Letter from Hugh Williamson to Thomas Benbury
Williamson, Hugh, 1735-1819
Volume 22, Pages 530-532
DR. HUGH WILLIAMSON TO HON. THOMAS BENBURY, ESQUIRE, SPEAKER OF THE COMMONS.
House of Assembly, Edenton, December 1st, 1780.
After the Battle of the 16th of August as soon as I overtook Genl. Caswell he gave me a Flag to return to the Enemies’ Lines for the relief of our wounded. I was also instructed to ask for a return of the Prisoners. This Return I have made to the present Commanding Officer but as the Public may be desirous to know the State of those brave Men who bled on that Memorable Day. I shall take the Liberty to mention such Facts as seem most interesting. I wish I could say that our Loss after the Battle either by wounds or sickness was inconsiderable, but we laboured under many difficulties. It was our misfortune that the Countenance we showed immediately after the Battle, was not calculated for Commanding that Respect which is due to an Army of the United States. The Enemy was disposed to neglect us, and a victory which they greatly overrated, did not seem to increase their Humanity; for Eight or Ten days after the Battle our People suffered under great neglect. After the bitterest Complaints and most urgent importunity our supplies became more liberal; We were also weak in Medical Help. Our Militia Surgeons disappeared after the Battle and the Commander in Chief had not yet turned his attention to the wounded Prisoners. It happened that one of the Continental Surgeons fell into the hands of the Enemy. It may be supposed that with his Assistance, tho’ he was indefatigable, I found it impossible to give the desired help to 240 Men, who laboured under at least 700 Wounds. After Three
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Weeks we were happily re-inforced by Doctor Johnson, a Senior Surgeon of great Skill and Humanity in the Continental Service. Inclosed is a List of the wounded Militia also the only return I could get of the Prisoners in general, it is not satisfactory, for the Commissary of Prisoners, one Booth Boote whose character did not appear to be diversified by a single Virtue would never do any Thing that might prove acceptable to us. The Number of the Wounded brought into Campden from the Actions of the 16th and 18th of Aug. was 240. Of this number 162 were Continental Troops, 12 were South Carolina Militia, 3 were of the Virginia Militia, and 63 were of the Militia of this State of whom the List is Inclosed. On the 7th of Sept., 18 of our Militia having recovered from their Wounds were sent to Charlestown, 9 of the Militia having recovered, made their escape at different times, and 10 of them remained in Cambden on the 13th of Oct. chiefly well. We had the misfortune to loose Five privates who died by their wounds, 9 by the Small Pox, 1 by a putried Fever and four by the Flux. Two officers died by their Wounds and 2 by the Small Pox. It will be observed that we paid a heavy Tribute to the Small Pox. However, we have the Comfort to recollect, that having formed the most alarming apprehensions from that disease, no means in our power which were admitted by which we might shew or palliate its dangerous Effects. The British Camp generally contains the Seeds of the Small Pox. It had been in Cambden sometime. We were not suffered even to inoculate those men whose wounds would admit of that operation with safety. Lord Cornwallis shewed much displeasure at the Inoculation of an Officer who had a slight wound and was quartered apart in a private house. Desirous that some of our Surgeons might be permitted to inoculate the Prisoners who were sent to Charlestown, I made an application to his Lordship on that subject, and received the inclosed Answer from which nothing could be expected. Immediately after that I was called to see two of the Inhabitants of South Carolina who were sick in Prison. They had the Small Pox in a Small Room with 17 others, State Prisoners, who were yet to take it. I wrote Lord Cornwallis on so pressing a Tryal of Humanity; Stated the Case fully and assured his Lordship that Confinement in such a room, putricent as the Atmosphere then was, must be followed by Death equally certain as immediate executions. The two sick Men were enlarged but the others were detained, they were not inoculated; most of them
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died. About the 22nd of Sept. I obtained permission to inoculate such of our men as had hitherto escaped. At that time the State Prisoners in Gaol, many of them very sick, were committed to my care. Such as were then in health and were inoculated suffered very little by the Small Pox.
During the whole of our attendance on the Wounded and sick we had occasion to remark.
That the Most of our Prisoners were visited by the Flux which prevailed in Cambden, we did not lose a single Man by that Disease unless of those who had broken Thighs and Legs.
That small boys suffered mostly by the Flux.
That the sufferings of our Men were greatly increased by the want of Sugar, Tea, Coffee, Vinegar and such other palatable antiseptic Nourishment as is best suited the sick. The Cry for the Articles was Constant while our Supplies was so scanty as hardly to deserve the Name, nor was any thing of the kind to be purchased for Money unless very trifling Quantities. From a transient view of our Misfortunes it is clear that we should save many lives by any kind of Military establishment which would admit of the Troops being inoculated before they took the Field.
It is also clear that a moderate Supply of Sugar, Rice, Tea, Coffee, or such other Balsamic Nourishment for the sick and invalids of our Militia would tend greatly to reconcile them to the Hardships of a Campaign and would save the Lives of many.
I have the honor to be
Sir, your most obedient Servt.,