« ZurückWeiter »
Fig. 138.-A French Fusileer. British commander-in-chief. He had intended to sail against Charleston so early as the month of September, 1779; but the expected appearance of Count d'Estaing on the southern coast had detained him at New York till the latter part of December. It was his intention, after the reduction of Charleston, vigorously to employ the whole of his force in the subjugation of the adjacent proyinces ; but information, received about the time of the surrender of the town, that Monsieur de Ternay, with a fleet and troops from France, was expected on the American coast, deranged his plan, and induced him to return to New York with the greater part of his army ; leaving Earl Cornwallis at the head of 4,000 men to prosecute the southern conquests. Sir Henry Clinton sailed from Charleston on the 5th of June.
After the reduction of Charleston, and the entire defeat of all the American detachments in those parts, an unusual calm ensued for six weeks. Zealous in the cause of his sovereign, and imagining that South Carolina and Georgia were reannexed to the British empire in sentiment as well as in appearance, Cornwallis meditated an attack on North Carolina. Impatient, however, as that active officer was of repose, he could not carry his purpose into immediate execution. The great heat, the want of magazines, and the impossibility of subsisting his army in the field before harvest, compelled him to pause. But the interval was not lost. He distributed his troops in such a manner in South Carolina and the upper parts of Georgia, as seemed most favorable to the enlistment of young men who could be prevailed on to join the royal standard; he ordered companies of royal militia to be formed ; and he maintained a correspondence with such of the inhabitants of North Carolina as were friendly to the British cause. He informed them of the necessity he was under of postponing the expedition into their country, and advised them to attend to their harvest and to remain quiet till the royal army advanced to support them. Eager, however to manifest their zeal, and entertaining sanguine hopes of success, they disregarded his salutary advice, and broke out into premature insurrections, which
were vigorously resisted and generally suppressed. But one party of them, amounting to 800 men under a Colonel Bryan, marched down the Yadkin to a British post at the Cheraws, and afterward reached Camden.
Having made the necessary dispositions, Cornwallis intrusted the command on the frontier to Lord Rawdon, and returned to Charleston, in order to organize the civil government of the province, and to establish such regulations as circumstances required. But that active officer showed himself more a soldier than a politician. Military government is necessarily a system of despotism and coercion, which is offensive to persons who have been accustomed to exercise their own judgment in the regulation of their conduct. Instead, however, of endeavoring to regain, by kindness and conciliation, the good will of a people whose affections were alienated from the cause in which he was engaged, Cornwallis attempted to drive them into allegiance by harshness and severity. Indeed, many of the British officers viewed the Americans merely in the light of rebels and traitors, whose lives it was indulgence to spare ; treated them not only with injustice, but with insolence and insult more intolerable than injustice itself; and exercised a rigor which greatly increased the miseries, without promoting the legitimate purposes, of war.
By the capitulation of Charleston the citizens were prisoners on parole ; but successive proclamations were published, each abridging the privileges of prisoners more than that which had gone before. A board of police was established for the administration of justice, and before that board British subjects were allowed to sue for debts, but prisoners were denied that privilege; they were liable to prosecution for debts, but had no security for what was owing them, except the honor of their debtors; and that, in many instances, was found a feeble guarantee. If they complained, they were threatened with close confinement : numbers were imprisoned in the town, and others consigned to dungeons at a distance from their families. In short, every method except that of kindness and conciliation, was resorted to in order to compel the.people to become British subjects. A few who had always been well affected to the royal cause, cheerfully returned to their allegiance; and many followed the same course from convenience. To abandon their families and estates, and encounter all the privations of fugitives, required a degree of patriotism and fortitude which few possessed.
In that melancholy posture of American affairs, many of the ladies of Charleston displayed a remarkable degree of zeal and intrepidity in the cause of their country. They gloried in the appellation of rebel ladies, and declined invitations to public entertainments given by the British officers; but crowded to prison ships and other places of confinement to solace their suffering countrymen. While they kept back from the concerts and assemblies of the victors, they were forward in showing sympathy and kindness toward American officers wherever they met them. They exhorted their brothers, husbands, and sons, to an unshrinking endurance in behalf of their country, and cheerfully became the inmates of their prison and the companions of their exile ; voluntarily renouncing affluence and ease, and encountering labor, penury, and privation.
For some time the rigorous measures of the British officers in South Carolina seemed successful; and a deathlike stillness prevailed in the province. The clangor of arms ceased, and no enemy to British authority appeared. The people of the lower part of South Carolina were generally attached to the revolution ; but many of their' most active leaders were prisoners. The fall of Charleston, and the subsequent events, had sunk many into despondency, and all were overawed. This gloomy stillness continued about six weeks, when the symptoms of a gathering storm began to show themselves. The oppression and insults to which the people were exposed highly exasperated them : they repented
The apathy with which they had seen the siege of Charleston carried on; and felt that the fall of their capital, instead of introducing safety and rural tranquillity, as they had fondly anticipated, was only the forerunner of insolent exactions and oppressive services. Peaceful and undisturbed neutrality was what they desired and what they had expected; but when they found themselves compelled to fight, they chose to join the provincial banners, and the most daring only waited an opportunity to show their hostility to their new masters.
Such an opportunity soon presented itself. In the end of March, General Washington despatched the troops of Maryland and Delaware, with a regiment of artillery, under the Baron de Kalb, a veteran German officer, who had early engaged in the American service, to reinforce the southern army. That detachment met with many obstructions in its progress southward. Such was the deranged state of the American finances, that it could not be put in motion when the order was given. After setting out, it marched through Jersey and Pennsylvania, embarked at the head of Elk river, was conveyed by water to Petersburgh in Virginia, and proceeded thence toward the place of its destination. But as no magazines had been provided, and as provisions could with difficulty be obtained, the march of the detachment through North Carolina was greatly retarded. Instead of advancing rapidly, the troops were obliged to spread themselves over the country in small parties, in order to collect corn and to get it ground for their daily subsistence. In this way they proceeded slowly through the upper and more fertile parts of North Carolina to Hillsborough, and were preparing to march by Cross creek to Salisbury, where they expected to be joined by the militia of North Carolina.
The approach of this detachment, together with information that great exertions were making to raise troops in Virginia, encouraged the irritation which the rigorous measures of the British officers had occasioned in South Carolina ; and numbers of the inhabitants of that province, who had fled from their estates and taken refuge in North Carolina and Virginia, informed of the growing discontents in their native province, and relying on the support of regular troops, assembled on the frontier of North Carolina. About 200 of those refugees chose Colonel Sumpter, an old continental officer, as their leader. On the advance of the British into the upper parts of South Carolina, this gentleman had fled into North Carolina, but had left his family behind. Soon after his departure a British party arrived, turned his wife and family out the door, and burnt his house and everything in it. This harsh and unfeeling treatment excited his bitterest resentment, which operated with the more virulence by being concealed under the fair veil of patriotism. At the head of his little band, without money or magazines, and but ill-provided with arms and ammunition, Sumpter made an irruption into South Carolina. Iron implements of husbandry were forged by common blacksmiths into rude weapons of war; and pewter dishes, procured from private families and melted down, furnished part of their supply of balls. This little band skirmished with the royal militia, and with small parties of regular troops ; sometimes successfully, and always with the active courage of men fighting for the recovery of their property. Sometimes they engaged when they had not more than three rounds of shot each ; and, occasionally, some of them were obliged to keep at a distance, till, by the fall of friends or foes, they could be furnished with arms and ammunition. When successful, the field of battle supplied them with materials for the next encounter. This party soon increased to 600 men ; and, encouraged by its daring exertions, a disposition manifested itself throughout South Carolina again to appeal to arms. Some companies of royal militia, imbodied under the authority of Cornwallis, deserted to Sumpter, and ranged themselves under his standards. The British commander beheld this change with surprise ; he had thought the battle won,and
the southern provinces completely subdued ; but, to his astonishment, saw that past victories were unavailing, and that the work yet remained to be accomplished. He was obliged to call in his outposts, and to form his troops into larger bodies.
But Cornwallis was soon threatened by a more formidable enemy than Sump ter, who, though an active and audacious leader, commanded only an irregular and feeble band, and was capable of engaging only in desultory enterprises. Congress, sensible of the value and importance of the provinces which the British had overrun, made every effort to reinforce the southern army; and, fully aware of the efficacy of public opinion and of the influence of high reputation, on the 13th of June appointed General Gates to command it. He had acquired a splendid name by his triumphs over Burgoyne; and the people, whose opinions are formed by appearances, anticipated a success equally brilliant.
On receiving notice of his appointment to the command of the southern army, General Gates proceeded southward without delay, and on the 25th of July reached the camp at Buffalo ford, on Deep river, where he was received by Baron de Kalb with respect and cordiality. The army consisted of about 2,000 men ; and considerable reinforcements of militia from North Carolina and Virginia were expected. In order that he might lead his troops through a more plentiful country, and for the purpose of establishing magazines and hospitals at convenient points, De Kalb had resolved to turn out of the direct road to Camden. But General Gates determined to pursue the straight route toward the British encampment, although it lay through a barren country, which afforded but a scanty subsistence to its inhabitants.
On the 27th of July he put his army in motion, and soon experienced the difficulties and privations which De Kalb had been desirous to avoid. The army was obliged to subsist chiefly on lean cattle, accidentally found in the woods; and the supply even of that mean food was very limited. Meal and corn were so scarce that the men were compelled to use unripe corn and peaches instead of bread. That insufficient diet, together with the intense heat and unhealthy climate, engendered disease, and threatened the destruction of the army. General Gates at length emerged from the inhospitable region of pine barrens, sand hills, and swamps; and, after having effected a junction with General Caswell, at the head of the militia of North Carolina, and a small body of troops under Lieutenant-Colonel Porterfield, he arrived at Clermont, or Rugely's Mills, on the 13th of August, and next day was joined by the militia of Virginia, amounting to 700 men, under General Stevens.
On the day after General Gates arrived at Rugely's Mills, he received an express from Sumpter, stating that a number of the militia of South Carolina had joined him on the west side of the Wateree, and that an escort of clothes, ammunition, and other stores, for the garrison of Camden, was on its way from Ninety-Six, and must pass the Wateree at a ford covered by a small fort, not far from Camden.
General Gates immediately detached 100 regular infantry and 300 militia of North Carolina to reinforce Sumpter, whom he ordered to reduce the fort and intercept the convoy. Meanwhile he advanced nearer Camden, with the intention of taking a position about seven miles from that place. For that purpose, he put his army in motion at ten in the evening of the 15th of August, having sent his sick, heavy baggage, and military stores not immediately wanted, under a guard to Waxhaws. On the march, Colonel Armand's legion composed the van; Porterfield's light infantry, reinforced by a company of picked men from Stevens's brigade, marching in Indian files, 200 yards from the road, covered the right flank of the legion; while Major Armstrong's light infantry of North Carolina militia, reinforced in like manner by General Caswell, in the same or