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I N our last notice of the movements and operations of T the contending armies in the southern States, we
left Cornwallis, after a dreary and disastrous retreat, at Wynnsborough. The Americans, in the meantime, were not idle. Defeated, but not subdued, they were active in preparing to renew the struggle. After the defeat and dispersion of his army at Camden, General Gates retreated to Charlotte, eighty miles from the field of battle. There he halted to collect the straggling fugitives and to endeavor from the wreck of his discomfited army to form a force with which he might check or impede the advancing foe. He was soon joined by Generals Smallwood and Gist, and about 150 dispirited officers and soldiers. Most of the militia who escaped returned home, and General Caswell was ordered to assemble those of the neighboring counties. Major Anderson of the Third Maryland regiment, who had collected a number of fugitives not far from the field of battle, proceeded toward Charlotte by easy marches in order to give stragglers time to join him. But as Charlotte was utterly indefensible and as no barrier lay between it and the victorious enemy Gates retreated to Salisbury and sent Colonel Williams, accompanied by another officer, on the road leading to Camden to gain information of the movements of Cornwallis, and to direct such stragglers as he met to hasten to Salisbury. From
Salisbury Gates proceeded to Hillsborough, where he intended to assemble an army with which he might contend for the southern Provinces.
It was from Hillsborough that he wrote the letter to Washington, which we have already quoted, desiring the exertion of his influence to prevent his being superseded in the command of the southern army.
At Hillsborough every exertion was made to collect and organize a military force and ere long Gates was again at the head of 1,400 men. Even before the royal army entered North Carolina that State had called out the second division of its militia, under Generals Davidson and Sumner, and they were joined by the volunteer cavalry under Colonel Davie.
When Cornwallis entered Charlotte Gates ordered General Smallwood to take post at the fords of the Yadkin in order to dispute the passage of the river, and Morgan, who had joined the southern army with the rank of brigadier-general, was employed with a light corps to harass the enemy.
When Cornwallis retreated Gates advanced to Charlotte; he stationed General Smallwood further down the Catawba on the road to Camden and ordered Morgan to some distance in his front. Such was the position of the troops when Gates was superseded in the command of the southern army.
On the 5th of October (1780) Congress, without any previous indications of dissatisfaction, had passed a resolution requiring Washington to order a court of inquiry into the conduct of Major-General Gates, as commander of the southern army, and to appoint another officer to that command till such inquiry should be made. The order of Congress to inquire into the conduct of Gates was unsatisfactory, as we have already seen, to Washington. It
was afterward dispensed with and Gates restored to a command in the army.
Meanwhile Washington recommended Major-General Greene to Congress as a person qualified to command the southern army. Greene, by his activity, intrepidity, and good conduct, had gained the confidence of Washington long ago; he had desired him to have the command when Gates was appointed, as we have already seen, and he now again recommended him as an officer in whose ability, fortitude, and integrity he could trust.
On the 2d of December (1780) Greene arrived at Charlotte and informed Gates of his commission. That was the first official notice which Gates, the former favorite of Congress, received of his removal from the command of the southern army. Next day Gates resigned the command of the army with becoming dignity and patriotism, and Greene, who was dissatisfied with the treatment which he had received, behaved toward him with the most polite attention.
In a few hours after Greene entered on his command he received the report of one of Morgan's foraging parties, not far from Camden. The party advanced to the vicinity of the British posts at Clermont, which was viewed by Col. William A. Washington, who saw that it was too strong to be taken by smallarms and cavalry, the only weapons and force present; he therefore had recourse to stratagem. Having made an imposing show of part of his men and having placed the trunk of a pine tree in such a situation as, at a distance, to have the appearance of a cannon, he summoned the post to surrender, and it yielded without firing a shot. The Tory Colonel Rugely and 112 men whom he had collected in the place were made prisoners. This inconsiderable event elated Greene's army and was considered by them as a good omen of success under their new leader.
General Greene's situation was embarrassing. His army was feeble, consisting, on the 8th of December (1780), of 2,029 infantry, of whom 1,482 were in camp and 547 in detachments; 821 were Continentals and 1,208 were militia. Besides these there were cavalry, 60 artillerymen, and 128 Continentals on extra service, constituting in all a force of 2,307 men.
In North Carolina there were many Loyalists, and hostilities were carried on between them and their republican neighbors with the most rancorous animosity. The country was thinly inhabited and abounded in woods and swamps. The cultivated parts were laid waste by hostile factions, and no magazines for the army were provided. The troops were almost naked, and Greene obliged to procure subsistence for them day by day.
He found that he could not long remain at Charlotte for the country between that place and Camden, having been traversed by the contending armies, was quite exhausted. In order, therefore, to procure subsistence for his troops, as well as to distract and harass the enemy, Greene, though fully aware of the danger of such a measure, felt himself constrained to divide his little army.
General Morgan had been invested with the command of the light troops by Gates, and Greene placed him at the head of one of the divisions of his army, consisting of nearly 400 infantry under Lieutenant-Colonel Howard, 170 Virginia riflemen under Major Triplett, and 80 light dragoons under Lieut.-Col. William A. Washington. With this small force Morgan was sent to the south of the Catawba to observe the British at Wynnsborough and Camden and to shift for himself, but was directed to risk as little as possible. On the 25th of December (1780) he
took a position toward the western frontier of South Carolina, not far from the confluence of the Pacolet and Broad rivers, and about fifty miles northwest from Wynnsborough. With the other division of his army Greene left Charlotte on the 20th of the same month (December, 1780), and on the 29th arrived at Hick's Corner on the east side of the Pedee, opposite the Cheraw hills, about seventy miles northeast from Wynnsborough, where he remained some time. He marched to that place in the hope of finding more plentiful subsistence for his troops, but his difficulties in that respect were not much diminished, for the country was almost laid waste by the cruel feuds of the hostile factions.
General Morgan did not long remain inactive. On the 27th of December (1780) he detached Colonel Washington with his dragoons and 200 militia, who next day marched forty miles, surprised a body of Loyalists at Ninety-six, killed or wounded 150 of them, and took 40 prisoners, without sustaining any loss. At that time Morgan was joined by Major M’Dowell with 200 North Carolina, and by Colonel Pickens with 70 South Carolina militia.
The British had to contend not only with the force under Greene and Morgan, but were also obliged to watch other adversaries not less active and enterprising. Sumter had been defeated by Tarleton on the 18th of August (1780), and his followers dispersed, but that daring and indefatigable partisan did not long remain quiet. He was soon again at the head of a considerable band and had frequent skirmishes with his adversaries. Always changing his position about Enoree, Broad, and Tiger rivers, he often assailed the British posts in that quarter. On the 12th of November (1780) he was attacked at Broad river by Major Wemyss, but repulsed the party and made the major prisoner. On the 20th of the same month he was attacked by