Otho Holland Williams, left, through Charles Willson Peale and also Horatio gates by James Peale. (National Portrait Gallery)

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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Baron Johann de Kalb by Charles Willson Peale. (National Park Service)That summer, scattered elements of the Continental military regrouped in central North Carolina under command of Johann Kalb, the europe officer and self-proclaimed “Baron de Kalb.” previously that spring, Kalb had actually been put in charge of the very first and 2nd Maryland brigades, along with the Delaware Regiment and also the 1st Artillery v eighteen field pieces—about 1,400 soldiers in all. Marching native Morristown, new Jersey, in mid-April, their mission to be to relieve Charleston and also serve together a cell core for southern militia. But showing up in main North Carolina in so late June, Kalb uncovered Charleston already surrendered and also provisions and militia reinforcements scarce transparent the South.<2>Meanwhile, the continent Congress named Lincoln’s follower on June 13, choose Horatio Gates, the hero of Saratoga. By 1780, entrances was popular for personality conflicts with his fellow officers, prominently Benedict Arnold and also George Washington. However Gates’s politics reputation, at least, had survived his dispute with Washington, and also he to be still well related to for his rapport through the enlisted and volunteer militia. “Unlike many American generals,” entrances “had an excellent confidence in short-term soldiers and also showed a keen expertise of their temper,” to write his biographer. “It was his announced policy never to contact up the militia until virtually the an extremely moment they were needed. When they had finished their tourism of duty, he was fast to thank them and also to send castle packing turn off to home.”


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>

Thomas Pinckney by man Trumbull. (National Portrait Gallery)Unpublished till 1822, as soon as it appeared in wilhelm Johnson’s Sketches of the Life and also Correspondence of Nathanael Greene, Williams’s variation of Gates’s march commonly finds its way into modern-day American change accounts, including the prominent War the the Revolution by Christopher Ward and The roadway to Guilford Courthouse by john Buchanan. Yet many of Williams’s aspersions to be subsequently questioned by cutting board Pinckney, who served as Gates’s aide-de-camp during the Camden campaign. Pinckney’s narrative was written in solution to Williams, and also must be read in the context of a crucial response, written over forty years after ~ the occasions it described. Still, the 2 accounts differ sharply, with Williams’s version possibly making for far better storytelling, a tale of pride goeth prior to the autumn at the expense of George Washington’s arch rival. But read in combination, they carry out a more nuanced explicate of Gates’s strategy, particularly when linked with various other letters, documents, and an essential analysis from the campaign.<6>Prior come his come at Kalb’s camp, entrances had spent weeks in Virginia pleading for supplies and reinforcement native state and federal officials, including North Carolina branch Abner Nash and also Virginia governor thomas Jefferson. True, Kalb warned him, “I have actually struggled through a an excellent many obstacles for Provisions” ever since showing up in phibìc Carolina, but Gates apparently thought at least some of the assurances he had received from this officials, consisting of one that “Articles of salt, rum, & c.,” would shortly follow from the continental magazines in Hillsboro. And also Gates likewise anticipated supplies and also reinforcements from north Carolina militia general. Gen. Griffith Rutherford, waiting for him in ~ a front position near Cheraw, on southern Carolina’s to pee Dee River. Likewise marching towards Cheraw through 1,200 militia and “a plentiful supply of provisions” was former North Carolina branch Richard Caswell.

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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>