Letter from Josiah Martin to George Sackville Germain, Viscount Sackville
Martin, Josiah, 1737-1786
1780 - August 20,
Volume 15, Pages 49-56
GOVERNOR MARTIN TO SECRETARY OF STATE.
[B. P. R. O., Am. & W. Ind., Vol. 313, p. 347.]
Camden, South Carolina, 18th August, 1780.
Received 19th October.
It is with inexpressible satisfaction that I have the Honor to offer to your Lordship my sincerest congratulations on a victory gained over the Rebel Army by His Majesty's Forces under the command of Earl Cornwallis on the 16th inst., of which I had the Honor and Happiness to be a Spectator, and which I am warranted to say was in all its circumstances as glorious, compleat and critical as has been obtained by the Arms of Britain for Ages. In one word, my Lord, it could receive no additional splendour. Every thing was atchieved that was to be acquired by the General's magnanimity, bravery and vigour of troops, The Enemy's Army, of much more than three times our strength, being intirely routed after a very sharp action of three-quarters of an hour, with the loss of 1,500 Men Killed, Wounded and Prisoners, together with their whole artillery, consisting of 8 pieces of Brass Ordnance, 130 Waggons, many Colours, and the greatest part of their Arms, Ammunition, Accoutrements and Baggage. The State of our affairs in this Country in the hour of this memorable Action was so delicate and full of Embarrassment and difficulty as can be imagined. From the time the Rebel Army assembled at Hillsborough, early in June, every devise had been practised upon the adherents of the usurpation in this Province to prepare them for
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a new Revolt; and it appears they were found very generally prone to the Enemy's purposes as they could wish for. By the latter end of July, or sooner, they were joining the Rebel Armies, or arming against us more or less in all quarters of it, being, unhappily, too well fitted to receive impression from the Rebel Country on the score of Political obligation to us, (I am sorry to say it). By the premature absolution of them from the Paroles they had given to Lord Cornwallis in his march thro' the Country by the Proclamation of Sir Henry Clinton, of the 3rd of June, which, in their estimation, emancipated and discharged them from the only engagement by which they were bound to His Majesty, the dangerous Operation and Effect of this measure, conceived in that disposition to mistaken lenity which had heretofore been found so utterly abortive, if not prejudicial, to our affairs, was so obvious that it was clearly seen by every man of the commonest reflection in this Army, and was accordingly lamented, and I may truly add generally reprobated. It cannot be doubted, at the same time, that Sir Henry Clinton was influenced in this Act by notions of generosity to which this People had no corresponding feelings; they felt, on the contrary, the Spirit of Rebellion enfranchised by this fresh instance of liberality that ought to have been a new bond of their attachment, and it accordingly diffused itself, over the whole Country. Two considerable Bodies of Militia under Generals Sumpter and Rutherford very soon menaced the Cordon we had formed in our Front from Savannah to Pedee River, and which Sumpter afterwards attacked at the two Points of Rocky Mount and Hanging Rocks, failing in both attempts thro' the judicious and timely precautions of Lord Rawdon, who commanded the Army in the Absence of Lord Cornwallis at Charlestown, and with ability of which I cannot speak in too high terms of admiration.
While these Corps were thus employed to amuse us, the main body of the Enemy's army marched by the North Carolina Militia under Caswell, crossed the Pedee about the 1st or 2nd Inst., by their approach spreading such Terror and Dismay among the well affected as intimidated all the ordinary as well as extraordinary Spies employed by Lord Rawdon to a degree so great that every Channel of Intelligence failed him, a Circumstance I could
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have scarcely believed if I had not been witness to the fact, considering the number of our Friends in North Carolina interested to hold us advised of the Enemy's Motions and Lord Rawdon's unremitting Pains and assiduity in procuring Information from all quarters thro' the whole course of his command, during the greater part of which I lived with him honoured with his entire Confidence and acquainted with all his Measures.
The 71st Reg., which had occupied the Post at the Cheraw Hill for some time, becoming then very sickly, had been drawn back to the East Branch of Lynche's Creek by Lord Rawdon, and very lately joined by the 33rd Reg. From this time Intelligence was received there from day to day of the Advance of a Body of the Enemies' Militia under Caswell by very slow movements. The 9th Inst., on receipt of some advice of the Enemy's approach that was not intirely satisfactory, I accompanied Lord Rawdon to the Post on Lynche's Creek, where, hearing that Caswell, with his Militia Corps, was within 13 Miles of us, his Lordship determined to attack him that night or early in the morning. In a short space of time, while the necessary arrangements were making for this Purpose, a man arrived from North Carolina who had been two days before in the Enemy's Camp, and now gave us the Information of the Movement of the Main Body of their Army towards us, under the command of General Gates, and that he was then only 26 miles in our Front, Caswell's Corps of Militia being advanced as we had heard before. Having obtained this certain Intelligence of the Enemy's Motions, and of their being in great Force, it became necessary now to collect our little Army, distributed on the right of the Cordon above mentioned, and to cover our magazines at Camden and the Communication by the Santee to Charles Town as far as might be possible. In this design Lord Rawdon immediately put the Army in March to fall back 12 Miles and to take Post behind the West Branch of Lynche's Creek. The Volunteers of Ireland, who lay upon the communication to Camden on the East side of it, having moved forward the same morning and joined the 33rd and 71st Reg., Orders were at the same time dispatched to the Troops in Post at Hanging Rock to fall back about sixteen Miles nearer to the Village of Camden and to take a strong position parallel to us at Rugeley's Mills, on the road
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leading thence to Charlette and Salisbury. The Welch Fuzileers and Cavalry from Camden, in consequence of Orders, joined us early in the morning of the 8th on our new Ground with three pieces of Artillery. On the 9th, soon after day break, a Party of the Enemy's Cavalry charged a small picquet of ours advanced beyond the Creek and obliged it to retire, a Cornet commanding it being made prisoner. On reconnoitering the ground in our Rear this day Lord Rawdon found a much better position might be taken at the distance of 3 miles nearer Camden, and it was hoped by our movement to it the Enemy might be tempted to cross the West Branch of Lynche's Creek to occupy the Ground we then lay upon, in which case they would afford an Opportunity to attack them with advantage. This move, however, did not induce Mr. Gates to follow us. He took up his ground on the East side of the Creek. On the 10th in the morning he shewd a very few of his Cavalry and Militia in our Front, who, after exchanging some shot with the Sentries of our Piquet, retired. We remained in the position we took in the evening of the 9th, behind the Beaver Dam Creek, until four o'clock in the afternoon of the 12th, expecting from day to day the attack of the Enemy, whose main body lay within 3 miles of us, and their advanced Picquets of mounted Militia close to ours without an act of hostility. The Troops at Rugely's Mills had been directed in the evening of the 11th to fall back within four miles of Camden, or to that place, if the Commanding Officer there should think it necessary, Lord Rawdon having formed the design of falling back this day with the Main Body to ground about 6 miles distant from Camden. The moment before the Army was to begin its March the Cavalry, under the command of Lieut. Col. Tarleton, being ordered to scour the ground in our Front, fell in with 2 Deserters from the Enemy coming in to us, whose Intelligence was that their Army had marched very early that morning to their right to the distance of 13 miles. This Information naturally begot apprehensions in Lord Rawdon for Camden, and the Army was accordingly instantly put in motion. His Lordship, whom I had the honor to attend, hastened with all the Cavalry towards that place, in hopes to anticipate the Enemy, and to succour it if he should have turned to his left and taken that Route. We arrived here between 7 & 8 o'clock in the evening, and the Infantry
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and the Artillery joined us at about 12 at night, making every thing secure for the present at this point, where we found the Troops from Hanging Rock, the Enemy, according to our Intelligence, being at Rugely's Mill, 12 Miles distant from Camden. On the 13th our Accounts of the Enemy during the day were various, but it was ascertained that he was not the preceding Day at Rugeley's. Lord Rawdon, with his usual promptitude and decision, determined, as soon as Mr. Gates should take any Position within his reach in one day's march, to attack him as a measure not only of Military Expediency and Propriety but of indispensible necessity, as Mr. Gates, being left for any time at leisure to take his measures, from the number of his army, of the disposition of the Country in his favour, would find it easy to cut off our communications. That must be fatal to us at a time we depended upon it for our daily subsistance, it having been yet impossible to form any Magazine of Provisions here.
Lord Rawdon having now greatly surmounted a scene as pregnant with difficulty and Embarrassment as can be imagined, (in the conduct of a very extended defencive plan,) with a very small Army, exceedingly reduced and daily diminishing by sickness, had at this period, with unwearied diligence and attention and firmness, and address above all praise, wound up every thing most opportunely and happily to the great point of decision. He had Lord Cornwallis's arrival in anxious expectation every moment, decided at the same time on the part he was to take in all events, possessing himself entirely and inspiring every Man with that confidence which he derived from the steady countenance of the Troops.
On the 14th, about 4 o'clock in the morning, Lord Cornwallis, after a most expeditious and painful journey, joined us here, to the great joy of Lord Rawdon and the whole Army. His Lordship, whose mind and whose attention comprehends every object, was fully Master of the Crisis of our Affairs, and instantly discerned that an immediate meeting with the Enemy could alone retrieve them. He made his preparations for it accordingly, the Corps of Light Infantry from 96 joining him this morning in a very weak state.
Between 9 & 10 in the evening of the 15th, His Lordship moved from hence with his little gallant Army towards the
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Enemy, who, by his Intelligence, was now certainly at Rugely's Mills. About 2 o'clock in the morning of the 16th, our army being on the March in Column, the advanced guard was fired upon and fell back on the 33rd Reg., which steadily supported it and returned the Enemy's Fire. The Column halted, the Army was formed with all Expedition. The firing ceased. Two Deserters from the Enemy now informed Lord Cornwallis that their whole army had marched at 10 o'clock the night before with design to attack him at Camden, and was now formed in two Lines in his Front and very near him, being more than 6,000 strong, after having detached a considerable Corps under Sumpter, with two pieces of Cannon, to cross the Wateree and pass down its West Bank to co-operate with the Main Body in the meditated attack on Camden, and in the mean time to straiten it by interrupting our Communications with the Country. In this position the army lay til day break, at which time the Enemy fired a gun that we could discern to be in the Road, nearly opposite the center of our Line, and at the distance of about 400 yards. A thick fog impending, and the dawn not yet fair, the Enemy was discovered advancing in a heavy Column and very near to the right of our Line, On which Lord Cornwallis ordered with the utmost promptitude the necessary change of Disposition, and that the Enemy should be instantly attacked in that Point, which was executed in the moment with equal vigour and alacrity on the part of the Troops, who performed every thing that can be expected of Men and of Soldiers.
As a Spectator of the Action merely I am not intitled or qualified to give a detail of it. If I was, it would be unnecessary, as your Lordship will have it perfectly from Lord Cornwallis. His presence, activity and vigour every where during the whole course of it, that animated the Troops to invincible Exertions, made him Master of each circumstance attending it, and I shall therefore beg leave to refer your Lordship for particulars to the better information of the Noble General who greatly won this glorious day, which, beyond doubt or comparison, is, in all its circumstances, infinitely the most brilliant of the War. It is consequential to the Nation, my Lord, in proportion to the importance of America to Great Britain, for her cause and Interests on this continent depending, as I conceive, absolutely on the issue of
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this action, may be fairly said to be rescued, saved, redeemed and restored to promising condition by the magnanimity and conduct of Lord Cornwallis, which, in one critical hour, have dispatched a prospect more gloomy than I have yet seen thro' the whole course of the American War.
I have the satisfaction to acquaint your Lordship that we have had great proof and manifestation of the Loyalty of the North Carolinas in consequence of some premature and unseasonable risings among them (which have taken place in spite of the most prudent measures of Lord Cornwallis to prevent them, and in which they have been severely checked by the Rebels in some instances); not less than 1,400 of them have joined different parts of this army. At one time near 800 men, under Mr. Bryan of Rowan County, joined our Troops at the Cheraws, after eluding the Enemy with a good deal of address. From all I have seen & have been able to gather concerning that country I have great reason to believe that all my Representations of the Fidelity of His Majesty's subjects there at the beginning of the Rebellion (which I am apprehensive were considered as over sanguine and deceitful in that day) will be fully justified by their zeal and numbers whenever this army enters that Country.
I have the honor to be, &c.,
20th August, 1780. P. S. I have the great satisfaction, before I close my letter, to find new occasion to congratulate your Lordship on the success of His Majesty's arms. Col. Tarleton, detached after the action of the 16th with the Legion of Light Infantry in quest of Sumpter, is just returned, and has reported to Lord Cornwallis that he came up with, surprised, and entirely ronted that daring rebel at the head of a corps of 700 men near the Catawba River in the afternoon of the 18th Inst., leaving 150 of them upon the Field, taking his Artillery, consisting of 2 Brass 3 Pounders, His Waggons, Baggage, and 300 Prisoners, besides rescuing 250 of our People made prisoners by the Enemy. This well-conducted Enterprise would separately and in itself deserve to be considered as a very important service, and reflects the highest honor and glory upon Col. Tarleton, who so ably and gallantly conducted it; but when it is viewed as a sequel to the
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great, signal and decisive victory of the 16th, it must be allowed to be a glorious consumation of that brilliant day's atchievements.