The year 1778 opened with quiet prevailing throughout the borders of the State, but in anticipation of movements projected by Gen. Washington during that winter, North Carolina had offered to reinforce the Grand Army by a temporary addition of five thousand Militia, and, although the occasion did not arise, the expected call for these troops kept the public mind in a state of tension. For the most part the Army lay in winter quarters at Valley Forge, some 23 miles west of Philadelphia, although special corps organized for rapid march harrassed the British outposts and kept in check their foraging parties. All the returns show that about one-half the North Carolinians fit for duty were engaged in these commands outside of the regular quarters. As the winter advanced with its unusual severity, the unhappy situation of the army, and particularly the destitute condition of the North Carolina Line, called for vigorous measures of relief. The only communication being to the Southward, the dependence of the Army for provisions and clothing was on North Carolina and Virginia, and Gov. Caswell was unremitting in his efforts to secure the needed supplies.
Fortunately North Carolina was well stocked with pork, and quantities of salt were obtained from the Bermudas, whose inhabitants, being in sore need of provisions, sent salt here to exchange; and Caswell, who had proclaimed an embargo forbidding the exportation of provisions, would not enforce the measure against that trade.
Our ports were not as yet closed, and vessels entered frequently. The advantages of the harbor at Cape Look Out were speedily utilized, and many cargoes were brought in from France and from the islands south of us, and our privateers were active in seizing prizes.
Some cargoes were purchased abroad on account of the Continental Congress, while others were shipped here on speculation.
Gov. Josiah Martin, who, though in New York, still claimed to be Governor of North Carolina, wrote in January to Lord
As soon as attention was called to this trade, at Martin's instance a British ship of war, two sloops and a brig were sent to break it up, and privateersmen from New York and England hovered along the coast. But quite a number of heavy guns had been imported, and batteries were placed in position at Look Out Bay as well as at Ocracock, where likewise the Caswell, under Capt. Willis Williams, was stationed. And so, while the blockading fleet peeped in occasionally, it seldom entered the bay.
The British privateersmen, however, made many captures, and enterprising merchants at New Bern, in addition to other such ventures, fitted out the Bellona, carrying eighteen guns, and the Chatham, to make reprisals. Later two of these British rovers that had given much trouble were captured and carried into Charleston.
To pay for these imported goods, tobacco was shipped as a return cargo; and the State purchased much of that commodity and sent it out on public account. Salt secured by the State was stored and exchanged for pork, and the Governor had men in every section packing pork for the army. Skins and leather were purchased for the use of the Grand Army, and all cloth fit for blankets was obtained for the soldiers, sometimes resort being had to impressment. The people in the Albemarle section, where there were so many industrious Quakers, made quantities of shoes, and these found purchasers not only for Army use but among Northern merchants, who paid high prices for them.
The established route of transportation to the Army was by water to South Quay on the waters of Albemarle Sound, and thence by wagons Northward. But wagons were very scarce, and were difficult to secure. To collect even a dozen the agent of the State was at great trouble and expense; and in order to move a
Large issues of paper money, both State and Continental, had already resulted in a depreciated currency, and, speculators having made their appearance, prices rose despite all efforts to check the tendency.
While the legislature in August, 1778, passed a bill to issue 850,000 pounds of new currency to redeem the old money, and the Governor indignantly denounced the speculators as vile wretches, the Judges, in their charges to the Grand Juries, inveighed against “the fascinating spirit of avarice and extortion” that had supplanted the first patriotic ardor of the people. Indeed the Judges in the two admirable charges published in this volume made noble appeals to the people to persevere in their resolve to gain their independence, and dwelt more largely on the principles involved in the Revolution, and on the necessity to make sacrifices for the cause of America, than on the crimes that ordinarily claim the attention of grand juries.
In passing it may be noted that the Governor, finding himself much hampered by the narrow limits of the Executive authority, reminded Cornelius Harnett that he ought to take to himself the blame of so cramping the Executive, thus attributing to Harnett a particular purpose in that direction when the Constitution was being framed.
But even in the darkest of those days there was a silver lining of hope to sustain the patriots. Burgoyne's surrender caused dismay in England. A business letter to the Governor, dated February 9th, 1778, congratulates him on the safe arrival in port of the brig New Bern, ten days out from New Providence, and adds: “Burgoyne being taken, got to England about December 4th. All confusion there. The new Governor for New Providence, and a number of passengers who came over with him, declared there will be a cessation of arms proposed soon; only a majority of 33 in the House of Commons against America being declared independent. They had, with some difficulty, passed a vote for money for another campaign, but North and his Hell-cat were much put to it. On his being pushed hard he begged that if they would not grant money for another campaign, that they would for the purpose of bringing home the troops.” And then in May came the great news of the treaty with France, followed quickly by the declaration of war by France against England, and the arrival of an immense French fleet with 4,000 veteran troops off our coast. When a copy of this treaty was received at New Bern “it was immediately published under a display of American and French colors, and a triple discharge of thirteen pieces of cannon and the town company of Militia, which was drawn up for that purpose.” And, as the Gazette quaintly puts it, “Universal joy appeared in every countenance, great plenty of liquor was given to the populace, and the evening concluded with great good humor and social mirth.”
But while during the year there were no hostile outbreaks among the disloyal and disaffected, yet there were many who were not attached to the cause of Independence, and Gov. Josiah Martin, writing from New York in January, 1778, said: “Many refugees, not less than one hundred and fifty, have arrived here from North Carolina since the month of August last, being for the most part mercantile people and natives of Scotland, among them Mr. John Hamilton and Mr. Macleod, the former a merchant of considerable note, long settled there, and the latter a Presbyterian clergyman of good character, who have formed a very spirited, and, in my humble judgment, a well-concerted plan by drawing out of that Province, for his Majesty's service, the loyal Highlanders, of
Our Delegation.—In April, 1778, Dr. Burke became embroiled with the Continental Congress, having expressed himself with great warmth on some matter before that body, and having, after a long and fatiguing session, retired from the chamber, his withdrawal breaking a quorum.
On being sent for, he expressed himself so vehemently that Congress considered that his action involved a contempt of that body. He made what he deemed proper explanations and apologies, and declared that he did not understand that the body had sent for him, but as his explanations were not held satisfactory by Congress, he claimed that he was responsible only to the legislature of the State of North Carolina; and to that body he submitted his case. The legislature, by a resolution, sustained him and upheld the doctrine that he was responsible only to it. He did not desire a re-election, and in May, Penn, Harnett, and John Williams, then Speaker of the House, were chosen delegates. The latter, however, resigned in February, 1779, and the legislature, having determined to increase the delegation, Joseph Hewes and William Sharpe were added to the members.
Judge Iredell, who had been elected one of the Judges, after serving a short while on the bench, desired to retire, the compensation being very inconsiderable, and in June, 1778, he resigned. In February, 1779, John Williams was elected to the vacancy. At the same session Alexander Lillington was elected Brigadier General of the Cape Fear District, in place of Gen. Ashe, promoted.
The Continental Line.—The Continental Line had suffered heavily during the winter of 1777-'78. Col. Abram Sheppard's Regiment, the 10th, spent the winter in the small-pox camp at Georgetown, on the Potomac, where more died with the measles than from the effects of inoculation.
Early in March, 1778, Gen. McIntosh reported that, of our troops at Valley Forge, fifty had died since January in camp; that 200 were then sick in camp, and an equal number were in hospitals in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The officers of the 6th Regiment appear to have been sent home to recruit more men, and towards the end of February all soldiers on furlough, all new recruits and all apprehended deserters were to assemble at Halifax and accompany the wagon trains to the Army, but the ranks of our battalions were too greatly depleted to be brought back to an effective standard by ordinary measures. In March the number of our privates at Valley Forge was 900; in May, 1,100; while of rank and file there were 1,450.
The General Assembly, in April, passed a bill for the purpose of filling up our Regiments, but shortly afterwards Congress determined on quite another line of action. On May 29th it resolved that the Regiments in camp should be consolidated into new ones, having the same number of men as when the battalions first entered the service; and a call was made on the State to raise four more battalions of Continentals, which, however, were to remain within the State until further orders. Pursuant to this resolution the regiments in the service were reduced to four, the Sixth being consolidated with the First, with Clark as Colonel; the Fourth with the Second, with Patton as Colonel, and the Fifth with the Third, under Col. Sumner. Col. Martin had resigned the previous fall, and now Col. Polk also resigned. Col. Hogun and the supernumerary officers, of whom there were a large number, were directed to return to North Carolina for service in the new battalions when raised.
Efforts to obtain recruits in the usual way having proved unavailing, the legislature provided that 2,648 men should be detached from the Militia, to serve as Continentals for nine months. A certain quota was apportioned to each County, and this number was again apportioned by the Colonel of the County among the Militia companies, so that every Militia company in the State had to furnish its proper share of these troops. Volunteers from each company were first to be called for, and to these a bounty of $100 was offered; then each company, by ballot, selected a sufficient number of drafted men to make up its quota, and these were to receive a bounty of fifty dollars. Every one so
The authorities of that State, in communicating with Congress on the subject, urged that Gov. Caswell should be asked to take command of the troops sent by North Carolina, and that he
Gen. Rutherford deemed it best, in view of the condition of affairs in the Washington district, not to take any men from that section. In his letter to Governor Caswell, of November 15, 1778, he said: “No troops can be expected from Washington County. The commanding officers in that County give a lamentable representation of their condition. Their whole strength is employed in the suppression of the savages and other inhuman wretches who have their livelihood from carnage and rapine. When I take a speculative view of the matter, think it prudent not to draft out of that County men, arms or ammunition. We have many malevolent, implacable enemies who range from place to place, embracing every opportunity which presents itself to disseminate sedition among the inhabitants. These Sons of Darkness have not once neglected an opportunity of doing a disservice when it was in their power. A favorable one is now in view. Our troops, our magazines, and a vast quantity of provisions for the support of nature, all drafted from our assistance our unchristian foes, in strong alliance with savage enemy, might probably think at this time of revenging themselves. Some part of our ammunition we will detain, and will expect all the military stores from the lower districts that can be spared.”
While Col. Gideon Lamb was charged with the duty of getting the Continentals at the East together and organizing them, Maj. Anthony Lytle performed the like service at the West, whither Col. Sumner himself also went for a time. Maj. Lytle marched with some of the Continentals with Gen. Rutherford, who, without waiting for all of his Brigade to assemble, moved forward with a part of it towards the close of November, passing the South Carolina line before the fifth of December. These troops, driving their beeves and carrying their provisions with them, reached Charleston about Christmas, and being the first to arrive obtained such guns as could be had. President Laurens wrote to Gov. Caswell that he had supplied them with 700 stands of arms, being all that could possibly be spared for the North Carolina troops.
Despite Caswell's best exertions, there was delay in getting the detachments from the East to meet at the rendezvous. On December 5th, Col. Lamb crossed the Neuse with 200 Continentals,
“The deficiency in arms and accoutrements I am sensible of, and equally concerned at, but it seems these deficiencies cannot be remedied here. When I mentioned these difficulties to Gen. Lincoln, from his answers I was led to believe he thought our people could obtain arms there, and I sincerely hope they may. Otherwise, I am well convinced little service can be expected from them with what they have.”
Under the Act of Assembly under which Gov. Caswell proceeded in calling these troops into service to aid South Carolina, there was an express limitation as to the time they were to remain in service; and Gov. Caswell wrote to Gen. Ashe: “I believe it was the sense of the Council—I know it was my own—that the troops should not continue in service in the Southern States longer than the 10th of April; that they should then be discharged from that service, but by no means to be disbanded until they return to this State.”
When the legislature met, on January 19, 1779, the Governor reported to that body that, of the 5,000 troops called for by Congress, he was fearful that not more than half ahd marched, and those badly armed.
The British having taken Savannah, had established posts at Augusta and at various intermediate points on the river. Towards the close of February 1779, Gen. Lincoln, with a considerable force, was near Savannah, on the South Carolina side. Above him was Gen. Moultrie's camp, and while Gen. Rutherford's brigade, 700 strong, was 20 miles below the point where Briar Creek, on the Georgia side, empties into the river, Gen. Williamson, with 1,200 men, was higher up towards Augusta. The time having arrived for operations, Ashe moved from the vicinity of Charleston towards the Savannah river, and, rapidly passing Lincoln,
On Ashe's return at noon, March 2d, he found that Gen. Bryan, who had been left in command, had, on the advice of Col. Elbert, an experienced Continental officer of the Georgia line, moved the camp about a mile, and there being rumors that the British were in the vicinity, had sent out two parties of horse to reconnoitre, and had established a strong line of pickets three-quarters of a mile higher up. Ashe, occupied with the proposed plan of campaign agreed on with Lincoln and Moultrie, which he set about carrying into effect, and, receiving no information from the several reconnoitring parties sent out, gave but little heed to vague rumors that the enemy had moved up and crossed the creek and gotten in his rear. But, at three o'clock on the afternoon of the 3d, a messenger sent by Col. Smith, who was in command of the detachment guarding the baggage some miles up the river, brought information that the enemy was approaching from the North, and immediately thereafter the pickets became engaged. The British column, not at all arrested by them, advanced rapidly with fixed bayonets, their artillery in front, to surprise the camp. At once the drum beat to arms, and the troops, formed in two lines, marched forward to meet the enemy. Col. Elbert, with his small force of 35 Georgia Continentals, was on the right of the first line, on his left being the Militia, who also formed the second line, which was eighty yards to the rear. The enemy were well-trained troops under Genl. Prevost. While the Continentals with Col. Elbert fought heroically, and the Militia in the
While the loss of life was small, many of the men when they fled threw away their guns, and a large number, taking to the right, where there was no means of escape, were captured; 162 privates and 24 officers were taken prisoners. The others found safety in the swamp, and, crossing the river, were collected by their officers, Gen. Ashe marching over two hundred into Rutherford's camp, that being about one-third of the number, he said, who were in his command when attacked, his force having been greatly reduced by detachments off on special duty. Thus ended in rout and discomfiture an expedition whose beginning was remarkable for dash, energy and enterprise, reflecting credit on the North Carolina Militia.
The loss of arms was great, and as the unarmed men could not be supplied, and no further movement being then undertaken by Gen. Lincoln, when the term of their service was about to expire, the force returned home and was discharged.
In 1776 a body of Light Horse was raised by the State, under Capt. Dickinson, which, at first, Congress refused to receive into the Continental service, but eventually did so. It seems that this command was at one time on duty in New York. Later, the horses giving out, Cosmo de Medici was employed to secure others, but he was not very successful. In 1778 a detachment of this command was at Ft. Pitt, in Western Pennsylvania, but in December Congress resolved to return the company to the State authorities, and in February, 1779, the legislature directed it to be discharged.
In this volume will be found the Legislative Journals for the year 1779, but as the events of that year form the subjects of correspondence published in the succeeding volume, they will be adverted to hereafter.