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The Battle of Camden, Part I

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.

On the 5th of August the Army marched 17 miles to Anderson’s on Deep Creek. The following day Colonel William was made deputy adjutant general of the department, replacing Major Armstrong, who had been appointed to this position on the 3d of August and was now relieved on account of illness. The long wished for junction of General Caswell’s troops occurred on the 7th at Deep Creek Cross Roads. After the junction, which happened about noon, the Army marched a few miles toward the enemy’s post at Lynches Creek and camped on Little Black Creek. Baron de Kalb was placed in command of the right wing, composed of regular troops, and General Caswell of the left wing, made up of militia.

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

morning. That night Colonel William, feeling much anxiety as to whether or not the militia guards were alert, accompanied the officer of the day on an inspection of all the lines.

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

proceed 6 miles on the road leading to Camden by Little Lynches Creek, where he was to select an advantageous position and remain until receipt of further orders from Gates unless he found it necessary, meanwhile, to advance in support of Porterfield. The parole for the 9th of August was “Saratoga”, meant as a harbinger of good luck.

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

Ireland, Hamilton’s corps, about 40 dragoons of the Legion, and four pieces of cannon. The infantry of the Legion and part of Colonel Browne’s regiment were posted at Rugeley’s.

The American Army bivouacked that night at Lynches Heights. Rum was issued, and the troops were held in readiness to assemble at their alarm posts upon every alarm. Early the next morning, the 11th, the Army marched by the right flank up the north bank of Little Lynches Creek, cover for the rear of the column in this flank movement being provided by General Butler’s North Carolina Militia and the Cavalry and Infantry under Colonel Armand and Lieutenant Colonel Porterfield. On the 12th the march was continued to Marshall’s plantation on Little Lynches Creek. On the 13th of August Clermont was reached, the home of Lieutenant Colonel Rugeley, 13 miles north of Camden. Clermont was beautifully situated on gently rolling ground, which sloped to the southeast 700 yards to Granneys Quarter Creek and to the southwest 400 yards to Big Flat Rock Creek. Seventy-five yards southwest of the house was a well-constructed log barn, which was used at various times as sleeping quarters, council chamber, and fort. A mill on Granneys Quarter Creek, about 400 yards northeast of the highway, ground grain for the community. Lieutenant Colonel Rugeley was an ardent loyalist and Clermont was used habitually as a rendezvous for Tory militia. This flank march of the Americans from Little Lynches Creek induced the British detachment south of the creek to retire to Camden, as did the garrison which had occupied Clermont.

The Southern Army had its numbers greatly increased on the 14th of August, when General Stevens reported with 700 militia from Virginia. At this time Colonel Sumter was at Waxhaws in


the Catawba settlement, at the head of a considerable body of South Carolina Militia. He had fallen back to this locality, following a sharp engagement on the 6th of August at Hanging Rock, to collect more men and recuperate. Upon the arrival of General Gates at Rugeley’s he sent word to Sumter to march from the Waxhaws, and as soon as reenforcements, which Gates would provide, joined him to proceed down the Wateree opposite to Camden and intercept any stores coming to the enemy and capture reenforcements marching from Ninety Six to Camden.

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

View from Fort Hill Looking East and Showing the Present House and Farm Buildings on the Old Rugeley Place. On the ground shown in the picture General Gates’s army camped August 13-15.1780. (March 16,1929)

across which passed the roads from Charleston and Ninety Six, the British in Camden would soon feel the pinch of hunger, and Cornwallis, would be compelled to attack Gates in position in order to relieve the pressure around him.

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.

Orders were given the morning of the 15th for the immediate issue of 1 pound of flour and 1 gill of molasses to every officer and soldier in camp. A return of the sick, unable to march, was called for. General Rutherford was designated officer of the day for the 16th, when it was expected that the Army would be securely located on Sanders Creek. General Gates then drafted his “After

House Built on Site of Colonel Rugeley’s Home, 13 Miles North of Camden. The present house was built about 26 years ago by the father of the present owner, Mr. T. B. Clyburn. To the southwest of this house about 75 yards was Rugeley’s log barn. (March 16,1929)

General Orders”, which prescribed in detail how the troops were to march to the new camp. This order was shown to the deputy adjutant general by Gates, together with a rough estimate of the forces under his command prepared by himself, which gave a total in the neighborhood of 7,000. From his own observation Colonel Williams suspected that this calculation of the commanding general was exaggerated. Being instructed at the time to call all the general officers to assemble at Rugeley’s barn, where General Gates proposed issuing his orders to them, Colonel Williams supplemented this call by directing all commanding officers of corps to bring with them a field return of their command. It was Williams’s intention to check up on the actual strength in camp.

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

covering forces to brush aside all resistance. Upon discovering the enemy on the road Armand’s Cavalry was to stand the first shock of the encounter, while the light Infantry on each flank instantly moved up and delivered a galling fire upon the enemy’s horse. Under cover of this fire Armand was expected to rout the enemy’s cavalry and drive it in disorder to the rear, “be their numbers what they may.” His orders he was to consider “as positive.”

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

Holly Tree on Fort Hill, At Rugeley’s Place. A few yards from this tree is an old well, and on the crest of the hill a brick foundation. This double tree is 32 inches across the base. It is more than a hundred years old. (March 16. 1929)

duty. Gates was much surprised at the small showing, but said to Williams, “These are enough for our purpose.” What that purpose was Williams did not know, but he supposed that it was to march and attack the enemy. Allowing for a due proportion of officers, noncommissioned officers, and others, the total strength fit for duty was about 3,700.

The camp was soon astir with feverish activity. The two days’ rest at Clermont, the accession of Stevens’s Virginians, and the movement of Sumter down the west bank of the Wateree, all these things made the Southern Army keen to close in on the foe. There was some grumbling and unfavorable comment because of the orders, but that was to be expected in so diversified a command, which had not yet acquired the solidarity that comes from success on the battle field. Colonel Armand misinterpreted or misstated the tenor of the orders for his Cavalry and took exception to its being placed in the front line of battle in the dark. As a matter of fact the commanding general’s orders for the conduct of the advance Cavalry were sound. He was not sending them into the “front line of battle in the dark”, but was calling upon them to perform their legitimate duty of reconnaissance and delaying action. It will be seen when the march of the British column is discussed that Cavalry was at its head, ready to perform the same kind of duty that was expected of Armand’s legion, which was: In case of an attack by the enemy’s Cavalry in front *** to support the shock of the enemy’s charge, but finally to rout them. Colonel Williams wrote in his narrative of the campaign:

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.

This implied criticism loses its value, as it was prompted by the outcome of the ensuing battle and not by an anterior evaluation of events and conditions. General Gates did not expect to meet any considerable body of the enemy on this march. He hoped to reach his goal on the north bank of Sanders Creek before daylight; nevertheless he wisely included in the order an injunction to the troops to be prepared to march in parallel columns, thereby facilitating deployment into line of battle, should the necessity arise.