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Letter from Charles Cornwallis, Marquis Cornwallis to Henry Clinton
Cornwallis, Charles Cornwallis, Marquis, 1738-1805
December 03, 1780
Volume 15, Pages 302-307


Camp at Wynnesborough, Decr. 3d, 1780.


I am just honoured with Your letters of the 5 & 6 of last Month; Lord Rawdon during my illness informed Your Excellency in his letters of the 28th & 31st of October of the various causes which prevented my penetrating into N. Carolina; I shall not trouble you with a recapitulation, except a few words about poor Major Ferguson. I had the honour to inform Your Excellency that Major Ferguson had taken infinite pains with some of the Militia of Ninety-six. He obtained my permission to make an incursion into Tryon County, whilst the Sickness of my Army prevented moving. As he had only Militia, and the small remains of his own

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Corps, without baggage or Artillery, and as he promised to come back if He heard of any Superior force, I thought He could do no harm, and might help to keep alive the Spirits of our Friends in N. Carolina, which might be damped by the slowness of our Motions. The event proved unfortunate, without any fault of Major Ferguson's. A numerous and unexpected Enemy came from the Mountains; as they had good horses their movements were rapid; Major Ferguson was tempted to stay near the Mountains longer than he intended, in hopes of cutting off Col. Clarke on his return from Georgia. He was not aware that the enemy was so near him, and in endeavouring to execute my Orders of passing the Catawba and joining me at Charlotte-town He was Attacked by a very superior force and totally defeated on King's Mountain.

Wynnesborough, my present Position, is an healthy spot, well situated to Protect the greatest part of the Northern Frontier, and to assist Camden and Ninety-Six. The Militia of the latter, on which alone we could place the smallest dependence, was so totally disheartened by the defeat of Ferguson that of that whole District we could with difficulty assemble one hundred, and even those I am convinced would not have made the smallest resistance if they had been Attacked. I determined to remain at this place until an Answer arrived from Genl. Leslie, on which my Plan for the Winter was to depend, and to use every possible means of putting the Province into a state of defence, which I found to be absolutely necessary, whether my Campaign was Offensive or Defensive. Bad as the state of our affairs was on the Northern Frontier, the Eastern part was much worse. Col. Tynes, who Commanded the Militia of the High Hills of Santee, and who was posted on Black River, was Surprized and taken, and his Men lost all their Arms. Col. Marion had so wrought on the minds of the People, partly by the terror of his threats & cruelty of his punishments, and partly by the Promise of Plunder, that there was scarce an Inhabitant between the Santee and Pedee that was not in Arms against us. Some parties had even crossed the Santee, and carried terror to the Gates of Charles-town. My first object was to reinstate matters in that quarter, without which Camden could receive no supplies. I therefore sent Tarleton, who pursued Marion for several days, obliged his Corps to take to the Swamps,

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and by convincing the Inhabitants there was was a power superior to Marion, who could likewise reward & Punish, so far checked the Insurrection that the greatest part of them have not dared openly to appear in Arms against us since his expedition.

The 63d Regt., under Major Wemyss, had been mounted on indifferent horses of the Country for the purpose of reducing and disarming the Cheraws. It had afterwards been sent by Lord Rawdon for the security of Ninety-six. When I sent Lt. Col. Tarleton to the Low Country, I Ordered Major Wemyss to come down to Broad River, to keep constantly moving on either side of the River he might think proper, for the Protection of the Mills from which the Army subsisted, and for the preservation of the Country. Sumpter then lay with about 300 Men, partly of Militia and partly of the Banditti who have followed him ever since the reduction of this Province, near Hill's Iron works, between the Catawba and Broad River, about forty miles in our front. Branan, Clarke and others had different Corps plundering the houses and putting to death the well-affected Inhabitants between Tyger River and Pacolet. Major Wemyss, who had just past Broad River at Brierly's Ferry, came to me on the seventh of last Month and told me that he had information that Sumpter had moved to Moore's Hill, within five miles of Fishdam Ford, and about twenty-five Miles from the place where the 63d then lay; that he had accurate accounts of his position and good Guides, and that he made no doubt of being able to Surprize and rout him. As the defeating of so daring and troublesome a Man as Sumpter, and dispersing such a Banditti, was a great object, I consented to his making the trial on the 9th, at daybreak, and gave him Forty of the Dragoons which Tarleton had left with me, desiring him, however, neither to put them in the Front nor to make any use of them during the night. Major Wemyss marched so early and so fast on the night of the 8th that He arrived at Moore's Hill soon after midnight. He then had information that Sumpter had marched that evening to Fishdam ford, where he lay with his rear close to Broad River on a low piece of ground. The Major immediately proceeded to Attack him in his new Position, & succeeded so well as to get into his Camp whilst the Men were all sleeping round the fires; but as Major Wemyss rode into the Camp at the head of the Dragoons, and the 63d followed them on horseback, the enemy's

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Arms were not secured, and some of them recovering from the first alarm got their Rifles, and with the first fire wounded Major Wemyss in several places and put the Cavalry into disorder. The 63d then dismounted and Killed and Wounded about Seventy of the Rebels, drove several over the River and dispersed the rest. The Command, however, devolving on a very young Officer, who neither knew the ground nor Major Wemyss's plan, nor the strength of the enemy, some few of which kept firing from the wood on our people who remained in the enemy's Camp, and who were probably discovered by their fires, Our troops came away before daybreak, leaving Major Wemyss and 22 Sergts. & Rank & File at a house close to the Field of Action. In the morning those who were left with a flag of truce with the wounded found that the enemy were all gone, but on some of their scouting Parties discovering that our People had likewise retired Sumpter returned & took Major Wemyss's Parole for himself and the wounded Soldiers. Major Wemyss is gone to Charlestown and is in a fair way of recovery.

The enemy on this event eried Victory, and the whole country came in fast to join Sumpter, who passed the Broad River and joined Branan, Clarke, &c. I detached Major McArthur, with the 1st Battalion of the 71st and the 63d Regt., after having sent my Aid-de-Camp, Lieut. Money, to take the command of it, to Brierly's Ferry, on Broad River, in order to cover our Mills and to give some check to the enemy's march to Ninety-Six. At the same time I recalled Lieut. Col. Tarleton from the Low Country. Tarleton was so fortunate as to pass not only the Wateree but the Broad River without Genl. Sumpter's being apprised of it, who, having increased his Corps to one thousand, had passed the Ennoree and was on the point of Attacking our hundred Militia at Williams's House, fifteen miles from Ninety-Six, and where I believe He would not have met with much resistance. Lt. Col. Tarleton would have surprized him on the South of Ennoree had not a deserter of the 63d given notice of his march. He, however, cut to pieces his rear guard in passing that River, and pursued his main body with such rapidity that he could not safely pass the Tyger, and was obliged to halt on a very strong position at a place called Black Stocks, close to it. Tarleton had with him only his Cavalry and the 63d mounted, his Infantry and 3-Pounder

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being several miles behind. The Enemy, not being able to retreat with safety, and being informed of Tarleton's approach and want of infantry by a Woman who passed him on the March and contrived by a nearer Road to get to them, were encouraged by their great superiority of numbers and began to fire on the 63d, who were dismounted. Lt. Col. Tarleton, to save them from considerable loss, was obliged to Attack, altho' at some hazard, and drove the enemy, with loss, over the River. Sumpter was dangerously wounded, three of their Colonels Killed, and about 120 Men Killed, Wounded or taken. On our side about 50 were Killed & wounded. Lieuts. Gibson & Cope, of the 63d, were amongst the former, and my Aid-de-Camp, Lieut. Money, who was a most promising Officer, died of his Wounds a few days after. Lt. Col. Tarleton, as soon as he had taken care of his wounded, pursued & dispersed the remaining part of Sumpter's Corps, and then, having assembled some Militia under Mr. Cunningham, whom I appointed Brigr. General of the Militia of that district, and who has by far the greatest influence in that country, He returned to the Broad River, where he at present remains, as well as Major McArthur, in the neigh borhood of Brierley's ferry.

It is not easy for Lt. Col. Tarleton to add to the reputation He has acquired in this Province, but the defeating 1,000 Men posted on very strong ground and occupying log houses with 190 Cavalry and 80 Infantry is a proof of that Spirit and those talents which must render the most essential services to his Country. Lt. Col. Tarleton commends much the good behaviour of the Officers and Men under his command, and He particularly mentions Lieut. Skinner of the 16th Regt. of Infantry, who does duty with the Legion, as having distinguished himself. Lt. Col. Balfour, by putting the Prisoners on Board of Ships, is enabled to spare the 64th Regt. from Charlestown, and sent them to secure the navigation of the Wateree from Nelson's Ferry and to communicate with Camden. This is the present state of our affairs.

Smallwood has been encamped from the beginning of last Month with about thirteen hundred Militia, a Corps of 250 Continentals under Morgan and 70 Dragoons Commanded by Washington, about 12 Miles on this side of Charlotte Town, his front guarded by Davie and other irregular Corps, who have committed the most shocking cruelties and the most horrid Murders on those suspected

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of being our friends that I ever heard of. Gates joined him the Week before last, with about 12 hundred Continentals and Six & Eighteen Months-men, and 300 Cavalry under White and Armand. Morgan's Infantry, and Washington with 100 Cavalry, came down on the 1st in the evening to Attack a Block house built by Col. Rugeley, in which he had placed himself with 100 Militia. Lord Rawdon, who Commands at Camden, and had notice of their approach, sent to Rugeley to Order him to retire to Camden, but He answered that, as the Enemy had no Cannon, he was determined to defend himself to the last extremity, and had no fear of being taken. The enemy's Infantry did not advance within six Miles of his Block house, but the Cavalry surrounded it and Summoned him, and He instantly surrendered without firing a shot. I am informed that Greene is expected in a few days to relieve Gates.

As it will be necessary to drive back the Enemy's army, and at the same time to maintain a superiority on both our Flanks, and as I thought the co-operation of General Leslie, even at the distance of Cape Fear River, would be attended with many difficulties, I have sent Cruizers off the Fryingpan to bring him into Charlestown, and I hourly expect his arrival. After everything that has happened I will not presume to make Your Excellency any sanguine promises. The force you have sent me is greater than I expected, and full as much as I think you could possibly spare, unless the enemy detached in force to the Southward. The utmost exertion of my abilities shall be used to employ them to the best advantage.

Whenever our operations commence Your Excellency may depend on hearing from me as frequently as possible, and it is from events alone that any future Plan can be proposed.

I have the honour to be, with great esteem,
Your most Obedient and Most humble servant,
His Excellency Sir Henry Clinton, K. B., &c., &c., &c.