between Major General Gates and Gen. Lord Cornwallis”
by Lt. Col. Johann Christian Senf
The 13th August 1780, General Gates arrived with the Southern Army at Rugeley’s House, 13 miles this side Camden, on the road from Charlotteburg to Camden, where the enemy had a post but retreated precipitately on the approach of Genl. Gates. That afternoon, night and next morning Reconnoitering Parties were sent out to the enemy at Camden & inferior to our Army. Upon intelligence of the Engineer the General detached in the night between the 14th & 15th about 400 men with two field pieces conducted by Col. Senf unto Brig. Genl. Sumpter of the South Carolina Militia, 12 miles west of the Army & who was moving down the West side of Wateree River according to Gen. Gates’ order. This junction was effected the 15th in the morning by crossing the Wateree River at a kind of ford. Genl. Sumpter marched down the River, of which the enemy evacuated several outposts, surprising guards on West side of Wateree Ferry, 3 miles from Camden & consisting of 40 men under a militia Col. Cary, took them prisoners, with which he took 40 waggons with drivers & 4 horses per waggon laden with rum, flour, corn & 300 head of cattle and some sheep. ---A few hours after this a detachment of 70 men of the 71st and 33rd Regiments came from Ninety-Six to join the enemy at Camden, were likewise taken prisoners by Genl. Sumpter, after which the enemy made no motion to cross the river below to attack him, he retreated up the River that night for10 miles, at which Col. Senf returned to report to General Gates.
The 15th Genl. Gates & the 700 Virginia Militia under Brig. Genl. Stevens made junction, consulted with General Officers on taking another position for the Army as the ground where they were on was by no means tenable. On reconnoitering a deep creek 7 miles in front was found impassable 7 miles to the right and about the same distance to the left, only at the place the Ford interjects the great road. It was unanimously agreed upon to march that night the Army to that creek by which means to get a more secure encampment, come nearer Genl. Sumpter, occupy the road east side of Wateree River, and be able to get nearer intelligence of the enemy. As for to march back on that road and take an equal strong or stronger position for the Army was not certain,would have given the enemy a weak opinion of our strength, more encouragement to attack, the communication with Genl. Sumpter, which then had been effected, yet further at too great a distance would have been given up again, difficulty of getting intelligence of the enemy, and our horses in want of forage. To march to the right to fall into the road on the east side of the Wateree River, if by west the road would have admitted of it but it would not without a great deal of work and pioneer tools were wanting, the Baggage of the Army would have been exposed, the road where the supplies came from open to the enemy and impossible to turn those wagons directly into another road before the enemy’s horse might have cut them off from the Army.
Certain intelligence came the 15th to Genl. Gates that Lord Cornwallis had arrived the evening before at Camden, and a reinforcement had arrived that day, but no certainty of their strength could be obtained.
The 15th the evening at 10 o’clock the Army marched from Col. Rugeley’s to take post in front of the mentioned creek in the following order, Armand’s Legion (a) made the van supported by (? Number) light infantry on each flank under Col. Porterfield (b) as the vanguard of the Army (c), The First and Second Maryland Brigade (d) under Major General Baron DeKalbe, each brigade two field pieces, the three Brigades of the North Carolina Militia (e) under Genl. Caswell, The Virginia Militia under Brigadier Genl. Stevens, the Artillery & Stores, and the Rear Guard. During the march reconnoitering parties have been sent out from the advanced corps, came back and nothing seen in the road. Soon after, about half an hour after two in the morning of the 16th of August, Col. Armand’s Van Party got hails by an advanced party of the enemy, no answer made directly on our side, on which the Enemy Horse immediately charged furiously with a great deal of Huzzas & Col. Armand stood the charge, and Col. Porterfield’s light infantry gave a (?) fire upon the Enemy Horse which made them retreat, immediately upon which the enemy’s Light Infantry advanced forward, after a fire of about five minutes drove our advanced guard back onto the main body and then likewise retreated. This affair caused a little confusion in the line, but was soon (?), the Army drew up an Order of Battle and having taken a prisoner of the enemy, who confessed that Lord Cornwallis commanded the Army himself consisting of not above 3000 men and that he had come out with an intention to attack Genl. Gates in his camp at Rugeley’s. Upon which General Gates called all his General officers together to hear their opinions on that occasion and it was their unanimous opinion that it was too late to retreat, a battle ought to be fought and some of them were glad to have an opportunity of such, as they had no idea of the Enemy’s strength or the following behavior of the militia.
General Gates places Order of Battle (?) : the Second Maryland Brigade of about 400 men under Brig. Gen. Gist, Right of road leaving to Camden (1), two field pieces on his right (2) and an almost impassable swamp and Grays Quarter Creek on the right of field pieces. And on left of the Brigade in the road two field pieces (3), and 3 brigades of the North Carolina Militia (4) under the Brigadiers Rutherford, Gregory, and Butler, two field pieces (5), The Virginia Militia (6) of 700 men under Brig. Genl. Stevens; the light infantry (7) then about 300 men under Col. Porterfield and Col. Armand with his Horse (8). about sixty, in the rear of the light infantry to support the left; The First Maryland Brigade (9) of about 400 men under Brigadier Genl. Smallwood in the (?) of the line across the Road as a Corps of Reserve.
An half an hour before sunrise the Enemy came in sight, drove in our advanced posts, and as soon as they came in proper distance, our artillery began to play upon them. Their first troops, supposed light infantry, displayed, formed and advanced on their left of the Road with a field piece (10). Their main body (11) displayed to their Right of the Road, when in time they displayed, our field pieces made a good fire upon their column.
Before the enemy had fully displayed their line, Genl. Gates gave orders to Genl. Stevens of the Virginia Militia & Light infantry to advance in good order, and make the attack, gave immediately orders to General Smallwood to advance with the Corps of Reserve, support the left wing and occupy the ground of Genl. Stevens. Genl. Gates rode up to Genl. Gist, gave orders to advance slowly with his brigade, to reserve the fire ‘till proper distance, fire & close with bayonets, which has been according to orders executed. They came close,
Genl. Gist’s Brigade took a field piece from the enemy and kept it for some time. Our army’s closing was by that time such as (12) and the enemy’s (13). The North Carolina and Virginia Militia all broke, came in confusion, ran & squandered. No sooner the Enemy Horse discovered the confusion, they charged (14) where Col. Armand (15) tried to oppose ‘m, but was too weak against 200 Horse, they wheeled to the right and left, took the 1st and 2nd Maryland Brigades in their flanks and rear (16), when in the meantime the Enemy advance in their front, to which our brave troops have fallen a sacrifice. General Gates who was in the rear of the Second Maryland Brigade, after having given the mentioned orders looked back to the road, saw the militia run, and the Enemy’s Horse charge, rode to the militia and endeavors himself and with assistance of Genl. Caswell & aids, to bring the militia into order and in fire; but all in vain, the Enemy’s Horse then came in close upon the General and Col. Armand obliged to retreat. The Genl. then hoped to bring them to order at some miles distance, but neither this would do, the Militia were struck with a panick and obeyed no command
The Baggage which had been ordered off to retreat in the night on the road to Wacsaws (sic) was retarded by constriction of the night, bad roads and tired horses, fell also a prey to the enemy. The Enemy’s Horse pursued as fast as possible Genl. Gates and Col. Armand who had about 14 men as the remainder of his Legion. Col. Armand’s Horses much fatigued, Genl. Gates could not be escorted by him to get free from the enemy. He therefore made his escape with two of his Aids deCamp and the engineer. He arrived that night in Charlotte, but no view was left to assemble any forces, and if possible there was no ammunition, no arms, no provisions, and in the middle of a disaffected country. The general therefore thought proper with the advice of his officers to get by the distance of the night through that part of the country to Hillsborough or ? where there had been left some Detachments and Artillery, and that most of the militia had directed their course that way, it was therefore most probable to reassemble some of the scattered Militia at those Quarters, and draw all the detachments together ‘till other measures could be taken. Genl. Gates arrived at Hillborough the 19th August, where the Assembly of North Carolina then meeting.