From: Annual Register...For The Year 1780 (London: J. Dodsly, Printer, 1788) Chapter X, pp.216-234.
ANNUAL REGISTER, 1780
Rhode Island evacuated. Design against New York frustrated by D'Estaing's failure at Savannah. Expedition against Charles Town. Sir Henry Clinton lands with the army in South Carolina; takes possession of the islands of John and James; passes Ashley River to Charles Town Neck; siege of that city. Admiral Arbuthnot passes the bar with difficulty. American and French marine force abandon their stations, and retire to the town where most of the former are sunk to bar a passage. The admiral passes the heavy fire of the Fort on Sullivan's Island, and takes possession of the harbour. General Lincoln summoned without effect. State of the defenses on Charles Town Neck. Colonel Tarleton cuts off a party of the rebels. Col. Webster passes Cooper River with a detachment, by which the city is closely invested. Lord Cornwallis takes the command on that side. Siege pressed with great vigour. Admiral Arbuthnot takes Mount Pleasant, and reduces Fort Moultrie. Tarleton defeats and destroys the rebel Cavalry. Capitulation of Charles Town. Garrison, artillery, frigates, &c. Rebels again defeated by Tarleton, at Waxaw. Regulations by Sir Henry Clinton for the security of the province. Departure for New York, Earl Cornwallis reduces the whole colony. Unexpected danger to which the severity of the winter had exposed New York. Gallant defense made by Capt. Cornwallis, against a French superior naval force. Three naval actions between Sir George Rodney, and M. de Guichen productive of no decisive consequences. Insurrections of the loyalists in North Carolina quelled. Baron de Kalb marches into that province with a continental force. Is followed by General Gates, who takes the chief command. State of affairs in the two Carolina's. Battle of Camden. Complete victory gained by Lord Cornwallis. Sumpter routed by Tarleton.The appearance and continuance of D'Estaing on the coast of North America, in the autumn of the year 1779, necessarily suspended all active operations on the side of New York; where none but defensive measures could be thought of, under the well-founded apprehension of a formidable attack by sea and land, which had been evidently concerted between that commander and General Washington. The latter had collected a strong force for that purpose in the Highlands, to which the northern colonies had largely contributed, hoping to end the war by one decisive stroke; and being in possession of the North River, the cloud seemed ready to break upon the islands, as soon as the French fleet should appear in sight; an event that did not seem to be far distant, as it was expected on both sides by the new allies, that the taking of the Savannah could be little more than the work of a day; and that the success could not only inspire confidence, but even afford means, for the attainment of the grand object.
Under these apparent circumstances of danger, it was found advisable, besides adopting every other means of a vigorous defense against a greatly superior force, to withdraw the garrison and marine from Rhode Island, and to suffer that place to fall again into the hands of the Americans.
But the defeat of D'Estaing, and still more the loss of time, which attended his ill conducted enterprize, having totally frustrated the views of the enemy, served equally to extend those of General Sir Henry Clinton, and of Admiral Arbuthnot, to active and effective service, by an expedition to the southern colonies. Washington's army was already in a great measure broken up. The auxiliaries had already returned home; the term of enlistment of a great number of the continental soldiers was expired; and the filling up of the regiments, by waiting for recruits from their respective states, must necessarily be a work of considerable time.
South Carolina was the immediate and great object of enterprize. Besides the numerous benefits to be immediately derived from the possession of that province of opulence and staple product, and the unspeakable loss which it would occasion to the enemy, its situation rendered it still more valuable from the security which it would not only afford to Georgia, but in a very considerable degree, to all that southern point of the continent which stretches beyond it.
Sir Henry Clinton's land force being now whole and concentrated by the evacuation of Rhode Island, it afforded means as well as incitement to enterprize. The army was likewise in excellent condition; the reinforcements from England had not been impaired by any service; and it was abundantly provided with artillery, and with all the other engines, furniture, and provision of war. Nor was the naval force less competent to its purpose; there being nothing then in the American seas, which could even venture to look at it. On the other hand, the distance of South Carolina, from the center of force and action, cut it off from all means of prompt support in any case; while the present state of the American army; along with many circumstances in the situation of their public affairs, rendered the prospect of any timely or effectual relief extremely faint.
Although every thing had been for some time prepared for the expedition, and the troops even embarked, yet through the defect of any certain intelligence, as to the departure of D'Estaing from the coast of North America, it was not until within a few days of the close of the year, [Dec. 26] that the fleet and convoy proceeded from New York. The voyage from thence to the Savannah, (where they did not arrive until the end of January) was very unprosperous. Besides its extreme tediousness, the sea was so rough, and the weather so tempestuous that great mischief was done among the transports and victuallers. Several were lost; others dispersed and damaged; a few were taken by the Americans; an ordnance ship went down, with all her stores;
and almost all the horses, whether of draught, or appertaining to the cavalry, were lost.
From Savannah, the fleet and army proceeded before the middle of February, to the inlet or harbour of North Edisto, on the coast of South Carolina, where the army was landed without opposition or difficulty; and took possession with equal facility, first of John's Island , and next, that of James, which stretches to the south of Charles Town Harbour. We have already had occasion, in our account of Gen. Prevost's expedition, to take some notice of the geography and nature of this flat and insulated country. The army afterwards, by throwing a bridge over the Wappoo cut, extended its posts on the mainland, to the banks of Ashley River, between which and Cooper's River Charles Town stands, the approach to it being called the Neck.
The general is not explicit in his information, as to the nature of the difficulties, or rather wants, which were the cause of detaining the army in this position, until near the end of March; he seeming to consider these circumstances as matters already well understood by the Secretary of State. We only learn, that a train of heavy artillery supplied by the large ships of the fleet, with a body of sailors, under the conduct of Capt.Elphinstone of the navy, were of singular service in the prosecution of the siege, and that the general found it necessary to draw a reinforcement from Georgia, which joined him, without any other interruption, than the natural difficulties of the country, (which were not small), during a toilsome march of twelve days.
The passage of Ashley River [March 29, 1780] was effected with great facility, thro' the aid of the naval officers and seamen, with their boats and armed gallies; and the army, with its artillery and stores, was landed without opposition on Charles Town Neck. On the night of the 1st of April, they broke ground within 800 yards of the enemy's works; and in a week their guns were mounted in battery.
In the mean time, Admiral Arbuthnot had not been deficient in his endeavours for the passing of Charles Town Bar, in order effectually to second the operations of the army. For this purpose he shifted his flag from the Europa of the line, to the Roe Buck of 44 guns,which, with the Renown and Romulus, were lightened of their guns, provisions, and water; the lighter frigates being capable of passing the bar, without that preparation. Yet so difficult was the task in any state, that they lay in that situation, exposed on an open coast, in the winter season, to the danger of the seas, and to the insults of the enemy, for above a fortnight, before a proper opportunity offered. The bar was, however, then passed (on the 20th of March) without loss; and the entrance of the harbour gained without difficulty.
The enemy had a considerable marine force in the harbour, which might have been expected to contribute more to the defence of the
town and passage than it actually did. This consisted of an American ship built since the troubles, and pierced for 60 guns, but mounting only 44; of seven frigates of the same country from 32 to 16 guns; with a French frigate of 26 guns, and a polacre of eighteen. These, at first, upon the admiral's getting over the bar, shewed a disposition to dispute the passage up the river; and accordingly, they were moored with some armed gallies, at a narrow pass, between Sullivan's Island and the middle ground, in a position which would have enabled them to take his squadron on its approach to Fort Moultrie.
This appearance of resolution, however, gave way to more timid, and it should seem, less wise council. For abandoning every idea of resistance and leaving the fort to its own fortune, they retired to Charles-Town; where most of the ships with a number of merchant vessels, being fitted with a chevaux de frize on their decks, were sunk to obstruct the channel of the river between the town and Shutes-Folly; thus converting a living active force into an inert machine. This obstacle removed, and the success of the attack on the land side depending almost entirely on the joint operation of the fleet, the admiral took a favourable opportunity of wind and water, to pass the heavy batteries of Fort Moultrie, on Sullivan's Island; so much celebrated for the obstinate and successful defence, which we have heretofore seen, it made, against the long, fierce, bloody attack of Admiral Sir Peter Parker.
The passage was effected, under a severe [April 9th] and impetuous fire with less loss of lives than could have been well expected; the number of seaman killed and wounded being under thirty. The fleet, however, suffered in other respects from the fire of the enemy; and a transport, with some naval stores, was of necessity abandoned, and burnt. But the great object was now gained; they were in possession of the harbour and took such effectual measures for blocking up or securing the various inlets, that the town was little less than completely invested. As the enemy had placed their principal trust in the defence of the passage up the river, and thereby keeping the harbour free, and their back secure, nothing could be more terrible to them than this situation of the fleet; whereby their defences were greatly multiplied, their attention diverted from the land side, and their means of relief, or even of escape, considerably straitened.
In this state of things, the batteries ready to be opened; the commanders by sea and land sent a joint summons to General Lincoln, who commanded in Charles- Town; holding out the fatal consequences of a cannonade and storm; Stating the present as the only favorable opportunity for preserving the lives and property of the inhabitants, and warning the commander that he should be responsible for all these calamities which might be the fruits of his obstinancy. Lincoln answered, that the same duty and inclination which had prevented him from abandoning Charles-Town,
during sixty days knowledge of their hostile intentions, operated now with equal force, in prompting him to defend it to the last extremity.
The defences of Charles Town, on the neck, were, for their nature and standing, very considerable. They consisted of a chain of redoubts, lines, and batteries, extending from one river to the other; and covered with an artillery of eighty cannon and mortars. In the front of either flank, the works were covered by swamps, originating from the opposite rivers, and tending towards the center; through which they were connected by a canal passing from one to the other. Between these outward impediments and the works, were two strong rows of abbatis, the trees being buried slanting in the earth, so that their heads facing outwards, formed a kind of fraize-work against the assailants; and these were farther secured, by a ditch double picketed. In the center, where the natural defences were unequal to those on the flanks, a horn-work of masonry had been constructed, as well to rememdy that defect as to cover the principal gate; and this during the siege had been closed in such a manner as to render it a kind of citadel, or independent fort.
The siege was carried on with great vigour, the batteries were soon perceived to acquire a superiority over those of the enemy; and the works were pushed forward with unremitted industry. Soon after the middle of April, the second parallel was completed; [19th] the approaches to it secured; and it was carried within 450 yards of the main works of the besieged. Major Moncrieffe, who had gained so much honour in the defence of the Savannah, acquired no less applause, from the very superior and masterly manner in which he conducted the offensive operations of the present siege.
The town had kept its communication open with the country, on the farther side of Cooper's river, for some time after it had been invested on other sides by the fleet and army; and some bodies of militia cavalry and infantry began to assemble on the higher parts of that river, who being in possession of the bridges, might at least have become troublesome to the foraging parties, if not capable of disturbing the operations of the army. The general, as soon as his situation would permit, detached 1400 men under Lieutenant-colonel Webster, in order to strike at this corps which the enemy were endeavouring to form in the field, to break in upon their remaining communications, and to seize the principal passes of the country. On this expedition Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton, at the head of a corps of cavalry, and seconded by Major Ferguson's light infantry and marksmen, afforded a striking specimen of that active gallantry, and of those peculiar military talents, which have since so highly distinguished his character. With a very inferior force, he surprised, defeated, and almost totally cut off the rebel party; and having thereby gained possession of Biggin's Bridge on the Cooper River, opened the way to Colonel Webster to advance nearly to the head of the Wandoo River, and to occupy
the passes in such a manner, as to shut Charles Town up entirely.
As the arrival of a large reinforcement from New York, enabled the general considerably to strengthen the corps under Webster, so the importance of the situation induced Earl Cornwallis to take the command on that side of Cooper's River. Under the conduct of this nobleman, Tarleton attacked, defeated, and ruined another body of cavalry, which the enemy had with infinite difficulty collected together.
In the mean time, the besiegers had completed their third parallel, which they carried close to the rebel canal; and by a sap, pushed to the dam which supplied it with water on the right, they had drained it in several parts to the bottom. On the other hand, the admiral, who had constantly pressed and distressed the enemy, in every part within his reach, having taken the fort at Mount Pleasant, acquired from its vicinity, and the information of the deserters which it encouraged, a full knowledge of the state of the garrison and defences of Fort Moultrie, in Sullivan's Island. In pursuance of this information, and determined not to weaken the operations of the army, he landed a body of seamen and marines, in order to storm the place by land, while the ships battered it in every possible direction. In these circumstances, the garrison (amounting to something more than 200 men), seeing the imminent danger to which they were exposed, and sensible of the impossibility of relief, were glad, by a capitulation to surrender themselves prisoners of war. [May 7th]
Thus enclosed on every side, and driven to its last defences, the general wishing to preserve Charles Town from destruction, and to prevent that effusion of human blood, which must be the inevitable consequence of a storm, opened a correspondence on the following day with Lincoln, for the purpose of a surrender. But the conditions demanded by that commander being deemed higher than his present circumstances and situation entitled him to, they were rejected, and hostilities renewed. The batteries on the third parallel were then opened, and so great a superiority of fire attained, that the besiegers were enabled under it to gain the counterscarp of the out-work which flanked the canal; which they likewise passed; and then pushed on their works directly towards the ditch of the place.
The objections to the late conditions required by Gen. Lincoln, went principally to some stipulations in favour of the citizens and militia; but the present state of danger having brought those people to acquiesce in their being relinquished, as the price of security, that commander accordingly proposed to surrender upon the terms which were then offered. The British commanders, besides their averseness to the cruel extremity of a storm, were not disposed to press to unconditional submission, an enemy whom they wished to conciliate by clemency. They granted now the same conditions which they had before offered; and the capitulation [May 11th] was accordingly signed.
The garrison was allowed some of the honours of war; but they were not to uncase their colours, nor their drums to beat a British march. The continental troops and seamen were to keep their baggage, and to remain prisoners of war until they were exchanged. The militia were to be permitted to return to their respectives homes, as prisoners on parole; and while they adhered to their parole, were not to be molested by the British troops in person or property. The citizens of all forts to be considered as prisoners on parole; and to hold their property on the same terms with the militia. The officers of the army and navy to retain their servants, swords, pistols, and their baggage, unsearched. Horses were refused as to carrying them out of Charles Town; but they were allowed to dispose of them in the town.
Seven general officers, ten continental regiments, and three battalions of artillery, became prisoners upon this occasion. The whole number of men in arms who were taken, including town and country militia and French, amounted to 5611, exclusive of near a thousand seamen. The number of rank and file, which appear on this list, bear no proportion to the clouds of commission and non-commission officers, which exceed nine hundred. The thinness of the continental regiments accounts partly for this circumstance; it appearing from Lincoln's return to congress, that the whole number of men of every fort, included in so many regiments and battalions, at the time of the surrender, did not amount to quite 2500. He boasts in that letter, that he lost only twenty men by desertion, in six weeks before the surrender.
As the siege was not productive of sallies or desperate assaults, which were in a considerable degree prevented by situation, and the nature of the works, the loss of men was not great on either side, and was not very unequally shared. A prodigious artillery was taken; amounting, of every fort, and including those in the forts and ships, to considerably more than 400 pieces. Of these, 311 were found in Charles Town only. Three stout rebel frigates, one French, and a polacre of 16 guns, of the same nation, which escaped the operation of being sunk to bar the river, fell likewise into the hands of the victors.
The Carolinians complained greatly of their not being properly assisted by their neighbours, particularly the Virginians, in this long and arduous struggle. If the complaint is at all founded, it can only relate to the not sending of reinforcements to the garrison before the city was closely invested; for the southern colonies possessed no force, which was in any degree equal to the raising, or even to the much incommoding of the siege. Nor does it seem that the augmentation of the garrison would have answered any effectual purpose. At the commencement of the siege, an American lieutenant-colonel, of the name of Hamilton Ballendine, having the fortune of being detected in his attempt to pass to the English camp at night, with draughts of the town and works, immediately suffered the unpitied death of a traitor.
The most rapid and brilliant
success now attended every exercise of the British arms; Lord Cornwallis, on his march up the north side of the great Santee river, having received intelligence that the remaining force of the rebels were collected near the borders of North Carolina, dispatched Colonel Tarleton, with the cavalry, and a new corps of light infantry, called the Legion, mounted on horseback in order to rout and disperse that body before it could receive any additional force from the neighboring colonies.
The enemy being at so great a distance, as not to apprehend almost the possibility of any near danger, had considered other circumstances or convenience more, than the means of securing a good retreat, in their choice of situation. No such negligence could pass unpunished, under any circumstance of distance, with such an enemy as they had now to encounter. Colonel Tarleton, upon this occasion, exceeded even his own usual celerity; and having marched 105 miles in 54 hours, presented himself suddenly and unexpectedly [May 29th] at a place called Waxsaw before an astonished and dispirited enemy. They, however, positively rejected the conditions which were offered them, of surrendering upon the same terms with the garrison of Charles Town. The attack was highly spirited; the defence, notwithstanding the cover of a wood, faint; and the ruin complete. Above 100 were killed on the spot, about 150 so badly wounded as to be unable to travel, and about 50 brought away as prisoners. Their colours, baggage, with the remains of the artillery of the southern army, fell into the hands of the victors. The loss on their side, though the rebels were superior in number, was very trifling.
After this success, there was nothing to resist the arms of Lord Cornwallis; and the reduction of that extensive colony of South Carolina was deemed so complete, at the time of Sir Henry Clinton's departure, [June 5th] on returning to his government of New York, that he informs the American minister in his letter, that there were few men in the province who were not either prisoners to, or in arms with, the British forces; and he cannot restrain his exultation, at the number of the inhabitants who came in from every quarter, to testify their allegiance, and to offer their services, in arms, in support of his Majesty's government; and who, in many instances, had brought as prisoners their former oppressors or leaders.
That commander accordingly, in settling the affairs and government of the province, adopted a scheme of obliging it to contribute largely to its own defence; and even to look forward, in present exertion to future security, by taking an active share in the suppression of the rebellion on its borders. In this view, he seemed to admit of no neutrals; but that every man, who did not avow himself an enemy to the British government, should take an active part in its support. On this principal, all persons were expected to be in readiness with their arms at a moment's warning; those who had families, to form a militia for
the home defence; but those who had none, to serve with the royal forces, for any six months of the ensuing twelve, in which they might be called upon, to assist "in driving their rebel oppressors, and all the miseries of war, far from the province." Their service was, however, limited, besides their own province, to North Carolina and Georgia, beyond the boundaries of which they were not to be marched; and, after the expiration of the limited term, they were to be free from all future military claims of service, excepting their local militia duties. So warm were the hopes of success then formed, that a few months were thought equal to the subjugation of, at least, that part of the continent.
This system, of subduing one part of the Americans by the other; and of establishing such an internal force in each subjugated colony, as would be nearly, if not entirely, equal to its future preservation and defence, had been often held out, and much suggested in England, as exceedingly practicable; and indeed, as requiring only adoption to insure its success. And our preceding commanders on the American service had suffered much obloquy and bitterness of reproach, for their supposed negligence, in not profiting of means which were represented as so obvious, and which, as it was said, would have been fortunately decisive with respect to the war.
The wisdom of the measure in question depended entirely upon the number of persons in the respective colonies attached to the British government. It certainly became Sir Henry Clinton and his noble successor, to use every method their genius suggested to them, for securing or extending their conquests; but the success of the measure in a partial experiment has been such, as will justify other commanders for not placing an intire and general dependence upon assurances of favourable dispositions in the colonists, extorted under the influence of fear, which have every where proved entirely delusive.
The departure of Sir Henry Clinton from New York had exposed that city to an apparent danger upon the outset of his expedition, which, as it could not possibly have been foreseen, no wisdom could provide against.— A winter, unequalled in that climate for its length and severity, had deprived New York, and the adjoining islands, of all the defensive benefits of their insular situation; and while it also deprived them of their naval protection, exposed that protection itself to an equal degree of danger. The North river, with the straits and channels by which they are divided and surrounded, were every where cloathed with ice of such a strength and thickness, as would have admitted the passage of armies, with their heaviest carriages and artillery; so that the islands, and the adjoining countries, presented to the view, and in effect, one whole and unbroken continent.
In this alarming change, so suddenly wrought in the nature of the situation, Major General Pattison, who commanded at New York, with the Hessian General Knyphausen, and other officers on
that station, took the most prudential and speedy measures for the common defence. All orders of men in New York were embodied, armed and officered; and, including about 1500 seamen, amounted to something near 6000 men. The officers and crews of the royal frigates, which were locked up in the ice, undertook the charge of a redoubt, and those of the transports, victuallers and merchantmen, were armed with pikes, for the defence of the wharfs and shipping.
It, however happened fortunately, that General Washington was in no condition to profit of this unlooked for event. The small army which remained with him, hutted at Morris-Town, was inferior in strength to the royal military defensive force, exclusive of the armed inhabitants and militia. He, notwithstanding, made such movements and preparations, as sufficiently indicated design, and afforded cause for alarm. An ineffective attempt was even made by Lord Stirling, with 2700 men and some artillery, upon Staten Island. But he continued on the island only one day, and retreated in the night. In a number of small skirmishes and enterprizes, which took place during the winter, the British forces had continually the advantage.
During these transactions in North America, Captain Cornwallis, on the Jamaica station, acquired great honour, by the gallant defence which he made with a very inferior force, against M. de la Motte Piquet, who was himself wounded in the action. Being on a cruize off Monte Christi in his own ship, the Lion, of 64 guns, with the Bristol of 50 and [March 20th] the Janus of 44, he fell in with, and was chased by the French commander, who had four 74 gun ships and two frigates. The enemy came within cannon shot by five in the evening, and a running fight was maintained through the whole night, without the enemy's venturing to come alongside, which it was in their power to do. In the morning, the Janus being a good deal disabled, and at some distance, the Lion and Bristol, through the defect of wind, were obliged to be towed by their boats to her assistance. This brought on a general engagement, which lasted between two and three hours, and in which the enemy suffered so much, that they were obliged to lie by to repair. They, however, renewed the pursuit, and continued it during the night, without coming within gun shot. But the appearance of the Ruby man of war, of 64 guns, with two British frigates, in the morning of the third day, suddenly changed the face of things. The French was now, notwithstanding the superiority of force which he still retained, chaced in turn, and pursued for several hours with the utmost exultation and triumph by the British commanders.
Sir George Rodney had arrived at St. Lucia, and taken command of the fleet upon the Leeward Island station, by the latter end of March. Just previous to his arrival, M. de Guichen, with 25 ships of the line, and eight frigates, all full of troops, had paraded for several days before that island, with a view either of surprize,
or of overwhelming the British force by their great superiority. The good disposition of the troops made by Gen. Vaughan, and of the ships by Rear Admiral Parker, however, frustrated their design in both respects.
This visit was soon returned by Sir George Rodney, who with 20 ships of the line, and the Centurion of 50 guns, for two days insulted M. de Guichen in Fort Royal harbour in Martinique, going so close at times, as to be able to count all the enemy's guns, and being even within random shot of their batteries. Nothing being able, notwithstanding his superiority, to draw the French commander out to an engagement, the British Admiral found it necessary to depart with the bulk of the fleet to Gross Islet Bay in St. Lucia, leaving a squadron of copper bottomed ships to watch the motions of the enemy, and to give him the earliest possible notice of their attempting to fail.
Things hung in this state until the middle of April, when the French fleet put to sea in the night, and were so speedily pursued by Sir George Rodney, that he came in sight of them on the following day. A general chase took place; and all the manœuvres of the enemy during the night, clearly indicating their full intention of avoiding the engagement, their motions were counteracted with great ability by the British commander.
On the succeeding morning, a very extraordinary degree of skill and judgment in seamanship seems to have been displayed on both sides; the evolutions on each being so rapid and various, as to require the most watchful attention on the other to prevent disadvantage. The French fleet were considerably superior in force; amounting to 23 sail of the line, and a 50 gun ship. The English fleet, as before, consisted of 20 of the line, and the Centurion. The van was led by Rear Admiral Hyde Parker; the center, by the commander in chief; and the rear division, by Rear Admiral Rowley.
A little before one o'clock, [April 17th] the French were brought to action by some of the headmost ships; and about that hour, Sir G. Rodney, in the Sandwich of 90 guns, commenced the action in the center. After beating three French ships out of the line, the Sandwich was at length encountered alone, by M. de Guichen, in the Couronne of the same force, and supported by his two seconds, the Fendant and Triumphant. It seems little less than wonderful, that the Sandwich not only sustained this unequal combat for an hour and half, but at length obliged the French commander, with his two seconds, to bear away, whereby their line of battle was totally broken in the center. This happened at a quarter past four o'clock, when the enemy seemed to be completely beaten. But the great distance of the British van and rear from the center, with the crippled condition of several of the ships, and the particularly dangerous state of the Sandwich, which, for the succeeding 24 hours, was with difficulty kept above water, rendered it impossible to make the victory complete by an immediate pursuit.
The circumstances of this action were never well explained or understood. The public letter
from the commander in chief, which was published in the Gazette, teems with implied censure against his officers in general, without the smallest praise or approbation of any one, excepting the captain of a frigate. It was said, that his signals were treated with contempt and disobeyed, and he seems himself to convey a charge against some, of not engaging closely. It is certain, that a few of the ships suffered none, or very little loss, whilst several others were great sufferers. If we recollect rightly, one captain was broke, or at least put under arrest, and his ship given to another officer; nor are we sure, that more than one court marshal was not held. On the other hand, Sir George Rodney passes high encomiums on the French admiral, and is not sparing in his commendations of the gallantry of his officers.
The affair seemed so dark and mysterious at home that it brought out a motion in the House of Peers on the 3d of the following June, from Lord St. John (whose brother or near relation had been killed gallantly fighting in the action) for papers, tending to an enquiry into the subject. Upon that occasion, a noble military earl, read a letter in his place, which he said he had received from an officer who was present in the action, and who stood high in point of character and honour. In that letter, it was said, that the spirit of a certain vice admiral (whose name and conduct have so long been objects of public discussion) had gone forth, and infected the British fleet; and that the service felt all the evils arising from those dissensions which were sown by our great men at home. It held out, besides other matter, that the ships were foul, and out of repair; that there was a great scarcity of all kinds of naval stores; and that the commander in chief was not only much dissatisfied with the conduct and failure in duty of several of his officers, but likewise with those who had deceived him, relative to the state and condition of the squadron which he commanded. The noble reader, in his comments on the letter, said, that the causes of this public misfortune had originated at home; that besides the bad condition of the ships, officers were put into command, more from their political attachments or principles, than from their reputation or service; and that faction had accordingly spread itself through, and divided the whole fleet. As the first Lord of the Admiralty declared himself equally in the dark with every other peer present, as to the particular transactions of the 17th of April, which were now the objects of inquiry, and assured the house, that he had not, by private communication or otherwise, received any explanation of the public Gazette letter, the motion was easily overruled upon a division, and the business continues in its original obscurity.
The loss in the British fleet, amounted to 120 killed, and to 353 wounded. Of these, it is remarkable, that the Hon. Capt. St. John of the Intrepid, and three of his lieutenants, were killed. Some other brave officers
were killed, and several wounded.
Such expedition was used in repairing the damage done to the ships, and the pursuit was renewed and continued with so much spirit, that on the 20th they again got sight of the enemy, and chaced them for three successive days without intermission. The object of the French commander, besides that of using all possible means to avoid a second action, being to recover Fort Royal Bay, which he had so lately quitted, but where only he could repair his shattered fleet; and that of Sir George Rodney, besides the hope of bringing him again to action, to cut him off from that place of refuge and supply. M. de Guichen was obliged to give up his second object, and for the preservation of his first, to take shelter under Gaudaloupe. Nothing could afford a clearer acknowledgment of victory to the British commander; although unfortunately it was not attended with all those substantial advantages which were to be wished. Sir George Rodney returned to cruise off Fort Royal, hoping thereby to intercept that enemy whom he could not overtake.
The enemy, however, not appearing, the admiral found it necessary from the condition of the fleet, after several days cruize, and greatly alarming the island of Martinique, to put into Chocque Bay in St. Lucia, as well to land the sick and wounded, as to water and refit the fleet. These purposes being fulfilled with great dispatch, and advice received of the motions of the enemy, he again put to sea, and in four days had the fortune to [May 10th] to gain sight of them, within a few leagues to windward. Both fleets continued in this state of wind and condition for several days; the French having it constantly in their power to bring on an engagement, and, notwithstanding their superiority, as constantly using effectual means for its prevention. Besides the settled advantage of the wind, they soon perceived, that the cleanness and condition of their ships, afforded such a superiority in point of failing, that they seemed to grow playful with respect to the British fleet; and accordingly used for several days to come down in a line of battle abreast, as if they meant seriously and directly to hazard an engagement until they were arrived within little more than random cannon shot, when they suddenly hauled their wind, and again departed out of all reach.
It is at all times bad jesting before an enemy; even supposing that enemy to be a much less determined and formidable foe than a British fleet. In the course of this manoeuvring, the bravade being encouraged by a sudden and masterly movement made by the British admiral for gaining the wind, and which was mistaken for a symptom of flight, the whole French fleet were nearly entangled into that which of all things they most wished to avoid. They were only saved from a close and general engagement by a critical shift of wind; and even with that aid, and all the sails they could carry, were not able
to preserve their rear entirely from conflict.
Rear Admiral Rowley's division now composed the van of the British fleet, and was most gallantly by Capt. Bowyer of the Albion, the headmost ship. That [15th] brave officer arrested the flight of the enemy about seven in the evening, and sustained for no short time the fire of several of their heavy ships, before the rear admiral, in the Conqueror, and two or three more of his division, were able to come up to his assistance. It was perceivable, from the latter slackness of the enemy's fire, that their rear had suffered considerably in this rencounter; the Albion and Conqueror were the ships that suffered most on our side; only three more were able to come within reach of danger.
The enemy from this kept an awful distance, and ventured no more to repeat the parade of coming down, as if they meant to engage. A vigorous effort made, however, by the British commander, a few days after, in order to weather them, although it failed of the intended effect, yet involved the fleets in such a manner, that the French, for the preservation [19th] of their rear, were under the necessity of hazarding a partial engagement. They accordingly bore along the British line to windward, and maintained a heavy cannonade at a distance which could not admit of any great effect, but which they endeavoured constantly to preserve. The rear, however, and some part of the center, could not escape being closely and severely attacked by the British van, and such other ships as could get up. It was accordingly observed that they suffered very considerably. As soon as their rear was extricated, the enemy's whole fleet bore away, with all the sail they could possibly press.
It appears that twelve sail of the British fleet, including the Preston of 50 guns, were able to come up so far with the enemy, as to sustain some loss. Although the van was led on this day by Commodore Hotham, in the Vengeance, with great reputation, yet it was the fortune of the Albion, Capt. Bowyer, to stand the brunt of this action, as well as of the preceding. She suffered accordingly. The whole loss of the fleet in both engagements, amounted to 68 slain, and 293 wounded; and of these 24 were killed, and 123 wounded, in the Albion only. Admiral Rowley suffered considerably in the former action, but more deeply in this; in which his brave captain, Watson, likewise fell. All the officers who could get into action in either, are entitled to the highest applause.
The British fleet continued the pursuit of the enemy for two days, when they totally lost sight of them; the chace had then led them 40 leagues directly to the windward of Martinique. The state of the fleet rendered it now absolutely necessary for the commander in chief to proceed to Carlisle Bay, in the island of Barbadoes; which afforded, at length, an opportunity to the French of attaining that object which they had so long fought, and of repairing their shattered fleet in Fort Royal harbour.
Notwithstanding the tranquil
appearances of things in South Carolina, at the time of Sir Henry Clinton's departure from thence, it soon became obvious, that many of the inhabitants were so little satisfied with the present government, that they endeavoured to dispose of their property upon such terms as they could obtain, and totally to abandon the province. This conduct became so frequent and glaring, that Lord Cornwallis found it necessary towards the end of July to issue a proclamation, strictly forbidding all sales and transfers of property, including even negroes, without a licence first obtained from the commandant of Charles Town; and likewise forbidding all masters of vessels, from carrying any persons whatever, whether black or white, out of the colony, without a written passport from the same officer.
In the meantime, Lord Cornwallis, who extended his views to the reduction of North Carolina, had kept up a constant correspondence with the loyalists in that colony, who eagerly urged him to the prosecution of his design. But besides that the heat of the summer was so excessive, that it would have rendered action exceedingly destructive to the troops, he likewise found, that no army could be subsisted in that country, until the harvest was over. Upon these accounts, he earnestly pressed the friends of the British government in North Carolina, to keep themselves quiet, and free from all suspicion, though in readiness, until the proper season arrived. But the usual impatience of those people, operated upon by the vigilant jealousy of that government, or, as they said, by its oppression and cruelty, rendered them incapable of profiting of such salutary counsel. Insurrections accordingly took place, which being conducted without order or caution, as well as premature, were easily suppressed. A Col. Bryan, however, with about 800 half armed men, escaped into South-Carolina, where they joined the royal forces.
During the necessary continuance of the commander in chief at Charles Town, in regulating the government and affairs of the province, the part of the army destined to active service, was advanced towards the frontiers, under the conduct of Lord Rawdon, who fixed his head quarters at the town of Camden. The advantageous situation of that place on the great river Santee, which afforded an easy communication with several, and remote, parts of the country, together with other inviting and favourable circumstances, induced Earl Cornwallis to make it not only a place of arms, but a general store-house or repository for the supply of the army in its intended operations. He accordingly used the utmost dispatch in conveying thither from Charles Town, rum, salt, arms, ammunition, and various stores, which from the distance, and excessive heat of the weather, proved a work of infinite labour and difficulty. That noble commander likewise spared no pains in arming and embodying the militia of the province, and in raising new military corps under well-affected leaders.
But during these transactions, a great change took place in the
aspect of affairs in North-Carolina, for besides the suppression of the loyalists who were treated with little mercy, Major General the Baron de Kalbe, a German officer in the American service, arrived in that province with 2000 continental troops; and was followed by some bodies of militia from Virginia. The government of the colony were likewise indefatigable in their exertions and preparations, at least for defence, if not for conquest. Troops were raised; the militia every where drawn out, and Rutherford, Caswell, Sumpter, and other leaders advanced to the frontiers at the head of different bodies of them. Skirmishes took place on all sides and were attended with various fortune; and the enemy became so dangerous, that Lord Rawdon found it necessary to contract his posts.
It soon appeared, that the submission of many of the South-Carolinians was merely compulsory, and that no conditions or consequences could bind or deter them from pursuing the bent of their inclinations, whenever the opportunity offered. As the enemy increased in strength, and approached nearer, numbers of those who had submitted to the British government, and others who were on parole, abandoned, or hazarded all things in order to join them. A Colonel Lisle, who had exchanged his parole for a certificate of being a good subject, carried off a whole battalion of militia, which had been raised by another gentleman for Lord Cornwallis, to join Sumpter. Another battalion, who were appointed to conduct about 100 sick of the 71st regiment in boats down the Pedee to George Town, seized their own officers, and carried them with the sick men, all prisoners to the enemy.
General Gates was now arrived in North-Carolina, to take the command of the new southern army; and the time was fast approaching, when his high military reputation was to be staked in an arduous contest with the fortune of Earl Cornwallis. In the second week of August, that nobleman having received intelligence at Charles Town, that Gates was advancing with his army toward Lynche's Creek, that Sumpter was endeavoaring to cut off the communications between that city and the army, that the whole country between the Pedee and the Black River had revolted, and that Lord Rawdon was collecting his whole force at Camden, he immediately set off for that place.
He found on his arrival no small difficulties to encounter. Gates was advancing, and at hand, with a very decided superiority of force. His army was not estimated at less than five or six thousand men; it was likewise supposed to be very well appointed; whilst the name and character of the commander, increased the idea of its force. On the other hand, Lord Cornwallis's regular force was so much reduced by sickness and casualties, as not much to exceed 1400 fighting men, or rank and file, with four or five hundred militia, and North Carolina refugees. The position of Camden, however advantageous or convenient in other respects, was a bad one to receive an attack. He could indeed have made good his retreat to Charles-Town with those troops that were
able to march; but in that case, he must have left about 800 sick, with a vast quantity of valuable stores, to fall into the hands of the enemy. He likewise foresaw, that excepting Charles-Town and the Savannah, a retreat would be attended with the loss of the two whole provinces of South Carolina and Georgia.
In these circumstances, the noble commander determined, neither to retreat, nor wait to be attacked in a bad position. He knew that Charles-Town was so well garrisoned and provided, that it could not be exposed to any danger, from whatever might befal him. That his troops were excellent, admirably officered, and well found and provided in all respects. And that the loss of his sick, of his magazines, the abandonment of the country, and the desertion of his friends, all of which could be the inevitable consequences of a retreat, were almost the heaviest evils which could befal him in any fortune. In his own words there was "little to lose by a defeat, and much to gain by a victory."
The intelligence which he received, that General Gates had encamped in a bad situation, at Rugley's about 13 miles from Camden, undoubtedly served to confirm Lord Cornwallis in his determination. [Aug. 15] He accordingly marched from Camden about 10 o'clock at night, with a full intention of surprizing Gates at Rugley's; and making his dispositions in such a manner, as that his best troops and greatest force should be directed against the continental regiments; laying little stress on the militia, if these were sufficiently provided against.
if these were sufficiently provided against.
It was almost singular, that at the very hour and moment, at which Lord Cornwallis set out from Camden to surprize Gates, that general should set out from Rugley's in order to surprize him. For although he does not acknowledge the fact in point of design, and even pretends, that his night movement was made with a view of seizing an advantageous position some miles short of Camden; his order of march, the disposition of his army, with the hour of setting out, and other circumstances, will leave but little room to entertain a doubt of his real object. These leading features will remind some of our readers of a celebrated action in the late war; in which the Prussian monarch, environed with danger, and surrounded on all sides by armies of enemies, some of which were singly superior to his own, surprized and defeated Landohn on a night march, when that able general intended to conclude the war by completing the circle, and by surprizing him in a manner which must have been final in its effects.
In the present instance, the light troops and advanced corps on both sides, necessarily fell in with an encountered each other in the dark, so that the surprize was mutual. In this blind encounter, however, the American light troops being driven back precipitately on their van, occasioned some considerable disorder in that part, if not in their center, which probably was never entirely recovered. Lord Cornwallis repressed the firing early, and immediately formed; he found that the enemy were
in bad ground, and he would not hazard in the dark, the advantages which their situation would afford him in the light; at the same that he took such measures as effectually prevented their taking any other. For the ground occupied by both armies, being narrowed and pressed in upon on either hand by deep swamps, afforded great advantages to the weaker in making the attack, and by preventing the stronger from extending their lines, deprived them in a great measure, of those which they should have derived from their superiority in number.
A movement made by the Americans on the left by day-light, indicating some change of disposition or order, does not seem to have been a very judicious measure, in the face of, and so near to, such a commander, and such an army. Lord Cornwallis saw the advantage, and instantly seized it; Col. Webster, who commanded the right wing, directly charging the enemy's left, with the light infantry, supported by the 23d and 33d regiments. The action soon became general, and was supported near an hour, with wonderful resolution, and the most determined obstinacy. The firing was quick and heavy on both sides; and intermixed with sharp and well-supported contests at the point of the bayonet. The morning being still and hazy, the smoke hung over and involved both armies in such a cloud, that it was difficult to see or to estimate the state of destruction on either side. The British troops, however, evidently pressed forward; and at the period we have mentioned, the Americans were thrown into confusion, began to give way on all sides, and a total and general rout soon ensued.
We learned from the American accounts, that the whole body of their militia (which constituted much the greater part of their force) excepting only one North-Carolina regiment, gave way and run, at the very fire; and that all the efforts of the general himself, and of the other commanders, were incapable of bringing them afterwards ever to rally, or to make a single stand; so that gaining the woods as fast as possible, they totally dispersed. But the continental regular troops, and the single North Carolina regiment of militia, vindicated their own and the national character. They even stood that last and sore test of the goodness of troops, the push of the bayonet, with great constancy and firmness.
The British commander showed his usual valour and military skill. And the officers and troops, in their respective stations, answered his warmest expectations. But though all are entitled to our applause, yet Lord Rawdon, with the two Lieutenant-Colonels Webster and Tarleton, could not avoid being particularly distinguished.
The victory was complete. The broken and scattered enemy were pursued as far as Hanging-Rock, above twenty miles from the field of battle. All their artillery, amounting to seven or eight brass field pieces, with 2000 stand of arms, their military wagonns, and several trophies, were taken. Lord Cornwallis estimates the slain at eight or nine hundred, and says about a thousand prisoners were
taken. The General, Baron de Kalbe, who was second in command, was mortally wounded, and taken. That officer spent his last breath in dictating a letter, expressive of the warmest affection for the Americans, containing the highest encomiums on the valour of the continental troops, of which he had been so recent a witness, and declaring the satisfaction which he then felt, in having been a partaker of their fortune, and having fallen in their cause.
The American Brigadier-General Gregory, was among the slain, and Rutherford was wounded and taken. Although some brave officers fell, and several were wounded, on the British side, yet the loss which the army sustained, was upon the whole comparatively small. It amounted, including eleven missing, only to 324, in which number the slain bore a very moderate proportion.
Upon the whole, Gates seems to have been much outgeneraled. He was, however, consoled in his misfortune, (which has since occasioned his retreat from the service) by the approbation of his conduct and services, which was publicly bestowed by some of the assemblies.
General Sumpter had for some time been very successful in cutting off or intercepting the British parties and convoys, and lay now with about a thousand men, and a number of prisoners and wagons which he had lately taken, at the Catawba fords; apparently secured by distance, as well as the difficulties of the country. Lord Cornwallis considered it a matter of great importance to his future operations, to give a decisive blow to this body; before he pursued his success by advancing into North-Carolina. He accordingly detached Colonel Tarleton, with the light infantry and cavalry of the legion, amounting to about 350, upon this service. The advantages to be derived from woody, strong, and difficult countries, are much counterbalanced by the opportunities which they afford of surprize. The brave and active officer employed upon this occasion, by forced marches, judicious measures, and excellent intelligence, surprized Sumpter so completely at noon-day, that his men, lying totally careless and at ease, were mostly cut off from their arms. The victory was accordingly nothing more than a slaughter and rout. About 150 were killed on the spot, about 300, with two pieces of cannon, taken, and a number of prisoners and waggons retaken.
These splendid successes laid the southern colonies open, to all the effects of that spirit of enterprize which distinguishes Earl Cornwallis, and which he communicates to all who act under his command. In any other war than the American, they would have been decisive of the fate of those colonies. But it has been the singular fortune of that war, that victory, on the British side, has been unproductive of its proper and customary effects.