George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Horatio Gates, 30 August 1780

From Major General Horatio Gates

Hillsborough [N.C.] 30th August. 1780


My public Letter to Congress, has surely been transmitted to Your Excellency.1 Since then, I have been able to collect authentic Returns of the Kill’d Wounded and Missing of the Officers of the Maryland Line, Delawar Regt Artillerists, and those of the Legion under Colo. Armand, they are inclosed2—The Militia broke so early in the Day, and scattered in so many Directions, upon their Retreat; that very few have fallen into the Hands of the Enemy—By the Firmness and Bravery of the Continental Troops, the Victory is far from bloodless on the part of the Foe; they having upwards of Five Hundred Men, with Officers in Proportion, killed and wounded. I do not think Lord Cornwallis, will be able to reap any Advantage of Consequence, from his Victory; as this State seems, annimated to reinstate and support the Army. Virginia I am confident will not be less patriotic. By the joint Exertions of the two States, there is good Reason to hope, that should the Events of the Campaign be prosperous to Your Excellency; all South Carolina might be again recovered—Lord Cornwallis remained with his Army at Camden, when I received the last Accounts from thence. I am cantoning ours at Salisbury, Guildford, Hillsborough, and Cross Creek The Marylanders and Artillerists, with the General Hospital will be here. The Cavalry near Cross Creek, and the Militia to the Westward. This is absolutely necessary as we have no Magazine of Provisions; and are only supplied from Hand to Mouth. Two Days after the Action of the 16th Fortune seem’d determined to continue to distress us, for Colonel Sumpter, having marched near Forty Miles up the River Wateree; halted with the Waggons, and Prisoners he had taken the 15th, by some Indiscretion the Men were surprized, cutt off from their Arms, the whole routed; and the Waggons and prisoners retaken.3 What Encouragement the numerous disaffected in this State, may give Lord Cornwallis, to advance further into the Country; I cannot yet say.4 Colonel Sumpter, since his surprize, and Defeat, upon the West side of the Wateree; has reinstated and encreased his Corps to upwards of 1000 Men. I have directed him, to continue to harrass the Enemy upon that Side—Lord Cornwallis will therefore be cautious how he makes any considerable Movement to the Eastward; while this Corps remains in Force upon his Left Flank—and the Main Army, is in a Manner canton’d in his Front. Anxious for the public Good, I shall continue my unwearied Endeavors, to stop the Progress of the Enemy, to reinstate our Affairs, to recommence an Offensive War, and recover all our Losses in the Southern States—But if being unfortunate, is solely, Reason sufficient for removing me from Command, I shall most chearfully submit to the Orders of Congress, and resign an Office, few Generals, would be anxious to possess; and where the Utmost Skill and Fortitude, is subject to be baffled by the Difficulties, which must for a Time; surround the Chief in Command here.5 That your Excellency may meet with no such Difficulties—That your Road to Fame, and Fortune may be smooth and easy, is the sincere Wish of Sir Your Excellency’s most obedient humble Servant

Horatio Gates

P.S. Your Commands in respect ⟨to⟩ the Virginia Line, shall be, exactly, ⟨a⟩nd faithfully obeyed.6

ALS, DLC:GW; ADfS, NHi: Gates Papers; LB, DLC:Jefferson Papers; LB, in French, DLC: Rochambeau Papers, vol. 14; copy, DNA:PCC, item 154; copy, DNA:PCC, item 171; copy, NN: Emmet Collection; French translation, FrPMAE. GW’s secretary Robert Hanson Harrison docketed the LS: “recd 14 sepr” (see also Gates to Thomas Jefferson, this date, and Jefferson to Samuel Huntington, 6 Sept., both in Jefferson Papers description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 41 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950–. description ends , 3:573–74, 606–7). Although GW’s aide-de-camp Tench Tilghman wrote “Ansd 11th October” on the docket of the LS, GW replied to Gates on 8 October.

1Gates wrote Samuel Huntington, president of Congress, on 20 Aug. about his army’s defeat near Camden by British forces under Lt. Gen. Charles Cornwallis (see Huntington to GW, 31 Aug., n.1). Gates did not specify casualties in that letter, leaving GW to fear that all Continental soldiers had been lost until he received contrary news (see GW to Benedict Arnold, 9 Sept., found at Arnold to GW, 8 Sept., n.3; see also GW to Huntington, 6 Sept.).

The Battle of Camden began after Gates added 700 Virginia militia to his army at Rugeley’s Mills, S.C., on 14 August. At 10:00 P.M. on 15 Aug., he ordered his approximately 3,000 effectives—some two-thirds being inexperienced militia—to a position roughly seven miles north of Camden. Cornwallis attacked from the south about four hours later with around 2,200 troops. After repulsing this thrust, Gates rejected Maj. Gen. Johann Kalb’s advice to withdraw and instead positioned his army before daybreak on high ground between two swamps. The British then routed about 2,000 militia holding the center and left of the line, and Gates fled to Charlotte, N.C., before the day’s end. The 1st Maryland Brigade, initially held in reserve, withstood repeated attacks but eventually retreated. The British next encountered several hundred Continental soldiers from Delaware and Maryland under Kalb, but his force scattered after he fell mortally wounded. The Royal Gazette (New York) for 16 Sept., which GW likely saw, reported a “perfect victory” for the British with 2,500 casualties inflicted. The army under Gates actually lost over 20 Continental officers, about 650 Continental soldiers, at least 8 militia officers, and roughly 400 militia. For an overview, see Piecuch, Camden.

2Col. Otho Holland Williams compiled the enclosed “List of Continental Officers Kill’d, Captivated, Wounded and Missing in the Actions of the 16th & 18th Augt 1780,” dated 29 August. Gates wrote below the list: “N.B. 700 Non Comd Officers, & Soldiers, of the Maryland Division, have rejoin’d the Army. & mostly with their Arms. an Exact Return thereof shall be sent by the next conveyance” (DLC:GW).

British forces attacked Col. Thomas Sumter’s camp about 35 miles northwest of Camden on 18 August. Gates had reinforced Sumter’s South Carolina militia on 14 Aug. with 300 militia and 100 Continental soldiers. Sumter suffered some 450 casualties and also lost more than 100 British prisoners captured in actions earlier that month (see Tarleton, Campaigns description begins Banastre Tarleton. A History of the Campaigns of 1780 and 1781, in the Southern Provinces of North America. 1787. Reprint. Spartanburg, S.C., 1967. description ends , 115–19).

3Thomas Sumter (1734–1832) fought Loyalists during winter 1775 as a South Carolina militia captain. Commissioned lieutenant colonel commandant of South Carolina’s Second Regiment of Riflemen in February 1776, he entered Continental service in September when his unit became the 6th South Carolina Regiment. He rose to colonel in August 1777, resigned in September 1778, and assumed unofficial command of South Carolina’s militia in June 1780 after British forces plundered his lands. Promoted to brigadier general in October, Sumter harrassed British forces with his militia until summer 1781. He resigned in January 1782 and became a state legislator. Sumter later served South Carolina as a representative and senator in Congress.

4Lt. Col. Francis Rawdon-Hastings wrote Gen. Henry Clinton on 28 Oct. that North Carolina Loyalists were exhorted after the Battle of Camden to “prevent the junction of the scattered enemy.” To his dismay, none “attempted to improve the favorable moment” (Saberton, Cornwallis Papers description begins Ian Saberton, ed. The Cornwallis Papers: The Campaigns of 1780 and 1781 in The Southern Theatre of the American Revolutionary War. 6 vols. Uckfield, England, 2010. description ends , 2:57–59). Williams disagreed, later writing that British appeals “were but too successful in the lower counties of North Carolina, where the inhabitants, except in and near the sea-port towns, began to be generally disaffected to the American cause” (Williams, “Campaign of 1780,” description begins Otho Holland Williams. “Southern Army. A Narrative of the Campaign of 1780.” In William Johnson, Sketches of the Life and Correspondence of Nathanael Greene, Major General of the Armies of the United States, In the War of the Revolution. vol. 1. Charleston, S.C., 1822, pp. 485–510. description ends 1:504).

5Congress removed Gates from command (see Huntington to GW, 6 Oct., n.1).

6For these orders, see GW to Gates, 18 July, and notes 2 and 3 to that document; see also GW to Gates, 22 July.

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