History of the Loyalists: General Gates vs. General Cornwallis at Sanders' Creek

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History of the Loyalists: General Gates vs. General Cornwallis at Sanders' Creek
James Hannay
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HISTORY OF THE LOYALISTS GENERAL GATES VS. GENERAL CORNWALLIS AT SANDERS’ CREEK. Vigorous Fighting by Both Armies Results In a Decisive Defeat for the Americans. BY JAMES HANNAY. CHAPTER XXXIV. When the news of the affairs at Hanging Rock reached Camden, Lord Rawdon who was in command there ordered the 23rd regiment to advance, from Rugeley’s Mills to Hanging Rock. This reinforcement placed that post in security, and enabled Colonel Bryan to collect his scattered Loyalists. In the meantime General Washington had sent a considerable force of continental troops under Baron Dekalbe from New Jersey to operate in South Carolina. These troops were now approaching the frontiers of South Carolina, and had been reinforced by large bodies of militia from Virginia and North Carolina. Although Dekalbe was an officer of merit, he was a foreigner, and it was thought proper by congress to appoint an officer better known to the chief command and accordingly General Gates, who had been in command of the army which forced the surrender of Burgoyne at Saratoga, was placed at the head of the rebel armies in the south. Gates took charge of the army on the 26th of July, and found himself at the head of a force numbering upwards of 6,000 men, and in a country where the people were friendly to the rebel cause. As soon as General Gates passed the boundary of South Carolina the British detachment was recalled from Hanging Rock. Lord Rawdon afterwards took post on the west branch of Lynch’s creek, about 14 miles from Camden, with the 23rd, 33rd and 71st British regiments, the volunteers of Ireland, the North Carolina volunteers, 40 dragoons of the British legion, and four pieces of cannon. Gates with his army approached Lynch’s creek, and SOME SLIGHT SKIRMISHES took place, but Rawdon’s position was strong, and he was reinforced by the infantry of the legion and a part of Colonel Brown’s regiment of rangers which had been stationed at Rugeley’s mills. As soon as Gates entered South Carolina he issued a pompous proclamation stating that he had come to vindicate the rights of America with "a numerous well-appointed and formidable army, to compel our late triumphant and insulting foes to retreat from their most advantageous posts with precipitation and dismay." He called upon all the inhabitants of South Carolina "to join heartily in rescuing themselves and their country from the oppression of a government imposed upon them by the ruffian hand of conquest." This proclamation of Gates was quite Napoleonic in its tone, and suggests that the great master of the art of war, may have learned some valuable lessons in the use of bombastic language, by a close study of the proclamation of the American generals during the war of the revolution. Lord Cornwallis was in Charleston when Gates entered South Carolina, but on the 13th of August he joined the army under Lord Rawdon, which had fallen back from Lynch’s creek, and was concentrated near Camden. Gates, who now advanced to Rugsley’s mills, was reinforced on the 14th by 700 Virginia militia, and felt himself strong enough to detach 400 troops to Colonel Sumpter, who was directed to interrupt the communications between Charleston, Fort Ninety-six and Camden. On the evening of the 15th August, General Gates issued his orders for AN ADVANCE ON CAMDEN, the march to begin at 10 o’clock in the evening, and the order of advance being such, as to present an order of battle in case of attack. Colonel Armand, a French officer, who commanded a force of cavalry, led the advance and was ordered in the event of an attack by the British, not to give ground "be their numbers what they may." Lord Cornwall received information from three American soldiers who were captured on the 15th, that an attack upon his camp was contemplated by Gates, and although his force was very inferior to that of the enemy, resolved to anticipate it, and advance against them that evening. Thus it happened that while the American army was advancing against the British camp, in the night the British army was pressing forward to attack the Americans, leaving Major McArthur with a small body of Loyalists and militia and the weakest convalescents of the army to guard the camp. Lord Cornwallis, at 10 o'clock, set out on his march against the Americans. His whole force consisted of 2,249 officer and men, of whom 941 were British regulars and the remaining 1,308 Loyalist*. Of these Loyalist regiments, there were 303 of the volunteers of Ireland, 183 of the British legion cavalry, 126 of the British legion infantry, 269 of the North Carolina regiment, 28 pioneers, and 322 of Colonel Bryan's volunteer militia. The advance of the army of Lord Cornwallis’ was led by Lieutenant Colonel Webster with 20 of the legion cavalry, the same number of mounted infantry, 148 British light infantry, and the 93rd and 33rd regiments, numbering altogether 520 men. The CENTRE OF THE LINE OF MARCH was formed of Lord Rawdon's division, which consisted of the volunteers of Ireland, the legion infantry, Hamilton’s North Carolina volunteers, and Colonel Bryan’s volunteer militia. The reserve consisted of the 71st regiment numbering altogether 264 officers and men, and it followed the second division. Four pieces of cannon marched with the division and two with the reserve. The rear guard was composed of the dragoons of the British legion. The two armies thus advancing against each other met about 2 o’clock in the morning near Sander’s creek, end Armand's man, who had been enjoined not to give way, fled at the first fire and broke the Maryland brigade in their retreat. Both armies halted and prepared for battle, and although Gates had a superiority of nearly three to one, Lord Cornwallis was never doubtful of the result. I cannot do better in describing this battle than to quote the account of it given by Colonel Tarleton of the British legion, who was present on the field:— "When the day broke General Gates, not approving of the situation of Cassells’ and Stevens’ brigades, was proceeding to alter their position. The circumstance being observed by the British was reported to Earl Cornwallis, who instantly, in person, commanded Webster’s division to advance, and dispatched the same order by an aide camp to Lord Rawdon on the left. action became immediately general along the front, and was contested on the left, and in the center, with great firmness and bravery. General Gist preserved perfect order in his brigade. The morning being hazy the smoke hung over and engulfed both armies in such a cloud that it was difficult to see or estimate the destruction on either side. Notwithstanding the resistance it was evident THE BRITISH MOVED FORWARD, the light infantry and the 23rd regiment being opposed only by militia, who were somewhat deranged by Gen. Gates’ intended alteration first broke the enemy’s front line, which advantage they judiciously followed, not by pursuing the fugitives but by wheeling on the left flank of the Continentals who were abandoned by their militia. The contest was yet supported by the Maryland brigades and the Deleware regiment, when a part of the British cavalry under Major Hanger was ordered to charge their flank, while Lieut. Col. Tarleton with the remainder of his regiment completed their confusion. Baron Dekalbe on the right of the Americans, being still ignorant of the flight of their left wing and center, owing to the thickness of the air, MADE A VIGOROUS CHARGE with a regiment of Continental infantry through the left division of the British, and when wounded and taken would scarcely believe that General Gates was defeated. After this last effort of the Continentals rout and slaughter ensued in every quarter. Brigadier General Gist moved off with about 100 Continentals in a body, by wading through a swamp on the right of the American position where the British cavalry could not fellow. This was the only part that retreated in a compact state from the field of battle. The continentals, the state troops and the militia abandoned their arms, their colors and their cannons to seek protection in flight or obtain it from the clemency of the conquerors. . . . In a pursuit of 22 miles, many prisoners of all ranks, 20 ammunition wagons, 150 carriages containing the baggage, stores and camp equipage of the American army, fell into the hands of the victors. In the action, the killed, wounded and missing of the King’s troops amounted to 324, officers included. The destruction fell principally upon the center, owing to the well-directed fire of the Continentals and the execution done by the American artillery. The Americans lost 70 officers, 2,000 men killed, wounded and prisoners, eight pieces of cannon, several colors and all their carriages and wagons containing the stores, ammunition and baggage of the whole army.