Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Progress in Painting

I didn't get much painting done during the first several months of the year, but recently there has been an uptick in my output. I've also noticed that the quality of my work continues to improve. Below (on the left) are a pair of minis that I painted a few years ago and a pair (on the right) that I finished a few weeks ago. In both cases the marching figure is a Freikorps mini (at least I think so, they are from a lot I picked up on eBay), and the charging figure is by Minifigs. The more recent figures show better detail because I'm not applying the paint as thickly as I used to. This especially helps when it comes to bringing out facial detail. I'm also getting better at creating softer, more natural appearing colors through color mixing.

At a distance, the difference in quality is not particularly noticeable...

... but up close (click to enlarge) the difference is considerable.

Here are some other recent creations (click to enlarge). On the left are two American officers by Essex. On the right are two American officers by Musket Miniatures. The uniformed officer at far right is with the Green Mountain Boys, a unit that I'm currently working to complete.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Sumter’s Brigade Reforms

Sumter’s brigade was broken by the battle of Fishing Creek (August 18, 1780). According to one participant, "the troops dispersed in every direction each taking care of himself." Sumter, on horseback, headed north. On August 19, he reached William Bratton’s house, near Williamson’s Plantation. From there, a handful of men saw him safely across the North Carolina border. He rode alone into Charlotte on August 20 [1].

Fishing Creek and Camden returned British control over northern South Carolina to the same state that it had been in June, before Sumter took the field. So unsafe was it in this area that "orders were then given out that there should be no assembling of companies even of a few men." However, Sumter's defeat also did not end the broader resistance to the British occupation of South Carolina. During Sumter’s campaign, South Carolina partisans organized in the western part of the state under James Williams and in the eastern part of the state under Francis Marion [2].

In North Carolina, now exposed to British invasion, a debate began over whether the conflict should be continued. Joseph Graham recalled that "several aged and respectable citizens insinuated that further resistance would… only produce more certain destruction to themselves and [their] families… But this was indignantly repelled by a great majority, and especially those who had been in action at Hanging Rock. Several of them stated that they then had seen the British soldiers run like sheep, and many of them bite the dust; that they were by no means invincible; that under suitable commanders and proper arrangements, they would at any time risk a conflict with them, man to man" [3].

Although Sumter bore ultimate responsibility for the debacle at Fishing Creek, he does not seem to have lost the esteem of those that had fought under him. It seems to have been generally understood that the defeat stemmed largely from some rather exceptional circumstances. According to Colonel Richard Winn (at the time recuperating from the wound he received at Hanging Rock), the most important factor was "the inattention of his patrols and rear guard Commanded by Major Crofford." Tarleton agreed: Although Sumter "had sent patrols to examine the road... fortunately for the British, they had not proceeded far enough to discover their approach." Indeed, the two Loyalist women that told Tarleton how to gain Sumter’s flank met the British commander just ½ mile in front of the American rear guard [4].

As Summer turned to Fall, Sumter's brigade reformed and returned to the field. Among the returnees was John Murphey, who had lived in the neighborhood of Fishing Creek, and was captured at the battle there. In early September he was released from the Camden jail upon making the following pledge:

"I John Murphy of Fishing Creek acknowledge myself a prisoner on parole to a detachment of his Majesty's troops under the command of the right Honorable Lieutenant General Earl of Cornwallis and I do promise that I will not act directly or indirectly against his Majesty's Government nor stir up others so to do, that I will not speak or say anything that shall be prejudicial to his Majesty's interest and will confine myself to my own plantation not exceeding one mile from thence until further enlarged."

However, Sumter "persuaded him that no good man and patriot would be bound by such a promise," upon which Murphey "tore up his parole and joined General Sumter" [5].


1. The pension application of Samuel Watson, transcribed by Susan K. Zimmerman and R. Neil Vance. The pension application of George McLain, transcribed by Will Graves. The Revolutionary War Sketches of William R. Davie [extract].

2. The pension application of Zachary Kitchens, transcribed by C. Leon Harris. John Buchanan. (1997). The Road to Guilford Courthouse: The American Revolution in the Carolinas.

3. William A. Graham (1904). General Joseph Graham and His Papers on North Carolina Revolutionary History.

4. General Richard Winn's Notes -- 1780, transcribed by Will Graves. "Major Crofford" is very probably Major Robert Crawford of South Carolina. Banastre Tarleton. (1787). A History of the Campaigns of 1780 and 1781. James Hodge Saye. Memoirs of Major Joseph McJunkin, Revolutionary Patriot.

5. The pension application of John Murphey, transcribed by Will Graves.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Battle of Fishing Creek 5

Part 5: A Scene of Horror
Previous: Sumter's Defeat

Return to the Battlefield

The greater part of Sumter’s forces fled the Fishing Creek battlefield to the south, over the ford at the river road. As there was no safety in this direction, the Americans scattered. South Carolina militiaman James Collins lingered with some of his comrades near the scene of the fighting because some of his neighbors were missing. He remembered hearing, "little firing, except the pistols of the enemy," and then "all seemed to be silent." These men remained hidden while Tarleton brought off a large party of prisoners, the Americans’ guns, and all of their baggage. Late in the day, he recalled:

"a few blasts of the bugle brought some of our men in sight, who in their hurry had missed the fording place, and had gone up the creek where they found it difficult to pass, and were looking for our trail. Near sunset, a few more came up, but there were still some missing, of whom we could hear nothing. We then left the road, keeping a high, open ridge and went off some distance; night coming on, we dismounted in the woods and tied our horses; we had nothing for man or beast to eat, and the weather being warm, (August,) we kindled no fires. We lay down, every man with his sword by his side, his gun in his hands, and his pistol near his head. All were silent, for we expected the whole army had been taken prisoners, or put to the sword."

In the morning, Collins’ men cautiously approached the battlefield. Five of the men in his company were still missing. The men were also in need of food and water. At the battlefield they encountered some of Sumter’s men on a similar mission. Collins remembered that:

"The dead and wounded lay stretched cold and lifeless; some were yet straggling in the agonies of death, while here and there, lay others, faint with the loss of blood, almost famished for water, and begging for assistance. The scene before me, I could not reconcile to my feelings, and I again began to repent that I had ever taken any part in the matter [i.e., gone to war]; however, by custom, such things become familiar. We commenced our search and soon found two of our own party, one named Enloe, and the other Jackson, some distance apart, both setting up, unable to walk without assistance, and mangled by the sword. The other three we could not find among the living or the dead; what their fate was, we never knew, for we never heard of them afterwards. One was a lieutenant named Bryan, one of our most active men. We collected all the wounded we could; but poor fellows, we had little nourishment to give them; they all craved water, and even the little they received, seemed to revive them. We then began to look out [for] some provisions, for ourselves and horses; we found corn lying about in many places, that had not been consumed the day before, and there were several kettles setting about, where the fire had been kindled, with provisions already cooked—and provisions scattered about on the ground in various places. There was no time for choosing, and every man ate whatever he got hold of, asking no questions; then, taking a glass of cold water, we all felt somewhat braced up. There were horses grazing about the old field, that appeared to be nearly worn out, some with bridles and saddles on, others without."

Later, according to Collins: "After giving what help we could in burying the dead, in haste,--poor fellows it was badly done,--we caught two of the best looking horses we could find, and placing our two wounded men upon them, and supporting them as well as we could, we moved off, taking with us no plunder, (or very little) of what was considered of right to belong to Sumter’s men, being the property of their companions who had fallen… We got to a house, a few miles distant, where we obtained nourishment for the wounded, and finding an old horse-cart, we placed them in it, and next day, got them to their home, where they both recovered, but not without being much disfigured by their wounds" [1].

Prisoners’ Fates

Tarleton brought off 252 prisoners from the battlefield, including 72 Continentals. Their treatment was harsh. According to one, "they were not allowed a draft of water or a mouthful to eat for two days." In the baking heat they were marched down to Camden [2]. From there, some of the militia were placed in the Camden jail. The remainder was brought down to Charleston. Some escaped, but most suffered until they were eventually exchanged or released.

Samuel Eakins of the North Carolina militia was one that had the opportunity to escape. He was detained in Camden to assist American prisoners that had been wounded in the battle of Camden. One night he set off on what he claimed became a 3-week, 300 mile journey home. He walked, "mostly in the night being fearful of the Tories without a hat on his head or a shoe to his feet and not a penny in his pocket entirely dependent upon the charity of the Whigs whenever he fell in with them – he was frequently in a state of starvation – words cannot express the sufferings that [he] underwent in this journey" [3].

Benjamin Burch of the 6th Maryland Regiment was also "fortunate" in that he was exchanged the following year and deposited in Virginia. There, in a "state of nakedness and destitution," "without hat, coat, jacket, stockings or shoes – with only an old and broken shirt and a pair of tattered and worn out short-breeches… he literally begged his way home to Prince George County" [4].


1. James Collins (1859). Autobiography of a Revolutionary Soldier. A transcription appears in Michael Scoggins (2005). The Battle of Fishing Creek. Southern Campaigns of the American Revolution, Vol. 2, No. 8.

2. British Legion prisoners taken at Catawba Fords. The pension application of Thomas Bartley, transcribed and annotated by C. Leon Harris.

3. The pension application of Samuel Eakin , transcribed by Will Graves.

4. The pension application of Benjamin Burch, transcribed and annotated by C. Leon Harris.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Battle of Fishing Creek 4

Part 4: Sumter's Defeat
Previous: To Fishing Creek

Across Fishing Creek

The Americans slaughtered cattle and feasted on beef, roasted ears of corn, and freshly picked peaches. Some men napped, while others shaved or washed their clothes. Men and women living in the neighborhood came out to greet and encourage the soldiers. The American guards detected no danger. The situation in the American camp was idyllic. Yet at that moment, Tarleton’s 160 men were quickly bearing down on the Americans along the byway [1].

The first Americans to see Tarleton’s men were two vedettes. These men stepped out of the bushes and fired, killing one of the five dragoons in the British vanguard. The remaining dragoons killed the vedettes with their sabers and headed towards the creek. Responsibility for guarding the ford by which the byway crossed Fishing Creek had been left to one Captain Thompson. Thompson, however, had left his post and the ford was now unguarded [2].

Among the Americans to see the British vanguard and live to tell of it were John Williams and John Dobbins of the North Carolina militia. These two men and others were collecting peaches in an orchard near Fishing Creek. Fortunately for them, the four remaining dragoons either did not see them, or took no notice of them. The incredulous Americans offered no resistance and swam to safety across the Catawba River [3].

Finally, the dragoons ascended a height from which the main American body was in view. The dragoons crouched upon their horses and waving for their comrades to come on. Tarleton sped ahead and when he reached the height he was amazed to see "the front of the American camp, perfectly quiet, and not the least alarmed by the fire of the vedettes" [4].

The Americans’ had been using rifles to slaughter cattle; although the vedette’s two shots had been heard in camp, they elicited no special notice [5].

Stealthily, Tarleton’s "cavalry and infantry were formed into one line," just out of the Americans’ view. Then, "giving a general shout," the British charged [6].

The Fishing Creek Battlefield. Fishing Creek is the winding stream at left; the Catawba River is at right. The large blue circle shows the approximate position of the main American body on the river road. The smaller blue circle shows the rear guard. The red arrow depicts Tarleton's charge [7]. The main road (brown line) is based on the modern-day Catawba River Road. The byway is not depicted.

Fishing Creek Area. Part of the Fishing Creek battlefield has been flooded by damming on the Catawba River. This excerpt from Mills' 1825 atlas of South Carolina was used to roughly locate the original banks of the Catawba River in the above battlefield map. Islands shown in the 1825 atlas were not included in the battlefield map. Note that Mills' map designates the "Battle of F. C."

"A Perfect Rout"

The dragoons rushed the American encampment, with sabers gleaming brightly in the sunlight. The British infantry came streaming after, charging through the dragoons’ dusty wake.

Tarleton Forms His Line. Infantry and dragoons form a single-rank line of battle. According to Tarleton, most of his infantry came from the corps of light infantry that fought at Camden. Shown are light infantrymen from the 71st Foot and 16th Foot, as well as a soldier of the British Legion infantry. As per usual, the figure to participant ratio is 1:20.

Tarleton described the battle that followed in prosaic terms: "The arms and artillery of the Continentals were secured before the men could be assembled: Universal consternation immediately ensued throughout the camp; some opposition was, however, made from behind the wagons, in front of the militia. The numbers, and extensive encampment of the enemy, occasioned several conflicts before the action was decided" [8].

Young James Collins, who had only recently joined Sumter, recalled that "Before Sumter could wake up his men and form, the enemy were among them cutting down everything in their way" [9].

According to one account, Sumter was sitting next to a wagon and was halfway through a shave when the British attacked. "When the colonel saw the state of things around, he cut a rope with which a horse was tied to a wagon, dropped his razor, mounted the horse and made his escape without saddle or bridle" [10].

At least one knot of resistance developed where the wagons were interposed between the dragoons and the militia. Here, some South Carolinians briefly rallied around Colonel William Bratton before being driven off. Then, according to Collins, the main part of Sumter’s force "retreated across the creek at the main road, leaving the remainder to the mercy of the enemy." Collins was with “the greater part of our number [who] dashed through the creek, at the fording place." These men were desperate "to secure our own safety… and pushing on with all possible speed, reached the highland." He called this "a perfect rout." The fate of those left behind was "an indiscriminate slaughter" [11].

Sumter's Defeat (click to enlarge). British dragoons and infantry overrun unarmed American Continentals at upper right, while a tenuous resistance is made by Carolina militia at lower left.

Tarleton also described the fighting as a "slaughter." According to one militiaman, the British were incensed at the deaths of a sergeant of the Legion dragoons and a captain of the light infantry. "The British officers had great spite at the militia, but ordered that the regulars [Continentals] should have quarters" [12].

The sight of so many enemy soldiers may also have been terrifying to the British, even though they had the upper hand. Relief came when the British found and released the Americans’ prisoners. These men picked up guns (which littered the ground) and joined their comrades. When this reinforcement arrived, the killing stopped [13].

Reinforcement. British prisoners, once released, picked up arms and joined their comrades. Shown here are soldiers of the 33rd and 71st regiments, who were captured on August 15.

By this time, the battleground was covered with scores of dead and grievously wounded Americans, both Continentals and militia. Tarleton claimed that 150 had been struck down, and the total American loss (including unwounded prisoners) was around 300. As for himself, he lost a mere 6 infantrymen, 9 dragoons, and 20 horses [14].


In some places the capitalization, spelling, and punctuation of the quoted source material has been altered to bring it into line with modern standards.

1. Banastre Tarleton. (1787). A History of the Campaigns of 1780 and 1781. The pension application of Thomas Bartley, transcribed and annotated by C. Leon Harris. The pension application of Edward Doyle, transcribed by Will Graves. The pension application of John Williams, transcribed and annotated by Will Graves. The pension application of Samuel Eakin , transcribed by Will Graves. The pension application of Zachary Kitchens, transcribed by C. Leon Harris. The pension application of David McCance, transcribed by Will Graves. James Hodge Saye. Memoirs of Major Joseph McJunkin, Revolutionary Patriot.

2. Tarleton, ibid. The pension application of John Henderson, transcribed by Will Graves.

3. The pension application of John Williams, transcribed and annotated by Will Graves.

4. Tarleton, ibid.

5. Tarleton, ibid. The pension application of Thomas Bartley, transcribed and annotated by C. Leon Harris.

6. Tarleton, ibid.

7. Saye, ibid. has the British attacking along a relatively unguarded byway. Tarleton, ibid., claimed that the first thing he saw was "the front of the American camp" -- not the rear guard. James Collins in his (1859) Autobiography of a Revolutionary Soldier, claimed that the Americans "retreated across the creek at the main road," which is at the bottom of the map. This statement implies that the British were attacking from a different direction. Collins also recorded that "the rear guard consisting of militia were posted at the Creek." David McCance, ibid. claimed that "the rear guard was ordered to remain one mile behind" the main body, which is consistent with Collins' statement and Mills' placement of the battlefield. However, McCance also claimed that the rear guard "was taken," which seemingly is contradicted by Tarleton, Saye, and Collins (at least when the three are read together). Militiaman George Cunningham claimed that he was one of those "standing guard," but he was not captured. (see the pension application of George Cunningham, transcribed by Will Graves).

8. Tarleton, ibid.

9. Collins, ibid. A transcription appears in Michael Scoggins (2005). The Battle of Fishing Creek. Southern Campaigns of the American Revolution, Vol. 2, No. 8.

10. Saye, ibid.

11. Saye, ibid. Collins, ibid.

12. Tarleton, ibid. The pension application of Thomas Bartley, transcribed and annotated by C. Leon Harris.

13. Tarleton, ibid.

14. Tarleton, ibid. British Legion killed and wounded at Catawba Fords. British Legion prisoners taken at Catawba Fords. The pension application of George Neely, transcribed by Will Graves. The pension application of John Patton, transcribed by Will Graves.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Lexington and Concord: Intercepted British Letters

The anniversary of the battles of Lexington and Concord (the start of the Revolutionary War) is right around the corner: 235 years ago on April 19. In recognition (of a sort) of this event, I've included below excerpts from letters written by British participants in that battle. As these are private letters written shortly after the event, they provide a unique insight into the British soldier's beliefs and experience. These letters were intercepted by Americans before they arrived in England and ended up being published in Peter Force's American Archives. Unfortunately, Force's transcriptions omitted the names of the letters' authors and intended recipients. However, as noted below, several of the letters contain clues about the author.

Letter 1: [by a soldier in one of the battalion companies of the 23rd Regiment of Foot]

"Boston, April 30, 1775. DEAR PARENTS: Before this reaches you, you may hear that our regiment has been engaged with the Provincials. The Grenadiers and Light-Infantry marched about nine at night. At six next morning four hundred and twenty-three soldiers, and forty-seven marines, in all fifteen hundred, marched to reinforce the Grenadiers and Light-Infantry, joined about one o' clock, and found them not engaged, which they had been eight hours before; for we had two pieces of cannon, which made us march slow. As soon as we came up we fired the cannon, which brought them from behind the trees, for we did not fight as you did in Germany, as we could not see above, ten in a body, for they were behind trees and walls, and fired at us, and then loaded on their bellies. We had thirty-six rounds, which obliged us to go home that night, and as we came along they got before us and fired at us out of the houses, and killed and wounded a great many of us, but we levelled their houses as we came along. It was thought there were about six thousand at first, and at night double that number. The King' s Troops lost in killed and wounded one hundred and fifty, and the Americans five hundred men, women, and children, for there was a number of women and children burnt in their houses. Our regiment has five killed and thirty-one wounded, particularly Colonel Bernard in the thigh, which all the regiment is sorry for. The shot flew thick. I got a wounded man' s gun, and killed two of them, as I am sure of."

Letter 2: [possibly by a soldier in one of the flank companies of His Majesty's Marines]

"Boston, April 28, 1775.

The Grenadiers and Light-Infantry marched for Concord, where were powder and ball, arms, and cannon mounted on carriages; but before we could destroy them all, we were fired on by the country people, who, not brought up in our military way, as ourselves, we were surrounded always in the woods. The firing was very hot on both sides. About two in the afternoon the Second Brigade came up, which were four Regiments and part of the Artillery, which were of no use to us, as the enemy were in the woods; and when we found they fired from the houses, we set them on fire, and they ran to the woods like devils. We were obliged to retreat to Boston again, over Charles River, our ammunition being all fired away. We had one hundred and fifty men wounded and killed, and some taken prisoners; we were forced to leave some behind, who were wounded. We got back to Boston about three o' clock next morning, and them that were able to walk were forced to mount guard, and lie in the field. I never broke my fast for forty-eight hours, for we carried no provisions, and thought to be back next morning. I had my hat shot off my head three times, two balls went through my coat, and carried away my bayonet by my side, and was near being killed... Direct for me to Chatham' s division of Marines."

Letter 3: [probably by a soldier in one of the flank companies of the 52nd Regiment of Foot]

"Boston, April 28, 1775. I am well, all but the wound I received through the leg by a ball from one of the Bostonians. At the time I wrote to you from Quebeck I had the strongest assurance of going home, but the laying the tax on the New-England people caused us to be ordered for Boston, where we remained in peace with the inhabitants, till on the night of the 18th of April twenty-one companies of Grenadiers and Light-Infantry were ordered into the country about eighteen miles, where, between four and five o' clock in the morning, we met an incredible number of people of the country in arms against us. Colonel Smith, of the Tenth Regiment, ordered us to rush on them with our bayonets fixed, at which time some of the peasants fired on us, and our men returning the fire, the engagement begun. They did not fight us like a regular army, only like savages, behind trees and stone walls, and out of the woods and houses, where in the latter, we killed numbers of them, as well as in the woods and fields."

Two more letters can be read here and here. The former may have been written by a soldier in one of the battalion companies of Marines. The latter was written by a captured soldier's wife.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Battle of Fishing Creek 3

Part 3: To Fishing Creek

Sumter’s Retreat

On August 16, 1780, the men of Thomas Sumter’s brigade could hear the distant sound of cannon fire from the battle of Camden, and anxiously awaited word of the result. That evening, three or four riders appeared bearing news of the American defeat; they also conveyed orders from Major-General Horatio Gates for Sumter to retreat to a place of safety [1].

Sumter had held onto a toehold of South Carolina since late June, and although his men had galled the British at Williamson’s Plantation, he had been left undisturbed because of "the intense heat of the summer," because British offensive preparations were then incomplete, and because he did not yet register as a serious threat. After the attacks on Rocky Mount and Hanging Rock, Sumter was seen as truly dangerous, but the American offensive under Gates prohibited the British from launching a sustained retaliatory campaign. Now, Gates' army was destroyed, and Sumter’s protection was gone [2].

Sumter well appreciated the new strategic situation, and wasted no time in seeking the relative safety of the North Carolina border. That night his men marched north along the western bank of the Wateree [3]. This night march was not as rapid as the one he made before the battles of Rocky Mount or Hanging Rock. On those occasions his force was mounted; now he was responsible for hundreds of men (the force lent by Gates and his British prisoners) who would travel by foot.

Sumter pushed his men again the following day (August 17), and got his force by nightfall to Rocky Mount, some 25 miles from Camden, and on the edge of his former sphere of operations. At dawn on August 18, Sumter burned the post at Rocky Mount (which had been abandoned by the British some days earlier) and headed north again [4].

By this time, Sumter had picked an unlooked-for reinforcement. A band of mounted militia led by Captain John Moffett met him on the road, which was fleeing from a different danger: a growing Loyalist militia presence in the western part of the state. On the morning of the 18th, Sumter’s men also met up with several Maryland Continentals who had journeyed from the Camden battlefield. These men included privates John Housley and Benjamin Burch of the 6th Maryland Regiment, which had been in the very center of the fighting. Housley had made the grueling journey despite a flesh wound [5].

By midday, Sumter’s force had made another 8 miles, and was on a ridge a short distance north of Fishing Creek. Both he and his men were exhausted and at least one wagon had broken down. He ordered a rest. Sumter had previously posted a lookout at the ford over the Catawba at Rocky Mount, and he now placed a patrol on the road south of Fishing Creek, and a strong guard at the ford across Fishing Creek. Vedettes kept watch over other approaches to the American position [6]. After issuing these orders, Sumter partly undressed and napped under a wagon [7].

Tarleton’s Mission

Soon after the battle of Camden ended, Lieutenant-General Charles Cornwallis plotted the destruction of Sumter’s brigade. Cornwallis had two forces that were capable of catching Sumter. On the far side of the wide Wateree, Major Patrick Ferguson and Lieutenant-Colonel George Turnbull commanded a force of Provincials and Loyalist militia collected from Rocky Mount and other points in western South Carolina. This force was not as numerous as Sumter’s brigade, but they were well positioned to cut off his retreat. On the near side of the river, he had Lieutenant-Colonel Banastre Tarleton, a great driver of men. It was hoped that the two forces would act in concert, and orders were issued to both commands [8].

Tarleton set off early on the 17th with his British Legion dragoons, a 3-pounder cannon, and a number of infantry. By nightfall, he had reached the Catawba/Wateree near Rocky Mount. At that moment, Sumter’s men were on the other side of the river [9].

At dawn on the 18th, some of the British sentries reported that the Americans were pulling out. Fearing a ruse, Tarleton ordered Captain Charles Campbell to take a small party across the river to assess the situation. Campbell’s party captured the lookout the Americans had left at Rocky Mount, and confirmed that the Americans had departed. When Tarleton saw Campbell waving a white handkerchief from the top of the height, the British set off with the cannon and the light infantry in several boats, while the horses (with riders) first waded out into the river and then swam across the deepest part [10].

Tarleton was unable to make contact with Ferguson and Turnbull, and so would be forced to go it alone at this point. Tarleton marched his men up the river road, following the clear tracks left by Sumter’s men. Then: a remarkable stroke of fortune. Two Loyalist women met him on the road, who claimed that Sumter’s men had halted. The women described the Americans’ position and a byway that led to their flank. Losing no time, Tarleton left behind his cannon and those men unable to make a rapid march. He then pressed on with about 100 dragoons and 60 infantry. Leading the way was a vanguard of one sergeant and four privates of the British Legion dragoons [11].

Sumter's Retreat and Tarleton's Pursuit (click to enlarge). Approximate paths taken by Sumter's brigade (in blue) and Tarleton's command (in red) before the battle of Fishing Creek.


1. The pension application of John Williams, transcribed and annotated by Will Graves. The pension application of Jonas Clark, transcribed by Will Graves.

2. Letter from Charles Cornwallis to George Germain, August 20, 1780.

3. The pension application of Jonas Clark, transcribed by Will Graves.

4. Banastre Tarleton. (1787). A History of the Campaigns of 1780 and 1781. The pension application of William McGarity, transcribed by Will Graves. The distance is based on a straight line from Rocky Creek to Camden town.

5. James Collins. (1859). Autobiography of a Revolutionary Soldier. The pension application of John Housley, transcribed and annotated by C. Leon Harris. The pension application of Benjamin Burch, transcribed and annotated by C. Leon Harris. At Camden, the 6th Maryland on the left flank of the 2nd Maryland Brigade (see Otho Holland Williams, A Narrative of the Campaign of 1780), where it was engaged with portions of at least three different regiments: The Volunteers of Ireland, the 33rd Foot, and the 71st Foot.

6. As noted previously, Thomas Sumter has been criticized for some of the military decisions that he made in the course of this campaign. The strongest criticisms have been made regarding his defenses (or lack thereof) at the battle of Fishing Creek. On this point, the present account of the battle differs substantially from others. The meme that Sumter was a careless commander received a large boost from William Davie, who wrote that Sumter “strangely neglected the necessary precautions to prevent a surprise… the whole security of the army rested upon two vedettes.” But Davie was not present, and he obtained his information largely from Tarleton’s memoir rather than from the remembrances of American participants. American accounts, in particular those recorded by James Saye and James Collins, point to a very different conclusion: that Tarleton surprised the Americans because he crossed Fishing Creek at an obscure (though still guarded) ford, and in this way suddenly gained the Americans’ flank. This interpretation of course does not completely exonerate Sumter, but it does further suggest that he was a much abler commander than some historians believe.

For Davie's account, see The Revolutionary War Sketches of William R. Davie [extract]. Saye's account can be found in this extract from his Memoirs of Major Joseph McJunkin, Revolutionary Patriot. For Collins' account, see the transcription appearing in Michael Scoggins (2005). The Battle of Fishing Creek. Southern Campaigns of the American Revolution, Vol. 2, No. 8.

7. Tarleton, ibid. Davie, ibid. The pension application of Zachary Kitchens, transcribed by C. Leon Harris. According to the pension application of David McCance (transcribed by Will Graves), Sumter slept in a tent.

8. Letter from Charles Cornwallis to George Germain, August 21, 1780.

9. Tarleton, ibid.

10. Tarleton, ibid.

11. Tarleton, ibid. James Hodge Saye. Memoirs of Major Joseph McJunkin, Revolutionary Patriot.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Battle of Fishing Creek 2

Part 2: Cary's Fort and Camden

Cary's Fort

On the morning of August 15, 1780, Thomas Sumter’s brigade of militia was joined by the reinforcement sent to him by Major-General Horatio Gates, bringing his total to around 700 men [1], the largest force he had commanded to date. Sumter then advanced on the Wateree river crossings south and west of Camden. As the Americans approached, they found that the British had evacuated all of their posts except for a redoubt held by Colonel James Cary of the South Carolina Loyalist militia. These men held their ground to keep open the flow of men and supplies into Camden. The Americans quickly attacked and after a brief fight in which seven Loyalists were killed, the Americans "took about thirty prisoners, among which was colonel Cary, their commander, together with thirty odd wagons loaded with corn, rum, etc., also a number of horses" [2].

The British on the other side of the river began to open fire on his men, and Sumter noted with apprehension that "the ground upon this side [is] very bad," and that "the boats are all upon the opposite side of the river" [3]. The Americans withdrew out of gunfire range, leaving a small guard to keep an eye on the British. Among these men was George Weir, a soldier in Edward Lacey’s regiment. He recalled in later years being "left alone" "as a sentinel near the ferry" "and nearly to have been captured by the enemy" [4].

Sumter also had men watching the southern and western approaches to the Wateree. Some of his men saw a party of around 60 British regulars from the 33rd and 71st regiments approaching the Wateree. These regulars had been recalled from the western post at Ninety-Six to aid in the defense of Camden. Oblivious to danger, they marched with their weapons loaded up in a wagon [5]. The Americans "secreted themselves until the British came up, when suddenly rushing upon them [they] took the whole party… without firing a gun" [6].

Meanwhile, Sumter was growing concerned about his safety. Perhaps hoping to spur Gates into action, he wrote to him saying that the British had only 1,200 regulars in Camden, and fewer than 1,000 militia, the latter of whom "are generally sickly and much dispirited." He also claimed that 500 men were en route from Charleston and were expected to arrive on the 17th. He then withdrew his force 10 miles up the river to a more easily defended position [7].


Gates received Sumter’s letter on the 15th and determined to apply further pressure to the British force in Camden. He would make a nighttime march to a strong position behind Saunders Creek, just 5 miles from Camden. From this position he could further restrict the flow of supplies into Camden and deter the British from attacking Sumter. The position was also strong enough that he could likely repel there any attack by British regulars. Gates’ army marched at 10pm [8].

Meanwhile, Charles Cornwallis had taken control of the British forces in Camden, after arriving there from Charleston the day before (August 14th). Cornwallis could see that Camden was not a strong position and that the Americans’ were likely to ultimately force them from this post. Cornwallis therefore determined to take the fight directly to Gates, reasoning that a victory would wipe out the Americans’ gains, while a defeat would be no worse than avoiding a fight altogether (in either case he would be forced to retreat). In order to maximize the probability of victory, he determined to try and catch the Americans by surprise. During the night of August 15-16, his army marched out of Camden hoping to surprise the Americans at dawn [9].

The two American armies marched along the same road, each expecting to surprise the other. Instead, both armies were surprised when their vanguards collided in the night, a little more than a mile north of Saunders Creek. After a confused flurry of fighting, the armies separated and in the morning (August 16), properly deployed for battle. Cornwallis anchored the left end of his line with the battered veterans of Hanging Rock (the British Legion Infantry, Bryan’s Volunteers, and the Royal North Carolina Regiment). He attacked primarily with several units of British regulars placed on his right. Gates adopted a similar strategy: he placed his weakest troops (North Carolina and Virginia militia) on his left and his strongest troops (Maryland and Delaware Continentals) on his right. The British regulars quickly sent the American militia into flight. The Continentals then found themselves attacked in front, flank, and rear. By the end of the day, the American army was destroyed with the loss of hundreds of men killed or captured. The American baggage train was also captured, and most of the broken militia headed home. This battle, known as Camden, was one of the greatest British victories of the war [10].


Note that in some places the capitalization, spelling, and punctuation of the source material has been altered to bring it into line with modern standards.

1. Letter from Josiah Martin to George Germain, August 18-20, 1780. Both higher and lower totals can be found in later sources.

2. Letter from Thomas Sumter to Horatio Gates, August 15, 1780. [The date was incorrectly transcribed as the 10th in this edition].

3. Sumter to Gates, ibid.

4. The pension application of George Weir, transcribed and annotated by C. Leon Harris.

5. Journal of Johann Christian Senf [extract]. The pension application of Hicks Chappell, transcribed and annotated by C. Leon Harris. The pension application of Nathan Jaggars, transcribed by Will Graves. The pension application of Samuel Dunlap, transcribed by Will Graves. The pension application of Edward Doyle, transcribed by Will Graves. The pension application of Samuel Eakin , transcribed by Will Graves.

The day before a "corps of light infantry" passed safely the same way into Camden. See Martin to Germain, ibid.

6. The pension application of Hicks Chappell, transcribed and annotated by C. Leon Harris. In Hicks' account the convoy was captured by just him and two other men. Other veterans remembered this event differently.

7. Sumter to Gates, ibid. This is not to say that Sumter didn’t believe these things. Without a doubt he and his men questioned both the prisoners they took and civilians living in the area and this is likely the best intelligence he possessed. Rather, Sumter’s letter seems designed as an implicit reminder that the British might cross the river and attack him unless Gates provided a credible threat from the north.

The "500 men" was possibly misinformation given out by British officers to convince the locals and their own Loyalist militia that the Americans’ fortunes would soon be reversed. The only approaching reinforcement from that direction mentioned by Cornwallis was a mounted detachment of the 63rd Foot. See letter from Charles Cornwallis to George Germain, August 21, 1780.

8. General Gates' orders for August 15, 1780. Journal of Johann Christian Senf [extract]. The Revolutionary War Sketches of William R. Davie [extract]. Thomas Pinckney to William Johnson, July 27, 1822.

9. Martin to Germain, ibid. Charles Cornwallis to George Germain, August 21, 1780.

10. Horatio Gates to President of Congress, August 30, 1780. Otho Holland Williams. A Narrative of the Campaign of 1780. Journal of Johann Christian Senf [extract]. Martin to Germain, ibid. Cornwallis to Germain, ibid. Letter from Francis Rawdon to Colonel McMahon, January 19, 1801.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Battle of Fishing Creek 1

The Battle of Fishing Creek
Part 1: Sumter's Third Target
Next: Cary's Fort and Camden

[This account follows an earlier series of posts describing the battle of Hanging Rock. Some earlier posts provide useful background information, see especially Occupied South Carolina, Sumter's Brigade Forms, and Rawdon's Defense of South Carolina].

Rawdon's Dilemma

On the evening of August 6th, 1780 a trickle of Provincials and Loyalist militia arrived in Lieutenant-Colonel Francis Rawdon's camp at East Lynche's Creek. These men described how Thomas Sumter had routed their units and seized the British post at Hanging Rock. The news was a shock. Sumter had evidently cleared a route towards his base of operations at Camden. Worse, Sumter’s men were mounted; his were on foot.

Rawdon knew that even if Sumter could not seize Camden, he could at least get in rear of his command. This was a most unwelcome prospect because the main American army under Major-General Horatio Gates was simultaneously approaching from in front.

Deciding that no time was to be lost, Rawdon decided to abandon his strong post and make a night march towards Camden. He thought the situation might even turn in his favor if he could catch and defeat Sumter before Gates appeared. In the morning (August 7), however, he learned the truth of the battle of Hanging Rock: The British Legion infantry, aided by other detachments, had held their ground, forcing Sumter to withdraw. By now, the movements of Gates' army made it too hazardous to reestablish the post at East Lynche’s Creek. Rawdon therefore settled on a new (and weaker) defensive line closer to Camden. The troops at Hanging Rock were withdrawn to Rugeley’s Mill, and Rawdon's command encamped at West Lynche’s Creek. The post at Rocky Mount was not in imminent danger, but on August 12 Rawdon gave orders for it to withdraw as well to a more secure position [1].

Sumter Advances

Although Sumter was forced to withdraw from Hanging Rock, he took comfort in the fact that in the following days, "both British and Tories" were "pannick struck," by the Americans' gains [2]. As Gates' army closed with Rawdon's new position, Sumter wished to contribute to his operations by cutting the flow of men and supplies into Camden. To accomplish this, he proposed to march his brigade down the western side of the Catawba/Wateree River [3] and take control of key ferry crossings south of Camden [4]. On about August 13, Sumter's brigade set out on this mission. Sumter's brigade was much reduced in size by this time: in addition to the men killed and wounded at Hanging Rock, he lost the services of all of his North Carolina troops [5]. Some of his South Carolinians also left him in order to protect the western part of their native state from the Loyalist militia [6].

Rawdon's New Defensive Line: 1) British base at Camden, 2) British post at Rugeley's Mill, 3) British post at West Lynche's Creek. The arrow at upper left shows route of Sumter's advance (Sumter was in the marked area on or about August 14). The arrow at upper right shows Gates' advance (Gates' vanguard was in the marked area on August 8). (Compare with this map).

On August 14, Sumter informed Gates that a wagon train bringing men, ammunition, and clothing was approaching Camden from the south and that he was poised to capture it. By this time, Gates had maneuvered Rawdon out of his second defensive line and had become confident of his ability to take Camden. To support Sumter's small force (now only about 250 men), Gates lent him 100 Continentals, 300 North Carolina militia and 2 pieces of artillery. These men left Gates' army the night of August 14-15 and joined Sumter at daybreak [7].


1. Letter from Francis Rawdon to Colonel McMahon, January 19, 1801. Letter from Josiah Martin to George Germain, August 18-20, 1780. Journal of Lieutenant Anthony Allaire, in Lyman Copeland Draper. (1881). King's Mountain and Its heroes: History of the Battle of King's Mountain.

2. Letter from Thomas Sumter to Thomas Pinckney, August 9, 1780.

3. The river is known as the Wateree in the vicinity of Camden, but as the Catawba at Rocky Mount and points further north.

4. Letter from Thomas Sumter to Thomas Pinckney, August 9, 1780. Letter from Thomas Sumter to Thomas Pinckney, August 12, 1780.

5. William A. Graham (1904). General Joseph Graham and His Papers on North Carolina Revolutionary History.

6. Will Graves. (2005). What Did Joseph McJunkin Really Saye? Southern Campaigns of the American Revolution, Volume 2, Issue 11.

7. Letter from General Gates to the President of Congress, August 20, 1780. Otho Holland Williams. A Narrative of the Campaign of 1780. Journal of Johann Christian Senf [extract].

The Continental infantry was drawn mainly from the Maryland line, although there were also a few of the 1st Delaware and a company-sized detachment of Armand's Legion. The whole was commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Woolford of the 5th Maryland. Two 3-pounder cannon, accompanied by a small crew, were detached from the Continental artillery. The North Carolina militia were commanded by Colonel Elijah Isaacks.

See: Prisoners Taken at Catawba Fords. Pension application of Peter Scrum, transcribed and annotated by C. Leon Harris. Letter from General Gates to the President of Congress, August 20, 1780. Pension application of Thomas Bartley, transcribed and annotated by C. Leon Harris.