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True to the Old Flag: A Tale of the American War of Independence, a novel by George Alfred Henty

Chapter 20. The War In South Carolina

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The fishing-boat was disposed of for a few pounds, and Harold and Jake were again fitted out in the semi-uniform worn by the scouts. On December 13, the very day after their arrival, a considerable detachment of troops, under General Leslie, arrived, and on the 19th marched, 1500 strong, to join Lord Cornwallis. Harold and his mates accompanied them, and the united army proceeded northwest, between the Roanoke and Catawba rivers. Colonel Tarleton was detached with a force of 1000 men, consisting of light and German legion infantry, a portion of the Seventh Regiment and of the first battalion of the Seventy-first, 350 cavalry, and two field-pieces. His orders were to pursue and destroy a force of some 800 of the enemy under General Morgan. The latter, finding himself pressed, drew up his troops for action near a place called the Cowpens. Then ensued the one action in the whole war in which the English, being superior in numbers, suffered a severe defeat.

Tarleton, confident of victory, led his troops to the attack without making any proper preparations for it. The infantry advanced bravely, and, although the American infantry held the ground for a time with great obstinacy, they drove them back and the victory appeared to be theirs. Tarleton now sent orders to his cavalry to pursue, as his infantry were too exhausted, having marched at a rapid pace all night, to do so. The order was not obeyed, and Major Washington, who commanded the American cavalry, advanced to cover his infantry. These rallied behind their shelter and fell upon the disordered British infantry. Thus suddenly attacked when they believed that victory was in their hands, the English gave way and were driven back. A panic seized them and a general rout ensued. Almost the whole of them were either killed or taken prisoners.

Tarleton in vain endeavored to induce his German legion cavalry to charge; they stood aloof and at last fled in a body through the woods. Their commander and 14 officers remained with Tarleton, and with these and 40 men of the Seventeenth Regiment of dragoons he charged the whole body of the American cavalry and drove them back upon the infantry.

No partial advantage, however brilliant, could retrieve the misfortune of the day. All was already lost, and Tarleton retreated with his gallant little band to the main army under Lord Cornwallis, twenty-five miles from the scene of action. The British infantry were all killed, wounded, or taken prisoners, with the exception of a small detachment which had been left in the rear, and who fell back hastily as soon as the news of the result of the action reached them. The legion cavalry returned to camp without the loss of a man.

The defeat at Cowpens had a serious influence on the campaign. It deprived Lord Cornwallis of the greater portion of his light infantry, who were of the greatest utility in a campaign in such a country, while the news of the action had an immense influence in raising the spirits of the colonists. Hitherto they had uniformly met with ill success when they opposed the British with forces even approaching an equality of strength. In spite of their superior arms and superior shooting, they were unable to stand the charge of the British infantry, who had come almost to despise them as foes in the field. The unexpected success urged them to fresh exertions and brought to their side vast numbers of waverers.

General Morgan, who was joined by General Greene, attempted to prevent Cornwallis passing the fords of the Catawba. It was not till February 1 that the river had fallen sufficiently to render a passage possible. Colonel Webster was sent with his division to one of the principal fords, with orders to open a cannonade there and make a feint of crossing, while the general himself moved toward a smaller and less-known ford. General Davidson, with 300 Americans, was watching this point, but the brigade of guards were ordered to commence the passage and were led by their light infantry companies under Colonel Hall. The river was five hundred yards across, and the stream so strong that the men, marching in fours, had to support one another to enable them to withstand its force. The ford took a sharp turn in the middle of the river.

The night being dark, the guards were not perceived until they had reached this point, when the enemy immediately opened fire upon them. The guide at once fled, without his absence being noticed until it was too late to stop him. Colonel Hall, not knowing of the bend in the ford, led his men straight forward toward the opposite bank, and although their difficulties were much increased by the greater depth of water through which they had to pass, the mistake was really the means of saving them from much loss, as the Americans were assembled to meet them at the head of the ford, and would have inflicted a heavy loss upon them as they struggled in the stream. They did not perceive the change in the direction of the column's march until too late, and the guards, on landing, met them as they came on and quickly routed and dispersed them. The British lost 4 killed, among whom was Colonel Hall, and 36 wounded.

The rest of the division then crossed. Colonel Tarleton, with the cavalry, was sent against 500 of the Americans who had fallen back from the various fords, and, burning with the desire to retrieve the defeat of the Cowpens, the legion horse charged the enemy with such fury that they were completely routed, 50 of them being killed.

Morgan and Greene withdrew their army through the Roanoke River, hotly pursued by the English. For a few days the British army remained at Hillsborough, but no supplies of food sufficient for its maintenance could be found there, so it again fell back. General Greene, being re-enforced by a considerable force, now determined to fight, and accordingly advanced and took up a position near Guilford Court House.

[Illus: Battle of Guilford Fought on the 16th of March 1781.]

The American force consisted of 4243 infantry and some 3000 irregulars--for the most part backwoodsmen from the frontier--while the British force amounted to 1445, exclusive of their cavalry, who, however, took little part in the fight. About four miles from Guilford the advanced guards of the army met and a sharp fight ensued--the Americans, under Colonel Lee, maintaining their ground stanchly until the Twenty-third Regiment came up to the assistance of Tarleton, who commanded the advance.

The main American force was posted in an exceedingly strong position. Their first line was on commanding ground, with open fields in front; on their flanks were woods, and a strong fence ran along in front of their line. The second line was posted in a wood three hundred yards in rear of the first, while four hundred yards behind were three brigades drawn up in the open ground round Guilford Court House. Colonel Washington, with two regiments of dragoons and one of riflemen, formed a reserve for the right flank; Colonel Lee, with his command, was in reserve on the left.

As soon as the head of the British column appeared in sight two guns upon the road opened fire upon them and were answered by the English artillery. While the cannonade continued the British formed in order of attack. The Seventy-first, with a provincial regiment, supported by the first battalion of the guards, formed the right; the Twenty-third and Thirty-third, led by Colonel Webster, with the grenadiers and second battalion of guards, formed the left. The light infantry of the guards and the cavalry were in reserve.

When the order was given to advance the line moved forward in perfect steadiness, and at 150 yards the enemy opened fire. The English did not fire a shot till within 80 yards, when they poured in a volley and charged with the bayonet. The first line of the enemy at once fell back upon the second; here a stout resistance was made. Posted in the woods and sheltering themselves behind trees, they kept up for some time a galling fire which did considerable execution. General Leslie brought up the right wing of the first battalion of guards into the front line and Colonel Webster called up the second battalion. The enemy's second line now fell back on their third, which was composed of their best troops, and the struggle was a very obstinate one.

The Americans, from their vastly superior numbers, occupied so long a line of ground that the English commanders, in order to face them, were obliged to leave large gaps between the different regiments. Thus it happened that Webster, who with the Thirty-third Regiment, the light infantry, and the second battalion of guards turned toward the left, found himself separated from the rest of the troops by the enemy, who pushed in between him and the Twenty-third. These again were separated from the guards. The ground was very hilly, the wood exceedingly thick, and the English line became broken up into regiments separated from each other, each fighting on its own account and ignorant of what was going on in other parts of the field.

The second battalion of guards was the first that broke through the wood into the open grounds of Guilford Court House. They immediately attacked a considerable force drawn up there, routed them, and took their two cannon with them; but, pursuing them with too much ardor and impetuosity toward the woods in the rear, were thrown into confusion by a heavy fire from another body of troops placed there, and being instantly charged by Washington's dragoons, were driven back with great slaughter and the cannon were retaken.

At this moment the British guns, advancing along the road through the wood, issued into the open and checked the pursuit of the Americans by a well-directed fire. The Seventy-first and the Twenty-third now came through the wood. The second battalion of guards rallied and again advanced, and the enemy were quickly repulsed and put to flight. The two guns were recaptured, with two others.

Colonel Webster, with the Thirty-third, returned across the ravine through which he had driven the enemy opposed to him, and rejoined the rest of the force. The Americans drew off in good order. The Twenty-third and Twenty-first pursued with the cavalry for a short distance and were then recalled. The fight was now over on the center and left, but on the right heavy firing was still going on. Here General Leslie, with the first battalion of guards and a Hessian regiment, had been greatly impeded by the excessive thickness of the woods, which rendered it impossible to charge with the bayonet. As they struggled through the thicket the enemy swarmed around them, so that they were at times engaged in front, flanks, and rear. The enemy were upon an exceedingly steep rise, and lying along the top of this they poured such a heavy fire into the guards that these suffered exceedingly; nevertheless they struggled up to the top and drove the front line back, but found another far more numerous drawn up behind. As the guards struggled up to the crest they were received by a tremendous fire on their front and flanks and suffered so heavily that they fell into confusion. The Hessian regiment, which had suffered but slightly, advanced in compact order to the left of the guards, and, wheeling to the right, took the enemy in the flank with a very heavy fire. Under cover of this the guards re-formed and moved forward to join the Hessians and complete the repulse of the enemy opposed to them. They were again attacked both in the flank and the rear, but at last they completely dispersed the troops surrounding them and the battle came to an end.

This battle was one of the most obstinate and well-contested throughout the war, and the greatest credit is due to the British, who drove the enemy, three times their own number, from the ground chosen by them and admirably adapted to their mode of warfare.

The loss, as might have been expected, was heavy, amounting to 93 killed and 413 wounded--nearly a third of the force engaged. Between two and three hundred of the enemy's dead were found on the field of battle, and a great portion of their army was disbanded. The sufferings of the wounded on the following night were great. A tremendous rain fell, and the battle had extended over so large an area that it was impossible to find and collect them. The troops had had no food during the day and had marched several miles before they came into action. Nearly 50 of the wounded died during the night.

Decisive as the victory was, its consequences were slight. Lord Cornwallis was crippled by his heavy loss, following that which the force had suffered at the Cowpens. The two battles had diminished the strength of his little force by fully half. Provisions were difficult to obtain, and the inhabitants, some of whom had suffered greatly upon previous occasions for their loyal opinions, seeing the weakness of the force and the improbability of its being enabled to maintain itself, were afraid to lend assistance or to show their sympathy, as they would be exposed on its retreat to the most cruel persecutions by the enemy.

Three days after the battle Lord Cornwallis retired, leaving 70 of the wounded, who were unable to move, under the protection of a flag of truce. From Guilford Court House he moved his troops to Wilmington, in North Carolina, a seaport where he hoped to obtain provisions and stores, especially clothing and shoes.

General Greene, left unmolested after his defeat, reassembled his army, and receiving re-enforcements, marched at full speed to attack Lord Rawdon at Camden, thinking that he would, with his greatly superior force, be able to destroy him in his isolated situation. The English commander fortified his position and the American general drew back and encamped on Hobkirk Hill, two miles distant, to await the coming of his heavy baggage and cannon, together with some re-enforcements. Lord Rawdon determined to take the initiative, and marching out with his whole force of 900 men, advanced to the attack. The hill was covered at its foot by a deep swamp, but the English marched round this and stormed the position. The Americans made an obstinate resistance, but the English climbed the hill with such impetuosity, in spite of the musketry and grape-shot of the enemy, that they were forced to give way. Several times they returned to the attack, but were finally driven off in confusion. One hundred prisoners were taken, and Lord Rawdon estimated that 400 of the enemy were killed and wounded. The American estimate was considerably lower, and as the Americans fought with all the advantage of position, while the English were exposed during their ascent to a terrible fire, which they were unable to return effectively, it is probable that the American loss, including the wounded, was inferior to that of the English, whose casualties amounted to 258.

Harold and his companions did not take part either in the battle of Guilford Court House or in that of Hobkirk Hill, having been attached to the fort known as Ninety-six, because a milestone with these figures upon it stood in the village. The force here was under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Cruger, who had with him 150 men of a provincial corps known as Delancey's, 200 of the second battalion of the New Jersey volunteers, and 200 local loyalists. The post was far advanced, but so long as Lord Rawdon remained at Camden its position was not considered to be dangerous. The English general, however, after winning the battle of Hobkirk Hill, received news of the retirement of Lord Cornwallis toward Wilmington, and seeing that he would thereby be exposed to the whole of the American forces in South Carolina and would infallibly be cut off from Charleston, he determined to retire upon that port. Before falling back he sent several messengers to Colonel Cruger, acquainting him of his intention. But so well were the roads guarded by the enemy that none of the messengers reached Ninety-six.

Colonel Cruger, being uneasy at the length of time which had elapsed since he had received any communication, sent Harold and the two scouts out with instructions to make their way toward the enemy's lines and, if possible, to bring in a prisoner. This they had not much difficulty in doing. Finding out the position of two parties of the Americans, they placed themselves on the road between them. No long time elapsed before an American officer came along. A shot from Peter's rifle killed his horse, and before the officer could recover his feet, he was seized by the scouts. They remained hidden in the wood during the day and at night returned with their prisoner to Ninety-six, thirty miles distant, avoiding all villages where resistance could be offered by hostile inhabitants.

From the prisoner Colonel Cruger learned that Lord Rawdon had retreated from Camden and that he was therefore entirely isolated. The position was desperate, but he determined to defend the post to the last, confident that Lord Rawdon would, as soon as possible, undertake an expedition for his release.

The whole garrison was at once set to work, stockades were erected, earthworks thrown up, a redoubt--formed of casks filled with earth--constructed, and the whole strengthened by ditches and abattis. Blockhouses were erected in the village to enable the troops to fire over the stockades, and covered communications made between various works. The right of the village was defended by a regular work called the Star. To the left was a work commanding a rivulet from which the place drew its supply of water.

Colonel Cruger offered the volunteers, who were a mounted corps, permission to return to Charleston, but they refused to accept the offer, and, turning their horses into the woods, determined to share the fate of the garrison. In making this offer the colonel was influenced partly by motives of policy, as the stock of provisions was exceedingly scanty, and he feared that they would not last if the siege should be a long one. Besides this, he feared that, as had already too often happened, should the place fall, even the solemn engagement of the terms of the surrender would not be sufficient to protect the loyalists against the vengeance of their countrymen.

On May 21 General Greene, with his army, appeared in sight of the place and encamped in a wood within cannon-shot of the village. He lost no time, and in the course of the night threw up two works within seventy paces of the fortifications. The English commander did not suffer so rash and disdainful a step to pass unpunished. The scouts, who were outside the works, brought in news of what was being done, and also that the working parties were protected by a strong force.

The three guns which constituted the entire artillery of the defenders were moved noiselessly to the salient angle of the Star opposite the works, and at eleven o'clock in the morning these suddenly opened fire, aided by musketry from the parapets. The covering force precipitately retreated, and 30 men sallied out from the fort, carried the intrenchments, and bayoneted their defenders. Other troops followed, the works were destroyed, and the intrenching tools carried into the fort. General Greene, advancing with his whole army, arrived only in time to see the last of the sallying party re-enter the village.

"I call that a right-down good beginning," Peter Lambton said, in great exultation. "There's nothing like hitting a hard blow at the beginning of the fight. It raises your spirits and makes t'other chap mighty cautious. You'll see next time they'll begin their works at a much more respectful distance."

Peter was right. The blow checked the impetuosity of the American general, and on the night of the 23d he opened his trenches at a distance of four hundred yards. Having so large a force, he was able to push forward with great rapidity, although the garrison made several gallant sorties to interfere with the work.

On June 3 the second parallel was completed. A formal summons was sent to the British commander to surrender. This document was couched in the most insolent language and contained the most unsoldierlike threats of the consequences which would befall the garrison and its commander if he offered further resistance. Colonel Cruger sent back a verbal answer that he was not frightened by General Greene's menaces and that he should defend the post until the last.

The American batteries now opened with a heavy cross-fire, which enfiladed several of the works. They also pushed forward a sap against the Star fort and erected a battery, composed of gabions, thirty-six yards only from the abattis and raised forty feet high so as to overlook the works of the garrison. The riflemen posted on its top did considerable execution and prevented the British guns being worked during the day.

The garrison tried to burn the battery by firing heated shot into it, but from want of proper furnaces they were unable to heat the shot sufficiently, and the attempt failed. They then protected their parapets as well as they could by sand-bags with loop-holes, through which the defenders did considerable execution with their rifles.

Harold and his two comrades, whose skill with their weapons was notorious, had their post behind some sand-bags immediately facing the battery, and were able completely to silence the fire of its riflemen, as it was certain death to show a head above its parapet.

The enemy attempted to set fire to the houses of the village by shooting blazing arrows into them, a heavy musketry and artillery fire being kept up to prevent the defenders from quenching the flames. These succeeded, however, in preventing any serious conflagration, but Colonel Cruger ordered at once that the whole of the houses should be unroofed. Thus the garrison were for the rest of the siege without protection from the rain and night air, but all risk of a fire, which might have caused the consumption of their stores, was avoided.

While the siege had been going on the town of Augusta had fallen, and Lieutenant Colonel Lee, marching thence to re-enforce General Greene, brought with him the British prisoners taken there. With a scandalous want of honorable feeling he marched these prisoners along in full sight of the garrison, with all the parade of martial music, and preceded by a British standard reversed.

If the intention was to discourage the garrison it failed entirely in its effect. Fired with indignation at so shameful a sight, they determined to encounter every danger and endure every hardship rather than fall into the hands of an enemy capable of disgracing their success by so wanton an insult to their prisoners.

The Americans, strengthened by the junction of the troops who had reduced Augusta, began to make approaches against the stockaded fort on the left of the village, which kept open the communication of the garrison with their water supply. The operations on this side were intrusted to Colonel Lee, while General Greene continued to direct those against the Star.

On the night of June 9 a sortie was made by two strong parties of the defenders. That to the right entered the enemy's trenches and penetrated to a battery of four guns, which nothing but the want of spikes and hammers prevented them from destroying. Here they discovered the mouth of a mine intended to be carried under one of the defenses of the Star.

The division on the left fell in with the covering party of the Americans, killed a number of them, and made their commanding officer a prisoner.

On the 12th Colonel Lee determined to attempt a storm of the stockade on the left, and sent forward a sergeant and six men, with lighted combustibles, to set fire to the abattis. The whole of them were killed before effecting their purpose. A number of additional cannon now arrived from Augusta, and so heavy and incessant a fire was opened upon the stockade from three batteries that on the 17th it was no longer tenable, and the garrison evacuated it in the night.

The suffering of the garrison for want of water now became extreme. With great labor a well had been dug in the fort, but no water was found, and none could be procured except from the rivulet within pistol-shot of the enemy. In the day nothing could be done, but at night negroes, whose bodies in the darkness were not easily distinguished from the tree-stumps which surrounded them, went out and at great risk brought in a scanty supply. The position of the garrison became desperate. Colonel Cruger, however, was not discouraged, and did his best to sustain the spirits of his troops by assurances that Lord Rawdon was certain to attempt to relieve the place as soon as he possibly could do so.

At length one day, to the delight of the garrison, an American royalist rode right through the pickets under the fire of the enemy and delivered a verbal message from Lord Rawdon to the effect that he had passed Orangeburg and was on his march to raise the siege.

Lord Rawdon had been forced to remain at Charleston until the arrival of three fresh regiments from Ireland enabled him to leave that place in safety and march to the relief of Ninety-six. His force amounted to 1800 infantry and 150 cavalry. General Greene had also received news of Lord Rawdon's movements, and, finding from his progress that it would be impossible to reduce the fort by regular approaches before his arrival, he determined to hazard an assault.

The American works had been pushed up close to the forts, and the third parallel had been completed, and a mine and two trenches extended within a few feet of the ditch. On the morning of June 18 a heavy cannonade was begun from all the American batteries. The Whole of the batteries and trenches were lined with riflemen, whose fire prevented the British from showing their heads, above the parapets. At noon two parties of the enemy advanced under cover of their trenches and made a lodgment in the ditch. These were followed by other parties with hooks to drag down the sand-bags and tools to overthrow the parapet. They were exposed to the fire of the block-houses in the village, and Major Green, the English officer who commanded the Star fort, had his detachment in readiness behind the parapet to receive the enemy when they attempted to storm.

As the main body of Americans did not advance beyond the third parallel and contented themselves with supporting the parties in the ditch with their fire, the commander of the fort resolved to inflict a heavy blow. Two parties, each 30 strong, under the command of Captains Campbell and French, issued from the sally-port in the rear, entered the ditch, and, taking opposite directions, charged the Americans who had made the lodgment with such impetuosity that they drove everything before them until they met. The bayonet alone was used and the carnage was great--two-thirds of those who entered the trenches were either killed or wounded.

General Greene, finding it useless any longer to continue the attempt, called off his troops, and on the following day raised the siege and marched away with all speed, having lost at least 300 men in the siege. Of the garrison 27 were killed and 58 wounded.

On the 21st Lord Rawdon arrived at Ninety-six and, finding that it would be hopeless for him to attempt to overtake the retreating enemy, who were marching with great speed, he drew off the garrison of Ninety-six and fell back toward the coast.

A short time afterward a sharp fight ensued between a force under Colonel Stewart and the army of General Greene. The English were taken by surprise and were at first driven back, but they recovered from their confusion and renewed the fight with great spirit, and after a desperate conflict the Americans were repulsed. Two cannon and 60 prisoners were taken; among the latter Colonel Washington, who commanded the reserve. The loss on both sides was about equal, as 250 of the British troops were taken prisoners at the first outset. The American killed considerably exceeded our own. Both, parties claimed the victory; the Americans because they had forced the British to retreat; the British because they had ultimately driven the Americans from the field and obliged them to retire to a strong position seven miles in the rear This was the last action of the war in South Carolina. _

Read next: Chapter 21. The End Of The Struggle

Read previous: Chapter 19. In An American Prison

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