Description of the Battle of Camden, South Carolina [Extracts]
Volume 15, Pages 383-385
DISASTER IN SOUTH CAROLINA.
Extracts from “A narrative of the late disaster in South Carolina, collected from the most authentic Accts. which have been received.”
[Letters to Washington, No. 41, pp. 238-239.]
∗ ∗ ∗ At ten O'Clock Genl. Gates marched, intending to take post on an advantageous situation, where was a deep Creek in front, about seven miles from Camden, the heavy baggage being ordered to proceed by the Waxsaw road. The march was in the following order: Col. Armand's legion in front, supported on both flanks by Colo. Porterfield, commanding officer of Virginia regulars and the light infantry of the Militia; the advanced guard of infantry, the Maryland line with their artillery
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in front of the brigades; the N. C. Militia, the Virga. Militia, the Artillery, &c., & the rear guard. Between 12 & 1 o'clock, after marching about Five miles, they met with the enemy under the command of Lord Cornwallis, who had marched out from Camden about nine o'clock of the same night, intending to attack our camp by surprise about day-break. This meeting was equally unexpected on both sides, and occasioned a halt of both armies. The enemy's cavalry then charged Colo. Armand's legion, which was well supported on ye flanks by Colonel Porterfield's Corps, who repulsed the assailants, but unfortunately Colonel Porterfield himself had his leg broken in the first fire. The enemy's infantry then advancing with a heavy fire, the troops in front gave way to the front of the 1st Maryland brigade, and a confusion ensued which took some time to regulate. At length the Army was ranged in line of battle in the following order: Genl. Gist's brigade on the right, with his right close to a swamp; the N. C. Militia in close order, two deep, in the center, and the Virginia Militia in like order, with the light infantry and Porterfield's Corps on the left; the artillery divided to the brigades and the first Maryland brigade, as a Corps de Reserve, and to cover the cannon in the road at a proper distance in the rear. Colonel Armand's Corps was ordered to the left to support the left flank & oppose the enemy's Cavalry. Their infantry, from a defect in numbers, were only a single file, five feet apart. In this situation they remained till day-break of the 16th. When our troops advanced in a line a few hundred yards, the enemy attacked and drove in our light party in front, and, after the first fire, charged the militia with bayonets, whereupon the whole gave way, except Colonel Dixon's regiment of N. C. Militia; and their Cavalry continuing to harass the rear, such was the panic diffused through the whole that the utmost and unremitting exertions of the generals, Gates, Stevens, Caswell and others, assisted by a number of officers, to rally them, even in small parties, at the several advantageous posts at which it was occasionally attempted, proved ineffectual. They ran like a torrent and bore all before them. This shameful desertion of the Militia gave the enemy an opportunity of bending their whole force against the Maryland troops and Dixon's regiment of North Carolina Militia. The Conflict was obstinate and bloody, and lasted fifteen minutes, Dixon's Militia
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standing firm with their regular brethren & and pushing bayonets to the last. Superior bravery was at length obliged to give way to Superior numbers, and this gallant corps compelled to retreat from the ground. They were then furiously charged by a party of British horse (their number not known) whom they completely vanquished, in so much that not more than two of the party are said to have got off. These brave men suffered greatly, having lost, as is believed, one-half of their number, and to their immortal honour made their retreat good. ∗ ∗ ∗ ∗ ∗
∗ ∗ ∗ Generals DeKalb & Rutherford are missing; the latter is a prisoner certainly; the former is a prisoner, and, as some accounts say, mortally wounded; others that he is unhurt. Colonel Porterfield, an inestimable officer, is said, and we fear too truly, to be dead of his wounds. About one-third of his corps was lost. On this Defeat the yeomanry of N. Carolina immediately turned out unsolicited. An army is collecting which, when our last advices came away, viz., August 23d, already consisted of between four & 5,000 men.
Additional Notes for Electronic Version:
Thomas Jefferson sent this narrative to George Washington in a letter of September 3, 1780. However, it is unclear whether he himself wrote it.