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On the 7th of October (1780) the Americans came up with him. Campbell had the command, but his authority was merely nominal, for there was little military order or subordination in the attack. They agreed to divide their forces in order to assail Ferguson from different quarters, and the divisions were led on by Colonels Cleveland, Shelby, Sevier, and Williams. Cleveland, who conducted the party which began the attack, addressed his men as follows:
“My brave fellows! we have beaten the Tories and we can beat them. When engaged you are not to wait for the word of command from me. I will show you by my example how to fight; I can undertake no more. Every man must consider himself an officer and act on his own judgment. Though repulsed, do not run off; return and renew the combat. If any of you are afraid you have not only leave to withdraw, but are requested to do so.”
Cleveland instantly began the attack, but was soon compelled to retire before the bayonet. But Ferguson had no time to continue the pursuit, for Shelby came forward from an unexpected quarter and poured in a destructive fire. Ferguson again resorted to the bayonet and was again successful. But at that moment Campbell's division advanced on another side and a new battle began. Campbell, like his comrades, was obliged to retreat. But Cleveland had now rallied his division and advanced anew to the combat. The Royalists wheeled and met this returning assailant. In this way there was an unremitting succession of attacks for about fifty minutes. Ferguson obstinately defended himself and repulsed every assailant, but at last he fell mortally wounded, and the second in command, seeing the contest hopeless, surrendered. Ferguson and 150 of his men lay dead on the field; as many were wounded; nearly 700 laid down their arms, and upwards of 400 es
caped. Among the prisoners the number of regular British soldiers did not amount to 100. The Americans lost about twenty men, who were killed on the field, and they had many wounded. They took 1,500 stand of arms. Major Ferguson's position was good, but the hill abounded with wood and afforded the Americans, who were all riflemen, an opportunity of fighting in their own way and of firing from behind trees. • The Americans hanged ten of their prisoners on the spot, pleading the guilt of the individuals who suffered and the example of the British, who had executed a great number of Americans.. One of the victims was a militia officer, who accepted a British commission, although he had formerly been in the American service. Those rude warriors, whose enterprise was the spontaneous impulse of their patriotism or revenge, who acknowledged no superior authority, and who were guided by no superior counsels, having achieved their victories and attained their object, dispersed and returned home. Most of the prisoners were soon afterward released on various conditions.
The ruin of Ferguson's detachment, from which so much had been expected, was a severe blow to Cornwallis; it disconcerted his plans and prevented his progress northward. On the 14th of October (1780), as soon after obtaining certain information of the fall of Major Ferguson as the army could be put in motion, he left Charlotte, where Ferguson was to have met him and began his retreat toward South Carolina. In that retrograde movement the British army suffered severely; for several days it rained incessantly; the roads were almost impassable; the soldiers had no tents, and at night encamped in the woods in an unhealthy climate. The army was ill supplied with provisions; sometimes the men had beef, but no bread; at other times bread, but no beef. Once they subsisted during five days on Indian corn collected as it stood in the fields. Five ears were the daily allowance of two men, but the troops bore their toils and privations without a murmur.
In these trying circumstances the American Loyalists who had joined the royal standard were of great service, but their services were ill requited, and several of them, disgusted by the abusive language and even blows, which they received from some of the officers, left the British army forever. At length the troops passed the Catawba, and on the 29th of October (1780) reached Wynnesborough, an intermediate station between Camden and Ninety-six. During this difficult march Cornwallis was ill and Lord Rawdon had the command.
Washington directed the operations of this southern campaign as far as it was in his power. But he was interfered with by the pragmatical, imbecile, and conceited Congress. Had Greene been appointed to take command of the southern army, according to Washington's desire, instead of Gates, he would soon have assembled around him that “permanent, compact, and well-organized body of men,” referred to in Washington's letter to Governor Rutledge, which we have quoted, and would have given a very different account of the British from that of Gates. Greene was second only to the Commander-in-Chief in ability — second to none in courage, coolness, and perseverance. His campaign in the South, as we shall presently see, was one of the most remarkable performances of the war. But Congress would not send him to the South till repeated disasters compelled them to listen to Washington's advice. The old virus of the Conway Cabal must have been still lurking among the members or they would scarcely have preferred Gates to Greene. We must now leave the South for a season and turn to the course of events in the northern States.
PREPARATIONS FOR THE CAMPAIGN.
CHE contest between Great Britain and her revolted
Colonies had involved her in other wars. Spain
had already joined with France in the alliance against her, and the Dutch were now drawn into the contest. Great Britain had claimed and exercised what she called the “right of search,” which included the right to seize the property of an enemy, wherever found, at sea. The Dutch, who had an extensive carrying trade with France, being plundered by the British under their insolent“ right of search,” were already preparing to join the other allies and commence open hostilities.
The next act in the drama was the formation of the armed neutrality denying the “right of search,” and declaring that free ships made free goods. Catharine II. of Russia was at its head. Sweden and Denmark immediately joined it. It was resolved that neutral ships should enjoy a free navigation even from port to port and on the coasts of the belligerent powers; that all effects belonging to the subjects of the said belligerent powers should be looked upon as free on board such neutral ships, except only such goods as were stipulated to be contraband, and that no port should be considered under blockade unless there should be a sufficient force before it to render the blockade effectual. The other European powers were invited to join this confederacy. France and Spain agreed to do so at once; Portugal hesitated and declined, and the United Provinces delayed for a time their answer. The Emperor of Germany and the King of Prussia joined the armed neutrality in 1781.
Meanwhile, Henry Laurens having been taken prisoner on his way to Holland (1780) to solicit a loan for the United States, and his papers having made the British ministry acquainted with the fact that overtures for a treaty between Holland and America were under consideration, England, at the close of 1780, resolved upon a war with the States General. Thus England, by this step, without friend or allies, prepared to wage, single-handed, the contest with enemies in every quarter of the globe.
In the beginning of the year 1781, the affairs of the American Union wore a gloomy and alarming aspect. Vigorous and united efforts were needful; but all seemed feeble and irresolute. The people were heartily tired of the war; and, though no better affected to the parent State than before, yet they earnestly desired deliverance from the multiplied miseries of the protracted struggle.
The alliance with France had promised a speedy termination to the war; but hitherto, while its existence made the Americans comparatively remiss in their own exertions to prosecute hostilities, the French fleet and army had performed no important service.
Congress had called for an army of 37,000 men, to be in camp on the ist of January (1781). The resolution, as usual, was too late, but even although it had been promulgated in due time, so large a force could not have been brought into the field. The deficiences and delays on the part of the several States exceeded all reasonable anticipation. At no time during this active and interesting campaign did the regular force, drawn from Pennsylvania to Georgia inclusive, amount to 3,000 men. So late as