George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Samuel Huntington, 31 August 1780

From Samuel Huntington

Philadelphia August 31. 1780


I have this Day received from General Gates Despatches, containing the disagreeable Intelligence of the total Defeat of the Army under his Command; Copies of which are enclosed.1 A most unhappy Event, and unexpected immediately after the Intelligence we had just received of the several Advantages gained by our Troops in that quarter.2 We have no particular Account of the Numbers killed or taken. Report saith that Generals Smallwood & Gist and Colonel Armand are among the slain, and that Baron de Kalb is wounded & a Prisoner.3 We wish for more particular Intelligence than General Gates’s Letter before it is published by Authority.4 I have the Honor to be with the highest respect your Excellency’s most obedient & humble servant

Sam. Huntington President

LS, DLC:GW; LB, DNA:PCC, item 15. GW’s secretary Robert Hanson Harrison docketed the LS: “recd 5 Sept.” GW replied to Huntington on 6 September.

1The enclosed letter from Maj. Gen. Horatio Gates to Huntington was written at Hillsborough, N.C., on 20 Aug.: “In the deepest distress & anxiety of Mind I am obliged to acquaint your excellency with the total defeat of the troops under my command. I arrived with the Maryland line, the artillery & North Carolina Militia on the 12th instant at Rugely 13 Miles from Camden, took post there, & was the next day joined by genl Stevens with 700 Militia from Virginia. Col. Sumpter who was at the Waxaws with 400 South Carolina militia had the sunday before [6 Aug.] killed & taken near 300 of the enemy who were posted at the Hanging rock. This and other strokes upon the enemy’s advanced posts occasioned their calling in all the out posts to Camden. The 15th at daylight I reinforced Col. Sumpter with 300 North Carolina Militia, one hundred of the Maryland line and 2 three pounders from the Artillery, having previously ordered him down from the Waxaws & directed as soon as the reinforcement joined him, that he would proceed down the Wateree opposite to Camden, intercept any stores coming to the enemy & particularly the troops from 96 who were likewise withdrawn from that post. This was well executed by Col. Sumpter as his letter enclosed will shew. Having communicated my plan to the general Officers in the afternoon of the 15 inst., it was resolved to march at 10 at Night to take post in a very advantageous situation with a deep creek in front seven Miles from Camden. The heavy baggage &c. being ordered to March immediately by the [Great] Waxaw road. At 10 the army began their march in the following order. Col. Armand’s legion in front supported on both flanks by col. Porterfield’s regiment & the light infantry of the Militia. The advanced guard of infantry; the Maryland line with their artillery in front of the brigade; The North Carolina Militia; the Virginia Militia; the artillery &c. and the rear guard. Having marched about 5 Miles the legion was charged by the enemy’s cavalry & well supported on the flanks as they were ordered by Col. Porterfield, who beat back the enemy’s horse & was himself unfortunately wounded; but the enemy’s infantry advancing with a heavy fire, the troops in front gave way to the front of the first Maryland brigade & a confusion ensued, which took some time to regulate. At length the army was ranged in line of battle in the following order. Genl Gist brigade upon the right with his right close to a swamp, the North Carolina Militia in the centre & the Virginia Militia with the light Infantry & Porterfield’s corps upon the left. the artillery divided to the brigades & the first Maryland brigade as a corps de reserve & to cover the cannon in the road at a proper distance in the rear. Col. Armands corps were ordered to the left to support the left flank & oppose the enemy’s cavalry. At day light the enemy attacked & drove in our light party in front, when I ordered our left to advance & attack the enemy; but to my astonishment the left wing & North Carolina Militia gave way. Genl Caswell & myself assisted by a number of officers did all in our power to rally the broken troops, but to no purpose. For the enemy coming round the left flank of the Maryland division completed the route of the whole Militia, who left the Continental troops alone to Oppose the enemy’s whole force. I then endeavoured with gen. Caswell to rally the militia at some distance on an advantageous piece of ground; but the enemys cavalry continuing to harrass their rear they ran like a torrent & bore all before them. Hoping yet that a few miles in the rear they might recover their panick & again be brought into order, but this likewise proved in vain & the firing in a manner ceasing in the rear, there was no hopes that the Maryland division had any longer sustained the attack of the enemys whole infantry. Though overpowered by numbers their bravery is highly to be honored, as they made as great an Opposition as it was possible so small a force could make against one so vastly superior. By this time the Militia had taken the woods in all directions, I concluded with genl Caswell to retire towards Charlotte. I got there late in the night, but reflecting that there were neither arms, ammunition, nor any prospect of collecting any force at that place adequate to the defence of the country I proceeded with all possible dispatch hither to endeavour to fall upon some plan in conjunction with the legislative body of the state for the defence of as much thereof as is yet possible to save from the enemy. I shall immediately dispatch a flag to lord Cornwallis to know the situation of our wounded, the Number of prisoners & condition in his hands. I send this letter open to the Govr of Virginia that he may take proper measures in the present exigency. He will seal & forward it immediately by the bearer Col. Senf chief engineer & Maj. Magill my aid de camp who are acquainted with all the circumstances of my march from where I joined genl de Kalb, to the unfortunate hour of the defeat.

“The distresses of the campaign previous thereto almost exceed description. Famine, want of tents for the Militia & of every comfort necessary for troops in the unwholesome climate has no doubt in a degree contributed to our ruin. Had it been practicable to have rallyed the Militia at any given distance from the field of

Map 2. With French troops under Rochambeau stationed at Newport, and with the French navy under Ternay just offshore, the British kept a close watch on Rhode Island. (Illustrated by Rick Britton. Copyright Rick Britton 2019)

battle & could I have collected ammunition & magazine there was no making ⟨a⟩ post properly defensible as I had not any intrenching tools, which I so long ago represented. We have lost only 8 pieces of Cannon in the action; baron de Kalb having been obliged to leave the rest on the east side of Roanoke & at Hilsbo⟨rough⟩ but most assuredly the small arms are all gone: for those that the enemy did not take are carried off by the militia. I mention this that proper Measures may be taken to supply more arms. It is a considerable consolation to my mind that I never made any movement or took any considerable meas⟨ure⟩ without the consent & approbation of all the genl Officers & particularly in the night of the 15th inst. After the first attack of the enemy they gave it their Unanimous opinion that there was no retreating with safety & that a battle must be fought at all events. Seized with a violent disorder occasioned by the fatigue I have undergone I must entreat the indulgence of Congress for the defects of this Letter & have therefore sent col. Senf chief engineer & my aid de camp Maj. Magill to answer any questions & clear up every doubt that can be suggested, to whom I beg to refer your excellency & that honble body” (DLC:GW; see also Gates to GW, 30 Aug., n.1). Huntington also enclosed Thomas Sumter’s letter to Gates of 15 Aug. (DLC:GW).

3This information was erroneous (see Armand to GW, 7 Oct., found at John Armstrong to GW, 31 Aug., n.4; and Mordecai Gist to GW, 26 Oct.).

4The Pennsylvania Packet or the General Advertiser (Philadelphia) for 12 Sept. printed extracts from the two enclosures (see n.1 above).

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