is evident from the tardiness with which from Col. Williams' journal it appears that the few troops of this description, who afterwards joined the Army at Hillsboro', arrived at a post so much farther North. And with respect to an augmentation of force by the junction of Volunteers or Militia Corps, he would probably have received more of them while exhibiting a confidence in the troops he already

[248]

commanded than when appearing to retire or shun a contest with the enemy. Indeed the troops of this description already in Camp, were sufficiently numerous, if so situated as to be available; which accounts for the General's answer before noticed to Col. Williams. That with his force, the occupation of the position contemplated, which was reported to be 6 or 7 miles distant from the enemy, was not too close, is sanctioned by the opinion of Genl Greene, as manifested by his own conduct, when at a subsequent period he took post within a mile of the same town with a force numerically inferior to that which composed its Garrison. Indeed the observation which you relate to have been made by that Officer, of the fatality attending operations in the vicinity of Camden, renders it probable that Genl Gates was exculpated in his opinion, from rashness or misconduct in his advance.

But the misfortune of the American Army is attributed principally to the want (Vol. 1st pg 296 & 297) of intelligence of the British force, owing to a neglect of measures calculated to obtain it. Now of the General's anxiety to procure intelligence, & his endeavor to employ proper agents, I can more safely testify. because I was one of those whom he directed to engage persons who might be confided in for that purpose. This being a dangerous service, & always well remunerated, I asked the. General what money should be offered, when he assured me he had not one dollar. Our own paper was totally worthless, & the only resource left, to which I was obliged to resort, was to impress the horse of one man, to pay for the secret services of another.

But Genl Marion is very properly referred to as a source, whence intelligence should hove been obtained; & if you will examine Col. Williams' narrative (Vol. 1st pg 488) you will find he states "the General himself was glad of an opportunity of detaching Col. Marion, at his own instance, towards the interior of So. Carolina, with orders to watch the motions of the Enemy & furnish intelligence."[3]

Add to this that Col. Sumter was on the other side of the Wateree, had instructions of similar import, Col. Harrington on the upper side of the Pedee the same, & these being the Officers of the Country & best acquainted with the inhabitants, were surely the beat channels from which information could be obtained. No opportunity of interrogating the inhabitants of the Country was omitted; & I have already mentioned a letter written by the General on the subject of Flags of truce, being an answer to a complaint made by Lord Rawdon on the conduct of Lieut McAllister of the Maryland Line, who had been sent to the Enemy with a Flag, relating to a British Officer who had been taken prisoner by the advance of Armand's Corps. This was a legitimate object for the flag, & the opportunity was not neglected of intrusting it to an intelligent officer, with instructions to employ his eyes; & this is considered as being fair, because the party receiving the flag has always the Power to stop the bearer, or to prevent him from seeing what it may be desirable to conceal. On this head it may be added that far from neglecting the means of information, the General's eagerness to obtain it, rendered him liable to censure for having trusted an improper agent. (See Williams, pg 491, Appx)

I hope I have said enough to convince you that Genl. Gates was not negligent on the subject of intelligence; that he took the means in his power to obtain it, & did all in that line that could be expected

[249]

from an Officer without secret service money, a stranger in the Country, & who had been in command of the Army only 18 or 20 days. But in fact he was not materially deficient in information of the enemy's force. The only circumstance of importance of which he was ignorant was of the arrival of Corawallis at Camden, on the evening of the 14th of August, & that he may have been for one day without knowledge of that accuracies will not appear strange, when it is considered that the British General approached rapidly, & I believe with only his personal escort. If his march had not been precipitate, or if he had brought any reinforcement of consequence, it is scarcely to be imagined that he could have eluded the known vigilance of Marion, expressly instructed for that purpose; but that he would have immediately discovered & communicated his progress to headquarters. Nor if the arrival of Cornwallis had been known & the most accurate information of his force, as it proved to be, had been received, were his 1700 irregulars including Tarleton's Legion, & 300 No Cara loyalists, a force so imposing as to have rendered it dangerous for the American general to have occupied a well-selected position within 6 or 7 miles of him. The regular infantry & artillery which Gates commanded were of the first class. The 600 Militia from Virginia were men of the finest appearance, they were commanded by Col. Stevens an old Continental Officer, & several of their sergeants had seen service in the regular army; the North Cara Militia, if properly stationed, would from their numbers have formed an imposing force. If the American Army had marched from Rugely's [Rugeley's] two hours earlier, or Cornwallis had moved from Camden two hours later, the event of the contest would probably have been very different. But the meeting in the night was one of those incidents frequently occurring in War, which so often defeats the best combined arrangements.

It is suggested (Vol. 1st pg. 301) that the army should have retreated after the skirmish in the night; & some expressions of Baron De Kalb seem to be relied on in support of that opinion. But a little attention to the detail of the business will render it evident that such an attempt would have been more hazardous than risking the engagement on the ground occupied; and that the opinion of Genl Stevens (which not being opposed by De Kalb or any other member was the opinion, of the Council of War) was correct, namely that it was too late to do anything but fight. The hour at which the first firing took place is correctly stated (pg.297) to have been at half past two o'clock in the morning of the 16th August. At that period the Sun in this climate rises at 24 minutes past five; allowing an hour for twilight the day must have broken at 24 minutes past four, two hours only from the time of the rencounter. Any person who has observed in the day & in time of Peace, the time usually occupied in forming a body of 1600 or 1700 militia for an ordinary review, may easily imagine how much more time it must occup under the circumstances of any Army. What was the precise time, I do not recollect, but I well remember that soon after the troops were formed, the General moved along their front, saying a few words of encouragement to them; & that it was but a short time after he had proceeded along the front of Smallwood's Brigade composing the reserve, when our Artillery opened on the enemy. Consider also that the armies were drawn up within two or three hundred yards of each other, & judge then of the possibility of avoiding an action, & decide whether it was most prudent to engage in it with the Army already formed for action, or to have been forced with troops so composed to

[250]

have assumed an order of battle from the line of march, with our army disheartened & the enemy encouraged by the very circumstance of our retreat.[5]

No objection is made to the order of Battle or to the conduct of Genl Gates, as long as he was present; but it is asked (pg 298) why no attention was paid to the safety of the Continental troops who were waiting for orders from the Commander-in-chief; but he it seems, had been borne away by the torrent of Militia & could not find an Aid to convey his orders. The circumstances of his being borne away by the torrent of Militia, which Col. Williams describes as irresistable, was truly if involuntary, the greatest misfortune, or if it could have been avoided the greatest error of the General on that day.[5]

In what I witnessed while with him, I saw no indication of want of presence of mind. As soon as the firing in the night commenced, he hastened to the head of the Line, where he met Armand retreating, who urged the General to retire, as a smart firing was carried on where he was. The General answered that it was his duty to be where his orders might be necessary; & he remained there until the firing grew slack & the troops were beginning to be formed. I well remember Col. Williams riding up to him just at daybreak, & giving him information of the movement of the Enemy's troops on their right, but I may not have adverted to all that the Colonel said. I however observed no hesitation, but admired the promptness with which he ordered that Col. Stevens should be directed to make an immediate attack while the Enemy were maneuvering, & with which he then turned to me & said, "Now Sir do you go to the Baron de Kalb, & desire him to make an attack on the Enemy's left to support that made by Genl Steven on the Right." I accordingly pressed on to the 2d[5]

But by this time the militia had broken away; a few of those of No Carolina only were opposing in small squads in the rear of the left of the Artillerists, who were then taken in flank, but still made brilliant defence. In a few minutes more the enemy commenced their attack on the front & left flank of Smallwood's brigade which formed the reserve. I joined this Brigade near which I had left the General, & made the inquiry I could for him, but without success. While here I received a wound & becoming faint, I found myself supported on my horse by Majr McGill, another of the General's Aids, who conveyed me to an Ammunition Wagon then endeavoring to escape, into which I was thrown. This accounts for the disposal of two of the Aids & the General had but three. How Capt Richmond who was the third was employed, I know not, nor do I know of what Orders Majr McGill was the bearer, but he must undoubtedly have been on the field with instructions from the General.

Genl Gates is also censured for pursuing the route from Deep River where he joined the Army, by Mask's Ferry on the Pedee to Lynch's Creek, on the road to Camden (pg 294). It is however observable that this was nearly the precise route which Genl Greene pursued the succeeding April, the country being in both cases destitute of provisions, owing to the previous exhaustion, & the natural sterility of a great part of the Soil. When Genl Gates joined the Baron de Kalb on the 25th July, the American Army had been in that neighborhood three weeks & had exhausted all the provisions within their reach. I therefore admired Genl Gates prompt decision, when on being informed of the condition of the Army in this respect, then we may as well march on & starve, as starve lying here.[5]

[251]

The only doubt was concerning the most eligible course, & this was a choice of difficulties. In whatever direction the Army might move, the country exhausted by the residence of the Army must be passed over; the barrens between the upper branches of the Cape Fear & the Catawba must be traversed, but or course it was inevitable that they should be distressed for food for several days march. The neighborhoods of Charlotte & Salisbury were represented to be good provision districts; & the banks of the Pedee were known to be among the most fertile parts of our Country. Mask's ferry on the Pedee lies not far from the main road from our camp on deep river to Charlotte. As far therefore as that point on the march whereto the Army suffered most, no blame can attach for the selection. The only question then is whether from Mask's ferry the Army should have deviated westward, or have taken the course it pursued towards Camden, & this question was decided by a consideration which could scarcely fail to preponderate. Col. Williams discloses the circumstance, & I can fully testify to the accuracy of his account of the improper conduct of Genl Caswell who commanded a body of about 1200 No Cara Militia. This Officer having advanced beyond Mask's ferry, had been urged by Baron de Kalb, & repeatedly by Genl Gates to form a junction with the regular Army, instead of complying with those injunctions, he continued to advance towards Lynch's Creek, where the Enemy was in some force. The only means then of securing this accession to the Army, & probably of preserving them from defeat & destruction, was to form a junction as rapidly as possible. Could Genl Gates under these circumstances have retired to refresh his Army in summer quarters at Charlotte or Salisbury, leaving this body of Militia, the only hope of immediate support from the State in which he was acting, to be sacrificed by the imprudence or misconduct of their commanding Officer? Sound policy forbade it. Ought he from a remote situation, to have been an inactive spectator of the triumph of the British, & the discomfiture of a body of our Countrymen, dedicated to the same service with the Army of the U. States? Patriotism & Humanity revolted at the Idea. He determined to hasten to their succour, & no doubt can exist that but for the approach of the regular Army, the enemy would have made a dash at this Corps: & how easily they might have been surprised is evident from the curious account of their discipline recorded by Col. Williams.

The only remaining censure on the conduct of Genl Gates which I have observed is that he did not attack the enemy's Post on Little Lynch's Creek in order to force a direct passage to Camden. But as I have shown that he did not contemplate an immmediate attack on Camden, even after he had formed a junction with this Militia Corps, he could scarcely have had an intention previous to his receiving this reinforcement. Being desirous however to destroy the detachment of the Enemy, Col. Williams relates that he directed their position to be accurately reconnoitered; but finding them to be very advantageously posted on a deep Creek, not passable for several miles, but over a single causeway & bridge, which they occupied, it is obvious that he must have sustained considerable loss in the Assault; he then effected his only remaining object, which was to drive them into Camden by a simple flank march. This maneuver is considered to have been judicious & strickly consonant to military principles.

Thus Sir, concurring in the opinion with the Poet that "Absentem qui rodit amicum, qui non defendit alio culpante, hic niger est," I have endeavored to do justice to

[252]

do justice to an Officer, to whom as far as the services of a Commander of an Army avail, the United States are indebted for one of the most important & brilliant victories of the Revolutionary War. In so doing I have endeavored to prove that when he assumed the command of the Southern Army he was not to blame in immediately moving forward. That the route he selected was in the first instance a choice of nearly equal difficulties, & finally such as, from circumstances not within his control, it became his duty to continue. That his conduct was strictly correct in refraining from the attack of the British Post on Little Lynch's creek. That his movement from Rugeley's was not a rash or injudicious measure, but that the Plan he thereby contemplated to execute, was the most advisable he could then adopt, & preferrable to the only alternative plan which has been suggested of passing to the westward of the Wateree, & a plan that but for the unfortunate rencounter at night, offered the fairest prospects of success. That after that rencounter an immediate action became inevitable. That the order of battle & the directions given by him while present were judicious. That he did not neglect to obtain intelligence, but employed all such as were in his power. That however deficient in some of the means of obtaining it, he had sufficient information on the enemy's force. That this force was not such as ought to have imposed on him the necessity of foregoing material advantages in order to avoid an action on advantageous terms; and that his ignorance for 24 hours of the arrival of Cornwallis, must have been owing to some accidental circumstance, as he had employed the most vigilant, active, & judicious officer of the Country, who was posted near the route, to watch & communicate the motions of the Enemy. If I shall have succeeded in obtaining the concurrence of your opinion on those points, I rely on your candor for adopting proper means to correct the less favorable opinion which may have resulted from your animadversions.

I will now beg leave to call your attention to a paragraph in your work, not connected with the subject of the above remarks; but which casts a censure on that part of the American Army which co-operated in the assault on the British Lines at Savannah. It is in these words (Vol. 1st pg 272), "Yet even at the last moment, the attack might have succeeded, had not the treachery of a deserter assisted the vigilance of the enemy in making dispositions to meet it; and had all the corps of the American Army fought with equal bravery." As no Corps is designated nor the proportion of those who misbehaved mentioned, this may have the effect of an indiscriminate censure of the whole. But I can assures that the assertion is founded in error. No want of bravery was exhibited by any part of the American Army. It is true that the assault was not pushed vigorously on our right, by a large body of the Country Militia, but they were directed to make only a feint attack, & it was so expressed in the general order. No imputation could therefore attach to them. On which therefore, & on how many, corps is the censure to rest? The truth is however that the failure was to be attributed in the first place to the strength of the enemy's lines, which were by this time beyond insult; in part to the improper order of attack, but principally to its being badly executed, which entirely owing to the delay occasioned by the late arrival of the French Troops on the ground, where the Corps destined for the attack rendesvoused. The French General was as brave as Julius Caesar, but had no other qualifications for command. I do not make this remark without having known him, for after Genl

[253]

Lincoln had in Charleston concerted with the French Adjutant Genl the attack on Savannah, he sent Col. Cambray & myself to Count D'Estaign who had requested that an American Officer or two might be sent with him, while at sea & after landing until Genl Lincoln arrived, when I joined my Regiment, & was with it during the Siege & in the assault. I therefore witnessed the whole progress of this abortive attempt; but I never then or since, but on this occasion, heard an imputation cast on any corps of the American Army. If I had not already used the old man's privilege, by trespassing so long on your patience, I would give you a detail of this unfortunate attempt, but I shall rest in confidence that on a reperusal, you will think it right so to modify this paragraph, as, if there be any testimony of the misbehavior of either of the American Corps, it may be designated, or the whole absolved from an imputation which I believe neither of them merited.

I will take the liberty of mentioning before I conclude, an error in the narrative relating to Genl Lincoln. It is in Vol.1st, pg 296, where you state that after the fall of Charleston, Genl Lincoln retired "under a great deal of unmerited censure to be no more called into service in the field." The epithet "unmerited" certainly evinces that you had on intention of depreciating the character of my worth old Commander & friend. The mistake has however in some degree this effect, which is that notwithstanding his recent ill success in Charleston, his merits & his talents were so justly appreciated by those who were the most competent judges, that after his exchange he was again active employed in the Northern Army & accompanied Genl Washington to Yorktown, where on the surrender of Earl Cornwallis, he was the Officer appointed to receive his submission & his Sword. Soon after this he was appointed to act as Secretary of War.

If Sir, my expressions have conveyed my real sentiments, you be convinced that the above remarks have been dictated by no unfriendly motives, but from a sense of what I thought the occasion required of me; & from a desire that a work which I think calculated to commemorate with justice the services of a deserving officer, & at the same time to do credit to its Author & the literary character of our State, may be as exempt as possible from error.

I have requested my Son Cotesworth to wait upon you with this letter, & if you have no prospect of issuing soon another edition of your Work, to concert with you on the most unexceptionable mode in which my testimony & opinion on these subjects may be made known; accompanied if you choose it, by such remarks as you may think proper to make thereon. I am with great respect & esteem Dear Sir

Your Obedient Servant

Thomas Pinckney.

Hon. William Johnson.


ENDNOTES
[Footnotes in original]

  1. We are indebted for the use of this interesting paper to our late esteemed friend, the venerable HENRY JOHNSON, M.D. of Charleston S.C.

    At the period referred to, General Pinckney was the Aide-de-camp of General Gates: and his subsequent career as Governour of South Carolina, President Washington's Minister to Great Britain, etc., forms part of the history of the country.

  2. [Footnote added by transcriber: This letter was addressed to Judge William Johnson, who had included Otho H. Williams "narrative" as an appendix in his Sketches of the Life and Correspondence of Nathanael Greene, Major General of the Armies of the United States, in the War of the Revolution, Compiled Chiefly from Original Materials. 2 volumes. Charleston: A.E. Miller, 1822. The first accurate account of Greene's life. Contains excellent maps of the battles in the South.]

  3. Col. Williams is however in error, in supposing that Genl. Gates was ignorant of the character of Col. Marion, or that he was glad of an opportunity of detaching him. He adopted that measure after conferring with the Colonel, who offered to attempt the service he afterwards so well executed. I had served from June 1775, in the regular Army with Col. Marion, & knew his eminent services at Fort Moultrie & Savannah & being in the General's family, he could not have been ignorant of Marion's character.

  4. [Footnote added by transcriber: See comment on Pinckney's letter by James Austin Stevens, Magazine of American History, December 1880.]

  5. [Paragraph break added by transcriber.]

TOP     HOME