Revolutionary War 1777 – 1783

January 3, 1777 A second victory for Washington as his troops defeat the British at Princeton and drive them back toward New Brunswick. Washington then establishes winter quarters at Morristown, New Jersey. During the harsh winter, Washington's army shrinks to about a thousand men as enlistments expire and deserters flee the hardships. By spring, with the arrival of recruits, Washington will have 9,000 men.

March 12, 1777 The Continental Congress returns to Philadelphia from Baltimore after Washington's successes against the British in New Jersey.

April 27, 1777 – American troops under Benedict Arnold defeat the British at Ridgefield, Connecticut.

June 14, 1777 The flag of the United States consisting of 13 stars and 13 white and red stripes is mandated by Congress; John Paul Jones is chosen by Congress to captain the 18 gun vessel Ranger with his mission to raid coastal towns of England.

June 17, 1777 – A British force of 7700 men under Gen. John Burgoyne invades from Canada, sailing down Lake Champlain toward Albany, planning to link up with Gen. Howe who will come north from New York City, thus cutting off New England from the rest of the colonies.

July 6, 1777 – Gen. Burgoyne's troops stun the Americans with the capture of Fort Ticonderoga on Lake Champlain. Its military supplies are greatly needed by Washington's forces. The loss of the fort is a tremendous blow to American morale.

July 23, 1777 – British Gen. Howe, with 15,000 men, sets sail from New York for Chesapeake Bay to capture Philadelphia, instead of sailing north to meet up with Gen. Burgoyne.

July 27, 1777 – Marquis de Lafayette, a 19 year old French aristocrat, arrives in Philadelphia and volunteers to serve without pay. Congress appoints him as a major general in the Continental Army. Lafayette will become one of Gen. Washington's most trusted aides.

August 1, 1777 – Gen. Burgoyne reaches the Hudson after a grueling month spent crossing 23 miles of wilderness separating the southern tip of Lake Champlain from the northern tip of the Hudson River.

August 16, 1777 – In the Battle of Bennington, militiamen from Vermont, aided by Massachusetts troops, wipe out a detachment of 800 German Hessians sent by Gen. Burgoyne to seize horses.

August 25, 1777 – British Gen. Howe disembarks at Chesapeake Bay with his troops.

September 9-11, 1777 – In the Battle of Brandywine Creek, Gen. Washington and the main American Army of 10,500 men are driven back toward Philadelphia by Gen. Howe's British troops. Both sides suffer heavy losses. Congress then leaves Philadelphia and resettles in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

September 26, 1777 – British forces under Gen. Howe occupy Philadelphia. Congress then relocates to York, Pennsylvania.

October 7, 1777 – The Battle of Saratoga results in the first major American victory of the Revolutionary War as Gen. Horatio Gates and Gen. Benedict Arnold defeat Gen. Burgoyne, inflicting 600 British casualties. American losses are only 150.

October 17, 1777 Gen. Burgoyne and his entire army of 5700 men surrender to the Americans led by Gen. Gates. The British are then marched to Boston, placed on ships and sent back to England after swearing not serve again in the war against America. News of the American victory at Saratoga soon travels to Europe and boosts support of the American cause. In Paris the victory is celebrated as if it had been a French victory. Ben Franklin is received by the French Royal Court. France then recognizes the independence of America.

November 15, 1777 Congress adopts the Articles of Confederation as the government of the new United States of America, pending ratification by the individual states. Under the Articles, Congress is the sole authority of the new national government.

December 17, 1777 – At Valley Forge in Pennsylvania, the Continental Army led by Washington sets up winter quarters.

 

February 6, 1778 – American and French representatives sign two treaties in Paris: a Treaty of Amity and Commerce and a Treaty of Alliance. France now officially recognizes the United States and will soon become the major supplier of military supplies to Washington's army. Both countries pledge to fight until American independence is won, with neither country concluding any truce with Britain without the other's consent, and guarantee each other's possessions in America against all other powers.

The American struggle for independence is thus enlarged and will soon become a world war. After British vessels fire on French ships, the two nations declare war. Spain will enter in 1779 as an ally of France. The following year, Britain will declare war on the Dutch who have been engaging in profitable trade with the French and Americans. In addition to the war in America, the British will have to fight in the Mediterranean, Africa, India, the West Indies, and on the high seas. All the while facing possible invasion of England itself by the French.

February 23, 1778 Baron von Steuben of Prussia arrives at Valley Forge to join the Continental Army. He then begins much needed training and drilling of Washington's troops, now suffering from poor morale resulting from cold, hunger, disease, low supplies and desertions over the long, harsh winter.

March 16, 1778 – A Peace Commission is created by the British Parliament to negotiate with the Americans. The commission then travels to Philadelphia where its offers granting all of the American demands, except independence, are rejected by Congress.

May 8, 1778 – British General Henry Clinton replaces Gen. Howe as commander of all British forces in the American colonies.

May 30, 1778 – A campaign of terror against American frontier settlements, instigated by the British, begins as 300 Iroquois Indians burn Cobleskill, New York.

June 18, 1778 – Fearing a blockade by French ships, British Gen. Clinton withdraws his troops from Philadelphia and marches across New Jersey toward New York City. Americans then re-occupy Philadelphia.

June 19, 1778 – Washington sends troops from Valley Forge to intercept Gen. Clinton.

June 27/28, 1778 – The Battle of Monmouth occurs in New Jersey as Washington's troops and Gen. Clinton's troops fight to a standoff. On hearing that American Gen. Charles Lee had ordered a retreat, Gen. Washington becomes furious. Gen. Clinton then continues on toward New York.

July 2, 1778 – Congress returns once again to Philadelphia.

July 3, 1778 – British Loyalists and Indians massacre American settlers in the Wyoming Valley of northern Pennsylvania.

July 8, 1778 – Gen. Washington sets up headquarters at West Point, New York.

July 10, 1778 – France declares war against Britain.

August 8, 1778 – American land forces and French ships attempt to conduct a combined siege against Newport, Rhode Island. But bad weather and delays of the land troops result in failure. The weather-damaged French fleet then sails to Boston for repairs.

September 14, 1778 Ben Franklin is appointed to be the American diplomatic representative in France.

November 11, 1778 – At Cherry Valley, New York, Loyalists and Indians massacre over 40 American settlers.

December 29, 1778 – The British begin a major southern campaign with the capture of Savannah, Georgia, followed a month later with the capture of Augusta.

April 1-30, 1779 – In retaliation for Indian raids on colonial settlements, American troops from North Carolina and Virginia attack Chickamauga Indian villages in Tennessee.

May 10, 1779 – British troops burn Portsmouth and Norfolk, Virginia.

June 1, 1779 – British Gen. Clinton takes 6000 men up the Hudson toward West Point.

June 16, 1779 – Spain declares war on England, but does not make an alliance with the American revolutionary forces.

July 5-11, 1779 – Loyalists raid coastal towns in Connecticut, burning Fairfield, Norwalk and ships in New Haven harbor.

July 10, 1779 – Naval ships from Massachusetts are destroyed by the British while attempting to take the Loyalist stronghold of Castine, Maine.

August 14, 1779 – A peace plan is approved by Congress which stipulates independence, complete British evacuation of America and free navigation on the Mississippi River.

August 29, 1779 – American forces defeat the combined Indian and Loyalist forces at Elmira, New York. Following the victory, American troops head northwest and destroy nearly 40 Cayuga and Seneca Indian villages in retaliation for the campaign of terror against American settlers.

Sept. 3 – Oct. 28 – Americans suffer a major defeat while attacking the British at Savannah, Georgia. Among the 800 American and Allied casualties is Count Casimir Pulaski of Poland. British losses are only 140.

September 23, 1779 – Off the coast of England, John Paul Jones fights a desperate battle with a British frigate. When the British demand his surrender, Jones responds, "I have not yet begun to fight!" Jones then captures the frigate before his own ship sinks.

September 27, 1779 – John Adams is appointed by Congress to negotiate peace with England.

October 17, 1779 – Washington sets up winter quarters at Morristown, New Jersey, where his troops will suffer another harsh winter without desperately supplies, resulting in low morale, desertions and attempts at mutiny.

December 26, 1779 – British Gen. Clinton sets sail from New York with 8000 men and heads for Charleston, South Carolina, arriving there on Feb. 1.

April 8, 1780 – The British attack begins against Charleston as warships sail past the cannons of Fort Moultrie and enter Charleston harbor. Washington sends reinforcements.

May 6, 1780 – The British capture Fort Moultrie at Charleston, South Carolina.

May 12, 1780 – The worst American defeat of the Revolutionary War occurs as the British capture Charleston and its 5400-man garrison (the entire southern American Army) along with four ships and a military arsenal. British losses are only 225.

May 25, 1780 – After a severe winter, Gen. Washington faces a serious threat of mutiny at his winter camp in Morristown, New Jersey. Two Continental regiments conduct an armed march through the camp and demand immediate payment of salary (overdue by 5 months) and full rations. Troops from Pennsylvania put down the rebellion. Two leaders of the protest are then hanged.

June 11, 1780 – A new Massachusetts constitution is endorsed asserting "all men are born free and equal," which includes black slaves.

June 13, 1780 – Gen. Horatio Gates is commissioned by Congress to command the Southern Army.

June 23, 1780 – American forces defeat the British in the Battle of Springfield, New Jersey.

July 11, 1780 – 6000 French soldiers under Count de Rochambeau arrive at Newport, Rhode Island. They will remain there for nearly a year, blockaded by the British fleet.

August 3, 1780 – Benedict Arnold is appointed commander of West Point. Unknown to the Americans, he has been secretly collaborating with British Gen. Clinton since May of 1779 by supplying information on Gen. Washington's tactics.

August 16, 1780 – A big defeat for the Americans in South Carolina as forces under Gen. Gates are defeated by troops of Gen. Charles Cornwallis, resulting in 900 Americans killed and 1000 captured.

August 18, 1780 – An American defeat at Fishing Creek, South Carolina, opens a route for Gen Cornwallis to invade North Carolina.

September 23, 1780 – A British major in civilian clothing is captured near Tarrytown, New York. He is found to be carrying plans indicating Benedict Arnold intends to turn traitor and surrender West Point. Two days later, Arnold hears of the spy's capture and flees West Point to the British ship Vulture on the Hudson. He is later named a brigadier general in the British Army and will fight the Americans.

October 7, 1780 – Gen. Cornwallis abandons his invasion of North Carolina after Americans capture his reinforcements, a Loyalist force of 1000 men.

October 14, 1780 Gen. Nathanael Greene, Washington's most able and trusted General, is named as the new commander of the Southern Army, replacing Gen. Gates. Greene then begins a strategy of rallying popular support and wearing down the British by leading Gen. Cornwallis on a six month chase through the back woods of South Carolina into North Carolina into Virginia then back into North Carolina. The British, low on supplies, are forced to steal from any Americans they encounter, thus enraging them.

January 3, 1781 – Mutiny among Americans in New Jersey as troops from Pennsylvania set up camp near Princeton and choose their own representatives to negotiate with state officials back in Pennsylvania. The crisis is eventually resolved through negotiations, but over half of the mutineers abandon the army.

January 17, 1781 – An American victory at Cowpens, South Carolina, as Gen. Daniel Morgan defeats British Gen. Tarleton.

January 20, 1781 – Mutiny among American troops at Pompton, New Jersey. The rebellion is put down seven days later by a 600-man force sent by Gen. Washington. Two of the leaders are then hanged.

March 15, 1781 – Forces under Gen. Cornwallis suffer heavy losses in the Battle of Guilford Courthouse in North Carolina. As a result, Cornwallis abandons plans to conquer the Carolinas and retreats to Wilmington, then begins a campaign to conquer Virginia with an army of 7500 men.

May 21, 1781 – Gen. Washington and French Gen. Rochambeau meet in Connecticut for a war council. Gen Rochambeau reluctantly agrees to Washington's plan for a joint French naval and American ground attack on New York.

June 4, 1781 – Thomas Jefferson narrowly escapes capture by the British at Charlottesville, Virginia.

June 10, 1781 – Americans troops under Marquis de Lafayette, Gen. Anthony Wayne and Baron von Steuben begin to form a combined force in Virginia to oppose British forces under Benedict Arnold and Gen. Cornwallis.

June 11, 1781 – Congress appoints a Peace Commission comprised of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Jay and Henry Laurens. The commission supplements John Adams as the sole negotiator with the British.

July 20, 1781 – Slaves in Williamsburg, Virginia, rebel and burn several buildings.

August 1, 1781 – After several months of chasing Gen. Greene's army without much success, Gen. Cornwallis and his 10,000 tired soldiers arrive to seek rest at the small port of Yorktown, Virginia, on the Chesapeake Bay. He then establishes a base to communicate by sea with Gen. Clinton's forces in New York.

August 14, 1781 – Gen. Washington abruptly changes plans and abandons the attack on New York in favor of Yorktown after receiving a letter from French Admiral Count de Grasse indicating his entire 29-ship French fleet with 3000 soldiers is now heading for the Chesapeake Bay near Cornwallis. Gen. Washington then coordinates with Gen. Rochambeau to rush their best troops south to Virginia to destroy the British position in Yorktown.

August 30, 1781 – Count de Grasse's French fleet arrives off Yorktown, Virginia. De Grasse then lands troops near Yorktown, linking with Lafayette's American troops to cut Cornwallis off from any retreat by land.

September 1, 1781 – The troops of Washington and Rochambeau arrive at Philadelphia.

September 5-8, 1781 Off Yorktown, a major naval battle between the French fleet of de Grasse and the outnumbered British fleet of Adm. Thomas Graves results in a victory for de Grasse. The British fleet retreats to New York for reinforcements, leaving the French fleet in control of the Chesapeake. The French fleet establishes a blockade, cutting Cornwallis off from any retreat by sea. French naval reinforcements then arrive from Newport.

September 6, 1781 – Benedict Arnold's troops loot and burn the port of New London, Connecticut.

September 14-24, 1781 – De Grasse sends his ships up the Chesapeake Bay to transport the armies of Washington and Rochambeau to Yorktown.

September 28, 1781 – Gen. Washington, with a combined Allied army of 17,000 men, begins the siege of Yorktown. French cannons bombard Gen. Cornwallis and his 9000 men day and night while the Allied lines slowly advance and encircle them. British supplies run dangerously low.

October 17, 1781 – As Yorktown is about to be taken, the British send out a flag of truce. Gen. Washington and Gen. Cornwallis then work out terms of surrender.

October 19, 1781 – As their band plays the tune, "The world turned upside down," the British army marches out in formation and surrenders at Yorktown. Hopes for a British victory in the war against America are dashed. In the English Parliament, there will soon be calls to bring this long costly war to an end.

October 24, 1781 – 7000 British reinforcements under Gen. Clinton arrive at Chesapeake Bay but turn back on hearing of the surrender at Yorktown.

January 1, 1782 – Loyalists begin leaving America, heading north to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

January 5, 1782 – The British withdraw from North Carolina.

February 27, 1782 – In England, the House of Commons votes against further war in America.

March 5, 1782 – The British Parliament empowers the King to negotiate peace with the United States.

March 7, 1782 – American militiamen massacre 96 Delaware Indians in Ohio in retaliation for Indian raids conducted by other tribes.

March 20, 1782 – British Prime Minister, Lord North, resigns, succeeded two days later by Lord Rockingham who seeks immediate negotiations with the American peace commissioners.

April 4, 1782 – Sir Guy Carleton becomes the new commander of British forces in America, replacing Gen. Clinton. Carleton will implement the new British policy of ending hostilities and withdraw British troops from America.

April 12, 1782 – Peace talks begin in Paris between Ben Franklin and Richard Oswald of Britain.

April 16, 1782 – Gen. Washington establishes American army headquarters at Newburgh, New York.

April 19, 1782 – The Dutch recognize the United States of America as a result of negotiations conducted in the Netherlands by John Adams.

June 11, 1782 – The British evacuate Savannah, Georgia.

June 20, 1782 – Congress adopts the Great Seal of the United States of America.

August 19, 1782 – Loyalist and Indian forces attack and defeat American settlers near Lexington, Kentucky.

August 25, 1782 – Mohawk Indian Chief Joseph Brant conducts raids on settlements in Pennsylvania and Kentucky.

August 27, 1782 – The last fighting of the Revolutionary War between Americans and British occurs with a skirmish in South Carolina along the Combahee River.

November 10, 1782 – The final battle of the Revolutionary War occurs as Americans retaliate against Loyalist and Indian forces by attacking a Shawnee Indian village in the Ohio territory.

November 30, 1782 – A preliminary peace treaty is signed in Paris. Terms include recognition of American independence and the boundaries of the United States, along with British withdrawal from America.

December 14, 1782 – The British evacuate Charleston, South Carolina.

December 15, 1782 – In France, strong objections are expressed by the French over the signing of the peace treaty in Paris without America first consulting them. Ben Franklin then soothes their anger with a diplomatic response and prevents a falling out between France and America.

January 20, 1783 – England signs a preliminary peace treaty with France and Spain.

February 3, 1783 – Spain recognizes the United States of America, followed later by Sweden, Denmark and Russia.

February 4, 1783 – England officially declares an end to hostilities in America.

March 10, 1783 – An anonymous letter circulates among Washington's senior officers camped at Newburgh, New York. The letter calls for an unauthorized meeting and urges the officers to defy the authority of the new U.S. national government (Congress) for its failure to honor past promises to the Continental Army. The next day, Gen. Washington forbids the unauthorized meeting and instead suggests a regular meeting to be held on March 15. A second anonymous letter then appears and is circulated. This letter falsely claims Washington himself sympathizes with the rebellious officers.

March 15, 1783 – General Washington gathers his officers and talks them out of a rebellion against the authority of Congress, and in effect preserves the American democracy.

April 11, 1783 Congress officially declares an end to the Revolutionary War.

April 26, 1783 – 7000 Loyalists set sail from New York for Canada, bringing a total of 100,000 Loyalists who have now fled America.

June 13, 1783 – The main part of the Continental Army disbands.

June 24, 1783 – To avoid protests from angry and unpaid war veterans, Congress leaves Philadelphia and relocates to Princeton, New Jersey.

July 8, 1783 – The Supreme Court of Massachusetts abolishes slavery in that state.

September 3, 1783 – The Treaty of Paris is signed by the United States and Great Britain. Congress will ratify the treaty on January 14, 1784.

October 7, 1783 – In Virginia, the House of Burgesses grants freedom to slaves who served in the Continental Army.

November 2, 1783 – George Washington delivers his farewell address to his army. The next day, remaining troops are discharged.

November 25, 1783 – Washington enters Manhattan as the last British troops leave.

November 26, 1783 – Congress meets in Annapolis, Maryland.

December 23, 1783 – Following a triumphant journey from New York to Annapolis, George Washington, victorious commander in chief of the American Revolutionary Army, appears before Congress and voluntarily resigns his commission, an event unprecedented in history.




Siege of Yorktown

Battle of Yorktown — The War's End

September 1781 – October 19, 1781

MIRACULOUS CONVERGENCE

"The first necessity [of the Yorktown campaign] was to arrange the meeting of French naval and American land forces on the Virginia coast at a specified time and place. The junction in Virginia had to be coordinated by two different national commands separated across an ocean without benefit of telephone, telegraph or wireless. That this was carried out without a fault seems accountable only by a series of miracles."

Scholar Barbara Tuchman in The First Salute

Moving an army in 18th century America was no easy task. Bridges were nearly non-existent; roads were trails; forage was always inadequate to the needs of thousands of men and animals.

Yorktown map

On August 14, 1781, Washington and the French general Rochambeau received word from Comte de Grasse, the admiral of the French fleet, that he would be arriving off the coast of Virginia in mid-September. De Grasse would remain in the Chesapeake area for a month, until the expected seasonal heavy weather forced him south again.

Here was an opportunity to trap Cornwallis in Virginia, but to do so meant that not one, but two armies—one speaking English, one French—would have to travel 500 miles over local roads in a coordinated assault with a navy that was, at the time de Grasse's letter arrived, sailing somewhere in the Atlantic.

To further complicate matters, the American and French armies would have to leave their encampments in New York in the face of the large British army stationed there. If a whiff of their intentions wafted toward British lines, the British would certainly engage the allied armies.

They broke camp on August 19.

A guard of American militia and Continental regulars was left in New York to cover the Hudson River crossing of the 7,000 French and American troops who were heading south. The crossing was made without incident and the joined armies headed south at a rate of 15 miles a day.

On September 1, they'd reach Philadelphia, 130 miles down the road.

On September 2, British General Henry Clinton in New York learned that Washington and Rochambeau had slipped away and had just passed through Philadelphia, heading toward Cornwallis. He sent word to Virginia that the allies were coming.

On September 5, Washington discovered that de Grasse had arrived early in the Chesapeake with 28 ships and 3,000 troops. A British fleet was also cruising toward the bay.

An advanced force of the Continental Army reached Baltimore on September 12.

On September 16, Washington learned that, after an initial skirmish, the powerful French fleet had intimidated the British fleet away from the Chesapeake. The bay was in French hands.

"On September 28," Barbara Tuchman writes, "the clink of bridles and the rhythmic clomp of horses' hooves and tramp of marching men were heard in the British camp in Yorktown, announcing the approach of the enemy army from Williamsburg."

Yorktown was surrounded. In 3 weeks time, Cornwallis would surrender and the Revolutionary War would be all but over.

The battle of Yorktown began late in September 1781. The British General sent pleas for troop reinforcements and even considered ferrying his men across the river to safety. The French and Americans began a long bombardment, with the French artillery proving highly accurate.

No reinforcements, the continuous bombardment by French and Americans, and a loss of two key redoubts or hilltop fortifications to a night attack led by Washington's aide de-Camp, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Hamilton, led Cornwallis to see there was little hope left for his army. He surrenderd to Washington on October 19, 1781. Although is was not yet clear, the war was as good as over.

 

Surrender at Yorktown
Letters of Gen. Cornwallis and Gen. Washington

Gen. Cornwallis to Gen. Washington, October 17, 1781

I propose a cessation of hostilities for twenty-four hours, and that two officers may be appointed by each side, to meet at Mr. Moore's house, to settle terms for the surrender of the posts of York and Gloucester.

Gen. Washington to Gen. Cornwallis, October 17, 1781

I have had the Honor of receiving Your Lordship's Letter of this Date.

An Ardent Desire to spare the further Effusion of Blood, will readily incline me to listen to such Terms for the Surrender of your Posts and Garrisons at York and Gloucester, as are admissible.

I wish previous to the Meeting of Commissioners, that your Lordship's proposals in writing, may be sent to the American Lines: for which Purpose, a Suspension of Hostilities during two Hours from the Delivery of this Letter will be granted.

Gen. Cornwallis to Gen. Washington, October 17, 1781

I have this moment been honoured with your Excellency's letter, dated this day.

The time limited for sending my answer will not admit of entering into the detail of articles; but the basis of my proposals will be, that the garrisons of York and Gloucester shall be prisoners of war, with the customary honours. And, for the conveniency of the individuals which I have the honour to command, that the British shall be sent to Britain, and the Germans to Germany, under engagement not to serve against France, America, or their allies, until released or regularly exchanged. That all arms and public stores shall be delivered up to you; but that the usual indulgence of side-arms to officers, and of retaining private property, shall be granted to officers and soldiers, and that the interest of several individuals, in civil capacities and connected with us, shall be attended to.

If your Excellency thinks that a continuance of the suspensions of hostilities will be necessary, to transmit your answer, I shall have no objection to the hour that you may propose.

Gen. Washington to Gen. Cornwallis, October 18, 1781

To avoid unnecessary Discussions and Delays, I shall at Once, in Answer to your Lordship's Letter of Yesterday, declare the general Basis upon which a Definitive Treaty and Capitulation must take place.

The Garrisons of York and Gloucester, including the Seamen, as you propose, will be received Prisoners of War. The Condition annexed, of sending the British and German Troops to the parts of Europe to which they respectively belong, is inadmissible. Instead of this, they will be marched to such parts of the Country as can most conveniently provide for their Subsistence; and the Benevolent Treatment of Prisoners, which is invariably observed by the Americans, will be extended to them. The same honors will be granted to the Surrendering Army as were granted to the Garrison of Charles town.

The Shipping and Boats in the two Harbours, with all their Guns, Stores, Tackling, Furniture and Apparel, shall be delivered in their present State to an Officer of the Navy, appointed to take possession of them.

The Artillery, Arms, Accoutrements, Military Chest and Public Stores of every Denomination, shall be delivered unimpaired to the Heads of Departments, to which they respectively belong.

The Officers shall be indulged in retaining their Side Arms, and the Officers and Soldiers may preserve their Baggage and Effects, with this Reserve, that Property taken in the Country, will be reclaimed.

With Regard to the Individuals in civil Capacities, whose Interests Your Lordship wishes may be attended to, until they are more particularly described, nothing definitive can be settled.

I have to add, that I expect the Sick and Wounded will be supplied with their own Hospital Stores, and be attended by British Surgeons, particularly charged with the Care of them.

Your Lordship will be pleased to signify your Determination either to accept or reject the Proposals now offered, in the Course of Two Hours from the Delivery of this Letter, that Commissioners may be appointed to digest the Articles of Capitulation, or a Renewal of Hostilities may take place.

Gen. Cornwallis to Gen. Washington, October 18, 1781

I agree to open a treaty of capitulation upon the basis of the garrisons of York and Gloucester, including seamen, being prisoners of war, without annexing the condition of their being sent to Europe; but I expect to receive a compensation in the articles of capitulation for the surrender of Gloucester in its present state of defence.

I shall, in particular, desire, that the Bonetta sloop of war may be left entirely at my disposal, from the hour that the capitulation is signed, to receive an aid-de-camp to carry my dispatches to Sir Henry Clinton. Such soldiers as I may think proper to send as passengers in her, to be manned with fifty men of her own crew, and to be permitted to sail without examination, when my dispatches are ready: engaging, on my part, that the ship shall be brought back and delivered to you, if she escapes the dangers of the sea, that the crew and soldiers shall be accounted for in future exchanges, that she shall carry off no officer without your consent, nor public property of any kind; and I shall likewise desire, that the traders and inhabitants may preserve their property, and that no person may be punished or molested for having joined the British troops.

If you choose to proceed to negociation on these grounds, I shall appoint two field officers of my army to meet two officers from you, at any time and place that you think proper, to digest the articles of capitulation.




2d Virginia Regiment

LINEAGE

[Wright, Continental Army, pp. 283-285]

Authorized 21 August 1775 in the Virginia State Troops as the 2d Virginia Regiment

Organized 21 October 1775 at Williamsburg to consist of seven companies

Adopted 1 November 1775 into the Continental Army

Reorganized 11 January 1776 to consist of ten companies

Assigned 27 February 1776 to the Southern Department

Relieved 27 December 1776 from the Southern Department and assigned to the Main Army

Assigned 22 May 1777 to the 2d Virginia Brigade, an element of the Main Army

Reorganized 1 November 1777 to consist of eight companies

Consolidated 12 May 1779 with the 6th Virginia Regiment [see 6th Virginia Regiment] and consolidated unit designated as the 2d Virginia Regiment, to consist of nine companies

Relieved 4 December 1779 from assignment to the 1st Virginia Brigade and assigned to the Southern Department

Captured 12 May 1780 by the British Army at Charleston, South Carolina

Disbanded 15 November 1783

ENGAGEMENTS

[Wright, Continental Army, p. 285]

Chesapeake Bay

Northern New Jersey

Defense of Philadelphia

Philadelphia-Monmouth

Charleston 1780




Southern Campaign

The British Strategy

By 1778, British and American combatants in the north were stalemated, and a quick end to the Revolutionary War was doubtful. The British now rekindled a plan for putting down the rebellion by first controlling the southern colonies and then sweeping north to total victory. The strategy began well. Savannah was captured in late 1778, and Charleston fell in 1780. Lord Cornwallis, the British commander in the south, then planned to move his troops through the Carolina backcountry providing encouragement to loyalists there. Cornwallis' intent was to enlist a strong loyalist militia which, supported by British regulars, would control the backcountry. This proved successful as loyalist militia units formed and maneuvered throughout the area. By the summer of 1780, British control of South Carolina seemed assured, especially after Cornwallis' crushing defeat of American forces at Camden in August, 1780. Cornwallis was ready to begin his march northward.

The British had secured Ninety Six as a base of operations in the backcountry in June, 1780, and Cornwallis believed Ninety Six would be crucial to control of the backcountry once the British army moved northward out of South Carolina. Cornwallis left Lieutenant-Colonel John Harris Cruger, a loyalist from New York, in charge of Ninety Six. Cruger's instructions were to be "vigorous" in punishing rebels and maintaining order in the area.

The Tide Turns

A series of events beginning in autumn, 1780, put the success of the British Southern Campaign in doubt. In October, 1780, a patriot militia force defeated Patrick Ferguson and his corps of loyalists at Kings Mountain (see map above). Francis Marion was campaigning against British loyalists in the low country of South Carolina, and Thomas Sumter maneuvered his patriot forces against loyalists targets in the South Carolina upcountry. In addition, Nathanael Greene, the new commander of American forces in the south, had split his army to move more widely through the Carolinas.

Cornwallls, fearing for Ninety Six and overall British control of South Carolina, sent units to remove the patriot threat. The British lost many of the ensuing encounters including a significant defeat at The {ln:Cowpens} in January, 1781. Cornwallis and Greene met each other in March, 1781, at Guilford Courthouse; the British won this encounter but lost nearly a third of its force including some of the best officers. Cornwallis then moved his army to Wilmington, and Greene turned his attention back to South Carolina and Ninety Six. Greene hoped to loosen the British hold on the backcountry by taking Ninety Six and forcing the enemy to Charleston.

Greene set siege to Ninety Six in May, 1781, but never took the fort. He was forced to lift the siege a month later as British reinforcements advanced toward Ninety Six. The British abandoned Ninety Six in July and moved to the coast. This signaled the end of British control of the interior. The Southern Campaign was over. British forces surrendered at Yorktown four months later, effectively ending the war.

 

The War in the South

1778-1781

The British decided to focus their attention to the South as loyalists support was strong in many areas there.

December 29, 1778
Clinton's troops captured Savannah, Georgia.
May 1780
Clinton's troops took Charlestown, South Carolina.
August 1780
British were vitorious at Camden, South Carolina.
October 1780
Patiots captured 1000 loyalist troops at border of North and South Carolina.
January 1781
Patriots won at {ln:Cowpens}, North Carolina.
March 1781
Guilford Courthouse in North Carolina – British forced to reteat to Yorktown as casualities got so great.



Overmountain Men

History

In the summer of 1780, the Southern American colonies – and hopes of independence – seemed at the mercy of an invading British army. Believing the Southern colonies mostly loyal, the Royal army planned to conquer the South and recruit Loyalist militia (local volunteer soldiers) to help British regulars and British Provincial troops defeat the Continental Army and the local Patriot militia.

When Charleston, South Carolina, surrendered May 12th, 1780, the British captured most of the Continental troops in the South. Additional large losses occurred later in the summer with Patriot defeats at Waxhaws, South Carolina, May 29th, and Camden, South Carolina, August 16th. Only Patriot militia remained to oppose a British move through North Carolina into Virginia, America’s largest colony. Victory for Royal troops and an end to talk of independence seemed near.

Lord Charles Cornwallis, the British commander, appointed Major Patrick Ferguson as Inspector of Militia for South Carolina to defeat the local militia and to recruit Loyalists. Ferguson’s opposition included men from South Carolina’s backwoods under Thomas Sumter, North Carolinians commanded by Charles McDowell, and Over mountain men from today’s Tennessee under Isaac Shelby.

Moving into North Carolina, Ferguson attempted to intimidate the western settlers, threatening to march into the mountains and "lay waste the country with fire and sword" if they did not lay down their arms and pledge allegiance to the King. The response was a furious army formed on the western frontier. Growing in numbers as they marched east, some 900 men gave chase to Ferguson, surrounding his army at Kings Mountain, South Carolina, and killing or capturing Ferguson’s entire command.

" . . . That Turn of the Tide of Success" –Thomas Jefferson

 

Ferguson’s defeat was a stunning blow to British fortunes. The strength of the Patriot militia was affirmed. The hoped for Loyalist support didn’t materialize. Cornwallis was forced to pull back from North Carolina, giving the Continental Army time to bring fresh regulars and new commanders south. On January 17,1781, Daniel Morgan, using Continentals and militia, defeated Colonel Banastre Tarleton’s British army at Cowpens, South Carolina. That winter saw a running campaign between Cornwallis and the armies of Morgan and Nathanael Greene. Try as Cornwallis might, the Americans always seemed to cross the river to safety before Cornwallis could cut them off.

At Guilford Courthouse, North Carolina, on March 15th, Greene finally turned to face Cornwallis. Greene’s army was driven from the battlefield, but Cornwallis suffered severe losses which he could not replace. Cornwallis pulled back to recuperate, finally moving his army north into Virginia without subduing North Carolina. In the fall of 1781, George Washington rushed his army south to join French reinforcements. When French warships fortuitously gained control of the Chesapeake Bay, Cornwallis was besieged and forced to surrender on October 19,1781, just over a year after Kings Mountain.

Kings Mountain was the beginning of the successful end to the Revolution, assuring independence for the United States of America. On an unimposing and obscure mountain, Americans fought Americans to determine their destiny. The citizen militia of the community, the predecessors of today’s National Guard and Reserves – like volunteer fire departments – organized to protect their community.

 

Men without formal training or recognized social standing – Ferguson called them mongrels – took hold of their destinies, just like the men who began the American War for Independence on April 19,1775, at Lexington and Concord. They relied upon their individual initiative, skills with the rifle, and courage to ensure the success of their cause.

September 12, 1780, Charles McDowell ambushed part of Ferguson’s army at Cane Creek but was driven off and fled to Sycamore Shoals to await reinforcement by the Overmountain men.

September 25, 1780 Shelby, Sevier, Campbell mustered the militia of the Watauga and Holston Valleys at Sycamore Shoals of the Watauga River (Elizabethton) to join Burke County militia under Charles McDowell. Fort Watauga is today reconstructed at the Tennessee historic area. In 1780, this was North Carolina, later Franklin (or Frankland), later Southwest Territory.

September 26, 1780, the army spent its first night at Shelving Rock, storing their powder out of the rain.

September 27, 1780, snow fell on Roan Mountain as the army crossed. Yellow Mountain Gap, at 4682 feet, is the highest point on the trail. Here two men deserted to warn Ferguson of the Patriot army.

September 30,1780, North Carolinians under Benjamin Cleveland, Joseph Winston, and William Lenoir joined the Overmountain men at the McDowell home at Quaker Meadows.

October 1 and 2, 1780, the army stopped to dry out and prepare for battle expected soon. Unpopular Charles McDowell was persuaded to step aside as commander. William Campbell, not from North Carolina, was chosen as a compromise replacement. McDowell rode to ask for a Continental officer to command.

October 3, 1780, the army camped beneath Marlin’s Knob beside Cane Creek. South Carolina Patriots under William Hill and Edward Lacey were camped nearby at Flint Hill (Cherry Mountain).

October 4, 1780, entering Gilbert Town, they found Ferguson had left, possibly headed towards Ninety Six in South Carolina.

October 5, 1780, reassured they, were following Ferguson, the army proceeded to the Green River, away from Kings Mountain. Small parties of Georgians under William Candler and North Carolinians under William Chronicle joined the Overmountain men. Early the next morning, Edward Lacey rode in with news they were headed away from Ferguson.

October 6, 1780, finally convinced Ferguson headed east toward Charlotte, the men with the best horses raced off to meet with Lacey and Hill’s South Carolinians.

 

The two groups united the evening of October 6th at Cowpens. Eating a hasty meal, the parties pushed on through a rainy night.

October 7, 1780, about 3:00 p.m. they found Ferguson’s Loyalist army on Kings Mountain. The two sides fiercely contested the wooded slopes until Ferguson was shot from his horse, killed with some 120 of his men. Only 40 Patriots fell.

October 7, 1780, at dawn the Patriot army successfully crossed the flooding Broad River at Cherokee Ford.

During the return, October 14, 1780, at Biggerstaff’s Old Fields (Bickerstaff’s or Red Chimneys) 30 Tories were tried. Nine were hanged, the others spared.

Many of the Patriot militia who fought at Kings Mountain returned to Cowpens, January 17, 1781, to help Daniel Morgan defeat another brash, young British commander, Banastre Tarleton.

At least five African-Americans are known to have served in the Patriot army at Kings Mountain.

  

People Involved

William Campbell

Leading the largest contingent, Virginian Campbell was chosen by his fellow colonels to command in Charles McDowell’s place. Campbell died in 1781, just before Yorktown.

Charles McDowell

A tireless campaigner in 1780, he stepped down from command rather than split the Patriot army.

Isaac Shelby

Later first governor of Kentucky, Shelby was a strong, forceful influence the summer of 1780. The morning of October 7th, he refused to stop and rest when the men tired after spending 36 hours on the march, vowing to follow Ferguson into Cornwallis’ lines, if necessary.

John Sevier

Later Tennessee’s first governor, John Sevier was the best known man west of the mountains and gave his personal guarantee to fund supplies for the militia army.

Mary Patton

This little-known Tennessee woman manufactured 500 pounds of powder purchased by William Cobb for the Overmountain men. Benjamin Cleveland The voice for independence in Wilkes and Surry Counties, Tories attempted to ambush Cleveland on his way to Quaker Meadows, wounding his brother instead.

Edward Lacey

Commanding South Carolina troops, Lacey rode through the stormy night of October 5th to intercept the Overmountain men at Green River and head them towards Kings Mountain.

Major Patrick Ferguson

Intelligent, brave, charming, inventive, headstrong, he fruitlessly advocated use of Patriot "Indian-style" warfare, yet he relied on the bayonet charge at Kings Mountain, allowing his army to be surrounded.

Abraham de Peyster

From New York, he served as Ferguson’s second in command. He lived in New Brunswick, Canada, after the Revolution.

Veazey Husband

A Loyalist from the Yadkin country near Cleveland, he was killed at Kings Mountain.

  

Patriot Troops at Kings Mountain

The Patriot commanders did not keep or report official rosters of their men engaged against Ferguson at Kings Mountain.

Dr. Lyman Draper’s "King’s Mountain and Its Heroes", combined with pension applications filed by veterans and their survivors well after the battle, are the main sources of information about the army.

Dr. Bobby Moss in his "The Patriots at Kings Mountain" combines accounts from these two and other published sources to come up with brief biographies of the participants. (Dr. Moss compiled similar biographies on Ferguson’s men in his "The Loyalists at Kings Mountain".)

Georgia:

Draper on page 214 says that Captain Edward Hampton met with Colonel Elijah Clarke as the Georgians retreated toward the Nolichucky after the aborted seige of Augusta. Major William Candler took a party of 30 Georgians to join with the Overmountain army against Ferguson. They joined up near Gilbert Town. Draper on page 227 indicates Candler joined Williams and entered the army at Cowpens with Lacey (Sumter’s men) and Williams.

North Carolina:

Draper on page 227 indicates about 90 men under McDowell (Burke), 110 men under Cleveland (Wilkes), and about 60 men under Winston (Surry) at Green River and Cowpens before the battle. In addition, he counts 50 men under Graham, Hambright, and Chronicle from Lincoln County joining up at Cowpens. Not counting the Watauga troops under Sevier and Shelby, North Carolina supplied 310 men out of the total Patriot force of 910 that Draper identifies. Adding the Tennesseans brings the North Carolina total to 550.

South Carolina:

Draper on page 227 indicates about 100 men under Lacey (Sumter’s men) and 30 under Williams joined the Patriot army at Cowpens before the battle. (This number subtracts the 30 Georgians under Candler who joined with Williams.) Draper estimates from this a total force of 910.

Tennessee:

Draper on page 227 indicates about 120 men under Sevier and another 120 men under Shelby at Green River and Cowpens before the battle. Draper estimates from this a total force of 910 in the Patriot army.

Virginia:

Draper on page 227 indicates about 200 under Campbell at Green River and Cowpens before the battle. Draper estimates from this a total force of 910 in the Patriot army.


Map of the Route of the Over Mountain Men

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Captain Samuel Martin at King’s Mountain

RESEARCHER’S NOTES:

Participation of Captain Samuel Martin in the Battle of King’s Mountain.

During the latter part of August and the whole of September, Captain Martin was rarely at home, and then not remaining for more than two days at a time. About the last week of September be marched with his company by a circuitous route, under Colonel Graham, to the Cowpens. There, he united with Colonels. Campbell, Shelby, Sevier, Cleaveland and other officers and marched with them to King’s Mountain. In this battle Captain Martin acted a conspicuous part, was in the thickest of the fight, and lost six of his company. After this battle he continued on active scouting duties wherever his services were needed.

Excerpt from Sketches of Western North Carolina, Cyrus L. Hunter, 1877

Samuel Martin was born in Ireland in 1732, where he married Margaret McCurdy, and migrated to Pennsylvania. While there, he served in the old French and Indian war, removing to North Carolina, he served on the Snow campaign in 1775; on the frontiers in 1776; and went to the relief of Charleston in 1779-80. In June, 1780, he was made Captain, serving under Rutherford; and was at the capture of Rugeley ‘s Tories, and at King’s Mountain. In 1781, he opposed Cornwallis at Cowan’s Ford, and afterwards served awhile under General Pickens; and then commanded a company under Colonel William Polk at Eutaw Springs. Surviving his companion, he died in Gaston County, November twenty-sixth, 1836, at the great age of one hundred and four years.

Except from King’s Mountain and It’s Heroes, Lyman C Draper, LL.D, 1881

Then marched to Fishing Creek in pursuit of the tory officer Cunningham, out about 10 days in pursuit, the middle of August. During the latter part of August and to Ocotber, at the time of the battle of Camden (Gates defeat) and the march of Cornwallis towards Charlotte was out constantly, not being at home two days at a time. Late in September marching a circuitious route to Gilberttown, under Col Graham, where fell in with Col Campbell and Shelby, and marched to Battle of King’s Mountain where I commanded 20 men, 4 of whom were killed on the ground and 2 died shortly after.

Marched in pursuit of Cornwallis, to harrass his trains in crossing the Catawba River. Was under the command of Col Wm Graham of Tryon County. Col Campbell commanded at King’s Mountain, Col Graham having left before the action, the command of the regiment devolving on Joseph Dixon. Graham’s commission was taken away on account of his conduct on that occasion.

Declaration of Samuel Martin dated May 13, 1833, aged listed as 99 years.

I volunteered as private in declarant’s company just before the Battle of Ramseurs Mill in Tryon County (now Lincoln) and continued subject to his command until after the Battle of King’s Mountain in which I was under his command. He commanded about 20 men, 6 of whom fell. He was recognized as Capt until the end of the war. I have known him from boyhood, and have all the time lived in his neighborhood.

Statement by Andy Barry, 13 May 1833

Was with Capt Martin at Battle of King’s Mountain and many other places in Lincoln County. He was recognized as Capt from that time to the close of war. Have lived as neighbor to him ever since I was a small boy.

Statement by Samuel Caldwell, 13 May 1833

Was informed and believes Samuel Martin acted as Capt of militia at siege of Charleston. Deponent marched to Gilberttown (now Rutherford) where he found Colonels Shelby and Campbell. Capt Martin was there and marched to King’s Mountain and there commanded a company. In consequence of "Lord Wallace" army being in the neighborhood the militia was constantly out. Deponent was frequently with Capt Martin frequently on other tours and believes he served his country as he stated. Deponent has known him ever since.

Capt Samuel Caldwell – October 24th, 1833

END OF RESEARCHER’S NOTE

Historians consider the Battle of Kings Mountain to be the "turning point in the South" in America’s War for Independence. The victory of Patriots over Loyalist troops destroyed the left wing of Cornwallis’ army. The battle also effectively ended, at least temporarily, the British advance into North Carolina. Lord Cornwallis was forced to retreat from Charlotte into South Carolina to wait for reinforcements. The victory of the Overmountain Men allowed General Nathaniel Greene the opportunity to reorganize the American Army.

When British General Henry Clinton learned of his men’s defeat at Kings Mountain, he is reported to have called it "the first link of a chain of evils" that he feared might lead to the collapse of the British plans to quash the Patriot rebellion. He was right. American forces went on to defeat the British at Cowpens. A little more than a year after Kings Mountain, Washington accepted Cornwallis’s surrender at Yorktown, Virginia.

The battle, fought October 7th, 1780, proved to be the turning point in the British Southern campaign. The American Continental army suffered successive defeats at Charleston, Waxhaws, and Camden, South Carolina, in the summer of 1780. By the fall, only the voluntary militia units remained in the field to oppose the armies of Cornwallis.

To recruit and equip militia loyal to the British cause, Cornwallis sent Major Patrick Ferguson into the western Carolinas. He was to raise a loyal militia army and suppress the remaining Patriot militia. Intending to cow the Patriots, in September he sent a proclamation to the mountain settlements, telling them to lay down their arms, or he would march his army west, and "lay waste the countryside with fire and sword."

The result was the march of the famous Overmountain men from the Sycamore Shoals of the Watauga River across the mountains in search of Ferguson. Overcoming hunger, weather, wrangling, and intrigue, the Patriots attacked and destroyed Ferguson’s Loyalists at Kings Mountain.

The Patriot army, nominally under the command of William Campbell from Virginia, contained strong leaders who managed to combine their efforts. John Sevier would go on to serve as Tennessee’s first governor. Isaac Shelby would be Kentucky’s first governor. Benjamin Cleveland would serve as a civic leader and judge in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. Joseph Winston, Joseph McDowell, Andrew Hampton, William Chronicle, and Joseph Hambright all led troops from North Carolina. William Hill, Edward Lacey, and James Williams led contingents from South Carolina. William Candler led a small group from Georgia.

Charles McDowell from North Carolina helped organize the army. But he stepped aside before the battle to preserve a united Patriot army.

PATRICK FERGUSON — KEEN RIFLEMAN

The leader of the Loyalist troops was Major Patrick Ferguson. Ferguson would be the only British regular to serve at Kings Mountain. All other soldiers were Americans — Patriot and Loyalist.

Joining the British army at age 15, Ferguson was a well known marksman and the inventor of a breechloading rifle. The son of a Scottish judge, Ferguson had an affable disposition, a gentle face and was slight of build. Nevertheless, his soldiers named him "Bulldog."

Ferguson distinguished himself early on in his military career. Serving as a cornet in the Royal North British Dragoons, Ferguson was considered by his superiors as a courageous fighter during the wars of Flanders and Germany in the 1760’s. In 1768, he joined the Seventieth Regiment of Foot in the West Indies, where British troops engaged in guerilla warfare with the native Carib tribes. Ferguson went for garrison duty at Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1773 but soon became bored.

Ferguson’s ability with a rifle was well known. While visiting his family’s estate in Scotland before the American Revolution, he began to develop a rifle of his own. After completing the invention, Ferguson displayed the rifle for military leaders and even King George III witnessed one of Ferguson’s demonstrations.

During one demonstration, Ferguson fired at a rate of 4-6 shots per minute during pouring rain and high wind. Apparently, Ferguson only missed the target three times while firing from a distance of 200 yards — this was not possible with the British Brown Bess musket. A patent was issued and a limited number of the breechloading rifles were produced. Ferguson established an elite rifle corps which joined Sir Henry Clinton in America. Their mission: to help stop the rebellion in the colonies.

FERGUSON HAS WASHINGTON IN HIS SIGHTS

At the Battle of Brandywine (September 11, 1777), Ferguson was wounded in the arm and his rifle corps was later disbanded. The Ferguson rifles were removed and very few have been seen since. There is no evidence that the Ferguson rifle was used at the Battle of Kings Mountain.

It was at the Battle of Brandywine that Ferguson distinguished himself further though many did not know about it until the 20th century. Scholars believe that  Ferguson was the British soldier who had George Washington in his gun sight. Ferguson did not pull the trigger, saying that "it is ungentlemanly to shoot a man in the back of the head." 

Ferguson himself mentioned the incident in a letter he dictated a few months later. During the battle, he did not realize the identity of the American officer. While recuperating in the hospital from his arm injury, he discovered that the American officer in question was George Washington. Ferguson wrote that even if he had known, he would not have pulled the trigger. Ferguson’s letters are available in the library at Edinburgh University.

Ferguson later fought in the battles of Monmouth and Little Egg Harbor. He was also active in many other battles in the New York and Hudson area. Impressing his superiors with his valor, Ferguson was promoted to Major in 1779.

Late that year, he was selected to command a corps of 300 men, called the American Volunteers. The men were Loyalists, handpicked from units in the New York and New Jersey area. The corps, along with Ferguson, arrived in the South in early February 1780. Ferguson, a persuasive individual, immediately gathered support in Savannah and Augusta before Clinton ordered him to Charleston.

During the invasion of that city, Ferguson worked with the legendary Banastre Tarleton, who had angered many Patriots after his massacre of soldiers trying to surrender to him at Waxhaw. Author Washington Irving later wrote that Ferguson and Tarleton were "equally intrepid and determined but Ferguson is cooler, and more open to the impulses of humanity." In fact, some researchers believe that Ferguson despised Tarleton’s methods.

After Charleston fell, Ferguson was appointed to the position of Inspector General of the Militia. Clinton and Cornwallis gave him the mission to organize a volunteer corps of Loyalists troops. Ferguson’s men thought highly of him — he had a natural ability to gain their affection and respect. The Scot was known for spending hours in conversations with the ordinary people around the villages and towns in South Carolina. South Carolina remained a Loyalist stronghold until the end of the war, largely due to his influence.

 

PRELUDE TO BATTLE

During the summer of 1780, Ferguson and his provincial corps of 150 traveled through South Carolina and into North Carolina gathering support for His Majesty’s cause. While marching through the upcountry of South Carolina, the Loyalists engaged in minor skirmishes with militia regiments. Some of those small battles happened at places like Wofford’s Iron Works, Musgrove’s Mill, Thicketty Fort, and Cedar Spring. However in August, after the Americans lost at the Battle of Camden, the Over Mountain Men retired to their homes in western North Carolina to rest before going after Ferguson again.

THE MARCH TO KINGS MOUNTAIN

Meanwhile in September, Cornwallis invaded North Carolina. His final objective was to march into Virginia. To protect his troops from guerilla attack, Cornwallis ordered Ferguson to move northward into western North Carolina before joining the main British Army in Charlotte.

In late September, Ferguson camped at Gilbert Town (near present day Rutherfordton). He sent a message to Colonel Isaac Shelby, whom he considered to be the leader of the "backwater men." The message said that if Shelby and his men did not stop their opposition to the British, Ferguson would march his army over the mountains, hang their leaders and "lay the country waste with fire and sword." The Patriots would have none of it.

On September 25, Patriot leaders and Colonels Charles McDowell, John Sevier, Isaac Shelby and William Campbell gathered at Sycamore Shoals on the Watauga River (near present day Tennessee). They marched five days over the snow covered mountains to the Quaker Meadows Plantation owned by McDowell’s family (in present day Morganton). There, they were joined by  more frontiersmen including those serving under Benjamin Cleveland and Joseph Winston. The troops marched toward Gilbert Town and Ferguson.

Spies told Ferguson the Patriots were on their way. Ferguson had stayed at Gilbert Town hoping to intercept another Patriot force, heading northward. Calling in reinforcements, the Scot began to march toward Charlotte to receive the protection of Cornwallis’ main army. He sent an appeal to loyal North Carolinians  — for them to save themselves from the "backwater men…a set of mongrels." Late on October 6, Ferguson received word from his spies that the Americans were close behind him. Camping at Kings Mountain, near the North Carolina border, he sent a message to Cornwallis requesting reinforcements. "Three or four hundred good soldiers," he wrote, "would finish the business. Something must be done soon." Desperately short of provisions, Ferguson sent out a foraging party of 150 men. He then organized a defense and prepared to meet the enemy.

When the Patriots realized that Ferguson was not at Gilbert Town, they became determined to pursue and fight him. The soldiers followed Ferguson, leaving their weak comrades and horses at Gilbert Town. On October 6 at Cowpens in South Carolina, the Over Mountain Men were joined by 400 South Carolinians under Colonel James Williams and others. The soldiers learned from spy Joseph Kerr that Ferguson was definitely camped about 30 miles ahead in the vicinity of Kings Mountain. Shelby was especially pleased to learn that Ferguson was quoted as saying,   that he "was on Kings Mountain, that he was king of that mountain and that God Almighty and all the Rebels of hell could not drive him from it."

The seven colonels chose Campbell as their officer of the day to carry out the plans they adopted collectively. Fearing Ferguson would escape, the colonels selected 900 of their best men to pursue the Loyalists.

The Patriots marched through the night and the next day, through pouring rain and intermittent showers. They reached Kings Mountain the next day, Saturday October 7 just after noon.

Kings Mountain is an outlying portion of the Blue Ridge Mountains. A heavily rocky and wooded area, the mountain rises 60 feet above the plain surrounding it. The campsite was supposedly an ideal place for Ferguson to camp because the mountain has a plateau at its summit. The plateau is 600 yards long and 70 feet wide at one end and 120 feet wide at the other. The Scot considered the summit too steep to be scaled.

THE BATTLE BEGINS

Upon arriving at Kings Mountain, the Patriot soldiers dismounted. After tying up the horses, the soldiers formed in a horseshoe around the base of the mountain behind their leaders, who remained on horseback.

Ferguson was right in believing that his would be attackers would expose themselves to musket fire if they attempted to scale the summit. But Ferguson did not realize his men could only fire if they went out into the open, exposing themselves to musket fire. Most of the Patriot troops were skilled hunters who routinely killed fast moving animals. On this day, Ferguson’s men would not find escape an easy task.

The fighting began around 3 p.m. when some of Ferguson’s men noticed the Patriot soldiers surrounding the mountain. After a brief skirmish, the shooting began in earnest when two of the Patriot regiments opened fire on the Loyalists simultaneously. The Loyalists fired back but the Patriots were protected by the heavily wooded area.

The regiments commanded by Colonels Isaac Shelby and William Campbell marched toward Ferguson’s men but were driven back twice by Loyalist fire. But as one regiment was driven back, another would advance. Ferguson had to shift his reserves from one place to another while continuing to take heavy losses from the concealed American sharpshooters in the trees. Eventually, other Patriot troops provided enough support that Shelby and Campbell’s regiments reached the summit.

During the battle, Patrick Ferguson commanded his men with the use of a silver whistle. Many Patriot fighters later recalled hearing the sound of Ferguson’s whistle over the sound of the rifle fire. The whistle and the checkered hunting shirt he wore over his uniform made the Scottish commander quite noticeable on the battlefield.

After nearly an hour of fighting, Ferguson suddenly fell from his horse. One foot was hanging in his stirrup — several, perhaps as many as eight bullets were in his body. Some accounts say he died before he hit the ground. Other accounts say that his men propped him against a tree, where he died. Ferguson was the only British soldier killed in the battle — all others were Americans, either Loyalist or Patriot.

Ferguson’s second in command then ordered that a white flag of surrender be hoisted.

Despite the call for surrender by the Loyalists, the Patriots could not immediately stop their men from shooting. Many Patriots remembered that the infamous Colonel Tarleton had mowed down Patriot troops at Waxhaw despite the fact that the troops were trying to surrender. Eventually, the fighting at Kings Mountain stopped.

In all, 225 Loyalists were killed, 163 were wounded, 716 were taken prisoner. 28 Patriots were killed and 68 were wounded. Among the Patriot dead: Colonel James Williams of South Carolina.

BATTLE ENDS: PATRIOTS MARCH PRISONERS TO HILLSBOROUGH

After the battle, the victorious Patriots and the captured Loyalists had to camp together. Soon it became dark and the cries of the wounded were heard and often unheeded.

The next morning, the sun came out for the first time in days. Fearing that Cornwallis would soon be upon them, many of the Patriot militia left for their homes. A contingent of Patriots took the prisoners northward to the Continental Army jurisdiction in Hillsborough.

During the journey, a number of prisoners were brutally beaten and some prisoners were hacked with swords. A number of unjust murders took place — not the Patriots finest hour. The injustices continued a week later when a committee of Patriots appointed a jury to try some of the so-called "obnoxious" Loyalists. 36 Loyalists were found guilty of breaking open houses, burning houses and killing citizens. Nine were hanged.

CORNWALLIS IS SHAKEN BY THE NEWS; WITHDRAWS INTO SOUTH CAROLINA

Cornwallis was shaken when the news of Ferguson’s defeat reached his headquarters. He remained in Charlotte a few days before withdrawing back into South Carolina to the British post at Winnsboro. 

The British could not count on reinforcements from other South Carolina posts to help them — the news of victory at Kings Mountain had revived Patriot hopes. The victory triggered bonfires and street dancing in cities held by the Patriots. Soon, Patriot leaders such as Thomas Sumter, Elijah Clarke and Francis "The Swamp Fox" Marion stepped up their harassment of British troops. Patriot sympathizers increased their assaults on Tory neighbors.

COUNTDOWN TO YORKTOWN

Cornwallis was not inactive however. He sent Tarleton and a Major Wemyss in hot pursuit of Marion and Sumter. On November 9, Sumter was fully prepared when Wemyss attempted a surprise attack on his forces at Fish Dam Ford. Wemyss and 25 of his men were captured. Sumter then moved with 240 toward the British fort at Ninety Six. Tarleton stopped his pursuit of Marion and went to Fort Ninety Six. Deciding not to face Tarleton at that time, Sumter fled northward to Blackstock’s Plantation. On November 20, Tarleton attacked Sumter’s forces but to no avail. Tarleton lost 100 men while the Americans only lost three. Tarleton then rejoined Cornwallis.

Meanwhile, Clinton sent General Alexander Leslie to Virginia to prepare for battle there. Leslie was to be under the direct orders of Cornwallis. Cornwallis  ordered Leslie to come to South Carolina — he planned to resume his invasion of North Carolina as soon as Leslie arrived. Believing that Patriot leader Daniel Morgan planned to attack Fort Ninety Six, Cornwallis sent Tarleton to deal with the backwoodsman. Expecting Leslie to arrive in mid-January, Cornwallis planned to advance rapidly northward and cut off the two American armies (Nathaniel Greene’s men in the South from George Washington’s men in the North). He also hoped to stop the advance of Morgan’s forces should they survive the expected encounter with Tarleton.

Cornwallis’s hopes were dashed. Morgan’s men soundly defeated Tarleton’s Legion at the Battle of Cowpens on January 17. Morgan, who was ill with rheumatism and other ailments,  joined Greene’s army before returning to his home in Virginia. Greene saw that Cornwallis, who had left South Carolina, was getting further away from his train of supplies and provisions. Eventually, the two forces met in the Battle of Guilford Courthouse. Technically, the British won that battle but it was a Pyrrhic victory because British losses were high. One man in four was killed, wounded or captured.

Throughout the summer, skirmishes were fought across the Carolinas and Virginia. In September, the army of Cornwallis and the army of Washington met at Yorktown. After a 20-day battle, Cornwallis surrendered. The war officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Paris two years later.

Historians agree that the battle of Kings Mountain was the beginning of the end of British rule in its former colonies. In less than one hour of battle, the Overmountain Men not only captured the day but also punctured holes in the British strategy for keeping America under its control.

Portions written by Peggy Beach, Cleveland County Public Information Officer

SUMMARY

The Battle of King’s Mountain, was a crushing defeat to the British and loyalist troops, but more importantly, brought a glimmer of hope to the Patriot forces in the South.

The war had not been going well for the American forces in the south. Banastre Tarlton with 290 of his famed dragoon legion had unmerciously butchered 400 of Bufords’ troops at the Battle of Waxhaws Creek in 1780. Burfords’ troops had tried to surrendered, but Tarlton anxious to make a name for himself, personally cut the surrender banner down, then lead the final and fatal saber charge. This lead to his nickname "Bloody Tarlton", and his terms of surrender were known as "Tarlton’s quarter".

In addition to the capture of Savannah, and with the surrender of Charleston, S.C., things looked bleak for the Americans in the south.

Only through the "partisans" was any resistance kept alive. Partisans were bands of guerilla fighters, whose hit and run tactics, disrupted the British communication and supply lines in the south. The famous partisans were Andrew Pickens (the Wizard Owl), Thomas Sumter (the Carolina Gamecock), and Francis Marion (the Swamp Fox).

Americans troops were all too eager to repay the British for the massacre which occurred at Waxhaws.

On October the 7th, Maj. Patrick Ferguson brings his Loyalist troops to high ground which is heavily wooded, and he mistakenly believes that this area is invulnerable to attack.

Ferguson is also noted worthy as he has also developed the first breech loading rifle, but it is not adopted as it is condsidered too unreliable. Also Ferguson is in control of the second largest group of Loyalist troops (Tarlton being first).

Ferguson with his believe that he has secued an impregnable position, as Cornwallis to send reinforcements. With his additional troops, Ferguson will strike out and crush the frontier militia which as been harrasing the British. Ferguson however makes the mistake of not securing the slopes of the hill, figuring that the heavily wooded terrain will make any type of an attack, not feasible.

Feguson has miscalculated the resolve and the practicality of the backwoodsmen. Men from modern day South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Kentucky, hearing about Ferguson and his Loyalists, start to make a treck to this area, and destroy him before he is allowed to destroy them.

The frontiersmen slowly creep up the backside of the mountain to within yards of the British and Loyalists. Americans attack the hill for oppisite sides, and Ferguson orders a bayonet charge. The loyalists are easy targets for the woodsmen and their rifles who use the thickly  wooded cover to their advantage. The remaining men are pushed back to their camp where they are surrounded by intense fire.

Ferguson wearing a red checked shirt is easily identified, and shot no less then 6 times. Many of the others ask for surrender, but hear the response "Talton’s quarter", and the shooting continues until most are cut down. Total causulties for the day are 157 Loyals killed 163 wounded, and 700 captured. American figures are 28 killed and 64 wounded.

This a major blow to the British in the south, and will lead Cornwallis to his next defeat, Cowpens.

ADDITIONAL READING –

PERSONAL ACCOUNTS

OVER MOUNTAIN MEN

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Dann, John C. ed. The Revolution Remembered: Eyewitness Accounts of the War for Independence. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1980.

Draper, Lyman C. Kings Mountain and its Heroes: History of the Battle of Kings Mountain, Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1967.

Dupuy, R. Ernest and Trevor N. Dupuy, eds. The Compact History of the Revolutionary War, New York: Hawthorn Books, Inc., 1963

Ferguson Rifle Campaign. Page on Web Site of South Doc Productions. www.southdoc.net/tnchron/ferguson1.htm.

Florette, Henri. Kings Mountain. Garden City: Doubleday, 1950.

Garrison, Webb. Great Stories of the American Revolution. Nashville, Tennessee: Rutledge Hill Press, 1990.

Gilmer, Bobby Moss. The Patriots of Kings Mountain. Blacksburg, S.C.: Scotia-Hubernia, 1990.

Guilford Courthouse National Military Park, Page on the N.C. State Library Web Site, www.statelibrary.dcr.state.nc.us

The Heritage of Cleveland County. Volume 1. The Cleveland County Historical Association. Winston-Salem, N.C.: Hunter Publishing Company, 1982.

Kelly, James C. and William C. Baker. The Sword of the Lord and Gideon: A Catalogue of Historical Objects Related to the Battle of Kings Mountain. Boone: Appalachian Consortium Press, 1980.

Kings Mountain National Military Park, Internet Web Site, www.nps.gov/kimo.

Kings Mountain National Military Park. Sights Magazine Web Site, www.sightsmag.com

Messick, Hank. Kings Mountain: The Epic of the Blue Ridge Mountain Men in the American Revolution. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1976.

Our Heritage: A History of Cleveland County. Shelby, N.C.: Shelby Star, 1976.

Pancake, John S. This Destructive War: The British Campaign in the Carolinas, 1780-1782. University of Alabama Press, 1985.

Resource and Activity Guide for Teachers. Published by the Kings Mountain National Military Park, 1995.

Scheer, George F. The Overmountain Men. Pamphlet. Available at Kings Mountain National Military Park.

Weathers, Lee B. The Living Past of Cleveland County: A History. Spartanburg, S.C.: The Reprint Company, 1956.

White, Katherine Keogh. The Kings Mountain Men: The Story of the Battle with Sketches of the American Soldiers Who Took Part. Baltimore: General Publishing Company, 1966.

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The Battle of Kings Mountain

On October 7, 1780, in the rolling hills of northern South Carolina, a small army of men under the command of a British officer, Major Patrick Ferguson, was overtaken and defeated by a group that had been assembled from the farms and fields of southwest Virginia, North Carolina and the area that would become Tennessee. The American colonists had been waging a revolution against the crown of England for four years but victories had been few and far between. Had the British left well enough alone and let this struggle grind on a while longer, the colonists might soon have abandoned their dream of an independent nation. But they wanted to hasten the end of the conflict and decided upon a strategy that called for bringing the southern colonies under complete submission and rapidly pressuring the remnants of the rebel army from all sides. Maj. Ferguson had orders from Lord Cornwallis to lead his army of British trained Tories in a conquest of the inhabitants of the western Carolinas. Ferguson sent out the word that he was on his way and if the settlers wished to save their homes from his torch they would have to pledge their allegiance to the British crown. Having learned of this threat, the settlers prepared for action. They mustered their militia units and sent out a call for volunteers. Then having gathered their little army together and not being content to wait for trouble to come to them, they set out to look for it, and Ferguson. They caught up with him on that day in October of 1780. He had positioned his army along the top of a long wooded hill known as King's Mountain. The colonists surrounded the hill and launched a fearless attack up the southern slope. Their courage was met by deadly musket volleys and bayonet charges into their ranks as they scaled the hillside. But they were able to use the high ground held by the enemy against them by keeping the Tories in a crossfire and they soon were swarming over the enemy encampment. Maj. Ferguson was killed along with many of his troops and the remaining Tories were taken prisoner. It was a total and decisive victory. The victory at King's Mountain not only put an end to the British conquest of the western colonies but it breathed new life into the revolution. As people learned of what took place on that long, wooded hill out on the frontier, they rallied once more around their leaders and renewed the struggle for independence.

18 year old Frederick Fisher was part of the Virginia Militia from Washington Co. He was "severely wounded" at King's Mountain. One account stated that he was shot in the leg as he was charging the hillside. He was unable to run to escape the bayonet charge that followed the rifle volley and tried to hide by rolling into a thicket of brush. One of the charging Tories discovered him and he was stabbed with a bayonet as well as shot in the leg. These wounds resulted in a state of disability for the remainder of his life and a pension from the state of Virginia and later the United States.

John Loggins had already served in the Continental Army from Virginia and been wounded at the battle of Hanging Rock in the Waxhaws region. He had been allowed to return to his home in Halifax Co. Virginia while his wounds healed. A short time later a call for volunteers was issued and John found himself marching under the command of a Col. Cleveland. Their objective was to join forces with other companies and go after Ferguson.

The following is a first hand account of the Battle of King's Mountain written by Benjamin Sharp, another militiaman from Washington Co. Virginia.

"As well as I can remember, some time in August, in the year 1780, Col. McDowel of N. Carolina, with three or four hundred men, fled over the mountains to the settlements of Holstein and Watauga, to evade the pursuit of a British officer by the name of Ferguson, who had the command of a large detachment of British and Tories. Our militia speedily embodied, all mounted on horses, the Virginians under the command of Colonel William Campbell, and the two western counties of North Carolina (now Tennessee) under the Colonels Isaac Shelby and John Sevier, and as soon as they joined McDowel, he recrossed the mountains and formed a junction with Colonel Cleveland, with a fine regiment of North Carolina militia. We were now fifteen or eighteen hundred strong , and considered ourselves equal in number, or at least a match for the enemy, and eager to bring them to battle; but Colonel McDowel, who had the command, appeared to think otherwise, for although Ferguson had retreated on our crossing of the mountains, he kept us marching and counter-marching for eight days without advancing a step towards our object. At length a council of the field-officers was convened, and it was said in camp, how true I will not pretend to say, that he refused in council to proceed without a general officer to command the army, and to get rid of him, the council deputed him to General Green, at headquarters, to procure a general. Be this as it may, as soon as the council rose Colonel McDowel left the camp and we saw no more of him during the expedition.

As soon as he was fairly gone the council reassembled and appointed Colonel William Campbell our commander, and within one hour we were on our horses and in full pursuit of the enemy. The British still continued to retreat, and after hard marching for some time, we found progress much retarded by our footmen and weak horses that were not able to sustain the heavy duty. It was then resolved to leave the foot and weak horses under the command of captain William Neil, of Virginia, with instructions to follow as fast as his detachment could bear. Thus disencumbered we gained fast upon the enemy. I think on the seventh day of October, in the afternoon, we halted at a place called the Cow Pens, in South Carolina, fed our horses and ate a hearty meal of such provisions as we had procured, and by dark mounted our horses, marched all night and crossed the Broad River by the dawn of the day, and although it rained considerably in the morning, we never halted to refresh ourselves or our horses. About twelve o'clock it cleared off with a fine cool breeze. We were joined that day by Colonel Williams, of South Carolina, with several hundred men who informed us that they were just from the British camp, that they were posted on the top of King's Mountain, and that there was a picket-guard on the road not far ahead of us. These men were detained least they should find means to tell the enemy of our approach, and Colonel Shelby, with a select party undertook to surprise and take the picket; this he accomplished without firing a gun or giving the least alarm, and it was hailed by the army as a good omen.

We then moved on and as we approached the mountain the roll of the British drum informed us that we had something to do. No doubt the British commander thought his position was a strong one, but the plan of our attack was such as to make it the worst for him he could have chosen. The end of the mountain to our left descended gradually to a branch; in front of us the ascent was rather abrupt and to the right was a low gap through which the low road passed. The different regiments were directed by guides to the ground they were to occupy, so as to surround the eminence on which the British were encamped; Campbell's to the right, along the road; Shelby's next to the left of him; Sevier's next, and so on till last the left of Cleveland's to join the right of Campbell's, on the other side of the mountain at the road.

Thus the British major found himself attacked on all sides at once, and so situated as to receive a galling fire from all parts of our lines without doing any injury to ourselves. From this difficulty he attempted to relieve himself at the point of the bayonet, but failed in three successive charges. Cleveland, who had the farthest to go, being bothered in some swampy ground, did not occupy his position in the line until late in the engagement. A few men, drawn from the right of Campbell's regiment, occupied this vacancy; this the British commander discovered, and here he made his last powerful effort to force his way through and make his escape; but at that instant Cleveland's regiment came up in gallant style; the colonel, himself, came up by the very spot I occupied, at which time his horse had received two wounds, and he was obliged to dismount. Although fat and unwieldy, be advanced on foot with signal bravery, but was soon remounted by one of his officers, who brought him another horse. This threw the British and Tories into complete disorder, and Ferguson seeing that all was lost, determined not to survive the disgrace; be broke his sword, and spurred his horse into the thickest of our ranks, and fell covered with wounds, and shortly after his whole army surrendered with discretion. The action lasted about one hour, and for most of the time was thick and bloody.

I cannot clearly recollect the statement of our loss, given at the time, but my impression now is that it was two hundred twenty five killed, and about as many, or a few more, wounded; the loss of the enemy must have been much greater. The return of the prisoners taken was eleven hundred and thirty three, about fifteen hundred stand of arms, several baggage wagons, and all their camp equipage fell into our hands. The battle closed not far from sundown, so that we had to encamp on the ground with the dead and wounded, and pass the night among groans and lamentations."




Guilford Courthouse

(1781)

Despite the fact the Battle of Guilford Court House is a tactile draw, it remains a victory for the Americans as the British have been worn down so much that they will make a fateful retreat to Yorktown, Virginia.

The tide of the war in the South has turned with Daniel Morgans' crushing defeat of Banaster Tarlton at the Battle of Cowpens. He reports back to Cornwallis who upon hearing the news is stunned. He does not hold Tarlton responsible, but blames it on the troops.

Cornwallis has been determined to crush General Nathaniel Greene and has pursued the General through the Carolina back country. Cornwallis has even made the unfortunate decision to modify his army as to make it more mobile and quicker. He has destroyed his baggage train, and forced his troops to scuttled their provisions. The British army is now forced to live off the land.

In the meantime Greene, full well knowing that Greene is on his trail, makes a race for the Dan River. Greene stops at Guilford Court House which will be the ground of the fateful battle.

On the 15th of March, Cornwallis sets his army in motion to cover the last 12 miles to Guilford Court House. He does not know the terrain, and has fewer than 1200 troops at his disposal. Cornwallis misguidedly believes that the best of the British army can overcome the odds which lay ahead.

General Greene chose for his stand against Cornwallis a nondescript stretch of low rolling hills, broken here and there by moderately steep ravines. A forest of tall hardwoods, much of it with thick undergrowth, covered most of the ground. The main Hillsborough-Salisbury road, then the most important in North Carolina, ran east-west through the woods. Greene arrayed his troops astride the road, facing west, to block the British, marching along it toward them. His army of over 4500 outnumbered the enemy better than two to one. Sounds of a severe skirmish four miles east, between Campbell's riflemen and the van of Cornwallis' army, had alerted Greene and given him time to form his troops. The Americans were ready.

In front, at the western skirt of the woods, behind rail fences and looking out over cleared fields, was a north- south line of over 1000 North Carolina militiamen. One brigade was north of the road under a General Eaton and General Butler's was south of it. Behind them in the woods, 300 yards east, were the Virginia militia, also around 1000 strong. Again the road was a dividing line. Robert Lawson's brigade on the north was drawn mainly from Virginia's southside counties: Pittsylvania, Prince Edward, Cumberland, Amelia, etc. Edward Stevens' was composed in considerable part of men from the western Virginia 'rifle counties': Rockbridge, Augusta, Rockingham, and perhaps others. Their officers and many in the ranks were experienced soldiers who had fought in earlier campaigns, mostly against Indians. This brigade would be fighting south of the road where the ground was a little rougher and the woods thicker. It was their kind of country. As added encouragement, General Stevens put a line of sentinels in their rear with orders to shoot anybody who tried to run away.


 

A half-mile east of the Lawson's brigade, near Guilford Courthouse and wholly on the north side of the road, Greene posted his line of 1500 Continental foot soldiers, one brigade from Virginia on the north or right flank, and another from Maryland, running southways on an arc bowed toward the west and reaching the road somewhat west of Guilford Courthouse. A series of open fields sloped down and away from the Continental front, westward into a narrow cleared valley. It was the best defensive position on the battlefield, offering high ground, forest cover to the immediate rear, and open fields of fire in front. Also, and by no means coincidentally, lying a few score yards to the rear of the Continental line and protected by it, was the army's escape road. This led north from the courthouse to Speedwell Furnace on Troublesome Creek, halfway to the Dan crossings into Virginia.

There was a battery of four English- cast, six-pounder brass cannons, called 'butterflies', from the Virginia Regiment of Artillery. These were posted at the center of the North Carolina line and would fall back along the road as events proved necessary.

Finally, Greene had two somewhat misnamed 'corps of observation' for use in the harassment of Cornwallis' flanks and the protection of his own. They numbered around 500 each. The one on the north consisted of William Washington's regular Virginia cavalry, Robert Kirkwood's company of Delaware continentals, and Colonel Charles Lynch's 360 riflemen from Bedford County, Virginia. And there was a similar unit composed of the Virginia Legion of Light Horse Harry Lee, a regiment of cavalry with a company of Continental infantry, plus 350-400 riflemen under Colonel William Campbell, most of them from western Virginia counties and the rest from North Carolina. After their mid-morning fight at New Garden Meeting House, they were now formed in a west trending, wooded ravine which marked the southern limit of the cleared fields lying before the North Carolinians' front line.

What did Greene hope to accomplish by these dispositions, and how closely did they conform to Dan Morgan's letter of advice to him on how to fight Cornwallis? Two thirds of his best Virginia riflemen were placed on the flanks under their own 'enterprising officers' as Morgan had recommended. And, like Morgan at the Cowpens, Greene had posted his musket militias in the center and in front of his Continental line, with orders to get in a few good rounds and then withdraw. But Morgan had also warned him that the militias might not fight at all, in which case: …[Cornwallis] will beat you and perhaps cut your regulars to pieces , which will be losing all our hopes. And it is this thought which seems to have dominated his battle plan at Guilford.

Greene's post was with his regulars a half mile through the woods to the rear of his militias. He could not control, support, or even observe them. But he was guarding and practically on his planned route of retreat, and no matter what the militias did or didn't do, he could save his regulars by going back to Virginia. He might get beat but he was not going to preside over a disaster.


But if the militias did fight, what might be expected to happen? Cornwallis' army would deploy in a line and run, or rather stumble, through a half-mile gauntlet in the forest, severely impeded, harassed, and deranged by trees and undergrowth and by frontal fire from the two lines of militia. And killing, enfilade fires would come from the corps of riflemen on both flanks, who were instructed to keep even with the British progress all the way back to the Continental line. There, the redcoats might be sufficiently exhausted and reduced in numbers, that Greene's regulars could destroy them by close-in fire and bayonets in a general melee.

It was a good plan, in keeping with the Quaker General's subtle approach to warfare. It offered reasonable guarantees against disaster, some chance of winning, and even better chances of doing severe damage to the British with his expendable militias and escaping with his regulars intact.. But it was only a plan. And marching up the road was the completely unsubtle Lord Charles Cornwallis with an army of veteran killers. The only plan he knew or cared to know was straight-up-the-middle, all-out fighting; victory or perish. He arrived in front of Greene's carefully positioned North Carolina militia early in the afternoon of March 15th, 1781:

The advanced British units emerge from the woods to find a line of militia, in two lines. The first line is behind a log fence, the second behind a line of trees. Beyond the militia, are the battle tested Maryland and Delaware troops, and Washington and Lee's dragoons on the flanks. Greene had entertained an action similar to Morgan's at the battle of Cowpens, but distance is far greater here, and it would be impossible to coordinate the troops. Furthermore, Greene has no reserve element to throw into the fray.

Cornwallis is at an equal disadvantage. He does not know Greene's strength, or his deployment of the troops.

The engagement begins with the flank elements of mounted infantry from Tarlton and American mounted infantry engaging each other. Cornwallis also has 3 light field guns at his disposal.

… I ordered Lieutenant Macleod to bring forward the guns .[two or three three-pounders, 'grasshoppers'] and cannonade their center The attack was directed to be made in the following order:

On the right the regiment of Bose .[Hessians] and the 71st regiment .[Highlanders], led by Major-general Leslie and supported by the 1st battalion of guards; on the left, the 23rd .[Royal Welsh Fuzileers] and 33rd .[English foot] regiments, led by Lieutenant-colonel Webster, and supported by the grenadiers .[Guards company] and 2d battalion of guards, commanded by Brigadier-general O'Hara; the yagers .[Hessian light infantry company] and light infantry of the guards remained in the wood on the left of the guns, and the cavalry .[Tarleton's legion] in the road, ready to act as circumstances might require. Our preparations being made, the action began at about half an hour past one in the afternoon; Major General Leslie, after being obliged, by the great extent of the enemy's line, to bring up the 1st battalion of guards to the right of the regiment of Bose, soon defeated everything before him; Lieutenant Colonel Webster …was no less successful in his front .[left of the road]; when, on finding that the left of the 33rd was exposed to a heavy fire from the right wing of the enemy, he changed his front to the left, and, being supported by the yagers and light infantry of the guards, attacked and routed it, the grenadiers and 2d battalion of the guards moving forward to occupy the ground left vacant by the movement of Lieutenant-colonel Webster…

When Webster's brigade on the left wheeled to face the terrible enfilade fire of Lynch's Bedford riflemen, it was joined on its own left by the two reserve light infantry companies and, on its right, the Grenadier Guards and 2nd Guards battalion filled in the gap which had been opened to the immediate left, north, of the road. The advance of Leslie on the right, though he too had to commit the Regiment von Bose and his reserve battalion of guards against Campbell's riflemen, was less troubled. Harry Lee, whose legion supported Campbell, recalled:

…When the enemy came within long shot, the American line, by order, began to fire. Undismayed, the British continued to advance , and having reached a proper distance, discharged their pieces and rent the air with shouts. To our infinite distress and mortification, the North Carolina militia took to flight, a few only of Eaton's brigade excepted….All .[effort by officers to stop the flight] was vain; so thoroughly confounded were these unhappy men, that, throwing away arms, knapsacks, and even canteens, they rushed like a torrent headlong through the woods…

The characterization of Eaton's resistance north of the road, as given by Lee, was taken from General Greene's report rather than his own observation. By eyewitness accounts from that sector, the Carolinians did well enough, greeting the Welshmen with two or three well aimed rounds at reasonable range before they fled. But on the south, Butler's brigade, by most credible accounts, broke and ran, as Lee says, without doing the Highlanders any harm. A lone exception was the company of a Captain Forbis, who refused to run away but joined with Campbell's riflemen. These with the aid of Lee's legion infantry brought sufficient fire on Leslie to force him to commit his reserve.

On the American right, north, Lawson's brigade of Virginia militia put up a good, overall fight at the second line. Some companies ran away early. Others fired their requisite rounds before retreating. Still others refused to give ground to the charging British and fought from pockets of underbrush for a time after they had been bypassed. The flanking corps of Lynch and Washington, made another strong stand at the second line.


South of the road, the action at the second line was much more complicated and prolonged. Colonel McDowell's Rockbridge battalion began its long fight at the extreme south end of the General Stevens' line. In Private Sam Houston's diary account, he refers to Eaton's men when he says 'Butler's', to Campbell's flank corps of riflemen, which had three companies from Augusta County, when he says 'the Augusta men and some of Campbell's', and to the 71st Highlanders when he speaks of the British. He was unaware of any North Carolinians to his front and, as they put up so little resistance, he may have mistaken the sound of their fire for that of a picket line:

Thursday 15th–Was rainy in the morning. We often paraded, and about ten o'clock, lying about our fires, we heard our light infantry and cavalry, who were down near the English lines, begin firing with the enemy. Then we immediately fell into our ranks, and our brigades marched out, at which time the firing was ceased. Col. McDowell's battallion of Gen. Stephens' brigade was ordered on the left wing. When we marched near the ground we charged our guns. Presently our brigade major came, ordering to take trees as we pleased. The men run to choose their trees, but with difficulty, many crowding to one, and some far behind others. But we moved by order of our officers, and stood in suspense. Presently the Augusta men, and some of Col Campbell's fell in at right angles to us. Our whole line was composed of Stephens' brigade on the left, Lawson's in the centre, and Butler's, of N. C., on the right. Some distance behind were formed the regulars. Col. Washington's light horse were to flank on the right, and Lee on the left. Standing in readiness, we heard the pickets fire; shortly the English fired a cannon, which was answered; and so on alternately till the small armed troops came nigh; and then close firing began near the centre, but rather towards the right, and soon spread along the line. Our brigade major, Mr. Williams, fled. Presently came two men to us and informed us the British fled. Soon the enemy appeared to us; we fired on their flank, and that brought down many of them; at which time Capt.Tedford was killed. We pursued them about forty poles, to the top of a hill, where they stood, and we retreated from them back to where we formed. Here we repulsed them again; and they a second time made us retreat back to our first ground…

Houston is thought to have been in Tedford's company. Andrew Wiley, 51 years later, recalling this series of attacks and counterattacks in his pension application, speaks from the slightly different perspective of David Cloyd's company, also of the Rockbridge battalion. There are two versions of this account, one somewhat garbled and a second, less confusing, pasted over the first. I have used brackets here to insert interesting information from the first which was omitted by the interviewer from the second:

This applicant states that…at the outset of the action, the Carolina forces .[,who were formed into a line extending from where the cannon were stationed to the riflemen on the left wing,] broke and ran—that the Riflemen to which this applicant belonged were stationed upon the left wing—that when the Carolina line retreated, the British forces came down upon a ridge between the Riflemen on the left wing and a company .[formed on the rear of the left wing and] commanded by Col. Campbell of Rockbridge Cty. (then Augusta) who, as this applicant believes, brought on the action, and were swept off by the Virginia Riflemen, but formed again and again until finally they came down upon the ridge in columns of 12 and 16 men in depth .[but were cut off by applicant's company] and were compelled to ground their arms…

By 'brought on the action' Wiley means that Campbell's men had fought in an earlier skirmish, the same heard by Houston. The contingent of Highlanders, by Wiley's account, resorted to a column assault tactic, rarely used in that age, to penetrate the angle between McDowell's and Campbell's riflemen. Its survivors were made prisoners. Houston didn't learn of this capture til next day. Before it occurred, his company and Captain John Paxton's, the two now led by Major Alex Stuart, became separated from the rest of the Rockbridge battalion under repeated assaults by the Scots and and their own efforts at counterattack. Henceforth they would fight a different battle, further south, in the same sector of the woods as Campbell's men. The thread of their story will be picked up later.


General Stevens, after being painfully wounded in the thigh, ordered his brigade to retire to the third line. Colonel McDowell, with the remaining Rockbridge companies of Cloyd and, probably, Gilmore, retreated with them. The general was of notable corpulence, but was somehow carried by his men from the woods to Guilford Courthouse, and ultimately, all the way back to Troublesome Creek.

The British line up and advance on the center of the militia behind the fence. The militia let loose a volley than halts the British advance. The American line, then runs for the rear, running off the field. The British then concentrate their attacks on the flanks, and then prepare to move against the second line of the militia. The second line puts up a fierce fight, but is eventually driven back. The flanks of the Americans also start to give way. The British reemphasize their attack against the center only to find the battle hardened Maryland troops waiting. The Americans deliver a withering fire and follow up with a bayonet charge.

The British reserve troops come forward, and renew the advance. A regiment of untested American troops turn and run, leaving the British to advance on the defensive lines.

Meanwhile, the flank corps of Lynch and Washington had retreated to the third, the Continental line. The riflemen formed on the right of the Virginia brigade, and Washington, apparently learning that Lee's legion had not yet arrived, rode with his troopers to the other end of the line and occupied a low hill just south of the road, so as to give flank protection to the Marylanders.


Then came Colonel James Webster with the 33rd Foot, the Guards Light Infantry, and the Jaegers, who had already had two sharp fights with Lynch and Washington, but now faced the center of the Continental line across the cleared vale, well north of the road. Hawes' Virginians were to his left and Gunby's 1st Maryland Regiment on his right. Webster promptly attacked. But the luck which had guided him across Reedy Fork under the guns of Campbell's sharpshooters and in the charges which he had led against Lynch, now left him. When he and his men came within thirty yards or so of the Americans, they were met by a massive volley of musket fire from both regiments. The Colonel was one of those who fell. His kneecap was shattered, a wound which was immediately painful and disabling and would ultimately kill him. He was helped back across the ravine, where his men quickly retreated, and found a good observation point from which he could watch developments along the whole line. On the other side, Colonel Gunby was also disabled when his wounded horse fell on him. Command of the 1st Maryland was soon passed to John Eager Howard, who had capably commanded Morgan's line of Continentals and Virginia riflemen at the Cowpens.

Before Webster's action was concluded the 2nd Guards Battalion and Grenadier Guards arrived on the road opposite the 2nd Maryland Regiment which was posted at the south end of the Continental line. Brigadier O'Hara was still with the Guards, but Lieutenant Colonel James Stuart had assumed active command because of O'Hara's wounds. Stuart ordered an immediate charge.

The 2nd Maryland, a recently regularized militia unit led by Colonel Benjamin Ford, was the least experienced and most questionably officered of Greene's Continental regiments. It had been placed at this post of most obvious danger and sensitivity by Otho Williams, brigade commander of the Maryland Line. It was supported by two six pounders. These Continentals fired a half-hearted, ineffective volley at the advancing Guardsmen, dropped their muskets and ran away. None of Greene's much defamed militia had ever behaved worse or with more damaging effect. The jubilant lobsterbacks now rushed by the abandoned guns, poured around a thickety little woods, which had separated the two Maryland regiments, and headed for the rear of the Continental line.


Several key commanders realized what was happening at about the same time and took various actions. Colonel Otho Williams, commander of the Maryland Brigade, had just watched the repulse of Webster and now rode over to see how his other regiment was doing. When he saw, what he did was send aides galloping to Greene and Howard with the bad news. What he said, surely something choice, is unrecorded. Colonel Howard, after quickly consulting the fallen Gunby, faced his 1st Maryland Line about and wheeled them into position to block the British from the army's rear. Colonel Webster, seeing an opportunity as the 1st Maryland's move exposed Hawes' flank, ordered his bleeding 33rd and their light infantry support back across the vale to assault the Virginians. But Kirkwood's Delaware company, and, possibly, some of Stevens' militia brigade came up beside Hawes. General Nathanael Greene gave orders to prepare for a general retreat. But things were happening much too fast for his orders to affect events already in progress.

Colonel William Washington was watching from his hilltop just south of the road. He gathered up his great roly-poly frame, swung up onto his horse, drew his saber, and ordered his cavalry to charge the Guardsmen. He led the van himself, as always. Riding with the fierce, moonfaced leader of horsemen on this day was the Virginia giant, Private Peter Francisco of the Prince Edward County militia. He was six foot eight and supposed to be the strongest man in the Commonwealth. He swung a specially forged five-foot broadsword. They thundered down the slope on their great warmblood horses, crossed the road, jumped the ditch beside it, and hit the startled Guards at a gallop. They cut and trampled their way through, shattering the ranked formations, then turned and overrode them again, going the other way. Francisco is most frequently credited with eleven kills in the action, but he only remembered four in his own pension application. One redcoat pinned the giant's thigh to his horse's flank with a bayonet. By the legend, he leaned over and, with free hand, helped the Guardsman withdraw the weapon before, with sword, he cleft him, helm and skull, down to the collar bone. Now Howard's 1st Marylanders fell on the broken British, closing with them after only one point-blank volley. Captain John Smith, after cutting down a Guardsman, was attacked by James Stuart, Guards' Colonel. Stuart lunged with his short sword, missed, stumbled over the fallen soldier, and was killed by Smith with a backhand slash. Then the colonel's batman came at Smith but was killed by another Marylander. Smith cut down one more guardsman before he was shot in the back of the head. Some of Washington's riders lingered with mounted senior infantry officers on the periphery of the fight, slashing at redcoats who tried to break out.

The swirling mass of men and horses, bayonets and sabers, moved westward, past the guns again and toward the British side of the vale, propelled mainly by desire of the surviving Guardsmen to escape the apocalyptic nightmare that enveloped them. Among some newly arrived British on the west side was Cornwallis. One of his proudest units was broken and being slaughtered before his eyes. Fearing the spectacle might dispirit others, he put a quick end to the Guards' agony. His artillery was up and he ordered Lieutenant Macleod to fire on the melee, friend and foe alike. This was done. Washington and Howard soon pulled their men back to safety, Smith's men carrying their fallen Captain. To their surprise and enjoyment, he soon revived. A pathetic remnant of the Guards fled to the British side of the ravine. No officers came back with them, carried or otherwise.


The twice wounded Guards commander, Brigadier O'Hara, was lying by the British guns as they blasted his soldiers with grapeshot. His protests of the bombardment to Cornwallis and Macleod, if heard at all by them, were not obeyed. Now he reassumed command of the officerless survivors long enough to post them as replacements to the much depleted 23rd Welsh Fuzileers and 71st Highlanders, just coming up. Webster's second assault had turned into a vicious seesaw fight with the Virginians and Delawares for another section of American cannons stationed there. Other preparations were made by their surviving officers to get the terribly battered British collected for a final assault on the Continental line. They weren't necessary. If General Greene found reasons, in the clearing of his rear and the destruction of the Guards, to reconsider his decision to retreat, they weren't strong enough to change his mind.

Cornwallis observing the battle sees mass confusion, and orders his artillery to fire on the entire mass, knowing that it will kill his troops as well. As the British prepare to advance, Greene retreats in good order leaving the field to Cornwallis. The terrible toll to the British is some 532 losses. The Americans however have suffered only 78 dead and 183 wounded. The British army is so worn down from this battle that it limps back to Wilmington N.C., unable to maintain a presence in the Carolinas.

The Earl Cornwallis, in his report to Lord Germaine two days later, embellished the events just described in such a way as to make it appear that the British pushed Greene off the field by main force. This was made easy for him because Greene abandoned his four cannons, unspiked, and over 200 rounds of ammunition with powder. But Greene's retreat, by American reports, simply went as planned. His guns were left, he reported, for lack of horses to pull them. Why the pre-charged ammunition and powder were not blown or the wagons, limbers, and carriages not destroyed, is unknown. Here is Macleod's report:

Return of ordnance, ammunition and arms,
taken at the battle of Guildford, March 15,1781
BRASS ORDNANCE

 

MOUNTED on travelling carriages , with limbers and boxes complete, 4 six-pounders. Shot, round, fixed with powder, 160 six-pounders; Case, fixed with ditto, 50 six pounders; 2 ammunition wagons; …

J. Macleod, Lieut…

Perhaps Cornwallis' distorted report reflects a self-deception, an inability to believe that a General of Greene's stature, ability and undoubted personal courage would, with five or six intact regiments, voluntarily abandon the battlefield, his wounded, and such a prize of artillery to an army as depleted, exhausted, and bloody as his own. And, though Greene almost certainly didn't know it, he left a battle that wasn't yet over.

The British cavalry leader Tarleton picks up the story: …Earl Cornwallis did not think it advisable for the British cavalry to charge the enemy, who were retreating in good order, but directed Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton to proceed with a squadron of dragoons to the assistance of Major-general Leslie on the right, where, by the constant fire which was yet maintained, the affair seemed not to be determined. The right wing… had a kind of separate action after the front line of the Americans gave way, and was now engaged with several bodies of militia and riflemen above a mile distant from the center of the British army. The 1st Battalion of the guards, commanded by Lieutenant-colonel Norton, and the regiment of Bose, under Major DuBuy, had their share of the difficulties of the day…

And according to other British reports of these 'difficulties' the 'excessive thickness of the woods' made their bayonets 'of little use' and enabled the enemy riflemen to 'make frequent stands' so that they suffered losses and delays while 'warmly engaged on front flank and rear'. At one time the 1st Guards Battalion was 'completely broken' with the loss of most of its officers and had to be withdrawn from the action. Lee, by his report, thought the Guards were headed for the third line. He sent his cavalry to the Courthouse and, with his Legion infantry and a company of Campbell's riflemen, got into the rear of the Guards and attacked them. The assault threw them back on the Hessians who were already being forced toward the Guards by Campbell's riflemen. Lee now thought that Campbell's men were more than a match for the surviving British and Hessians in their part of the woods. He hurried on back to the Courthouse. But Greene, meantime, had already begun his retreat. So the only serious result of Lee's moves was that Campbell's men were left without cavalry support as Tarleton's dragoons rode through the woods toward the sound of their gunfire.

Tarleton says in his account that he rescued several groups of Hessian and British prisoners being held under light guard by riflemen in the woods. When he finally reached the survivors of the Regiment von Bose and the Guards, he says they were at the base of a rise of ground, held by a considerable force of riflemen. While the Hessians fixed their attention with a demonstration on their front, Tarleton rode in on their flank. Rockbridge Private Houston's dairy also records this final action of the battle:

…we were deceived by a reinforcement of Hessians, whom we took for our own, and cried to them to see if they were our friends, and shouted Liberty! Liberty! and advanced up till they let off some guns; then we fired sharply on them and made them retreat a little. But presently the light horse came on us, and not being defended by our own light horse, nor reinforced –though firing was long ceased in all other parts, we were obliged to run, and many were sore chased and some cut down. We lost our major and one captain then, the battle lasting two hours and twenty-five minutes. We all scattered, and some of our party and Campbell's and Moffitt's collected together, and with Capt. Moffitt and Major Pope, we marched for headquarters, and marched across till we, about dark, came to the road we marched up from Reedy Creek to Guilford the day before, and crossing the creek we marched near four miles, and our wounded, Lusk, Allison, and in particular Jas. Mather, who was bad cut, were so sick we stopped, and all being almost wearied out, we marched half a mile, and encamped, where, through darkness and rain, and want of provisions we were in distress. Some parched a little corn. We stretched blankets to shelter some of us from the rain. Our retreat was fourteen miles.


The Regiment von Bose wore blue coats, similar to those of the Continental foot. 'Moffitt' is Colonel George Moffett who commanded the Augusta contingent of Campbell's men. It was Major Alex Stuart that Houston says was lost, caught in a little clearing by Tarleton's dragoons. They made the Major take off his boots and pants, stand there in epauletted coat and cocked hat only, while they beat the surrounding bushes for his riflemen. He was taken prisoner unhurt, and exchanged after a few months. In James Tate's hard luck company from south Augusta, two who were chased were the Steeles, Samuel and David. Sam shot one dragoon during the rout, but was later captured by two of them before he could reload. When they commanded him to hand over his rifle, he just kept repeating: 'O I couldn't do that. I can't do that.' They let him keep it and a little later, while their attention was directed elsewhere, he loaded the weapon. And when they looked at him again, he brandished it at them. They fled. David was sabered about the head, his skull splintered. He was left for dead in the woods, but eventually revived and returned hom where the splinters were removed and a silver plate inserted. Both men lived into old age.

Also lost in the chase, from the Rockbridge Battalion, was Captain John Paxton, with a badly wounded foot which never completely healed. Presumably he lay in the woods overnight without help in cold downpour which began that evening. So did all the American wounded. The British had not even enough men left on their feet to tend all their own until next day. They lay down exhausted, without tents or rations, on bloody, rainsoaked Guilford battlefield. They slept amid hundreds of unburied dead, the cries and moans of hundreds more mangled and dying.

Sam Houston continues: Friday, 16th–As soon as day appeared (being wet) we decamped, and marched through the rain to Speedwell furnace, where Green had retreated from Guilfordtown, where the battle was fought, sixteen miles distant; there we met many of our company with great joy, in particular Colonel M'Dowell; where we learned that we lost four pieces of cannon after having retaken them, also the 71st regiment we had captured. After visiting the tents we eat and hung about in the tents and rain, when frequently we were rejoiced by men coming in we had given out for lost. In the evening we struck tents and encamped on the left, when the orders were read to draw provisions and ammunition, which order struck a panic in the minds of many. Our march five miles.


Soldiers' superstitions, old as war: dread of being blown up by their own heavy weapons, lost to the enemy; of being killed by enemy soldiers they had already beat and captured, but let escape. But there wasn't any need for panic. Greene, still wary of the British, would not go back and confront them. And Cornwallis, soon realizing that his shattered, hungry army was in no condition to fight again, simply declared the battle a victory, which was true. Then, less than three days after he came to Guilford, leaving both his own and the American wounded behind, he began a rapid retreat march to his coastal base at Wilmington, 180 miles south. Greene, declaring the campaign a victory, also true, trailed at a safe distance two days later.

On the 19th, a day before Greene began his pursuit, Charles Magill, Jefferson's liason officer, wrote his Governor: …I am sorry to inform your Excellency that a number of the Virginia Militia have sully'd the Laurels reap'd in the Action by making one frivolous pretence and another to return home. A number have left the Army very precipitately. The best Men from Augusta and Rockbridge have been foremost on this occasion…

According to Sam Houston's diary, many of the men had lost their blankets and coats during the fight. It was cool and rainy in the morning, warm and sunny most of the day, a cold forty-hour rain commencing in the evening. During the fight, coats would have been in the knapsacks, blankets rolled and hung from the shoulder. When being chased by Tarleton's cavalry, packs would be the first thing a man might drop, assuming he was a good enough soldier to hold onto his rifle and ammunition. A cold forty-hour rain. Of course all this would sound like 'frivolous pretence' to a noncombatant Major at Greene's headquarters. He hadn't been chased. He had his warm clothes, even his pen and ink. He wasn't shivering so hard he could'nt write the elegant words that he wrote. In any case, by the time Greene decided to follow the British, the Rockbridge and Augusta riflemen had gone home to the Valley of Virginia.

Map of Battleground




Cowpens

(1781)

The Loyalist defeat at King's Mountain two month earlier had revived the Patriot effort for the war in the South.

The Army had a new Southern Department commander in the Quaker Nathaniel Greene.

Greene was determined to fight, but not at the expense of loosing more men. He made the decision that he would wear the British down, then engage them.

Greene soon put a trust ally to work in the new Southern Army. He appointed Brig. Gen. Daniel Morgan (the Old Wagoner) in charge of the Army in South Carolina. Morgan was a steady veteran, serving with the British Army in the 7 years war (in which he had received lashes), fought in the campaign of Quebec, and he was one of the victors of Saratoga. It was he and his Virginia riflemen which started the formalities of Saratoga.

Now Morgan was in control of a Continental force of about 830 men. Most were Contentious, but there were some militia, some riflemen, some French volunteers, and Cavalry commanded by Lt. Col. William Washington, 2nd cousin to George Washington.

Coming to meet this assortment of American troops was the most hated man in the colonies. He was referred to as "Benny", or "the Butcher", but to most he was known as Bloody Tarlton.

Banaster Tarlton, was one of the fastest promoted officers in the American Campaign. Though daring and reckless behavior, he attacked American position after position quickly, inflicting much damage. Now  was leading his famed legion (a lightening force of cavalry and infantry, also known as the green coats because of their uniforms) in pursuit of Morgans' force.  

There was no doubt the Tarlton was coming. Nathaniel Green set forth the following dispatch to Morgan, "Col. Tarlton is said to be on his way to pay you a visit. I doubt not but he will have a decent reception and a proper dismission."

Morgan with his inexperienced troops set forth on a daring plan. His troops would run at the first sense of battle, and his rifleman could not withstand a bayonet attack. Morgan mulled over the situation, and came up with the following solution. He would have the swollen Broad River behind them, making any sort of retreat impossible. He was determined to make his men stand and fights. He further arranged his battle lines, placing the militia out in front, followed by the battle tested Continental, with William Washington's Cavalry in the flanks.

He tells the militia that all he requires of them is to fire two shots and they can fall back to the rear.

Tarltons dragoons advance and are met by skirmishers. The skirmishers, were Virginia riflemen, who used the trees to steady their weapons, and leveled the dragoons with deadly precision. They then reloaded while racing through the forest, getting off another shot, until they reached the safety of the militia. The dragoons then report to Tarlton who forms his battle line.  Tarlton has overestimated his enemies strength by double, yet he believes he can sweep them from the field as he had done at Waxhaws.

Tarlton troops advance when they run into the line of militia reenforced by the riflemen. The militia with the encouragement of the officers hold off until the last possible moment, and then fire hitting the forward officers. The British reform ranks, and continue to advance, this time with bayonets levels. Fearing the British jugernaut the militia surries to the rear in an organized fashion, and Talton sends his dragoons in after the retreating militia.

The dragoons are almost upon the fleeing militia, when Col. William Washingtons's dragoons meet the opposing mounted British force and a meele evolves. The feared mounted troops then occupy each others interests.

Some militia are still in fear and continue to retreat. Meanwhile the main British force has engaged the steady Contenentials from Maryland and Delaware.

Tarlton has assumed that the Americans have been beaten, and thusorders in his reserves to swoop down upon the retreating Americans. The Americans turn and fire, resulting on a devestating blow to the British main line. Then the Americans follow up with a bayonet charge, and then advanced upon and captured the British cannon. In an effort to follow up William Washington's caverly pursued the fleeing redcoats down the main road, killing them along the way.

The victory at Cowpen was a morale booster, total loose for the British included 110 dead (including 10 officers) 200 wounded and 530 prisioners. American casulties were only 12 dead.

Map of Battleground




Revolutionary War – Chronology of Events

Chronology of Events

Regular type= Crown victory. Bold type= Rebel victory.
Italic type= non-confrontational event or non-decisive battle.

{ln:Timeline 'Revolutionary War 1777-1783}
a detailed timeline, with images

Prelude to War

1760 to 1775

1760 King George III ascends to the throne of England.
1763 Treaty signed between England and France ending the French and Indian War. Canada and the continent east of the Mississippi River added to Great Britain's growing empire.
1765 Parliament passes The Stamp Act as a means to pay for British troops on the American frontier. Colonists violently protest the measure.
1766 March 18. Stamp Act repealed, but on the same day parliament passes the Declaratory Act asserting its right to make laws binding on the colonies.
1768 October. British troops arrive in Boston to enforce customs laws.
1770 March. Four workers shot by British troops stationed in Boston. Patriots label the killings "The Boston Massacre."
1773 December. Massachusetts patriots dressed as Mohawk Indians protest the British Tea Act by dumping crates of tea into Boston Harbor.
1774 January. The Privy Council reprimands Benjamin Franklin in London for leaking letters damaging to the Royal Governor of Massachusetts. September. First Continental Congress convenes in Philadelphia.

The War Begins

1775

April 19

Battles of Lexington & Concord
Shots fired at Lexington and Concord. "Minute Men" force British troops back to Boston.

May 10 Greene captures Ft. Ticonderoga
June 17 British take Breeds (Bunker) Hill
July 3 George Washington takes command
Nov. 13 Montgomery occupies Montreal
Dec. 9 Skirmish at Great Bridge, Virginia
Dec. 31 Americans lose attack on Quebec
 

1776

January Thomas Paine's Common Sense published. Becomes an instant best seller and pushes the colonies closer to independence.
Mar. 17 British evacuate Boston
June 21 Siege of Charleston, South Carolina
June 28 Sullivan's Island repels invasion
July 4 Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence ratified by the Congress.
July A huge British force arrives in New York harbor bent on crushing the rebellion.
Aug. 27 Continentals defeated at Long Island
Sept. 16 Battle of Harlem Heights, New York
Oct. 28 Battle of White Plains, New York
Nov. 16 British capture Fort Washington
Nov. 20 Fort Lee abandoned to British
Dec. 26 Washington's victory at Trenton
Washington crosses the Delaware River and captures a Hessian force at Trenton, New Jersey
December In desperate need of financing and arms, Congress sends Benjamin Franklin to France to urge the French to ally with America.
 

1777

Jan. 3 Battle of Princeton
July 5 Continental Army evacuates Ticonderoga
A British force led by John Burgoyne takes Fort Ticonderoga in a devastating loss to the Americans. The Marquis de Lafayette arrives in America.
Aug. 6 Battle of Oriskany, New York
Aug. 16 Germans defeated at Bennington
Sept. 11 Washington's Army is routed at Brandywine, Pennsylvania
Sept. 19 Burgoyne defeated at Freeman's Farm, New York
Sept. 21 British surprise Continentals in a night attack near Paoli Tavern
Sept. 26 General Howe seizes Philadelphia
Oct. 4 Washington defeated at Germantown
Oct. 7 Burgoyne's advance stopped at Bemis Heights
Oct. 17 Burgoyne surrenders at Saratoga
Nov. 8 British evacuate Ticonderoga
Nov. 15 Continentals evacuate Fort Mifflin
Dec. 19 Washington encamps at Valley Forge
 

1778

Feb. 6 France joins the war effort by signing treaty of American alliance
June 28 Battle of Monmouth
July 4 George Rogers Clark captures Kaskaskia
Aug. 29 Battle of Rhode Island
Dec. 29 British occupy Savanna, Georgia
 

1779

Feb. 24 George Rogers Clark recaptures Vincennes
May 8 Spain enters the war on the side of America
July 15 Continentals take Stony Point,
Oct. 9 French and Americans stopped at Savanna
 

1780

May 12 Charleston, South Carolina finally taken after long siege
July 11 French troops arrive in Newport, Rhode Island
Aug. 16 Americans defeated at {ln:Camden}, South Carolina
Sept. 25 Benedict Arnold defects to the British
Oct. 7 British defeated at {ln:Kings Mountain}
 

1781

Jan. 1 The Pennsylvania line mutinies
Jan. 17 Daniel Morgan defeats the British at (ln:Cowpens}
Mar. 15 Battle of {ln:Guilford Courthouse}
April 25 Greene pushed back at Hobkirk's Hill
July 29 Loyalist victory at Deep River, North Carolina
Sept. 5 French fleet takes Chesapeake Bay
Sept. .8 British hold Eutaw Springs, S. Carolina
Sept. 26 {ln:Siege of Yorktown} begins
Oct .19 Cornwallis surrenders at Yorktown
A miraculous convergence of American and French forces traps Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown, Virginia. He surrenders his British army.
 

1782

June 4 Crawford defeated at Sandusky
July 11 Savannah evacuated by British
Aug. 19 Americans defeated at Blue Licks
Nov. 30 Preliminary peace treaty signed in Paris
Dec. 14 British evacuate Charleston
 

1783

April 3 Loyalists and militia battle at Tuckertown, NJ
April 19 Congress declares end of hostilities
Sept. 3 Final peace treaty signed in Paris
Nov. 25 British evacuate New York
Dec. 23 George Washington retires from command