determined General Gates to reach General Caswell’s camp in person that same day. Colonel Williams accompanied him on this visit and in his narrative says:
The reception was gracious, and the general and his suite were regaled with wine and other novelties, exquisitely grateful and pleasingly exhilarating. It was perceived that great confusion prevailed in the camp and that General Caswell was then making an effort to divest himself of his heavy baggage, so as to be able to move. Tables, chairs, bedsteads, benches, and many other articles of heavy and cumbrous household stuff, were scattered before the tent doors in great disorder.
A good understanding prevailed among the officers of all ranks, and General Caswell seemed satisfied with the honor of being third in command. Orders were issued by General Gates for the effective guarding of the “Grand Camp”, a brigadier general being detailed daily in charge of the guard. Colonel Armand with his legion, Lieutenant Colonel Porterfield’s Infantry, and the light Infantry of General Caswell’s division were ordered to hasten to Lynches Creek to reconnoiter the hostile post reported as being established there and open the way for an attack upon it by the main body the following
The guards and sentinels of the right wing were, as usual, attentive, and hailed the visiting rounds with that alacrity and spirit which inspired a confidence of security in that quarter, but in the left wing all was tranquil. The officers patroled around the encampment without being hailed once, and then rode into the lines and among the tents, and even approached the marquees of some of the general and field officers, one of whom complained of being disturbed, and intimated that it was an unseasonable hour for gentlemen to call. The officers of the preceding day were sent for and effective guards and patrols posted.
Early the next morning before the break of dawn the “General” was sounded, followed by the “March,” as soon as the troops were paraded. The Army moved of by the left, which put the North Carolina Militia in the lead. Contact with the enemy’s outpost at Lynches Creek, 14 miles away, was expected to be made by General Gates about 9 o’clock. The commands of Armand and Porterfield had marched through the night and reached Lynches Creek before daybreak, but when dawn came no appearance of the enemy was revealed to them. It was learned that the British outpost had been withdrawn during the night, and a deserter from the command gave intelligence to the Americans that the detachment fell back to an eminence 4 miles beyond Little Lynches Creek and took up a position which it was proposed to hold until the cool of the evening.
Not to be denied the spoil of the chase, Gates, from his camp at Lynches Creek, ordered Porterfield with the Virginia troops, the light Infantry of Caswell’s division, and a detachment of Cavalry to hasten in pursuit of the fleeing enemy, hang upon his rear with pertinacity, and bring him to a stand. An additional body of 600 men was to march early the same evening to support Porterfield’s detachment; but there was delay in effecting an organization of this force, and it did not get away from camp until the following morning, the 9th. The commander, Colonel Hall, was ordered to
With the near approach to the enemy it was again necessary for General Gates to endeavor to rid his column of excess baggage, both animate and inanimate. The Army was still encumbered with an enormous train of heavy luggage, a multitude of women, and not a few children. An escort was therefore formed under Major Dean of the Maryland line to convoy a wagon train to Charlotte Town. All the sick and the heavy baggage were sent to the rear and as many of the women as could be driven from the line. Many of the latter, however, preferred to share every toil and danger with the soldiers to accepting the security and provisions promised at some rendezvous in the rear.
“All the sick and the heavy baggage were sent to the rear and as many of the women as could be driven from the line. Many of the latter, however, preferred to share every toil and danger with the soldiers to accepting the security and provisions promised at some rendezvous in the rear.”
The Army left its camp at Lynches Creek at 4 o’clock in the morning of the 10th of August. The right wing, made up of the Continentals, was in front, General Smallwood’s brigade of Marylanders leading. Upon approaching Little Lynches Creek it was learned that the British were holding a commanding position on Robertson’s place south of the stream, that the way leading to it was over a causeway on the north side to a wooden bridge, which stood on very steep banks, and that the creek lay in a deep, muddy channel, bounded on the north by an extensive swamp and passable nowhere within miles but in the face of the enemy’s work. To attempt to force a passage by the bridge was unwarrantedly hazardous, and it became necessary, for once, that General Gates depart from the shortest route to his objective and march by a devious path. It was well that no attempt was made to force this crossing, as the position was held by Lord Rawdon with the Twenty-third, Thirty-third, and Seventy-first Regiments, the Volunteers of
The intelligence received at the Southern Army headquarters at Clermont on the 13th and 14th made the commanding general very hopeful that within a brief period he could strike a blow that would cripple the enemy. An aggressive move by Sumter down the west bank of the Wateree, made in cooperation with the march of the Army directly on Camden, would do much to insure success. As General Gates considered his numbers more than twice those of the British, late at night on the 14th he sent the department engineer, Colonel Senf, with 300 North Carolina Militia, 100 of the Maryland line under Lieutenant Colonel Woolford, and two 3-pounders to reenforce Sumter. The junction was effected the morning of the 15th, west of Rugeley’s, at which time Sumter was moving down the right bank of the Wateree in pursuance of his mission.
Under cover of Armand’s legion and Porterfield’s corps, staff officers inspected the terrain in the direction of Camden for the purpose of selecting commanding ground to which General Gates might march his army and offer battle to Cornwallis. Being uncertain as to the extent of the works covering Camden, Gates did not propose attacking the British in position with an army composed largely of untried militia. There was no advantage, however, in remaining longer at Clermont, now that Sumter was moving down the Wateree, and much was to be gained by reducing the distance to Camden and from a well-selected defensive position await developments. If Sumter were able to hold the fords of the Wateree
An advantageous position was found by Colonel Senf and Lieutenant Colonel Porterfield on the north bank of Sanders Creek, about 7½ miles from Rugeley’s and 5½ miles from Camden. The entire country from Clermont to Camden was wooded. From Granneys Quarter Creek to Gum Swamp, a distance of 5¼ miles, the road follows a low ridge. At frequent intervals on both sides of the road the ridge breaks into ravines, some shallow and others abrupt. The ravines head at varying distances from the road and have the common characteristic of spreading out into impassable swamps, all of which feed into Gum Swamp. This latter obstacle was passable only where the road forded it.
After crossing Gum Swamp the road again follows a slight ridge, and at a distance of 3,000 yards Sanders Creek is reached. The north bank of this stream slopes upward to a hill about 60 feet high, and at a distance of about 300 yards from the stream was the site selected for the American Army to occupy. The report of the reconnoitering officers to General Gates showed that Sanders Creek was deep and passable only at the ford where the road from Camden to Clermont crossed, that there was a thick swamp on the right and thick low ground on the left; but this latter flank was not so well secured as was the right flank, and it was proposed to strengthen it with a redoubt and abatis.
The meeting in Rugeley’s barn, at which General Gates communicated his plans to the general officers, occurred in the afternoon. It was not a council of war, merely an assembly of commanding officers to hear read the orders which the commanding general had prepared for their guidance and execution.
The orders prescribed that the sick, extra artillery stores, heavy baggage, and such quartermaster stores as were not immediately wanted were to march that evening to Waxhaws. By this movement the line of communications of the Army was transferred from the route over which it had marched to a line running north through Charlotte Town.
All tents were to be struck at tattoo and the troops ready to march that night precisely at 10 o’clock. The Cavalry of Armand’s legion was to take the advance, supported on each flank by a column of foot troops marching in Indian file 200 yards from the road. The right flanking column consisted of Lieutenant Colonel Porterfield’s Light Infantry, augmented by a detachment of 68 officers and men, experienced in woodcraft, selected from the Virginia division. Major Armstrong’s light Infantry, increased by experienced woodsmen from the North Carolina division, formed the left flanking column. In case the enemy’s cavalry were encountered on the march, mandatory orders were given the three commanders of the
In rear of the covering force came the advance guard of foot, composed of the advance pickets, then the First Maryland Brigade with its artillery in front, the Second Maryland Brigade with its’ artillery in front, the division of North Carolina Militia, and the division of Virginia Militia. The baggage of each brigade was in rear of the brigade. Lieutenant Colonel Edmonds, with the remaining guns of the park, marched with the Virginia troops.
The train of heavy baggage followed the combatant troops and had assigned for its flank protection detachments of volunteer Cavalry, and as a rear guard a detachment of 68 supernumerary artillery officers and men. All troops were ordered to observe the most profound silence upon the march—
and any soldier who offers to fire without the command of his officer, must be instantly put to death. All brigadier generals were to see that those under their command paid the most exact and scrupulous obedience to the entire order. As an additional safeguard, in case the unexpected happened and the enemy was encountered in force on the march, the order provided:
When the ground will admit of it, and the near approach of the enemy renders it necessary, the army will, when ordered, march in columns. There was no dissenting voice when the order was read to the assembled officers, as the commanding general did not present it as a matter for discussion. When the officers were dismissed, Colonel Williams presented to General Gates the abstract of returns he had prepared, which showed that there were 3,052 rank and file fit for
Others could not imagine how it could be conceived that an army, consisting of more than two-thirds militia, and which had never been once exercised in arms together, could form columns and perform other maneuvers in the night, and in the face of an enemy.