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After the hopes of the British gencrals, to execute some decisive stroke to the northward were frustrated, they turned their attention to the southern states, as less capable of defence, and more likely to reward the invaders with ample plunder. A grand expedition was, in consequence, planned at New-York, where the army embarked on the 26th of December, 1779: they landed on the 11th of February, 1780, within about thirty miles of Charleston, which, after a brave defence, was surrendered to sir Henry Clinton, on the 12th of May.
A series of ill success followed this unfortunate event. The American arms in South Carolina, were, in general, unsuccessful; and the inhabitants were obliged to submit to the invaders, whose impolitic severity was extremely ill calculated to answer any of the objects for which the war had been commenced. i
Affairs were thus circumstanced, when general Washington appointed general Greene to the command of the American forces in the southern district. He arrived at Charlotte on the ad day of December, 1780, accompanied by general Morgan, a brave officer, who had distinguished himself to the northward, in the expedition against Burgoyne. He found the forces he was to command, reduced to a very small number, by defeat and by desertion. The returns were nine hundred and seventy continentals, and one thousand and thirteen militia Military stores, provisions, forage, and all things necessary, were, if possible, in a more reduced state than his army. His men were without pay, and almost without clothing: and supplies of the latter were not to be bad, but from a distance of two hundred miles. In this perilous and embarrassed situation, he had to oppose a respectable and victorious army. Fortunately for him, the conduct of some of the friends of royalty
obliged numbers, otherwise disposed to remain neuter, to take up arms in their own defence. This, and the prudent measures the general took for removing the innumerable difficulties and disadvantages he was surrounded with, and for conciliating the affections of the inhabitants, soon brought together a considerable force; far inferior, however, to that of the British, who deemed the country perfectly subjugated.'
After he had recruited his forces with all the friends to the revolution that he could assemble, he sent a considerable detachment, under general Morgan, to the western extremities of the state, to protect the well-disposed inbabitants from the ravages of the tories. This force, which was the first that had for a considerable time appeared there, on the side of the Americans, inspired the friends of liberty with new courage, so that numbers of them crowded to the standard of general Morgan, who, at length, became so formidable, that lord Cornwallis thought proper to send colonel Tarleton, to dislodge him from the station he had taken. This oilicer was at the head of a thousand regular troops, and had two field pieces. He came up, on the seventeenth of January, 1781, at. a place called Cowpens, with general Morgan, whose force was much inferior, and was composed of two-thirds militia, and one-third continentals. An engagement was the immediate consequence.
Morgan gained a complete victory over an oflicer, the rapidity and success of whose attacks, until that time, might have entitled him to make use of the declaration of Cæsar, “veni, vidi, vici.” Upwards of five hundred of the British laid down their arms, and were made prisoners; a very considerable number were killed. Eight hundred stand of arms, two field pieces, and thirty-five baggage-waggons fell to the victors, who had only twelve killed and sixty wounded. i
This brilliant success quite disconcerted the plan of operations formed by lord Cornwallis. Having entertained no idea of any enemy to oppose in South Carolina, the conquest of which he deemed complete, he had made every preparation for carrying his arms to the northward, to gather the laurels which, he imagined, awaited him. He now found himself obliged to postpone this design. He marched with rapidity after general Morgan, in hopes not only to recover the prisoners, but to revenge Tarleton's losses. The American general, by a rapidity of movements, and the interference of Providence, eluded his efforts; and general Greene effected a junction of the two divisions of his little army, on the 7th of February. Still he was so far inferior to lord Cornwallis, that he was obliged to retreat northward; and, notwithstanding the vigilance and activity of his enemy, he brought his men in safety into Virginia.
In Virginia, general Greene received some reinforcements, and had the promise of more; on which he returned again into North Carolina, where, on their arrival, he hoped to be able to act on the offensive. He encamped in the vicinity of lord Cornwallis's army. By a variety of the best concerted maneuvres, he so judiciously supported the arrangement of his troops, by the secrecy and promptitude of his motions, that, during three weeks, while the enemy remained near him, he prevented them from taking any advantage of their superiority; and even cut off all opportunity of the irreceiving succours from the royalsits.
About the beginning of March, he effected a junction with a continental regiment, and two considerable bodies of Virginia and Carolina militia. He then determined on attacking the British commander without loss of time, “being persuaded," as he declared in his subsequent dispatches, “that, if he was successful, it would prove
ruinous to the enemy; and, if otherwise, that it would be but a partial evil to him.” On the 14th, he arrived at Guilford court-house, the British then lying at twelve miles distance.
His army consisted of about four thousand five hundred men, of whom near two-thirds were North Carolina and Virginia militia. The British were about two thousand four hundred; all regular troops, and the greater part inured to toil and service in their long expedition under lord Cornwallis, who, on the morning of the 15th, being apprised of general Greene's intentions, marched to meet him. The latter disposed his army in three lines; the militia of North Carolina were in front; the second line was composed of those of Virginia; and the third, which was the flower of the army, was formed of continental troops, near fifteen hundred in number. They were flanked on both sides by cavalry and riflemen, and were posted on a rising ground, a mile and a half from Guilford court-house. · The engagement commenced at half an hour after one o'clock, by a brisk cannonade; after which, the British advanced in three columns; and attacked the first line, composed of North Carolina militia. These, who, probably, had never been in action before, were panic struck at the approach of the enemy; and many of them ran away without firing a gun, or being fired upon, and even before the British had come nearer than one hundred and forty yards to them. Part of them, however, fired; but they then followed the example of their comrades. Their officers made every possible effort to rally them : but the advantages of their position, nor any other consideration, could induce them to maintain their ground. This shameful conduct had a great effect upon the issue of the battle. The next line, however, behaved much better. They fought with great bravery; and were thrown into
disorder; rallied, returned to the charge, and kept up a heavy fire for a long time; but were at length broken, and driven on the third line, when the engagement became general, very severe, and very bloody. At length, superiority of discipline carried the day from superiority of numbers. The conflict endured an hour and a half; and was terminated by general Greene's ordering a retreat, when he perceived that the enemy were on the point of encircling his troops.
This was a hard fought action. Lord Cornwallis stated his losses in killed, wounded, and missing, at five hundred and thirty-two, among whom were several officers of considerable rank. But this battle was, nevertheless, decisive in its consequences. Lord Cornwallis was, three days after, obliged to make a retrogade motion ; and to return to Wilmington, situated two hundred miles from the scene of action. He was even under the necessity of abandoning a considerable number of those who were dangerously wounded. The loss of the Americans was about four hundred, killed and wounded.
Some time after the battle of Guilford, general Greene determined to return to South Carolina, to endeavour to expel the British from that state. His first object was to attempt the reduction of Camden, where lord Rawdon was posted with about nine hundred men. The strength of this place, which was covered on the south and east side by a river and creek; and to the westward and northward, by six redoubts; rendered it impracticable to carry it by storm, with the small army general Greene had, consisting of about seven hundred continentals, the militia having gone home. He, therefore, encamped at about a mile from the town, in order to prevent supplies from being brought in, and to take advantages of such favourable circumstances as might occur.