It is to be regretted that original records throwing light on the important events of the years 1781-82 are so few and meagre. The utmost diligence has not availed to secure many that should be in existence. The journals of the assembly are missing; and indeed the paucity of material covering this interesting and important period is deplorable.
When General Greene assumed command of the army at Charlotte early in December 1780, he began at once to take measures for its organization and efficiency. The neighboring country had been ravaged and subsistence was difficult. He therefore requested the Board of War not to call out any more militia until satisfactory arrangements were made to subsist the Regulars and the Virginia Militia then in camp. Writing to Gen. Washington he reported that “nothing can be more wretched and distressing than the condition of the troops, starving with cold and hunger, without tents and camp equipage. Those of the Virginia Line are literally naked and a great part totally unfit for any kind of duty and must remain so until clothing can he had from the northward. A tattered remnant of some garment, clumsily stuck together with the thorns of the locust tree form the sole covering of hundreds, and we have 300 men without arms, and more than 1,000 are so naked that they can be put on duty only in case of desperate necessity.”
The local militia had served on horseback and had so wasted the country that Gen. Greene considered it indispensable to move the troops to some point where provisions could be had, since there were no means of transporting supplies from any considerable distance to the army. To facilitate his purposes, he caused the Dan, the Yadkin and Catawba to be explored hoping to utilize water transportation in relieving his necessities. The hospital he established at Salisbury; and the osnaburgs and sheetings in store were distributed among the women of the surrounding country to be made into shirts for the soldiers.
Cornwallis who had retreated to a point half way between Ninety-Six
Gen. Greene desiring to cover Cross Creeks (Fayetteville) had sent Kosciusko to select a camp on the Pee Dee where provisions could be obtained; and the army after some delay caused by terrible rains and bitter cold, on the 20th of December broke camp and began its movement to the location selected at the Cheraws. A detachment of 300 Maryland Regulars and Virginia Militia and Colo. Washington’s dragoons some fifty in number, had previously been sent under Genl. Morgan to the South side of the Catawba, where it was to be joined by Genl. Davidson with some 400 militia from South Carolina and Georgia and from the adjacent counties of North Carolina. Gen. Gates had returned to the North, and Gen. Smallwood who had previously been in command of the North Carolina Militia had left camp for Maryland in order to hasten on re-inforcements and supplies from that State.
Cornwallis’ purpose was to engage Greene’s attention with Leslie’s corps, and throw Tarleton on Morgan, while he himself should again advance by way of Charlotte, separating the American columns and cutting off Morgan’s retreat.
On the 17th of January 1781, Tarleton, confident of easy victory, came up with Morgan at the Cowpens; but after a stubborn fight of fifty minutes, his famous corps that had been regarded as invincible, was broken and dispersed, the larger part of it taken prisoners, Tarleton himself barely escaping through the fleetness of his horse from the sharp sword of Col. Washington.
Cornwallis on learning of this disaster immediately began the pursuit of Morgan, determined if possible to rescue his prisoners. On the 25th he reached Ramsour’s Mills, but was detained there until the 28th. On that day, Greene received information of Morgan’s success and of his intended movements, and at once hastened to join him, leaving orders for his army to meet him at Salisbury.
In seeking to prevent Cornwallis’ crossing at Cowan’s Ford, Feb. 1, 1781, unhappily for his country, Genl. Davidson fell, mortally wounded. This brilliant officer had been Lt. Colo. of the 5th N. C. Continentals, but on the reorganization had been thrown out and was on half-pay in the Continental establishment. He had however been
Referring to these officers, Genl. Sumner emphasized his appreciation of their superior merits, and expressed much regret that the service should lose men of their long experience, activity and bravery. The excellence of Col. Davidson was recognized by the Assembly in a particular manner when it violated the rule of not placing the militia under a Continental officer, and appointed him Brigadier General.
Gen. Greene’s purpose being to avoid a general engagement until he should have placed Morgan’s prisoners in some safe place,—so as to secure an exchange of prisoners, he continued his retreat until on the 14th of February, he successfully crossed the Dan at Irwin’s Ferry, to the Northward of Hillsboro.
Cornwallis baffled in his efforts, took post at Hillsboro where he erected the King’s Standard and the Royal Governor Martin once more essayed to enter upon the administration of his office.
The General Assembly was to have met at Halifax early in January, but the members arrived so slowly that it was the 26th before a quorum appeared. The Board of War was however in session and had control of military affairs. The army had suffered much from the inefficiency of the Commissary Department. Under the plan for raising supplies, there was a Commissary for each District, but no general head.
When Col. Polk, who was Commissary General of the Salisbury District, retired in December, Gen. Greene desired the appointment of Col. Davie to be Commissary General for the State. The Board hesitated to make such an innovation, but on being repeatedly urged by Gen. Greene finally on Jan. 16th conferred on him the office of Superintendent Commissary General of the State, and thereafter, the fine talents and zeal of that active and accomplished young officer were fortunately employed in securing for the army those necessaries without which its efficiency would have been impaired and its operations impeded. Hard and difficult as was the task
Early in January 1781, Genl. Arnold’s expedition arrived at Petersburg, and the invasion of North Carolina was expected from that quarter, but while the menace served to redouble the energies of the authorities, Arnold’s column after advancing into the neighboring country, returned to the Chesapeake.
Another part of Cornwallis’ plan of invasion was to occupy Wilmington; and on Jany. 29th Maj. Craig landed his corps at that town, being accompanied by four war vessels that remained in the harbor.
To keep Craig in check, Brig-Genl. Caswell was ordered with the New Bern Brigade, and Gen. Butler with the Hillsboro Brigade, to the assistance of Gen. Lillington who commanded in that District. Simultaneously, there was a rising of Tories, who now became so active that it was with difficulty that the militia of the lower counties could be embodied. Col. Brown of Bladen, a very active and zealous officer, in acknowledging Gen. Lillington’s orders, said: on Febry. 19th, “The greatest part of the good people of this county are engaged back against the Tories, and seem very loath to go against the British and leave their families exposed to a set of villians, who daily threaten them with destruction. I intend setting out for Wilmington Thursday with what few I can raise.”
Maj. General Caswell who had retired from the service when Gen. Smallwood was appointed by the General Assembly to supercede him as Commander in Chief of the militia, was now re-invested with that command and he established a camp near Halifax; but his health was poor and his operations seemed to lack his former energy. There were many Continental officers in the State unemployed and Gen. Greene suggested to Gen. Sumner that these officers should repair to the camp and assist Gen. Caswell in arranging and commanding the militia. Gen. Sumner tendered his own services and diverted Col. Ashe and Maj. Murfree to report to Gen. Caswell and place themselves at his disposal. But in addition to the indisposition to put the militia under Continental officers, the militia officers themselves held out for their own privilege of commanding their own organizations; so that while a few experienced officers were employed, such as Maj. Dixon as Inspector General, Maj.
The four regiments of Continentals as reorganized having been destroyed by their capture at Charleston, the General Assembly at its January session at Halifax, made provision for four new regiments and measures were devised for filling up the ranks.
The Board of War was abolished and in its stead a “Council Extraordinary” was established, composed of Gen. Caswell, Col. Martin, and Mr. Bignal, a merchant of New Bern; and this Council with the Governor was invested with all the powers of government, should the invasion of the enemy prevent the holding of elections and the assembling of the legislature.
A light horse corps was also provided for at this session, the officers to be commissioned by the Council.
On February 20th, Cornwallis entered Hillsboro and three days later, Greene having received considerable accessions from Virginia, re-crossed the Dan and passed to the south-west of his adversary. He now awaited only the arrival of the North Carolina Militia to give battle to Cornwallis. Gov. Nash who was at New Bern, directed Maj. Genl. Caswell to march the militia of the Eastern counties to Halifax and then to such points as the situation might require; but doubtless because of his feeble health, Gen. Caswell did not accompany the troops. The Brigades of Brig. Genl. Caswell and of Gen. Butler were ordered to leave the Cape Fear section and support Greene; and the Brigade of Genl. Allen Jones, at Halifax, was also hurried to the West. Gen. Jones, animated by patriotic motives, invited Gen. Sumner to take command of that Brigade; but before the arrangements could be made, Gen. Jones felt ill, and the right to command devolving on Gen. Eaton, that officer refused to relinquish it.
The Salisbury Brigade had been left without a General on the death of Gen. Davidson; and the field officers selected Gov. Pickens, of South Carolina to command them; and this brigade moved towards Hillsboro, but early in March, the term of service for which the men were called out having expired, the brigade was disbanded and the men returned home.
Cornwallis left Hillsboro on the 26th of February and took post on Alamance Creek while Greene made his camp at Troublesome Creek, some thirty miles away, and towards that point all of his reinforcements were now hastening. Despite Cornwallis’ efforts to bring on an engagement and to prevent Greene from being re-enforced, the juncture was successfully made on March 11th, and Greene being now ready offered battle at Guilford Court House, where on the 15th, Cornwallis attacked him, and a bloody encounter ensued. It was a drawn battle. Although Greene eventually retired from the field, the British army suffered so severely that Cornwallis withdrew from Greene’s front, and abandoning his wounded to the mercies of the country people, fled through Pittsboro and Cross Creek to Wilmington. Greene hastened in pursuit—but Cornwallis was too swift to be overtaken; and Greene, believing it the best strategy, passed over into South Carolina and began the work of rescuing that State from British dominion. There he and his army won many victories, the chief of which, the battle of Eutaw Springs, 8 Sept. 1781, was one of the bloodiest battles of the war and was largely won by North Carolina valor.
Towards the last of April Cornwallis pressed on from Wilmington to join Gen. Phillips at Petersburg, as he conceived that only by reducing Virginia to subjection and thus separating the Southern States from the Middle and Northern, could the Carolinas be permanently held. Maj. Craig left by Cornwallis at Wilmington engaged himself in establishing posts on the Cape Fear and in organizing the tories in the disaffected sections of the State. He himself penetrated as far as New Bern meeting with no great opposition.
David Fannen, a native of Wake county, who had removed to Chatham when a lad, and who was now but twenty-five years of age, was commissioned Colonel of the Loyal Militia of Randolph county and became one of the boldest and most determined partisan officers evolved by the war. He aroused the loyalists of the central counties to great zeal and activity. Numerous bands of tories scoured the territory between the Haw and the Deep, while lower down the whig leaders were driven to the swamps and the country was dominated by the disaffected, while Craig’s active troopers distressed the people, devastated their farms and carried off their property. Indeed the lower Cape Fear was
In those trying days when the tories were rampant and in the ascendency, the sufferings of the Whig population of the lower Cape Fear were extreme; but the spirit of the leaders did not flag. Colonels Brown and Robeson, of Bladen, and Col. Kenan, of Duplin, like O’Neal and others higher up, proved themselves heroes in the cause of Independence, and their activity, zeal, determination and enterprise evoke the highest admiration.
A condition of civil war prevailed. Every man had to choose under which flag he would serve, and bands of Whigs and Tories had daily encounters.
Many prominent Whigs were captured by the enterprising tories. Among them was Governor Burke, himself, who in February, 1781, had been chosen Governor to succeed Gov. Nash. Taken at Hillsboro in September, 1781, he was carried to Wilmington and then sent a prisoner to Charleston, where he was paroled to reside within certain limits on James Island. While there several attempts were made to assassinate him by venomous tories, and the British Commander not heeding his remonstrances, Burke felt it necessary to seek safety in flight. Escaping from the Island he reached Gen. Greene’s headquarters on December 30th, and together they sought but unavailingly to procure an exchange for him as a prisoner of war.
In like manner Gen. John Ash, who was treasurer of the Wilmington District, and Cornelius Harnett, whose bodily infirmities has caused his retirement from public service, were captured and confined in Wilmington. Within a few months Harnett died in captivity. Gen. Ash contracted the small pox in prison, and being about to die was released on parol, but expired a few days afterwards near Clinton, in Sampson county.
Cornwallis having surrendered at Yorktown in October, the cause of the Loyalists began to wane, and upon the departure of Maj. Craig from Wilmington the State authorities became more active in suppressing the roving bands of tories. Gen. Marion had established a truce territory over the line in South Carolina, in which the tories were to be unmolested as long as they remained quiet.
In this State the Acting-Governor Martin had issued a proclamation calling on the Tories to surrender themselves and submit to
His offer being rejected, as if carried away by desperation, he redoubled his exertions and giving out the report that he had a new commission under which all had to join him or be put to death, he became more of a terror to the Whig population than ever before. But his career was now about to close. The Legislature was soon to meet, and Gov. Burke ordered that the State Legion should be embodied and together with such other horsemen as could be procured should proceed against the tories in the Deep river country; while Gen. Butler was directed to have 200 militia at Hillsboro to protect the General Assembly. On the night of April 30, Hillsboro was beaten up and the members of the Legislature were called out and paraded in the streets to defend themselves. Soon afterwards, Fannen succumbed to the inevitable, and escaped to the truce ground in South Carolina, and later, when the British withdrew from Charleston, he located in Nova Scotia, where he remained till his death in 1825.
On the capture of Gov. Burke, Col. Alexander Martin, as speaker of the Senate, became the acting Governor, but on Gov. Burke’s return to the State in January, 1782, he again assumed the administration. At the session of the Assembly held in April, Col. Martin was chosen Governor. In his address to the Legislature, he mentioned that many of our late revolted citizens had surrendered themselves to the justice of the State, supplicate for mercy and offer to return to their allegiance. It is noteworthy also that in that period of rejoicing at the fair prospects of a happy issue of this long struggle of independence, Gov. Martin said: “The education of your youth demands your serious attention. Savage manners are ever attendant on ignorance, which, without correction in time, will sap the foundations of civil government.”
At the session of April 1782, when Col. Martin was chosen Governor, although the success of the struggle for independence seemed assured, yet the State was not pacified and drafts upon the State
In June the Legionary corps was still operating against the Tories in the Deep River country. In October 1780 Congress had resolved that the officers of the North Carolina Line should be re-arranged by a board of the officers themselves, and on March 30, 1782, the officers who had been captured at Charleston having in the summer and fall of 1781 been exchanged and being now again in the service, this board met and arranged the officers for three regiments; and they so continued to serve until the war ended.
At the Assembly of April 1783, Gov. Martin had the happy fortune to communicate with his congratulations that “His Britannic Majesty had acknowledged the United States of America sovereign and Independent”—and that Independence was achieved. But how long had been the death roll of the patriot leaders in these fateful seven years of suffering and turmoil! How many of those who entered upon the task of revolution at the beginning had passed away without beholding the glory of the consummation. A few of those who had started the movement survived, but the greater part had only viewed the promised land and not lived to share in the joy of the reward.
Among the side lights thrown upon the closing year of the war, not the least interesting is the correspondence herein given between A. Maclaine, a leading lawyer of Wilmington, with his tory son-in-law, George Hooper, (a brother of the signer of the Declaration of Independence) then a refugee in Charleston, S. C.
The letters from the N. C. delegates and from the President of Congress show the inherent weakness as well as the financial embarrassments of the Confederacy, even after Peace was assured, and the transmission of copies of Letters of our Ministers abroad to each Governor, as well as the repeated calls upon the States to supply the financial needs of the general treasury indicate how dependent the general government was upon the individual action, not always in harmony, of the several states. In truth the Confederacy was a loosely joined alliance, instead of a Union, of sovereign States and the wonder will always remain how it made headway against the solid impact of the British Government.
The roster of the N. C. Continental line, at the close of the present volume is the only one now known to be in existence and possesses great interest.