Sunday, February 7, 2010

Battle of Hanging Rock 3

Part 3: Rawdon's Defense of South Carolina

British Lieutenant-Colonel Francis Rawdon had been given the important task of defending the South Carolina Backcountry. His primary opponents were Brigadier-General Thomas Sumter's brigade of militia, and Major-General Horatio Gates' large army of Continentals and militia. Rawdon had his headquarters in Camden, a town in central South Carolina that was a conduit for men and supplies directed to the British posts defending the state’s borders. Rawdon's description of the strategic situation deserves to be quoted at length:

"Having been left in the command of the back country when Lord Cornwallis [i.e., Lieutenant-General Charles Cornwallis] went to Charlestown, I had (by my spies) kept a vigilant eye over the force which was collecting in North Carolina for the invasion of our newly acquired territory. Though Lord Cornwallis had not thought it probable that the attack would be made upon south Carolina till the violent heat of the summer should be passed, I had suspected that Gates might count on our inability to stand the climate (especially as it was known that we were very sickly) and might then make a speedier effort. I had on that account minutely examined the country and formed my eventual plans. Camden had from the first day appeared to me an objectionable station for the army. It was a false position relative to the country, and in itself indefensible beyond any ground that I ever saw. On learning that a body of the enemy's militia had advanced to the Pedee [i.e., the Peedee River in the northeastern part of the state], I considered it a sure indication that Gates would move immediately. I therefore detached [Lieutenant-Colonel James] Webster, a good and gallant officer, to the east branch of Lynche's Creek and I reinforced a post which I had at Hanging Rock. As soon as I had made the necessary arrangements at Camden, I followed Webster. Of distances, I must speak loosely. I suppose the point where the road crosses the east branch of Lynche's Creek to be thirty miles from Camden; the post at Hanging Rock, thirty-five. There was a ready communication between the two by a road of about twelve miles. My object in taking this forward position was to retard the progress of Gates' till Lord Cornwallis should collect force from other parts of the Province, or to reduce the enemy to hazard an action where my peculiar advantages of situation would compensate for my disparity in numbers. I had 1100 men with me, all regulars or provincials; the detachment at Hanging Rock consisted of 400 provincials and 800 militia. The latter was a requisite post, because Sumpter menaced that road to Camden with a corps of militia. Gates came opposite to me.” [1]

The map below shows the arrangement of Rawdon’s forces along the northern frontier the day Hanging Rock was attacked (August 6, 1780). Rawdon had concentrated his forces into a defensive arc north of Camden.

Position of British Forces Defending Camden, South Carolina, August 6, 1780 (click to enlarge). (See key below).

It is not possible to locate the placement of every detachment in Rawdon's command, so for some locations only the principle units are described.

#1. The post at Rocky Mount, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel George Turnbull, and defended by the New York Volunteers, a detachment of the British Legion, and a force of Loyalist militia [2].

#2. The post at Hanging Rock, commanded by Major John Carden, and defended by the British Legion infantry, the Prince of Wales’ American Regiment, a detachment of the Royal North Carolina Regiment, Colonel Samuel Bryan’s North Carolina Volunteers, and some South Carolina Loyalist militia [3].

#3. The post at Lynche’s Creek, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonels Francis Rawdon and James Webster, and defended by the 33rd Foot, the two battalions of the 71st Foot, and the Volunteers of Ireland [4].

#4 The post at Camden, defended by the 23rd Foot. Who commanded the post in Rawdon's absence is unclear. Major Thomas Mecan was the commander of the 23rd, but he was severely ill at about this time [5]. The British Legion dragoons, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Banastre Tarleton, had either recently reached Camden, or would do so shortly [6].

The blue shaded area at upper left is the Catawba Nation (where Sumter was stationed). The blue arrow at the upper right is the direction from which the Americans under Horatio Gates approached Rawdon's defenses.


1. Letter from Francis Rawdon to Colonel McMahon, January 19, 1801.

2. Letter from Francis Rawdon to Charles Cornwallis, July 31, 1780. (In William T. Sherman, 2009, Calendar and Record of the Revolutionary War in the South: 1780-1781. 6th Ed).

3. Todd Braisted (2001). A History of the Prince of Wales' American Regiment; The Revolutionary War Sketches of William R. Davie [extract]. Davie's account also appears in, John H. Wheeler (1851). Historical Sketches of North Carolina from 1584 to 1851, Vol. 1.

4. Letter from Josiah Martin to George Germain, August 18-20, 1780.

5. Martin, ibid., and Mark Urban (2007). Fusiliers: Eight Years with the Redcoats in America.

6. Martin, ibid.

No comments:

Post a Comment