Following the American surrender at Charleston on may 12, 1780, the continent Army’s “Southern Department” remained in disarray. Taken sinner that day were 245 officers and 2,326 enlisted, including Maj. Gen. Benjamin Lincoln, the southern Department’s commander-in-chief, along with militia and also armed citizens, the most American prisoners surrendered at once during the American Revolution.
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By June 1780, the currently fifty-three-year-old gateways was top top furlough native the continent Army, convalescing at his Virginia estate. Washington had actually wanted Nathanael Greene for the southern command, yet Congress wanted Gates, that was, after ~ all, obtainable and not far away. So Gates obtained the job.<3>He joined Kalb top top July 25, 1780, in ~ Cox’s Mill ~ above Deep River, in modern-day Randolph County, north Carolina, south of today’s Ramseur community. What happened next is maybe a familiar tale, definitely one the the war’s most curious, through a narrative that goes something prefer this: passionate to repeat his heroics at Saratoga, gates demanded one immediate and also ill-conceived march straight toward the British military stronghold in ~ Camden, southern Carolina, ~ above a straight route v the Carolina’s infamously unwelcoming “Pine Barrens.” In this haste, the ignored his cavalry and also the assistance of Francis Marion, the renowned South Carolina “Swamp Fox,” selecting to rely rather on untested militia, bring about a loss of disastrous proportions at Camden on respectable 16, 1781, where entrances fled the ar in eternal disgrace.
The frame of this version originates greatly from Otho Holland Williams, colonel that the sixth Maryland Regiment and Gates’s adjutant general, who detailed many of its tenets in his “Narrative” the the 1780 campaign. Born come Welsh immigrants, Williams had actually joined the Frederick ar rifle corps early on in the war and steadily rose through the ranks. Henry Lee described him together “elegant in kind . . . His countenance to be expressive and also the faithful index of his warm and honest heart.” but he did have his significant side. “He was cordial to his friends, however cold to every whose correctness in moral principle came to be questionable in his mind,” composed Lee. Taken sinner at fort Washington in November 1776, that was supported to colonel while tho a prisoner at new York, climate exchanged and served with distinction at Monmouth Courthouse. Prior to his business with Kalb, Williams had actually served briefly together Washington’s adjutant general, native December 1779 come April 1780.<4>Williams’s narrative, in ~ times, reads almost as a litany that Gates’s reckless and inscrutable behavior, consisting of his assignment “to march at a moment’s warning” (italics original) immediately upon taking command that the roughly 1,500 starving and ragged continental soldiers assembled in ~ Cox’s Mill (including aspects of the Continental army who had escaped record at Charleston and also joined Kalb in north Carolina). Also, indigenous Williams’s stare we have a negative characterization the Gates’s decision come march towards Camden at night through militias and also regulars that “had never ever been once exercised in eight together.” Gates, Williams reported, thought this ramshackle force included seven thousand soldiers, though a ar return revealed just 3,052. “These are enough for our purposes,” replied entrances cryptically, at least according to Williams’s account.<5>
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<7>According come Williams, Gates’s assignment “to march in ~ a moment’s warning . . . Was a issue of good astonishment to those who knew the real case of the troops.” By currently wary the false promises, Kalb intended come march south on a westerly route, with the pro-Whig region around Salisbury and Charlotte, if the intended to march at all. Come Williams dropped the job of convincing entrances the countryside towards Cheraw was “by nature barren, abounding through sandy plains, intersected by swamps, and really thinly inhabited,” through a populace hostile to the American cause, if the route through Charlotte was “in the middle of a fertile country and inhabited by a world zealous in the reason of America.”<8>But this path would have actually taken entrances away from Cheraw, wherein the phibìc Carolinians had promised that provisions. Pinckney argued Gates’s course was chosen, essentially, because of the blackmail of Caswell and Rutherford, whose safety and security (and provisions) in ~ Cheraw were intimidated by adjacent British forces. The only means of preserving Caswell and Rutherford “from defeat & destruction, to be to type a junction as rapidly as possible,” created Pinckney. “Could Genl. Gateways under this circumstances have retired come refresh his military in summer soldier at Charlotte or Salisbury, leaving this human body of Militia, the just hope of prompt support indigenous the State in i beg your pardon he was acting, to it is in sacrificed by the imprudence or misconduct of their commanding Officer? Sound plan forbade it.”<9>Also below is proof of Gates’s militia strategy—that once embodied, militia must be offered quickly, and also toward expedient purpose. Historian Paul David Nelson believes entrances was i stabbed it by objections of the Saratoga campaign, whereby he had established a defensive position and won mainly by capitalizing on brother mistakes. “In the Carolinas he apparently intended come prove to his movie critics that he can be aggressive if he chose.” and also probably also true was a Pinckney’s assertion that Gates thought the Continentals “may also march on and starve, as starve lying” in ~ Cox’s Mill.<10>