in the almost certain event of a retreat, that some order might be sustained, hastened from the First to the Second Brigade and begged his own regiment, the Sixth Maryland, not to fly. He was answered by its commander, Lieutenant Colonel Ford, who said: They have done all that can be expected of them; we are outnumbered and outflanked; see the enemy charge with bayonets!
General Cornwallis now had all of his regiments concentrated against these two gallant brigades. A tremendous fire of musketry on both sides was kept up for some time, with equal perseverance and obstinacy, until Cornwallis pushed forward a part of his cavalry under Major Hanger to charge the American left flank, while Lieutenant Colonel Tarleton led forward the remainder. The infantry, charging at the same time with fixed bayonets, put an end to the contest. The battle was terminated in less than an hour. The British victory was complete. All the artillery and a great number of prisoners fell into their hands. The dead and wounded lay where they fell and the rout of the remainder was thorough. General Gist moved from the battle field with about 100 Continentals in a body by wading through the swamp on the right of the American position. Other than this not even a company retired in any order; everyone escaped as he could. The brave De Kalb had his horse killed under him and continued to fight on foot with the Second Brigade until he fell into the hands of the enemy mortally wounded, pierced with eight bayonet wounds and stricken with three musket balls. This brigade had fought with such a great measure of success, and the thickness of the air preventing observation of other parts of the battle field, De Kalb, when wounded and taken, could not believe that General Gates had been defeated.
As soon as the rout of the Americans became general the Legion dragoons advanced with great rapidity toward Rugeley’s. On the road General Rutherford and many others were made prisoners. The charge and pursuit having greatly dispersed the British, a halt was ordered on the south side of Granneys Quarter Creek in order
Indifferent they might be to orders of their own officers, of camp restrictions, injunctions against plundering, requirements of camp guard; ambitious their general officers might be to retain independent commands and gain glory through their own leadership; but who was there in all that number of high ranking officers that fore, saw the terrifying effect upon these untried troops when first they faced the fire of an enemy? There was no one. That the Virginians and North Carolinians, a combined force of more than 2,000 officers and men, would be equal to the demands placed upon them was the opinion held by all.
No deployment of the Southern Army other than the one made was possible. The front to be covered was 1,200 yards long from swamp to swamp. The Continentals were too few in number to cover this front; but even had it been possible to so dispose of them, such a tactical arrangement would have been foolish. The reserve of the Army should come from the best troops, and nothing less than one brigade of the Continentals would serve this purpose. That left a brigade and the Delaware regiment to constitute a wing of the battle front. They were sufficient in number to occupy the ground from the right of the road to the swamp, a distance some, what less than 400 yards. From the left of the road to the swamp was a much greater distance, about 800 yards, room enough to form three brigades of North Carolina Militia in the center, with the Virginians and other detachments in the left wing.
It was the militia therefore that was General Gates’s chief concern. When their line began to waver, break, and was then transformed into a crazed mob, stampeded with fear, it was into their midst the commanding general rode, and with indignation demanded of them that they stand and show themselves men. He was assisted in his efforts by Generals Caswell and Stevens and other officers. Everything in their power was done to rally the broken troops, but to no purpose, for the British cavalry, coming around the left flank of the Maryland division, completed the rout of the militia, leaving the Continentals, Dixon’s regiment, and the artillery to stand alone, faced by the entire British Army.
A futile hope was entertained by General Gates that at Clermont he might rally a sufficient number of the militia to cover the retreat of the Regulars. Further and further to the rear was he carried in his efforts, to find some point of lodgment for at least a handful of the fleeing troops, where they might recover from their panic and again be brought into a semblance of order. Tarleton’s cavalry, however, was hanging so persistently on their heels that the road was cleared of all the fleeing Americans, they seeking safety in the adjacent woods and swamps. General Gates therefore concluded to retire toward Charlotte Town, 65 miles from the battle ground, which place he and General Caswell reached late that night, abandoned by all but their aides.
The Virginians, who knew nothing of the country they were in, involuntarily reversed the route they came and fled to Hillsboro. The North Carolina Militia fled in different directions, most of them taking the shortest way home. The regular troops, it has been observed, were the last to quit the field. Major Anderson, of the Maryland line, was the only officer who rallied, as he retreated, a few men of different companies, and whose prudence and firmness afforded protection to those who had joined his party. Colonel Gunby, Lieutenant Colonel Howard, Captain Kirkwood, and Captain Dobson, with a few other officers and 50 or 60 men, formed a junction and proceeded together.
The general order for moving off the heavy baggage to Waxhaws the preceding evening had not been carried out. The whole of it consequently fell into the hands of the British, as well as all the baggage that followed the Army, except the wagons of Generals Gates and de Kalb. Other wagons succeeded in getting out of danger, but the cries of the women and the wounded in the rear and the consternation of the flying troops so alarmed some of the wagoners that they cut out their teams, and each taking a horse left the rest for the next that should come. Others were obliged to give up their horses to assist in carrying off the wounded, and the whole road for many miles was strewn with signals of distress,
The morning following the arrival of Generals Gates and Caswell in Charlotte Town the former realized the uselessness of attempting to establish the rendezvous of the scattered army at that place. There was neither munitions of war nor food, and the probability that the successful British Army would rapidly pursue loomed big. Gates therefore proceeded with all possible dispatch to Hillsboro, 140 miles from Charlotte Town, where the General Assembly of North Carolina was about to convene. Working in conjunction with the governor and assembly, he hoped to devise some plan for the defense of as much of the State as it might yet be possible to save from the enemy.
Hillsboro was reached on the 19th of August. The first duty devolving upon the defeated general was the preparation of a report of the disaster to his army for the President of Congress. The report was dated the 20th of August and was carried to the Governor of Virginia, thence to Congress in Philadelphia, by the department engineer officer, Colonel Senf, and Major McGill, an aide to the commanding general. Both of these officers had been careful observers of what transpired within the Army, and Colonel Senf, upon rejoining the remnant of the Southern Army the night of its defeat, made careful inquiries as to what had occurred and from the information gathered prepared a plan of the battle and a narrative of events. Major McGill, in a letter written shortly after the battle, said:
We owe all misfortune to the militia, had they not run like dastardly cowards, our army was sufficient to cope with them, drawn up as we were upon a rising and advantageous ground.
These staff officers were sent with General Gates’s report because they were loyal to the commanding general and could “answer any questions and clear up every doubt” that might arise in a Congress
While I continue in office will exert my utmost to serve the public interest, but as unfortunate generals are most commonly recalled, I expect that will be my case, and some other Continental general of rank sent in my place to command. When he arrives I shall give him every advice and information in my power; in
the meantime, I doubt not, Sir, that the candor and friendship that has subsisted between us, will continue, and that you are infinitely superior to the ungenerous custom of the many who, without benefiting themselves, constantly hunt down the unfortunate.