History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution/Chapter XIX
After the misfortune and suspension of General Gates, immediate steps were taken by Congress and the commander in chief to restore the reputation of the American arms, to check the progress of the British, and defeat their sanguine hopes of speedily subduing the southern colonies. Major General Greene was ordered on to take the command in that quarter. He arrived about the middle of autumn, 1780, at the headquarters of General Gates; soon after which, everything seemed to wear a more favorable appearance, with regard to military arrangements and operations in the American army.
General Gates surrendered the command with a dignity and firmness becoming his own character, conscious that his disappointment and defeat did not originate in any want of courage or generalship, but from the unavoidable and complicated difficulties of existing circumstances. General Greene succeeded him, received the charge of the army, and took leave of General Gates, with a delicacy and propriety that evinced the high respect he felt for his predecessor.
All the prudence and magnanimity, valor and humanity that adorned the character of General Greene were necessary in the choice of difficulties that attended his new command. He had succeeded a brae, but unfortunate officer whose troops were intimidated by recent defeat, dispirited by their naked and destitute situation, in a country unable to yield sufficient subsistence for one army and which had for several months been ravaged by two.
Lord Cornwallis's army was much superior in number and discipline, his troops were well clothed and regularly paid, and when General Greene first arrived, they were flushed by recent successes, particularly the defeat of General Gates. It is true, the death of Major Ferguson and the route of his party was a serious disappointment, but not of sufficient consequence to check the designs and expectations of a British army commanded by officers of the first military experience.
The inhabitants of the country were indeed divided in opinion; bitter, rancorous, and cruel, and many of them without any fixed political principles. Fluctuating and unstable, sometimes they were the partisans of Britain, and huzzaed for royalty; at others, they were the militia of the state in continental service, and professed themselves zealots for American independence. But General Greene, with remarkable coolness and intrepidity checked their licentious conduct and punished desertion and treachery by necessary examples of severity; and thus in a short time, he established a more regular discipline.
Skirmishing parties pervaded all parts of the country. No one was more active and busy in these scenes than the vigilant Tarleton. An affray took place in the month of November between him and General Sumpter. After victory had several times seemed to change sides, the continental troops won the field without much loss. General Sumpter was wounded, but not dangerously. The British lost in wounded and killed, near 200.
The British troops had yet met with no check, which had in any degree damped their ardor, except the defeat of Major Ferguson. The most important movement which took place for some time after this affair was an action between General Morgan on the one part, and Colonel Tarleton on the other, in the month of January, 1781. General Morgan was an early volunteer in the American warfare. He had marched from Virginia to Cambridge at the head of a body of riflemen to the aid of General Washington in 1775. He continued to stand ready to enter on the post of danger in any part of the continent where the defense of his country required the assistance of the most valorous leaders. General Greene, convinced that no man could more effectually execute any command with which he was entrusted, ordered General Morgan, with considerable force, to march to the western parts of South Carolina.
Lord Cornwallis, having gained intelligence of this movement, dispatch Colonel Tarleton in pursuit of General Morgan. In a few days, they met near the River Pacolet. General Morgan had reason to expect, from the rapid advance of Colonel Tarleton, that a meeting would have taken place sooner; but by various maneuvers he kept his troops at a distance, until a moment of advantage might present for acting with decided success. The Americans had rather kept up the appearance of retreat until they reached a spot called Cow-pens. Fortunately for them, Tarleton came up, and a resolute engagement ensured. When, after a short conflict, to the great joy of the Americans, the British were routed, and totally defeated.
Colonel Tarleton, as one of the most resolute and active of the British partisans, was particularly selected by Lord Cornwallis and ordered to march with 1100 men to watch the motions of Morgan, impeded his designs, and keep in awe the district of Ninety-Six, toward which he found a detachment of the American army was moving. The unexpected defeat of Tarleton for a time threw him into the background in the opinion of many of the British officers; nor was Lord Cornwallis himself much better satisfied with this conduct. [Sir Henry Clinton observed afterwards, "that the unfortunate action at the Cow-pens diminished Lord Cornwallis's army nearly one fourth." If this was true, it must have been by desertion, or by a sudden defection of the inhabitants of the state, who had previously aided him.]
The name of Tarleton and his successes had so long been the terror of one side and the triumph of the other that neither had calculated on a derangement or defeat of his projects. But 300 of his men killed in the action at Cow-pens, 500 captured and himself obliged to fly with precipitation convinced the people that he was no longer invincible. The militia of the country were inspirited, and many of them flocked to the American standard who had heretofore been too much intimidated to rally around it.
Colonel Tarleton was severely censured by the British officers for suffering himself to be defeated with this advantages of discipline, numbers, and everything else that in all human probability might have insured him victory. They did not tax him with a want of personal bravery; but some of them would not allow that he had talents for anything superior to the requisites for "a captain of dragoons who might skirmish and defeat in detail." However, he had certainly been considered by most of them in a higher point of view before this misfortune. But his flight and the loss of his light troops left a tarnish on his military character that could not be easily wiped off or forgiven. This loss of these light troops, so peculiarly necessary in the present service, as felt through all the succeeding campaign. But Tarleton soon recovered himself and returned from his flight. He appeared within a day or two, not far from the ground from which he had been beaten, and resumed his usual boldness and barbarity.
Tarleton's defeat was a blow entirely unexpected to Lord Cornwallis, and induced him to march himself from Wynnesborough to the Yadkin, in pursuit of General Morgan, with the hope of overtaking him and recovering the prisoners. The British troops endured this long and fatiguing march under every species of difficulty, over rivers, swamps, marshes, and creeks, with uncommon resolution and patience. What greatly enhanced their hardships and inconveniences, the path of their route was, a Lord Cornwallis expressed it, "though one of the most rebellious tracts in America."
General Greene, in hearing that His Lordship was in pursuit of Morgan, left his post near the Pedee under the command of General Huger, and, with great celerity, marched with a small party of friends and domestics 150 miles and joined General Morgan before Lord Cornwallis arrived at the Catawba. In the pursuit, Lord Cornwallis cut off some of the small detachments, not in sufficient force for effectual opposition. It is true, General Davidson made an unsuccessful stand on the banks of the Catawba, with 300 or 400 men; but the British, fording the river unexpectedly, he was himself killed, and his troops dispersed; and the crossing the river by the British army was no farther impeded.
General Greene had ordered the Colonels Huger and Williams, whom he had left some days before at the Pedee, to join him with their troops. However, it as but a very short time after this junction, before General Greene had the highest reason to conclude that the safety of his troops lay only in retreat. Nor was this accomplished but with the utmost difficulty, as the way he was obliged to traverse was frequently interrupted by steep ascents and unfordable rivers. But he remarkably escaped a pursuing and powerful army, whose progress was, fortunately for the Americans, checked by the same impediments, and at much less favorable moments of arrival. Though we do not assert a miracle was wrought on the occasion, it is certain from good authority, [See General Greene's own letters, and the letters of other officers.] that the freshets swelled and retarded the passage of the British, while they seemed at times, to suspend their rapidity in favor to the Americans; and the piety of General Greene in several of his letters, attributed his remarkable escape and the protection of his little army to the intervention of a superintending Providence.
Thus after a flight and chase of 15 or 20 days, supported by the most determined spirit and perseverance on both sides, General Greene reached Guilford about the middle of February, where he ordered all the troops he had left near the Pedee, under officers on whom he could depend, to repair immediately to him.
Lord Cornwallis at or near the same time took post at Hillsborough and there erected the royal standard. General Leslie had, according to orders, left Virginia and marched further south. He had arrived at Charleston about the middle of December. He, without delay, marched with 1500 men, and soon overtook and joined Lord Cornwallis, in the extreme part of the sate. He had found the British commander immersed in cares, perplexity, and fatigue, endeavoring with all his ability to restore by force the authority of his master, among a people, the majority of whom, he soon found to his mortification, were totally averse to the government and authority of Great Britain. General Leslie continued with him until some time after the Battle of Guilford, and by his bravery and activity was essentially serviceable to the royal cause.
At Hillsborough, Lord Cornwallis, by proclamation, called on all the faithful votaries to the Crown of Britain to repair immediately to his camp with ten days provisions to assist in the full restoration of constitutional government. Numbers from all parts of the country listened anew to the invitations and threatenings of the British commander and moved, with all possible dispatch, towards his camp. But many of them fell on their way, by the fatal mistake of misapprehending the characters and connections of the partisans about them. It must be extremely difficult in a country rent in sunder by civil feuds and in arms under different leaders of parties opposed to each other to know at once in the hurry and confusion of crossing and recrossing to join their friends, whether they were not encircled by their enemies.
Tarleton himself had sometimes mistaken his own partisans for the friends of Congress. Thus many of the royalists, as they were hastening to take protection under the banners of their King, were cut down by the same hand that spread slaughter and desolation among the opposers of the Monarch. Many unfortunate victims of the sword drew destruction upon themselves by similar mistakes. An instance of this, among others shocking to the feelings of humanity, was the massacre of 300 or 400 of this description of persons headed by a Colonel Pyles. They accidentally fell in the way of a continental detachment, commanded by General Pickens. The royalists, mistaking the republicans for Tarleton and his party, whom Pickens was pursuing, they acknowledge themselves as subjects of the Crown, made a merit of their advance, and called on Colonel Tarleton as their leader; nor were they undeceived but by the blow that deprived them of life. It is indeed to be much lamented that they were treated with as little mercy, and all cut down with equal cruelty, to any that had been experienced by the Americans from the most remorseless of their foes.
While in this state of confusion and depredation through the whole country, General Greene and Lord Cornwallis lay at no great distance from each other; but Greene kept his position as much as possible concealed, as he was not yet in a situation to venture a decisive action; and though he was obliged to move earlier towards the British encampment, no engagement took place until about the middle of March. In the mean time, by his ability and address, he eluded the vigilance of his enemies and kept himself secure by a continual change of posts, until strengthened by fresh reinforcements of the North Carolina and Virginia militia. The few continental troops he had with him, joined by these, and a number of volunteers from the interior mountainous tracts of the western wilderness induced him to think he might risk a general action.
On March 15, the two armies met at Guilford and seemed, at first, to engage with equal ardor; but, as usual, the raw militia were intimidated by the valor and discipline of the British veterans. Almost the whole corps of Carolinians threw down their arms and fled, many of them without even once discharging their firelocks. This, of course, deranged the American army; yet they supported the action with great spirit and bravery for an hour and a half, when they were entirely broken, and obliged to retreat with the utmost precipitation. Both armies suffered much by the loss of many gallant officers and a considerable number of men.
Lord Cornwallis kept the field and claimed a complete victory; but the subsequent transactions discovered that the balance of real advantage lay on the other side. His Lordship, immediately after the action at Guilford, proclaimed pardon and protection to all the inhabitants of the country on proper submission; yet at the same time, he found it necessary to quit his present ground. He had previously taken the determination, to try the success of British arms in North Carolina and Virginia. He formed this resolution early; and would have prosecuted it immediately after Ferguson's defeat, in October, 1778, had he not been detained by sickness. After his recovery, he pursued the design; and for this purpose had ordered General Leslie to leave Virginia, who (as has been observed) joined him with a large detachment of troops, about mid-winter. His Lordship, however, thought proper still to postpone his original design, with the hope of bringing General Greene to a decided action, and thereby more firmly uniting the inhabitants of the country to the royal cause.
After the action at Guilford, and the dispersion of the American troops, Lord Cornwallis found it difficult to procure forage and provisions sufficient for the subsistence of his army. He left the late field of action, and moved onwards a few miles, an halted at Bell's Mills, where he stayed two days, and gave the troops a small supply of provisions. From thence, he moved slowly, on account of his sick and wounded, to Cross Creek.
It appears by his own letter to Lord George Germaine that he had intended to continue thereabouts for some short time; but a variety of disappointments that occurred induced him to alter his resolution. In this letter, he observes, "From all my information, I intended to have halted at Cross Creek as a proper place to refresh and refit the troops; and I was much disappointed on my arrival there to find it totally impossible. Provisions were scarce; not four days forage within 20 miles; and to us, the navigation of the Cape Fear River to Wilmington impracticable, for the distance by water if upwards of 100 miles. Under these circumstances, I was obliged to continue my march to this place." [See Earl Cornwallis's letter to Lord George Germaine, dated Wilmington, April 18, 1781.]
Lord Cornwallis, having decamped from the neighborhood of his late military operations, marched with all possible expedition toward the more eastern parts of North Carolina. He found many difficulties on his way, but pursued his route with great perseverance, as did his army. They cheerfully sustained the severest fatigue; but as they had frequently done before, they marked their way with the slaughter of the active, and the blood of the innocent inhabitants, through a territory of many hundred miles in extend from Charleston to Yorktown. It was afterwards computed that 1400 widows were made during the year's campaign, only in the single district of Ninety-Six. [General Green's letters authenticate this fact.]
After the defeat at Guilford, General Greene availed himself of his religious opinions to obtain relief and assistance from the neighboring country. He had been educated in the Quaker denomination of Christians, but not too scrupulously attached to their tenets to take arms in defense of American liberty. The inhabitants in the vicinity of both armies generally belonged to that sect. In the distress of the retreating army, he called them out to exercises of that benevolence and charity of which they make the highest professions. He wrote and reminded them that though they could not conscientiously, consistently with the principles they professed, gird on the sword for the usual operations of war, yet nothing could excuse them from the exercise of compassion and assistance to the sick and wounded; to this they were exhorted by their principles; and an ample field was now displayed to evince their sincerity by every charitable act.
His letters were more influential on this mild and unoffending body of people than the proclamations of Lord Cornwallis. They united to take care of the sick, to dress the wounded, and make collections of provisions for the relief of the flying army. This was a very essential advantage to General Greene, whose confidence in the simplicity and kindness of this body of people relieved him from any anxiety and embarrassment, relative to the sick and wounded he was obliged to leave behind.
Their example probably had an influence on others of different denominations and indeed on most of the people in the circumjacent villages, whom we shall soon see quitting the royal standard and following the fortune of the routed commander and his army, notwithstanding the high hopes which had been entertained for a short time by the British that this defeat would put an end to any other effective operations of the rebel General Greene, as they style him in their letters.
In consequence of the action of Guilford, General Greene had to lament the loss of several valuable officers, among whom were the Generals Stephens and Huger, dangerously wounded. But those who were faithful to the service, on principles of supporting the general liberties of their country, lost no part of their vigor or fortitude under the sharpest disappointments and misfortunes, but raised anew and set their hardy faces against the most adverse circumstances that might arise in the dangerous and uncertain conflict.
This, General Greene attested in all his letters. Yet the ignorance of the people in general, the little knowledge they had of the principles of the contest, the want of stable principles of any kind among the generality of the inhabitants, rendered dependence on their fidelity very uncertain, on both sides, the question, and put it beyond the calculation on events, as neither the British nor American commanders could make an accurate statement of the numbers from day to day that belonged to their own army. Self-preservation often led both parties to deception; and the danger of the moment sometimes more than the turpitude of the heart prompted them to act under disguise.
The letters and accounts of all the general officers on both sides of the question portray these difficulties in a style and manner more descriptive than can be done by anyone who did not feel he complicated miseries which involved both armies and the inhabitants of the Carolinas at this period. To them, the reader is referred, while we yet follow the American commander through perplexity, embarrassment, and fatigue, too complex for description.
After the defeat of Guilford, General Greene was far from being discouraged or intimidated by the victorious triumph of his enemies. He retreated with a steady step and retired only ten or fifteen miles from the scene of the late action. He had every reason to expect a second rencounter with the British army, who boasted that their victory was complete, though it was acknowledged by Lord Cornwallis that the action at Guilford was the bloodiest that had taken place during the war. [See Lord Cornwallis's letter to Sir Henry Clinton in Clinton's Narrative, p. 9.] Yet when Lord Cornwallis withdrew from the late scene of action, it did not appear so much the result of a systematic design of an able general, as it did that of the retreat of a conquered army.
This, with other circumstances, induced General Greene, after he had collected most of his scattered troops, to follow His Lordship rather than to fly further. The inhabitants of the country (singular as it may appear) from this time more generally flocked to the camp of the defeated than to that of the conquering general. A more thorough disaffection to British government hourly appeared and a more impressive alarm from the apprehensions of subjugation seemed to discover itself from the day of the retreat at Guilford. Number from all quarters came forward; and General Greene soon found himself in a situation to pursue in his turn.
He accordingly followed the British army through cross roads and difficult paths for about ten days; when finding His Lordship declined meeting him again and that by the rapidity of his movements their distance widened, General Greene thought it best to halt and not further attempt to impede the route of the British commander toward Wilmington; and prepared himself to prosecute his previous design of relieving the sate of South Carolina, without further delay.
Within a few days, he began his march toward Camden, the headquarters of Lord Rawdon, on whom the command had devolved and who was there encamped with only 900 men. General Greene's approach was rather unexpected to Rawdon; but by a sudden and judicious advance, he fell on the Americans before they were in readiness for his reception. Notwithstanding this sudden attack, which took place on April 25, General Greene, always cool and collected, sustained a severe conflict with his usual intrepidity; but was again obliged to retreat, thought his numbers were superior. Yet he observed about this time that he was not so amply supported as he might have expected by aids from Virginia, Maryland, or elsewhere; and that in North Carolina such was the fluctuation of opinion, the operation of fear, and a too general want of principle that he could not place the strongest confidence in many who accompanied him.
Lord Rawdon attempted soon after to bring General Greene to a second engagement; but he too well understood the advantages he might gain by declining it. The consequences justified his conduct; as Lord Rawdon, in a few days after the action at Camden, burnt many of the mills, adjacent private houses, and other buildings, and evacuated the post and moved toward Charleston, where he judged his presence was more immediately necessary. This sudden evacuation of Camden inspirited the Continentals and inspired them with a dangerous enthusiasm that for a time could not be resisted. The banks of the rivers and the country were scourged by various partisans, in pursuit of forage and provisions, which were generally secured by the Americans, after skirmishing and fighting their way through small parties of the enemy, too weak for successful opposition.
Sumpter, Marion, and other leaders, General Greene observed "have people who adhere to them and appear closely attached; yet, perhaps more from a desire and the opportunity of plundering than from an inclination to promote the independence of the United States." General Greene was attached and supported by many brave, humane, and valiant officers in his peregrinations through the Carolinas, but their followers were generally licentious beyond description. This sometimes impelled him to severities that wounded the feeling of the man, though necessary in the discipline of an army.
A detail of all the smaller rencounters that took place in this hostile period in both the Carolinas, might fatigue more than it would gratify the humane or inquisitive mind. It is enough to observe that the Americans, under various leaders and some capital commanders were continually attacking, with alternate success and defeat, the chain of British posts planted from Camden to Ninety-Six; and as General Greene himself expressed his sentiments in their embarrassed situation, "We fight, get beaten, rise, and fight again: the whole country is one continued scene of slaughter an blood. This country may struggle a little longer; but unless they have more effectual support, they must fall." [General Greene's letter to the Chevalier de la Luzerne.]
It is to be lamented that very many in this day of general distress suffered themselves to be governed either by vindictive passions or their feelings of resentment for personal injuries. Many took advantage of public confusion to gratify, if not to justify, their own private revenge, a stronger stimulus with some, than any public or political principle. Besides these, there were numbers who seemed to enlist under the banners of liberty with no views but those of rapine, assassination, and robbery; and after they had for a time rioted in the indulgence of those infernal passions, they frequently deserted and repaired to the British camp and renewed each scene of villainy against the party they had just left. They were indeed well calculated to become instruments in the hands of the British officers, to perpetrate the cruelties they were too much disposed to inflict on the steady adherents to the American cause. Thus, whether they pretended to be the partisans of the one side or the other, rapacity and violence raged among a fierce people, little accustomed to the restraints of law and subordination.
The manners of the mountaineers and borderers of the Carolinas, exemplified too strongly the native ferocity of man. Though descended from civilized ancestors, it cannot be denied that when for a length of time, a people have been used to the modes of savage life common to the rude stages of society, not feeling themselves restrained by penal laws, nor under the influence of reason or religion, nor yet impressed by apprehensions of disgrace, they sink into the habits of savages, and appear scarce a grade above the brutal race. Thus it required a very severe military discipline to reduce to order the rude peasantry that poured down from the mountains and collected from the most rough, uncultivated parts of the country.
Dissension, mutiny, robbery, and murder spread to an alarming degree. There were too many instances of villainy and barbarity to render it necessary to adduce more than a single fact, that may convey an idea of the hazard of life without the risk of battle. We mention therefore only the death of a Colonel Grierson, a distinguished loyalist, because this circumstance is particularly noticed by the commanders of both armies. This gentleman was shot by an unknown hand, after he had surrendered his arms to the Americans. Great exertion was made to discover the perpetrator of this cruel deed. General Greene offered a reward of 100 guineas for the detection of the murderer, but without effect. Private assassination had become too familiar a crime in that hostile country for the perpetrators to betray each other.
Perhaps few officers could have extricated themselves and recovered from the unforeseen embarrassments that attended him through the southern campaign with the facility, judgment, and perseverance that marked the conduct of the American commander in the Carolinas. His mind was replete with resources in the greatest difficulties, and his resolution equal to the severest enterprise. While the humanity of his disposition led him to soften as much as possible the horrors of war, the placidity of his manners engaged the affections of his friends and the esteem and respect of his enemies. Yet he was obliged to make some severe examples of atrocious characters and to punish by death several who were detected under the description of deserters and assassins.
After the action at Camden, Marion, Peckens, and Lee, with their partisans, attacked and carried a number of small forts in the district of Ninety-Six, with little or no effectual opposition, until they crossed the Santee, and attacked Fort Cornwallis, commanded by Colonel Brown, who defended it with great spirit and gallantry. As the Americans approached, the British garrison, for their own better security, nearly covered themselves under ground. They obstinately refused to surrender until every man who attempted to fire on the besiegers was instantly shot down; but after a siege of 12 or 14 days, the fort, with about 300 men, was surrendered by capitulation.
Brown had been so barbarous and ferocious as a partisan that he was hourly apprehensive of meeting with summary vengeance from the hands of some of those who had suffered, either in their persons or their friends. Many he had murdered in cold blood; others he had cruelly delivered into the hands of the savages to suffer longer torture. But the victor, feeling compassion for individual suffering, sent him under an escort for this better security, to Savannah. Without this indulgence, he must have fallen an immediate sacrifice, as he had to pass through the long tract of country where he had been active in perpetrating the severest cruelties, accompanied by a number of loyalists, between whom and the adherents to the American cause, there raged such an infernal spirit of bitterness that extermination seemed be equally the wish of both parties.
The leaders of the American partisans were frequently checked by the humane advice of General Greene. He exhorted them that it was more their duty by their lenity to induce those in opposition to unite with them in supporting the cause of freedom than it was to aim at their extermination. In a letter to Pickens he observed that "the principles of humanity as well as policy required that proper measures should be immediately taken to restrain abuses, heal differences and unite the people as much as possible."
While these desultory excursions were kept up, General Greene was endeavoring to concentrate his forces for the prosecution of more important objects. Many occurrences had redounded much to his honor, though some of them were unfortunate. But his misfortunes did not impair his military reputation; nor was his courage or ability called in question on his assault on Ninety-Six, though it did not terminate agreeably to his hopes. The garrison as defended with the greatest spirit and ability by Lieutenant Colonel Cruger. They sustained a siege with almost unexampled bravery, from May 24 to June 18.
Notwithstanding the valor of the British troops and the fortitude of their commander, they were reduced to the point of surrender, when by the address of an American lady, prompted by a laudable affection for her husband, a British officer within the garrison, she found means to convey a letter to Colonel Cruger, with the pleasing intelligence that if they could hold out a short time longer, their deliverance might be certain; that reinforcements were at hand; that Lord Rawdon was marching to their relief with 2000 fresh troops who had arrived within seven days from Ireland.
It was happy for General Greene that he obtained early information that this strong body was on their way and was hourly expected by his antagonists; but it was very affecting to the feelings of honor, patriotism, or pride to find himself obliged to raise the siege, almost in the moment of victory, and to retreat with precipitation from a spot where but a day before he had reason to flatter himself he should reap the laurels of conquest. This unexpected turn of affairs was truly distressing to the American commander. It was painful and humiliating to be compelled again to fly before a pursuing enemy, to the extreme parts of a country he had recently trodden over with so much fatigue and peril.
Some of his associates were so much disheartened by the untoward circumstances of the campaign that they advised him to fly from Carolina and to endeavor to save himself and the remainder of his troops by retreating to Virginia. To this advice, General Greene replied in the laconic style of the Spartan, with the spirit of a Roman, and the enthusiasm of an American, "I will recover this country or perish in the attempt." His subsequent conduct and success justified his noble resolution. He soon collected the militia from the distant parts of the state, called in his detachments, and inspirited his troops so far as to recover his usual confidence in them. This encouraged him to offer battle to Lord Rawdon on July 12.
His Lordship, strongly posted at Orangeburg, and strengthened by additional troops from several quarters, declined the challenge. This was not because he did not think himself in sufficient force to accept it. He had previously determined to return to Charleston as soon as circumstances would permit. His presence was there necessary, not only on account of military arrangements, but from the confusion and disorder of civil affairs, the animosities of the citizens of different descriptions, the insolence of the loyalists, and the complaints of those who had been compelled to a temporary submission.
When Lord Rawdon withdrew from Orangeburg, he left a sufficient number of troops for its defense; and making due arrangements for the security of other posts, he hastened to Charleston. On this, General Greene detached a part of his own army to march towards the capital, and returned himself with the remainder and took post on the heights near the Santee. From thence, he continually harassed the British by small parties, who alternately returned these aggressions. Skirmish and defeat, plunder, slaughter, and devastation were everywhere displayed, from the extremity of the country to the environs of the city. Several weeks elapsed before the operations of either army were more concentrated.
While the military operations against the Americans were vigorously pursued without, the devoted city of Charleston suffered misery beyond description within. Severity, cruelty, and despair raged for a time without check or control. A single instance of inhumanity, in the sacrifice of one of the victims of their resentment will be sufficient to evince the rigor and impolicy of British measures. The execution of Colonel Hayne will leave a stain on the character of Lord Rawdon, without exhibiting any other proofs of barbarous severity.
This gentleman had been a distinguished and very active officer in the American service previous to the subjugation of Charleston. When this event took place, he found himself called to a separation from his family, a dereliction of his property, and submission to the conqueror. In this situation, he thought it his duty to become a voluntary prisoner, and take his parole. On surrendering himself, he offered to engage and stand bound on the principles of honor to do nothing prejudicial to the British interest until he was exchanged; but his abilities and his services were of such consideration to this country that he was refused a parole and told he must become a British subject or submit to close confinement.
His family was then in a distant part of the country and in great distress by sickness and from the ravages of the loyalists in their neighborhood. Thus he seemed impelled to acknowledge himself a subject of a government he had relinquished from the purest principles, or renounce his tenderest connections and leave them without a possibility of his assistance, and at a moment when he hourly expected to hear of the death of an affectionate wife, ill of the small pox.
In this state of anxiety, he subscribed a declaration of his allegiance to the King of Great Britain, with this express exception, that he should never be required to take arms against his country. Notwithstanding this, he was soon and repeatedly called upon to arm in support of a government he detested or to submit to the severest punishment. Brigadier General Patterson, commandant of the garrison and the intendant of the British police, a Mr. Simpson, had both assured Colonel Hayne that no such thing would be required; and added "that when the royal army could not defend a country without the aid of its inhabitants, it would be time to quit it." [See a representation of Colonel Hayne's case laid before Congress after his death.]
Colonel Hayne considered a requisition to act in British service after assurances that this would never be required, as a breach of contract, and a release in the eye of conscience from any obligation on his part. Accordingly, he took the first opportunity of resuming his arms as an American, assumed the command of his own regiment; and all fond of their former commander, Colonel Hayne marched with a defensible body to the relief of his countrymen, then endeavoring to drive the British partisans and keep them within the environs of Charleston. He very unfortunately, in a short time, fell into the hands of a strong British party, sent out for the recovery of a favorite officer, [This was a General Williamson, captured within seven miles of the city, by a small reconnoitering party sent out by Colonel Hayne.] who had left the American cause and become a devotee to British government.
As soon as Colonel Hayne was captured, he was closely imprisoned. This was on July 26. He was notified the same day that a court of officers would assemble the next day to determine in what point of view he ought to be considered. On the 29th, he was informed that in consequence of a court of inquiry held the day before, Lord Rawdon and Lieutenant Colonel Balfour had resolved upon his execution within two days.
His astonishment at these summary and illegal proceedings can scarcely be conceived. He wrote Lord Rawdon that he had no intimation of anything more than a court of inquiry to determine whether he should be considered as an American or a British subject. If the first, he ought to be set at liberty on parole. If the last, he claimed a legal trial. He assured his Lordship that on a trial he had many things to urge in his defense; reasons that would be weighty in a court of equity; and concluded his letter with observing, "If, sir, I am refused this favor, which I cannot conceive from your justice or humanity, I earnestly entreat that my execution may be deferred; that I may at least take a last farewell of my children, and prepare for the solemn change." [See a more full account of the treatment of Colonel Hayne in his own papers, afterwards presented to Congress.]
But his death predetermined, his enemies were deaf to the voice of compassion. The execution of his sentence was hastened, though the reputation and merits of this gentleman were such that the whole city was zealous for his reservation. Not only the inhabitants in opposition to British government, but even Lieutenant Governor Bull, at the head of the royalists, interceded for his life. The principal lades of Charleston endeavored, by their compassionate interference, to arrest or influence the relentless hand of power. They drew up and presented to Lord Rawdon a delicate and pathetic petition in his behalf. His near relations, and this children, who had just performed the funeral rites over the grave of a tender mother, appeared on their bended knees to implore the life of their father. But in spite of the supplications of children and friends, strangers and foes, the flinty heart of Lord Rawdon remained untouched, amid these scenes of sensibility and distress. No amelioration of the sentence could be obtained. And this affectionate father took a final leave of his children in a manner that pierced the souls of the beholders. To the eldest of them, a youth of but 13 years of age, he delivered a transcript of his case, directed him to convey it to Congress, and ordered him to see that his father's remains were deposited in the tomb of his ancestors.
Pinioned like a criminal, this worthy citizen walked with composure through crowds of admiring spectators, with the dignity of a philosopher, and the intrepidity of the Christian. He suffered as a hero, and was hanged as a felon, amid the tears of the multitude, and the curses of thousands, who execrated the perpetrators of this cruel deed.
Soon after this transaction, Lord Rawdon, on account of the broken state of his health, obtained leave to repair to England. Captured on his passage by the Count de Graffe, he was detained a short time. But soon after his arrival on the shores of Great Britain, his singular treatment of Colonel Hayne was the topic of every conversation; and it was proved to have been so pointedly severe as to be thought worthy of parliamentary discussion. The strictures of the Duke of Richmond thereon were pointed with severity. He thought the dignity and humanity of the nation called loudly for a court of inquiry on high-handed executions, without trial, or any opportunity given for legal defense.
This motion, however, was productive of no consequences, except the ebullitions of Lord Rawdon's resentment; who, it was observed, conducted more with the violence of a soldier of untutored manners that with the urbanity or politeness of the gentleman. He wrote to the noble Duke in high and offensive language, little if anything short of a direct challenge; but His Grace did not deign to think himself accountable to an individual for defending the principles of equity and the cause of the injured, in the freedom of parliamentary debate and investigation.
After Lord Rawdon had taken leave of America, and embarked for England, the command of the British army in Charleston devolved on Colonel Balfour. This officer, though a brave man, as not distinguished for his humanity; nor did he seem more disposed, on a new acquisition of power, to soften the rigors of war than his predecessors in command.
It had, previous to the present period, appeared by the letters of Colonel Balfour, that his apprehensions relative to the southern campaign and the termination of the war had been clouded to a considerable degree. He had written to Sir Henry Clinton on May 6 that "their situation was exceedingly distressing and dreadful, notwithstanding Lord Rawdon' brilliant successes; that the enemy's parties were everywhere; that the communication with Savannah by land as everywhere cut off; that the Colonels Brown, Cruger, and others, at different important posts, were in the most critical situation." He added in the same letter, "Indeed I should betray the duty I owe Your Excellency, did I not represent the defection of this province so universal, that I know of no mode, short of depopulation, to retain it. The spirit of revolt is kept up by the many officers, prisoners of war. I should therefore think it advisable to remove them, a well a to make some striking examples of such as had been protections, yet snatch every occasion to rise in arms against us."
Whether Colonel Balfour wished to be the executioner of this cruel policy or not, he justified it in his answer to General Greene, who demanded the reason of Hayne's execution. Balfour replied that it took place by the joint orders of Lord Rawdon and himself, in consequence of Lord Cornwallis's directions, to put every man to death who might be found in arms, if he had been received as a subject of Great Britain, after the capitulation of Charleston in 1780.
General Greene threatened retaliation; but his humanity led him to the suspension of such severities, though he felt wounded at the treatment of a person of such real merit as Colonel Hayne, and the premature stroke that robbed his country and his family of this brave, unfortunate man. He pointedly criminated the authors of his death, as acting an unjust, inhumane, and an illegal part. In a letter to Colonel Balfour, he observed that he was happy for the honor of Colonel Hayne that nothing could be found against him to warrant his execution, but "the order of Lord Cornwallis, given in the hour of victory, when he considered the lives, liberties, and property of the people prostrate at his feet. But I confess I cannot repress my astonishment that you and Lord Rawdon should give such an extraordinary example of severity on the authority of that order, under such a change of circumstances, so long after it had been remonstrated against by myself in a letter to Lord Cornwallis. In informed His Lordship that his orders were cruel and unprecedented; and that he might expect retaliation from the friends of the unfortunate." [General Greene's letters to Lord Cornwallis and Colonel Balfour, in his dispatches to Congress at the time.]
Indeed it was the universal voice that the conduct of Rawdon and Balfour in this affair could be justified by no law, civil or military, and was totally repugnant to the spirit of humanity or to divine injunctions. General Greene declared in the most solemn manner that he had never authorized or countenanced executions on such principles; that he had done all in his power to soften resentment, to conciliate the inhabitants of different descriptions, and to prevent as much as possible all private assassinations which had too frequently taken place in spite of discipline or humanity; and that he sanctioned no public executions, but for the crimes of desertion and murder; crimes which by no construction could be charged on Colonel Hayne.
But the death of this worthy man, the victim of resentment, was not avenged by retaliation, as threatened. It was postponed from the humanity and generosity of the American commander, as well as from the uncertainty of all human events, and the impossibility of calculating from the changes of war, which party might be the greatest sufferers, by a determined spirit of retaliation and execution on both sides.
Fierce rencounters were still kept up between the British detachments posted on advantageous heights, and on the banks of deep and unfordable rivers which intersected each other, and the hardy chieftains who led the Carolinian bands, over mountains, declivities, swamps, and rivers, to the vicinity of the city. Thence they were often obliged to retreat back from the borders of civilization and softer habitations, again to seek safety in the dreary wilderness, to which they were pursued by their enemies, who were sometimes repelled, at other successful in cutting off the little parties of Americans; until the British, wearied of the mutual interchange of hostilities without decision, drew in their cantonments, and took post about the beginning of September, at the Eutaw Springs, which were situated a the distance of only 50 miles from Charleston.
General Greene had, when near the waters of the Congaree, while they were separated at the distance of only 15 miles, attempted to bring them to a closer engagement; but there appeared at that time no inclination in the British to meet him. He found they were about to take a new position. This induced him to follow them by a circuitous march of 70 or 80 miles. Desultory skirmishes continued during the month of August; but on September 8, General Greene again renewed his challenge, fought and obtained an advantage that was an over-balance for the many successless rencounters that had long kept the public mind in suspense and apprehension, and Green's army in such a continual fluctuation that there was no calculating its numbers or its strength from day to day.
General Greene advanced to the Springs, where the main body of the British troops were collected. He had with him about 2000 men; but these were commanded by some of the best officers. They attacked and routed the British encampment. The action was severe. Great numbers of the British officers and soldiers were either slain or captured. Yet the Americans suffered so much that Colonel Stuart, the British commander, claimed the advantage. Indeed, General Greene suffered the loss of many brave soldiers, and some very valuable officers. A Colonel Campbell of Virginia fell toward the termination of the action, and had time after the mortal wound only to observe that "as the British fled, he died contented."
Colonel Stuart wrote Sir Henry Clinton a detail of the affair, in the pompous style of victory; but notwithstanding, he arrogated so much on the occasion, the action at the Eutaw Springs put a period to all farther offensive operation in that quarter. And the British troops after this seldom ventured far beyond the boundaries of Charleston. Besides the numbers slain in this action, 400 or 500 of the British troops were made prisoners of war. The Americans suffered equally, and perhaps in greater proportion tot heir numbers than the British. Not less than 500 men and upwards of 60 officers were killed or captured, besides the wounded. After this action, General Greene retired again for a time to the heights bordering on the River Santee.
A new face to affairs now soon appeared in the city. The royal army had been so much reduced by the vigilance and activity of General Greene that what had been denominated by some writer a re-action of events, began to operate. The British adherents to monarchy in Charleston, and the power and influence of royal government, were in a short time brought very low. Consequently, the sufferings of those who had triumphed in the depression and subjugation of their countrymen were felt with almost equal rigor and severity to that which had been inflicted on the opposers of British authority, when their commanders in all the insolence of conquest, contemplated the certainty of the subjugation of the southern states.
Governor Rutledge had left the state of South Carolina and repaired to Philadelphia, after the surrender of Charleston. He now returned and reaffirmed the reins of government. Soon after his arrival in his native state, the Governor published a proclamation offering pardon, on certain conditions, to all who had been aiding the British service, except such as had signed addresses, and voluntarily taken commissions to support the arms and authority of Great Britain.
The injunctions contained in this proclamation, dated September 27, were rigorously executed. All those who were implicated as opposed either in principle or practice to the interests or to the arm of their won country, felt heavily the reverse of a change of masters. The Governor, feeling not only the miseries in which has native state had been so long involved, but the highest indignation at the treatment received by individuals and the inflictions imposed on many by the severity of Rawdon and Balfour, suffered his resentment to fall indiscriminately on all the partisans of royalty.
Many who had reaped the sweets of changing with the times, by availing themselves of the property of those who had fled, were now compelled by the Governor to fly from their agreeable plantations. This description of people had seized the villas of those who had taken their standard under congressional protection, rather than relinquish their independence by becoming subjects of the King of England.
They had occupied without the city the best accommodated situations which had before belonged to the captured or exiled inhabitants, who had opposed the British invasion. This class of persons were now reduced to the necessity of removing into a town still occupied by foreign troops. Driven into the city, and shut up with their families in inconvenient huts, the reverse of the easy accommodations to which they had lately been used, and the affluence which some of them had formerly possessed, any of them fell a prey to sickness, and the concomitant miseries of war.
Nor less aggravated were the distresses of those inhabitants within the city, whose fidelity to their country could not be shaken, and whose connections were in arms without. They suffered every kind of distress, yet with the most heroic firmness, and even the ladies, in many instances, gave a glorious example of female fortitude. They submitted patiently to inconveniences never before felt, to hardships they had never expected; and wept in secret the miseries of their country, and their separation from their tenderest connections, with whim they were forbidden all intercourse, and were not permitted the soft alleviation of the exchange of letters. With becoming dignity, they had secluded themselves from the gaieties of the city; and refused on all occasions, to partake of any amusements in company with British officers; while with a charitable hand, they visited and soothed, whenever possible, the miserable victims crowded on board prison ships and thrust into jails.
Their conduct was resented by the officers of the army who themselves affronted them and exposed them to insults of every kind, instead of defending the tender and helpless sex, as is justly expected and required by the laws of civilization and humanity. But the busy hand of time was ripening events that put a period to their afflictions. At least, for such of them as lived through the perils and hardships of the siege, the capture of their city, the waste of their property, the exile from their families and sufferings too many to recount, which are usually inflicted on the vanquished by the conqueror.
Among those who lived to return from their banishment to St. Augustine, was the venerable Gadsden, who, through all the shocks of fortune, the rotation of events which he experience was never shaken in his principles. He had always deserved and retained the confidence of his country. A firm, uniform republican, he as chosen a member of the General Congress which met at New York in 1765. He was a worthy delegate in the respected Assembly which assumed and declared the independence of the United States. He had no predilection in favor of kings, and was ever averse to monarchic institutions and usages. This was probably a reason why he suffered such particular severities from the British commander. Notwithstanding his long confinement in the castle of St. Augustine, and his own personal sufferings, he lived to exemplify his humanity and generosity toward persons who had been accessory, if not principals, in instigating the British officers to cruelties toward him, which they would not otherwise have practiced.
The General Assembly of the state as called upon to meet at Jacksonborough, the beginning of the ensuring year. Their constitution required a rotation of office, which rendered Mr. Rutledge ineligible to serve longer as their first magistrate. In consequence of this, Mr. Gadsden as chosen governor; but his advanced age an declining health induced him to refuse the laborious talk. This was a period of peculiar difficulty, in the administration of the civil affairs of the state. In the sessions at Jacksonborough, there was little lenity exercised toward that description of persons who had taken British protections, or had in any manner abetted their measures, either in the city or the field. Their property was confiscated, many of their persons condemned to banishment, and the most rigorous prosecutions commenced against all suspected persons.
Though Mr. Gadsden had declined acting as governor of the state, he did not sit down an inactive spectator of the infringements of humanity or justice in society, into which persons might be hurried by an over-heated zeal, or the want of a proper restraint on the prejudices and passions of men. He vigorously opposed the proceedings of the assembly, which cut off the loyalists from returning to their allegiance, even if they wished it, and sitting down quietly in the bosom of their country. It is now time to leave for the present, the deranged state of their civil police, and the hostile confusion which still pervaded the two most southern colonies, South Carolina and Georgia, and pursue the narrative of the march of the British army through North Carolina. The slaughter that accompanied his route, through every stage of its progress, is an unpleasant tale. There appeared few interludes of humane and generous deportment toward the miserable, from the borders of South Carolina, until Lord Cornwallis reached the important stand in Virginia, which finished his career of military fame and success, and again humbled the proud glory of the British arms, beneath the standard of the Americans.
But before we follow the conqueror of Charleston in his pursuit of new victories in the more central part of the union, we will just observe that no one of the 13 United States felt more severely the fatal consequences of revolutionary convulsions, than that of South Carolina. Many of the best of its citizens perished in the conflict; others, from independence and opulence were reduced to the lowest grade of hopeless penury, while they beheld with astonishment, the sudden accumulation of fortune by those whom they had viewed as a subordinate class, now grown up to incalculable wealth, amid confusion and depredation. The convenient situations for commerce which they had formerly occupied, were soon after possessed by British agents, sent on at the close of the war to reap the gleanings of property, by the demands of speedy liquidation of old British debts.
Those debts could not be discharged by men whose plantations were ruined, their slaves enticed or stolen away, and every other species of property wasted in the general pillage. Their capital had bee held for a considerable time as a conquered city, by the invaders of life, liberty, an property, sanctioned by the authority of the King of England. It is obvious that his patronage and protection should forever have nurtured the peace, prosperity, an growth of the American colonies. But interest and policy dictated the wisdom of this line of conduct which would have prevented the irretrievable blow, which rent in sunder the Empire of Britain.
But as a wounded limb, pruned or bent downwards, yet not destroyed by the hand of the rude invader sometimes revives and flourishes with new vigor, while the parent stock is weakened and its decay accelerated by the exuberance of its former luxury and strength, so may some future period behold the United Colonies, notwithstanding their depression and their energetic struggles for freedom, revivified, and raised to a degree of political consideration that may convince the parent state of the importance of this loss. They may perhaps be taught to dread any future rupture with a people grown strong by oppression, and become respectable among all nations, for their manly resistance to the tyrannous hand stretched out to enslave them.