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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.
Lord Rawdon's situation was extremely delicate. Colonel Watson, whom he had some time before detached, for the protection of the eastern frontiers, and to whom he had, on intelligence of general Greene's intentions, sent orders to return to Camden, was so effectually watched by general Marion, that it was impossible for him to obey. His lordship's supplies were, moreover, very precarious; and should general Greene's reinforcements arrive, he might be so closely invested, as to be at length obliged to surrender. In this dilemma, the best expedient that suggested itself, was a bold attack; for which purpose, he armed every person with him capable of carrying a musket, not excepting his musicians and drummers. He sallied out on the 25th of April, and attacked general Greene in his camp. T'he defence was obstinate; and for some part of the engagement the advantage appeared to be in favour of America. Lieutenant colonel Washington, who commanded the cavalry, had at one time not less than two hundred British prisoners. However, by the misconduct of one of the American regiments, victory was snatched from general Greene, who was compelled to retreat. He lost in the action about two hundred killed, wounded, and prisoners. Rawdon lost about two hundred and fifty eight.
There was a great similarity between the consequences of the affair at Guilford, and those of this action. In the former, lord Cornwallis was successful ; but was afterwards obliged to retreat two hundred miles from the scene of action, and for a time abandoned the grand object of penetrating to the northward. In the latter, lord Rawdon had the honour of the field; but was shortly after reduced to the necessity of abandoning his post, and leaving behind him a number of sick and wounded.
The evacuation of Camden, with the vigilance of general Greene, and the several officers he employed, gave a new complexion to affairs in South Carolina, where the British ascendancy declined more rapidly than it had been established: The numerous forts, garrisoned by the enemy, fell, one after the other, into the hands of the Americans. Orangeburg, Motte, Watson, Georgetown,' Granby, and others, fort Ninety-Six excepted, were surrendered; and a very considerable number of prisoners of war, with military stores and artillery, were found in them.
On the 22d May, general Greene sat down before Ninety-Six, with the main part of his little army. The siege was carried on for a considerable time with great spirit; and the place was defended with equal bravery. At length, the works were so far reduced, that a surrender must have been made in a few days, when a reinforcement of three regiments, from Europe, arrived at Charleston, which enabled lord Rawdon to proceed to relieve this important post. The superiority of the enemy's force reduced general Greene to the alternative of abandoning the siege altogether, or, previous to their arrival, of attempting the fort by storm. The latter was more agreeable to his enterprising spirit : and an attack was made, on the morning of the 19th of June. He was repulsed, with the loss of one hundred and fifty men. He raised the siege, and retreated over the Saluda.
Dr. Ramsay, speaking of the state of affairs about this period, says, “truly distressing was the situation of the American army: when in the grasp of victory, to be obliged to expose themselves to a hazardous assault, and afterwards to abandon a siege. When they were nearly masters of the whole country, to be compelled to retreat to its extremity; and after subduing the greatest part of the force sent against them, to be under the necessity of encountering still greater reinforcements, when their remote situation precluded them from the